There’s a common belief that obedience is something that is outright owed to certain persons on account of a particular role they have.
Don’t believe me? When you hear that a parent has taken or gotten rid of their child’s phone, what’s your first thought?
Even if the phone itself actually belonged to the child (who might even be a legal adult). Even if the parent’s reason for taking the phone had nothing to do with phone use or abuse. Even if the parent’s paying of the phone bill is because they’re actively preventing the child from getting a job—or maybe the parent wasn’t paying the phone bill at all.
Even if there are all sorts of other signals that the parent is overstepping their bounds and actually seeking to sabotage their child, to force the child to be compliant with whatever the parent wants.
“Oh, that’s rare,” you’re probably saying.
No, it actually isn’t (source).
Problem is that people assume parents necessarily want what’s best for their children—and children, regardless of age, can’t ask others for help or even express an opinion of their own without getting scolded for “disrespecting” or “dishonoring” their parents.
If a parent takes their child’s money or identity, it’s horrific, but if the parent limits what they take to particular belongings, it’s magically okay. Parents who steal from their children are even lauded, like the father who shot his daughter’s laptop and recorded himself doing it—apparently in response to a Facebook post complaining about him. Allegedly, she’d been warned and has come to accept it as due punishment. That’s entirely possible, and if the laptop belonged to him, then it was his right to do with as he wanted with it.
But he outright called the laptop his daughter’s. So by his own admission, he’s destroyed her property, and it’s magically okay because he’s the parent, when if a neighbor or stranger or anyone else did the same thing, it would not be acceptable.
And his justification for doing so is that his daughter’s complaint was “disrespectful” and “embarrassing” towards him and her mother…meaning she couldn’t even have her own opinion. She’d even tried to set up Facebook privacy so that family and church folks were blocked from seeing her posts, so how was that affecting her parents at all?
And he thinks her having her own opinion that’s incompatible with his is disrespectful and embarrassing enough towards him to outright warrant punishment, yet in his video, he outright mocks her, ridicules her. And then shoots something that she outright needs for school.
The double standard is strong with this one.
If the girl is actually being overworked—and her “lazy ass” doesn’t get her chores done or get a job because she has too much schoolwork, probably has more chores than are on the official list, maybe has health problems, and maybe is expected to do chores that exacerbate those health problems—the father now has a precedent of violently destroying the belongings that she needs to be able to escape when she turns eighteen.
The double standard, ridicule, mockery, and calling her “lazy”—and the use of the gun—would all be abuse flags in a different relationship (source), but it somehow isn’t since he’s her parent. And their state (North Carolina) evidently defines emotional abuse based on victim reactions, rather than on abuser actions (source), so a person has to be damaged to get help and their abuser isn’t held accountable.
And the girl can’t say anything, because it’s “disrespectful” to do so.
But is it?
Let’s step back to look at what “respect” even is.
“A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements”; “due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others”ref. Oxford
So respect, per the official definition of the word, is something earned and consistent with how you would want the other person to treat you, if your positions were swapped.
The girl did post a public complaint about her father. Her father publicly complained back, called her names, and destroyed her property.
“But she was disrespectful!” you might be thinking.
Well, maybe, but step back and look at the balance, there. The father’s response was disproportionate to the offense, holding his teenage child to a level of responsibility to which he does not even hold himself.
She has no right to complain, yet he does. How is that even consistent with Colossians 3:21 or Ephesians 6:4?
“But she’s supposed to honor and obey him!”
Besides the fact that there are some redefinitions and conflations going on there—which is a topic for another post—here’s a question for you.
How, precisely, does disrespecting someone teach them how to show respect?
How is that compatible with our duties to love others as ourselves (Mark 12:31) and honor them above ourselves (Romans 12:10)?
The Bible doesn’t make exceptions for children or parents or employees or bosses or pastors or others. We’re told to avoid certain types of people (I Corinthians 5:11) and we’re told to judge folks by the fruits they display (Matthew 7:16)—again, regardless of familial or social relationship—but we are not told to hate or retaliate against those who have wronged us. Rather, the opposite (Matthew 5:44)!
Due consequences and retaliation are not the same thing. For example, I’d be a lot less concerned if the father who shot his daughter’s computer had refrained from the emotional abuse tactics and said something more like, “I told you that if you used the laptop to whine in public, I would shoot it. This is me, shooting the laptop.” Especially if he’d left it at that. It would’ve been the father following through on a promised consequence, rather than the outright retaliation that he made it.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”Proverbs 22:6
That verse gets quoted as justification for responding to children with punishment, but…the word is train. In my experience, job training does not generally involve getting yelled at or struck.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child” isn’t actually in Scripture. The closest verse is Proverbs 13:24: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”
However, at least according to a shepherd, the rod isn’t actually used to strike the sheep. It’s used to strike threats to the flock, and it’s used to startle sheep out of misbehavior when you’re too far to reach them. Plus, parents aren’t responsible for children’s salvation or hearts—no person can force another to change. It is not our right nor our responsibility. Even church discipline is intended to protect others from the one being disciplined (ref. I Corinthians 5:6, Galatians 5:9), not to somehow force the one in the wrong to change.
So when and how did “You must beat your children to change their hearts!” end up part of the common psyche? It’s inconsistent and doesn’t even make sense. (And corporal punishment is so common, both inside and outside the church—isn’t Matthew 7:16 a warning to be careful about anything thusly pervasive?)
Parents aren’t perfect, and they make mistakes, but an adult should have more sense and self-control than a child or teenager. Most children (and teens) are still learning self-control, communication, responsibility, etc.
So many parents and other adults complain about the lack of those traits in people who haven’t yet learned those things. The parents and adults are often holding the youth responsible for things they haven’t even been taught or had sufficient opportunity to learn, just expecting them to somehow automatically know due to a handful of lessons or by osmosis or via translating the Opposite Land of the adults and parents’ disrespect of them.
And this disrespectful, dishonoring, unloving behavior towards the children is justified by quoting verses about children’s responsibilities towards their parents.
Children’s responsibilities towards their parents do not nullify or override parents’ responsibility towards their children.
So why is it so common for us adults to speak and act as if it does? And why is the Bible used to justify it?