The Church and Children: Vision and Goals for the 21st Century
Policy Statement - Updated September 2012
The National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA (NCC) is a community of thirty-seven member communions from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches that embody the unity of Christ and give common witness to Christ’s continuing mission and work in the world:
"The National Council of Churches is a community of Christian communions, which, in response to the gospel as revealed in the Scriptures, confess Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, as Savior and Lord. These communions covenant with one another to manifest ever more fully the unity of the Church. Relying upon the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the communions come together as the Council in common mission, serving in all creation to the glory of God."
--from the Preamble to the NCC Constitution.
Many of our member communions have statements on children. The NCC has policies that address specific issues relating to children (e.g. public education, child care, health care, human trafficking and human rights). With this policy (in 2004) the NCC adopted its first comprehensive statement on children, and with this update we seek to broaden the public discourse on the full range of children’s needs as well as their gifts and participation in the public arena and in the places where we live, work and worship. Nurturing, supporting and advocating for children are central to Christians and other people of faith. Valuing children reflects the world God intends. While this policy focuses on the United States, we are committed to building a global society in which every child is respected and has the opportunity to develop and flourish. We call on all member communions of the NCC to be intentional and vigorous in assuming this responsibility for all children, God’s children.
Created in the image of God, all children are a blessing to the whole human community. In response to the free and immeasurable gift of God’s grace, we are called to provide for children. God has made them full members of the covenant and the Realm of God. We are responsible for children as we nurture them into the fullness of life for which they are created. As God has nurtured the Church so too are we to nurture children in the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are called to 1) deepen and enrich children’s knowledge and love of God; 2) tend to children’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs; and 3) enable children’s voices to be heard and encourage their agency. The Lord’s Table is a visible witness to the welcome we are to offer to all children – an invitation to a life of abundance whereby the body is fed and the soul is nourished. Sustained by God’s grace, we are sent out into the world to be partners in creating a commonwealth with and for children whereby the measurement of our faithfulness is God’s standard of justice and mercy.
The witness and authority of the Bible provide a mandate for our work with and for children.
The people of Israel understood God’s commandment to ensure justice for the orphan, the widow and the stranger. But let us remember that children are not just recipients of justice but from the beginning have had a central role in God’s story. Through the child Isaac, and subsequent generations, the making and blessing of a nation occurred. The daring intervention by the sister and mother of the baby Moses set in motion the eventual deliverance of the enslaved people of Israel. The faithful response to God’s call is modeled in the leadership of young Samuel, courageous advocacy of young queen Esther, and the prophetic voice of the boy Jeremiah.
In the fullness of time, God became incarnate as an infant, born of a young girl Mary. Jesus grew from childhood to adulthood within the shelter and nurture of his family and in the community of faith. Jesus taught, healed, and welcomed those on the margins of society. Through word and deed Jesus rebuked those who would exclude and devalue children, pronouncing children central members of the family of God. In welcoming children, he said, we welcome not just Jesus but the God who sent Jesus.
The Contemporary Context
When we read, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him,” (Luke 1:40), it captures not only Jesus’ story but what we hope would be the story of every child today and in all the days to come. When we look at children’s lives today, however, we see many whose growth is hampered, who are not becoming strong in mind, body, and spirit because of obstacles in their way that we have not yet removed. Not all children have what all children need to grow, become strong and wise and aware of God’s favor resting upon them:
Today, not all children have their most basic needs met. One out of every five children in The United States lives in poverty, making children the poorest group in this nation. Most children who are poor live in families where someone is employed. Families below and some above the poverty line experience economic insecurity and have difficulty affording housing, utilities, nutritious food, and other necessities. A disproportionate number of the children in poverty are children of color.
Today, not all children have adequate health care to meet their physical and mental health needs. One in ten children lacks health insurance in our nation. Not all pregnant women receive prenatal care. Lack of preventive care exacts high costs—physical, emotional, educational, and financial—from the child, the family, and our society.
Today, not all children are nurtured for positive early childhood development, including rich early learning experiences at home, in child care settings and/or in Head Start programs. Early deficits in language and other aspects of development increase the challenges children will face as they enter school.
Today, not all children have the opportunity to receive a high quality education that gives them the best chance to succeed in school and life. Funding and resource inequities place children who are poor in low-performing schools. High percentages of all children cannot read nor do math on grade level, with children in poverty and children of color disproportionately represented.
Today, not all children are safe in homes, schools, congregations, and communities. Children suffer from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. They are victims of gun violence that takes the life of a child every 3 hours through accidents, suicide, and homicide. Children are bullied everywhere from school ground to cyberspace.
