|Image credit: airpark on Flickr|
When our first daughter was born, one of the earliest pieces of advice I got was regarding her sinful nature. I was cautioned that she would try to cry and manipulate me, and that she would want to nurse more often than she should. Um, really? Why would she try to nurse too much? So that she could get a tummy ache? Oooooookay. (And may I just say that many of the religious people I have met who think that babies are gluttonous sure seem to have a double standard when it comes to adult eating?) She would cry from an evil desire to have her mami hold her? Because surely comforting "the smallest of these" is bad, right? It didn't make a whole lot of sense to me that a child who didn't even understand object permanence was lying awake plotting malicious, sophisticated headgames.
But many Christians believe that. Tedd Tripp advocates spanking an eight-month old for squirming during a diaper change. Dobson, Ezzo and the rest of the punitive Christian authors give similar examples, although the exact age may vary. They all believe that our children have a sinful nature that is expressed in any behavior that is not convenient for the parent, and that this sin must be dealt with by punishment from the parents, usually corporal punishment.
Why the obsession with sin and punishment? The Bible also teaches that we are made in the image of God. It teaches that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Why is their teaching so out of balance?
Even more, why do they teach that parents must focus on ferreting out sin and punishing it, whether it is a child's nature or not? Isn't the Holy Spirit the one who convicts us of sin? And isn't the only way to be forgiven through Jesus? Why do they teach that parents must convict and that spanking takes away sin?
I think that they are choking on gnats and swallowing camels. Their eyes are intently scrutinizing babies for splinters without noticing their own planks.
There is currently an investigation into a church funded and supported by Christian author Lori Wick where the pastor advocates hitting babies as young as six weeks with wooden dowels 18 inches long and more than half an inch thick. Despite bruises and welts left on the infants, he believes it was necessary to counter their sinful natures, which were expressing themselves through such heinous acts as fussing in the middle of a church service.
We want to think that those are fringe extremists. Perhaps so, but there sure are a lot of them out there. And the pro-spanking teachers never seem to consider that maybe, just maybe, instead of encouraging the parents to spank longer and harder, that they should have the parents deal with anger and self-control. Glue sticks and plumbing line are replacing belts and paddles because they don't leave marks on the outside. (Which seems to indicate a desire for deception by the spankers.) However, just like tenderizing meat breaks down the muscle and tissue, so do those little "rods", eventually resulting in kidney failure. But the abusers deem it necessary to save their souls from Hell.
Leaving aside the matters of common sense, human decency and child development, which don't seem to figure into the teachings much anyway, why would they suppose that constant suspicion is a good foundation for a parent-child relationship? Would that benefit any other relationship? Do you constantly look out for examples of a sinful nature in your spouse? Is his failure to put away his socks an example of the evil in his heart? Or could there possibly be reasons that don't precisely fall into the category of sin behind it? Most of those authors would justify behavior in an adult male that they would not forgive in a child. Why can't they extend any grace to a tiny infant?
When Jesus talked about children, He didn't focus on sinful natures and warn parents to be on guard for any demonstration of rebellion. Instead, He told the adults that they needed to become like children. Yet so many who take His name violently insist that babies become like adults without ever giving them time to grow into that.
I don't believe that immaturity is sin. I don't believe that crying, or being awake during the night, or wiggling during a diaper change is evil. In fact, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Jesus had colic as a baby! I think it is absurd to say that those things are sinful. I will go even further and say that if a child is not capable of understanding or has not developmentally reached the point of impulse control to truly make a choice about a behavior, it cannot be considered a moral issue.
What about older children who can consciously make good or bad choices? Then I believe that the whole sinful nature thing can be seen. However, I still don't think it matters in terms of punishment. Punishment does not change a sinful heart. Only Jesus does. My job is still to teach, to enforce healthy boundaries, to help them make amends, and to show love and grace. It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict us of sin. I can help model and teach repentance, but ultimately that is between them and God.
I can't help but remember that Satan is the Accuser. If I were to fix my mind on detecting sin in my children I would be sliding into dangerous territory.
What if, instead of focusing on judging and punishing what we deem to be sin in our children (and might be misjudging completely--after all, who knows the heart of another?), we worked at "restoring one another gently"? Yes, we are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. We are also sons and daughters of God. Which should we consider more important?