The Minnesota Vikings’ owner has admitted that he made a mistake when his team reinstated Adrian Peterson, its star running back and one of the league’s best, after first deciding to keep Peterson from participating in team activities, when it became known he had been indicted last week for injuring his 4-year-old son by beating him with a “switch,” a slender tree branch often used for disciplining kids.
My dad used a switch on me now and then when I was growing up in southeast Kansas in the 1960s, and it is, apparently, still fairly common in some parts of the country to beat children with them.
I heard Goldie Taylor, an often insightful African-American pundit, on public radio this morning explaining, in a way that partly echoed Charles Barkley’s comments on the issue, that for a lot of black folks in the South, beating their kids is a part of their culture, some of it stemming from the phrase used in black churches, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” a phrase that most people think is in the Bible. Actually that phrase isn’t in the Bible, but what is, from Proverbs 13:24 (King James Version), is this:
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
That seems clear enough, no? Beating your kid with a stick is a way of showing him (or, presumably, her) love. But Goldie Taylor, parting ways with Charles Barkley, tried to explain that the “rod” in that phrase was not an instrument of punishment, but something shepherds used to gently guide their sheep, not beat them. It was, she said, a source of comfort not pain (“thy rod and thy staff comfort me,” from the 23rd Psalm), and the misinterpretation of that Bible-inspired phrase was erroneously used to justify the whipping of children by their parents, parents like Adrian Peterson, who, he said, had parents that beat him in the same way.
Here is the King James Version of another passage in the Bible, Proverbs 23:13-14:
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.
Nothing in the Bible is clearer than that. No amount of sugar-coating the Bible can alter the meaning of that passage. Beating your kids is not only okay, says the God of the Bible, it is part of a divine strategy to keep them from going to hell (a place which, oddly, the God of the Bible created as punishment for the disobedient). And, for those of you who are not familiar with such things, that stuff is taught in evangelical and fundamentalist churches all over America, not just in the South and not just in black churches. I was taught it and I, on rare occasions, practiced it on two of my three children, acts for which I am now utterly ashamed.
We know better these days. We have learned something about the effects of trying to beat obedience into our kids. We are evolving culturally. Violence against our children doesn’t do any real good, but does do a lot of real harm. In this case, given the publicity it has received, it may be that some unintentional social good can come from what happened to Adrian Peterson’s 4-year-old son, namely that it is no longer acceptable, anywhere, to beat kids with a rod, a stick, a switch, or even the hand. And more than that, perhaps another good is in sight: more people will realize that the Bible is full of bad advice, a strong indication that the much-revered book is a product of ignorant and narrow-minded men, and not an infallible Word from the God of the universe.