CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" recently looked at cases of child abuse resulting from parents claiming their religious beliefs allow them to "correct" their children in physically violent ways.
Christian teaching generally recommends "spanking" to Christians. Bible.com, for instance, recommends "spanking" and is careful to refer the reader to Webster's Dictionary definition of spanking:
"...to strike with something flat, as the open hand, especially on the buttocks, as in punishment...to move along swiftly or smartly, a smack given in spanking."
The website quotes Proverbs 22:15 in support of its recommendation of "Webster's Dictionary" definition of "spanking": "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him."
The website also quotes Proverbs 23:13-14: "Withold not discipline from the child, for if you strike and punish him with the (reed-like) rod, he will not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell."
Bible.com recommends "spanking" should begin at an "early age." The website says:
"...discipline of children should begin at an early age, whenever a child begins to defy the parent. Remember the old saying, 'He who spares the rod, spoils the child.' Notice that the Bible says that all children have foolishness in their hearts. The Bible definition of a fool means one who is a rebel, so this is saying that all children have rebellion in them and when it surfaces, it is our duty as parents to drive it out of them. We are to do this by punishing them with a whack on the buttocks with a small reed-like rod. This rod could be a switch from a fruit tree branch or a willow tree branch or a small wood."
But in recent times, public attention has been drawn to cases of child abuse and homicide by parents claiming to adhere to the "Biblically sound" principles of child-rearing. Huffington Post reports that in 2006, a man from Florida was charged with aggravated child abuse and neglect of a child after his daughter, a 12 year old, was found begging for money in the streets. The girl told the police she ran away from home because her father was beating her because she had not accepted "Jesus into her heart." The father confidently defended himself to the police with reference to the Bible.
More recently, parents Larry and Carri Williams were charged with homicide after their adopted daughter Hanna, 13, was found unconscious in their home. The girl, according to Huffington Post , later died in a hospital. Hanna showed signs of physical abuse and malnutrition, and reports said the couple used to lock the girl in a closet and "played the Bible on tape and Christin music for her while she was locked inside," presumably to train her in the "way of the Lord."
Washington Post reports the case of Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, who were convicted of murder and manslaughter, respectively, in the case of their 7 year-old daughter, Lydia. It was widely reported in the press that both cases (Williams and Schatz) of parental homicide might have been influenced by a popular 1994 book by a Tennessee pastor Michael Pearl, and his wife, Debi, titled, To Train Up A Child. The book recommends capital punishment to Christian parents as a way of bringing them up in the "way of the Lord."
Salon.com also reports the case of Lynn Paddock, 45, devoted to Pearl's teachings on child-rearing. She was charged with first-degree murder after the death of her son, 4-year-old Sean, who suffocated in blankets wrapped around to restrain him. Paddock was also charged with felony child abuse on the evidence of welts on Sean's other siblings.
Washington Post reports that Pearl's book was found among books in the book-shelves of Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz. Prosecutors in the case of the couple had contemplated an additional case for legal liability against Pearl. But a case could not be made.
Pearl has, however, defended his book, saying it adheres to "Biblical principles." Huffington Post reports Pearl said his condolences on hearing news of Hana's death, but was careful to point to the passage in his book which said, "Train up — not beat up." Michael Pearl also pointed to instructions in his book which emphasized "training" over "discipline." The writer is quoted as saying that, in following instructions in his book, there were some "who act(ed) in the extreme."
Parents Larry and Carri Williams had, besides Hana, seven other children in their care and, according to Huffington Post, they apparently took Michael Pearl's recommendation of "spanking" very seriously.
The CNN "Anderson Cooper 360" says polls show majority of Americans support spanking as a form of punishment, and that district attorneys say cases involving abuse in the name of religion are common.
Brad Hirschfield, writing in The Washington Post, however, comments on the risks involved in "spanking" and recommends an end to the practice:
"There is no way to bring Lydia Schatz back, or to undo the damage to her still living siblings, or any of the other children who are beaten in the name of God. We can however do everything in our power to put a stop to the practice. For the sake of these kids and for the sake of the traditions we hold dear, that is what we must do."
Bible.com will probably disagree with him and rather concur with Michael Pearl, author of "To Train Up A Child," that the fact there are some "who act in the extreme," is not sufficient to say "spanking" is not good child-rearing practice.