By / Mar 18

“Kids are cute but they’re not really eco-friendly.” This is the title of a troubling 2017 article making the rounds, and making waves, on the internet. With an image of a smiling family of five pasted front-and-center, oddly enough, Caroline Mortimer spends the entirety of her allotted space comparing having children to other “carbon emitting activities” like eating meat, driving a car, and traveling by plane. The implication is that having many kids is irresponsible and harmful to the planet. 

Leaning on a study performed by Lund University in Sweden, Mortimer concludes that “having children is the most destructive thing a person can do to the environment.” As readers, we must not rush past this statement too quickly. While the article goes on to quote the referenced study, championing the good that would come if families have just “one fewer child,” Mortimer’s conclusion is more cut-and-dry––having children at all is destructive. As Christians, what are we to say to Mortimer’s grim assertion?

What God says about children

Mortimer presents a sort of utilitarian view of children—they are worthwhile only so long as their usefulness outweighs their supposed liability to the planet. In her view, and in the view of the study, because children produce something like “58.6 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year,” they’re more damaging to the environment than eating meat or traveling. That being the case, their existence should be limited, says Mortimer. A child’s value is not inherent in this view, but contingent on how many brothers or sisters he or she has and their cumulative carbon output. 

Christians should know that the underlying assumption put forth by Mortimer and those who share her sentiment is both mistaken and unbiblical. A child’s value cannot be reduced to the sum total of his or her carbon footprint, but what the Author of life declares it to be. Rather than taking our cues from the assumptions of this study’s researchers and their utilitarian philosophy, we should listen to how God speaks to us in his Word. 

Here are three things God says in the Bible about children.

  1. Children are loved by God

“The most foundational thing in God is not some abstract quality, but the fact that he is Father,” says Michael Reeves in Delighting in the Trinity. He goes on to say, “He is Father. All the way down. Thus all that he does he does as Father. That is who he is. He creates as a Father and he rules as a Father.” Children are loved by God, first and foremost, because God is Father, and God is love.

Likewise, because we know that God the Father loves his Son, the second person of the Trinity, we can be certain that he loves our sons and daughters. He sent his beloved Son into the world, after all, because he “so loved it” (John 3:16). The Scriptures are replete with references and allusions and illustrations of parental love precisely because God is not just a loving Creator, but a loving parent, “A father to the fatherless” (Psa. 68:5).

  1. Children are a gift from God

In Psalm 127, Solomon’s song declares that “children are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (v. 3). Contrary to what is implied in the article referenced above, there is no hint here of children being a liability or encumbrance of any sort, but purely a gift from a kind and gracious God. 

Furthermore, we read God’s words to Adam and Eve in the earliest pages of Scripture, telling them to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it,” a directive that still stands. Even the phrase itself, “be fruitful,” suggests that the offspring produced through the union of man and woman is good and to be desired (like fruit), and a process by which the cultural mandate and, relatedly, the Great Commission go forward. 

We are not meant to value our children based on their utility but because they have been created by God and given as a gift. We are to take joy in receiving the gift (John 16:21) and glorify our Father in heaven.  

  1. Children are welcome in the kingdom of God

In a scene that must have confounded Jesus’ disciples, Jesus spoke to his followers, after they had barked at a group of children and those who accompanied them, saying, “Leave the children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to me, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14). And before leaving, the text says that Jesus “placed his hands on them.” Children are not just welcomed into the kingdom of God, they are welcomed with a hug.

But, of course, the text does not suggest that children are only welcome in God’s kingdom. Jesus states that the kingdom of God belongs to such persons, an idea that would have been unthinkable in the first century. Children, according to Jesus, are not expendable or disposable in God’s kingdom based on some carbon output equation, but are to be emulated within the kingdom. They have something to teach us. In fact, we won’t enter God’s kingdom unless we enter as little children ourselves (Matt. 18:3).

Turn and become like children

We live in an “enlightened” generation so confused as to suggest that being fruitful and multiplying is more harmful than it is blessed. But we are not called to weigh the pros and cons of a child’s carbon footprint before we consider the unchanging words of God. This sort of equational logic has no place in ascribing value to a child. 

In fact, the crux of Mortimer’s logic is entirely backward, according to Jesus. His counsel to us is not to turn children away so we can make adult decisions, from discipleship to family planning, but for adults to “turn and become like children” (Matt. 18:3), the very ones Mortimer is suggesting we disallow. Children are a gift and a blessing and a heritage, not a liability. And we have much to learn from them.

The devaluing of children is fundamentally at odds with the Christian worldview. From Jesus’ proclamation that children are welcome in the lap of God to the Apostle John’s statement that the Father calls his saints “children of God” (1 John 3:1), both physical children and spiritual children are precious and loved by the God. Rather than employing equations that suggest we sacrifice our prospective children for the sake of the planet, we should “be fruitful and multiply,” bearing children for the cause of joy, for the sake of the gospel, for the good of the nations, and, yes, for the sake of our planet. So may the children of the world abound and teach us what it means to be “great in the kingdom of heaven.”

