Tuesday, February 28, 2012

To Spank or Not to Spank, Part 3: That Pesky Bible

Okay here we go, if you read the first part of this post here, you might be waiting to pounce on my reasoning for our decision not to spank our children. I know there are readers who spank and will challenge this -- I respect your right to disagree; and I know there are readers who would never spank and think spankers are abusing their children - this is a bit over the top. But the point of this blog, in general, is to help parents become more thoughtful about parenting. For Todd and me, spanking (and other forms of parenting) was part of our childhood, so it was something we may not have questioned had we not left room to think differently.

Without further feet dragging...

When we first entered parenthood, we were very drawn to the idea of not spanking, but we also thought, like most Americans, that there would be times when something "louder" than words would be needed in the discipline of our kids. And for about five years, we used this approach - rarely spanking, but using it when something serious was needed. But when our second child started demonstrating a very different personality than the first - one which would undoubtedly require a lot of "corporal intervention" - we began to revisit our perspective. As we opened up to rethinking our perspective on spanking we began reading The Discipline Book by Dr. William and Martha Sears. Many of our unspoken thoughts on this topic were defined more clearly though this book. We highly recommend this book if you are looking for perspective and discipline ideas.

So, what about the big elephant in the room for those of us who are Christian or Jewish? What do we do with the "rod" verses in the bible? First, we need to remember that the phrase "Spare the rod, spoil the child." does not appear in the bible. There are, however, a few verses in the bible that actually have in some order the following translated words; "rod", "discipline", "parent", "punish", "child". All of these are in Proverbs, a book of wisdom poetry in the Old Testament.

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.

He who spares the rod hates his son...

Do not withhold discipline from a child...

The rod of correction imparts wisdom...

So wait a minute, the bible does actually tell us to use a "rod" to discipline our children. And at first glance I think many people would say these are pro-spanking texts. But with further inspection these verses just might tell us something else.

[Note: the bible is a complex collection of books from different forms of literature, each set in its own historical context, and wonderfully connected through the storyline of God's redemptive work on behalf of his fallen Creation. It requires thoughtful and careful reading, not to mention a strong sense of humility as we recognize our own limits. So, the trite statement: "The bible says it, I believe it, that settles it" is not the wisest approach to reading it.]

Each of the times we see the word "rod" in those verses it is the Hebrew word shebet or shevet. This is a stick, tree branch or club of sorts used for many things, but its primary use in the bible is for shepherds. Shepherds use this shebet to protect their sheep from predators and to guide them into the field and back home.

Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.

Because of the use of shebet many Hebrew families do not use "rod correction" for their children because they do not interpret those verses from Proverbs as pro-spanking; rather, they see them as similar verses to Psalm 23. The shepherds use their rod to fight off the prey of their sheep, for the sheep the rod is used to direct them away from harm, guide them along the correct path, lead them to the places of safety. I'm not sure we have come across a verse where we see a shepherd hitting his sheep with this rod.

Switching to the New Testament we might understand a biblical picture of children with the help of the essay, A More Vibrant Theology of Children, by Marcia Bunge. she writes:

The New Testament depicts children in striking and even radical ways as moral witnesses, models of faith for adults, sources or vehicles of revelation, and representatives of Jesus. In the gospels we see Jesus embracing children and rebuking those who would turn them away, healing them, and even lifting them up as models of faith. He identifies himself with children and equates welcoming a little child in his name to welcoming himself and the one who sent him.

**All references to the above verses are found in her Essay here
(I encourage you to read her whole essay, its very worthwhile. She also has many other resources available online in Pdf form)

We see in the New Testament an attitude of respect, authority and tenderness towards children. It does not appear that spanking is explicitly part of biblical discipline for children. Here is where we come down: the bible is clear that children need guidance, correction and discipline. We are not denying that children need these things from the wise authority of loving parents. But we see no biblical instruction for corporal discipline of children. In fact, what we see requires thoughtful, firm, but loving discipline that does have the effect of a shepherd's rod. I have benefitted greatly from Michelle Anthony's book on Spiritual Parenting. In it she describes children as ships on their own course. We as parents help them guide their own ship through rough waters and calm ones. But it is not our ship, it is theirs. I find this imagery she paints for us to be very compelling and it has been a helpful reminder when I need to address errant behavior.

Something else that helps me is to understand the meaning of the word discipline. Many people think this word actually means: to spank or physically punish. Or that it is somehow negative, strict or stern. This is not the case. Discipline has a few definitions; training in accordance to rules, an activity that improves a skill, punishment as a way of correction and training. If you are a non-spanking family this does not mean you are not using discipline for your children. In fact, no matter where you come down on spanking, what we need to be sure we are doing is thoughtfully considering the process of discipline.

Parents need to set out what their end goals are in discipline. If it is to control your childs behavior, that requires one form of discipline. If your end goal is that the child develop their own self-discipline, that requires a different type of discipline, for some day we will not be there to control our children's behavior and when that day comes they must have the skills for self-discipline.
We also believe that you cannot separate the meaning of "discipline" from "disciple", both have Latin roots of "to learn". When we say, "discipline" we mean that we see our job as parents to teach our children how to live, how to be compassionate, have self discipline, seek out justice for others, to have a deep understanding of God's story, a sense of responsibility to care for our planet, and to love one another and seek peacemaking. And for us, spanking simply doesn't ring as playing into those goals.

My favorite parenting book is; Kids Are Worth It, Giving Your Child the Gift of Self Discipline, by Barbara Coloroso. I plan to do a follow up post based on her book but until then, try to find a copy if you are looking for resources on helping your children develop this skill in their own life.

So, there is our perspective. Part three soon to come when Todd writes on "Peace-making starting in the home".

Also here are two articles for further reading. To be clear, I do not endorse these in their entirety, but I'm trying to get some other voices on the table here

Nancy Hastings Sehested, Sparing the Rod

Theology Today, Spanking Hurst Everybody

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