Spare the Rod and Bless the Child?

Randall Hardy

On October 4th 2002 The United Nations warned the UK government that their refusal to ban smacking in the home was a serious violation of the international convention to protect the rights of children. Unlike some statements from the UN, this one received widespread media coverage. Why?

The Advance of Secularism

Britain, along with other Western nations through the 20th century, and now into the 21st, has turned away from the Christian gospel. As Clifford Denton argues in his article, it is important to understand that, whilst Christianity has historically been a major influence on British history, it has never truly been taken to heart by the majority. We might ask, when did the veneer of Christianity first begin to peel away? There are plenty of indicators that this process was already well established in the late 19th century, when Darwin published "The Origin of Species". As I have discussed previously, he was no pioneer of the theory evolution, but one who managed to propose the scenario for biological evolution which others thought was the most plausible to date. From Darwin onwards, as Richard Dawkins stated in "The Blind Watchmaker" (1986, p6), it became possible, "to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."

In just over 100 years, societies which had previously benefited from the righteous influence of the Christian gospel have, without exception, sought to discard that influence in favour of a secular framework for their laws and morals. This is clearly seen in many of the changes in legislation which have been enacted in Parliament. It has also been a force behind many changes in world politics over that same period. The UN for example, seeks to influence the world without reference to any god. In one way this is understandable, but in another it is a recipe for failure. The product of this move towards secularism has been a world view in which there is no place for a God who is involved in world history. In the churches there is today a theology which believes that God, having set the universe in motion, has now stood back from it completely. Outside the churches, the prevailing mindset is that there was never such a God in the first place, so to think of Him as important in matters of global peace and politics is a sign of emotional and mental weakness. It is this tide which has carried forward one legislative campaign after another.

Who Knows Best?

In highlighting this trend, am I griping about what is happening. Yes, I consider it alarming, but I also see it as inevitable. The West is firmly set on a course of secularisation. That course is being knowingly steered in the very opposite direction to the one urged upon us by the Biblical writers. How common it is these days to hear people say of society’s corporate mindset, "We used to think…, but now we know better." Do we? Or are we globally and nationally, sowing the wind to reap a whirlwind? One of the proverbs in the Bible is "Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people." But if there is no God who rules over the affairs of the earth, who decides what is righteous and what is sin? At this point in history, the most common answer to that question in the West is, "We do!" This belief has motivated much of our moral rethinking over the last sixty to seventy years.

In Britain this redefining of morals has been closely reflected in changes in legislation. There have been since the 1950’s a quickening of the pace at which legislation abandoning the Biblical influence on our laws has been agreed. There is a whole range of matters where the standards declared by The LORD through the Bible have been rejected for a new definition of good and acceptable, which is "right in our own eyes". These include laws about witchcraft, gambling, obscene publications, homosexuality, shopping, the death penalty and a list of changes which have affected family life. Divorce and abortion are now both prevalent. Marriage in general has been squeezed by the changes in our laws as well as our social norms. It is no longer politically correct to discriminate against the alternatives to a lifelong monogamous marriage. Very recently, through changes to the laws on adoption, homosexual partnerships have gained (in one respect at least) legal standing equal to that of heterosexual marriage. This is the result of both the downgrading of marriage and the promotion of homosexuality. Whilst these years have seen some legislation beneficial to individuals and society as a whole, the overall trend has been away from standards previous generations considered important.

Rights or Responsibilities?

Each step along the road of secularisation has been accomplished through a combination of the desire of society and the careful campaigning of a minority within society. Often these minorities have worked for years, until they achieved sufficient numbers to make it appear that the call for change is indeed the will of the people. Supporters in the media have assisted these moral campaigners by highlighting their causes. One of the most fervent appeals which has been sounded out in one campaign after another is that of Human Rights. Human Rights are of course one of the foundation blocks of the United Nations. Human Rights are however not as clear cut as it sometimes seem. A woman’s rights over her own body can be in direct conflict to her unborn child’s right to life. The right of a co-habiting couple to adopt a child is contrary to a child’s right to be brought up in a stable and complete family. In real life things happen which mean an unborn child may not live or a family may be broken apart by internal or external events. On the whole such things are not planned for, but through these changes in law they are now being actively encouraged.

Again we are caught in a trap, for there are many areas where people are incredibly cruel to people. Around the world the exploitation of others is far too common. These injustices must be spoken out against and their perpetrators brought to account. In this sense Human Rights may seem a viable remedy. However the whole concept is self-centred, so much so as it is not uncommon to hear individuals and groups proclaiming that this or that is their right. There is an alternative, but it is nowhere as appealing to the fallen, secular heart as that of "my rights". It is the call of "my responsibilities". If there was an emphasis on human responsibilities, it could be more far reaching than any campaign for Human Rights. The whole concept of human responsibilities however points us away from ourselves and our rights, to our duties towards others. At the very least it emphasises our responsibilities towards other human beings - our neighbours, those whom Jesus taught we should love equally as much as we love ourselves. This He declared was the second greatest commandment. The greatest, He declared, is our responsibility to love The LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. Unfortunately, this is the responsibility we have been trying to discard for centuries. This is the responsibility we think we no longer have. This why we now campaign for the minimum standards we call "Human Rights" and not for the highest standard - the responsibility to love others sacrificially.

