In a previous article, I attempted to provide a unique, historical example of what happens when the civil government steps out of its jurisdiction. It is common to hear complaints from within the Christian community about the magnitude of the state’s reach this day and age while at the same time hearing how it should do a better job. We push the state away with one hand, and with the other, we grab it around the neck and demand that it take better care of us. We hate big brother but are not quite willing to quit nursing at the breast of our primary caregiver.
If one were a fly on the wall in just about any group or gathering where the topic turned to “politics”, they would hear laments about the current administration and how over the last century our country has suffered considerable moral atrophy. With a countenance of conviction and disdain, we step high onto our soapboxes and recount the unraveling of the moral fabric of our society and question where it is all going and when it will all end. In short, we gripe and complain. We need to stop. There are many reasons why we should turn complaining into constructive prayer and action but in a large part we need to quit because we have played a primary role in the state in which we find ourselves (no pun intended). How so? In many areas we have abdicated our responsibility as the church and as Christian families.
One of these responsibilities is in the area of charity. In many ways we have given the state a primary role in caring for the poor and needy. As we have, we have watched the influence of the civil government grow to uncomfortable levels. This was one of the powerful lessons in the book referenced in last week’s article. Through charity, the Prussian state was able to excerpt increasing influence over the society. Specifically this was in the area of helping to set up orphanages to care for abandoned children. As Christians counted more and more on the state for the funding and organizing of care for orphans, they saw their own influence diminish. This is a direct result of blending Biblical roles in society. I would like to provide a present-day example of such confusion of roles and subsequent negative consequences. Let’s take the issue of abandoned orphans.
You may have heard the term “baby in a box” over the last few years.
“Boxes where parents can leave an unwanted baby, common in medieval Europe, have been making a comeback over the last 10 years.”
“At the end of that path, there is a stainless steel hatch with a handle. Pull that hatch open and there are neatly folded blankets for a baby. The warmth is safe and reassuring. There is a letter, too, telling you whom to call if you change your mind.”(1)
The concept has been around for quite a while. “It is believed that Europe’s first baby hatch opened in Rome in 1198 under Pope Innocent III, who was frustrated by the number of abandoned newborns found floating in the Tiber River.”(2) The practice of abandoning children has been around long before 1200. Currently, it is seeing a resurgence around the world. There is one particular story from South Korea that has made the news over the last couple of years. Last year, a film entitled The Drop Box won the $101,000 Grand Prize at the San Antonio film festival.(3)
The film details a story of Lee Jong-rak, a Pastor in Seoul, Korea who built a drop box in the wall of his church so that mothers could literally “drop off” unwanted children.
“Lee, who opened his “baby box” for unwanted infants three years ago, said he had seen the number being left there shoot up from an average of five a month to 10 in August and 14 in September.”
“Many of the babies abandoned in the box have physical or mental disabilities. Lee has adopted 10 of them himself and is in the process of adopting four more…At the moment, Lee is looking after 20 children, aged between 2 and 26, in his cramped two-story house. Among them, his own son.”(4)
Lee should be extolled for his Kingdom work. This is the gospel. This is “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” (James 1:27) His sacrificial display of a life of Christian charity has been a worldwide encouragement.
Sometimes I think we have an ideal about our neat and tidy little (sometimes big) reformed families and it works against this area of Christian charity. I was talking at length with a Christian man a couple of weeks ago who, along with his wife had fostered over 65 children in their lifetime. As he spoke of the children and the myriad of stories and tragedies I found myself uncomfortable in my own skin. It was an affront to the ideal picture that sometimes surfaces in my head of the six “neat and tidy” children sitting upright, lined up on the pew and attentive in their integrated worship on Sunday. Now, this picture of course is not bad in and of itself. It is a good ideal. This man had just rolled up his sleeves and worked for a lifetime among the messiness of abused and abandoned children. His picture was more like driving ten baggage-filled kids to church in a 15-passenger van.
During my conversation, this man made a ghastly statement. He said in his home county that fostering to adopt children was on the rise in one segment faster than in any other group – the gay and lesbian community. Just a week prior he had witnessed a gay man adopting his fourth son, contributing to the severe outnumbering of Christian adoptions. He says as Christians we are standing by and watching. Worse, we are not even watching. We are closing our eyes.
We need to get down to the heart of the matter. This is a covenant issue. We are out of touch with responsibilities and jurisdictions of Biblical covenant institutions. As the church and as Christian families we have not accepted that the area of charity is in our jurisdiction. We have not accepted that the Lord has called us to care for the widows and orphans. We want the government to do our job. The story at hand provides a prime example.
“Obviously it is best for the parents themselves to raise their children, but when the country does not perform its function in this situation, it is important to save the lives of babies first,” Sang Duk Sim, an obstetrician, said.”(5)
“Lee has been criticized by some people who say his box encourages desperate mothers to give up their babies. But Lee says he will not close the box until he was sure the government can offer adequate protection for abandoned babies.”(6)
And there you have it.
We desperately need to understand and apply the responsibilities outlined for each of the divinely ordained covenant institutions in Scripture. Does the civil government have a legitimate role in the care of abandoned orphans? Of course. It protects and restrains through the punishment of crime. (Romans 13:4) Ensuring there is no unlawful human trafficking, enforcing contracts, and a number of other activities would be within the jurisdiction of the state. What is not is calling on the state institution to be a primary caregiver or savior. If we ask the state to be savior then we will have to face the bitter consequences. That which is savior many times becomes lord.