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 child’s 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 God’s 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:
Let’s 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.

Posted by steve at 04:06 PM


  1. Isnt the question, if Jesus was a parent, would he smack his own children? I cant imagine Jesus looking after one of my kids and then deciding they needed a smacking. This would not be the behaviour we would expect from any of our friends. If he was a parent, parenting norms are surely culturally based and are as individual as the parent and child concerned. I do not think there is a universal right way to parent, except to start with the principle that Jesus showed – love your neighbour as yourself – to love and respect your kids.

    Comment by Jan — March 25, 2007 @ 12:56 pm

  2. Steve

    I have watched this post for day or two. I am struck by two things.

    1) That your first post generated a large number of comments and some lively discussion. However this post has not. This would indicate to me that this post is a lot harder to grapple with!

    2) So this is my grapple with the question….. I totally agree with Jan, the question is if Jesus had children then would he us physical discipline with them?

    So this leads me onto the following:

    From by basic searching I have not found a scripture to justify or condemn physical force being used on children. By definition punishment involved forcing the child to do, or not do something, and most involve force in the child to do something. “Go to your room” “No” “OK then I will carry you”. Force is then used on the child to move it to their room. So the question is does that force include spanking.

    The scriptures are quite clear that it is a parents responsibility to train and raise children, and that Father has a crucial role in it (I am a father so this speaks to me). Therefore we can conclude that Jesus would take this seriously.

    I would also point out that there is a number of references to force being used by the state to punish criminals, and God saying this was the best thing. The most obvious the death penalty, but other comments as well. Then Jesus goes and makes a whip and kicks some butt in the temple. (Now what was that about?!!) Come on Jesus, that isn’t nice.

    Next observation is that there is an excellent book called relational parenting. One of the things it says is that if child is being naughty then one should ask are there any other reasons that they are naughty. That is are they hungry, unloved, feeling neglected etc etc. Deal with the underlining cause not just the issue at hand.

    Lastly an observation from my own three children. We live on a farm cottage, and just on the other side of the thin 5 wire fence it a lot of dangerous and nasty stuff for 2 year olds. There is a water trough, just the right hight to fall and drown in. Electric fences to touch, cows to startle and trample, thorns, thistles, sharp iron etc (you get the picture). Both our first two when they started to explore wanted to go under the fence (it has a kidy size crawl space). We tried everything to stop them from going under. In the end we spanked, and this stopped the behavior, and they have always played safe inside the fence. Therefore with a few years in hind site this was the right thing to do at the time (I will be the first to admit that sometimes I have spanked them when it was not the right thing, and I was mad at them).

    So would have to conclude that Jesus would have had very well loved, nurtured and were well disciplined. And that he would have used a discipline method that was appriopirate for each child. And that if he had enough children he would have used spanking when it was the right thing to do.

    PS I feel a lot of the time that people use emotional manipulation and or shouting or anger to punish do worse damage long term than those who spank. I was spanked in anger as a child (not child abuse, just one whack, no damage) and anger /shouting and emotional cutting marks were made also. It is the emotional crap that I find a lot harder to deal with now that I am older. And I am more concerned about not passing this on, than the occasional spank. And from observation a lot of parents use this emotional cruelty to keep there kids in line.

    Comment by david — March 26, 2007 @ 8:54 pm

  3. thanks David and Jan. I too am amazed that I could have 43 comments on the anti-smacking bill; but to-date, only 2 on a more theological probing of what is essentially the issue. Perhaps it was the weekend? Perhaps it is something else …

    Comment by steve — March 27, 2007 @ 10:46 am

  4. Doesn’t the book of Proverbs speak about “sparing the rod” and “hating the child” such a stance produces?

    Doesn’t God have a history of using severe, physical punishment at times?

    Doesn’t Hebrews speak of “those God loves, He disciplines; He scourges those who are His own”?

    Doesn’t spanking work well with one child and not another!?!?

    More to the point, doesn’t “smack” imply an act of selfishness by the “smack-er” whereas discipline implies on-behalf of the “smacked”?

    Did you happen to see the article in the U.S. where the top C.E.O.’s in the U.S. were almost universally spanked as children? Funny. Irrelevant to the status, but funny nonetheless.

    David Malouf
    Phoenix, Arizona

    Comment by David Malouf — March 27, 2007 @ 11:38 am

  5. Amen and amen and what a bold stance to take – – good for you steve.

    Comment by Mak — March 27, 2007 @ 1:31 pm

  6. Wow, nothing like stepping out eh? Nice.

    The verse people ALWAYS use to justify smacking kids is “spare the rod, spoil the child…”
    Yet David says that God’s rod comforts him…not smacks him.
    Have you seen the rod referred too? It’s for guiding, leading, and directed sheep. It’s not used for hitting, smacking, spanking, beating, or anything of the sort.
    If we don’t guide, teach, and direct, our children, they will be spoiled. This has nothing to do with spanking.
    I know good parents who spank.
    But let’s be honest and realize that scripture approaches discipline, but never endorses hitting a child.

