August 22, 2009
The Dean of Auckland’s Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, The Very Reverend Ross Bay, has expressed concern at the attitude of some Christians that it is their God-given right to use corporal punishment in the discipline of their children.
Commenting in the light of the recent referendum on the use of smacking, Dean Bay says that the view of some Christians is based in an image of God that characterises God as ready to punish human beings for the slightest misdemeanour. “The Christian image of God is what we find in the New Testament of the Bible, and is the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ,” says Dean Bay. “This is the God who does not wield power to force human beings to conform to divine purposes. What we see in Jesus is self-giving love poured out in a surrender to evil. The power of that divine love is what in turn overcomes evil.”
Dean Bay says that this activity of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus should always be the starting point for a Christian image of God that affects human behaviour. Jesus’ attitude to children is seen in his welcoming them for blessing when the adults around him are telling them and trying to send them away. Dean Bay says that it is unfortunate that these images are made secondary to an approach founded in the ancient proverb of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’.
“I am concerned that a particular stance on child discipline has too often been characterised as ‘the’ Christian view. Many Christians would think quite differently in relation to this matter”.
Nevertheless the Dean takes a realistic view about this issue. “The irony of the referendum is that people were being asked to affirm something for which the current law already makes provision. If there is an issue to be addressed it is around the interpretation and application of Section 59 by Police and CYFS. Hopefully the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday will offer some clear guidance in this regard”.
Meantime the Dean hopes that the image of the God of love and mercy revealed in Jesus Christ will be the image which characterises all human relationships, especially relationships where one person holds power over another.
August 12, 2009
The NZ Herald reports today that most mainstream churches back a YES vote.
“The law isn’t perfect, but [the Catholic Church is] reasonably satisfied with the compromise.”
The heads of the Anglican and Methodist churches say the current law, which bans the use of force against children for “correction”, is working well and should not be changed.
Baptist national leader Rodney Macann said the referendum was an opportunity for churches to declare their belief in “zero tolerance for violence”.
May 12, 2009
The cards are stacked! The shape of the question in the Smacking Referendum makes sure of that. “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” It’s rather difficult to say Yes to that. It suggests we support the idea that “good parents” might be “criminals” if they give their child a “smack” as part of “correction”.
After all, it never hurt us when we were growing up, at least not most of us. And we got far worse – strapped or caned at school, given a hiding at home (“your father will hear about this when he comes home”), and look what fine and responsible citizens we have become as a result!
So the cards are stacked in this referendum. The numbers voting “No, good parents should not be criminals”, could well be a majority.
But suppose a different question were asked. Suppose the question was “Should parents who seriously assault their children, causing physical and emotional injury, have a lawful escape from the consequences of their actions?” It’s hard to imagine a majority would say Yes to that proposition. Yet it’s precisely because that sort of thing was happening that the move to change the law came about. Child abusers could rely on the escape afforded them under the old Section 59 to go scot-free.
I was part of the public debate when the law was changed. I was part of a deputation of church leaders who handed Helen Clark a statement saying that we supported the law change because we thought there should be an end to legally condoned physical abuse of children. The vast bulk of New Zealanders would say there should be an end to any physical abuse of children. The law change is an important step to achieve that.
The new law has had no dire consequences. Police have a discretion not to prosecute when an alleged offence is “inconsequential”. There have been a few prosecutions where children have been assaulted in a more serious way. But no evidence whatsoever that large numbers of “good parents” are being dragged before the courts and made “criminals”.
More positively, the debate has aroused renewed attention to what good parenting really means. Co-operative problem-solving approaches between parents and children can lead to deeper relationships and an atmosphere of love and trust rather than one of fear and punishment. It is also saying that children are people too. It is illegal to physically assault an adult. Why should it be OK with kids?
For me one of the most significant features of the debate when s59 was being changed was that although a majority of New Zealanders opposed the change, there was a solid consensus for change among the organisations who actually knew at firsthand why the change was essential. These were groups like Barnados, Save the Children, Plunket and Unicef – people who day by day were on the front line dealing with some of the tragic consequences of the message the old law sent. Popular opinion can be out of touch with reality, and this case was surely one such example.
Our children are too precious to damage. Each one is special in the eyes of God and the whole community. To vote Yes in the coming referendum does not mean we are saying “Yes, good parents should be criminals”. It is saying something of far greater importance. It is saying “Yes, we believe it was right to close a legal loophole for hurting children”. Let’s keep it that way.
Richard Randerson, CNZM, was appointed 2000 Dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland. He is also Vicar-General, from 1999, and Assistant Bishop from 2002 of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.