While sitting in a boardroom last October, waiting for a meeting to start, I found myself drawn into a discussion about corporal punishment. Initially, the conversation was just about football. But then we started talking about NFL running back Adrian Peterson and his suspension. Peterson, as you may have heard, was arrested late last summer when it was revealed he had injured his son while meting out discipline. The child had cuts and welts over most of his body from a “whupping” that he received from his father. Peterson stated that he was correctly punishing his child using parenting practices similar to those he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas.

Our conversation about what was wrong with the Seahawks evolved into a debate about the place of corporal punishment in society. One person at the table noted that he had heard Peterson on television taking about his faith in Jesus Christ. Another person in the room looked at me and made a statement that sounded more like a question: “Well, I guess religion does promote that sort of parenting. You know, spare the rod and spoil the child.” I can only assume that he looked at me because he knew I am a person of faith and thought I might have some perspective on the situation. I tried my best to correct his understanding of what “spare the rod” meant—in Scripture, the “rod” is for comforting and guiding, not punishing—and told him that not all Christians practise discipline in physical ways. But he was undeterred, arguing that if Christians worship a “Father” who punishes by crucifying his own Son, then we probably don't have a big problem with retributive methods. I had to admit I knew many believers who rooted their practice of corporal punishment in their Christian faith. To have such a direct comparison drawn between corporal punishment and the violent death of Jesus was unsettling.

To Spank or Not to Spank
Having children of my own brought me face to face with the issue of violence as a form of punishment. I don't want to be so tolerant of their actions that I refuse to intervene when I see them heading in the wrong direction, but does that mean I must resort to physical punishment? The question is not a critical one now that they are teenagers, but when they were younger, my wife and I had to decide whether or not to spank them. Regrettably, as a novice at this parenting thing, I chose to spank on occasion. As the years went by and I gained more experience and patience, I questioned the value of such measures.

The scientific evidence against using physical force to discipline children is overwhelming. Corporal punishment does not work. In fact, it does more harm than good. Regular physical discipline often leads to children becoming more aggressive as they get older. It also negatively impacts their psychological and neurological development. Children who are spanked regularly are often more prone to mental illness, addiction and depression. In the face of such catastrophic results, I had to ask myself if this was a godly activity. The bigger question was why I thought violence was an appropriate response to dealing with transgression. Were there “Christian” undercurrents that supported a philosophy of punishment as a necessary way to deal with evil? Do we accept violence as a means of justice because that is how we see God behaving?

Many Christians view the death of Christ as being a substitutionary payment (for our wrongdoing) in order to appease an angry Father. However, the predominant theme of Jesus' teaching on social relationships was that of peace and forgiveness. To forgive is to release one from the payment of a debt and remove any penalty associated with it. If one requires payment or punishment for wrongdoing, can one say with integrity that he or she has truly forgiven? If we approach life with a bent toward forgiveness and peace rather than violence and punishment, how will our relationships change? Does the way in which I see God and the expression of my relationship with him cause me to be a vindictive individual or a loving neighbour?

How we view wrongdoing and the way it should be corrected not only impacts how we raise our children, but it influences key social issues: how and when we go to war; why LGBT people are targets of bullying; why domestic abuse still affects one in four women in Canada; and how we treat offenders in the criminal justice system. Simply put—violence only begets more violence. As parents and Christians, we can stop the cycle.


On Friday, February 27, 2015, Donald Jefcoat said:

When I was in college our class entered this very lively and heated discussion about physical discipline. Being the only Christian in my class I often got cornered with the "religious" perspective and this was one of those. I also used the verbal warning often "The views and opinions I share are my views and opinions and do not mean that others in my faith/religion will agree"

In this discussion I got to share that it was my belief that if we got to the point where punishment was needed there was already a breakdown in discipline. That Spanking, time outs, or what ever method used was not discipline. Discipline is the standard (rod) we conduct ourselves by. Punishment or corrective action is what is used when discipline gone haywire. I found that communication was far more practical in ensuring that discipline was followed rather then blowing a gasket and spanking. And if spanking was truly appropriate bosses should be able to spank their employees for not complying with workplace disciplines. Pastors should be allowed to spank undisciplined members, judges should be allowed to spank criminals, and the list go on and on. The reality is the only time abuse is legal is in the confines of a parent to child relation and we nice it up by calling it discipline. But it isnt discipline, its an out. Most parents that spank dont communicate why a behavior is bad. I love it (sarcasm) when a parent spanks because the child hits. Its like swearing at a child for swearing.

The best form of discipline is communication. It takes work. It also takes patience. Kids will test the boundaries, it is their job to test. Our four year old decided that she was going to have an attitude. Talking back, hand gestures, you name it even hitting. Very easy to say lets give her a spanking. However we showed her love. When she talked back we sternly told her "Dont talk mean to me" When she spoke to us with respect we made sure to say "Thank you for talking nice to me" that phase lasted one week. now we have a young lady who has learned to not talk back but even when upset speaks nicely. We have shown her how to talk to others if she has a legitimate upset. The other day she came to me and announced she was mad because the soap in the washroom was at the back of the sink and she cant reach it but if she climbs up to get it she gets told to get down so please move the soap or stop getting mad at me. The soap was moved.

On Tuesday, February 17, 2015, Bev said:

thank you for such a great article. Too often parents lose their temper and harm the child. It doesn't work to spank or beat a child. A tap on the bottom to get them to notice or even just clapping your hands stops a child a then you can correct them.

On Tuesday, February 17, 2015, Shazza said:

i often heard the interpretation of the verse to mean that IF you spare the rod then you WILL spoil the child (and aparently that's not a good thing). I asked when I was younger that what if the verse means that you MUST spare the rod AND it is ok to spoil your child. Never got any answers to that. I am not a theologian and don't know the translation of spoil but it has been something I've often wondered about. I have never thought spanking was alright. Why is it ok to smack a child but then to hit an adult it is abuse? There really is no difference to me, hitting a person is hitting a person.
Thanks for the article.

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