    Comment by David — March 27, 2007 @ 3:04 pm

  7. David, in my sermon and in thus in this post, I point out that “spare the rod, spoil the child…” is NOT in the BIble. It comes from a 16th century poem,


    Comment by steve — March 27, 2007 @ 3:06 pm

  8. I must say, after reading your update, I agree with you even less. But that’s the joy of (1) blogging and even more so (2) the Body of Christ!

    I would contest what David said (March 27, 3:04pm) and Steve said and rebut: my observation of Middle East shepherding DOES involve pain-by-rod/staff!

    I’m a little bummed to see you, Steve, not deal with the difference between disciplining another child and disciplining your own. Seems like you’re spinning the Luke passage into something very other than what was ever intended.

    I’m not sure how you can say, “But you can not go on this March believing the Bible encourages smacking.”

    Heb. 12:4-6 and even your own example of Jesus with a whip — Yes it’s all for *discipline*. Racking a child about the head with a cord – I’ve only, ever seen that as aggression.

    I’m not a big fan of smacking, but your use of the Bible to promote a non-smacking moral seems to be a bit of Biblical Twist.

    HOWEVER, I really do like the rest of your sermon! Lots of great perspective and life in it!

    David Malouf

    Comment by David Malouf — March 27, 2007 @ 3:43 pm

  9. David,
    while I appreciate your comments and perspectives, I object to your use of the word “promote” ie “your use of the Bible to promote a non-smacking moral seems to be a bit of Biblical Twist.”

    You might not intend it, but it reads like you are accusing me of twisting the bible for my own ends. If so, that is a harsh and totally unfair criticism. The question – would Jesus smack – was for me a genuine question. Within my time frames (a few hours on Saturday, plus reading around the issue, I put the following thoughts out there on the web.) I do it simply to get people talking.

    I feel quite insulted if you are insinuating I have made deliberate attempts to twist Scripture for my own agenda.


    Comment by steve — March 27, 2007 @ 3:59 pm

  10. this is why I don’t get in these discussions with my conservative Christian acquaintances and friends anymore. They get more indignant about someone questioning their “right” to hit their children (I wish we’d just call it what it is) than they do about things that really do beat with God’s heart. It’s very frustrating.

    It is possible to raise healthy, godly and well disciplined children without hitting them – if we asked Christ “given the choices available to us, would you rather we hit our children?” I cannot, in my wildest imagination believe Jesus would say “yes, please do, use your superior strength and stature to inflict pain on your child in the name of discipline even though it is completely unnecessary”

    and I can tell you from personal experience that physical discipline CAN and DOES affect children well into adult hood – even when “done properly”

    If a pastor gets up and makes crass jokes about smacking his kid’s bare bottom people laugh and rib poke their neighbor and nod knowingly even if that poor child is sitting right in the front row being publically humiliated in front of an entire congregation. That same pastor can and does endorse spanking knowing that a parent with a history of child abuse very well could be sititng right in that church and use the Bible to support his/her illegal and heinous behavior.

    If a pastor like steve gets up and asks legitimate questions and examines the issue of the heart of Christ people like you David M accuse him of twisting scripture? THAT sort of behavior should make us indignant.

    And since you asked David M – – I do NOT for ONE MINUTE believe Jesus would hit his own children. He would be empowered by the Holy Spirit (as are we) to guide and direct and teach and correct lovingly and without using his superior physical strength and stature to inflict pain.

    I fully understand that loving parents spank infrequently and as “properly” as can be under the circumstances. I know as well as anyone how difficult discipline can be and often is…esp. with spirited, strong willed or otherwise “challenging” children. But I also know that challenging circumstances are not excuses for irresponsible behavior.

    Comment by Mak — March 27, 2007 @ 4:25 pm

  11. Hi Steve

    This is David Whyte (March 26th post) here again. Great to read the discussion that is now happening on the post.

    My thoughts – maybe we have a truth in tension here. That on one hand we have a God who dotes on us and treats us with tenderness beyond comprehension. Who would love the comos so much he would send his son to die for it. A God who is full of grace and mecry.

    However the same God gets angry, who disciplines clearly inflicting pain on his children (both NT and OT) so they will grow up!

