*Last week Creflo Dollar, leader of a popular televised Christian ministry, was arrested on charges of child abuse. Dollar allegedly choked his teenage daughter prompting her to call the police and assert that this was not the first incident of its kind.
Dollar does deny attacking his daughter. But he is emblematic of a group of people who are very comfortable toeing, and sometimes crossing, the line that divides discipline and abuse. The problem is twofold. There is no difference between battering someone and spanking them. In addition, Christians feel justified in employing physical discipline because of certain passages in the Bible.
Thus we get a grown man allegedly using physical force to assert his will against a teenage girl.
All forms of physical discipline are by definition – battery. Picture any form of a parent disciplining their child through force and substitute a second adult for the child. That second adult would have no problem getting the authorities to pursue charges against the first adult. Generally speaking our society frowns on people striking other people. The most notable exception is when parents strike their children.
Usually this is not an issue because parents spanking young children understand that they are much bigger and stronger, and that they need not and should not employ most of their strength. In other words, parents usually exercise restraint. But as children grow older, more and more force is necessary for parents to exert their will in disciplining their kids. And parents exercise less and less restraint. And therefore the discipline looks more and more criminal.
In some instances when children grow enough that the physical discipline is ineffective, usually in conjunction with the children becoming big and strong enough to physically strike back at their parents, the parents begin to employ different disciplinary methods. In other instances parents double down on striking their children and actions that between two males, each 6 feet tall and 170 lbs, is deemed okay because it takes place in a family’s kitchen instead of in a bar.
The other element of the Creflo Dollar case it that of religion. When Dollar addressed the issue at his pulpit he was not greeted with shouts of child abuser because people believed him guilty, nor was he greeted with silence because people were unsure. Instead Dollar was greeted with supportive shouts because people believed him to be innocent. Clearly those people were not privy to the details of the case but were coming to the conclusion that even if the allegations were true, Dollar should not have been arrested. This perspective is based on the notion, highly valued in Christianity, that physical discipline of children is favored and expected.
The phrase “spare the rod, spoil the child” and the Biblical verse it most closely resembles “he who spares the rod hates his son, but he that loves him is careful to discipline him” is from Proverbs 13:24. I do not claim that all of the concepts of the Old Testament are useless. But it is convenient who Christians will use some verses to justify their actions while dismissing other verses as inapplicable to them under their new covenant through Jesus Christ. Such picking and choosing is logically inconsistent and unpersuasive.
In reality those in Dollar’s congregation, and Christians in general, would be emulating Jesus and not engaging in physically violent acts no matter the circumstances. Religion is not a valid justification.
My oldest child is six. I have spanked her and in all likelihood I will do so again. But more and more I think of spanking as a punishment of last resort or for specific high stakes circumstances. It makes me uncomfortable already having to determine how hard to hit her so that she gets the message but so that it doesn’t cross the line.
But no matter what I am certain that I won’t be spanking her in 10 years.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.