By / Mar 10

Being sick can be scary, especially for children. Dr. Scott James has a passion for showing both kids and their parents that God is right there with them in their time of need, even in the middle of a pandemic. Scott is a pediatric physician. He serves as an elder at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, where he and his wife, Jaime, live with their four children. Scott wants to remind us that we can not only trust God to take care of us, but we also have the privilege of imitating him while caring for others.

Scott’s new book, God Cares for Me: Helping Children Trust God When They’re Sick, helps parents and caregivers talk with children about illness and how to keep themselves and others safe when sick. Scott was kind enough to answer some of our questions about how parents can talk with their children about sickness.

Q: We are a year into the COVID-19 pandemic here in the United States, but there are still so many unanswered questions. How old are your children, and what kind of conversations have you had at home with your kids as COVID started to spread?

We have four children, ranging from nine to almost sixteen years old. Depending on how you look at it, having an infectious diseases doctor as a dad during a global pandemic is either a fortunate or a very unfortunate thing. On the positive side, as the pandemic ramped up and then hung around, my kids always had someone they could come to with questions. 

They ask profoundly good questions, and we’ve had the opportunity to process things out loud all year long. We’ve talked about what makes this virus unique, how seriously ill it can make people, how it has disrupted so many people’s lives, what we can do to slow the spread and help people in need, and how sad it makes us that people want to fight about that.   

The downside of having an ID doctor as a dad during all this is that the nature of my work on the frontlines has put a certain amount of stress on our family. Because I am knowingly exposed to the virus every day, I’ve had to be very cautious about not spreading the infection to my family, our church, or our community. We’re not on lockdown or anything, but we make it a point to be consistently careful about how we go out and how we gather. 

In a year when many people have gone on with life as normal, my kids have missed out on a lot. That’s one reason I was interested in writing God Cares for Me—though thankfully we have remained well so far, I saw it as a good opportunity to talk further with my kids about how God is near, he loves to take care of us in difficult times. He gives us the privilege of helping him care for others in their time of need as well. 

Q: As parents, how do we talk about not only keeping our own bodies well, but making sure we keep others safe from getting sick too? 

Even as we’re helping our children trust in God’s care for us amid this pandemic, we also have the opportunity to help them see that God calls us to care for others, too. With an infectious disease circulating in our communities, one way to look out for the good of others is to help slow the spread of infection by consistently practicing interventions such as masking and social distancing. 

When doctors and public health experts recommend these practices as a way to protect other people, I think that following their guidance is a reasonable Christian response. It’s one way we can love others and seek the good of our communities (1 Corinthians 10:24). To be clear, it’s certainly not the only way to love others, and I believe Christians should refrain from codifying such practices as moral law, as if the Bible says, “Thou shalt mask up.” These behaviors are a way to love your neighbor—a very good and timely way, I would argue—but we shouldn’t act as if they are a foolproof litmus test of Christian love and faithfulness. 

Corollary to this, if our faith is motivating us to look for ways to love our neighbors and help others stay safe during this pandemic, we would do well to consider mental and spiritual well-being as well. Christian faith is marked by fellowship, hospitality, and deep community—we are not wired for social isolation or physical estrangement from the body of Christ, and there are profoundly negative effects to this season of separation. 

Even while we are trying to protect others by social distancing, we have the opportunity to help our children think about how to proactively and safely pursue the fellowship we so desperately need. We may need to get creative with the ways in which we gather, but we’re still called to live in community with one another.

Q: I’m sure you saw an even greater need to write God Cares for Me because of the pandemic, but the book isn’t just about COVID, is it? 

Certainly not! I think of this book as COVID-relevant but not COVID-specific. The broader theme of helping children walk through times of pain and suffering is central to my role as a pediatrician. It is something I often think through from a pastoral perspective as well. 

God Cares for Me follows a boy named Lucas through a sick day and a scary visit to the doctor’s office, but the bigger story is how God provides comfort and care all along the way. My prayer is that whatever illness a family might be facing, this book will be a reminder that God is a trustworthy refuge and fortress (Psalm 91:2). 

I hope this book will spark ongoing conversations within families. The back section, “Talking with Kids about Sickness,” gives parents a few suggestions on navigating those conversations. I encourage parents to approach these difficult topics in a way that acknowledges the hard reality of what it’s like having to deal with pain and suffering but consistently points to the comforting truth that God has not left us to manage on our own. God himself is with us every step of the way, and he also surrounds us with a community of people called the church—people who love us in Christ and are present to bear our burdens alongside us.

By / Jan 12

It was just after my kids’ school shut last March, as the pandemic spread and our government locked us down, that my 5- and 7-year-olds asked me what would happen next.

