Can We Have an Intelligent Debate About Corporal Punishment?
Fox News got it wrong–and that’s not a good sign.
Last Friday night, Sean Hannity anchored a newscast of experts to debate the Adrian Peterson child abuse situation. Peterson–a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings–was indicted for beating his four year old child with a switch that left welts, cuts, and bleeding that were still visible four days after the incident.
His case is one of a string of domestic violence problems that are currently rocking the NFL.
As to Peterson’s child abuse, most of the Sean Hannity Show participants ascribed to the notion that all corporal punishment is wrong. Others, like Sean, said that because some people in the South were raised that way, do we really want to put people in jail for punishing their kids?
I was frustrated as I watched.
Can we have an intelligent national debate about corporal punishment?
We better–or we will miss the wisdom of God and hurt our children and society.
Usually Fox News is pretty good about elevating the biblical worldview when it comes to public policy. Fox is not run by evangelicals, but it has strong Catholic roots with a clear conservative bent. Conservative views, in the main, are the Bible applied to social, economic, and national security issues. On the other hand, liberal politics generally follow more humanistic or secular values and mores.
Fox News is the most watched cable news station in America because it resonates with the majority of Americans who are either traditional, conservative, Bible-believing, common-sense people–or a mixture of the above.
But Fox whiffed Friday on corporal punishment.
The gallery of experts that Sean Hannity called together to talk about this issue seemed to be clearly divided to the extremes.
The majority of them were against any form of corporal punishment. They believed in “talking” to young children, giving them “time-outs,” or as Sean said, “taking away their machines as punishment.” (Actually, only teenagers should have their own I-Pads and cell phones, so this really doesn’t apply to smaller children.)
On the other hand, the minority felt that it was okay to punish kids as some people do in the Southern states or who have been raised in a Christian environment.
But no one clearly articulated the wisdom of biblical corporal punishment and how it should be done.
Even the Fox News Poll that drove the debate asked the wrong question. Here’s the wording: Do you believe it is wrong for parents to strike their children?”
68% said yes. 28% said no.
(The undecided were high on marijuana in Colorado or Washington State–just kidding.)
Notice the word strike–which almost sounds like a right-cross to the forehead. Other panelists used the word “hit” or “punish” as in “inflict a lot of damage.”
If we’re talking about striking, hitting, or shellacking a small, defenseless kid, then put me on the side of the no corporal punishment crowd. I never did any of those things to my six children when they were little. That would have been wrong.
The Bible, which is the basis on our common laws in America, puts this activity in the category of a crime which we call domestic battery or assault. People can’t get away with striking, hitting, or beating anybody that leaves severe damage or pain.
Especially vulnerable children.
Of course, normal life has always tolerated the school ground fight, the heated argument, or even the jealous wrestling match between two adversaries.
But when mundane human depravity turns to violence–striking and hitting that causes severe physical damage and pain–then the law brings in consequences to protect the vulnerable and innocent.
If Adrian Peterson beat his four-year-old child the way the pictures portray, then he needs to go to jail.
But he said he was just punishing his son with a switch like he learned from his own father. If Adrian Peterson’s father used a piece of wood to bloody and bruise little Adrian, they he should have gone to jail.
But there is another way–a better way–that the Bible clearly teaches is the best way to raise children.
In the modern vernacular, we call it loving discipline or spanking. Spanking is not striking, hitting, beating, or mutilating to cause severe damage. It is the loving and controlled use of a neutral object to cause fear of disobedience and respect for God-given authority.
There are numerous books on this subject that are based on the biblical wisdom. My favorite title is Larry Tomzcak’s God, the Rod, and Your Child’s Bod. Like many others, it lays out the principles of how we should correct or discipline our young children for their good.
Let me share the principles, then give you an example from my own experience.
Principles of Spanking (Loving Discipline)
1. It is only to be done on younger children who think concretely and don’t have the ability to understand abstract concepts. It is never to be used on older children or teenagers because they can be reasoned with and understand the importance of consequences.