    I think that Christendom in the past has focused on the angry and punishment side and got this completely out of perspective. (e.g. Mak example of insensitive pastor above) Thus some have reacted against this and swung the pendulum completely towards the other direction. They proclaim a “loving” God who would never “hurt” anybody.

    I know that my view of God and authority in general has been the angry vengeful. And I am on a journey to the graceful merciful God.

    So depending on were we sit in this journey would color our view on the spank debate. Thus in general who see the discipline side of God would see the need for spanking, and those who focus on the grace side would argue against it.

    Maybe in 100 years time when we have a more balanced view of God we may be able to see the right way. So I think that Jesus with his own children would know when to be grace focused and when to be discipline focused (probably lot less discipline focused than I/we are as parents). As to what discipline method I wonder if it would be tailor made for the child. And I am open to the suggestion or thought that he would use spanking, and open to the thought that he would not.

    I have to turn now from these broad theological stokes into something more tangible, personal and real.

    On a personal note my oldest, who is daughter, is ADD. We have read volumes, been on courses etc etc on how to deal with effective discipline. Yet non spanking methods of discipline does not seem to have any effect at all – read zilch. Yet a spank will have a significant and long lasting effect. So until some one can come across a discipline method that works with her it concerns me that there is no alternative (maybe except ritalin – we ain’t going there). And reading between the lines the people who strongly against spanking haven’t had to deal with an ADD child….. I may be wrong, and open to listen how you dealt with your ADD child without any spanking – if you have had ADD experience.

    And bottom line – it freaks the living c$#p out of me that the government may try to take my child away cause I discipline her “wrong”. My trust in the government to do a better job than me raise my child is like zero. Come on who would love her more, her mum and me or some government agency. I don’t think there is a comparison here. I know that the government says this would not happen, yet it is the same government who said that prostitution would not significantly increase with change of law, and that it would protect those who needed protection…. Sorry I have 3 girls and those out working the street are someone elses girls. And it breaks my heart to know that because of some stupid law change significantly more daughters are going into a trade that destroys them.

    Anyway I have wondered far and wide from the original intent. Hope that is may be helpful.

    Comment by david — March 27, 2007 @ 5:15 pm

  12. Steve,

    I deeply apologize for the way my last comment came across. Sadly, I did re-read my comment, but upon seeing it again, it does not clearly convey my heart nor intentions.

    If you will permit me to capsulize what I was trying to say:
    1) The Luke passage does shed light on God and His character. This can (and does) bear on how we discipline (especially in light of Scripture’s use of the Father metaphor).
    2) Other passages (e.g. Heb.) indicate that “smacking” is in the history and methodology of God.
    [I am beginning to think that “smacking” has a very different connotation for you than it does for me. I have been foolish for not bringing this up sooner.]
    3) The phrase “I don’t think God would…” or “I don’t think a loving God would…” are taken by me as being much more strong (towards universal) than, “It is of my opinion…” This is exacerbated by your writing, “But you can not go on this March believing the Bible encourages smacking.”

    This is, sadly, way off topic, but if I may ask (or even email exchange with you, Steve): Is the “you can not go believing the Bible encourages smacking” sentence NOT a line-in-the-sand? Does that phrase not inherently force an Us versus Them approach? And if so, how can any disagreement NOT be taken by you as aggressive?

    I’m a touch offended that my push-back is taken as “typical,” “conservative” Christian just because I disagree? Alas, I do not have any non-virtual relationship with you, Steve. And as such, perhaps I have used poor judgment in how I have interacted with you. I have a assumed a certain portion of friendship without finding out if this is reciprocal.
    Similar to how a person listening to a lecturer feels like she/he knows the lecturer while the speaker knows nothing of the listener – an imbalance in perceived intimacy / connection / friendship.

    I would appreciate the opportunity to finish this off-blog / by email if you would indulge me a few exchanges.

    David Malouf

    Comment by David Malouf — March 28, 2007 @ 3:06 am

  13. I still don’t understand how a flawed, human, fallen parent can justify hitting a child by saying that a PERFECT JUST RIGHTEOUS HOLY OMNIPOTENT OMNIPRESENT GOD – – alpha omega, king of the universe has in the past punished people. There’s a logical flaw somewhere there – possibly many. I also don’t see where God punished CHILDREN. He punished adults who had knowingly disobeyed his laws.

    as for the issue with ADD, you’re punishing behavior often outside the child’s control because of neurological problems by using physical force. I’m sorry for your challenges. My daughter is highly sensitive and “spirited”…not ADD but a different sort of challenge. I will gather first hand experience for you and get you the information if you really DO want information on how to discipline a special needs child without spanking… I know lots of non punitive parents successfully raising kids with ADHD/ADD. I would highly encourage you to explore other avenues to address the ADD instead of punishing the behavior with pain. Behavioral therapy and changes to the child’s diet and environment are often very helpful in getting to the root.

    and the question isn’t “does spanking work?” because for many kids, it gets the compliance the parent wants (not necessarily long term internalization of discipline however). The question is “is it right and is it necessary”? Many cultures would never ever think of striking their child and they have very highly organized and peaceful cultures with very disciplined children.

