Home > children, discipline, government > >Should parents who smack be considered criminals?

>Should parents who smack be considered criminals?

>My voting papers arrived yesterday. The national postal referendum asks the question:

Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?

Much has been written about this so far. Those who have argued “no” I think have put up a good case. The vote NO site explains the issues well and has some nasty stories concerning families who have be negatively affected by the previous law change.

The Yes vote campaign have done less well as their presentations have been disingenuous rather than informative. To constantly use the term “hit” in preference to “smack” intentionally muddies the waters. To talk about parents punching their children, or hitting in anger is irrelevant as their opponents agree with them that this is inappropriate.

Referencing the statements of various organisations seems reasonable, until one realises that many members of any organisation disagree with official positions. In fact organisations should be very careful about supporting any cause outside their field, and even at times inside their field; but that is another post.

Of course one could argue that I find those who I agree with reasonable and those I disagree with unreasonable. There is probably some truth to that, but I am fully capable of dismissing poor arguments that favour ideas actually I agree with; doing so is important as poor arguments are detrimental to good causes.

But what I really wanted to focus on is what the question actually asks and an appropriate Christian response.

If one answers “yes” to the referendum question then they are saying

A smack as part of good parental correction should be a criminal offence.

If you are tempted to answer yes, do you think that parents who use corporal punishment should be criminals? It is not so important whether you would choose to smack in answering this question, rather whether you think that such behaviour should be considered criminal. Are you willing to label a large number of parents criminals because they smack? And it does not matter whether you think they will or will not be prosecuted, it matters what they are considered.

There are things I do not choose to do, but I don’t think they are criminal. There are things that I consider morally wrong but I do not want them criminalised. I think smoking is a minor moral failing, but not one that should be criminal. I think drunkenness is a moderate moral failing, but I don’t think police should be allowed to arrest men passed out on their couch at home. I think laziness is a significant moral failing, but I don’t want laws that fine people who don’t pull their weight.

If you answer “no” to the referendum question then you are saying

A smack as part of good parental correction should not be a criminal offence.

And many who would choose never to smack their children can reasonably hold this position. Consider the position of those who do smack. Many of them do so because they think it effective. I think a good case can be made that parents should smack in many situations. Let’s assume that smacking is the most appropriate punishment in many situations to maximise the chances that one’s child grows up well behaved and well adjusted. Even if this were the case pro-smackers would not argue that parents who refuse to smack their children should be considered criminals. Pro-smackers may think them unwise, but to enforce such behaviour through legal methods is inappropriate.

How should Christians approach this referendum?

I think the Bible argues for corporal punishment. This is seen in several proverbs (Proverbs 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15, 17). The use of physical discipline as punishment of adults in the Mosaic Law would support this. And the incomprehensible danger of things such as roads and water would argue that smacking is the most appropriate form of discipline for the very young. Reasoning doesn’t work.

However I think another passage is also appropriate. James says

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. (James 3)

James warns us that teaching others means facing a stricter judgment by God. The reason is we stumble in our speech. It is one thing to have incorrect opinions, it is another to teach others wrong doctrine. If we kid ourselves this has negative consequences on our behaviour, but if we mislead others then the damage is much greater. This applies to everyone, including what I write here.

While voting is not teaching, I think the principle is similar. Voting in a democracy affects others. It may only have a small effect, but we are responsible for whether we vote, how we vote, and who we vote for. And God holds us responsible for the same. Thus we should pray about voting, and vote with a humble attitude.

We see from above that voting “yes” is saying that one thinks smacking should make a parent a criminal. If you oppose smacking, do you think it so bad that the state should have the right to intervene in the lives of families where it occurs? If I were to smack my child in a controlled manner as a method of teaching them not to step onto the road, do you think that government officials should be allowed effect changes in my family as they see fit?

