Godly Punishment or Christlike Connection
In my last post ( https://www.elisabethbojang.com/2019/11/25/spanking/ ) I described 5 assumptions about spanking as a tool used in Christian parenting. I addressed 2 of the assumptions in that post. This post will address the remaining assumptions:
I believed the God of the Bible disciplines His people (aka children) two ways: threat of punishment to prevent sinful behavior and actual punishment for sinful behavior.
Before getting into the religious or spiritual side of this assumption, I want to talk about the act of spanking itself.
Spanking is Hitting
What I called spanking was actually when an adult, usually a parent, believes they have a good enough reason to hit a child. Using the word “spank” softens the idea but in reality, it is another word for the type of hitting that doesn’t cause physical injury. I used to believe there was a context where it was not only ok but “godly” for me to hit my child.
Telling a child they will get spanked (for any reason) is a threat. Threatening to hurt and/or hurting someone, in any other case, is generally considered harmful and abusive. No other leader or authority figure in any other context can use “spanking” as a form of healthy discipline. Imagine a husband and wife. Imagine if the husband described in detail to you how his wife must agree and support all of his decisions. Then he describes how he would threaten or hurt her in private because it was his God-given right to motivate her in that way. That seems crazy, right? (If it doesn’t seem crazy well you probably shouldn’t continue reading…)
We are not that far removed from this scenario.
Husbands, Spank Your Wife in the Lord, for this is Right
Less than 100 years ago a law passed in the United States that made it illegal for men to physically chastise their wives. “Marital Chastisement” and was considered to be an integral component of Christian marriage and families. It was considered a Christian husband’s prerogative to hit their wives if they felt their wife deserved it and as long as they weren’t injured during the beating. Proof from Yale Law School: (https://law.yale.edu/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/Faculty/Siegel_TheRuleOfLove.pdf)
Do You See What I See?
Anyone else see how this exactly mirrors the reasoning for Christian parents to spank?
This reasoning is clearly wrong and disrespectful to women (and honestly, to men too). How could this be any different for children? Who actually “deserves” physical chastisement?
Good Intentions Pave the Road…
I used to think of spanking as a preference, based on the well-meaning intentions of the parents and no physical evidence of injury to the child. It’s still legal for biological parents to physically chastize (use corporal punishment and spank) in my home state, Oklahoma. Just because there might be good intent and just because it is legal does not mean it is good, not-harmful, and shouldn’t happen.
Power Dynamics & Punishment
If threatening and/or using harm isn’t appropriate for any adult-adult relationship it doesn’t make sense that it would be considered appropriate for the unequal power dynamic of the adult-child relationship. At what magical age do things change and THEN nobody gets to hurt or threaten to hurt you? Never. The answer is never.
Children are a Vulnerable Population.
Children have little power in families and society. Children’s bodies are less strong than most adults and their minds are still immature. They are dependent, they can’t vote to change laws, don’t get a say in most decisions that directly affect their lives. This doesn’t mean they don’t deserve full respect and rights as human beings. As a parent I began to understand how important it is for me to honor and respect my children even when they might disagree. No one, not even me, their mom, has the right to purposefully hurt or threaten to hurt them. This applies to any child under any “power” or “leadership,” no matter what age, no matter what religious structure.
“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”Mahatma Gandhi
How is Christian society measuring up?
The only things I see Christian pastors and teachers doing other than this are: 1) actively promoting spanking and 2) passively promoting it by not addressing it directly. Christian society is missing it on this count. Although I have never been a pastor or teacher, I surely have participated in the second count.
We are at a place in Christian society where it’s not the church standing up to protect children as a vulnerable group: the government is. It was the government, not the church who condemned corporal punishment of wives almost 100 years ago. As the government is protecting fostered and adoptive children from corporal punishment in most states, biological children are not afforded those protections in as many states. Instead of embracing and advocating for this vulnerable population there are loud Christian voices are standing up for their right to exercise corporal punishment: this should signal a major problem.
But isn’t punishment clearly in the Bible?
There is a great Biblical case for a god who punishes and threatens physical harm to his children (and all of humanity). I don’t have a problem with that because the Bible is not my god. The god of the Bible, when not interpreted through the lense of Jesus, is not actually God.
