Christian crusaders go to battle over spanking
Sunday, February 06 @ 09:13:56 EST
Tools of discipline horrify some of faithful
By Anna Badkhen, San Francisco Chronicle
Arlington, Mass. -- To raise a child, one needs three invaluable allies: the Bible, the help of an extended family and "biblical-based resources" -- 9-inch-long spanking paddles of blue polyurethane, according to Steve Haymond from Bakersfield, who sells the paddles online for $6.50 apiece.
Twyla Bullock, in Eufaula, Okla., swears by the Rod -- a 22-inch, $5 white nylon whipping stick her husband designed and produced until recently. Named after the biblical "rod of correction," the Rod provides "a faith-based way to discipline children ... and train them as Christians," Bullock explains.
Susan Lawrence, a devout Lutheran from Arlington, Mass., is appalled.
"Christians are supposed to listen to Jesus," Lawrence said, bringing the Rod down with a thump on the seat of her living room futon and looking at the resulting dent with incredulity. "Can you imagine Jesus teaching to use the Rod?"
Corporal punishment has long been an accepted method of child discipline among evangelical and fundamentalist groups, but an increasing number of Christians are raising objections, arguing that advocates of spanking wrongly cite Scripture to justify a practice that should be banned. Lawrence, who peppers her conversation with quotes from the New Testament, says striking children defies the Golden Rule from the Gospel of Matthew: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you."
Last year, Lawrence, 49, launched her Parenting in Jesus' Footsteps site on the Web (www.parentinginjesusfootsteps
.org,), which is critical of corporal punishment being practiced by Christian parents.
She also took her case to the federal government, arguing that the Rod should be outlawed just like flammable pajamas or toys that can choke. Last month, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission turned down her formal petition, saying it had found "no basis for determining that the product constitutes a substantial product hazard."
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association strongly oppose the physical punishment of children, the practice remains widespread among both religious and secular Americans.
According to a 2002 national poll by ABC News, two-thirds of the public approve of corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure. In a 1995 Gallup poll, one-third of parents who said they spanked their children said they had hit them with "a belt, hairbrush, stick or some other hard object."
Twenty-three states sanction spanking in schools. California does not allow corporal punishment in school, but parents or guardians can spank their children so long as it does not result in serious physical harm, in which case it becomes child abuse.
"Americans have a strong belief in the parents' right to use it on their children in the privacy of their home as they please," said Ronald Rohner, an expert on corporal punishment at the University of Connecticut. But he said many fundamentalist Christians, in their literal reading of the Bible, regard spanking as a religious as well as parental duty. The Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, for example, says that "the rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother," and "he who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly."
Christian conservatives often quote such passages from pulpits, on radio and television shows and on the Internet, and provide guidelines for what they call biblical discipline.
The Family Research Council, a Christian advocacy group, warns that physical discipline "is inappropriate before 15 months of age" and suggests that parents spare the rod and slap children with a bare hand instead.
The evangelical leader James Dobson recommends that parents use a "swish or paddle" or other "neutral" object, reserving the hand as "an object of love."
"Corporal punishment, when used lovingly and properly, is beneficial to a child because it is in harmony with nature itself," Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, which claims a mailing list of 2.5 million believers, wrote on the organization's Web site (www.family.org).
Joey Salvati, a carpenter from New Kingston, Pa., and a father of two, has been crafting wooden spanking paddles since 2002. The $5.75 implements come with a suggestion as to the number of swats for various childhood misdemeanors: one for disrespectful behavior, two for cursing, three for cheating, lying or "direct defiance."
"None of these paddles are perfect. Neither are we!" reads the slogan on Salvati's Web site, www.spare-rods.com. "Use lovingly and NEVER in anger."
Bullock called the rift among Christians over corporal punishment "a division between people who disagree with biblical discipline, and those who believe in it."
Bill Maier, a child psychologist and the vice president of Focus on the Family, argued that Christian groups opposing spanking deviate from "the orthodox interpretation" of the Bible, which, he said, lists spanking as "one of many disciplinary methods that are at parents' disposal."
"There is no basis for saying that Scripture says spanking is somehow evil or should not be used by parents," said Maier.
But equally observant Christians, such as Al Crowell, director of the San Francisco-based Christians for Nonviolent Parenting, are becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to the practice.
"If taken literally, the Old Testament condones having slaves and stoning women who have sex outside of marriage. But if you look at the life of Jesus, it's pretty hard to imagine him hitting children," said Crowell, a father of two who, along with 645 others, has signed Lawrence's online petition to ban the Rod.
In addition to her petition to ban the Rod, Lawrence, who homeschools her children, has so far obtained 300 supporters to sign her online petition calling for a complete ban on corporal punishment in the United States.
"We're a very violent, hitting society, a very child-unfriendly society," said Lawrence, who has adorned the front door of her snow-cocooned Colonial house with stickers that say "Kids Safe Zone."
"I have a saying: 'Peace begins at home.'"
Groups on both sides of spanking debate
Web sites and groups that support corporal punishment:
-- Focus on the Family, one of the nation's leading Christian evangelical groups, explains the merits of spanking on www.family.org
, an online resource dedicated to corporal punishment, gives tips on how to better position the child for spanking, and explain the level of effectiveness of spanking through different garments (for example, according to the Web site, denim jeans absorb 70 percent of the impact of a barehanded blow).
, which states as its goal instructing parents how to "biblically teach and discipline their children," defends spanking as "moral and upright in the sight of God."
Web sites and groups that oppose corporal punishment:
, includes a link to Christians for Nonviolent Parenting
-- American Academy of Pediatrics, at www.aap.org
-- American Psychological Association, at www.apa.org
-- California and these 26 states have banned corporal punishment in public and private schools: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
-- It is illegal for a parent, teacher or caretaker to use any form of corporal punishment on a child in 13 countries: Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Cyprus, Croatia, Latvia, Germany, Israel, Iceland, Romania, Ukraine.
E-mail Anna Badkhen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reprinted from The San Francisco Chronicle: