Child abuse in plain view
By: Rubel Shelly

Practically everyone with a television set has seen that awful surveillance tape that caught a 25-year-old woman beating the daylights out of her 4-year-old daughter in a department store parking lot. When she turned herself in to authorities, the woman said she just lost her temper because she was “having a bad day” – but that she had never done anything like that to her little girl before. Moving right along . . .

The fundamental duty of parents to their children is respect as human beings. Every child is born bearing the image and likeness of God. But every child is also born dependent, vulnerable, and defenseless. In the language of jurisprudence, parents function in the lives of their helpless offspring in loco dei – a Latin phrase which translates to “in the place of God.”

Our world is so horribly messed up that children often don’t get what God intended them to have. The biological parents fail to act lovingly toward their offspring to nurture them. Sometimes the courts step in to rescue infants and small children. More often than not, they are simply abused – physically, sexually, emotionally, and spiritually.

I have no idea what will happen in the case of Ms. Toogood. (Is there incredible irony in her name? Or am I just cynical?) She has been charged with felony battery to a child, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison. Attorneys, social workers, and child psychologists will weigh in on the case. And a judge in a courtroom in Indiana will rule on it.

Precisely because parents have such far-reaching management over their children’s lives, the duty to love our children is paramount to Christians who know it must be our goal to see them physically safe, emotionally secure, and spiritually whole. The requirement that children should honor their fathers and mothers is not unilateral. The Bible makes it clear that moms and dads must prove themselves worthy of honor!

Parenting is the hardest job anyone will ever undertake. Nobody is perfect at it, and every conscientious mother and father will second-guess even their best decisions. But a few things must be basic . . .
· Discipline (i.e., training), yes; abuse, no!
· Punishment, yes; indignity, no!
· Guidance, yes; exploitation, no!
· Correction, yes; humiliation, no!
Maybe parents are getting babies too young these days. Maybe they aren’t being trained in parenting skills. Maybe the stresses on their lives have pushed them over the edge and tempted them to take out their frustrations on their children. Maybe there is just a lot of mental illness in the world. I don’t know the causes, but I am horrified at the outcomes.

According to the Bible, rearing children in the training and instruction of the Lord must not be rationalized into provoking them to anger, exasperation, and resentment (cf. Ephesians 6:4). Having a bad day is no excuse for abusing a child and taking away the security God means for her parents to provide.