Saturday, March 24, 2007
updated: would Jesus smack children?
Update: I have added in the sermon “would Jesus smack?” to this post.
Further to my post regarding the anti-smacking legislation, I am preaching on the topic this Sunday: Raising children in an anti-smacking society.
I am aware of the dangers of mixing the pulpit with politics. But it is a hot topic in our New Zealand culture. The Biblical text is Luke 18:15-17; where Jesus welcomes the little children. What would he do if one of those children mis-behaved? We are dedicating Samuel Taylor, one of 10 children born in recent months. So our families are facing the issue of raising children.
So would he? Would Jesus smack children?
Update: OK, here is my sermon. It is for the sake of discussion, and I hope people read it as a discussion document.
From Luke 18:15-17
15Some people brought their little children for Jesus to bless. But when his disciples saw them doing this, they told the people to stop bothering him. 16So Jesus called the children over to him and said, “Let the children come to me! Don’t try to stop them. People who are like these children belong to God’s kingdom. 17You will never get into God’s kingdom unless you enter it like a child!”
And I wonder which person you are most likely to be in this story.
Are you most likely to be today the little one who simply needs to be blessed by Jesus? Are you most likely today a parent of a little one, simply wanting God to bless your children and your family? Are you most likely to be a disciple, someone who doesn’t like little ones bothering Jesus, perhaps someone who wants to stop little ones making too much noise in church? Or are you the crowd, you are most likely to stand back and do nothing, as the little children, and those caring for little children, are stopped from getting close to Jesus?
Who are you most likely to be in this Bible story.
Because I’m going to read this Bible passage again. As I do, I want you to choose who you are most likely to be. You to choose child, parent of a child, disciple, or one of the crowd in this story. Give you a moment to choose.
How many chose to be a child a word to describe how you felt;
How many chose to be a parent of a child a word to describe how you felt;
How many chose to be a disciple a word to describe how you felt;
How many chose to be one of the crowd a word to describe how you felt;
Now let me read this story again.
And of course the person I have missed is Jesus. That’s because I want to ask Jesus a question today. 2000 years after Jesus was born, I wish I could reach through time and ask him: Jesus, would you smack a children?
I mean Jesus, what would you do if one of these little children begins to misbehave. Perhaps they pinch another child on your knee and make them cry and then poke their tongue out at you, and call him a rude name?
What would Jesus do? Can we imagine Jesus smacking a child?
I want to ask the question because we as a nation is in the midst of an intense debate about the place of smacking in raising our children.
Sue Bradford’s Anti-smacking Bill is before Parliament;. The Bill seeks to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act. Section 59 of the Crimes act lets parents use ‘reasonable force’ to discipline children.
So; there are cases in NZ law where a child has been beaten with an electric cord around the head. The injuries have required stitches. And the child has been left partially deaf. The jury found the step-parent not guilty of assault on the grounds that it was “reasonable force” in the circumstances. How would you feel if you were the child, or if you were the childs grandparents, in that situation?
And so the Anti-smacking Bill aims to repeal section 59 of the Criminal Law.
Now I realise that raising children is a hot topic. It’s personal. And it’s not necessarily safe for a preacher to get up close and personal.
But surely this Bill affects us here at Opawa. Whether to smack or not,
when to smack or not, is an issue that faces every parent, every grandparent here in this church.
So at the risk of doing a bad job, at the risk of being misunderstood, I’m going to do some thinking aloud. Not with the aim of saying “this is how you should parent”, but to get us thinking as parents and grandparents.
Yesterday I got an email, asking me to inform you as a church of a protest march against the “Anti-Smacking” Bill. This Wednesday, Simon Barnett, Gary McCormack and Alison Jones from Newstalk ZB are the main speakers at a protest march. Organisers asked me to stress to you that this march is for Kiwis from all walks of life. Christians are asked NOT bring signs with Biblical verses or slogans, or speaking in a derogatory fashion against any politician.
Now I think as a Christian, you could go on this March for the following reasons.
One – If you believed that the Ant-Smacking Bill was a bad law, a misguided response to child abuse, that runs the risk of making innocent people guilty even though they won’t be prosecuted.
Two – You might go on this march to protest against a Labour party who has made this a party vote rather than a conscience vote in Parliament.
Three – To remind politicians that New Zealand is a democracy and they need to take note of the fact that 80% of Kiwis are against this Bill.
But you can not go on this March believing the Bible encourages smacking. Let me repeat that: You can not go on this March believing the Bible encourages smacking.
Because the Bible doesn’t encourage smacking. Try to use the Bible in relation to the smacking and you often hear the quote; “spare the rod and spoil the child.”
It’s actually not from the Bible. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” comes from a poem by a man named Samuel Butler, who in the 16th century was poking fun at Oliver Cromwell. I have a copy of the poem if you want to check it out.
Try to use the Bible in relation to smacking and people often find verses in Proverbs. Now before we explore one of these verses, a wee reminder that you have to be really careful with how you use Proverbs.
Proverbs are short pithy sayings. They’re a form of poetry, and any English teacher will tell you that can get in a tangle if you take poetry literally.
Take this for example: Proverbs 23:2 “And put a knife to your throat, If you are a man of great appetite.” Anyone here willing to take that literally?
