Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tom, Did You Really Teach That?

In this past Sunday’s Sermon, “God: The Only God, And Our King” (Deut. 6:4), I asserted that teaching our children to obey parents and other authorities so that they gain a pattern for what it looks like to submit to and obey God is crucial to wise, biblical parenting. What is more, I made the case for spanking to be used from roughly the toddler years through roughly the early elementary years.

Now, some who were present to hear the message thought, “Tom, did you really say that?” Or, “How could you still believe in such an out-of-date, archaic, and abusive form of discipline?” 

Please know that I truly do feel for those of you who struggle with what I said and, to some degree, I understand it. That is the reason I want to take up five of the chief reasons people argue against the use of spanking with children and see if I can help navigate those potential obstacles.

1. “I was abused as a child or at least had a very negative experience with physical discipline. I don’t want to see that happen to any child!”
This is certainly the challenge that gives me the greatest pause when preaching on this subject. I have to admit that I don’t know what it is like to be in your shoes. Though I was spanked as a child, I was never abused. I also agree that any form of abuse is horrendous toward children!

Nevertheless, the form of spanking I advocate (as represented in the Hidden Treasures in the bulletin and in the materials on parenting introduced in that insert) is not abuse. It does not injure children, it is not to be done in anger, and is to be done in a controlled manner that is well thought-out ahead of time. I would argue that this form of spanking is far more loving than either the permissive indulgence or extreme swings between doing almost nothing and the intense anger that often replace spanking.

2. “According to psychological studies, doesn’t spanking lead to violence or anger in the child later on? “
Yes, some studies make that point. As I have interacted with those studies, however, my impression is that they have not done a good job of distinguishing between different types of spanking. If abusive physical discipline is part of the studies, along with loving, controlled Christian approaches, it will certainly bring much different results than if the latter is studied by itself. As I said Sunday, it is like saying that some teen drivers are reckless, so we should conclude all are reckless and ban teen driving altogether.

The other problem with these findings is the implication that they are improving upon an approach that God has set forth in his Word. If God truly does call for physical discipline of young children, then there must be a way to do it that is constructive, positive, loving, and not harmful. That is the approach we should look for and the approach I believe was set forth in Sunday’s Hidden Treasures insert.

3. “Isn’t the Bible’s use of ‘rod’ language figurative?”
Some argue that the Bible is calling for parents to discipline with the use of rod, but is not actually calling them to apply physical discipline. In other words, it is using figurative language.

That might hold, if it were not for Proverbs 23:13-14: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. 14 If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” The verb translated in both verses as “strike,” means just that in the form it is found here and whenever in that same form elsewhere (e.g. Ex. 2:12). This is addressing literal physical discipline.

4. “We use time outs instead.”
Time outs certainly can be another means of discipline. However, when a spanking is used with a young child, the discipline can be administered quickly, it is over in a short amount of time, it serves better to give a quick (but feared) consequence for an action, and it often comes with less “drama”—especially as the young child struggles to stay in the one place, the corner, or in the room.

5. “I am concerned about what others will think.
The best manner in which to spank a child is in private so as to avoid undue embarrassment to them. What is more, because so much of society opposes the use of spanking, it is not wise at all to use it in a public place. The more we do it in private the less we need to be concerned about what onlookers think.

When it comes to friends or family who may not disagree, it is like a lot of convictions a Christian has with which others disagree. We must be prepared to “swim upstream against the current,” be dependent on God’s gracious help to deal with the opposition, and it can also help to be ready to explain the reasons we practice spanking and also the controlled way in which we practice it—a way that does not injure the child.