Part 2 in a series “Christ and the children”, by Rosie Moore.
Two weeks ago, we focused on Christ’s power and glory in the Transfiguration. But in Matthew 18 and 19, we see Jesus’ humanity and compassion for the most helpless and dependent people on earth. These cameos show us that God loves little children, born and unborn, and is deeply concerned for their welfare.
We cannot be under any illusions about how Jesus sees anyone who hurts or lures a child into sin, temptation, unbelief, bitterness, addiction or slavery. Satan’s purpose is to destroy children and their faith in God, or at least to handicap them through sin, guilt, fear and shame. But God’s plan is to bring ‘little ones’ into his kingdom, the earlier the better.
“Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matt 18:5-6).
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” (Matt 18:10-14)
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matt 19:13-14).
In a society which has increasingly accepted and normalized the sexualisation of children, Matthew 18:6 speaks loudly and clearly about how God will judge those who use their power to rob children of their childlike trust, hobbling them with trauma and shattering their innocence.
The hidden pandemic of child abuse relies on collusion by families and communities who value other things above their children.
The hidden pandemic.
According to Stats SA, in the year 2020, more than 600 girls aged 9 and 10 gave birth to a baby.
Just scratch beneath the surface of this statistic: Since the legal age of consent is 16 years old (shocking enough), every one of these children (and countless others who did not give birth) have been groomed and raped by a man, with no one in the family, community, or law enforcement to intervene for that child. Most of these little girls were trapped in homes with a known abuser.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg, since most 9 and 10 year olds are not physically mature enough to conceive a baby. How many more babies and young girls were raped but never gave birth? Moreover, in 2020, 34 587 babies were born to girls aged 17 and younger. These mothers are still children themselves.
But South Africa is not alone in this gross violation of children, nor is it limited to females. Child abuse is a global epidemic, and in 2020-21, more layers of the horrific underbelly of child abuse has been exposed:
Child sex trafficking.
A few months ago, Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty on all charges but one in the sex trafficking trial linked to the late convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Maxwell lured girls as young as 12 with offers of money, visas and modelling prospects. The men who procured these underage girls were high profile elites who were conveniently shielded in the Maxwell trial. Just last week, Prince Andrew paid a settlement of £12 million (about R245 million) to Virginia Guiffre who claimed she was sexually assaulted by the Prince when she was 17. £2 million of this settlement went to an NGO which stops child sex trafficking.
In June 2021, Joel Davis, nominated for a Nobel prize for being the founder of a NGO dedicated to ending sexual violence against children and adolescents, was himself sentenced to 15 years in prison for child pornography and enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity. Ironically, the ‘protector’ of children was found with 3700 photos and more than 330 films of child pornography.
There are thousands of instances of the fox guarding the henhouse. A 2009 report found that sexual and psychological abuse was “endemic” in Catholic-run industrial schools and orphanages in Ireland for most of the 20th Century.
A five-year Australian inquiry in 2017 found that “tens of thousands of children” were sexually abused in Australian institutions over decades, including churches, schools and sports clubs.
But perhaps most shocking of all was an independent Catholic commission report released in October 2021, estimating that 216 000 children were abused by 3000 different Priests in France alone since the 1950’s. Including abuse by other church employees, the total number of child sex victims is 330 000. Around 80% of the victims were boys.
The head of this huge French inquiry said that until the early 2000s, the Church had shown “deep, total and even cruel indifference” towards victims. This is victim shaming and spiritual abuse at its worst, and the layers are only starting to be peeled back.
The scourge of pedophilia is greater than we can ever imagine, but this interview by Dr Jennifer Roback Morse provides insight into the far reaching implications in the lives of child victims and future generations.
Yet, we still have so many cultural and social norms that encourage child molestation and rape to be swept under the carpet to protect the family, church or institution.
Child porn is one of the fastest growing online businesses, with over 55% of victims just 10 years old or younger. On PornHub, the word ‘teen’ has topped the pornography mega-site’s search items for over six years now. A search on the site for ‘girls under 14’ yields more than 100 000 videos.
It’s ironic that Pornhub, which attracts more than 3.5 billion visits a month, does nothing to police its content, while big tech in general is censoring people’s legitimate speech every day. Jennifer Morse describes child porn as a “plague that’s eating away at the soul of our society”, led by abusers who profit from the suffering and degradation of children.
Moreover, there is ample research to prove that children’s exposure to online pornography has devastating effects on a child’s attitudes to sex, violent sexual behaviours and practices. Porn destroys empathy and the ability to experience pleasure (anhedonia), thus poisoning real life attachments and relationships. It’s not difficult to see how child porn users become abusive partners.
