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Protect the children

The scary reality involving sexual abuse of the truly vulnerable

Protect the children

In the wake of Florida’s overwhelmingly popular law prohibiting classroom instruction on sexuality to students in kindergarten through the third grade, many Americans are honestly baffled by the outcry. Why do progressive educators, Disney, and the White House all insist that 5-year-olds must be able to learn about scientifically dubious beliefs such as fluid gender identities?

One controversial explanation for why American elites have gone all-in on defending the teaching of esoteric sexuality to younger children is that they are “groomers,” and the word is being thrown around casually as an online slur. Even if educators are not directly looking to abuse children themselves by sexualizing them at very young ages and enabling kids to hide their sexual expressions from their parents, they are priming them for sexual abuse by predatory adults.

Many progressives opposing Florida’s law resent being called groomers when they insist their goal is to help confused children. Even some conservatives have spoken out about the inherent unfairness of the label.

But even if the term is unfair, the current debate underscores a scary reality: Opposition to the sexual abuse of children is not a societal norm we should take for granted. Indeed, the sexualization and sexual abuse of children were commonplace in the ancient world. The rise of Christianity created moral intuitions we now take for granted: Children are uniquely vulnerable, and we must physically protect them and work to preserve their innocence.

Don’t take my word for it. The essential text here is When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity by the Norwegian theologian O.M. Bakke. Before Christ, Bakke observes, the ancient Greeks essentially created a societal hierarchy around their notions of “logos” or reason. Free male citizens were said to possess the most capacity for reason. Women and older men had less capacity, and children possessed even less rational capacity. Therefore, they were valued even less.

Indeed, unwanted children were frequently abandoned in the ancient world for trivial reasons, such as the desire to have a son instead of a daughter or in response to political or economic instability. The practice was known as expositio, where infants were simply left outside to die of thirst, exposure, or animal attacks.

Opposition to the sexual abuse of children is not a societal norm we should take for granted.

And while most educated people possess some awareness that sex between adults and children occurred in ancient Greece and Rome, modern notions of cultural relativity often downplay the reality of what that meant. Children were often rescued from expositio by unscrupulous men or sold by their parents outright to become sex slaves. In ancient Rome, child brothels were a fact of life.

The Roman historian Suetonius records that emperor Tiberius taught his children to perform sex acts on himself, and it’s not at all clear whether Romans had specific moral objections to this. Bakke further notes that the Stoic philosopher Rufus openly muses whether a son who refuses to obey his father’s command to engage in sex with someone else is considered disobedient.

When Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven,” he was proclaiming a powerful countercultural message. Children are as valuable in the sight of God as adults. Similarly, when Jesus said, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it,” He made it clear that children’s lack of corruption was something adults should preserve and emulate.

Christians responded to Christ’s message by building orphanages to save children from Roman depredations, and over time, strong Christian moral notions married to classical ideas about the development of reason at different ages created the concept of childhood we know today.

In our own time, a new breed of secular elites is inverting Christian norms about protecting the most vulnerable among us. The categories of people we understand need special protection under natural law—women, elderly people, the infirm, children, etc.—are being supplanted by catering to the needs of those who take on an “identity” that demands concessions. And in the case of people who are “gender diverse,” they are even demanding things that are grievously harmful to women and children.

For more than 2,000 years, Christians have been the driving force for protecting children. In an increasingly secular age, children will become more and more vulnerable. The left’s response to the Florida law is an ominous sign of things to come.

Mark Hemingway

Mark Hemingway is a senior writer at RealClearInvestigations and the books editor at The Federalist. He was formerly a senior writer at The Weekly Standard, a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Examiner, and a staff writer at National Review. He is the recipient of a Robert Novak Journalism fellowship and was a two-time Global Prosperity Initiative Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He was a 2014 Lincoln Fellow of The Claremont Institute and a Eugene C. Pulliam Distinguished Fellow in Journalism at Hillsdale College in 2016. He is married to journalist and Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway, and they have two daughters.

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