[From the archives, a post that originally ran as a guest post at Julie Anne Smith’s Spiritual Sounding Board.]
John Piper has a message for you moms whose kids don’t behave in public the way he thinks they should: if you don’t make your children obey you, you have only yourself to blame when they end up in the morgue because they got shot dead.
Piper’s article – Parents, Require Obedience of Your Children – starts by referring to a recent tragedy: a California teen with a toy gun was shot by police. Piper admits he doesn’t know if the teen even heard the commands to lower the toy gun, but he chooses to assume the teen not only heard the police but then willfully disobeyed because his parents never taught him any better.
Such an assumption is a baseless sensationalization of that poor family’s tragedy and Piper heartlessly capitalizes on their grief. But he insists on proceeding with his baseless assumption because assuming the worst about things fits his point better than assuming the best.
His real point?
I am writing this to plead with Christian parents to require obedience of their children.
Piper wants to co-opt that family’s real tragedy because it fits the point he wants to make about another family he knows nothing about: a mother and son Piper saw on an airplane. The mother apparently didn’t handle her son in a way Piper approves of. The son was playing with an electronic toy and the flight attendant came by to tell the mother it needed to be put away for takeoff. So the son turned it off. Piper approved of this scene so far, but not for long.
When the flight attendant took her seat, the boy turned his device back on, and kept it on through the take-off. The mother did nothing. I thought to myself, she is training him to be shot by police.
How does he know the mother is training the son to be shot? Because it fits Piper’s assumptions about what he thinks happened to that family in California.
There is so much wrong with this.
First, he appropriates the tragedy and grief of a family who lost a son so that he can then judge another family in a completely unrelated situation.
Second, he jumps to the extreme conclusion that the mother’s failure to act in the manner he approves of on a single occasion on that airplane means her child will grow up not knowing how to make good decisions.
Third, he judges a mother without knowing anything about the child, the family, or what had transpired before he saw them on the plane. Was getting on the plane a major accomplishment for them? Are they traveling to a funeral? Has the child been ill? Piper should know better than to judge, being a parent himself. How many of us – before we had kids – would see parents handling children and judge them thinking we would certainly do better once we had kids? I’ll tell you, becoming a parent ourselves is the surest cure for that nonsense.
Fourth, he applies his ignorant and baseless assumptions about the shooting of that teenager to every child whose parent does not require strict and immediate obedience. They’re training their children to get shot by police, he insists. Piper admits he doesn’t know why the California teen didn’t put the toy gun down, but he’ll insist that the teen’s death informs Piper’s ability to judge the woman on the airplane.
Piper then insists his assumption-laden advice is based on Scripture – Ephesians 6:1 – arguing that since children are told to obey parents then parents are by that same verse required to force their children into obedience. That’s a sloppy way to read Scripture.
Let’s say, though, that parents tried to force obedience as Piper advises. That doesn’t mean the children have actually obeyed. It just means someone bigger imposed their own will.
That’s not obedience.
Nowhere in the Bible are parents told to coerce their children.
Happily, there is a way to honor God in how we care for our children, a way that doesn’t rely on Piper’s extremes.
A Better Way to Raise Your Children
Here’s some good advice from Connie Jakab:
Sometimes as parents we stress when our kids are displaying less than desirable behavior. We blame ourselves or them wondering what went wrong. Nothing went wrong. Perfection is not the aim we strive for in our kids – guiding them successfully through whatever bumps and shortcomings is what parenting is all about. When we struggle with challenges our kids are experiencing, it’s our opportunity to show them the road to overcome.
Perfection is not the aim – not even perfect obedience. Instead, as Connie says, we are to guide our children. How do we guide them into making good decisions, to act in ways that honor God? I think it’s best to follow God’s own example.
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4.)
God is our loving Father and he leads us to repentance by his kindness, patience and forbearance. It’s that last word that seals the fate of Piper’s bad advice, because he doesn’t advocate forbearance but immediate action.
That’s not to say that parents should be marshmallows and let their kids get away with misbehavior. In fact, there are times when coercion is called for, like grabbing your kid and yanking them to the curb when they’re about to run into a busy street.
But when it comes to how one family handles raising children versus how another family does it, none of us should dictate a particular method; one size does not fit all families.
Instead we should support parents, pray for them, and trust that God is working in families now just as he has been throughout time.