Honor your father and your mother (Exod 20:12).
The fifth word above rests upon an important presumption: Fathers and mothers must be worthy of honor. Yet we live in a world that suggests that honor lies principally apart from one’s children. Or, to say it a bit more pointedly, that honor lies in forsaking one’s children. How so?
Abortion is the ultimate forsaking of children. Yet, abortion does not stand alone, but is inextricably tied to a host of other matters that encourage it, all of which tear at the family. The push for abortion fosters, or perhaps reflects, a vision that moves life away from the home, replacing family with career as the center of life, encouraging sexual license inevitably at the expense of stable marriages and therefore family, and, in the end, fostering a selfishness that puts one’s own desires and dreams first, to be pursued at the expense of others.
Let me give one example. In America, it is often asked of a wife, “Does she work?” What is meant is “does she have a job outside the home?” But the phrasing of the question is telling, for it implies that real work lies elsewhere. Mothers that stay at home, and particularly those who pour themselves into their children’s upbringing and education, know they work, and at a task far more exhausting, and rewarding, than many jobs outside the home. In the inimitable words of Chesterton:
To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes, and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? … A woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.4
Chesterton’s remarks are poignant because they get to the heart of what family is and does. It is the family that teaches us to lay down our lives for one another, beginning with the physical burden that is pregnancy, to the myriad of costs—financial, emotional, time and energy, and the like—that come along the way. When my daughter calls for me in the middle of the night while feeling sick, getting up with her not only comforts her, but it teaches me to love and makes me more like Christ. It is the family where the Gospel is taught, parents being commanded to “teach [the ways of God] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rest” (Deut 6:7). It is the family where the Gospel shines most brightly, not only in the unusual fragrance that emanates from a home where parents love their children and children honor their parents, but also in the hospitality that Godly families extend, particularly to the poor, the lonely, and the hurting. Is it any wonder that the Lord requires those who would aspire to be bishops, presbyters, and deacons to be hospitable, and manage their households with dignity, having the respect of their children? (1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9).
Increasingly, the expectation in much of the world is that both parents work apart from home, an expectation that often seeps into the Church. The costs, however, are steep. In order for both parents to work away from home, children must begin life in daycare of some sort, followed by school, where their education and therefore view of the world, is shaped by teachers parents often don’t know, teaching subjects they have not chosen in community with children they don’t know. Although the Scriptures call for children to be educated primarily within their families (Deut 6:4-9, Ps 78:5-7), it is normal for children to spend the most of the day apart from their families and often in institutions that explicitly deny the place of God in education. And we wonder why so many children of Christian families fall away from the faith when they leave home, often assuming the answer lies in better youth programs.5
Of course, we live in a world where it is not possible always to live into the Scripture’s vision of work and family. A single mother, for example, may have little or no choice concerning work and the education of her children and often does the best she can for them given her circumstances. And for that she deserves honor (and, where appropriate, the help of her church). But it is one thing to turn one’s children over to others due to necessity and quite another due to choice. The willingness to let others teach our children and form their characters so that we can occupy ourselves with other things, even careers, that take us away from our children is connected to the abortion mentality that puts other things before one’s own children. The command to honor father and mother presumes fathers and mothers are loving their children by carrying out their God-given privileges and responsibilities. A world at peace with abortion inevitably becomes hardened toward children.
He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments (Ps 78:5-8).
4 G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (Mineola, New York: Dover, 2007), 99-100.
5 For a more detailed discussion of this matter, see W. Ross Blackburn, “Keep Them from Idols,” Touchstone, 30/2, March/April 2017: 31-37. The article can be accessed at http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=30- 02-031-f.