Fear Vs. “Respect”

(CN: discussion on corporal punishment)

This is one of those posts I’ve been trying to avoid writing for about a month but usually if it bothers me so much I can’t ignore it, I need to write about it. I may try to do some other posts on this at some point but for now, this is all I am able to write.

I’m not sure how common corporal punishment is in today’s conservative churches but in the 90s, most parents used spanking as their main disciplinary method (thanks, Dr. Spock et al). I don’t know many families I grew up with in my church who didn’t spank their kids, and those who didn’t were often shamed for not using the “biblical” way of punishing their child.

There are so many objections as to whether spanking is actually harmful or not for children. I’ll let you be the judge of that. Based on my experience and the experience of others, it didn’t have a good result. I didn’t realize how traumatizing it was until recently or how much it has impacted how I relate to others–especially those in authority.

As a child, I was told that spanking was good for me–that my parents didn’t really want to do it but that it would help me learn to obey and respect my parents. And by association, it would teach me to obey God. And this was taught even from the pulpit at my church. All it ever got me was an overly submissive nature and fear of those in authority. By fear, I mean I was afraid of most adults growing up. Not in a good way. I was terrified of doing something wrong even when I was often just being a kid (ie having the freedom to be a kid didn’t exist a lot of the time).

I think it’s important to establish that children are not inferior to adults. They are human beings worth if dignity and shouldn’t be seen as less than simply because they are younger and less experienced at life. Having respect for authority is not the same as fearing those in authority. Being afraid of my dad because he spanked me didn’t teach me to respect him. It just made me really afraid.

I was an obedient child by fundamentalist standards. I was a rule follower not so much because I was a “good kid,” but because I was terrified of the consequences of disobeying. If you think that’s the goal of parenting, I think you might be missing something. Terror of your parents is not. a. good. thing. (also…who thinks hugging after spanking is a good idea? this kind of sounds like abuse)

This tends to be acceptable behavior towards children in authoritarian churches. And it leads to submissive adults who are afraid of authority and will allow others to abuse their authority. Pastors, for example. Or politicians. If you want to know how we got the current president we have, I’m very positive this is one of the reasons.

In churches and homes, it leads to spiritual abuse which can traumatize people for a lifetime. When you believe that the pastor is the mouthpiece for God and you can’t question what they say, it screws up your view of church, God, and your relationships with other people.

Honestly, I felt more like a robot–programmed to please everyone lest they yell at me and reprimand me for being myself. I was an especially sensitive child. Really, all my parents or teachers had to do was raise their voices or use a stern tone to get my attention. I realize that sometimes yelling is required to get a kid’s attention. Especially to warn them they’re about to do something that could hurt them. When this happened for me, I connected yelling with doing something wrong and would immediately feel guilty. Even though I hadn’t done anything wrong and this was to keep me safe. I connected loud voices with having messed up. Sometimes I still do.

Now, I’m not a parent yet. But I can assure you, this does damage children in very real ways. I don’t care if this taught me “respect for authority.”

To this day, I’m still afraid of belts. Yes, that article of clothing that can make a fashion statement or hold your pants up. Sometimes I think my dad delighted in my sisters and I being afraid of him, because he thought the “respect” was a good thing. He thought this meant he was being a good parent. The fear equaled respect. If you think that’s a normal way of relating with people…this is abusive. It may not be intentionally abusive, but it is abusive. It can open up the door for abuse in other ways because adults are supposed to always in authority and know what’s best for the child. And it allowed for a man in my church to sexually abuse me. What was I supposed to do? He was in authority over me and I was supposed to obey him.

I’ll never understand how this came to be a doctrine in churches that they were willing to die on a hill for. It’s harmful to children and those children grow up into adults who then have to deal with the consequences of this teaching.


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