Anglican Bishops in New Zealand have backed a move to end the smacking of children.
In a statement, signed by all New Zealand's Anglican Bishops, they have declared their support for the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act, which allows children to be hit with 'reasonable force'.
"The way of Jesus was one of non-violence" the statement says. "He declined to sanction violent punishment against offenders, preferring instead to look to the root causes of ill behaviour and to offer people a new start. This is how we must relate to our children."
The bishops also say that the proposed changes to Section 59 are “a further important step down the road towards transforming the disproportionately high rates of violence in our country.”
The Bishops say that Section 59 – which allows the use of reasonable force in the discipline of children – had been used to justify the use of excessive force against them.
The repeal of Section 59 would remove 'a legal loophole', and “reinforce the total unacceptability of violence against children.”
The Bishops acknowledge that their stand will be unpopular, and that there is also debate among Christians about the use of corporal punishment. However, their statement says that those who use the bible to defend corporal punishment are wrong to do so.
"There has been a lot of talk about ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’, an attitude that can be sanctioned by scriptural proof-texts such as Proverbs 13: 24 — ‘Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them (NRSV)’."
But the Bishops suggest that, reading of the Bible must always be done “through the lens of Christ’s teaching and life.
“It is inappropriate to take texts (such as Proverbs 13: 24) out of their ancient cultural context, and out of the broader context of Scripture, so as to justify modes of behaviour in a modern situation very different from that for which they were given.
"Such texts need to be read in the light of the way Christ responded to children, placing them in the middle of the group with respect and care, as in Mark 9: 37: ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’."
The Bishops also say that the changes to section 59 need to go “hand in hand with increased access to high quality public educational programmes, which encourage non-violent discipline and child rearing.”
"This is a moment to make a positive difference. We believe repeal of Section 59 provides an expression of hope, and we wholeheartedly support it."