Child Neglect

By J.S. Smith

It was on the front page of the newspaper for three solid days. Every television station in town brought its cameras to frame the stark images one would never expect to see, save in a third world country. Officials from various government bureaus expressed sorrow for having not acted sooner and pledged to be more vigilant. As they were led away by police officers, the parents shielded their faces from the shame with coats. The judge’s sermon during their indictment nearly stripped the paint off the old courthouse wall. Once they were incarcerated, the other inmates whose crimes ranged from petty theft to murder ostracized the parents and even taunted them. It was only then that the parents realized how awful it was.

Oh, the neighbors had suspected something was amiss in that house for a few years. They heard things and saw things but observed the right to privacy of the parents and did nothing. Matters got worse until finally someone had to say something. Who knows if the damage done to the children can be reversed now, after all these years, and by whom? No doubt, the scars will endure a lifetime. And if statistics are any indication, these children will even afflict their own children in the same sad fashion.

The newspaper picked up today on the fact that the parents were members of the church of Christ. The anchor rattled off a number of peculiar beliefs held by the church of Christ that made this event all the more ironic and bitter. The local preacher was interviewed; he stumbled over his own excuses for either not knowing or not acting. One of the elders was telephoned by a reporter and he just hung up the phone and then took it off the hook.

A couple of weeks later, the top station in town won the right to interview the parents, still incarcerated in the local jail. The anchor prepared her questions, not knowing whether to expect her subjects to be combative or penitential.

The interview aired that very night and most every set in town was tuned in. It began with some shots of the house where the parents had lived with their children. The signs of neglect were all there. Oh, the house was in immaculate order and the refrigerator was filled with food. There were two cars in the garage and the kids had ample clothing. The rooms were well-appointed and the pictures on the wall showed a happy family. But over on the corner table was the reason these parents were incarcerated and the children in foster care. The Bible was all dusty. 

Reports had been received that the parents made little to no effort to get themselves or the kids to Bible class on Sundays. Wednesday was still worse. Lately, they had even begun to miss the Sunday morning worship service more regularly than they made it. Someone had to step in when it became apparent these kids were being sorely neglected.

The preacher was too busy to say anything to the parents; besides when would he see them anyway? The elders were afraid to rock the boat and held their tongues, too. All the while, the spiritual neglect in this home grew worse. The interest the kids had in spiritual matters when they were toddlers was fast disappearing, like a feast devoured so long ago. Once they were desperate for milk (of the word) and even curious about trying some meat. But it had been so long since their parents fed them these staples, that they had mostly forgotten all about them by now.

Despite the success of their parents at work and even popularity in the neighborhood, the kids were being neglected spiritually. The parents nurtured their self-esteem and satisfied most every whim. They wore the latest fashions and listened to the newest tunes. They ate sumptuously every night and yet they were woefully neglected. Their bellies were not distended like those poor children on the “Save The Children” commercials, but their souls must have been.

The reporter asked the parents when the neglect began. “Not at first,” they replied. “When they were first born, we took them to church nearly every Sunday and talked to them about Jesus and everything. But gradually, we got wrapped up in our jobs and sort of forgot about the Bible. We took them to class less and less and eventually they stopped caring if they went. Then it was easy to just stay home and to leave our Bibles on the shelf.”

The reporter asked them if they understood that their neglect made the children less likely to become Christians and more likely to face worldly problems like alcohol and drug use and promiscuity. “I guess,” the parents replied.

The anchor signed off her interview with a plea to other parents to remember to raise their children in Christ’s admonition (Eph. 6:4), to be like Timothy’s mother and grandmother in teaching them the scriptures (2 Tim. 1:5), and to provide them the milk and meat of God’s word (1 Pet. 2:2). Dusty Bibles and absence from class and worship are signs of spiritual neglect and ought to be treated seriously (2 Tim. 2:15, Heb. 10:24-25), she said.

Then I awoke and remembered that we do not live in such a society. We take the physical neglect of children very seriously and entreat their parents to improve because we love all children. When it comes to spiritual matters, even among Christians, we seem to care less about the young. We object little when the children are more likely to miss class than attend. We hope it will work itself out, that the child will retain an interest in the Lord in spite of this neglect which we witness. How many souls will be lost in their youth because those who claimed to love them neglected the nurture of their eternal souls?