Damned Be the Ties That Bind

Oregon Wants to Destroy the Family, Literally

William Blackstone called the relationship between parent and child the “most universal relation in nature.” It encompasses everyone and occurs everywhere. It is the natural end of marriage. Like any relation, rights and duties are present. Children must obey and honor their parents; parents are obliged to provide for and protect. In turn, children are dutybound to care for their elderly parents. But the mutual duties and bonds of this universal relation extend beyond mere maintenance. Education is usually recognized as well. Indeed, under our current law educational neglect is actionable. We can go further still, however. Proverbs 22:6, Deuteronomy 6:7, and Ephesians 6:4 all situate religion, knowledge of God, true doctrine, even redemptive history, as the pedagogical duty of fathers. The general principle and supposition in play here is not unique to Biblical revelation. It has been ingrained in western culture since its inception.  

As Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges describes in his study of the pre-Caesarian classical world, The Ancient City, the family was not only the most basic, primordial social unit, but also the force that conditioned all subsequent organization.

More essentially, it was almost synonymous with the perpetuation of religion. The ancient family was defined by its shared worship and shared (ancestral) gods more than it was by blood. For induction to the family via either adoption or clientship was possible through sacramental initiation to the sacred fire of the familial hearth. Familial longevity was dependent on the priestly line of the father—religion established his authority for religion. So long as worship continued, the family continued. Marriage marked the conversion of the wife to the husband’s hearth family-cult.

Indeed, religion created marriage, says Fustel, just as it established property and inheritance (“I am the Lord, that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land, to inherit it; and to Moses”). That is a way of saying that in the ancient world, domestic religion was the basis of law which, in turn, was the basis of municipal law, and so on.

“Private law existed before the city. When the city began to write its laws, it found this law already established, living, rooted in the customs, strong by universal observance, The city accepted it because it could not do otherwise, and dared not modify it expect by degrees. Ancient law was not the work of a legislator; it was, on the contrary, imposed upon the legislator. It had its birth in the family.”  

Extended families, clans (gens), were united by shared gods, and the mixing of tribal gods for the sake of political convenience was inconceivable. Not even natural affection (or generation) was permitted to trump religious ties. Blood did not suffice, albeit blood was expected to correlate. For the family literally died if its religion lapsed. Plato defined family as a community of shared gods.

Of course, the first thing the reader realizes when entering the world Fustel reconstructs is how utterly foreign it is. It was an isolated, parochial existence of preeminent familial allegiance and secret ancestor worship (the eternal flame), however romantic, that cannot be reproduced with any exactitude absent cataclysmic intervention. There is likely no return to that bronze age… and those that claim the bronze age ethos today usually neglect its constituting, unifying, indispensable socio-political element—even the basic, innate desire for hearth and home in Odysseus.  

The point, for us, is that even in early Greece and Rome, religion and family were intertwined, and pedagogy was a parental prerogative. No, a necessity. It has always been thus in western civilization, even in its embryonic state.

The right to instruct children in rites and more besides, is not an aberration concocted of twentieth century culture warring, the advent of the “nuclear family,” nor by post-war liberalism. Even in the late secular—maybe, ironically, pagan, again—point on the timeline we now occupy, our country has recognized this. Even if our law cannot be said to arise out of the family as it did for Mycenean Greeks it nevertheless recognizes this in its own way.

For example, Tatel v. Mt. Lebanon School District, a recent case from the western district of Pennsylvania, is instructive, and gets it exactly right: Parents “have the primary responsibility to inculcate moral standards, religious beliefs, and elements of good citizenship in their children.” Here the district court was citing the famous Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972). Things like the “inculcation of religious belief,” said the court, “strike at the heart of parenting.”

In cases of conflict between the belief of the parents and that of the state actors like public schools, the fundamental rights of the parents must prevail. The state cannot interfere with this responsibility and right—the two are always coterminous. “[U]nwelcome moral views” need not be accepted by families. The point is that “[t]he child is not the mere creature of the State,” as Price v. Society of Sisters (1925) put it. Nor can educators or any other agent of the state usurp this parental religious right, as the Third Circuit made clear in Gruenke v. Sip (2000), albeit the Ninth Circuit has tried to thwart this limitation. Tatel, cited earlier, extended the right to parental purview over religious and moral instruction over gender and sex education in schools.  

And yet, everything now seems to froth against this definitive, universal duty because, one suspects, its power is potent and instinctively known. The policy of King Edward I (in Braveheart) toward the Scots, “If we can’t get them out, we’ll breed them out,” seems to be the new progressive mantra. (Sometimes they come right out and say it.) In the near term, one emergent strategy to this end is to erect barriers to fostering and adoption that will prevent Christians from participating therein. That is, regime-approved religious prerequisites intolerable to Christians.

