My fifth grade teacher was new to our school. And we thought he was pretty cool. This may have been partly because he was a guy, but more because he was young. He seemed to be much more “with it.” One day, in the course of a discussion of something I can’t remember, he asked us if our parents spanked us. He asked for a show of hands. The class was small. I think there were twelve of us. And of the twelve, only two of us were not routinely spanked for our various misdeeds. I was one and Faith Small was the other. My parents did not believe in spanking. I’m not sure about Faith’s parents because as far as I know she never did anything wrong.
The point of the teacher’s inquiry was to tell us he thought that spanking was good for us and that Faith and I would someday suffer from this woeful lack of punishment. I think it was the only time I was ever publicly chastised for my parents’ failings. It was embarrassing.
“Today,” writes Turner, “the most notable proponents of spanking are American evangelicals. They not only preach the gospel of corporal punishment, they also impart messages that lay the foundations for abuses against children and the protection of such abuse by our legal system.”
He argues that, “For decades, American evangelicals have fiercely fought any legal or cultural limits on parents’ ‘rights’ to discipline their children. We hear the echoes of this line of thought in the argument that what Adrian Peterson did to his son is a private matter. His lawyer spoke of it as the act of a “loving father.”
Chip Ingram offers a guide to biblical spanking on the Focus on the Family web site. To be fair, Ingram makes clear that the point of spanking is “to sting, to provide a painful deterrent to misbehavior, not to injure.” Then he gives specific instructions:
“When you spank, use a wooden spoon or some other appropriately sized paddle and flick your wrist. That's all the force you need. It ought to hurt — an especially difficult goal for mothers to accept — and it's okay if it produces a few tears and sniffles. If it doesn't hurt, it isn't really discipline, and ultimately it isn't very loving because it will not be effective in modifying the child's behavior.
“Have the child lean over his bed and make sure you apply the discipline with a quick flick of the wrist to the fatty tissue of the buttocks, where a sting can occur without doing any damage to the body. You want to be calm, in control, and focused as you firmly spank your child, being very careful to respect his body.”
Ingram is not advocating the sort of beating that Peterson allegedly inflicted on his four year-old son. He cautions that, “A parent who reaches back and swings hard is acting out of anger and frustration, not out of love and desire for the child's welfare. That's unbiblical by anyone's definition.”
Even with Ingram’s cautionary language, I find his description chilling. “Have the child lean over his bed.” (Of course, it’s “his” bed because Focus on the Family makes no attempt to use inclusive language—not because they think little girls shouldn’t be spanked.) And direct the blow “to the fatty tissue of the buttocks, where a sting can occur without doing any damage.”
So the intention is to inflict pain without leaving any marks or “doing any damage.” That doesn’t sound like a loving way to parent a child.