“I don’t know,” I told them.

I saw my daughter’s expression change as she came to terms with a new thought: Daddy doesn’t know. Always before, mommy and daddy had known. Suddenly, they didn’t. Neither did our pastor, our city mayor, or our national leaders.

Don’t underestimate the effect that 2020 had on young kids. Much has been written, discussed and preached about how the pandemic has affected adults. But, as we stand at the start of another year, which has already brought its own measure of uncertainty and unforeseen challenges, perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves: How do we teach our kids to trust God when the world flips, when uncertainty swoops in, when even the grown-ups who love them don’t know what to do?

1. Teach them this is normal

The truth is, this is a fallen world. I realized through 2020 that although my theology tells me that this is a broken world, my working assumption was more Western than it was biblical—that things will always get better despite the odd blip, that technology triumphs, and that life will turn out okay.

Throughout 2020 I wanted to tell my children what I wanted to tell myself: that life will soon be back to normal. But the truth is that this is normal. We live in a world under the curse. Life is often painful toil, and one day we will return to dust (Gen. 3:17–19). Read Revelation and, whatever your view of the millennium, you’re not going to emerge with a view of this earth as a rosy, comfortable place.

There is no point in pretending things are basically fine to our kids when they can see the truth of fallenness all around us, as well as within us. As Christians, we have the opportunity to give our kids a worldview that accords with their lived reality, rather than a sugary secular fairytale that collapses at their first contact with experience.

2. Teach them that humanity is finite

I wonder if the greatest danger for humanity in this season is not the pandemic but the vaccine. (To be very clear: I do not mean that the vaccine is a physical danger, but that our societies’ response to its existence may be a spiritual danger.) It will be interpreted as humanity’s great victory over death, as proof that modern science knows no challenge it cannot overcome. We will celebrate our own awesomeness, and we will forget the reason we needed a vaccine in the first place—that there is no vaccine against death.

What should breed humility in us is more likely to prompt hubris. At that point, our kids will need a robust understanding that “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone” (Psa. 103:15-16). We will need, gently but clearly, to remind our kids that this is a vaccine against COVID-19—and that we should be very thankful for it—but that it is not a vaccine against death itself; that it extends life but does not save life. We will need to explain to them (and to ourselves) that science can help us navigate a fallen world, but it cannot overcome it. The serpent-crusher did his work on a cross, not in a lab.

3. Teach them that God is unchanging and sovereign

As C.H. Spurgeon famously said, “The sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which the child of God rests his head at night, giving perfect peace.”

God is not surprised by the pandemic, and he is sovereign over how and when it ends. He is not surprised by the tensions gripping the culture of so many Western nations in one way or another, and he will work out his purposes in and through them. He does not change, and so the endpoint of history is certain.

I need to teach my kids this, and the truth is, I need to teach myself this. They will learn more from what they see in me than they will in what they hear from me. When I am tempted to fear, to be impatient, to despair, I must preach God’s immutability to my own heart first, and then to theirs. When Daddy doesn’t know, that’s okay, because our heavenly Father does.

4. Teach them that Christ has triumphed

The pandemic shocked us because it has upset our basic modernistic assumption that we can keep death at bay. Again, rather than running from the truth that death happens, we can run to the one who defeated death—and lead our children to him, too.

While the world tells children things will be okay, we don’t. But we can tell them that in Christ all is ultimately, and eternally, okay. The empty tomb is the rock-solid certainty that no tidal wave can sweep away. Christ is risen, just as he promised; and so every other one of his promises will come true, too. “Christ is risen” is the three-word answer to the uncertainties of this life. He has triumphed over death, and so our kids can look the fallenness of the world and the finitude of humanity in the face, and smile.

Fear not

So no, kids, daddy doesn’t know what will happen in 2021. 2020 has humbled him sufficiently to know that he doesn’t really know. Curveballs will come. Life may not get better. And that’s okay. This is an uncertain world, with a certain end. And for the Christian, the route may not be clear, but the destination is sure.

Since 2020, my kids have lost a fair amount. They’ve lost out on some of their education. They’ve lost the ability to play with friends in the park and welcome them into their home. They’ve lost out on seeing grandparents and cousins. They’ve lost the idea that their dad knows what’s going on.

Nevertheless, this season will be one more of gain than of loss if it helps them to see through the Western assumptions that their father has found so hard to shed; if it gives them the chance to climb Mount Zion, stand before an empty tomb, and know that there is a risen, reigning Savior who they can trust when they cannot trust anything else. If as parents all we do in 2021 is lead them to that place, that will have been a great year.

“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev. 1:17-18)

By / Dec 17

Parents and caregivers have the wonderful privilege to explain to their children that God made their bodies. Because private parts are private, there can be lots of questions, curiosity, or shame regarding them. For their protection, children need to know about private parts and understand that God made their body and made it special. 

