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Friday, February 17, 2017

Spare the Rod? Why Christians Spank Their Kids.

Young me was spanked very infrequently, a smattering of spankings probably numbering less than 10 my entire childhood.

My home was also Christian in the sense that my parents were devout believers, raised my siblings and I to know Jesus, and took us to church every Sunday.

However, in my estimation, fatigue, not faith, made the difference between the few spankings I received compared to my siblings (as the last of six children, my parents were simply spanked-out and lenient).

Indeed, according to the data, evangelical Christians like my parents spank more than the non-Christian population, suggesting a positive correlation between this dynamic, biblically-based brand of Christianity and corporal punishment.

Yet and still, spanking itself has taken a hit in the past few decades due to stigma and study after study failing to find any benefits of this trusted form of correction.

Particularly significant is a 2016 meta-analysis of 75 studies ranging over 50 years which found “no evidence that spanking is associated with improved child behavior.”

So if the data suggests spanking does not work, why do Christians continue to spank, and that at a rate 15% higher than non-believers?

As an evangelical “insider”, I offer three possible reasons:

First, tradition.

Any "Fiddler on the Roof" fans ("Tradition, tradition..." )?

Spanking with its long history is embedded in our cultural psyche.

Furthermore, a quick inductive observation suggests spanking runs in the family.

If you were spanked, it is likely whichever parent spanked you was also spanked and that whichever parent spanked them was spanked and so on.

The common refrain is “I was spanked and I turned out fine.”

Fair enough.

The aforementioned meta-analysis did find spanking “associated with increased risk of…detrimental outcomes”, but noted that such associations were “small” and cannot be said to alone account for the outcomes they were associated with.

As long as we’re not talking about beating a child (think Adrian Peterson) or otherwise inflicting injury, I assume most Christian anecdotally draw on their experiences having been spanked and whatever benefit they perceive came from them and simply make their decision to spank on that basis.

Second, a perceived association between non-spanking and culturally conditioned or liberal forms of child rearing that challenge biblical thinking.

Highly regarded preacher and former seminary professor John Piper (who is very pro corporal punishment) had this to say about the origins of no-spanking thought:

“The heart of the issue is: Why does this person feel this way? What worldview inclines a person to think that you shouldn't spank a child? Where does that come from? Well it comes straight out of this culture…”

Reformed New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner, reviewing a book on spanking, “wonders” if the no spanking author (himself a Christian) “is prone to domesticating the Bible to fit modern conceptions”, adding “God’s Word does not necessarily fit the cultural mores and thought conventions of our day.”

He further cautions the author against "land[ing] in the lap of liberalism.”

Examples can be multiplied, but as long as the case against spanking can be linked to liberalism and cultural accommodation in the minds of Evangelicals, they will most likely stick to their...spoons?

Third, (as implied above) the Bible.

No less than four biblical texts speak positively about corporal punishment, each located in the book of Proverbs.

While some (including myself) question a literal application of these passages, surely these proverbs would have been understood literally by the ancient community that received them.

And with a similar understanding in place, present-day evangelicals have paddled away.

Writing for Focus on the Family, Chip Ingram states, “[r]egardless of the method, the Bible's word on discipline clearly demands that parents be responsible and diligent in spanking, but strongly prohibits physical abuse of any kind.”

Dr. Paul D. Wegner, professor of Old Testament at Phoenix Seminary, makes a nuanced and more scholarly case for corporal punishment in his article subtitled “To Spank or not to Spank” published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.

John Piper writes plainly, “If Jesus were married and had children, I think he would have spanked the children”, citing the teachings in Proverbs.

When it comes to their children, evangelicals prioritize the Bible, which has meant prioritizing spanking.

I don’t desire to debate the merits of spanking or the biblical case for it here.

I plan on not spanking whatever children I have because I was hardly spanked (the power of tradition!) and I don’t think it has any compelling benefits.

Furthermore, paddling or swatting blurs the line between force and violence too much for this pacifist.

I mean, would Jesus spank the children?

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