I write with urgency in response to a letter written by Dr. Michael Abrahams, published on Monday November 19, 2018 in the Jamaica Gleaner. In his article, Abrahams made several remarks attempting to discredit the Holy Bible, labeling it a “poor guide for the treatment of children”. I will be briefly responding to his main points.
In his first point, Abrahams pointed that “civilized societies” recognize children’s vulnerability, and ”..dependence on adults for nurturing..”. He connected this with a vague reference to ‘studies’ which discourage corporal punishment as a form of discipline for children and contrasted the Biblical command of ‘sparing the rod and spoiling the child.’ Despite pointing out that the Biblical ‘rod’ is also a symbol of guidance and not limited to physical beating, Abrahams then desperately persisted for most of his article to try to ‘prove’ that the Bible endorses unwarranted aggression, abuse and abandonment of children, citing Scriptures which appear on the surface to support his points. In short, however, Abraham’s presentation of the Bible and the God of the Bible often completely ignores the immediate and wider Scriptural contexts, and paints a woefully distorted mischaracterization of God’s nature and His unending love for His people, and the special place children hold in His heart.
For instance, as it relates to God’s punishment on heathen nations, did it miss the purview of the writer that God oftentimes decided to delay punishment on account of innocent children, as was in the case of Nineveh? (Jonah 4: 11). Was the writer also unaware of the fact that warnings for repentance ringed out, sometimes for hundreds of years to give successive generations the opportunity to repent? The attempt to misconstrue the Bible is clearest where the writer quotes Luke 14:26 with the claim that the Bible commands complete family ‘abandonment’ for discipleship. Just as self-denial is mentioned in this same Scripture, discipleship is not physical abandonment of anyone, rather ensuring the Will of God is placed before anyone else’s. Doing the Will of God as it relates to His commands of child-rearing actually demands direct, thorough and daily parental involvement from sunrise to sunset to teach children to love God and others, as is stipulated in both the Old and New Testaments (e.g. Deuteronomy 6:7; 11:9; Ephesians 6:4). The Bible did not even only give the Command for the ‘use of the rod’, but also for the regulation for giving discipline. Why does the writer omit the fact that parents are commanded not to provoke their children to anger? (Ephesians 6:4). In addition to all this, I would like to ask the writer in the words of Jesus: Have ye never read that it was written: “Children are a heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3-5), and where Jesus said “Allow the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)?
In response to Abrahams’ clear assertion of his confidence in modern psycho-social research above the inspired Word of God. I will also briefly tackle this foundation. Far from what has been suggested by Dr. Abrahams and other entities, peer-reviewed literature is not unanimous in its conclusion that corporal punishment is negative. In fact, upon closer scrutiny, various ambiguities exist in many of the studies which conclude about negative outcomes of corporal punishment, including the grouping all forms of corporal punishment (e.g. children receiving simple slaps being placed under the same category as extreme abuse), while in other studies, negative outcomes were associated in specific contexts such as the level of anger of the parent (e.g. Turner & Muller, 2004). These ambiguities and inherent biases have been pointed out and addressed in other studies, e.g. Ferguson (2013) in an article in the Journal Clinical Psychological Review, performed a meta-analytical review which underscored the inflated results due to flawed approaches, but also concluded that spanking has benefits and “fewer negative consequences than previously assumed”. Other studies have pointed to positive behaviours associated with spanking, especially those associated with parental reasoning (e.g. Gunnoe, 2013; Larzelere, 1986). The detrimental effects on the well-being of children resulting from rejecting godly wisdom in policy has been evident in various case studies, such as Sweden, which has banned corporal punishment. In a literature review conducted twenty years after Sweden’s ban, researchers Larzelere & Johnson (1999) found that there has been an increase, not a decrease in reported physical abuse of children.
Sociology aside, it is deeply disturbing that someone of his intellectual capacity would make such an effort to twist and misrepresent the Holy Scriptures for his own purpose. It is equally disturbing that such an overtly anti-theistic presentation relating to youth would be published in youth month. Dr. Abrahams, the Bible is clear. “Unless you become like a little child, you cannot inherit the Kingdom of heaven:” (Matthew 18: 2-4). The Bible has withstood the test of time, being the perfect guide not only in matters of faith, but has been repeatedly confirmed in matters of its historical reliability (e.g. the findings of former sceptic Sir William Ramsay), and scientific integrity (e.g. vitality of blood for life, discovery of ocean and wind currents). The Bible’s authority and reliability in its teachings on social order and family relations also stand as the perfect guide.
I want to let the children of this nation know: you are special to God. I also want to make a plea to Dr. Abrahams: God is calling on you to come back to Him. It is only in Him that you find true purpose. If you truly love our children, you will not lead them away from their Creator.
Ferguson, C. J. (2013). Spanking, corporal punishment and negative long-term outcomes: A meta-analytic review of longitudinal studies. Clinical Psychology Review. 33(1). Pages 196-208. ISSN 0272-7358. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2012.11.002. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735812001675).
Gunnoe, M.L. (2013). Associations between parenting style, physical discipline, and adjustment in adolescents' reports. Psychol Rep. Jun;112(3):933-75.
Larzelere, R. E. (1986). Moderate spanking: Model or deterrent of children's aggression in the family? Journal of Family Violence. 1(1). pp 27–36.
Larzelere, R.E. & Johnson, B. (1999). Evaluations of the Effects of Sweden's Spanking Ban on Physical Child Abuse Rates: A Literature Review. Psychological Reports.. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.19188.8.131.521.
Turner, H.A., & Miller, P.A. (2004). Long-Term Effects of Child Corporal Punishment on Depressive Symptoms in Young Adults: Potential Moderators and Mediators. Journal of Family Issues. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X03258313