Often, as we discuss sexuality and marriage, the word covenant comes up—specifically whether marriage should be a covenant between a man and a woman or whether LGBT friends have the right to enter into such a covenant. When we limit our main discussions of covenant to adult, sexual relationships, however, we miss the fruitfulness of this rich, theological concept for our other relationships.
For example, as a single Christian there are certainly aspects of covenantal sex that are important to me—I am a 36-year-old, heterosexual virgin who practices celibacy, because my faith convinces me that the context for sex is a covenantal marriage. However, there are also other types of covenant which, although less explicit, have more direct bearing on my Christian life. There’s an implicit covenant that I have with my parents that I will be a good daughter. I also have an implicit covenant with my friends—to be loyal, to listen to them respectfully even in differences, and to be present to them through thick and thin. Sure, we do not sign a specific contract or have a public ceremony, but isn’t the idea of covenant embedded at least implicitly in the very definition of what friendship is? I also have covenants within my church community to be a good sister in Christ.
Marriage is important, but it should not be the only covenant in our lives or we risk excluding, for example, the 124.6 million single people living in the U.S. from one of Scripture’s richest theological concepts. We also exclude children.
And yet, over and over again, Scripture compares our covenant relationship with God to the relationship between parents and children. This relationship has important theological meaning, because we worship the Triune God. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where children are often at risk, because some parents have abandoned covenant faithfulness to their children. Consider:
- More than 300,000 American children are abused or neglected
- 50% of U.S. children experience their parents’ divorces—and often this means the parent-child covenant has been marred, if not broken with one parent or the other.
- 4 in 10 American pregnancies are terminated by abortion. Worldwide, it is estimated that up to 200 million girl children are “missing” because of gender-selective abortion.
- 20% of homeless youth in the U.S. are LGBT.
- We have approximately 400,000 children living in foster care.
- Globally, an estimated 1.2 million children yearly are the victims of trafficking. Sometimes, it is parents–experiencing extreme poverty and desperate to care for other children–who knowingly sell them.
As Christians, we need to recover the concept of covenantal parenting. We also need to emphasize the Christian community’s relationship and responsibilities to children, both in supporting healthy parents and protecting children whose parents fail them. Jesus affirmed children’s membership in the faith community multiple times (Mark 9:36-37; Mark 10:13-16; Matthew 21:15-16).
What does it look like to affirm children as part of Jesus’ covenant community? First, it means we take up the issues that affect them deeply and become multi-issue Christians in our public theology. It also means that Christian parents make the permanent decision to continue their relationships with their children independent of the children’s actions, thoughts, or feelings. Every child should know home as a safe place, and no child should be forced out of a Christian home by their parents, because we as Christians have a Father who will never abandon or forsake us. Parents who model God’s love need to be parents who cannot be budged in their love for their children, meaning abuse and abandonment are unacceptable.
When parents do fail their children, the church should be the first to volunteer to protect them, and by that I do not mean just the unborn. For example, we should proactively engage society and our churches about child abuse and domestic violence, because chances are high there children in our churches living through the horror of such experiences, whether we acknowledge their pain or not.
And, as a Christian who is conservative about same-sex marriage, let me add this: There should not be even one LGBT youth in our country without a home, because if and when such children’s parents abandon the parent-child covenant—we as Christians should be giving them homes and welcoming children for the very sake that they are children and this makes them vulnerable.
Certainly, the American church’s heated marriage debate is important, but we also must not lose sight of the significance and potential of being covenant Christians in our other relationships. When we do, we lose a crucial theological tool for child protection.