AYLMER -- An Aylmer couple may defy a court order not to discipline their seven children with physical force, the international Church of God has decreed.
The ruling could force the family to either obey their church or keep their children.
If the parents stop complying with the court order, the children may go into protective care again, Steve Bailey, head of the St. Thomas CAS, implied yesterday.
"I'm not going to speculate. But you can put it together yourself."
Last summer, police and child workers from St. Thomas-Elgin Family and Children's Services (CAS) dragged the wailing children from their home.
The court returned them only when the parents agreed not to use corporal punishment.
"The church . . . can no longer encourage the family to comply" with the court order because the Bible clearly advocates using a stick or other object to discipline children, Aylmer Church of God Pastor Henry Hildebrandt said yesterday.
The church's latest statement comes 10 days before the family and CAS return to family court to hammer out a few of their differences.
And it significantly raises the stakes in what has become a national cause for those trumpeting parents' rights to discipline their children without interference.
Family lawyers weren't available for comment but an assistant to lawyer Michael Menear said Hildebrandt was "speaking for the church and not for the family."
The family may not by law be identified.
Hildebrandt said an international council of Church of God leaders -- he wouldn't say how many -- met in Texas two weeks ago to decide the church's stand.
Their position is unwavering, he said.
"We believe this, we teach this and we're standing for it, regardless of the consequences."
Hildebrandt said the family is free to do what it wishes under God's law. But God's law includes corporal punishment, he said.
Hildebrandt wouldn't discuss what church discipline the family would face if it doesn't agree to resume those parental duties.
The family doesn't necessarily face a choice between church and children, he said.
"At this point I would not comment on that because, why would you be a member of something that you don't want to adhere (to) what they're teaching?"
The 170-member congregation was made aware yesterday of the international council's declaration, although the parents had earlier seen a copy of the statement, Hildebrandt said.
The child-rearing issue is bigger than just the local church, he said.
"It involves the whole country. It involves the whole world. We are speaking for Christians across the world."
The Church of God is a small, tight-knit group of congregations whose conservative beliefs and dress set them apart from other Christian denominations. They speak a German dialect and shun many trappings of society.
Critics have suggested church leaders exert too much control over members' activities. The church says it is only following biblical principles.
The family has complied with the court's conditions so far, Bailey said yesterday.
The church is not an official part of this legal process, he added. "Our relationship is with the family, not with the church."
Bailey predicted it will be months, probably not until at least spring, before the issue goes to trial.