    I will emphasize that I’m not sure this law in and of itself is a good idea. But I do think that we in the church need to re-examine our carte blanch approval of physical punishment of children.

    Comment by Mak — March 28, 2007 @ 6:17 am

  14. For the record:
    1) Discipline is unique to the child. Spanking does or doesn’t work based on many more issues than, “Does the Bible allow/want/reject spanking.”
    2) Spanking as an outlet for the parent’s anger, frustration, or embarrassment is never, ever justified.
    3) MY CONTENTION all along is this: finding Luke 18 to be ANTI-spanking is as much a “logical flaw” as seeing God’s past action with Israel as PRO-spanking.
    — If one wants to draw on God’s character as seen in these specific examples, then so be it, but let it be so stated that God’s character is being inferred from one situation and applied to another. But this would go both ways, no?

    Mak, you write, “If a pastor like steve gets up and asks legitimate questions and examines the issue of the heart of Christ people like you David M accuse him of twisting scripture? THAT sort of behavior should make us indignant.”

    I agree that using the phrase “twisting Scripture” was a poor choice of words. But just because I challenge a good man with the possibility that he is reading a bias into Scripture, that makes you “indignant?”

    And claiming that I don’t have concern over what you call “things that really do beat with God’s heart” is a bit premature, no? Can I not say the same about you, then? Or is that “typical conservative”? Yes, I do get up when I think Scripture is taken beyond its intent. But do you have ANY idea why?

    Comment by David Malouf — March 28, 2007 @ 9:01 am

  15. good morning david,

    apology accepted. i love the Bible and serve it to the best of my human ability, hence my rather strong reaction to percieved accusations of “twist.” i am very happy to be challenged with regard to “Hey, Steve, have you considered these Biblical texts; Hey Steve, you are putting too much weight on one Scripture.”

    i have a lecture to prepare, and will try and pick up on your questions/pushbacks later in the day. in the meantime, can i say that my blog is a place for thinking aloud; thinking allowed. so please feel free to continue commenting on any and all issues.

    i would prefer to keep this on-blog as much as possible as it potentially becomes a more helpful model if we can put things wrong and right in public. at the same time, being public is more vulnerable and exposing, and we don’t always do our best work when we feel overexposed.

    so if you want to talk off-blog that’s fine, but for me, the ideal is we keep talking on-blog as much as possible.

    email and explanation much appreciated. looking forward to further connection,


    Comment by — March 28, 2007 @ 10:23 am

  16. no David, what I was saying is that I sense a lot of indignation in your tone – sort of an “I can spank my kid if I want to and don’t you dare question if I’m justified in it” tone. I sense that same tone in every parent I know who spanks and I feel that if we as Christ followers are going to get indignant about anything, this might not be the right thing to get indignant about.

    and no, I’m not pointing at you in particular with my comments and clearly making general exaggerations to prove a point. I have no idea if you’re conservative or not so I’m not including you in that. But almost every conservative evangelical I know PUSHES spanking as God’s model for discipline so I’m speaking about THOSE experiences, not just about what you have said here.

    I actually don’t think the Bible speaks in favor of spanking at all and I do think that you can easily draw conclusions against it in light of God’s character and the behavior of Jesus – – but I see it all through a certain lens as do we all.

    Comment by Mak — March 28, 2007 @ 1:36 pm

  17. Hi Steve.

    Your question “would Jesus smack a child” is a very good one. I enjoyed your sermon amnd think you have framed a theological discussion around the anti-smacking bill well, good life and faith stuff. However, an equally good question to frame a discussion around on this topic could be “would Jesus introduce a bill telling others they can’t choose smacking as a method of directing their children?”. Would love to see you develop some thoughts on that in a similar way to what you have done above.

    Comment by Dave Wells — March 28, 2007 @ 3:13 pm

  18. Carey College Principal Michael Drake wrote a well-researched book on this debate; “By Fear and Fallacy“. An excellent chapter on biblical chastening is pp55-60.

    The Bible teaches that loving discipline leads to “a harvest of righteousness
    and peace for those who have been trained by it.” The true character of biblical
    chastening could not be made plainer: its nature is the unpleasant infliction of pain; its
    context is that of Fatherly love; its goal is training for self discipline; its outcome is
    the self-disciplined choosing of what is right.

