“How many of you in this gathering never even speak to your parents?” Dennis Prager of http://www.prageru.com asked the question of an assembly at Pepperdine University, a Christian institution in California.
Prager is an Orthodox Jew, scholar of Russian history, and a conservative radio and Internet host. His growing influence stems mostly from videos and other materials on PragerU that set forth clear, conservative viewpoints that flow in a contemporary way from the wisdom of the Old Testament. It’s reported that his videos have been watched more than four billion times.
Prager asked his question while expounding on the Ten Commandments. He had come to commandment five: “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God has given you” (Exodus 20:12).
Commandment five does not say you must love your parents, he explained. In brief sentences he allowed that mothers and fathers are often irritating and sometimes unwise or inept in their parenting.
But he made clear that, even when difficult to practice, this commandment is the word of God and it pronounces that children are to show respect at all times for their parents, even when a warm and fuzzy relationship is not possible. Of course, there would be rare instances of parents who are evil and the law must be called.
It’s nevertheless a divine law to honor parents. And treating parents with ongoing silence is deeply disrespectful. And damaging to both parent and child.
It was at that point in his address that he asked the crowd how many of them never spoke to their parents. He waited, encouraging those responding to raise hands high so he could be sure to see them.
After surveying the crowd, he announced that about 50 percent of the audience had raised their hand. He did not seem surprised, noting that whenever he posed that question to an audience the response was the same.
He went on to note how serious this is for our culture. Apparently great numbers of parents are deprived of any honor from the children they have birthed and raised to adulthood. They are utterly “divorced” by their child or children.
He pointed out that the high percentage is perilous because the commandment promises long life in the land only where offspring respect their parents. He was addressing the commandment principally to the Jewish people. But it appears to be a word of wisdom for all societies.
Prager’s 50 percent is not a validated statistic. It is his repeated observation. It is nonetheless troubling. Raising children from infancy to early adulthood, functioning first as caretakers, coaches and protectors and later as cheerleaders, is an arduous and expensive task, even when done imperfectly.
Whatever the quality of parenting, the failure of even 10 percent of our population to honor parents flashes a red signal suggesting the deterioration of our culture.
It would be easy to cast this commandment aside as “dusty Old Testament Law.” But here’s how Jesus, our Lord, responds to such an impulse:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17,18)
And the New Testament adds a note of further importance to the law when the Apostle Paul writes: “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified” (Galatians 3:24). That is, acquitted of our sins and referring as well to the reconciliation of broken relationships.
The Old Testament and specifically the Ten Commandments clearly prescribe that everyone honor their parents. Jesus and the New Testament require the same, by their affirmation of the Law.
Possibly we’ll know that our culture is being restored and the Spirit of God is moving among us in greater measure when we observe a movement in the land in which the hearts of children turn more generally to their parents, and parents to their children. The prophet Malachi promised as much for the nation of Israel (Malachi 4:5,6). May it be so for our nation as well.
Photo credit: Ben Seidelman (via flickr.com)