Take a new case out of Oregon. Jessica Bates, a mother of five and young widow, felt called to foster and potentially adopt another child after the death of her husband. She is an evangelical Christian and was convicted by the Biblical command to care for orphans while listening to a Christian radio broadcast.

All states perform home study assessments on would be foster or adoptive parents to ensure that the potential home possesses adequate resources to provide and care for a child, including their social, educational, and developmental needs. The Oregon standard even recognizes cultural, religious, and spiritual elements to this equation.   

Predictably and because of her Biblical beliefs, Bates refused to agree, as a condition of fostering in the state, to “respect, accept, and support … the sexual orientation, gender identity, [and] gender expression.” In the statute outlining “adoption home standards,” “respect, accept, and support” means, as the statute makes clear, use of a child’s preferred pronouns, taking a child to Pride or affirming events, and providing so-called gender affirming pharmaceutical “care” like puberty blockers or hormone shots.

The mandatory training Bates attended as part of the application process offered myriad explanatory examples for how foster or adoptive parents should support and validate a child’s “self-expression,” such as displaying “symbols indicating an LGBTQ-affirming environment.” Attendance to events (including religious ones) “openly hostile” to a child’s alleged gender or sexual identity and expression are not allowed. All of this and more is imbedded in the foster care/adoption agreement for Oregon applicants. The message is clear: Christians—dissenters from and blasphemers of the established religion—need not apply.  

Bates sued the Oregon Department of Human Services which oversees the child welfare program for religious discrimination. The case is on appeal in the Ninth Circuit after a lower court ruled against Bates.

Senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, Jonathan Scruggs, who is representing Bates, got it right: “Oregon’s policy amounts to an ideological litmus test: people who hold secular or ‘progressive’ views on sexual orientation and gender identity are eligible to participate in child welfare programs, while people of faith with religiously informed views are disqualified because they don’t agree with the state’s orthodoxy.”

That’s exactly what we’re up against. Move over negative world. Welcome to hostile world.

“The foundation of relationship was not birth; it was worship,” to quote Fustel again. Inculcating religion is the mark and duty of parenting by all accounts, classical, Biblical, and legal.

It is not the state’s religion but the religion of the home, the hearth, the dinner table. (Even the very spooky Christian nationalists do not aspire to violate this right.) To deny this prerogative is to deny parenthood, child rearing altogether. To externally dictate it, to apply religious prerequisites to parenting is to negate the institution in toto, and, by extension, to rip the rug out from society.

If religion is not an intricate, even constituting element of family it will never be so for a people, for a city, for a nation. We will table for now the proper definition of religion, but we must recognize a point of history, text, and tradition. Remember America’s decidedly Christian founding, its Protestant ethos, and its common law inheritance (of which Christianity was an intricate part). Moreover, the majority of Americans remains Christians, even at this late hour. It is depressing and demoralizing to realize that a state once founded on the “Natural right, to worship Almighty God” according to conscience now weaponizes the law against those who would raise children in the fear and admonition of that same God. The new deity of androgyny and mutilation demands fealty and homage. It’s hard, at this juncture, not to wonder whether “the humiliation is the point,” as they say.

Image Credit: “Joseph Combette (1770-1840) Large Empire Family Portrait”

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Timon Cline

Timon Cline is the Editor in Chief at American Reformer. He is an attorney and a fellow at the Craig Center at Westminster Theological Seminary and the Director of Scholarly Initiatives at the Hale Institute of New Saint Andrews College. His writing has appeared in the American Spectator, Mere Orthodoxy, American Greatness, Areo Magazine, and the American Mind, among others. He writes regularly at Modern Reformation and Conciliar Post.

5 thoughts on “Damned Be the Ties That Bind

  1. Cline’s hyperbolic alarm rests on an over generalization. After all, the state isn’t prohibiting parents from raising their natural children in a Christian atmosphere. Rather, the state is setting standards for how a person or couple would temporarily raise someone else’s child. The state wants to guarantee each foster child’s right to choose, believe, and live the way they want to so long as the child’s actions are legal. Realize that the natural parents still have rights over their children who are placed in foster care. In fact, one of the goals of foster care can be to reunite a child placed in foster care with their natural parent(s). And so legally speaking, a foster child’s place in the family is at least somewhat incomparable to a natural child’s place in the family. This is evident when a court reviews the progress that a child is making in foster care. The natural parent(s) are heard from and their rights are respected.

    At the same time, the state could moderate its law to allow those foster children who are cisgendered to be matched with Christian parents.

