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Hitting children is not part of God’s plan, says Dean

03 May 2013

SMACKING children is "legalised violence", and engenders a "cult of brutality", the Dean of Brecon, the Very Revd Geoffrey Marshall, said last Friday.

Dean Marshall was speaking at a vigil at the cathedral to conclude a two-day roadshow run by the Churches' Network for Non-violence and Children Are Unbeatable! Cymru, an alliance of Welsh organisations, including the NSPCC and Barnardo's. It was attended by the MP and Mayor of Brecon.

Dean Marshall washed the feet of several children, while adults lit candles; there were an act of penitence and prayers of intercession.

"For some reason it is illegal for me to hit my 37-year-old daughter when she does something to upset me, but it is perfectly legal for her to hit her two-year-old son," Dean Marshall said in his sermon. "There are - shamefully, I say - theological roots to legalised violence against children. . .

"When God is thus understood, as within the logic of retribution, in terms of impersonal holiness, legalism, and strict vengeful justice, then the biblical picture I see of God as relational, compassionate, and merciful is terribly distorted." He concluded: "If we think of children as made in the image of God, then I can't imagine that hitting them is part of God's plan."

The Dean said that he had received "a number of critical messages" about hosting the vigil. He had been "amazed by how nasty some fellow Christians can be in how they express their disagreement".

A week before the vigil, the campaign group Christian Voice issued a press release urging people to "pray for leaders in the Church, that they would turn from fashionable doctrines of men and seek the face of the Lord in his word."

On Tuesday, Stephen Green, the national director of Christian Voice, said: "It is a shame that the cathedral is taking a particular stance about a contentious political issue, and one on which there is clearly division within the Church of England."

The sermon should have included recommendations about alternative forms of punishment, he said, and the Dean could have been "a lot more intellectually honest" by confronting "those scriptures which would appear to show that to discipline children is an act of love".

Last year, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, Dean Marshall, and other Christian leaders joined all the main parenting organisations in Wales in calling for reform.

In a signed statement, they stated: "We believe that legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment is crucial, because it reflects the compassionate, non-violent society we want for all our children" (News, 23 November).

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