To spank or not to spank? (part 2)

In the first part of this series, we raised the question of whether Christians should spank their children, and indeed, whether the Bible teaches that this is mandatory. We’ll look at an example from the Book of Proverbs in two weeks, in part 4. But first, in parts 2 and 3, I want to briefly address some of the legal and psychological issues that we would be wise to consider.

When I began my clinical training (decades ago!), my first practicum experience was working in a domestic violence program. There, I was exposed to cases of cruel and violent behavior, often inflicted in the heat of anger or with calculated coldness.

And sometimes, they were inflicted by church-going Christians.

Anyone who wants to argue that the Bible teaches corporal punishment should be aware of the possible legal ramifications of such a teaching. In the state of California, for example, the Penal Code dictates that anyone who “willfully inflicts upon a child any cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or an injury resulting in a traumatic condition” may be liable on charges of child abuse. The standard of evidence in such cases is not whether the parent in question believes that he or she was acting reasonably, but whether the jury believes that the actions were reasonable under the circumstances. (And make no mistake, the prosecutor will be working hard to convince the jury otherwise.)

In other words, how the parent defines the words cruel, inhuman, traumatic, or even injury, is not the deciding factor. A spanking that leaves any kind of lasting mark, for example, is usually considered out of bounds, even if the parent considers this normal and had no intention of leaving such a mark. Other jurisdictions have laws similar to those in California, which will be interpreted in similar ways.

My point is this: pastors, if you preach that the Bible demands that parents spank their children, you may be indirectly encouraging people to break the law. I know, I know. You didn’t tell anyone to abuse their children. You didn’t tell them to leave bruises. You didn’t tell them to give free rein to their anger; indeed, you may have told them quite the opposite. But you need to know your flock and how they are likely to take what you say. The sad fact is that some parents, when confronted on their abusive behavior, will justify it by referring to what they heard in a sermon.

I wouldn’t want it to be one of yours.

(This is part 2 of a five-part series. Part 3 posts in one week, on Thursday.)