The message children need to hear is: “God made all of you. Every part of your body is good, and some parts are private. He made the parts of your body that other people see every day, and he made your private parts. Every part is good because God made every part and called them all good.”

Heartbreaking sexual abuse facts 

Parents need and want help in protecting their child from sexual abuse, which is an important and prevalent issue. One in four women and one in six men have been or will be assaulted in their lifetime. Heartbreakingly, many of the victims of this epidemic are children: 15% of those assaulted are under age 12, and 29% are between ages 12 to 17. Girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault.

Most victims of child sexual assault know their attacker: 34.2% of assailants were family members, 58.7% were acquaintances, and only 7% of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.1U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000 Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement (2000).

Although strangers are stereotyped as perpetrators of sexual assault, the evidence indicates that a high percentage of offenders are acquaintances of the victim.

Most child sexual abuse offenders describe themselves as religious, and studies suggest the most egregious offenders tend to be actively involved with their faith community.2Donna Eshuys & Stephen Smallbone, Religious Affiliations Among Adult Sexual Offenders, 18 SEX ABUSE 279 (2006); Philip Firestone, et al., Clerics Who Commit Sexual Offenses: Offender, Offense, and Victim Characteristics, 18 JOURNAL OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE 442 (2009).

Parents and caregivers need to be smarter and better prepared than those who would want to harm the child they love and want to protect. While actions by adults can be more effective than expecting children to protect themselves from sexual abuse, children still need accurate, age-appropriate information about child sexual abuse and confidence their parents and caregivers will support them.

Practical ways to educate your children 

Education is important in prevention against inappropriate sexual behavior or contact. By teaching children about their body and discussing appropriate and inappropriate touch, you are helping them understand their ability to say “No” to unwanted touch, which will help them if anyone ever tries to hurt or trick them.

Here are nine practical things parents and caregivers can do to protect their children from sexual abuse:

1. Explain to your child that God made their body. 

An explanation can look something like, “Every part of your body is good, and some parts of your body are private.”

2. Teach proper names of private body parts.

It might be uncomfortable at first, but use the proper names of body parts. Children need to know the proper names for their genitals. This knowledge gives children correct language for understanding their bodies, for asking questions that need to be asked, and for telling about any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.

Clearly identify for your child which parts of their anatomy are private. Explain to your child that “some places on your body should never be touched by other people—except when you need help in the bathroom, or are getting dressed, or when you go to the doctor.” You can do this with young children during bath time or have your child dress in a bathing suit and show them that all areas covered by a bathing suit are “private.” The bathing suit analogy can be a bit misleading because it fails to mention that other parts of the body can be touched inappropriately (like mouth, legs, neck, arms), but it is a good start for little ones to understand the concept of private parts.

3. Invite your child’s communication. 

Let your child know they can tell you if anyone touches them in the private areas or in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable (even areas not covered by the bathing suit)—no matter who the person is, or what the person says to them. Assure your child they will not be in trouble if they tell you they’ve been touched inappropriately—rather, you will be proud of them for telling you and will help them through the situation.

4. Talk about touches. 

Be clear with adults and children about the difference between touch that is OK and touch that is inappropriate. To your child say something like: “Most of the time you like to be hugged, snuggled, tickled, and kissed, but sometimes you don’t, and that’s OK. Let me know if anyone—family member, friend, or anyone else—touches you or talks to you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

Teach little ones how to say, “Stop,” “All done,” and, “No more.” You can reiterate this by stopping immediately when your child expresses that they are all done with the hugging or tickling. Your reaction is noteworthy for them as it demonstrates they have control over their bodies and desires.

If there are extended family members who may have a hard time understanding your family boundaries, you can explain that you are helping your children understand their ability to say no to unwanted touch, which will help them if anyone ever tries to hurt them. For example, if your child does not want to kiss Grandpa, let them give a high five or handshake instead.

5. Don’t ask your child to maintain your emotions. 

Without thinking, we sometimes ask a child something along the lines of, “I’m sad, can I have a hug?” While this may be innocent in intent, it sets the child up to feel responsible for your emotions and state of being: “Mom is sad . . . I need to cheer her up.” If someone wanted to abuse a child they might use similar language to have the child “help” them feel better, and the child might rationalize it as acceptable if this is something they do innocently with you.

6. Throw out the word “secret.” 

Explain the difference between a secret and a surprise. Surprises are joyful and generate excitement, because in just a little while something will be unveiled that will bring great delight. Secrets, in contrast, cause isolation and exclusion. When it becomes customary to keep secrets with just one individual, children are more susceptible to abuse. Perpetrators frequently ask their victims to keep things secret just between them.

