You didn’t eat any forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It was Adam. It was Eve. It wasn’t you. You didn’t do it. Yet, you are suffering the consequences of the offense of your first parents. The Apostle Paul made this clear in his Epistle to the Romans:
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” Romans 5:12-14
Death reigned even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam. That doesn’t sit right with many but it is nevertheless true.
Paul’s statement from Romans concerns our first parents but what about our actual parents? Do children suffer for the offenses of their parents? Yes. Moses made this clear in his biblical writings:
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Exodus 20:4-6
Moses quotes the passage above in Numbers 14:18 when conversing with the Lord and remind the Israelites of it in Deuteronomy 5:8-10. The people of God are clearly not meant to forget it. The Lord gives his warning to parents in the specific context of committing idolatry but there is a an obvious principle: children suffer for the iniquity of their parents. Even outside of specific divine punishment, this is a truism of which parents are generally aware. When a parent makes a bad decision, be it sinful or merely stupid, his child will suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, this truism is lost among a group of professional theologians, chief among them top Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, who recently drafted the Evangelical Leader Statement of Principles on Dreamers. This statement advocates for immigration law amnesty in the cases of certain children who were illegally brought into the United States by their parents. While their outlook on government policy is debatable, their clear flouting of biblical theology is completely unacceptable. Their offense is summarized in a single sentence from their statement:
“We believe it is unjust to punish children for offenses they did not commit.”
How can this be so, if God has visited the iniquity of fathers on their children? Even if God no longer does it, he has done it. Justice itself, in eternity past and going perpetually forward, is objectively grounded in the nature of God. How can God have ever done something that was unjust? Did Paul and Moses make false statements about God or did the authors of the Evangelical Leader Statement of Principles on Dreamers, which does not include a single biblical citation, impugn the character of God?
In the long history of the United States, immigrant parents have come to this country to give their children a better life. This is true of parents who have emigrated both legally and illegally. The logical implication of the Evangelical Leader Statement of Principles on Dreamers is that those parents who broke the law in an effort to give their children a better life (despite any negative impacts on the children of their neighbors) should be rewarded. Their children get to stay even though they broke the law to bring them to the United States. The parents did wrong; their children benefit because it’s apparently “unjust to punish children for offenses they did not commit”. So, what exactly is the consequence of the parents breaking the law? Their children benefit and it’s unjust for the government to remove the benefit.
How is it that these leaders continue to be funded and given positions of influence by Southern Baptists? Why are they given a platform to make a patently unbiblical statement? Their sense of justice is obviously grounded in a popular idea of human fairness and not the infallible word of God. Southern Baptists should stop giving them money to contradict the word of God to in the course of scoring political points.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church of which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.
[Editor’s Note: JD Hall also explained the error of this, and compared the promises of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 to the promise of punishment upon children in Deuteronomy 6. He elaborates more fully on the theological problems presented by the claim that it is “unjust” to punish children for the sins of their parents. You can see that post here]