This week's question comes from Michele C. who writes that there's been a rift in her church: "Is it our duty as brother and sister Christians to correct each others children or is this a no-no? What are our duties, rights or obligations towards a fellow believer's children?"
The issue at stake here is whether it's the parents or the "village" that's in charge of raising a child.
There is a wealth of suggestions on child rearing in the scriptures. Biblically, it is clear that the father was in charge of disciplining the child. Indeed, except in cases of a widow raising a child, every instance of discipline and every saying about discipline infers that the father is the heavy in the family. Proverbs has perhaps the best collection of parenting tips. Time after time, the father is reminded that disciplining the child keeps the son (always the "son") from straying into foolishness, foolishness being the worst sort of pronouncement upon a child (Proverbs 6.20, 17.21, 29.17).
But the father didn't bear the sole responsibility for child rearing. For one, we know that the mother raised and generally disciplined the daughters. The mother also raised the son almost as a solo act until he reached four-years-old, the age when the son got his first haircut and was ushered into training for "manhood." Further, according to Deuteronomy 21, the mother bore some of the responsibility for child rearing even when the child was older: "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you" (21.18-21). Note that it took both parents to declare the son unfit.
So, it seems clear that within the family, it is up to the father with the help of the mother to raise and discipline a child.
But what about the "village?" What's its role? There is only one recorded instance where child rearing was the responsibility of the village. In 2nd Chronicles 22.10 - 24.1 we read the account of Joash, the child-king of Judah. When he was one-year-old, his grandmother waged a coup and put the whole royal family to death. Joash's mother took her child and was hidden with him in the Jerusalem temple for six years until he was crowned king by the priesthood and the army. During that time, apparently, Joash was raised not only by his mother, but by the whole of the priesthood. However, we're not really told who took the role of disciplinarian, though it is unlikely that it was left up to whomever thought best.
Which brings us to the point: Parenting is the responsibility of the parents, and lacking parents, the responsibility of the guardians who are duly appointed. Jesus was pretty clear when he told the disciples, "Let the children come to me" (Matthew 19.14) and when good intentioned "church folk" interfere in the parenting choices of legitimate, God-appointed parents-even God appointed lousy parents (unless they're causing harm in the legal sense)-then not only will the rightful parents become offended, there is a pretty good chance that the children may be offended and decide maybe the Kingdom of God isn't such a wonderful place after all.
Besides, most of the times I've noticed non-parents "correcting" a child in church have done so around rather inane issues like the kids eating too many cookies at refreshment time. Or talking with their mouths full. Children who are squirming, chattering, or playing in church or worse yet, having fun (God forbid!!) when they're supposed to be somber, serious, and bored stiff. There really are more important things the church ought to be doing than setting itself up as the guardians of etiquette.So, unless a parent has given tacit permission for others to correct their child, or when a child is being destructive, hurtful, or violent, it might be best for the folks in the church to abide by the biblical principle of letting the parents do the parenting.