7. Clarify rules for playing “doctor.” 

Playing doctor can turn body parts into a game. If children want to play doctor, you can redirect this game by suggesting using dolls and stuffed animals as patients instead of their own body. This way they can still use their doctor tools, but to fix and take care of their toys. It may take some time for them to make the shift, but just remind them gently that we don’t play games, like doctors, with our bodies. If you find your child exploring his or her own body with another child, calmly address the situation and set clear boundaries by saying, “It looks like you and your friend are comparing your bodies. Put on your clothes. And remember, even though it feels good to take our clothes off, we keep our clothes on when playing.”3Dialogue from Stop It Now! tip sheet: http://www.stopitnow.org/talking_to_kids

8. Identify whom to trust.

 Talk with your kids about whom you and they trust. Then give them permission to talk with these trustworthy adults whenever they feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused about someone’s behavior toward them.

9. Report suspected abuse immediately.

You’ve read these steps, now consider yourself an advocate against childhood sexual abuse. Report anything you know or suspect might be sexual abuse. If you don’t, it’s possible no one else will.

Educating your children and giving age-appropriate information about sexual abuse is an important way to help prevent abuse. These nine practical steps will help you to empower your children against sexual abuse and will give them confidence that they can come to you for help and you will support them.

  • 1
    U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000 Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement (2000).
  • 2
    Donna Eshuys & Stephen Smallbone, Religious Affiliations Among Adult Sexual Offenders, 18 SEX ABUSE 279 (2006); Philip Firestone, et al., Clerics Who Commit Sexual Offenses: Offender, Offense, and Victim Characteristics, 18 JOURNAL OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE 442 (2009).
  • 3
    Dialogue from Stop It Now! tip sheet: http://www.stopitnow.org/talking_to_kids
By / Dec 16

I will never forget having to explain the Sandy Hook shooting to my oldest son. I had stayed home from the office that day because I was sick. From the time I woke up that morning, I watched in horror and disbelief as the details of the tragedy unfolded on national news stations. My son could tell that something was wrong. So, instead of acting like the world that we live in was not a broken place, I tried to explain the tragedy and loss in a way that he could understand. It was not an easy conversation, but many times the most important conversations are not the easiest ones. 

Talking to children about difficult topics can be terrifying for parents, yet such conversations must take place. We cannot act like our world is not fallen and in need of redemption. There are evil people in the world that intend to do harm to others. If we are going to love our neighbors as ourselves (which must necessarily include the children that God has entrusted to us), then we must also warn them about evil in age-appropriate ways. 

A plan to talk about sexual abuse 

This is particularly true with the matter of sexual abuse. Talking about the topic of sexual abuse is complex because it affects various aspects of our humanity. For instance, while parents want to give their children a biblical vision of sexuality that affirms its goodness and design for the context of marriage, parents must also talk about sexuality in a way that acknowledges the disordered and wicked desires of some people who attempt to exploit it. In other words, because our world is broken, it is not enough to simply affirm what is good about God’s plan for sexuality without also acknowledging that some have taken God’s good gift and sought to use it in a sinful way that is contrary to his design.

There is a necessary balance to be struck when talking with children about things like sexuality and sexual abuse. Previous generations have often spoken of sexuality in ways that failed to rightly celebrate the goodness of God’s design, opting to speak mainly in terms of prohibitions and fear. The danger in our day is to focus so much on the celebration of the goodness of sexuality that we neglect to place it within the broader framework of a fallen world that is longing for redemption in Christ. Thus, we must speak to our children with a wisdom that strikes the balance between God’s design and humanity’s sinful attempts to exchange the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1). We must learn to speak in a way that says, “Yes,” to sex in the right context while also being able to say, “No,” where necessary.

When teaching children about their biology and sexuality, we must also admit and explain that not everyone in their life may agree with God’s design. Evil people, even people in their churches, their schools, and tragically, even their homes, may seek to violate and abuse their innocence. So, how can you help your children be prepared to live in a broken world where sexual abuse is a tragic reality? I would suggest following the H.E.L.P. plan (or something similar to it) to prepare them: 

  1. Have the hard conversation now rather than later.
  2. Equip them with specific, age-appropriate details regarding sexuality and sexual abuse.
  3. Listen to them and let them know that you will believe and support them.
  4. Pray that God would protect them every day.

Putting our plan into action

Here is how my wife and I have put this plan into use with our children:

A few years ago, my wife and I began a conversation with my oldest son about God’s good design for sexuality. The conversation did not end two years ago, though. It is an ongoing conversation. 

He knows that if he has questions about anything related to sex he can speak with us at any time. We made it clear from the beginning that there is no need to be ashamed about the conversation because sex is God’s idea. 

We told him to let us know if he hears or sees anything that he has questions about or feels uncomfortable with and assured him that he would never get in trouble for talking to us about this subject. Why? Because we want him to talk to us, not his peers or other adults. This is a conversation that God intended for parents to have with their children (Prov. 1:7-8). 

