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Look at the Context

A New Zealand Catholic priest on Kiribati (a small Pacific atoll on the equator) provided me with one of the greatest challenges to my reflections on discipline. We were sitting at the airport and he shared that within the first few days of his arrival as the new principal there, the staff recommended expulsion for a pregnant student. He stunned them by saying, “Would Jesus turn her away?” What a question for us to reflect on. What are their circumstances? How should we respond?

“In essence, Christian discipline is disciple-ing, the winning of thoughtful loyalty to right principles. Jesus called a number of men to be disciples, individuals who, along with strengths and talents, had perverse habits, distorted temperaments, and selfish pride. Christ took them as they were, and through example, encouragement, and loving correction shaped them into committed, God-centered persons who, in turn, transformed their world.”

It was midnight and I had decided to walk over to the Boy’s Dormitory to check that all was quiet. Going downstairs, I removed the vent cover above the guest toilet and stepped through the hole into the foundations. Slipping through the foundations from wall to wall, I surprised three boys sitting around smoking and looking at inappropriate magazines.

Imagine their stunned surprise to see the deputy principal materialize right in front of them! They promptly stubbed out their cigarettes and tried to hide the magazines. As we sat in my office after midnight that cold winter night, I asked them each what they thought would be an appropriate action for what they had done. Finally John blurted out, “I think we need to be caned sir.”

I sat up in surprise. Caning, customary at that time, had always been a last resort to me. I again asked if they had any other options to suggest. Nothing was forthcoming.

Each of them held out their hands and were given two strokes on the hand. I remember going home that night feeling an absolute failure as I had not been able to come up with a better option. I was caught by surprise several weeks later when John came to see me. “Sir, he began hesitantly, “If you had not caught us in the dungeons, I think I might have been smoking and looking at the wrong stuff. So thank you for catching us and caning us.”

Would I do the same thing today – more than 30 years later? No, I would not. Society has moved away from corporal punishment. I would deal with it very differently. Now I would look at what a student could learn about themselves and the possible implications of pursuing that specific habit.

Now I would ask them to do some on-line research on the long term effects of tobacco and pornography. I would engage them in their own growth and fact finding. Now I would ask myself, “What would Jesus have done?” While he did not accept the behaviour, He did provide acceptance for the person.

Discipline is indeed about disciple-ing. It is about challenging an individual to want to change and to make better choices. Love is far more effective than force in this pursuit. More people are wooed by love than by force.

Reflect: Ultimately, schools that implement redemptive discipline keep the Gospel before each student. Each and every disciplinary situation becomes an opportunity to remind students that their offense serves reminder of their need for a Savior and that Jesus died for their sin.  (Christian Perspectives in Education, Vol. 6, Iss. 1 [2013], Art. 1)

*This is the fifth in a series of ten reflections on important components of redemptive Christian discipline. All the newsletters are available in newsletter format through CIRCLE.adventist.org

David McClintock
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