1 Corinhians 13:11-13
Today is Children’s Sabbath Sunday. This is a part of a growing children’s advocacy movement that seeks to unite communities and religious congregations of all faiths across the nation in shared concern for children and a common commitment to improving their lives and working for justice on their behalf. Light a Candle for Children is part of the same advocacy program that both the Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ support.
Often an unrealistic and sometimes sentimental portrait is painted of a rosy-cheeked, non-fussy child who grows into a lovely teenager and responsible adult. Perhaps the disciples knew that this fictional character does not exist and that is the reason why they were trying to keep the children away from Jesus – noisy, fussy, inquisitive, funny, loud, dirty, needy, crying, runny nosed, laughing, intuitive, questioning children.
But Jesus would have none of it and, in fact, it is written that the children should come to him and not to stop them; and Jesus said: “For it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And with those words another new door opened in our understanding that children are not to be marginalized either. I chose a photo of a sculpture designed by John Soderberg for today’s bulletin cover. John is a member of the church in Sedona and this photo does not do his work justice, but it fits nicely with today’s sermon.
Through the week I began to wonder about how laws came to be to help and protect children. It would be wonderful to say that all cultures treated children as well as Jesus did with an embrace and a conversation that was not a talking down to or a demeaning of them. There is a harsh reality that children were not always treated well over the centuries or, sadly, even today.
What I learned and share with you is a brief history on the topic of a development starting in 1690, in what is now the Americas, where there were criminal court cases involving child abuse. In 1692, states and municipalities identified care for abused and neglected children as the responsibility of local government and private institutions. In 1696, The Kingdom of England first used the legal principle of parens patriae, which gave the royal crown care of “charities, infants, idiots, and lunatics returned to the chancery.” (Did you catch the language?) This principal of parens patriae has been identified as the statutory basis for U.S. governmental intervention in families’ child rearing practice.
Jump ahead to 1825 where states enacted laws giving social-welfare agencies the right to remove neglected children from their parents and from the streets. These children were placed in almshouses, in orphanages and with other families. In 1835, the Humane Society founded the National Federation of Child Rescue agencies to investigate child maltreatment. Then in the late-19th century, private child protection agencies – modeled after existing animal protection organizations – developed to investigate reports of child maltreatment, present cases in court and advocate for child welfare legislation. In 1853, the Children’s Aid Society was founded in response to the problem of orphaned or abandoned children living in New York City. Rather than allow these children to become institutionalized or continue to live on the streets, the children were placed in the first “foster” homes, typically with the intention of helping these families work their farms as slave labor.
In 1874, the first case of child abuse was criminally prosecuted and outrage over this case started an organized effort against child maltreatment. In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt convened the White House Conference on Child Dependency, which created a publicly funded volunteer organization to “establish and publicize standards of child care.” Issues of abuse and neglect were addressed in the Social Security Act in 1930, which provided funding for intervention for “neglected and dependent children in danger of becoming delinquent.”
Then in 1962, professional and media interest in child maltreatment was sparked by a publication of an article in JAMA on “The battered child syndrome”. As a response to public concern that resulted from this article, 49 U.S. states passed child-abuse reporting laws, and 12 years later the passage of the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA; Public Law 93-247). Congress passed the first comprehensive federal child protective services act, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-272), which focused on family preservation efforts to help keep families together and children out of foster care or other out-of-home placement options.
In the 1960s there were also changing views about the role of the child in society that were fueled in part by the Civil Rights Movement. In 1973, Congress took the first steps toward enacting federal legislature to address the issues of poverty and minorities. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was passed a year later, which required states “to prevent, identify and treat child abuse and neglect.”
In 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed in response to attempts to destroy the Native Americans by taking large numbers of Native American children, separating them from their tribes and placed in foster care or sending them to far away schools where they were maltreated, lost and sometimes died. This legislation not only opened the door for consideration of cultural issues while stressing ideas that children should be with their families. This led to the beginnings of family preservation programs. Through the years various policies were enacted leading to the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), much of which guides current practice. (en.wikipedia.org )
Today we have the “Keep Families Together” program as a result of the zero tolerance stance that separated children of all ages from their asylum seeking parents desiring, not only a better life, but a safer life than they could have in their own countries. Many children have been reunited with their parents, but certainly not all. In fact, Tornillos, TX, aka, Tent City, currently holds 1500 children.
