Editorial : The Bradford Law – A Step in Non-violence

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 41, Pentecost 2007

The emotion surrounding the passage of Green MP Sue Bradford’s bill proposing the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act allowing parents to use ‘reasonable force’ in the disciplining of their children had all the tenets of a national soap drama. One would think from the reaction of many – including many conservative Christians – that the devil incarnate had come to town. Would that they channelled the same passion to rage against homelessness, poverty, racial and class discrimination, the war in Iraq, and a hundred other social scourges. For most, unfortunately, their theology doesn’t extent that far. Pity – because Jesus had some pretty specific things to say about such matters and in a 1st century society that almost marginalised children to the point of non-existence, warned adults that unless they became ‘like children’, they would not enter the Kingdom of God.

To see such people mobilising in towns and cities throughout the country and marching was interesting in itself. Their claims that good parents would be criminalized, that parents rights were being subverted, that children would be taken from their homes by CYPS officials were at best exaggerated, at worst outright lies. They were backing the claim that ‘parents have a right to discipline children whenever and however we consider appropriate’ as one publication claimed. Thank goodness the mainstream church leadership mobilised in time to confront such heresy. It was sad to see blackshirts marching on parliament calling the tune for conservative Christians. Their thinking is so far from true biblical knowledge.

There were too many horror stories of the beating of children in recent generations to justify a continuation of the status quo. Now that physical punishment has been banished from schools (note the sky didn’t fall in) and is now banished from domestic life for children, maybe some of the skills developed in recent times promoting mediation, restorative justice and transformative justice will be applied also to our domestic mores. Already many schools have developed strategies including peer mediation and mentoring as alternatives to the trip to the dean’s office and physical punishment. Now is the time for renewed thinking to be given to applying the same philosophy and practice in our homes.

Surely no balanced person ever believed that good decent parents would be arrested and carted off to prison. Instead, New Zealand will become a nation where along with current law banning assaults on adults and cats and dogs, children too will be protected from assaults by adults in the name of discipline.

This is an important step in developing non-violence as a culture in which to raise children. Regrettably, the large piece missing from the public debate has been a comprehensive look at the philosophy behind the move to repeal Section 59. Non-violence is not for the immature. It is a spiritual journey which can affect every part of daily life. It is a philosophy and practice that requires the most mature approach. And it demands a lot from adults – honesty, firmness, tenderness, good communication, justice. All are fruits of genuine love. And for Christians, the source of genuine love is the non-violent Jesus. It is all there in his teachings. Christians at least should believe in the transforming power of Christ’s grace is sufficient. We shouldn’t require violence to achieve results, either at war between nations or between parents and children.

From many perspectives the national debate has been good for the country. It has flushed into the open extreme views regarding violence held by some within our society and within our churches. It has forced usually combative mainstream groupings including political parties to work together to come up with a solution. It is a debate that can hopefully now be laid to rest as parties respond to the new legislation. The desire for a referendum is surely more political posturing. Which is why the blackshirts look so scary.

And its time to hand a special bouquet to Sue Bradford, a battler for justice on many fronts over many years, who with patience, diligence, openness, humour and the honesty that marks her public life, stood close to the flames of wrath and didn’t flinch.

Well done, Sue.

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