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Should Christian Organisations Campaign Against the Smacking Ban?

This article first appeared on Christian Today under the title – Scotland’s Smacking Ban – Should Christians Care?    

I realise that it is the kind of article which will upset people on either side…but then iron sharpens iron…and I’m sure we can disagree/speak the truth in love!

The Scottish Government has indicated that it will support a proposed bill from the Green MSP, John Finnie, which will outlaw all forms of physical chastisement on children.

Cue incredulity on all sides.

For some the idea of ‘physically assaulting’ children (which is what they call it) is unthinkable. For others, including an American friend who gave me a book where a whole chapter was devoted to whether one should ‘paddle’ with the diaper on or off, it is unbelievable that anyone would ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’! I have no wish to go into all the arguments about smacking – as it happens I am not that keen on the practice – but there are two areas of great concern for me here. The first involves the government, and the second the church.


Whats Wrong with the Ban?

I am opposed to the ban because it is unenforceable, will not protect or help children who are in danger of abuse; and is largely a relatively trivial form of virtue signalling allowing us to say how we are among the progressive 52 nations that ban smacking, and not among the backward 150 who don’t. As Brendan O’Neill sharply observes in the Spectator: ‘

What we have in Scotland — and which we might soon have across the UK, if campaigners get their way — is the imposition of parenting diktats, the use of legal pressure to force every parent in the land to raise their kids in a way that the cultural elite approves of.’

Kevin McKenna writing in the Herald put it even more trenchantly:

‘SNP seems bent on turning Scotland into a fantasy state; a holiday island for middle-class dilettantes where they can indulge their cultural fads and fetishes about how the working classes ought to behave.’

Whats Wrong with Christian Organisations Campaigning Against the Ban?

But there is another aspect that disturbs me about this smacking ban and the reaction to it – the response of some churches and Christian organisations. I am against the ban because of the reasons cited above – not theological ones. I know of fine Christians who support it and they are not heretics for doing so. This is a disagreement about process and politics, not about whether we should protect children or not. Which is why I think it is wrong for Christian churches and organisations to campaign against this ban. As individuals fine…we are free to argue our own political and philosophical views as we please – and indeed I often do. Over the past few days I have participated in discussions on BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Ulster, Talk Radio and various local radio stations on the burning issue of the day – banning smacking. I have even written about it. 

But the Church as a whole should not be associated with this campaign.

Christians have strongly held views on both sides, but it is not an issue the Church as a whole should campaign on.  Facebook/Prevent Child Abuse America

Firstly we need to ask why we should specifically campaign on this issue? Is it as important as the fact that children are going to foodbanks? Or being sold into sex slavery? Or growing up in dysfunctional homes? I know we can’t do it all but why pick on this one issue? Because to be frank in today’s society it makes us just look weird – as though we are harking back to the hang ’em and flog ’em days. (Note – in principle I accept that Christians are going to look weird – but I would prefer that it was our basing our lives on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, rather than a defence of a particular form of child discipline!).

Secondly it opens us up to the charge of hypocrisy. After all hasn’t there been much abuse within the Church? I have a friend who was a social worker in the Netherlands whose job was basically to identify and help children who had been abused by parents (usually fathers) who justified their abuse in the name of their God. Well – the God who encourages abuse of children is not the God of the Bible. Those who use Christ to justify their evil are the ultimate blasphemers. Of course the evil that others have done should not discourage us from doing good – but is campaigning for the right to hit our children, a ‘good’ that is worth fighting for?

Thirdly – even if this were an issue worth expending precious time and money on – is campaigning the right way to do it? We need to recognise what is going on here. This is not an attempt to criminalise parents. It is a sadly now all too familiar process in which our politicians seek to use the blunt instrument of the law in order to change the culture and the way people think. As Christians our concern is also about changing minds and hearts – but we don’t use the law to do so. We do not use the weapons of this world. We are much more subversive.

Finally what does this have to do with the Church? Yes of course we are all for family values – a key one of which is discipline. But discipline does not necessarily mean hitting children. Besides which there are surely a thousand issues more important than this. Compared with same-sex marriage, abortion, poverty, racism and social injustice this is a relatively trivial issue. So why spend time and money campaigning on it? I know that some mean well but at the end of the day I wonder if Christian organisations are not themselves in danger of ‘virtue signalling’ – letting their supporters know that they are on the ball. I’m sorry, but this is not that important an issue.