    Comment by peasant — March 28, 2007 @ 8:45 pm

  19. I am a little shocked by some of the points you have made in your sermon Steve but it is going to cause me to actually go back to scripture and reexamine my understanding of the Bible on this issue. I did a very good speech when I was in high school on this but I cannot recall all my points made at the time.

    What you have written does come across as if you are condemning and looking down your nose at people who have chosen or been forced to use physical discipline as part of their extensive parenting repitore. I have found that it is easy to have opinions on matters when you are only confronted by children with one type of personality or in your case 2 kids than maybe what it is like to parent 4 (or more) kids at once. There is not nearly as much time in the mornings for one child to act up and just go with it choosing not to smack. School teachers do not look fondly on always having your children up to an hour late for school because you chose not to smack them but instead used another form of punishment. At the end of the day each parent does what needs to be done in their home to bring their children up to be self-controlled responsible sensible adults. This will probably involve a small smack on at least one occasion.

    My heart aches at all the child abuse in this country and I believe an answer needs to be found but we are barking up the wrong tree here. I agree with the comment made earlier that what Jesus would do when with a group of kids is a little different to what he would have done at home with his own children.

    We are missing a very important point here however and that is that this bill is not about hitting children but about the government deciding that they know best who should parent and how they should parent. First we had them tell us that all children should be in some form of pre-school education in order for them to do well at school. Then they told us that prostitution is a viable career choice for our daughters and one that should be explored as an option. Then we were told via the Care of Children Bill that parents are the caregivers appointed by the state to provide the day-to-day care of their children but in fact children are the property of the state.

    This bill is about the government having enshrined in law that if they decide for whatever reason that you are not a fit parent of your child they can prosecute and remove your children from your care. It may be one day in the near future that they decide Christian parents who are teaching their children the Bible are unfit parents and therefore their children can be removed.

    I have spoken to parents recently who have said that out of protest to the government they will continue to smack but it is actually the children who will suffer when they are removed while a case is investigated and prosecuted. And don’t con yourself that this will never happen it has happened numerous times in Sweden. We must fight this bill as there are some decisions that are best made in the interests of the child by the parents of that child and we already have a law that can prosecute when needed. This bill will not stop abuse – abusers will continue their wicked ways.

    I was also alarmed Steve that you would use the pulpit to put across this viewpoint of yours on such a volitile subject. How would you feel to sit in a church service and have the pastor preach that we must hit our children with the cane if they misbehave. You spoke on an issue that has differing opinions from scripture yet gave a biased opinion. Will the next topic be endorsing the consumption of alcohol from the pulpit (which is another topic that has differing viewpoints). I believe the march was a good thing that should have been promoted and endorsed from the pulpit. As I read your sermon it made me feel as if you did not approve of people attending it. People sitting in the congregation of a church are very vulnerable and take what a Pastor says as gospel. You have a very special position where you can sway people and must be careful to ensure that you always state that it is your opinion and not necessarily based on scripture.

    I know I probably sound heated but I am just gravely concerned for the future that my children are growing up in. I can site many an example of when I have found it necessary to smack in order to prevent my child dangerously injuring themselves. A small smack with a little pain is much better than a broken limb and the pain that involves. I am just offering a different perspective but mark my words everyone says people won’t be prosecuted but they will and this is really just a hidden agenda by the government to control people in this country.

    Comment by Karen — March 29, 2007 @ 12:23 pm

  20. I would like to add also that if the government was really concerned by the protection of children and stopping abuse they would be tightening up our Abortion laws in this country. Babies are being killed at the same gestational age as they are known to have survived at. This is a little more serious than a tap on the bottom or a slap on the hand.

    Comment by Karen — March 29, 2007 @ 12:40 pm

  21. appreciate your points Karen. I prayed long and hard about this sermon and sweated blood over it. I still am unsure if it was the best thing to do. This is all happening fast and lots of people are talking about it. You will note that I have already blogged a letter I wrote to my MP’s concerned abotu the bill.

    If I mis-used the pulpit I will be devastated and the first to apologise. After the sermon I ran a “talkback” session for people to engage with me and a good number did, as a way of depowering the pulpit. At our Board meeting on Tuesday I asked the Board for feedback and placed myself as accountable to them. Words are different on paper than spoken. I worked very hard to not use the pulpit in the manner you are alarmed about.

    – so I affirmed at the start and at the end that this was area was emotive and open for diverse interpretation and that this was not “preacher tells you so.”
    – i took care to point out that the Bill allows for smacking to prevent injury
    – i took care to list 3 reasons why people should and could go on the March.
    – i took care to tell them that(as you point out) I of course know nothing about parenting and my views can be dismissed because i only had 2 children and they are of course “perfect.”