    It seems to me that Cline’s failure to acknowledge the differences that exist between a foster child’s place in a foster family with that of a natural child is odd. Being a lawyer, he should be aware of those differences. And yet he’s writing as if a foster child’s place in a foster family is exactly the same as a natural child’s. Why does he overlook those so obvious legal differences? That is a question that only Cline can answer.

    1. As is so often the case, what may seem to be “hyperbolic alarms” will likely be standard practice in the near future. Cline here is showing that Oregon is establishing a principle- Failure to obey the secular orthodoxy means child abuse. The principle is being used in isolation: on adopting children. How long before the state decides to exercise that same principle on natural children in Christian homes, before the government decides a parent refusing to acknowledge their child’s “identity” means that child should be taken away from them? Christians have been ringing the bell on this ever-growing likelihood since the transgender craze began to circulate through schools. It’s not hyperbolic alarmism at all, its prognostication through pattern recognition.

      As for “the foster child’s place in the family is not comparable to those of natural birth”, this is simply untrue. No Christians are children of natural birth to God, we are children of Wrath and the devil. Yet God through His mercy predestined us, adopted us as sons into the family of Christ. We have been made children of God, just as if we were those of natural birth. And so in Scripture, there is little difference between the adopted children and the children of natural birth. What blessings God pours out on us, we seek to pour out on others.

      “So also, when we were children, we were enslaved under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive our adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, you are also an heir through God.” -Galatians 4:3-7

      1. Kyle,
        Again, the over generalization from criteria used to safeguard the rights of foster children is what produced Cline’s hyperbolic alarm. Until those criteria are applied so that no Christian family can keep their natural born children, his alarm will remain hyperbolic especially since there is no evidence that such will be the case.

        And yes, a foster child’s placement in a family is somewhat incomparable to the natural child’s place in the family. I’ve already provided the reasons why. Your reasons for comparing do not apply here. Again, a foster child has his/her own natural parent(s) and they often have voice in the placement. The goal in many foster placements is to return the foster child to his/her natural parent(s). A court oversees this. And so how is a foster child’s placement in a foster family not significantly different than the place that the natural children have? Again, we are talking about the law regarding the placement and care of foster children. We are not talking about the spiritual state of those who believe in Christ.

        Your discussion first refers to adopted children rather than foster children. Yes, some foster children are eventually adopted, but not most and adoption is, more often than not, not planned for. And second, no state child care system is concerned with the spiritual conversion of the child. Our standing as adopted children of God is simply not comparable to any state’s legal concerns for adopted or foster children.

  2. Yes, it is true that a foster child’s place in the family is not the same as that of a birth or previously adopted child. The foster parent cannot allow anyone to babysit the child, for instance, who hasn’t been approved. Foster parents can’t take the whole family, including foster children, to another state to visit family for Christmas without getting permission to do so, nor can they generally home school foster children. (I have done foster care, FTR, and one of my brothers has adopted children from foster care.)

    But all of that is actually rather irrelevant here. What the state is doing in this instance is saying, “In the theoretical possibility that a child you care for decides to pursue homosexual identity or gender ‘affirmation,’ you must agree in advance to support the child’s choices, to the extent of offering medical treatment [which is quite likely not approved by the birth parents] and not even taking this child to church with you, and putting up religious symbols [rainbow symbols] in your own home to affirm the child’s religion and not your own.” There isn’t even an option, apparently, of saying that you can foster children unless and until they decide they are some variety of LGBTQ.

    Would they do this for any other belief system? For example, if a child in your care decides to be vegan, are you required not only to serve vegan dishes but to remove eggs and beef from your home, and to hang posters speaking about the rights of animals?

    Christians have always cared for abandoned children. In truth, foster care would fall apart if Christians did not participate, because Christians are far and away the most likely to take in abandoned children. Some couples do foster care in the hope eventually to adopt. Saying “no Christians need apply to do foster care or adoption in this state” is every bit as onerous a burden as to say that Christians may not become medical doctors or nurses or teachers, potentially more so. And while it may not be as treacherous as saying “You’re such a dangerous person that we won’t allow you to keep any children you bear,” it’s a step in that direction.

    1. Cheryl,
      The place of a foster child is not irrelevant here. For a foster parent is filling for the natural parents until other accommodations can be made. That means that the desires of the foster parent are curbed by the situation. That situation includes the wishes of the natural parent(s). After all, natural parents have rights over their children care which foster parents don’t have.

      If an example can be found where it is prohibited for a natural child’s choice in this matter by the parents, then we are talking about the title of the article. But until then, the title of the above article and the article itself is hyperbolic designed to establish fear in the readers.

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