In fact, this is a conversation that my wife and I have been having in some form or another with all of our children from the time that they could bathe. In an age-appropriate manner, we explain to our children that certain parts of our bodies are not appropriate for others to see or touch. As the children get older, we go into greater depth. We don’t want our children to learn about anatomy from pop culture or pornography. We want to disciple them to know God as creator and designer of their bodies, for their good and his glory.

A conversation before camp 

So, as our oldest son prepared for church camp last summer, we sat him down to revisit the topic of sexuality, particularly as it related to sexual abuse. While it was uncomfortable, it was necessary. 

We explained to him that no one should be watching him in the restroom or the shower, regardless of what someone may tell him. We explained that it was never appropriate for an adult to touch him or insist on any type of affection from him (a hug, a kiss, sitting on a lap, etc.). We were specific, because we did not want to resort to vagueness in order to avoid the discomfort of the difficult subject. 

We established a code word or phrase that he could use when we talked on the phone that would alert us to a problem. If he used the word or phrase, then we would immediately pick him up. 

We told him that regardless of the threats that someone might use against him or his family, we would protect and believe him. We told him that while he should be respectful to adults, he did not have to comply with any request or demand that was outside the normal course of adult-child interaction.

Finally, to make sure that he understood, we talked through a few scenarios, asking him what he would do if he encountered them. Then, we prayed that God would protect him and the other children headed to camp. 

Was the conversation easy? Not at all. Was it necessary? Absolutely, because loving and caring for the vulnerable requires uncomfortable but frank conversations that prepare them and expose the wicked and unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11). 

Conversations are not the end-all-be-all measures to prevent the wickedness of sexual abuse. Evil people will continue to do evil things in this world until Christ returns to make everything sad become untrue. Until then, we weep over the brokenness and do our best to prepare and protect the vulnerable while being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).

By / Nov 10

November is National Adoption Month. An important aspect of child welfare is the policies that govern how we care for the nation’s and world’s most vulnerable. Child welfare is one of the ERLC’s top priorities, and we regularly work with like-minded partners, Capitol Hill, and the administration to ensure that every child has a safe, permanent, and loving family.

Below are some of the child welfare policies the ERLC has been working on.

Adoptee Citizenship Act

Prior to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, the administrative steps required of families adopting internationally were unnecessarily burdensome. The process included applying for and moving through a lengthy naturalization process for their children, in addition to the lengthy and costly adoption process. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted automatic citizenship to all foreign-born children brought to the United States who had at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, that act only applied to adoptees under the age of 18 when the bill was enacted, leaving an entire population of adopted children without full U.S. citizenship.

The Adoptee Citizenship Act closes the loophole to provide immediate citizenship to these children already adopted by U.S. citizens yet left out of the previous bill. This bill solves the innumerable problems these adopted Americans have had to endure in attending college, accessing banking services, or starting their careers because of a lack of citizenship. This bill provides equity to these children because they should have every legal right of any other child of a U.S. citizen. 

One Pager: Adoptee Citizenship Act 

Explainer: Adoptee Citizenship Act

Fulton v. Philadelphia

In Philadelphia, Catholic Social Services (CSS) has cared for children and families in need for over 200 years. Then in 2018, a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer informed the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services that two of its private foster care agencies, including Catholic Social Services (CSS), would not work with same-sex couples as foster parents. The city investigated the allegation, which it considered a violation of the city’s anti-discrimination laws.

When the agencies confirmed that, because of their religious views on marriage, they would not work with gay couples—although no gay couple had ever attempted to partner with CSS—the department ceased referring foster children to them and demanded they change their religious practices or close down their ministries. The Supreme Court has taken up this case, and oral arguments were held on Nov. 4. 

The outcome of the case will also reach thousands of faith-affirming foster and adoption agencies across the country. An unfavorable outcome for CSS may force other agencies into a similarly devastating choice to either compromise their deeply-held religious convictions or close down. Should CSS receive a decision from the Supreme Court clarifying their First Amendment protections, they can continue serving Philadelphia during its foster care crisis. Like the City of Brotherly Love, many states face foster family shortages. So, the closing down of faith-affirming foster care agencies is nonsensical and will leave many foster children without the loving homes they urgently need.

With the foster care system burdened by the number of children in need, the government should not hinder the ability of agencies like Catholic Social Services to serve its community simply because of their religious beliefs. When the court decides this case, it is our hope that it not only protects religious liberty but also protects the ability of faith-based groups to continue serving the children in Philadelphia who need safe and loving homes.

Explainer: What you need to know about Fulton v. Philadelphia

Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act

Across the country, child welfare and child protection systems are overcrowded and under significant strain. It is in this context that some states and cities are working to close those child welfare providers who are seeking to operate in a manner consistent with their religious convictions. This leads to fewer families available for foster care and adoption. The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act would prohibit government discrimination against child welfare agencies on the basis of their beliefs, and ultimately protect children in the foster system and children waiting for adoption by ensuring that a wide range of child welfare providers are available to serve them. Although the legislation has yet to become law, the ERLC was pleased to see the Department of Health and Human Services issue a new regulation in November of 2019 requiring its grant programs to adhere to Supreme Court decisions and congressional laws, thus ensuring that religious freedom is not infringed upon by the federal government. 