Yet, so little is said about the ruin of children through online pornography, which is currently leading the majority of teens into addiction. Porn is part of a lethal pandemic which is poisoning our children, but our culture has become expert at straining out gnats and swallowing camels where children are concerned (Matt 23:24).
And then there’s the unborn baby, which has become disposable through the legal practice of abortion. This is another case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
But God’s Word will not let us forget that even the tiniest child is a human being created in the image of God, with inestimable worth and dignity (Luke 1:41; Ps 139:13). Since all human life is sacred, the blood of every murdered victim cries out to God for justice, as in the case of Abel (Gen 4:10).
We don’t need to guess what Jesus would think of abortion–the leading cause of death worldwide for humans, with about 70 million legal abortions being performed annually, worldwide.
If you look up the abortion Worldometer website, you will see that more than 5.3 million babies have already been aborted legally this year, and it is only mid-February. This is a staggering snapshot of modern day child sacrifice. The number rises every second to indicate the death of another precious human.
If we, as Christians, think that laws and policies are a distraction from our faith, it’s worth noting that in South Africa, annual abortions rose sharply after the “Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act” was passed in 1997, and these figures have steadily increased year on year.
So, in 1996, there were 1 651 abortions recorded for the year, and in 2019 (the last year on record), we had 124 446 recorded legal abortions. Thus, laws do make a difference to people’s values and behaviour, which is why Christians should care about politics and policies if we are to be salt in our culture. Jesus pronounces ‘woes’ on the religious people of his time, who failed to protect the most vulnerable: “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law– justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23-24).
And last but not least, there are the Teachers who lead children astray by scoffing at their belief that God created the world; the Chaplains who stand at chapel lecterns day after day, dressed in full regalia, but never invite the children to repent of their sins and believe in Christ; the Pastors who invite young people to explore all other religions and roads to God, except Christ; the Progressive Christians who ridicule the plain teachings of the Bible, such as the resurrection of the dead, Christ’s atonement and eternal judgment.
Instead of being the spiritual shepherds described in Matt 18:10-14, these ‘false guides’ actively lead little ones away from God, urging children to deconstruct their ‘childish’ faith and reject the Bible’s authority to answer their questions. I’m sure Jesus had these deceivers in mind in Matt 23:13-14: “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
Out of sight, out of mind.
Of course it’s easier to say, “Out of sight, out of mind!” Child abuse is a distressing and overwhelming issue that makes us wish we could just stay with the original sweet image of Jesus blessing the little children, instead of being diverted by millstones around people’s necks!
But about all these secret, hidden sins against children, God says to his people in every generation:
“If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.
11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:10-12)
Our generation of Christians needs to fight for the dignity and protection of children in this hidden epidemic. We cannot faint.
All forms of injury to children should shock us to the core and awaken a righteous desire to reach out and care for children wherever we can. Fundamental human rights and the freedom to flourish are rooted squarely in the Bible, so of all people, Christians owe children more than mere survival.
But, what can we as parents and the church do for children? Here are just four ideas:
1. Lead a counter-revolution.
Lead a sexual counter-revolution by pushing back against the sexualisation of our children. Be on the lookout for every opportunity to care for and disciple children who are casualties of the sexual revolution, atheism and the rapid disintegration of the family unit.
If one of Satan’s most effective schemes is to lead young hearts astray through inappropriate sexualisation, the church and Christian families need to be at the forefront of a “sexual counter-culture”, to borrow the words of Tim Keller and Kevin de Young. Twenty-first century Christians need to emulate our brothers and sisters in the first century who spearheaded the “first sexual revolution”.
We cannot passively watch our children be swept away by our sexually twisted culture. We need to bring the Bible into family life and be unembarrassed to talk frankly to our children about God’s purpose for sex and relationships, about biblical manhood and womanhood. Start in your home and move on to mentor other young people that the Lord brings into your life. Pray for God to show you where He can use you in the life of a child or teen, and be ready to obey.
As a practical example, I know a Christian couple who mentor over 60 boys and girls every year in their gap year programme. They tell amazing stories of broken lives being restored, new habits formed and a new trajectory set for life which will affect generations to come.
2. Do not relinquish parental responsibility.
Fiercely guard your God-given rights and duties as parents to make wise decisions on behalf of your children. These rights are being eroded on many fronts, as part of a strategic attack on God’s design for the family as the foundation of society (Gen 2:24-25). Parents are increasingly being seen as unwanted “barriers” to children accessing abortion and their “sexual rights”. Parental authority, abstinence and religious values are even being blamed for child pregnancies and sexual abuse.