2. It is never to be done in anger. Never. If you’re angry with your child for what they’re doing, then you need to settle down first before you represent God to them by bringing loving discipline.
3. Never use one of your own body parts (a hand or foot) as the tool of punishment. Use a neutral object so that the chastened child will associate the punishment with something separate from you. The Bible calls this a “rod.”
4. Never spank or discipline in a public place. If the child is defiant or acting up, take them from the room or public area and do the correction in private. Spankings should never humiliate the child in front of others.
5. Talk to the child so that they know what they are being punished for. Do it soberly and clearly showing your grief over their continued disobedience which has led to this moment.
6. Don’t spank often–only when there is defiance or continued disobedience. I only spanked my six kids a few times in their lives. After the first couple of disciplines, they learned quickly to respect my authority and avoid punishment.
7. Spank them primarily on their “bottoms” where God has provided ample fat cells and padding. Make it sting or hurt, but never enough to break the skin, bring welts, or cause bleeding. That would be assault and battery. Two or three swats is sufficient to place the fear of God and you in them.
8. After you finish spanking them, hold them in your arms to show your love and protection over their precious lives. Talk to them about how wrong it is to disobey and how you loved them enough to do something you hate to teach them to obey God-given authority.
9. Help dry their tears and send them on their way with a great lesson learned.
That is biblical corporal punishment. It’s what the all-wise God knows that we human beings need. It will help us grow to respect authority, have a healthy fear of sinful behavior, and desire the rewards of obedience. Those lessons will help us live a wise and successful life. (Biblical Basis: Proverbs 13:24, 19:18, 22:15, 23:14, 29:15, Ephesians 6:4, and Hebrews 12:6-7.)
Now here’s my story.
Our four year-old David was refusing to share his toys with his twin sister. I asked him on a number of occasions to share and play well with her. Instead, he defied me, kept grabbing them from her, and generally was being a small bully.
I finally said, “David, stop doing that and be nice to Bethany.” He turned to me in a look of defiance and said, “No!”
In three seconds, he knew he was in trouble.
I got up out of my chair and started moving toward the kitchen. In a special drawer there was a wooden spoon with a hole in it that everyone knew was the Boehme “rod.” (In later years we duct taped it and it became a famous family heirloom and source of many “wisdom-learning” memories.)
As I approached David with the spoon in my hand, his eyes got as big as saucers and he began to try and extract himself from his doom. “I’m sorry–I’m sorry,” he yelled to all in the room that would hear.
Unmoved, I picked him up with one arm while holding the spoon in the other. We then disappeared upstairs where the lesson would occur.
Sitting him down on his bed, with the door closed, I shared with David both what I was about to do and why I was doing it. The words went something like this:
“David, I love you very much. And because of that love I am going to spank you for being mean to your sister and not obeying me. I want you to learn to treat others properly and to learn to obey your parents. What I’m about to do will hurt me more than you.”
I then pulled David’s pants down to his knees and laid him face down across my lap. Using the wooden spoon, I gave him three quick swats on his behind with enough force to make it sting. David began to cry, and the spanking was over quickly.
Pulling his pants back up, and cradling him in my arms, I held David close and told him that I loved him enough to do something I hate doing to teach him the importance of obedience. I then prayed for him as he cuddled on my shoulder. After talking some more, and drying his tears, I took him back downstairs and he returned to playing.
He rarely disobeyed me again. Neither did any of the others. I was teaching my children through the loving use of discipline to fear punishment, learn to do what’s right, and respect authority.
Those are big lessons in a fallen world, and when we don’t teach them well, our kids grow up to be careless, rebellious, unloving, disrespectful, and unwise.
Can these lessons be learned through other means?
But not with every kid. Some need tough love at an early age to learn that life is not about them–it’s about obeying God and others who are important in our lives.
I wish Fox News had laid out the case for wise, biblical discipline. It isn’t no to all corporal punishment or yes to child beating.
It’s the loving use of discipline for the good of our precious children.
Amen- I just read this out loud to my wife… We do not have kids yet, but are excited to have some one day 🙂 thanks for this wisdom!