So was it hypocritical of me to go on radio discussing the issue? No. It is precisely because it is a relatively trivial issue that I did the interviews and sought to stress more important things and use the opportunity to argue for ‘the least of these little ones’. We make the most of every opportunity (and to be honest I also wanted to speak instead of those who would have argued the most extreme case!). Please don’t let the church be known because of its weird and OTT defence of one aspect of discipline. Instead let us be known, on this issue, for our passionate defence of all the little ones. Isn’t that what Christ would do?

The Nightmare of ‘Progressive’ Utopian Government


  1. David, from your article yesterday I gathered that part of your objection to the ban was not the direct content which in truth had no more connection with child protection than fly in the air, but to the insidious nature of its intent to use laws to control our minds rather than our behavior. On that basis I think it would be perfectly OK for Churches, who collectively could be expected to have more heft than individuals, to protest, perhaps echoing your words or those of Brendan O’Neill.

    But the difficulty is in phrasing any argument so that what is being talked about is clear. If I get frustrated, or lose my temper and smack my children that is assault: in such a case I had to confess that to my children (didn’t happen very often) and ask for their forgiveness. The children’s age doesn’t matter – the younger they are when (if) this happens the better: it shows I am treating them with respect as individuals whose dependence on me does not give me a right to assault them. If however, all other forms of discipline have been tried and spurned some moderate form of physical punishment should be kept in mind even if never used. The primary point is not physical pain which would be no worse than a child falling over but the understanding that the parent is displeased and disappointed. and if this lesson is not well embedded long before a child goes to school it is already too late.

  2. Surely the fact that the smacking ban is ill thought out, practically unworkable/unenforcable, a waste of financial and service resources, and most importantly an example of unecessary/authoritarian state intervention which undermines a parents human right to raise their children as they see fit, are reasons enough for Christian organisations and churches to get involved in opposition? As you know dear brother our hard won individual freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, parental control in raising their children – are under attack and must be defended from creeping, step by step erosion of which this law is an example. And to be honest dear brother, if Christian organisations like the Christian Institute (and Solas) don’t fight for our freedoms, who will? God used the CI mightily to derail the disasterous Named Person Scheme. Also, as you rightly point out, the world thinks Christians are weird anyway. One of the reasons that the UK church and UK Christians generally have been so poor at evangelising and getting involved in political issues is that we have been scared of being seen as weird, scared of swimming against the stream, scared of people not liking us. 74% of Scots think that there is nothing weird about parents disciplining their children with a spank or a smack when they deem it necessary. It has been part of loving parenting since parenting began and is perfectly normal.

  3. The fact is, we have people aged 14, 18, 24, 34, 44 and beyond, who when they are required to confirm, kick off, shout, scream, defy, argue, refute. No. No. No.

    But instead of learning a consequence when they are young, for not complying with mummy or daddy’s law. They break the states law.
    And instead of being sent to their rooms. They go to police custody.
    And instead of a slap on the calf from their parent, they are tackled by 3-4 police officers, wrestled to the floor, handcuffed, searched, and taken to the cell.

    It is a falsehood that there are no consequences. Certainly any that imply force. Because there are. Police have to use force all the time. And often it’s toward those who have never been disciplined as a child, what grow up into adults, that spit their dummy out and have a tantrum. But they are now 24. And no slap in the get and sent to their room. They go to a cell, by force.

    There are consequences. They just come later in life, and are more hard hitting.

  4. A good, balanced article. Personally I’m in favour of the ban, so I obviously have problems with Christian organisations which, in a way, claim to express my views on it. I wouldn’t be in favour of Christian organisations campaigning the other way either. It is obviously alright for Christians as individuals to express their views, but not to claim that either view is that of orthodox Christianity. It’s good to see you recognise that not only ‘Guardianistas’ go in for virtue-signalling. I think it is very common in evangelical Christianity; most commonly on the gay sex issue, and also, unfortunately in anti-‘Darwinism’.

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