Elizabeth Esther published two posts yesterday on the CNN investigation of the Pearls and that aspect of Christianity in America, here and here. If you haven’t read the posts or watched the segments, I urge you to do so. If you don’t, parts of what I say here may not have much context. They are also well worth read and watching in their own right. I do want to note that, like Elizabeth, I intend to moderate comments on this post pretty heavily. This is my space and I’m not interested in paying to host what passes for “Christian discourse” on this topic in most places. If you want to engage in the defense of the Pearls, Dobson, and others like them, go do so in those places where such defense is welcome. Don’t try it here.
In the comments on Elizabeth Esther’s first post, I had a brief exchange with another person commenting. In that thread, Elizabeth made the following comment. I woke up this morning with that comment still on my mind.
“I agree, Scott. I don’t think spanking is the best option and especially since it can be so easily become abuse. However, it should be noted that the kind of corporeal punishment most Americans think of (the rare slap on the bottom) is a WORLD AWAY from the systematic, repetitive method advocated by the Pearls.”
(I’ll note that it’s hardly just the Pearls. I was horrified early in my Christian experience (back in the 90s) when I happened to pick up and skim James Dobson’s book, The Strong-Willed Child. This runs much deeper than a fringe movement. It’s pervasive through a significant portion of the American Christian culture.)
Now, I don’t particularly disagree with Elizabeth’s statement. The occasional swat on the bottom is different from techniques designed specifically to attempt to break the will of the child (as Dobson, for instance, advocates). In most cases it’s not going to have any long-lasting negative consequences on the children, as I noted, especially if compensated by a loving, structured environment in which more appropriate discipline is generally used.
Nevertheless, there’s a deeper thread in this discussion that should not be overlooked. James wrote the following.
“I think the book of Wisdom (Proverbs) would contradict that spanking when done correctly is not wise…”
I responded over on Elizabeth’s blog and I’m not particularly interested in exploring the nature of that misinterpretation and misapplication of two verses in Proverbs here. Heck, even if they weren’t misinterpreted I would personally never base the way I raise my children on two solitary OT verses over against the whole of Jesus’ teaching and everything modern, controlled studies tell us about what “works” and what doesn’t. So that particular discussion is largely meaningless and uninteresting to me. (I do find it amusing to see Proverbs call the book of Wisdom when the Christian OT already has a Wisdom other than Proverbs, but that’s a different discussion.)
I want to look at what lies beneath James’ statement. Read it and think carefully here. Is this not what it says?
God says it is wise (and therefore necessary?) to strike your child — to deliberately and intentionally inflict violence on another human being.
Really?!?! I mean really? That’s not the God I see in the Holy Scriptures. That’s not the God I see in Jesus of Nazareth. That’s not the God I see in the witness of the saints. That’s not the God I encountered. That’s not even a God I’m willing to worship.
In light of that, I think I have to reconsider my statement on Elizabeth’s post that I wouldn’t consider what parents do “sin“. After all, what is sin? It’s much, much more than particular individual acts I do as an individual that violate some law. It’s that which flows from the bondage of our common mortality. It’s the ground that permeates and twists humanity. The wisest of saints have noted that we share a common responsibility for each other. When anyone sins, it’s not, “There but for the grace of God go I.” It’s “There go I.” Moreover that sin, whatever it may be, has effects that are farther-reaching than we are ever able to perceive. In many ways, sin is structural and systemic.
Therefore, I name this attitude toward children sin. And it’s long past time to change. Directly, it provides the cover for those who go way too far. (Heck, even the ones who teach such things are often protected and lauded.) And indirectly it contributes to a culture and an attitude that says that children are less than fully human. Women and children used to be considered property. In some cultures, they still are, but it used to be virtually universal across all cultures. Largely due to the influence of Christianity, though it took centuries, that has gradually changed. Women are no longer considered property at all in much of the West, though vestiges of that attitude remain. The way they were treated even a century ago would be considered intolerable today.
Unfortunately, children are still viewed to some extent culturally as property. They are the only segment of our population that can still be legally struck by those with nearly absolute power over them. It used to be both legal and socially acceptable to strike your wife within limits. That wouldn’t fly today. (That’s not to say that spousal abuse doesn’t remain a widespread problem. It does. But we have turned the corner. It’s neither legal nor broadly acceptable.)
Why is it still socially acceptable to hit our children?
As long as that remains true, we share the responsibility for every Lydia Schatz.
Lord have mercy.