This law would prohibit government discrimination against child welfare agencies on the basis of their religious beliefs. Thus, it would protect children in need as foster systems are overcrowded and under significant strain. 

Explainer: The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act

Ensuring Intercountry Adoption Remains a Viable Option

In 2019, only 2,971 children were welcomed into families through intercountry adoption. The reasons for this decline vary, from certain countries completely halting their intercountry programs to other countries placing more children in homes domestically. There’s also been a decline in stateside adoption agencies facilitating intercountry adoption, narrowing the options for prospective parents.

Many countries and cultures are becoming more open to domestic foster care and adoption. That is certainly good news, and ought to be encouraged. However, there are still millions of orphans worldwide who long to be raised in a family where they are known and loved instead of remaining a number in an impersonal institution. Intercountry adoption must remain a viable option for welcoming those children into homes, and we must do all we can to facilitate those adoptions. In some countries, especially developing nations, the only chance a child might have at growing up in a safe, loving, permanent home is intercountry. The ERLC is working with like-minded partners and the U.S. Department of State to ensure that intercountry adoption remains a viable option for families and vulnerable children around the world.

Read: Why Intercountry Adoption Must Remain a Viable Option

By / Oct 22

My church finally opened its doors in July after five months of closure, requiring ticket reservations, masks, and social distancing to enter the service. It was comforting to see the familiar eyes of our weekly door greeters and grab an elbow bump from the welcoming crew, but things felt strange—and not just because of the muffled voices and archipelago seating. Something was missing: my kids. 

Facing tough decisions

My very active 4- and 2-year-old wouldn’t last five minutes with a grab bag of crayons, paper, and snacks in the service before floor rolling or ninja jumping down the aisle. With kids ministry classes still on hold and COVID on the rise, our family opted to remain home in the early days of the church’s reopening. Just this week, kids classes re-opened. Our family will return more regularly now. And we’re joining thousands of other churchgoing families across the country making choices on how to proceed with our kids, as churches piecemeal their way to a new normal in a COVID-19 world. 

The choice about how to proceed with children’s discipleship is far from benign. A National Association of Evangelicals poll finds that 63% of people became Christians before the age of 14, and Barna found that after parents, guidance for spiritual formation falls on church leadership. Childhood is a critical time for shaping faith for a lifetime, so prioritizing our youngest citizens is perhaps the most important aspect of ministry—right now and always. 

But the ongoing risks of COVID persist in keeping hundreds of thousands of children out of church. Some parents are eager for children’s ministry to return, but others are fearful for the health of their children in classroom-like settings typically viewed as germ factories. Children under two already have eight to 10 colds per year on average, and their elder counterparts don’t fare much better. So potential COVID-laced classrooms are hardly appealing. As we get deeper into the fall and winter, health concerns may rise to unprecedented heights.

“It’s not just church that we aren’t going to—it’s any place with large crowds,” said Megan Phelan, a mom of two in Havertown, Pennsylvania. “I’m just not comfortable exposing my kids to that many people, not to mention they put their hands and mouths on everything.”

Families are looking out for themselves, but also seeking guidance from church leadership on when returning their children to church is safe and acceptable. Those who attended church regularly pre-pandemic are more likely to return, but a concern arises about families who were already infrequent attenders and children who relied on grandparents or friends that may now be staying home. Churches are keeping these folks top of mind. 

Stressed out church staffers, many who have worked tirelessly in the past months to power effective online outreach, are making tough decisions on procedures and protocols that will help families feel comfortable coming back to the building. Guiding markers are few, since the last time churches were ordered closed was during the flu pandemic of 1918, when such closures contributed to significantly lower rates of death in places where it was enforced. As such, hot spots like New York City and Los Angeles may require longer shutdown periods with in-person children’s ministry on the backburner until general reopening. Less affected areas are primarily the ones walking the line right now.

Making different decisions

While seven in 10 Protestant churches have reopened nationwide, the question of how and when to resume children’s ministry classes safely is perhaps the biggest, secondary question—and no two churches are identical in their plans. According to July 2020 Lifeway research, more than 50% of Protestant pastors hadn’t  decided when to start in-person student ministry again. Now that we are several months into the fall school year, , anxiety about how those interactions will affect outside communities remain. 

“My big concern is the kids going back to school and bringing COVID to the church,” said Billy Bruns, pastor of Fairfield Weslyan Church in Ohio. “As a church, it will be a flexible and slow reintroduction to kids ministry when the volunteers are comfortable to reconvene.” 