    I would be really disappointed if people went away not having heard those things from my sermon.


    Comment by — March 29, 2007 @ 12:42 pm

  22. As one who was present and heard the sermon, I can say:
    1. there were good reasons to attend the march given, and i was considerably more inclined to attend the march after the service than i was before
    2. i didn’t hear that we shouldn’t smack, but i did hear that we cannot use oft-quoted bible (and presumed to be bible) verses to justify this. that doesn’t mean that the bible says we should smack either.

    As a parent (yes, we choose only to have two children, partly because i know my personal coping mechanisms make that a good number) i know that some of the times when i have smacked i have done so as a result of lazy-parenting, or angry-parenting. And neither are good. other times a gentle tap on the hand has been the most appropriate response to one of my children.

    I don’t like the fact that this legislation will criminalise parents who opt for the tap on the hand.

    i applaud an attempt to reduce child abuse, but don’t think this legislation will achieve that.

    i object to the fact that this is a party-issue for labour and they are not allowing conscience votes.

    i think it is a misguided attempt to address something that needs to be addressed, but which is not going to be “fixed” by such legislation.

    so that is me… IMHO.

    Comment by lynne — March 29, 2007 @ 1:33 pm

  23. Your question and perspective, Steve, has got me thinking again. I had turned off and tuned out in the last month as the blah-blah pitch in webgroups and media rose.
    If Jesus is my Shepherd and I’m one of the sheep of His pastures [and so too are my children], I would be sure He’d hook or scoop me out of a dangerous situation, protecting me – and He’d lead me decisively yet compassionately from the front. I can learn from His example.

    I am too aware that there are times I’ve spanked my children out of fear [my fear – of them ending up in a mess as an 18yo – they’re only 7+9 now!]. Their ‘crime’ is making a poor decision (and while Mum is feeling insecure about her role as mother) but I’m sure there have been many times that a hug and a clear calmly-spoken sentence (about where what is acceptable or not) may have also drawn the boundaries but with more of an internal difference. Not a boundary drawn by externally imposed fear or force.

    /I think this S59 law change is pretty much like taking cars off everyone to stop boy racers hooning the streets – and so not a well-drafted law. But it is good that people will [hopefully] stop and consider their ways of functioning with the weak and the vulnerable in our society. /

    WJSC? I hope that I will continue to hold the image of Jesus as Shepherd in my heart and mind – as I continue along the difficult path of parenthood.

    May God Bless you as you journey …

    Comment by johanna — March 31, 2007 @ 11:18 am

  24. Thanks for sharing this Steve. It is the most provoking blog post I have read in a very long time.

    After long consideration I feel it is a parents right to discipline their children as they see fit. However, having said this I am appalled at the court case. Which I hadnt been aware of before reading your sermon.

    I DO NOT believe that section 59 gives any parent the right to take to their child with an electric cord around the head. I think the jury were wrong and if I had been on that jury I would not have agreed in any way with the fact that the person was not guilty.

    I think the other thing that worries me is how many children are going to use this law against their own parents. It does happen. If the law comes into affect so be it but I can see problems arising where children use this law and say to authorities “my mother smacked me last year do something” Would the parent be in trouble? You do hear of charges against people that are 20 years old.

    Maybe what is needed is a clearer definition of what ‘reasonable force’ is.

    I do not believe in schools or similar to smack my child. I have a bachelor in early childhood and I respect the fact that in that role I do not have the right to smack a child. I believe that is up the parent. Would it be right for Jesus to smack ANY child no. Would it be right for Jesus to smack his own child had he had one well that I think depends on how Jesus parents. I believe in this case it is his right to punish the child as he sees fit. I do not believe smacking should be carried out in anger but in love.

    The other thing I think that worries a lot of parents is that if you have a strong willed child how can you discipline them without resorting to the occasional smack. Side tracking a moment I have heard that time out is going to be considered kidnapping. So this is another disciplining issue that will be taken out of the available options of how to deal with a naughty child.

    Comment by jen — March 31, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  25. thanks Jen. appreciate the honesty of your comment. While the Bradford Bill has become a wider debate about a whole range of issues – rights of parents, behaviour of children, Section 59 of the crimes act is exactly what this bill is about.

    As a juror, you would have been asked to swear (on the Bible if you wished) to uphold the law. the law, as stated in Section 59, allows reasonable force. That is our law and you would have been unable to change that law as a juror.

    Now we can. Bradford’s Bill is trying to stop section 59 being used to set child abusers free.