Will the Real Word Please Stand Up?
When we say “the Word” do we mean the Bible or Jesus? Do you catch yourself usually referring to the Bible instead of Jesus when you say “the Word?” I didn’t realize the difference for a long time. I got confused by assumptions wrapped up into bits of scriptures like “thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” I automatically assumed the Old & New Testament compiled was “The Word” and I would “dig into it” and “study it” and look for who God in it.
Christians not Biblians
Christians aren’t supposed to worship the Bible. First, Biblians sounds ridiculous. Second, when we say we follow the Bible but don’t examine it through the lense of Jesus then it can become a god to us. This is the god of the Crusades and of slavery and of empire where humanity can find justification for violence but miss out completely on the principles these very laws meant to convey. (A couple resources to learn more about this: “A More Christlike God: a More Beautiful Gospel” by Brad Jerzak https://amzn.to/33HNdHx Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible” by Keith Giles https://amzn.to/2sDAFE8 )
The God Who Looks Like Jesus
Once I reframe my faith around Jesus then the god of the Bible dissolves and I begin to see glimpses of the God Jesus revealed. I find a God who desires mercy, not sacrifice. The God who says don’t be afraid, I am with you. Who, from a human perspective has every right to punish but consistently responds with nonviolence. The God who sacrifices for you so you can see that there is no need to sacrifice yourself. Jesus is the better way. There is a better system than a punitive one based on fear of punishment. This has vast implications for how we live our lives, even implications for if we choose to use spanking as a tool for discipline.
What is the Gospel?
How I used to think of the gospel was something along the lines of explaining the plan of salvation to someone who didn’t consider themselves a Christian. It was a story to believe and convince others to believe that went something like this: God created the world to be perfect and good but since humanity sinned the punishment for that sin is death. Since everyone sins, everyone has to die (because God designed it that way). Since nobody can “pay that debt” God had to come in human form, Jesus, in order to be the only sinless person in the world so he could sub in to receive the punishment so the rest of us don’t have to die. This common way to describe the gospel is called “Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) Theory.” (You get a gold star for learning today).
Jesus Never Said That.
PSA is someone’s theory describing a story they are creating out of bits and pieces of the Bible. Theories like this morph into solid beliefs that some claim must be agreed with as “Truth” in order to be a Christian. I used to believe that way. Now that I have been purposefully exploring Christian faith for myself, I’ve stumbled across hundreds of ways Jesus followers across the span of history have developed to understand who God is, who we are, and how we connect with God. For now, just know that Penal Substitutionary theory is not the definitive way to see God in the wide understanding of Christian faith. This article by Brad Jerzak, and author of “A More Christlike God” is a good place to start if you’re interested in learning more: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/bradjersak/2019/12/the-logic-limits-of-christus-victor-brad-jersak/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=FBCP-CTOBM&fbclid=IwAR2Uxa_B9FUY3hTtiCcacha04GtlDWr3jyWtER_Kia7HMnF3pTHaI8_2fF4
Disconnect or Connect?
Punishment is simply varying levels of disconnection. God doesn’t punish or require disconnection. Humanity does. That’s what we naturally do when we get hurt, or think someone did something wrong, or disagree. If we remain unaware of another way to operate we will subconsciously choose disconnection from every relationship on every level: if our bodies feel pain we disconnect by numbing or ignoring (for as long as possible). If a relationship (personal or corporate or systemic) is painful we disconnect, cutting ourselves or them off. If we learn a painful truth we disconnect, deny, ignore.
Death is the ultimate punishment: complete disconnection. Any time I disconnect I am living a way contrary to the alternative I’m beginning to see in the life of Jesus. The God Jesus reveals is not a God demanding death, punishment, and disconnection, but a God freely offering life connection, and restoration.
Actual Good News
If God isn’t punitive then I don’t have to be either. There is no mandate from God Almighty that requires me to be punished in order to stay connected. Emmanuel, God with us, can’t not be with us. Nothing can separate us. God doesn’t model punitive discipline so as a parent I’m not bound to this interpretation of discipline. It means there is an alternative nonpunitive way to view my children let alone myself as a child of God. This is great news.