Wow! All of this history makes my head spin. These laws also reflect that children have not always had it easy because it is rare that a child is able to be heard when they speak on their own behalf. They’re only a kid. What do they know? We’re adults – we know better. Maybe those were the disciple’s thoughts when they were keeping children from Jesus. Obviously, over the centuries there have been adults who have given voice to the voiceless and have advocated on behalf of children. Thank God.
Yet, even with all these laws in place there is abuse in the homes and in the systems designed to protect children. Raising children is a challenge for each generation and of whom many are ill-equipped to be parents. Abuse still happens. Neglect still happens. In spite of all these things, children do grow up and the challenge for them is to find their way. Some do it well, but others not so much.
Church has also played a role in this raising of children. Sometimes it was done with much too much rigidity and shaming “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Rules and threats of hell hung over young heads. Too often churches have tried to push children into a one-size-fits-all box – to be seen and not heard and to blindly believe what they have been told. Parents who forced their children to church on Sunday often had children who grew up not believing church was viable for their own children. So we’ve had a few generations now where children are often brought to church by their grandparents.
Today we also have the category of “nones” – those who check off that they have no religious affiliation whatsoever. These are the young adults who feel that churches are an institution that have little or nothing to say to inform their lives today. Rock bands, folk guitarists, videos, movies and other tactics have been used to attract younger people to church – not necessarily back to church, but to church of the first time. These things are not always successful to the “I’m spiritual but not religious” generation reflecting their understanding of church. Sometimes the headlines in the 1980s of abuse at the hands of priests and clergy shaped not only a negative but often deadly view of the church. After all, isn’t the church supposed to be a place of trust and where God is supposed to reside? What happens when that belief is shattered?
First Christian Church – you are a safe haven within the Las Cruces community for those who are on the margins in society including young adults and children. Through your faithful, loving presence you can provide an alternative view of church. You have a style that is relaxed and welcoming. You have a caring heart and a desire to keep the Christ light burning within this family of faith and the Las Cruces community. Is your message getting out? When was the last time you invited someone to join you in worship? Did you know that the primary reason for church growth isn’t a gospel band, or invitation by the minister, but is due to you – members, extending the hand of welcome to another?
Children of God, you have faced a lot over the past few years with the retirement of Pastor Linda, the death or leave-taking of members. You’ve faced the questions of “what next?” and you’ve answered them by looking to the future. It is true, God is always creating something new and perhaps we can’t quite see that fully yet. As human beings we tend to look back on what we remember as being the good old days and full of the good old ways of how we’ve always done things. Yet God is always breaking through and creating something new. Perhaps we look in the mirror dimly, as Paul so beautifully wrote in 1 Cor. and cannot see clearly – yet. To give up childish ways may mean we give up our old concepts and preconceived notions that will allow that birthing to take hold and to take place within and among us to grow in faith, in our love of God and to keep Jesus’ commandment to love one another and to provide a safe haven in a troubled world, and for those seeking a faith community. Marginalized people in this community need your voice and your light and your presence now more than ever.
Normally this is where I would end the sermon but there is more to share this morning. Last month Jack, Wayne, Ric and Lynn and I attended a program where we learned about the PFLAG Rainbow Refugee Project that supports four young gay men who are seeking asylum in the US. This may sound familiar because it was written about in our last newsletter. I’ve invited Ryan Steinmetz, President of PFLAG and in whose home these men have received safety and support, to share with us the current situation. (Ryan updated the congregation that three of the four young men will be traveling to NYC for their case to be heard since there is a 75% approval rating in that area. 95% is the denial rate in the El Paso jurisdiction. The needs include warmer clothing for their time in the north as well as gift cards and financial gifts. Thank you Ryan for your presence with us this morning.)
Copyright DMC 2018