Carl R. Trueman | Mom and Dad shouldn’t have to compete with the state for ownership of their children
In today’s America, it is not only the cost of living that is subject to escalating inflation. The rhetoric of public discourse is also something that becomes more and more incendiary, fueled no doubt by the easy demonization of others to which social media lends itself. Sadly, however, social media has no monopoly on hyperbolic rhetoric and the sinister stupidity it often expresses. Indeed, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, provided a first-class example when she recently declared that parental rights bills are the way “wars start.”
Actually, no, it isn’t. No war has ever started because parents did not want their kindergarten children taught about sex, let alone the weird and not so wonderful rainbow of sexual acts and incoherent gender identities now becoming a standard part of our cultural toolkit. As such, it might be easy to dismiss Weingarten’s asinine comment as a sad sign of the times concerning the language of public discourse and the sloppy thinking of our leadership class.
Yet, in making such a foolish statement, Weingarten might be disclosing more truth than she knows. Wars start for numerous reasons, including international aggression, imperial ambition, or internal social turmoil that society’s established institutions cannot contain. They also begin because one group treats another as property (as in the case of slavery and the American Civil War) or because one group steals something, typically but not necessarily territory, that belongs to another (as in the Trojan War with Paris’ kidnapping of Helen or the Second World War and Hitler’s invasion of Poland).The state has no right to oppose or present itself as an equal—or even a superior—to the family and its network of relationships.
Parental rights bills are an assertion of the truth that children are not property. They are not owned by their parents as one might own a car or a hot tub. They are born into a network of natural relations that carry with them natural obligations and dependencies. To the extent that the state has an interest in children, it is to support and aid that network of natural relationships, not to compete with it. For in the welfare of the family, the state will find its own welfare. The state has no right to oppose or present itself as an equal—or even a superior—to the family and its network of relationships.
Given the long-standing interest that radical political traditions have in undermining or even abolishing the family, the nature of modern sex/gender education makes it a first-class means by which the natural relationships of the family can be challenged, weakened, and ultimately dissolved. Historically, sexual codes are closely connected to how the concept of family is understood. Demolish them, as any Marcusan revolutionary or cyborg feminist will tell you, and you can truly revolutionize the world. And revolutions rarely, if ever, come without warfare and bloodshed.
When the state asserts its right to teach such sex and gender ideology to kindergarten children, it asserts that children and parents do not exist in a natural relationship marked by dependencies and obligations. The assumption is that children are to be seen as individuals. And given the fact that their young age means they cannot be regarded as responsible individuals and have to be dependent upon someone or something, they become, in effect, pieces of property, with the state and parents having to compete for ownership.
There are, of course, other aspects to the situation that are deeply disturbing. One must either be a very incompetent educator, or a deliberately dishonest one, to believe that 5-year-olds are remotely capable of thinking with the set of abstract concepts that the separation of gender from biological sex requires. That is hard enough for intelligent adults, as the latest confirmed nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court made clear during her confirmation hearing. But the most obvious thing about the aggressive grooming of minors in pansexuality and anarchic gender theory is this: It is a war because it does involve theft—not only the theft of innocence but the theft of something much more profound than mere property, which is the natural relationship that exists between parents and children. So perhaps Weingarten is right after all: A war is starting. And, as with many other wars, it is rather obvious who the illegitimate aggressor is.
Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.