Most are blindly moving forward in various stages, listening to the comfort level of their community and enforcing precautions like temperature checks, social distancing, mask requirements, and health surveys. There seems to be an additional level of safety consideration for student ministry and nursery classes across the board. 

Whether churches are conducting children’s ministry or not, the majority of Americans aren’t showing up to services yet, anyway. According to Pew, only 12% of the country attended in-person services in July. While I was unable to find updated research on this statistic, presumably, that number has increased as many states have since loosened gathering restrictions. Fear fuels some of that absence, especially for families who attend larger churches or those with older populations. 

Childhood is a critical time for shaping faith for a lifetime, so prioritizing our youngest citizens is perhaps the most important aspect of ministry—right now and always.

After an elderly community member scolded her for letting her young children get too close to them on the sidewalk recently, Julie Harrison became hyper-aware of not accidentally endangering or scaring vulnerable individuals. “Our church is predominantly older,” said Harrison, who has opted not to return to her small church in Rockville, Maryland. “I know how much it means to [the older members] to go in person, and I don’t want to give them any reason not to feel comfortable in church.”

Harrison added that older people are also not as technologically savvy and may not enjoy online broadcasts. She said her family will not return until there is a vaccine available and schools are operating in-person. Until then, they will continue watching the livestream of another church they enjoy online. 

For larger churches, the concerns about safety are especially valid. The children’s area at a typical megachurch is a test tube of germs—families clustered along the hallway and volunteers exchanging babies between services. Rounds of toddlers and grade schoolers revolve through classrooms as breathless volunteers attempt to keep track of name tags, sign out sheets, and correct parental matches. Add a dose of COVID to the mayhem and it could be disastrous, especially for churches under a media microscope. 

Speaking with ministry leaders making these decisions, cleanliness and safety are the top priority for both the church at large and the children’s areas, as staff develop strict rules for hourly sanitation, contact-free check in, individual packaging for crayons and snacks, and socially-distanced mats for older kids. “All of our toys are sanitized between services,” said Meagan Lingenhoel, a worship leader at the 300-member Bible Chapel in Washington, Pennsylvania. “If a toy is in a child’s mouth, it’s taken out of rotation and different toy bins are used for first and second service.”

Heavy sanitation practices are paired with creative avenues for member comfort with touching. One church bought colored, silicone bracelets for kids to indicate their contact comfort levels: green for huggers, yellow for fist or elbow bumpers, and red for hand wavers. Another requires pre-registration and offers individual bags of goodies to children as they enter limited-size classrooms for the service. 

All available hands appear to be on deck at the churches I spoke with. Prior to COVID, church membership nationwide had been decreasing for years, so ministry teams want to ensure people know they are safe and welcome back to the pews. While online attendance soared at the genesis of the pandemic, even many practicing Christians eventually stopped attending virtually. For those who did not attend church regularly pre-pandemic, 17% say they have watched a service virtually. For children, the numbers would naturally be lower because virtual options can be difficult to implement effectively, requiring parental diligence in playing them. It makes getting children back into a physical church building that much more important for their spiritual growth. 

Location makes a big difference in how decisions are made. In South Dakota, churches never closed and most remain open and are functioning as they always have. But decision makers nationwide have come to varied conclusions, depending on location, size, government regulations, and congregational temperament. 

“We never stopped kids’ classes,” said Chris Minor, pastor of the 80-member Oakfield Baptist Church in Rockford, Michigan, who has been preaching from a makeshift platform in the parking lot since March. “We prerecord our children’s church service—and pass out handouts to with the lesson—so the kids can watch on tablets or phones during the service.” 

Despite larger health concerns, many parents are eager to get back to church but are choosing not to go because kids ministry classes are not yet in place. Many with younger children feel they would merely be quieting babies and chasing toddlers, rather than listening to the sermon and engaging with fellow church members. For that reason, they are staying home even though they would prefer to attend in person. 

Non-churchgoers may wonder why the religious are so committed to keeping doors open or offering intense online productions as a replacement for embodied gatherings. Or for children, why would they go to the trouble of setting up Zoom calls for easily distracted second-graders and organizing packets for toddlers apt to merely scribble on a photocopied Jesus before their purple crayon is discarded on the kitchen floor? Ministry staff recognize the eternal value of faith-based guidance in childhood and the way churches can offer support when there is a need for trustworthy adults beyond parents and family. 

Before the pandemic, my pastor liked to remind our congregation that the most important people in our church aren’t listening to the sermon, but upstairs in their classrooms. They are not an afterthought. Children’s ministry leaders know that decisions for Christ are most often made in childhood, and often, inside the church building. This is why the planning and purpose behind kids ministry decisions are priority for churches everywhere, and why parents are carefully weighing how they can safely return or soundly provide church-based learning from a distance. Ultimately, the weight of salvation may rest with these choices.