16 February 2019
Violence to Children
Once again violence to children is in the news. We have poured time , money expertise and services into helping families and children to give the opportunity for every child to grown well and healthy, yet once again defenceless babies are murdered.
The film “Once were Warriors” was shown a few years ago and is a classic picture of part of our society which we prefer to ignore. Although it used Maori families in its story line, the scenes depicted could have occurred in any group in this country. Violence is endemic in our lives and some commentators point to the Bible itself as glorifying violence, especially in the stories of battles and power struggles in the Hebrew scriptures and even in the crucifixion of Jesus. Certainly Roman culture was violent, tough and cruel in it treatment of all but the elite and mass executions were an outcome of that attitude to human life.
Where people are expendable, we find there is violence. If one group is considered able to be disposed of then there is a fear and a need to ensure that we are not part of the disposable group.
Children have always been fragile in society. Not able to speak for themselves, needing care and nurturing, they can be put down, repressed, hidden, hit and even killed without those doing it being at risk of retaliation by the child. Guiding a child to learn to be part of society and to live and grow well developing their God given gifts, being able to relate to others and consider the needs of others is the responsibility of the older generation. However, the lines can get blurred when people claim this responsibility as a right to use a child to fulfil ones own needs, conform to ones own wishes and be used as a tool for ones own gratification becomes blurred unless there is a clear understanding that every person has worth.
Jesus was quite clear about human worth. Everyone is valuable in the sight of God, including the perpetrators of .violence. Children, who were non persons in law as babies and toddlers, [girls to the age of 4 and Boy to the age of two in Greek law] and lesser persons [often along with women and slaves and non-property owning men] were welcomed by Jesus when even the disciples were shooing them away.
It is amazing that some who claim to be followers of Jesus, keep quoting passages from the Old Testament to justify violence against children. Jesus told people to move on from considering children as chattels and value them. When parents quote their right to treat their children as they determine, that is in direct conflict to the Christian understanding of valuing people, and seeing children as gifts from God and parents have a duty, a responsibility rather than a right, to nurture that child and raise that child to know goodness and trust and love as best they can.
I guess we all make mistakes, but to quote from Proverbs “Spare the rod and spoil the child” as a justification to beat a child [in some cases regularly as part of their upbringing] is simply not an option. It is merely teaching a child to respond with violence to situations. Also, although we have to acknowledge that there is a considerable body of advice in the Bible that we would not want to replicate - especially in a world where it's recognised that discipline and brutality are notoriously difficult to distinguish in family as well as public life, we also must read the scriptures as a whole and with care and not just accept interpretations from the cultures through the ages. I have been horrified to find some fundamentalist groups having discussions in the name of Christ about what to use to hit a small child with – it is frightening.
Brueggemann in his Theology of the Old Testament (Augsburg, 1997, p.683) refers to Proverbs13:24 and 22:15 (cf 23:13) and points out that the Hebrew word for the rod of discipline /(musar)/ "here is not to be understood as an instrument of abuse. It is, rather, an instrument of guidance and protection, as the term “rod” is used in Psalm 23:4 with reference to the guidance and protection a shepherd gives to sheep. Israel does not flinch from nurture of a certain kind, which it accepted as a primary responsibility. That nurture, in the mode of wisdom, however, is not characteristically direct and coercive; it is inviting and playful, as much so as the 'family sayings' that make connections but draw no direct imperatives or conclusions. Such nurture and admonition induct the young person into the life-world of the family, to piece together in imaginative ways this life-world from the elements given by the parental generation."
Jesus calls us into the way of peace and love. He went to a cross to show that violence does not have the last word, not matter how seductive its immediate results often seem to be. It is only when human hearts and lives are changed that real change will happen and it is our task to live this way along with all others who follow Christ that there may be life for all...
May God bless you in your journey
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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