Virtual Voices

What neither law nor a beating can fix

Culture

I remember the day my friend and fellow graduate student, an expert in welfare policy, shared with me his reluctant prescription for the American welfare state. He was a Republican, yet he favored a radical increase in spending on children, coupled with a complete severance of all benefits to non-handicapped adults. He believed the only way to rescue children from a cycle of spiritual and psychological decay was to establish institutions where parents could drop off their children for the day, or a month, or forever-places where they would be fed and taught and cared for.

This came to mind as I began to follow the unfolding debacle in Nebraska-the legislature's effort to protect infants from being left exposed to die, the unintended consequence of parents abandoning older children with this newly mandated impunity, and the subsequent tightening of the law to specify that only newborns can be abandoned without consequence for the parent. The state's solution, in the face of this revelation that dozens of parents don't want their children, is to make them keep them regardless.

There will be more spending, to be sure, on parenting classes and counseling services and a host of bureaucratized solutions to a growing community problem, which is that too many people have failed to acquire parenting skills, too many people have only a casual relationship with God, and most of the rest of us haven't the slightest idea where to begin to help them. There will be a great many government programs, of that we can be sure, but the problem began because there was not enough coming alongside. And until we fix that vast and spreading gash in our social fabric, there will be more and more parents willing to walk out on the little terrors they helped create.

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I heard recently about yet another man in my city who has walked out on his children. Whenever I hear about one of these boys disguised as men, I think to myself that he needs a good solid beating, and further, that to deliver said beatings would be the perfect career for me. It's for the best that beating a man with an ax handle is neither legal nor Christian, because if men only take care of their children because they don't want a broken arm, or because they fear state prosecution, then they're not likely to be very good at fathering in the first place.

What we need is for fathers to turn their hearts back toward their children. To turn away from their lust and anger, their careers and leisure, their hurts and grievances. To turn back to what can truly make them men, which is to give themselves over to God's consuming fire, and to pour themselves out for their families. You won't hear any of that in a parenting class, or in a good many churches, sadly. But there it is, a truth that will continue to be unheeded by a wicked generation. And so I wish there were some way-legally, financially, spiritually-for those of us in the Church to eliminate the need for state safe-haven laws. I wonder how many of these children will go to bed tonight without an inkling that they have a Father in heaven who loves them, even if their parents do not.

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