I grew up in a grade school in Grand Rapids, Michigan where the principal seemed to delight in terrorizing children with the threat of corporal punishment. I know first hand what it's like to go to school every day in abject fear. Even as a child I knew there was something terribly wrong with an institution which does this to children. I know it even more today.
Corporal punishment in the schools is morally wrong. I suspect that, deep in your hearts, you know it. This archaic practice, which comes straight out of the dark ages, remains in force today because those who can end it have lacked the will and moral courage to name it for what it is - institutionalized child abuse - and put a stop to it. It remains also because children are the most voiceless and vulnerable members of our society - the only ones who cannot organize and vote.
Corporal punishment in the schools provides a convenient hiding place for teachers and administrators who are incompetent, violent or otherwise psychologically or emotionally disturbed. It would be easy to argue for its elimination purely on practical grounds--as educators, psychologists, physicians, sociologists and others have--pertaining to quality education and to healthy child development.
But I come to you today as a Christian pastor to raise the voice of conscience which is part of my calling. I know that there are voices from the religious community which support this practice, basing their arguments on a few isolated passages from the Old Testament. But using this kind of potluck proof-texting just will not stand the test of responsible biblical scholarship. Using the same method one could just as easily make the case for the suppression of women, for slavery, incest and even infanticide.
Those who know the whole Bible - and especially the New Testament - will have a difficult time using scripture to support the practice of hitting children. Let me tell you why.
It is my conviction that these fundamental Biblical truths do not exist in a vacuum or just for polite Sunday morning conversation. I believe that they form the foundation on which a moral society is built. If they're important at all, they're important for all aspects of our life.
- The New Testament is overwhelmingly committed to nonviolence, even in situations of high stress and conflict. The Sermon on the Mount is but one good example of this. (Mat 5:9)
- The New Testament overwhelmingly rejects retributive justice in dealing with offenders The story of the woman caught in adultery is a good example. (Let him who is without sin cast the first stone - John 8:3-7)
- The New Testament is overwhelmingly committed to the beauty, sanctity, innocence and life-giving character of children. There are so many things Jesus said in this regard, it's hard to know where to begin. "For of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Mark 10:14)
- The New Testament is overwhelmingly committed to love (as opposed to punitive action) as both the means and the end of all human relationships. This is evidenced throughout the gospels especially in the letter of First John (13:34 and 15:12)
I can think of few practices in our society today which violate these Biblical truths more flagrantly than the use of corporal punishment in our public schools.
Every week we teach children in our Sunday School that there's a better way of living than by intimidation, hitting and getting even. We teach these things because we believe they are true and we hope our teaching will help shape the kind of citizenship they will practice when they grow up.
But what are they to believe when they go to school on Monday morning and watch their teachers and principals violate what we taught them on Sunday? Which message will win their minds? Which attitude will they carry forward into adulthood?
You and you legislative colleagues can strike this abusive practice from our schools. By your actions, violence and retribution can be ruled as unacceptable as a means for solving problems at any level in our society.
NOW is the time to abolish corporal punishment in our schools.