By Scott Tibbs, April 16, 2013
"Part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities." -- Melissa Harris-Perry
A contributor to MSNBC stirred up outrage with her statement about children belonging to "whole communities," and some of the concern about the implications that the state should have primary control over child rearing was legitimate. As the father of a fifteen month old boy, I know nobody cares about my son as much as my wife and I do. I will make mistakes as a father, but I am in a better position to meet his needs and train him for life than the state.
But while this may seem unusual to many of my conservative friends, I have to ask a question. Was what Melissa Harris-Perry said all that radical? Does Harris-Perry actually have a good point that we should consider, especially the evangelical Christians who have been her strongest and most aggressive critics?
Obviously, the primary responsibility for childrearing is with the parents. It is the parents who have been entrusted by God with the task of training our children (Proverbs 22:6) and God will hold us responsible for how we care for our children. But is there a wider responsibility and an obligation to intervene that goes beyond the family? After all, the Apostle Paul writes (1 Timothy 3) that a leader in the church should be able to control his children, which requires the church to judge how that leader rules his house.
And what about the state? Clearly, the state has an interest in preventing parents from abusing their children. We regularly see cases in the news of parents neglecting and abusing their children, leading to the involvement of the state to remove children from a harmful situation. This is done in haste at times based on false allegations or even an excessive nanny-state mentality, and that is evil. But no reasonable person would deny the state's role here.
As a matter of fact, I advocate for the state to interfere in decisions of parents in an area where the state is currently hands-off: The fact that parents can decide to murder their children in the womb. The civil magistrate has an obligation to legislate against abortion and "bear the sword" (Romans 13) to defend and preserve the lives of innocent babies made in the image of God. One of government's primary responsibilities is to make it illegal to kill people.
So, yes, Melissa Harris-Perry is absolutely wrong and her ideology should be vigorously opposed. We do not want the state taking control of our children. But while she is wrong, she is also right - something that has been lost in our libertarian indignation over what she said.