"You've probably seen the grungy-looking guy on the corner with a hand-lettered cardboard sign that says "Will work for food." (I don't know why, but some people give those guys money instead of offering them a mob. The sign doesn't say "Give me money." Surprisingly enough, I've found that the sign-holders don't respond cheerfully when you seriously propose that you would be willing to pay them for actual physical labor. Oh, well...) I don't know how you respond to such a sight, but how would you react if it was a 14 year old girl holding the sign? Maybe you saw this recent news item:
Edmond, OK - Tasha Henderson got tired of her 14 year old daughter's poor grades, her chronic lateness to class and her talking back to her teachers, so she decided to teach the girl a lesson. She made Coretha stand at a busy Oklahoma City intersection with a cardboard sigh that read: "I don't do my homework and I act up in school, so my parents are preparing me for my future. Will work for food."
There was a flood of calls to talk radio stations either praising the mother or blasting her for publicly humiliating her daughter. On motorist even called the police.
My observations: 1). I'm glad the mother tried, but 14 is a little late to get serious. Respect for teachers, pride in completing a task, and being punctual are virtues that a TWO-year old should be learning. 2). To all the folks upset with the mother, I say we could do with a lot more public humiliation these days. When this country started, folks were put in stocks in the public square for the express purpose of humiliation. 3). Anyone who thinks it is their responsibility to call the police in such a case is seriously confused. The desk sergeant who took the call should have said, "A - it's not your kid, B - She deserves it, C - Don't you have something worthwhile to do with your time?"
Okay, say what? Let's ignore the denigration of the poor at the beginning of the article for now. Did I just hear an ambassador for Christ just say we need to humiliate more people? Really? And the thing is, not too many readers are going to have a problem with this. They have been trained not to see the glaring disparity between this strategy for achieving "Christian" objectives and Jesus' strategy for advancing the kingdom. Didn't Jesus come to defend the poor and helpless (regardless of the reason for their poverty)? Didn't Jesus come and give love and dignity to those from whom the religious institutions would take it away (the religious institutions call them "sinners")? Did the Creator of the Universe ever use his infinite power to force people to do what he wanted them to do? Can we not see that the use of "stocks in the public square" is as sinful now as it ever was, even if we achieve the desired outcome from the person we punished? Why in the world would we ever try to achieve moral behavior from a motivation of fear rather than from a knowledge of God?
I agree that the mom in the story is reasonably clever. It's kind of a funny scene, worth a spot as odd news on some local station, maybe even worth a chuckle. I'm not making a case for this being child abuse. But it is a case of someone using their power and authority to elicit a desired response from someone under their authority by humiliation and threat of further humiliation if the desired outcome is not attained. I'm not here to criticize the mother, but I do criticize the church who has bought into this ends-justifies-the-means mindset. I do criticize those who see this story as a commendable parable of how Christ's followers should behave. Does this pass for Christ-like behavior these days?
Since when do we get to humiliate people into giving us our desired outcome? Why do we get so upset when the secular left (convenient label, not necessarily an accurate one) bullies us by attacking the Ten Commandments or "in God we trust", yet we'd gladly use the same bullying tactics to further our cause if we had the chance. Do we ever think that it might be possible to achieve what we want and still have Jesus disgusted with us?
And why are we fighting for taking "pride in completing a task, and being punctual"? Those things are fine, but their relationship to Christian ethics are shaky, at best. They much more closely resemble American middle class values...maybe something the church needs to work to separate from Christian values. We seem to have a hard time telling the difference.
Jesus' example is one of love, of giving up power, of radical transformation, but not through power structures. May we learn to turn our backs on our striving for power and embrace the way of Christ.