It’s helpful for me to think of confession as admitting what direction I’m heading if I don’t change. I was going down a path of punitive parenting, ready to use connection in relationship to manipulate my kids into choosing what I thought was the right behavior. I also confess that I believe that punitive path is contrary to the way of Jesus. I am so thankful God was with me then but is guiding me towards a clearer understanding of who God is – much different than I thought.
I like to think of repentance as choosing to go a different direction than the one I was headed. I thought it was Jesus but it wasn’t. I am actively deconstructing the altars to that punitive god who demanded connection and relationship to be sacrificed in order for atonement (aka repairing connection). Thinking about it like this makes it even more clear that using disconnection in order to repair connection is counterintuitive.
I am constructing a new altar to the God of Jesus who desires mercy over sacrifice, grace instead of punishment, and who will go to great lengths in order to maintain connection. To Punitive god this is foolish. It is offensive. It is scandalous.
It is such good news for all of us. It means nobody has to be perfect. It means everybody can grow and mature. It means there is hope for everyone aware of the pain of disconnection and longing for connection. It means we don’t have to perpetuate the cycle of punishment, disconnection, and pain, especially in parenting the next generation.
Last (and least amount of words): Assumption 4:
Proverbs 13:24 says “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” “Sparing the rod” means not spanking. Therefore if I love my kids how God loves me I will be diligent in using spanking to discipline them.
Discipline Helps, not Hurts
The rod here refers to the type of tool used by shepherds, not to beat their sheep but gently guide and direct them away from harmful cliffs or pull them out of muddy sinkholes. This rod isn’t used to harm but to protect and help. (You can look it up. I’ve written too much already!)
Spanking is No Longer an Option
My last assumption was dependent on the first 4, so with those gone I’ve had to start from scratch learning about how to become a better parent who can protect and help, not threaten and punish, my kids. If I could let you listen in on some conversations I’ve with friends of mine who happen to be parent-child counselors, Kyle & Sara Wester, I would. They were the first people who suggested that spanking, although still commonly used, isn’t helpful and actually proven to be damaging for a long-term parent-child relationship. They aren’t alone; the research coming out is staggering https://news.utexas.edu/2016/04/25/risks-of-harm-from-spanking-confirmed-by-researchers/
What do I do instead?
The Westers offer a completely different way to facilitate positive parent-child outcomes: maintaining connection. It isn’t a new set of rules to parent by. It’s more like centering the parent-child relationship around a set of Christ-centered values. When situations arise with my children, instead of automatically punishing or disconnecting, I search for better tools to discipline without disconnection. This has been some of the most gut-wrenchingly honest internal work I’ve ever done, requiring both creative engagement and active selflessness.
Kyle and Sarah have been an invaluable resource to me and my husband as we work through the implications of a non-violent, non-punitive God who sacrificially offers connection at every step. Their counseling service, Parenting Legacy https://www.parentinglegacy.com/about is a great place to start if you are interested in a different way to parent than you might have known.
They offer in-person and online sessions to help you in your parenting journey and I highly recommend them as a resource. (If you’re wondering, I don’t make a referral commission or anything for recommending them- I just want to get the word out because they are so valuable and amazing!)
Written Resources I’ve found Helpful:
I’ve also included some of the books that have been helpful in learning connection based parenting.
“Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The Seven Basic Skills to Turn Conflict into Cooperation” by Dr. Beckie Bailey https://amzn.to/2Ytw9UE
“No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind” By Dr. Daniel J. Siegel & Dr. Tina Payne Bryson https://amzn.to/2YrTeqD
“Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes our Souls” by Gary Thomas https://amzn.to/2LHtUbd
“The Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide” by Rebecca Eanes https://amzn.to/33R3aew
“No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame” by Janet Lansbury https://amzn.to/2OTB4uH
“Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: by Pete Scazzero https://amzn.to/2sNXF3f
“Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World” by Dr. Michele Borba https://amzn.to/2PhsxRt
“Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness.” By Cindy Wang Brandt https://amzn.to/2PncFN4