This continues a series on the Ten Commandments. In the last post we discussed the 6th commandment. With object of demonstrating that we base our laws upon the Bible, in this post we will discuss the relationship between the 5th commandment and government.
What is the 5th commandment?
Exodus 20.12 The New Revised Standard Version
Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Note that for reasons we discussed in PART 2 of this series Catholics consider the requirement to honour one’s parents the 4th commandment.
Respect For Parents
Why should we respect our parents? If they love us, then they help to show us the path to eternal life. When we are blessed with good parents, then our parents work hard to discipline us and to give us the power of their own good example.
Why do our our parents love us?
1 John 4:19-21 Good News Translation (GNT)
19 We love because God first loved us.20 If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen.21 The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also.
“We love because God first loved us.” Just as God loves us undeserved, our parents love us undeserved — just because we belong to them. That is why the greatest blessing a child can have is someone who loves them. Such love sets before that child a lifelong example. Love is not something we earn. Love is what we freely choose to give.
Respect For Authority
From our parents, we learn how to respect authority. Consider how the Apostle Paul extends the duty of children to obey their parents to our duty to obey those in authority.
Ephesians 6:1-9 Good News Translation (GNT)
Children and Parents 1Children, it is your Christian duty to obey your parents, for this is the right thing to do. 2Respect your father and mother is the first commandment that has a promise added: 3so that all may go well with you, and you may live a long time in the land.
4Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction.
Slaves and Masters 5Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling; and do it with a sincere heart, as though you were serving Christ. 6 Do this not only when they are watching you, because you want to gain their approval; but with all your heart do what God wants, as slaves of Christ. 7 Do your work as slaves cheerfully, as though you served the Lord, and not merely human beings. 8Remember that the Lord will reward each of us, whether slave or free, for the good work we do.
9Masters, behave in the same way toward your slaves and stop using threats. Remember that you and your slaves belong to the same Master in heaven, who judges everyone by the same standard.
Did Paul approve of slavery? No. What Paul looked forward to was different kind of conquest.
Titus 2:9-10 Good News Translation (GNT)
9 Slaves are to submit themselves to their masters and please them in all things. They must not talk back to them 10 or steal from them. Instead, they must show that they are always good and faithful, so as to bring credit to the teaching about God our Savior in all they do.
Aristocratic regimes and slavery were the accepted norm of Paul’s time, and he had not set out either to end aristocratic regimes or outlaw slavery. Paul wanted to teach all men that God loves us and expects us to love each other.
The Old Testament Required Children To Honor Their Parents
The Book of Exodus leaves no doubt that parents must be respected. The Old Testament forbaded both both violence against or the cursing of one’s parents.
Exodus 21:15 American Standard Version (ASV)
And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.
Exodus 21:17 American Standard Version (ASV)
And he that curseth his father or his mother, shall surely be put to death.
The Book of Deuteronomy explained what parents could do with a disobedient child.
Deuteronomy 21:18-21 The Message (MSG)
18-20When a man has a stubborn son, a real rebel who won’t do a thing his mother and father tell him, and even though they discipline him he still won’t obey, his father and mother shall forcibly bring him before the leaders at the city gate and say to the city fathers, “This son of ours is a stubborn rebel; he won’t listen to a thing we say. He’s a glutton and a drunk.”
21 Then all the men of the town are to throw rocks at him until he’s dead. You will have purged the evil pollution from among you. All Israel will hear what’s happened and be in awe.
The Old Testament left little doubt that The Ten Commandments must be obeyed, and stoning was the ultimate punishment. Note, however, that to apply the most severe sanction parents had to involve and receive the approval of their community.
When Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, he did not have an obsession with putting sinners to death, and neither did latter writters. From the Old Testament, we learn:
- Marriage is sacred: Genesis 2:24.
- Family members are not sex toys: Leviticus 18: 6-18.
- Children care for their parents, and extended family members care for their destitute relatives: Ruth.
- Parents instruct their children, and that instruction includes the teachings of scripture: Proverbs 1:8 and Proverbs 6:20-23.
- And so forth.
What Does The Law Say?
When I began to write this section, I found myself somewhat confused. Fortunately, I have no deadlines. So I thought the matter over. Check out The Ten Commandments. Review Exodus 20:1-17. Except for the fourth and the fifth commandments, all the others begin as direct prohibitions. Even the Fourth Commandment, which directed the Hebrews to keep the Sabbath holy, told them to do so by NOT working on the Sabbath. Therefore, because it tells us what to do instead of telling us not to do something, the Fifth Commandment is unique.
Why is Fifth Commandment so unusual? Perhaps God considers the relationship between parents and children particularly important. After all, both to us and to Jesus, God is The Father. It may be that by learning how to honor our human parents we begin to learn how honor God.
Because it is difficult to detect and prosecute thought crimes without sliding into tyranny, no free society does so. Therefore, we have no law that requires children to honor their parents. What we have instead are parental rights and obligations.
Rights and Responsibilities of Parents
- What are the rights of parents?
- Can parental rights be terminated?
- What are the legal rights of children?
- What are the rights of children who are accused of committing crimes?
- How long do parents’ legal obligations to their children continue?
- Are parents financially responsible for the acts of their children?
What the first reference makes clear is that parents have great authority and responsibility.
Parents have a right to direct the care, control, and upbringing of their children for as long as they are minors. This gives them the power to make various decisions on behalf of the child, including where to live, what school to attend, what religion to follow, and what medical treatment to obtain. Normally, the state will not interfere in these decisions. Only in life-threatening or extreme situations will the courts step in to overrule the parents’ decisions. (continued here)
The Education Issue
The education issue arises from the fact that some parents either abuse their authority or are unprepared to properly fulfill their responsibilities. So in extreme situations the courts must step in to defend the rights of a child. Unfortunately, government is not always impartial, particularly where religion is involved. Thus, we have an uneasy conflict between how parents choose to educate their children and how government officials would prefer to have those children educated.
Two huge teacher’s unions (The National Education Association and The American Federation of Teachers) fund the political campaigns of numerous political candidates. As a consequence, these unions exercise enormous influence. Thus, what is now taught in the public school system does not reflect the values of many parents, and many parents either choose private schools for their children or home school their children. Such choices lead to scholarly articles with titles like this: Who Owns the Soul of the Child?: An Essay on Religious Parenting Rights and the Enfranchisement of the Child. Here is an excerpt from the abstract.
Physically and intellectually transporting the child across the boundaries of home and community, a public education can bring its students a much needed respite from the ideological solipsism of the enclosed family. Of course, public education comes at a cost. It disrupts the intramural transmission of values from parent to child. It threatens to dismantle a familiar world by introducing the child to multiple sources of authority—and to the possibility that a choice must be made among them. Indeed, the open world of the public school should challenge the transmission of any closed set of values. Unless children are to live under “a perpetual childhood of prescription,” they must be exposed to the dust and heat of the race—intellectually, morally, spiritually. A public education is the engine by which children are exposed to “the great sphere” that is their world and legacy. It is their means of escape from, or free commitment to, the social group in which they were born. It is their best guarantee of an open future. (from here)
Should what happens at home between parents and their children be more or less important than what happens to children in a public school? Think about it. Think about your child and your responsibility. Should people chosen by government officials dictate the values your child learns?
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