    Every person that protests Bradford’s bill has to consider the abused children, hearing a court tell their abusers they are “not guilty”


    Comment by steve — March 31, 2007 @ 2:25 pm

  26. I am with Jen, and would have argued (if i was on the jury) that hitting a child with a jug cord is NOT reasonable force.

    A redefinition of what constitutes reasonable force mey be more useful, though wholly difficult!

    Comment by lynne — March 31, 2007 @ 3:27 pm

  27. I don’t understand how a jury could have defined ‘beating a child with a jug cord’ as ‘reasonable force’ – nor do I understand how changing the law to remove the term ‘reasonable force’ fixes this.

    I sympathise with the people like Sue Bradford who are utterly frustrated at the apparent level of violence against children by parents and caregivers in our society (but is it real and pervasive or is it merely a media hype? I’m a little cynical of these things, like when there was a crusade for chipping dogs because of a few highly publicised incidents), and I admire and respect a lot of the Green principles such as their commitment to nonviolence. And I was raised myself in a non-violent fashion. I think I was smacked only a couple of times in my life, at least that I recall; smacks were the least of my problems growing up compared to psychological game-playing. My mother had a tough time dealing with three kids but she never resorted to using physical punishment that I recall. And as a kid, I respected her hugely for it.

    So. I guess I’m tentatively in favour of the *principle* behind this law – that physical punishment not be considered normal for childrearing – but I still think it’s an outstandingly bad law as written. Remember that every law which is enforced *is violence*, and that the violence against parents (and children) as a result of enforcing this law *impartially* seems to me to far outweigh the violence of a mild smack. The responses I’ve been seeing from the supporters of the bill, however, have just been bizarre. “Don’t worry, yes, it criminalises huge numbers of people but IT WON’T BE ENFORCED.” That’s a massive Legal 101 red flag right there. I can’t believe people are seriously advancing this as an argument.

    Then as regards ‘would Jesus smack?’ I guess I honestly have to say ‘I don’t know.’ I’m a big fan of Jesus as being a hardcore pacifist – I can’t see any other way to read the Gospels literally – but the entire spirit of the Cross seems to me to be ‘treat even the hardest pain and suffering in your life as God’s loving discipline of His child’. If God sees the pain of something like crucifixion as momentary and without permanent harm and resulting in good, then doesn’t that make him a God who smacks *us*? And if we call that justice and good cosmic parenting, who are we to judge our physical parents? But then I don’t believe God wants us to go out and crucify people so as to make them love God more either, and I do think Jesus preaches gentleness and the end of force.

    (There’s another whole ball of string that seems to be simmering under the surface here. Is Christianity a violent religion even when it does not *advocate* violence, but advocates *enduring* violence without retaliation? Could Christians who believe and live the whole suffering-Servant Christ thing be considered violent by proxy? Does being a mute witness to suffering, even your own, mean you’re perpetuating violence that you should actually be speaking out against? Is martyrdom actually complicity in evil? There are many who have made this argument against Christianity. I don’t think I can go the whole way and agree entirely, but there are aspects to the ‘suffering is always good’ mantra that confuse me. Self-harm seems to be bad. Witnessing the harm of others without – somehow – nonviolently intervening seems bad too. But witnessing the harm of others, and then swinging the sword – or the State’s sword? – against them also seems bad. What’s left to do?)

    Comment by Nate — April 1, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  28. ‘Section 59 of the Crimes Act is exactly what this bill is about’
    No Steve it is not. This bill is about the state deciding what is best for your child. After the Care for Children Bill was overlooked by the average New Zealander because they simply didn’t know it existed and didn’t get to read it. It was clear that the State now “owns” our children and we are mere caregivers who provide their day-to-day care. This bill is not about Section 59 at all – it is about the government’s right to remove any child that lives in a home that the government agencies do not endorse. If it was about just Section 59 they would just amend it to make it more clear what is acceptable and what is not but they want to repeal it. Big difference. The Government is trying to dupe every NZer. It is a conspiracy – no doubt!

    Comment by Karen — April 1, 2007 @ 8:44 pm

  29. Here is the legislation:

    Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill

    Member’s Bill

    Explanatory note
    The purpose of this Bill is to stop force, and associated violence being inflicted on children in the context of correction or discipline. Presently, section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 acts as a justification, excuse or defence for parents and guardians using force against their children where they are doing so for the purposes of correction and the force used is reasonable in the circumstances. The Bill will repeal that provision.

    The effect of this amendment is that the statutory protection for use of force by parents and guardians will be removed. Children will now be in the same position as everyone else so far as the use of force (assault) is concerned. The use of force on a child may constitute an assault under section 194(a) of the Crimes Act, a comparatively new provision in the criminal law, and the repeal of section 59 ought not revive any old common law justification, excuse or defence that the provision may have codified.

