A Letter to 20/20

By Max Tice

Dear Mr. Stossel,

I wish, first of all, to commend 20/ 20 for its excellent investigative re-porting on so many topics of great interest to the general public. There are very few television programs about which many positive statements can be made. It is, therefore, refreshing to be able to offer such high commendation to yours. Please keep up the good work.

Since I do hold the staff at 20/20 with high regard, I regret that my first correspondence with you has been elicited by a report with which I must take exception. Your effort to explore the effect of spanking children is appreciated, but I believe that it is also incomplete. As you recall, several passages from the Bible which endorse corporal punishment were flashed across the screen. These statements were then contrasted with the views of modern “experts” on the topic, and the Bible was pronounced an outdated and barbaric guide on how to raise children properly.

As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a student of child-hood development, I am compelled to take issue with this conclusion. In the interest of fairness, I am asking that another report on the subject be presented which gives consideration to an opposing view. The fact that such a presentation is needed is what I wish to show in the comments which follow.

I will begin by reinforcing the Bible’s commitment to the propriety of spanking children. As already noted by 20/20’s report, the book of Proverbs makes the following statements:

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Prov.13:24).

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him (Prov. 22:15).

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (Prov. 23:13,14).

Since the term “beat” (selected by the translators of the King James Bible) evokes images of cold-hearted brutality, it is important to recognize that such an idea is not at all inherent in the term. Neither the intensity nor the duration of the act is conveyed. The Hebrew word from which this has been translated simply means “to strike.” Neither is there any implication of a hostile disposition within the one who ad-ministers this discipline. The verses clearly show that the intent of the action is to help, not harm the child. Thus, no sanction is given to the savage behavior of those who mercilessly abuse their children.

As a matter of fact, those who study the Bible realize that it exalts children as special gifts from God worthy of deep respect. See Psalm 127:3-5 and Proverbs 17:6. God’s care for children is further demonstrated in his compassion for orphans. He is called the “father of the fatherless” (Psa. 68:5) and promises to avenge those who oppress them (Exod. 22:23,24). Indeed, it is in the interest of preventing child abuse that mothers are told to love their children (Tit. 2:4), and fathers are warned against provoking their children to wrath (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).

Now, at this point, one might say: “This is all very nice, but the Bible is still dead wrong in its approval of spanking children. It disagrees with the experts who have clearly proved that this form of punishment only encourages violent behavior.” Thus, we come to the question: Who is right? Are modern psychologists who oppose spanking right, or is the Bible right?

First of all, it should be pointed out that not every psychologist agrees with the anti-spanking campaign. It is unfortunate that this fact was never mentioned in 20/20’s report. Instead, the impression was left that all of the experts agree on the subject.

Secondly, thoughtful consideration should be given to the evidence that spanking is, in itself, harmful. How did the “experts” reach this verdict? The men who appeared in 20/20’s presentation failed to cite any case studies or any particular details concerning the procedure that was followed in such studies. Instead, a dogmatic assertion was offered as fact.

The truth is that causation of human behavior is not easily established. A fundamental flaw often ignored in such evaluations is that correlation is not causation. In other words, if a study of a certain population were to yield a positive correlation between spankings and aggressive behavior, this would not demonstrate that the spankings caused the aggressive behavior. For example, a strong correlation can be shown in some populations between race and the crime rate. Shall we conclude that a certain skin pigmentation causes crime? Of course not! Instead, most people readily understand that other variables play a role in delinquent behavior.

In the case of spanking children one cannot prove that this form of discipline encourages violence unless he can first isolate the act of spanking from all other potential influences. Specifically, it would be necessary to exclude the possible effect of parental hostility, modeling of aggression by a host of environmental figures, displays of partiality and other unfair attitudes on the part of parents, failure to clarify the purpose of the punishment, lack of general affection, etc. Unless these and other factors are taken into consideration, the claims of “experts” who attack the act of spanking cannot be taken seriously.

As a matter of fact, in a study involving 157 students at a midwestern university in 1989, variables similar to the ones just mentioned were taken into consideration while researching the effects of spanking. Although aggressive behavior was not specifically targeted, the general impact of corporal punishment upon self-esteem and other personality features was explored. The researchers concluded that “how parents are spanking their children appears to be more important than whether or how often spanking is employed” (Psychological Reports, “Relations of Spanking and Other Parenting Characteristics to Self-Esteem and Perceived Fairness of Parental Discipline,” by Robert Larzelere, Michael Klein, Walter Schumm, Samuel Alibrande, Jr., 1989, 64, 1140-1142).

Since I consider 20/20’s report to be a direct assault upon the reliability of the Bible (whether intended as such or not), I ask that equal time be given to alternative views. There are competent psychologists and other professionals capable of defending spanking as a positive means of discipline. Will you allow their voices to be heard?

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 2, p. 1
January 20, 1994