Today, not all children are guided and kept on positive, productive paths and helped to get back on track when they lose their way. High rates of arrest and incarceration, disproportionately affecting boys of color, stunt children’s ability to flourish and are exacerbated by zero-tolerance and school discipline policies that funnel children into the criminal justice system. High rates of detention and incarceration must be reduced.
Today, not all children are exposed to a culture that values them as children and promotes diversity. Whether conveyed at home, school, congregation, community or through the media, social networks, music, and elsewhere: 1) children are treated as consumers; 2) childhood is sexualized; 3) children are exposed to bigotry and stereotypes related to gender, race, ethnicity, class, and other aspects; and 4) violence, drugs, and alcohol are glamorized. Children experience stress in a variety of ways, including pressure to conform or to succeed academically, socially, and athletically and in other extra-curricular arenas.
Today, not all children live in families that nurture them. Some children have parents who lack models, information, and support. Parents may transmit stress from daily survival struggles, demanding work lives, or their own social, emotional, mental health, or other challenges. Every child deserves to be in a caring, permanent family and those who raise children need support – the child’s birth parents, relatives, foster parents, adoptive parents, legal guardians and other care givers.
Today, not all children are a part of congregations that welcome them fully and respect them as children. Not all children experience places of worship and faith communities that nurture their spirituality and their capacity to live out lives of service and justice. Children’s gifts, leadership, voices and needs are not recognized or incorporated into the life of all congregations.
In sum, the day has not yet arrived when all children, with the support of the Church from local to the national level individually and ecumenically, may grow and become strong and recognize that God’s favor is upon them.
The Church is in a unique position to proclaim God’s blessing and justice for children. Charged with a theological imperative, grounded with a biblical mandate, and aware of the current realities in which children suffer needlessly, the Church is called to hear and amplify the voices too often drowned out or ignored.
While the Church expresses concern for children and helps children through many outreach ministries of compassion and mercy, public witness and advocacy are necessary to create a political will for the common good, address the root causes of the peril children face, and effect lasting systemic change. National priorities and budgets must reflect a sustained commitment to children's positive development, strong families, and caring communities.
Vision and Goals for Children
God calls us to work together, as families, congregations, denominations and as an ecumenical community of member communions, to ensure that all children have the opportunity to develop and flourish. Therefore we, the member communions of NCC, working with others, strive to achieve the following vision and goals for children. The following goals are not listed in priority order, but all intersect and create a comprehensive vision.
All children have a right to economic security and economic justice, meaning that all families have access to nutritious food, clothing, transportation and safe, affordable housing, (in addition to high quality education, affordable, accessible health care, and other basic needs noted elsewhere in this document) and that all families have equal opportunities to provide these basic economic needs. Therefore, we commit to:
- Ensure that all children move above the poverty line through advocacy for just policy change and direct action
- Promote family-friendly policies in the workplace through advocacy and example
- Advocate for a livable wage and actively pursue a just tax policy including a refundable child tax credit and strong Earned Income Tax Credit
- Cultivate marketable job skills by providing training and education through our congregations and communities
- Advocate for and provide accessible, affordable, high-quality child care
- Promote non-profit, corporate, community, and government partnerships that strengthen communities with the well-being of people as the partnerships’ bottom line
- Provide economic security by advocating for government initiatives (income safety nets) for the children who need them
- Assist families in securing benefits for which they are eligible through congregation and community outreach and through advocacy for simplified application processes
- Enhance access to jobs through sound transportation policies and supporting community options for transportation
- Promote affordable housing through advocacy and community initiatives.
