The Urgent Need for Parental Authority

This column, written by Dr. Heath Lambert, originally appeared in the print edition of the Florida Baptist Witness.

Two different reports from two different news agencies seem like they are about two different realities, but are actually tied together in fascinating ways.

The first is an article from the New York Times by Laurie Frankel entitled, “From He to She in First Grade.” Frankel shares the story of her biological son who felt more comfortable wearing dresses than the shirts and shorts that boys wear. As the start of school approached the Frankels were torn about whether they should allow their son to wear the dresses that made him comfortable but was sure to expose him to ridicule, or to force him to act like a boy against his wishes. After an agonizing struggle the Frankels decided to let their son decide. He chose to dress as a girl and to grow out his hair, and they began referring to him not as their son, but as their daughter.

The second story was from CNN where Chandrika Narayan reported that, in Belgium, the first child has died by euthanasia after the country’s laws were amended to allow minors to choose, with parental consent, to end their life with the assistance of a physician. The report does not mention the name or age of this young person, but we know that the child had a very serious medical diagnosis and, pursuant to the law, chose this form of death after parental consultation.

Each of these stories is tragically painful, for different reasons. One story details the pain of a family as they address their son’s struggle to embrace the physical body he has received from God himself. Another story describes the pain of a family as they experience and respond to the tragedy of terminal illness, and the choice of how to respond. One significant reality unites these painful stories, however, and it is the reality of authority.

I do not doubt the love that exists in these families. I also do not doubt the severe pain they must have experienced as they addressed such terrible realities. My concern is that as they sought to love one another through pain they did it without relying on God’s authority. The New York Times records the story of a family who made decisions about their son’s gender as though God has not spoken authoritatively, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). CNN reports about a family who made life and death decisions about a precious child as though God made no authoritative pronouncements about this: “See now that I, I am he, and there is no god besides me; It is I who put to death and give life” (Deut 32:39). God dictates the terms of our gender, and the timing of our life and death. He reserves these decisions for himself, and does not share them with us. They require wisdom that human beings do not have, and whenever we try to make these decisions ourselves they extend pain, rather than eliminating it.

The absence of divine authority is not the only kind of authority missing from these stories. We also see the absence of biblical parental authority. Proverbs 22:6 instructs parents to “Train up a child in the way he should go” because God wants parents to know that they have real authority from him to point their child in the direction of his way of wisdom because this is the path to peace and joy. In these news stories, the love of the parents for their children is not in question. But these stories highlight the urgent need we have in our culture to work against the tide of parenting that is defined by passive permissiveness. Parenting is wise and loving, not when it allows a child a vote on issues of life and death, or manhood and womanhood, which are the prerogatives of God alone. Parenting is wise and loving when it encourages children to trust God and his Word in the midst of the pain of life.

As our culture continues its not-so-slow slide towards Sodom, perhaps this issue of parental authority based on God’s authority is something we are missing the most.

For more information about biblical parenting, check out the ACBC Fundamentals Track which counts for the 30 hours of basic training for ACBC Certification. This teaching series has several lessons devoted to biblical parenting.

Heath Lambert
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