    Clause 4 simply repeals section 59.

    Clause 5 makes consequential amendments to section 139A of the Education Act 1989 to remove the exemption for guardians in the prohibition on corporal punishment in schools.

    Sue Bradford

    Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill

    Member’s Bill

    The Parliament of New Zealand enacts as follows:

    1 Title
    (1) This Act is the Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Act 2005.

    (2) In this Act, the Crimes Act 1961 is called “the principal Act”.

    2 Commencement
    This Act comes into force on the day after the date on which it receives the Royal assent.

    3 Purpose
    The purpose of this Act is to amend the principal Act to abolish the use of reasonable force by parents as a justification for disciplining children.

    4 Domestic discipline
    Section 59 of the principal Act is repealed.

    5 Consequential amendments to Education Act 1989
    (1) Section 139A(1) of the Education Act 1989 is amended by omitting the words “, unless that person is a guardian of the student or child”.

    (2) Section 139A(2) of the Education Act 1989 is amended by omitting the words “, unless that person is a guardian of the student or child”.

    Comment by sue — April 2, 2007 @ 11:25 am

  30. Hi,
    I wondered whether you might be interested in taking a look at two poems I’ve penned regarding smacking. Here’s the links:

    Lance Landall

    Comment by Lance Landall — April 4, 2007 @ 5:01 pm

  31. Wow, 30 comments and hardly any in support of the Bill. I’m gobsmacked. Surely, as Christians, our responsibility is to defend the vulnerable?

    I was always smacked when I was a rascal, and figure that I would do the same as a parent. However, for the sake of those at risk in society I am willing to put aside my personal ideas about discipline and work out some new ones. Too many children are having their lives devestated because of the governments lack of power to do something about their abusers. This Bill is about handing a future to some kiwi kids who are at risk of loosing out on one.
    We need to get over our fears regarding the governments interference and start defending those who God asks us to.

    Proverbs 31:9
    “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

    Comment by lucy ar — April 7, 2007 @ 5:18 am

  32. Hey Steve,

    I think your statement “You can not go on this March believing the Bible encourages smacking” is wrong. Have you considered these scriptures?

    Proverbs 23:13-14 (The Message) Don’t be afraid to correct your young ones; a spanking won’t kill them. A good spanking, in fact, might save them from something worse than death.

    Or as it has it in the NKJV

    Proverbs 23:13-14 Do not withhold correction from a child, For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, And deliver his soul from hell.

    Hebrews is probably the best general new testament treatment on the use of pain in training…

    Hebrews 12:7-11 (NKJV)

    If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

    And we see the THE Father certainly has no problem chastening his son Israel with the blows of men.

    2 Samuel 7:8b, 12-14(NKJV)

    Thus says the LORD of hosts: “I took you from the sheepfold, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people, over Israel… When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men.

    Would Jesus smack his children? Unquestionably he would. Jesus does only what he sees his Father doing. And, in history, he did when he punished Israel his son by the sword of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and finally the Romans.

    Comment by Dale Ogilvie — April 14, 2007 @ 9:51 pm

  33. Come on Dale. Proverbs says all sorts of things that you would not want to apply literally, as I mention in this sermon. Same thing regarding 2 Samuel; you start to get into all sorts of tangles if you apply the OT narratives literally (should we have as many wives as solomon?)

    The Hebrews text is more persuasive and I was not aware of it in preparing this sermon. My immediate question would be “why is chasten = physical smacking?” can you not chasten children in many ways? why do we assume chasen = violence? i am thinking out aloud here, so i welcome further dialogue on this text,


    Comment by steve — April 15, 2007 @ 9:38 pm

  34. I think you are being a little free in your dismissal of scripture where it says “Don’t be afraid to correct your young ones; a spanking won’t kill them. A good spanking, in fact, might save them from something worse than death.” Surely this is a valid biblical encouragement for smacking Steve. I don’t think you can safely say “we don’t take everything in proverbs literally, therefore Prov 23:13-14 can be dismissed on that principle”.

    As for Hebrews, let us focus in on Heb 12:6.

    For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
    And scourges every son whom He receives.

    The greek for “scourges” is literally “to flog”, used elsewhere to describe what happened to Jesus at the hands of his persecutors. This is definitely physical, and certainly more physical than the about to be illegal smack on the bottom.

    Surprizingly Heb 12:6 is actually an *extrapolation* from Proverbs 3:12

    Prov 3:12 For whom the LORD loves He corrects,
    Just as a father the son in whom he delights.

    Comment by Dale Ogilvie — April 16, 2007 @ 9:58 pm

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