The Next Objective?

By now you may be wondering what all this has to do with the opening question of this article. The connection is very simple. To date, all the various initiatives to move the moral conscience of the people of Britain and our legislation away from their past Christian influence to the new faith of secularism have been very successful. There is however one campaign which has failed in its objective. This is the campaign to make the physical discipline of children by their parents illegal.

The Anti-smacking campaign, like its predecessors, is waving the Human Rights flag at the front of its attempt to advance. This time it is not the rights of parents (as in the abortion campaign) but the rights of children which is the campaigners concern. They are redefining physical discipline as "hitting". This tactic has been a feature of other moves towards secularisation. Homosexuals became "Gays" and wives and husbands are now "partners". Today there is a clear need to take to heart the warning of the prophet Isaiah, "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And clever in their own sight!" It is sad to see organisations like the NSPCC, who do a vital work seeking to prevent the abuse of children, describing all physical parental discipline in the same terms they use when speaking of abuse. Their "Full Stop" campaign is aimed at pressurising the Government to make it a crime for parents to smack their children. Their web site reports, "NSPCC Director Mary Marsh said: ‘We want to contest the idea that hitting children is 'common sense, the normal thing to do. It's not - it's wrong, ineffective and can be harmful. The Government has a clear responsibility to take a lead…’"

"Let Us Break Their Bonds"

Is this purely a political campaign or is it part of a determined effort by secularists to de-Christianise society completely? Last year the Government, after consulting widely, concluded that a high percentage of the public, did not want "smacking" made illegal and announced a no change policy, (though in Scotland change is being planned). However, on 8th November the Guardian reported, "Labour MPs urged Tony Blair last night to legislate to stop parents smacking their children on the grounds that physical punishment does long-term damage to society as well as to the children." This of course is the direct opposite of Biblical wisdom. In the Christian Scriptures we are told that a parent’s willingness to discipline their children is a reflection of God’s love for His children, "God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?" Human parents have a responsibility to think carefully about their childrens’ long term good. In Proverbs we read, "The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother." Now it is not my purpose here to show how discipline needs to be part of a loving, caring relationship, nor to describe the dangers when it is not. My purpose is to highlight that in this present debate we have the same clash of secularism and Godliness that has been at the root of numerous campaigns over recent decades.

Today we see politicians world-wide fulfilling the prophetic 2nd Psalm, which describes the rulers of the earth discussing how they might set themselves free from The LORD and His Anointed Christ. Whilst their plotting is no threat to their Creator, it is a threat to their own and their nations’ well-being. Perhaps the freedom for parents to physically discipline children as a reflection of The LORD’s love for them, is one of the few remaining legislative treasures from the Gospel’s influence in the past. Perhaps that is why, even though the present government has said it will not remove that freedom, the UN, charities, the media and New Labour MPs are to be found undermining that decision. I simply ask the question, is this really about the welfare of children or the desire of rebellious human hearts to tell God that "We know best"? If we spare the rod, will we bless the child and society in general as secular wisdom would have us believe? Or will we ruin the child and bring disgrace upon ourselves as The LORD has said?

What Next?

Personally, I am very thankful that to date The LORD has prevented this campaign above all others from being successful. I will continue to pray that this is one freedom He will continue to maintain in years to come, but equally recognise that one day parents may have to suffer for loving their children far more than they fear the legal system. For me that would not be an isolated decision. For over forty years I have been learning through experience that, "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are The LORD’s ways higher than our ways". However, I ask you to consider where you stand on this and similar issues. As the pressure mounts to squeeze the very last residue of Christian influence out of our society, how will you respond? I don't know if one day it will be illegal for parents to smack their children. But I am convinced that the pressure to agree with Godlessness (for that is what secularism is) and to disagree with God will increase. Our society, wanting to be "free" in its own wisdom, is unlikely to stand against the flow, but will you resist it? If you are to stand, then now is the time to agree with your Maker and to acknowledge, "O LORD, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face."


This article was first published in The Christian Standard, the journal of the National Council for Christian Standards in Society.

This study is intended as a stimulus to personal bible study. Every effort has been made to be accurate, but the reader should test everything (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess 5:21). Please report errors and omissions, and queries unresolved after consulting The LORD to the writer. To send an email click here.

© Randall Hardy, February 2003. This paper may only be copied in its entirety for private non-commercial use. All other usage requires the written permission of the author.

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