Obeying God Rather Than Obeying Man: Facing Jail Time for Spanking

Just this past Sunday in our Newly Marrieds class we were bringing a three week discussion on Civil Disobedience to a close. One of the topics that I used as an illustration of being disobedient to the authorities over us, (authorities ordained by God), was the topic of corporal punishment. When I was a kid, it was known as “spanking” – although I had other, rather colorful, descriptions for it. The words from that Sunday School class discussion still seem to be hanging in the air. Having no idea of what would happen this week in the news, you can imagine my surprise when I read that the State of Delaware has redefined the term “physical injury” in their child abuse and neglect laws to include any act that causes “pain”.

Why is this wording significant?

We should not be surprised that the State would not come directly out and declare that “corporal punishment” is illegal. What the State of Delaware has done is broaden the scope of their laws, whether with direct intent or not, to target parents who believe in corporal punishment. This law (SR Bill 234 – link takes you to the full bill online) in effect allows the State to pursue parents who spank their children and charge them with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the age of the child. Both charges subject the parents to time in prison.

What are parents supposed to do?

Simply, obey God over the State. Now, it gets more complex than that, but with the Word of God as our foundation, we should continue humbly and obediently to discipline our children in the manner that Scripture has allowed. Allow me to flesh this out a bit more from Scripture:

Why should a parent incorporate spanking as punishment:

  • Proverbs 3:12 – It is a demonstration of love and should be done in love. If you truly delight in your son, you will discipline them.
  • Proverbs 13:24 – What the State doesn’t realize is that withholding the rod (corporal punishment that brings about pain) is not loving, it is hating your child. Always discipline out of a motive of love for your child.
  • Proverbs 19:18 – A parent should always incorporate spanking in the hope (the eager expectation) that with the correction the child will learn and grow to be more Christ-like. Discipline, done biblically, always expects growth in a Christ-like manner
  • Proverbs 22:15 – A parent should always be disciplining purposefully – never out of control or in anger. One of the purposes of corporal punishment is to drive folly from our children’s hearts.
  • Proverbs 29:15 – The State fails to understand that God has designed corporal punishment to bring wisdom to the child. To refrain from spanking your children, you only invite the child to bring shame to themselves.
  • Proverbs 29:17 – A parent should always keep the benefit for the child in mind when spanking. The child that benefits from corporal punishment will, in return, bring peace, rest and comfort to the parent.
  • There are other passages in Proverbs that speak to this aspect of the parenting relationship to their children. I would encourage you to do a study in the book of Proverbs to see fully the wisdom provided there.
  • Ephesians 6:4 – Fathers are yoked with the responsibility to be raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. When the child is young – physical, corporal punishment is the most prominent form of discipline. As the child grows 0lder – there is more verbal, teaching instruction for the child. As the child ages physical, painful discipline is to be phased out, paralleling their ability to grasp and understand biblical truths for living.

Be God-like in your discipline:

  • Hebrews 12:5-11 – The State fully disregards the fact that God has given us corporal punishment to aid us in understanding the character of God. God disciplines his own children out of love and we are not to shirk away from that discipline, or “regard [it] lightly”. The writer goes so far as to say that if someone who thinks they are a child of God, and has not received discipline at the hand of God, they are in fact, illegitimate children. The text goes on to say that earthly parents discipline their children as best they know how, but God disciplines us (here’s the picture of the relationship) for our good, so that we would become holy. This must be the motivation of all parental discipline. In verse 11 there is the recognition that this discipline is “painful” but it yields righteousness. The State fails to recognize this, and they are wrong to attempt to legislate away this understanding in Scripture.

Use your discipline to show Christ to your children:

  • Revelation 3:19 – Jesus Christ is very clear in communicating that the ones he loves, he disciplines. He does this to bring about repentance. In the discipline Jesus Christ is urging repentance. As parents, your corporal punishment must also bear this kind of weight and purpose. With this kind of motivation, spanking, although painful, will be controlled and purposeful. Children will not be abuse, but loved. The moment of discipline becomes a teaching moment of the relationship between the Lord and his children. It is a gospel moment.

Final thoughts:

Let me be clear. As a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I am urging all parents to be obedient to a higher Authority than the State of Delaware. I have no qualms, or second thoughts, in instructing parents in a direction of “civil disobedience” in this area of corporal punishment. Obey God rather than man. For the record, I am adamantly against child abuse and neglect. My understanding of biblical principles leads me to understand that spanking is not only right, but when administered rightly, while bringing pain, does not occur in an atmosphere of anger or lack of self-control. I would urge all Christian people everywhere to urge their legislators to uphold a biblical and right understanding of corporal punishment. Pray for the legislators in Delaware. Pray that God would lead them to a more biblical wording in a much needed law concerning child abuse and neglect. Pray for parents that God would give them boldness in parenting. Pray for abused and neglected children, that they may come to know a God that cares and loves deeply those who are afflicted.

Chance to interact:

Do you agree that it is right to be civilly disobedient to the State in this area of corporal punishment? Why or why not?

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