And so, children need courageous parents with eyes wide open to the content being taught to them in schools, especially when it’s couched in positive terms like “comprehensive sexuality education”, “sexual rights”, and the “right to sexual pleasure” for children of all ages. ‘Queering’ (the intentional disruption of heterosexuality as the norm) and graphic sexual education of young children is being imported to Africa from the West and should be resisted by Christian parents. The ideology underpinning these education strategies won’t solve any problems, but will lead children into sin.
Similarly, we need to counter ideologies which teach children to think that race is more important than character, or that different races have mutually incompatible characteristics and values that cannot be shared. These are divisive and harmful teachings which cause damage to the wellbeing of children, their relationships and ability to accept their identity in Christ.
Be vigilant about who your children visit and where they sleep over, without being neurotic. Make a habit of lifting your own children where possible. Be careful of coaches and teachers who do not respect proper boundaries between adults and children, and never assume that all people share your values. Teach your children what is appropriate, how to firmly say ‘no’ and how to resist temptation. Read good Christian books to your children like the “God’s design for Sex” series.
Be willing to process difficult questions with your children day or night (Deut 6:5-9). You cannot delegate this responsibility.
3. Welcome children in Christ’s name.
Jesus shows us how to take care of little ones by taking them tenderly on his lap. They are not just little things to be sent on errands, ordered around, farmed out, or used for our own ends. Jesus says that we are to welcome them into God’s kingdom in very concrete and kind ways.
The early church took this literally when they rescued baby girls, left by the Paterfamilias to die at the Roman fountains and garbage heaps. Infanticide is not unique to our culture. Those discarded babies who didn’t die from exposure were normally sold for slavery and prostitution.
But rescued babies were cared for in Christian families and catechized in the early church. They grew up to become wives in the rapidly growing Christian community, so in God’s amazing providence, these children gave birth to a whole new generation of Christians.
To welcome a child in Christ’s name means to lead a child gently to the Lord one step at a time. Whether they are our genetic children, adopted children or complete strangers, we can look out for every opportunity to welcome children in Christ’s name.
With the fragmentation of families, there are more babies and children than ever with no parental care. They need Christian adults to talk to them about who Jesus is and to pray for them; to adopt and support them. That’s how they will know the love of Jesus.
In many cases, the internet has been a child’s only babysitter, leaving them starved for real relationship. Many children do not ever sit around a dinner table and have a family conversation. This affords us an opportunity to offer genuine hospitality to young people by inviting them to our homes, bringing them to Church and incorporating them in our Life groups.
4. Do not hinder the children.
Finally, Jesus’s message to all of us is not to ‘hinder’ the children.
As parents, we can inadvertently hinder them with harsh authoritarian methods, as well as with over-indulgence and neglect. How will they learn of God’s love and character unless we show them? And how will they not be led astray if we leave them to their phones and devices? This is not a time for passive parenting.
At pivotal times in their development, we need to put aside all else to consistently discipline our children and teach them to control their natural selfish impulses. This is hard work, especially in the tyrannical toddler and teen years! But if we fail to be consistent in discipline, we will be causing our little ones to stumble. We may even hinder them from submitting to Christ and entering His kingdom.
Personally, I was privileged to grow up in a safe nest, with dozens of adults who discipled and nurtured me. God used them to welcome me into his kingdom:
A father who read me the Bible from a young age and shepherded my heart; an old pastor called Rev Dr J.F Allen who, in 1975, gave me a copy of his book, “The New Illustrated Children’s Bible “ which states on the front page: “The book is dedicated to the children of the world.” I read that Bible from cover to cover many times.
Another pastor called Warwick Seymour, from a tiny rural church, was my godfather. Every birthday, he gave me a beautiful Christian picture book with a handwritten message on the flyleaf. In my first decade of life, I was literally led to the Lord by those books and prayers, which is probably why I still love reading and writing.
But the shepherds didn’t stop there. When I went to boarding school at the age of 10, Christians from ‘Scripture Union’ and ‘Youth for Christ’ came to my school on missions. A total stranger wrote to me every week and sent me a Daily Bread to help me with my Bible readings and prayer. He taught me how to write my thoughts in a journal and memorize Scripture. An old woman arrived at my school each Sunday to take me to church, and an amazing Christian teacher called Andy Thomas taught me Biblical studies throughout high school.
At University, Roger Palmer (who ran a student ministry) and Dr Chris Warton, taught me to think biblically and patiently answered my questions. I’m naming names where I remember them, because I want to acknowledge some faithful Christians who took turns planting and watering spiritual seeds in my early life without ever seeing any fruit. They simply welcomed me in Christ’s name and in so doing, they welcomed Christ (Matt 18:5). It’s an immense privilege to lead a little one to God, and that privilege could be ours.
Our Father in heaven is not willing for any little one to be lost (Matt 18:14). “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Let’s look around and show the same kind of love and concern for children in our sphere of influence. It’s sorely needed.