Or this one; Proverbs 24:13 “My son, eat honey, for it is good, Yes, the honey from the comb is sweet to your taste>” Anyone here keen to let their children eat only honey?
So it’s not good Biblical practice to apply Proverbs literally. Nor to pick and choose the Proverbs that suit you.
Which brings us to a Bible verse often used to support smacking;
Proverbs 13 v 24.
New International Version (NIV)
24 He who spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.
And in The Message translation
24 A refusal to correct is a refusal to love;
love your children by disciplining them.
The immediate question raised by the NIV version is: what is a “rod.”
The rod is a shepherd’s rod – the same rod as found in Psalm 23. Shepherds didn’t hit sheep with their rod. Instead they used the rod, gently but firmly steer a sheep, say in danger of walking off the edge of the cliff. So Proverbs 13:24 is not about smacking, but about steering a child, setting and enforcing safe boundaries.
So, if you want to find a Biblical answer to the question;
Would Jesus smack; You can’t use “spare the rod and spoil the child” cos that’s not the Bible; Nor can you use selected verses from Proverbs, because is not about smacking, but about steering a child, setting and enforcing safe boundaries.
So would Jesus smack?
On the one hand, in the Sermon on the Mt, Jesus blesses the peacemakers. He commands us to turn the other cheek. He comes across as strongly against physical violence.
But on the other hand, in the temple, in John, Jesus takes up a whip to drive moneychangers out of the temple. Even if Jesus didn’t hit anyone, he’s still holding a whip. And someone holding a whip is a pretty scarey character.
But in both the Sermon on the Mount and in the temple Jesus is interacting with adults. What about children.
And so we return to Luke 18, the Bible passage I started with.
Where we see Jesus welcoming children. For God so loved the world; and so Jesus welcomes the children. So our starting point as parents is grace and mercy, not guilt and fear.
Where we see Jesus reminding the adults not to stop the children. So Jesus, full of grace and mercy, is willing to set and enforce safe boundaries, to rebuke the disciples.
I love how in this weeks Practising our faith art image, Jesus bends down and is talking to the children at there eye level.
Have you ever thought about yourself from a children’s perspective? You as an adult are 3 times bigger. So much more powerful. So much stronger. And yet here is Jesus choosing to humble himself, to get down to children’s level. Wouldn’t be neat if all of us at Opawa did that with every child in our midst.
Knowing that children are so much more vulnerable than adults. In Jesus day, children were nothing. Simply the property of parents.
But not to Jesus. To Jesus children are actually signs of the Kingdom. Imagine taking that literally, that every child we know is a sign pointing us to Gods Kingdom. Jesus is changing understandings of ownership. Children are not the property and responsibility of parents, but are signs of the Kingdom.
Oh the dignity, the importance, the privilege that Jesus has suddenly given to children.
Shouldn’t Christians do everything they can to protect children and align ourselves with those who seeking to protect the vulnerable in our society.
Would Jesus smack? It’s hard to imagine it based on what we see in Luke 18; a good of love, setting boundaries, giving children dignity and protection.
Follow Jesus through the gospels and you find an enormously creative person. Who treats the woman at the well differently from Simon Peter, who is treated differently to Mary, who is treated differently Martha. There are many creative and effective ways of parenting and disciplining a child that don’t require physical punishment. Research shows that parents who smack are more likely to lack parenting skills in other areas.
So the harassed mum doing her weekly shop with her two-year-old toddler throwing a major hissyfit in the supermarket aisle doesn’t need a lecture on the rights and wrongs of smacking. They may, however, need help in employing broadening their range of parenting strategies. And that will ultimately benefit both her and her child.
So to repeat what I said at the start; I realise that pastors aren’t really meant to give parenting advice
I appreciate that all parents have moments when they’re at their wits end and so perhaps the last thing you need today is a lecture from some church pastor.
I appreciate that there is a huge diversity of views regarding physical punishment. I appreciate that most parents work really hard and want the best for their children.
I appreciate that every child is unique. There is no size fits all. What works for one child may not be work for another.
I appreciate that effective parenting is not an exact science. It’s not a machine where if you put in X and Y; weekly memory verses and nightly prayer, then out will come the perfect angelic teenager. It’s a bit silly for parents to claim all the credit for a well-adjusted child. Just as it is for parents to beat themselves up when a child insists on going its own precarious way.
All I’m saying it this:
Lets keep thinking as a church about how we protect the vulnerable in our society and work to stop the unacceptably high levels of child abuse.
Let’s keep praying for our parents.
Let’s keep thinking as parents. Because you can’t smack children because some verse in Proverbs tells you so. It’s a question we need to keep asking: would Jesus smack a child?
Let me finish with 3 tips for raising children. It comes from George Barna’s book, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions.
Tip 1: Raising children
Pushes parents to
Mature in their faith
As much as it moves children
Toward spiritual wholeness. George Barna
And we see this in today’s Bible passage. That through children, Jesus is challenging all of us; caregivers, disciples, crowd. “You will never get into God’s kingdom unless you enter it like a child!”
Tip 2: Fewer than 10% of parents who regularly attend church with their kids
read the Bible together, pray together or participate in an act of service as a family unit. George Barna
That’s America. Let’s work to make New Zealand different.
Our children will define the future,
Which makes them our most significant and enduring legacy. George Barna
And whatever your opinion on would Jesus smack, I hope everyone would said “Amen” to that.
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