The argument behind the legislations always seems to be the same. "My parents used to beat me mercilessly, and it didn't make me a better person." The notion behind banning corporal punishment seems always to be predicated on the idea that it is not possible to physically discipline a child without abusing them. All corporal punishment, it appears, is child abuse. And we certainly aren't in favor of child abuse.
It is a complex question. There is no doubt that too many parents abuse their children. Recently here in the Phoenix area a step-mother tortured her 12-year-old step-daughter to death. Beaten and burned while her 9-year-old sister watched and even endured much of the same, she was dead for days before anyone found out. I don't think there is a rational person on the planet that would argue that this was a good idea, proper parenting, "the parents' right" or any such thing. No one favors abusing children even in the name of "proper parenting".
On the other hand, some of us are faced with the biblical perspective. The other day on the Christian radio station I sometimes hear on the way home from work they were debating this topic. Christians called in to say, "You have to discipline in love" and "Spare the rod, spoil the child." One lady called in all upset. We had been deceived. The Bible doesn't teach spanking. Corporal punishment is always evil. "Christians who believe in corporal punishment of children get their view not from the Bible but from books written in the last 200 years," she informed us.
Truth be told, the Bible does not say, "Spare the rod, spoil the child." It is actually a quote from a poet named Samuel Butler who was not actually advocating it, but poking fun. In his piece, Hudibras he said in jest that if "love is a boy," then we ought to "spare the rod, and spoil the child." So was the caller right? Well, most Christians who use the phrase "spare the rod, spoil the child" reference Prov. 13:24 -- "He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently." I'm sorry, but that sounds a lot like the intention of the phrase, "spare the rod, spoil the child", even if it's not a word-for-word quote.
I don't think it can be safely argued that the only way to view corporal punishment as right is to get it outside of Scripture. The problem, I suspect, comes from a fundamental view of humans that it most prevalent today. The reason that Solomon argues for the use of the rod isn't a mean-spiritedness or a lack of compassion. Instead, it comes from a basic belief that human beings are fallen. So we read, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him" (Prov. 22:15). If children are essentially innocent, without sin, then all they really need is guidance. If, on the other hand, they are born sinners, they will need, at times, more desperate measures. This isn't an act of unkindness or cruelty; it is an act of love.
"That view," the caller assured us, "is not found in the Bible." Actually, I conclude that it is an act of love because of the Bible. In Hebrews 12 it is hard to avoid. In fact, it is hard to read.
Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives (Heb. 12:26).Now, I'm an advocate of spanking, but that is hard for me to read. It doesn't suggest a pat on a padded behind. The passage uses the word "scourges." So frightening is the biblical concept of corporal punishment that Solomon had to reassure parents, "Do not hold back discipline from the child; although you strike him with the rod, he will not die" (Prov. 23:13). Regardless of the extent of this discipline, it is unavoidable, however, to conclude that corporal punishment of children is expected in Scripture, and that it must be done on the basis of love for the sake of the child.
What are we to make, then, of all the data that suggests that spanking is bad for kids? I would have to question the data myself. I am premising the biblical concept of spanking on what I just stated: It must be done on the basis of love for the sake of the child. How many times is that actually done? How many times is it done out of anger rather than love? How many times is it done out of compassion for the child rather than personal affront at being ignored or disobeyed? How many parents are nearly incapable of spanking without anger? If you study the effects of "spanking" alone without defining it, I would concur with the data ... because generally corporal punishment of children is not done out of love for the sake of the child. On the other hand, ask those children who experienced the type of discipline to which I'm referring if it was good or bad for them. I think you will find universally that they benefited from it.
What do I do with the data? More importantly, what would I do if I was a parent raising a child in a state that outlawed spanking? I would need to conclude that if "those whom the Lord loves He disciplines," then I am obligated to do the same. If I violate the law to obey God, so be it. This doesn't fall in the category of "optional" to me. The data falls in the category of "every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4), and I'd have to stick with God's instructions on this matter. Is spanking the only means of teaching children? Not at all! Should parents only spank? By no means! But since the Bible seems to indicate that the rod is sometimes necessary for the welfare of the child, far be it from me to remove a biblical tool from the parents' tool belt of child rearing.