With all of the sound and fury surrounding Adrian Peterson, it is important to make a clear distinction between true child abuse and the necessary discipline every child needs (and every parent is obligated to provide) in order for that child to mature into a responsible, productive, respectable adult citizen.
Leaving a welt on a little boy’s scrotum by hitting him with a switch is not discipline. It is child abuse. It is absurd to equate Peterson “whupping” his son with a spanking that causes pain but does not cause physical injury. People who equate Peterson’s criminal assault with a reasonable spanking are discrediting themselves, because most people instinctively know the difference between a beating and a spanking. It is fundamentally dishonest to equate the two.
In fact, physical discipline is part of responsible parenting. A father who forces his toddler to hold his hand when crossing the street or a parking lot is engaged in physical discipline, but that discipline is necessary to protect that child from injury or death. Parents who do this are not being authoritarian killjoys – we are loving and protecting our children. We would not dream of treating an adult in this manner, even though some of the students who blindly walk out in front of vehicles on the Indiana University campus could use some literal hand-holding.
The state has an interest in protecting children from legitimate abuse, but we should be extremely distrustful of the state any time it seeks to steal parental authority for itself. God did not give the authority over child rearing to the civil magistrate. He gave that authority to parents. The positions of father and mother are offices with authority, and absent evidence of criminal child abuse we should give parents wide latitude in their disciplinary choices.
I would be negligent to dismiss the credibility factor of the state in the discipline of children. When the civil magistrate freely gives birth control to teenage girls as young as 13 (or subcontracts that shameful activity to Planned Parenthood via a tax subsidy) the civil magistrate has lost credibility as a reliable agent to determine what is best for children. Any entity that helps sexual predators cover up their crimes (pregnancy in a 13 year old girl is prima facie evidence of felony sexual abuse) is in no way to be fully trusted with a child’s welfare.
We live in a wicked day where we say that evil is good and good is evil. We have for the most part escaped a scenario where parents are persecuted by the state for obeying Scripture and spanking their children. (Though there are cases of this, and many parents are afraid of the state stealing their children for the application of needed discipline.) But the march toward statism and an ever-expanding government never stops. We should never trust a government pulling our heart strings with real child abuse, because you can be assured this is a bait and switch.
No pun intended.