Columnists > Judgment Calls

Supreme wisdom

Honoring God in the grandparent wars

Issue: "AIDS: Africa's affliction," Sept. 9, 2000

Like most parents of young children, I cheered when the Supreme Court handed down Troxel vs. Granville-the grandparents visitation rights decision. Finally, it seemed the Supremes had gotten something right. The case involved Gary and Jenifer Troxel, who wanted to spend more time with their two granddaughters than the girls' mother, Tommie Granville Wynn, allowed. (The girls' father, Brad Troxel, committed suicide in 1993; he and their mother had never married.) The Troxels took Mrs. Wynn to court, and a Washington state Superior Court sided with the grandparents. Mrs. Wynn was ordered to hand over her daughters one weekend per month, one week every summer, and on each grandparent's birthday. Mrs. Wynn appealed the decision, and in an uncommon burst of common sense, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that "so long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children, there will normally be no reason for the state to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent's children." That's welcome news to parents who take seriously their God-given responsibility to rear their children as they see fit-to protect them from harmful people and influences. God commands Christian parents to rear their children "in the fear and admonition of the Lord," and no government agency-absent clear abuse-ought to interfere with it. But parents ought to stop celebrating long enough to remember that when it comes to the proper relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, Christians are accountable to a much higher law than the Supreme Court. We're accountable to God and His teachings regarding the role He intends grandparents to play in the lives of their grandchildren. What are those teachings? We have a hint in Deuteronomy 4:9, in which Moses commands the Israelites to remember the things God has done for them, and make them known to "your children and to their children after them." God apparently intended Israelite grandparents to assist in the spiritual upbringing of their grandchildren. These days, parents and grandparents often do not share the same faith. But even when Christian parents are dealing with nonbelieving grandparents, they must continue to honor their parents (and parents-in-law) as God commands. They should remember how often the Scriptures advise children to listen to the wisdom of their parents-and that even nonbelieving grandparents usually have a store of wisdom that comes from a lifetime of experience. If disputes do arise over grandchildren, Christian parents must handle them with grace, sensitivity-and respect. It's not as though God doesn't know family relationships can get hairy. In 1 Timothy 5:1, Paul writes, "Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father." This passage suggests that occasions may arise when adult sons must speak firmly-but lovingly-to elderly fathers. What about when grandparents are Christians-and parents are nonbelievers? Hard as it is for godly grandparents to watch their grandchildren being raised faith-free, they must respect the decisions their adult offspring make: There is no theological warrant for grandparents to override parental wishes. Respect may yield spiritual results: Parents who feel respected may be open to allowing discussions about faith to occur between the generations. They may even permit the grandparents to take the kids to activities at their sanctuary. Of course, believing grandparents should unceasingly pray that their grandchildren will come to understand who God is. All of us should remember that with God, all things are possible. Even as they seek their grandchildren's salvation, grandparents should take time to simply enjoy their children's children. In Proverbs 17:6, grandchildren are described as "a crown to the aged." The verse suggests that grandchildren are highly valued, late-in-life gifts from God. A faithful Christian parent will try to ensure those blessings are fully enjoyed. In our rights-obsessed culture, parents and grandparents alike are inclined to put rights ahead of obligations and exchange deference for demands. This appears to be true of the Troxels, who wanted, not access to their granddaughters, which they already had, but the right to overthrow a mother's God-given authority. Sadly, our lawmakers are often all too eager to help grandparents like these, in the process hurling Judeo-Christian teachings to the legislative winds. That's why we must fight for laws that do respect our rights as parents. But even when judges rule the right way, as the Supreme Court did last June, we must strive to achieve a balance between God's dual commands: to care for our children, and to honor our parents. When in doubt-or anger, or frustration-we should consult the Source of all laws: the One who put us in families in the first place.

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