Should Christian Parents Smack (If It’s Illegal?)

I disagree with the Welsh government!

They are having a consultation because they want to remove a piece of current regulation. It’s not exactly that they want to ban smacking, they want to remove regulation that protects parents, permitting them to use reasonable punishment that doesn’t qualify as a form of abuse.

The reason they want to do this is to guard against abuse, which is a good intent, of course. But the law already guards against abuse, because only reasonable punishment is currently allowed by law. Any unreasonable punishment, which is abuse, is already illegal. That means the change in law doesn’t take any extra measures to guard against abuse, but rather criminalises those currently using reasonable punishment, i.e. smacking.

What’s more, for the Welsh government to interfere with parents on this level would seem to me to be overly intrusive, regulating more than is necessary, reducing our freedom, and could even criminalise decent people who happen to use one reasonable form of discipline. Besides that, if they really wanted to guard against abuse, should they not also put in steps to guard against verbal abuse and psychological abuse by parents?

Now, why that matters is because many Christians use smacking as a means of disciplining children, as do many other parents who aren’t Christians. As Christians we believe it is right to discipline children out of principle. That may include various means, depending on the parent(s), but many would believe smacking to be a viable means of discipline. In fact some would say, necessary.

If you want to have your say then please go and fill in your thoughts on the Welsh government consultation website. You have until 2 April  to respond.

But I also wanted to consider, what happens if this gets passed? How should Christian parents who smack their children respond then if what they’re doing is illegal?

I think the obvious thing to do is to stop smacking. Here’s why…

The decision to smack is not explicitly commanded in the Bible. There are encouragements to discipline, that much is essential. But as far as I can see, there are only a handful of examples of physical punishment by parents in the Bible, and those only in the book of Proverbs where it speaks of a rod of discipline. Here are three of them:

Whoever spares the rod hates their children,
    but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. (13:24)

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
    if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. (23:13)

A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom,
    but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother. (29:15)

So there it is – not just smacking, but using a stick to discipline your child. I’ve heard some Christian parents require these verses to be carried out more literally, so that they don’t even smack their children with their own hand. In fact, some explain further that they use their hands for love and so using a stick (or other implement) allows them to only use their hands for love and not for punishment.

However, I think to read it this way as literally mandatory is to not do justice to the type of literature it is. Proverbs is wisdom literature. It’s a collection of wise sayings. It’s good advice on how to live as God’s people. It’s not a set of rules to be obeyed precisely but principles to be implemented.

Therefore, when it instructs on using the rod, the principle we carry through is that we do discipline our children and that doing so is good for them. Precisely what form of discipline, I would say, is up to the parent(s). Smacking, naughty steps, time outs, grounding, treat removal, pocket money reduction, whatever form of discipline is appropriate to the situation and effective for the child I would say is fine.

However, there are a handful of commands in the Bible about our obedience to the state. And they are not merely good advice but are requirements for Christians to live out. Here’s one:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2)

These verses actually point out that when we’re disobeying the government and the laws of the land, we’re actually rebelling against God, because authority is God’s good gift to the world. And that’s even authority where it doesn’t follow a Judeo-Christian or democratic ethos.

There are some rare occasions when we have to disobey the state. For example, when the local Jewish rulers commanded the Apostles to stop sharing the gospel, they said that they “must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29) When the state makes it illegal to do something that Christians are required to do, or illegal not to do something that Christians are required not to do, then we must obey God and rebel against the state.

So with smacking – I don’t think it’s required in the Bible that Christian parents must smack their children, only that parents must use some forms of discipline. And because of that, if it becomes illegal to smack, I would suggest we obey the state and use other forms of discipline instead.