christianity and child abuse

In the wake of a judge being videotaped beating his teenage daughter, the Indianapolis Star asked our very own Rev. Dr. Matthew Myer Boulton this question, "From a faith perspective, when - if ever - is it appropriate for a parent to punish a child physically?"

Here's Matt's answer:

Part of what is so stunning about the recent YouTube video of a Texas judge beating his 16-year-old daughter is the sheer number of times the video has been viewed (last I checked, well over 6 million clicks and counting).  We are fascinated by violence: curious about it, afraid of it, offended by it, mesmerized by it.  More and more, we are surrounded by images and incidents of brutality.  And for this very reason, we ought to redouble our efforts to make our homes bastions of tenderness and dignity.

At the heart of the Christian tradition is a story about violence, the story of the cross.  There are many ways to interpret that story, of course, but at its heart is a searing indictment of violence in its manifold forms: betrayal, desertion, assault, humiliation and shame.  What happens to Jesus - at the hands of his enemies, but also at the hands of his trusted friends - is a devastating, heartbreaking thing.  That God miraculously makes something good out of this ruin doesn't change the indictment; if anything, it underscores it.  God is a God of life, and so opposes the world's ways - our ways - of death, contempt and destruction.

The cross, we should never forget, is an ancient instrument of torture and intimidation.  The good news of Easter morning is that God has transformed and will transform even the worst into signs of life and resurrection.

Reasonable, well-meaning people will disagree about the precise role physical force should play in Christian parenting, but in my own view, the indispensable role of the parent is to protect the vulnerable bodies of children.  Love can sometimes be "tough," as they say, but it should never injure.  Our homes, our lives, our most precious relationships should be pockets of patience and resurrection, sanctuaries against the swirling storm.


Thanks to Quinn Dombrowski for this outspoken graffiti art and to the Indianapolis Star for publishing Matt's words here.