The passing of Ontario’s Bill 89 Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, 2017 has created intense reactions in the Christian community in both Canada and the United States. It is not every day that Al Mohler Jr. and Franklin Graham comment about legislation passed in the Province of Ontario, and their interest is one sign that this Bill represents a significant development.
A major concern is that the Bill seems to give the government the right to remove children from the custody of their parents, if it is believed that the parents are harming a child by failing to properly respect the child’s, “race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.” Although it is uncertain exactly how this Bill will be interpreted and applied, Bill 89 clearly presents new considerations (e.g. gender identity and gender expression) for the courts and children’s services to take into account when they determine what is in a child’s best interest and whether the child is being fully supported by their care-givers.
It seems that the religious beliefs of the parents are superseded by the child’s “creed,” and the child is the one who autonomously self-identifies both their gender and how they wish to express their gender. If the parents are deemed insufficiently supportive of their children’s decisions, they may risk having their children removed from their care. It is necessary for the followers of Jesus Christ to think carefully and biblically about the times in which we live. Although there isn’t space to present a thorough treatment of the issues, what follows are four points for preliminary reflection.
There is Nothing New Under the Sun
Removing children from parents in order to raise them in a better way is not a new idea. Plato discussed educating children apart from their parents; Robespierre wanted children to be forced to attend boarding schools; modern-day Germany has opposed homeschooling; and the list can be multiplied. John Dewey desired public education to mold children into the form the government desired, rather than the form desired by the parents. State indoctrination of the young is a well-trod path.
The New Atheists—who in many ways are old news—claimed that teaching children about some of the traditional doctrines of Christianity is worse than some forms of physical child abuse (and even sexual molestation). If we believe that children can be taken from their parents for physical or sexual abuse, it would stand to reason that children should be taken from parents who subject them to even worse abuses (like teaching them the truths of the Bible).
We do not know how Bill 89 will be interpreted and enforced, but its guiding logic is not necessarily as new as we may think.
Ideological Visions Are Self-Justifying
It is commonly charged that religion is evil and that religious people seek to impose their views on others, stifling the rights of those who disagree with them. But it should be clear that ideologies and metanarratives of all kinds can be enlisted for totalitarian purposes, backed up with the force of political power.
It should also be clear that many contemporary narratives are grotesquely unsubstantiated by empirical data. For example, what evidence is there that taking away a transgendered child from their parents and home results in a positive gain to the child’s emotional well-being? In fact, there is evidence that children who claim to be transgendered often change their minds about their gender as they grow older, as well as evidence that mental health issues get worse after gender “affirming” medical procedures.
Rather than allowing parents to help guide their children through gender issues, the state has arrogated the right to determine whether the parents are sufficiently supportive of their child’s autonomous perspective. This decision is ideologically-based rather than empirically informed or scientific; it is a vision of justice that doesn’t require factual support to be “true.”
Our National Future is Uncertain
From a Christian perspective, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are seeing in real-time the downward trajectory described in Romans 1:18-32. The Bible reveals that there are times when unjust laws and unjust rulers are themselves God’s judgments on a nation. Yet, wicked laws and wicked rulers—judgments of God—bring greater judgment in their wake. Tragically, sometimes nations get the rulers and laws that they deserve. With the prophet we need to cry: “in wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2).
Nevertheless, we need to be careful about charting out slippery-slope arguments. (Such arguments tend to be more psychologically satisfying to their advocates than logically persuasive). The truth is that we do not know what the future holds for our nation, and extrapolating from current trajectories is not an exact science.
Pendulums swing and people can lurch from one extreme to another. One possibility is that our society will fragment into new depths of rebellion against God. Perhaps there will be widespread persecution in the future. Such talk of persecution does, uncomfortably, feel more plausible than it used to be. But if there is such persecution, should we be surprised? Any reading of church history, or any awareness of the world today, or even just taking the time to read the Bible, will show that persecution for God’s people is not abnormal.
Is such persecution, however, inevitable in this generation? It would be a denial of the gospel to believe so. In absolute sovereignty, God destroys nations, but he also revives nations. He hardens hearts and he grants repentance. We need to be aware of our culture and laws, but we must never forget that God is on the throne. The pollsters and pundits do not consult the One Who Sits on the Throne and the Lamb.
Our Eternal Future is Absolutely Certain
Rereading Revelation may help us gain a biblical perspective on our times, and provide us with strength and comfort. We may not be exempted from persecution, but the Lamb has triumphed through his blood, and the consummation is assured. Those who believe in the Lordship of Christ cannot be alarmists, even as we must engage all ideas and worldviews that oppose the truth of God. Our faith is in our covenant Lord, not in democracy, fairness, commonsense, or human wisdom. The ultimate outcome is not in doubt. No power in the universe can snatch the Father’s adopted children from his hand, and our eternal home is the place where righteousness dwells.