I hope that any of my fellow MPs who read the front page of the Dominion Post this morning were as horrified as I was by news of the latest booklet teaching parents how to physically discipline their children. And I hope that those MPs who still think it's a good idea to retain s59 of the Crimes Act, or to reform it so that the method of violence against children is further defined and refined, might take a quick look at the booklet, to get an inkling of the kind of thing that they're endorsing.
The most outspoken critics of my Private Member's Bill have come from Christian organisations, not churches. They come from special interest groups that claim to represent Christianity such as Garnet Milne's Reformation Testimony, Maxim, Family First, and Family Integrity.
The booklet referred to in the paper this morning - The Christian Foundations of the Institution of Corporal Correction - is a Family Integrity publication written by Craig Smith. What does Family Integrity have to say about the rearing and discipline of children?
Quote: "Children are not little bundles of innocence: they are little bundles of depravity and can develop into unrestrained agents of evil unless trained and disciplined."
"Smacking does so much good for the child and for you. It deals with all the issues."
"With older children (from perhaps 18 months or two years onwards)...smacking may be a 10-15 minute process...if the child is angry after the smack, you have not smacked hard enough...After the smack there are cuddles and prayer."
And finally, Smith goes on to admit, "I do not understand the connection between a physical smack on the bottom and a rebellious spiritual condition of the heart, nor how the first drives out the latter. But the scripture declares it is so, therefore I am obliged to believe and practice it."
Others use perhaps more conventional language to justify the use of "reasonable force" in disciplining their children. "Spare the rod, spoil the child," runs their argument: Children need boundaries. Parents need to enforce them. Parental authority must be backed up by the right to use physical force. To them, the repeal of section 59 is just another example of political correctness, further undermining Christian society by a secular, out-of-touch Parliament.
Are these voices representative of the wider Christian church? Perhaps surprisingly, not according to the overwhelming number of submissions we've received from the mainstream churches of Aotearoa New Zealand. These include submissions from Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Churches of Christ, the Quakers, Wesleyans and some Catholics. Collectively, they are calling for a repeal of section 59.
Their counter arguments are based both in theology and what is actually best practice in parenting.
What they are saying is that theologically speaking, the core of the Gospel message is that God is a God of love, not punishment. God, as Heavenly Father, does not punish us as we deserve, but chooses rather to offer us the path of grace and forgiveness. Christian parents should apply the same principles to their children.
The authority of Christian parents should not depend on an Old Testament sanction of physical punishment, if one can even be made. Rather, it is founded on love and respect in relationship. These have to be earned, even by parents, rather than enforced.
I don't believe the Bible does give a mandate for beating children. I do believe that it is up to each of us as MPs to think really hard about what is going on our society today where babies and children are beaten and sometimes killed because parents think it's OK to use physical force on them.
This message is reinforced by booklets like the one I've just quoted from, and it's sanctioned by section 59 of the Crimes Act which says the use of reasonable force is OK when we use it to punish our children.
I call on all MPs in this House to think deeply about this question, to read the Family Integrity booklet, and to consider what is more important - to bring up our babies and children free from violence or to continue with a law which actually legitimises its use by people like the booklet's author.