Shame-Based Discipline

As far back as the Mayflower Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620, woven into America’s DNA has been the cultural norm of utilizing shaming as a means of discipline, particularly in the disciple of children.  A methodology we in the 21st century have come to perceive as detrimental is what our predecessors considered to be right, godly, and necessary.

Family generationsCheck out this excerpt from an article by the Journal of Family Studies: “As early American Puritans broke from the English church, the subjugation of children was formalized, dissuading (discouraging) them against challenging or rebelling against authority in the slightest.  Puritan children were taught that by disobeying their parents they were forcing God to condemn them to eternal death, and that strong discipline through physical punishment could bring salvation to children. If disobedient, children were whipped in public and forced to make public confessions in front of a meeting of adults.  Matters such as rights of children were never considered.”

These harsh forms of discipline apparently defined the American family, church, and community for centuries, rising, I believe, to the status of a cultural icon.  It became the outwardly visible representation of their dedication to purity, morality, and righteousness, which many believed were foundational to the life in godliness that our nation was built upon.

According to The Bible

Respectfully, our forefathers believed these cultural standards were fully corroborated by the Bible, using these and similar Old Testament scriptures as their foundation:

“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15)

“Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die.” (Proverbs 23:13)

“You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol.” (Proverbs 23:14)

“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)

“Stripes that wound scour away evil, and strokes reach the innermost parts.” (Proverbs 20:30)

I have no intention of creating a theological discussion over the deeper meaning of any of these proverbs or judging other generations’ belief systems.  I concur that every word of the Holy Bible is without error, each part written entirely through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

We must be honest with ourselves though.  Any flaw or contradiction we might perceive in God’s word is not a mis-step on His part, but a mis-interpretation on ours.

When each of us reads the words of the Bible, we all have a tendency to “interpret” what we read through the lens of our own personal needs, beliefs, and experiences.  I’m confident that God did not provide us His word that we might interpret it in a way that would fit it into our will and purposes, either individually or corporately.  Rather, I believe we were given this precious gift to guide us, as a unified church, in understanding God’s will and purposes.

In order to even begin to understand God’s heart in the scriptures, it’s critical we discipline ourselves to read it through what I believe to be the only lens that is capable of capturing God’s heart fully and accurately:  Jesus Christ.  Jesus is not merely the central character in the Bible. or a man who freely gave his life on a criminal’s cross as a substitute for the punishment you and I should have received, He IS the unfolding story of the Bible — cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation.  It’s all about Him – His love, His joy, His peace, His patience, His kindness, His goodness, His faithfulness, His gentleness, and His self-control.  These characteristics can only become a part of us as His followers through His grace and our faithful submission.  Any lens other than Jesus will lead us to conclusions that do not accurately reflect God’s nature and Jesus’s character.

But What About these Proverbs?

When we, as Christians, are unable to reconcile passages like these proverbs with the very nature and character of Jesus, we must come to the conclusion that we are in error in how we’re interpreting them.  Nothing in scripture will every contradict Jesus. Not His nature.  Not His character.  Not His words.  Not His actions.

With this being said, I have no right to criticize or second guess those who came before us, and their efforts to build their families, homes, schools, churches, and communities upon the foundation of God’s word.  I presume that each previous generation merely duplicated into their own families the very principles and practices their parents and grandparents employed in their families.  They did what they thought was right.

As Christian adults today, though, our Christian responsibility is not to debate whether we are to raise our kids or run our schools or lead our communities the way our forefathers did, but to infuse the very love and grace and character of Jesus Christ into every element of life we are a part of… in spite of historical precedence or family history.


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