Sunday, May 06, 2007

Disciplining Children

I caused a controversy in the staunchly conservative Anabaptist Seeker's yahoo email group by suggesting that striking children is not an appropriate form of discipline for believers in nonviolence, and I was quoted Proverbs which counsels not sparing the rod.I countered that that was an Old Testament scripture that was no more binding on Christians than Jewish dietary laws, and was told that since Proverbs is wisdom literature and not the law it is eternally authoritative, like the New Testament. Anyone have any thoughts on this? I feel certain that beating up children is not the appropraite way for pacifists to treat their children. -Jerry C

It seems to me that this is a place where the "non-violence" label as a virtue gets us in trouble. If non-violence is a Jesus-promoted virtue (which I deny) then certainly spanking would be wrong. But so would surgery, an inherently violent, and often life-threatening action.
I agree that pulling verses out of Proverbs willy-nilly is a bad idea, especially when it speaks of punishment. After all, it also says that the rod is appropriate for "fools" (e.g. Prov. 26:3). I can just see "corporal punishment advocates for Jesus" going down the street, hitting the developmentally disabled with a stick in "literal fulfillment" of this verse....

However, in the NT it does command fathers to "bring up children in the discipline and righteousness of the Lord." And such discipline that fathers give, as referred to in Hebrews 12 is "scourging". Obviously, this is symbolic, but I think that we can take Heb 12 to be a type of the discipline parents should give children.

First of all, if a child does something evil, they should be taught what is good. Secondly, if they continue to do that evil, they should be punished and it should be unpleasant. Thirdly, they should be assured that even if it doesn't feel like it, the discipline is done out of love for the child, not because of anger or a lack of control on the part of the parent.

I have had to apologize to my children for punishing them out of anger, and so doing it inappropriately. There are occasions, however rare, that I do spank my children-- never to harm them, but to communicate to them the seriousness of the offense. I communicate my desire to love them and I always restore relationship as soon as they are ready.

If a parent choses not to spank their child, I think that's great to have those ideals. But what I find is most significant for disciplining my children is to have a variety of diciplining techniques (time outs, lecturing, warning, light pat on the wrist, spanking, etc) so the measure of discipline can equal the action done. One punishment for every action communicates that every wrong we do is equal, no matter what our intent or knowledge or how much it harms another.

Steve K.

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