  1. 2009 August 1 at 02:49

    I would certainly vote “no”, although I never smack my daughter, and I find that *most* of the people I’ve seen smacking their children are abusive rather than corrective. However, I am not sure that the biblical case is all that strong. The Bible never weighed in on any social debate between those who supported corporal punishment as a matter of principle and those who did’t. Corporal punishment was the norm, and nobody in those days argued against it on a principled basis. It’s far more likely that the parents being addressed by those scriptures were simply to inattentive, lazy, or doting to punish their children as necessary. I think that scriptures are clear that parents have a responsibility to use whatever discipline necessary to raise up a child correctly, and corporal punishment is what was normal back then, and is not forbidden. The definition of “necessary” will vary based on child, which makes it impossible to formulate a blanket law at the granularity of a “smack”.
    Also, I would argue that voting about a secular criminal policy is not the same as teaching the word of God. James isn’t warning teachers specifically because they “affect others”. He is warning because they affect others relationship with God.

  2. 2009 August 1 at 04:14

    Joshua, I didn’t go into the biblical justification for corporeal punishment in much detail due to the angle of the post. I do think that cultural issues are important in interpretation but I don’t subscribe to a redemptive hermeneutic. It is true that we need to modify discipline to our children’s responses and their age, but when I see solutions that take hours because of a refusal to smack which would take minutes and be more effective, I think this avoidance is unnecessary.
    I also get annoyed at solutions that are inappropriate for children. Smacking is used at a young age because reasoning cannot work. And by connecting smacking to disobedience, verbal commands can be effectively used. Verbal commands are reinforced by smacking when they are not followed, but future situations merely need verbal commands because the desire to avoid further punishment has been previously established.
    I think you are correct about the warning in James. Teaching people about God should be sobering. And such does affect others relationship with God, thus Jesus spoke harshly to Pharisees because of their position of influence and that they were doing it badly. This is how I do, and have always read the passage.
    But James comment likely comes from a broader principle of responsibility for one’s actions. Because one’s relationship with God is so important, then we see the warning in James. We also see it in Jesus comments about millstones and necks for those who divert children from him. Spiritual death is of more significance than physical death, but physical issues are still important. And to add your weight to anything that does not accord with God is a dangerous thing to do. Note Gamaliel’s warning to fellow Pharisees to make sure they do not find themselves fighting God.
    So I think the principle is similar as I stated, but my connection to James is recent so perhaps I need to consider it further?

  3. 2009 August 1 at 05:19

    I think the idea of outlawing spanking and other forms of corporeal punishment to be really worrisome. I do believe that such measures are the best form of instruction for children. You can’t reason with a four year old. You need to associate bad consequences with bad behavior and good consequences with good behavior. This is basic training 101.

  4. the Measure You Use
    2009 August 1 at 09:54

    unfortunately this referndum has been hi-jacked by those who don’t like smacking. Instead of asking people to answer the question, they are asking people to say YES to all sorts of other things such as stopping child abuse, violence etc… They have tried to take the debate away from what it is actually about ie. smacking as discipline and turn it into a thing about their beliefs on the equality of children as adults and all sorts of other ideological wishes.

  5. 2009 August 1 at 17:10

    Right, I think smacking is necessary for some kids, and not necessary for others. My daughter is still stunningly obedient, respectful, and industrious after 8 years with no corporal punishment. I didn’t understand how such a thing could be until I observed my brother-in-law’s and sister-in-law’s children — they are all equally well-behaved into their teens, with absolutely zero corporal punishment. So I conclude that it’s partly genetic, and certainly not from my genes. My 3 brothers and I required frequent floggings to become well-behaved.

  6. 2009 August 2 at 00:25

    I don’t know of any proof that actually shows that imprisonment works as a corrective measure. Rather, there is plenty of evidence to support the argument that long-term incarceration increases the likelihood of a criminal becoming worse. Likewise, there has been a lot of work that has shown that spanking a child over major infractions is effective.

  7. the Measure You Use
    2009 August 3 at 09:26

    which work

  8. 2009 August 3 at 21:09

    So what the result will be like of this referendum? Will the smacking be forbidden once and for all? Predictions are accepted here – http://www.votetheday.com/new-zealand/new-zealand-corporal-punishment-referendum-result-450/

  9. 2009 August 21 at 11:12

    No 88%
    Yes 12%
    Source

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