Every child and family has a right to guaranteed affordable quality, comprehensive health care. All children deserve to live in a healthy environment that allows them to thrive. Therefore, we commit to:
- Advocate for health policy that ensures affordable quality prenatal care is available for all pregnant women and provide congregation and community support to connect pregnant women with prenatal care
- Advocate for guaranteed affordable, high-quality, comprehensive health care and to assist eligible uninsured children and families to enroll in health insurance programs through outreach in the congregation and community and through advocacy for simplified application procedures
- Advocate for publicly funded, integrated, accessible and high-quality mental health care
- Through advocacy, education, and direct service, focus on prevention as a key to preserving the health and well-being of children
- Through advocacy for just public policy and through direct service efforts in the congregation and community, ensure that no children go hungry
- Work for school, community, and congregation implementation of effective health and nutrition education curriculum
- Develop partnerships with non-governmental organizations, businesses, elected officials, congregations, and citizens to advocate, educate, and take action for clean air, water, land and a healthy ecosystem
All children have a right to quality public education that fosters their intellectual, social, emotional, physical, cultural and creative development. Therefore, we commit to:
- Respect and support family as the child's first teacher, recognizing that learning begins at birth
- Support and advocate for the availability of high-quality, affordable, accessible, early childhood development programs including Head Start and child care programs
- Advocate for and strengthen an educational system that is a partnership of family, community, and school
- Support and advocate for public schools resources to provide a fair and equal opportunity to learn for all children, including qualified and effective teachers, challenging curricula, and equitable funding that provides access to small classes, reasonable loads for professionals like counselors and school nurses, equipped libraries and science labs, and up-to-date technology
- Support and advocate for every community to provide safe, excellent, equitably funded public schools that prepare every child for life-long learning
- Advocate for schools to recognize and respect children's physical, emotional, cognitive, and learning differences with appropriate resources and approaches
- Work with schools and communities to change practices such as tracking, retention, out-of-school suspensions, and zero tolerance policies that contribute to children dropping behind and dropping out of school and replace them with policies and practices that promote school engagement and achievement for students of all races, ethnicities, and family incomes
- Work to promote the use of schools and churches as community resources for learning opportunities during and beyond school hours
- Teach children and advocate for schools to teach children to understand and respect diversity, multiple cultures and languages, and a global perspective
- Actively support the realization of the NCCC Public School Policy
All children have the right to live in a physically and emotionally safe environment that cultivates acceptance, affirmation, and peace, and in which they are protected from the multitude of dangers that may confront them in today’s society. Therefore, we commit to:
- Provide child protection policies, church safety training for clergy and laity, and resources that promote and ensure safe, non-violent family, church, and community environments
- Promote legislation that eliminates children's access to firearms, and promote policies and practices that protect children from gun violence
- Teach and practice healthy conflict resolution in all segments of society
- Promote social justice through educating on the impact of prejudice and discrimination on society
- Promote non-violent, positive images and language that respect the dignity of every human being
- Advocate for reducing violence and highly sexualized content in the media, including television, movies, gaming, and on the Internet, and for the regulation of advertising that relentlessly targets children
- Ensure equal protection and due process of law for all children and youth
- Advocate for preventative support and services that promote appropriate alternatives to retention and incarceration
- Promote a system that recognizes the differing abilities of children and youth, while offering access to rehabilitation and learning in the least restrictive environment
- Through education, direct service and advocacy, work to eliminate child sex trafficking and forced child labor
Arts, Recreation and Culture
All children have a right to participate in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities. Children have the right to play, and to have free time in which to dream, imagine and create. Therefore, we commit to:
- Advocate for the integration of arts, culture and recreation into the core curriculum of education
- Advocate for access for all children to a wide variety of affordable, quality arts, cultural and recreational programs for children of all ages
- Encourage free time for children to engage in the free, unstructured play that should always be an integral part of childhood
- Advocate for and work to increase safe indoor and outdoor neighborhood recreational activities and spaces through the provision of after-school and summer enrichment programs and promoting the use of schools and churches for after-hours activities.
- Create ongoing opportunities in congregations, schools, and before- and after-school programs to discover, recover, preserve and celebrate diverse traditions
- Ensure that museums, libraries, parks and diverse cultural resources are supported as vital parts of our communities.
All children have a right to be a part of loving and safe families who are valued and respected by the larger community. All parents and other care givers need support that enables them to ensure the healthy development of their children and success in learning and in life, beginning at birth. Therefore, we commit to:
- Protect the dignity and value the diversity of every family
- Respect and preserve the child's bond and covenant with parents, family and community
- Ensure that parents and other caregivers have the skills, knowledge and resources to develop, support and sustain loving homes, including the basic human needs of food, housing, healthcare, education and economic stability
- Nurture parents and other caregivers in recognizing and appreciating their children’s abilities and their gifts for ministry and in supporting their spiritual development
- Provide resources and systems that enable families to balance the demands of parenting, work and education
- Encourage parents and other caregivers to be active in their communities, in the democratic process, and in the promotion of the interests of children and families
- Support adoption for children in need of permanent families
- Be intentional in providing church and community support when children are being cared for by relatives other than their parents
- Encourage congregations to become caring partners with institutions and systems providing care for children, and engage in advocacy for children in those settings
Faith communities need to involve children, of all ages, in every aspect of the church’s life – worship, education, prayer, witness, and service. Children have gifts to share as well as needs. Therefore, we commit to:
- Receive, nurture and treasure each child as one who comes from God
- Help adults to recognize and be open to the gifts of children
- Ensure, through leader development and assignment of resources, that faith communities are places of joy, nurture and safety for children
- Nurture the spiritual life of children so that their relationship with God will deepen and their commitment to the life of faith will grow
- Prepare and support those who minister with children, giving programming for children the highest priority
- Foster communities of faith in which children, youth and adults know each other by name, minister to each other, and are partners in serving Christ in the world.