Why the Church must denounce ordinary disciplinary violence
Some will find the appeal presented below to be outrageous if not absurd, but it is, on the contrary, a matter of basic principle. The fact that the Church has made no pronouncement on this subject can only be explained by the blindness which disciplinary violence itself produces. In this sense, the Church is no more blameworthy than all the other human institutions which have been equally blind. But its failure to realize that many of Jesus' words and deeds should impel them to denounce disciplinary violence has had consequences that show how essential respect for children is. The inevitable psychological effect of allowing children to be disrespected and of taking part in the violence committed against them is a veritable blindness toward fundamental realities concerning the early stages and very foundation of every human's existence. And it is clear that 2,000 years of tireless prayer throughout the world will not make things right. The Gospels had warned us of this: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." Now, if one believes that the words and deeds of Jesus reflect his Father's will, this includes an absolute respect for children. By accepting violence against children, and by doing nothing to bring an end to such violence or even participating in it, the Church is doomed to powerlessness in the face of violence which this method of discipline unleashes among adults raised in this manner. The most recent, tragic, and clear example to emerge is the genocide in Rwanda that was perpetrated by Christians in the most Christianized nation in Africa. At present, disciplinary violence is particularly intense in this land and strikes children from the earliest weeks of life under premature demands of cleanliness, due to the practice of mothers carrying babies upon their backs. On the face of it, it seems laughable to see in this mode of discipline one of the genocide's causes. But if this is how we feel, it is because we forget that the parent-child relationship is what establishes the blueprint for behavior, violent or peaceful, by the adult the child will become. And in a society where all children are brought up with violence, it should come as no surprise that the adults they become can get carried away, under the right circumstances, to extreme levels of violence.
Here are some points which Church authorities are strongly encouraged to consider and which hopefully Christians can bring to their attention:
- Today we know beyond the shadow of a doubt the destructive effects of using disciplinary violence on children at an age when the brain is at an essential formative stage (physical and mental illnesses, accidents, suicidal tendencies, masochism, aggressiveness, delinquency, crime, political violence). In the past, we did not know of these effects, but we no longer have the excuse of ignorance. We also know that disciplinary violence constantly fuels child abuse, that subset of violence against children which is generally condemned.
- Given its current and welcome insistence on the importance of human rights, should the Church not also join the newly-forming movement towards respect for children's rights (Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 19 of which requires countries to take all steps necessary to protect children from all forms of violence; the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child; the decision of twelve countries, including ten in Europe, to completely ban corporal punishment)?
- The Church is a voice likely to be heard on a continent like Africa, where 90% of children are subjected to beatings both at home and at school, the consequences of which are incalculable for this continent in terms of domestic violence and the massacres committed there.
- The need to find every possible means of bringing violence to end is becoming more and more pressing. The end of the Cold War has, in a way, given free rein to the possibility of merciless clashes that before were kept relatively in check by the great powers. The violence unleashed no longer depends on interests that, while selfish, maintained a certain rationality. Increasingly, the vacuum is being filled by individual and ethnic violence, which itself is fueled in large part by the violent disciplinary traditions found in all the regions where these conflicts unfold.
- There are close to a dozen quotations and acts of Jesus that are totally incompatible with the acceptance of disciplinary violence. Recent discoveries concerning the results of this violence would seem to affirm those words.
- Whenever someone wishes to drive children away from him or criticizes what children are doing, he calls them forth, embraces them, takes them in him arms, lays his hands upon then, and blesses them: "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me." Here he goes straight against the repudiation of children expressed by adults.
- Children have, in his eyes, a special communication with God: "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise." Here he is quoting a psalm, but the choice of verse is significant.
- To lead a child into sin is one of the most irreparable crimes, deserving of a death sentence. "It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea" (Luke 17:2). We now know that to hit a child is to teach him violence, which he will be at greater risk of later repeating. When children are taught violence by example, especially violence against those who are weaker, are they not being led into sin?
- Jesus sees children not as imperfect beings to be punished but as models to emulate: "For of such is the kingdom of heaven." "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
- Jesus commands that we not judge. And yet, all corporal punishment involves an implicit judgment. And this judgment, raining down on the child's body, concerns the person, not the act.
- Jesus commands us not to "be wrathful against thy brother." All corporal punishment is a form of wrath.
- Jesus commands, in the parable of the Sower, not to seek the eradication of evil. When we hit children, are we not seeking to stamp out badness in them?
- Jesus commands to forgive as many as "seventy times seven" times. Is this the attitude of parents who hit their children?
- Jesus commands to "do unto others as we would have them do unto us." "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Is this compatible with the act of striking a child?
- Jesus teaches that God will judge us by how we treat the weakest among us: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Does this saying not tell us that hitting a child is in a way like hitting God himself?
- In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus gives human fathers an image made up entirely of respect for a child's freedom, of compassion, and of sincere joy at seeing him again with no trace of high-handed forgiveness, nor of punishment. On the contrary, the father receives his son and arranges a feast to celebrate the return of the one who had seemed to turn his back on him by squandering his inheritance.
Three positive steps the Church could take
- May the Church plainly advise parents never to strike their children, given what we now know about the consequences of hitting, and to look for non-violent means of raising children.
- May the Church remind nations of their obligations with respect to Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (signed by all but two countries) which requires that every necessary measure be taken to protect children from all assaults.
- May it call upon all Christians from this day forward to rally behind efforts for the passage of corporal punishment bans in all countries and to create favorable conditions for such reform.
APPENDIX I, APPENDIX II, APPENDIX III, APPENDIX IV
1 – A Brief History of Disciplinary Violence
2 – The Nature of Disciplinary Violence and Opinions on the Matter
3 – Why we must stop using corporal punishment
4 – How can we raise children without hitting?
5 – Why is it necessary to ban disciplinary violence?
6 – What to do?
7 – Question for the author
8 – Questions for the reader
World geography of disciplinary violence by continent and country
I – Introduction for the EMIDA Family Education Program
II – Why the Church must denounce ordinary disciplinary violence
III – Resistance every advocate of a spanking ban can expect to face
IV – Declaration against "disciplinary" violence
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