18: Is Spanking Abuse?

I once heard a pastor addressing the issue of discipline and in a very strong tone he said something to the effect of, “Every night I pull down my son’s pants and I hurt him on the bottom.” A heavy silence fell on the room as we all wrestled with his statement in our minds. Even though he was a trusted friend and mentor I must admit that the doubts and questions started to race through my mind as well. Does he really do that EVERY night? What if his son doesn’t need discipline? Does he do it anyway? Why did he use the word “hurt”? Sure, spankings are painful, but the intent is not to hurt…well, at least that’s not the chief goal. Finally he interrupted our thoughts with the words, “My son is diabetic, and I give him a shot of insulin.”

I will never forget that illustration. I guess it taught me two things. First of all, I (like many of us) can be quick to judge and to assume the worst about other people. Secondly, while introducing pain into someone’s life might seem mean and cruel, there are times when it is necessary to do so for a greater good.

We don’t think twice about giving a shot on the bottom. I think most of us would prefer a spank to a shot, so I’d think they are at least somewhat comparable. Yet, we can tend to cringe at the idea of spanking. Why is that? Aren’t both done for the wellbeing of the child?

What constitutes abuse?

I saw a woman take a knife and split open another woman with a knife. The ensuing wound was at least a foot long. Blood was everywhere. One woman was having a C-section and the other was her doctor. Is that abuse?

There was a man that I saw force other men to manual labor until they were throwing up. Even then, he kept making them work. I saw this happen in the movie The Miracle which chronicled the achievements of the 1980 U.S. hockey team. The manual labor was when the coach made the team skate back and forth until it almost seemed as if they would die. Is that abuse?

Clearly abuse can not be simply defined by causing pain to another person. The intent of the action is a far greater indicator of what constitutes abuse. If you stick live electrical wires on someone because you think it is funny, that is a totally different thing than if you are using shock paddles to jumpstart someone’s heart. In fact, doctors and nurses have done all sorts of weird things to me that I’d rather not mention, but they do those things for my long term benefit. If anyone else did those things for any other reason, I’d probably sue. All summer long I hurt my kids by poking them with needles and knife blades, but I was not doing it to be mean, I was just trying to take splinters out. It’s better to face a little pain now than a lot of pain later. This is an important principle to understand when it comes to discipline!

Personally, I think most doctors, coaches, and parents have their patients’, athletes’, and children’s best interest in mind when they introduce pain into their lives. Certainly some are abusive. A few years ago I read an article about a doctor who carved his initials into his patient’s stomach. Such an action is clearly abusive and he should pay dearly for abusing the authority that was entrusted to him. But most surgeons are not abusive, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend forbidding surgery. In the same way, I’d say that abuse against children is an atrocity, and parents that are abusive should be held accountable to an extreme level. However, to equate spanking with abuse is an error. Spanking is a loving form of discipline that helps a child turn from harmful behaviors.

Proverbs 13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. NIV

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