From Ashes to Lashes: Child Abuse Is Hell on Earth

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In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable where a king separates the sheep from the goats based on their care for the marginalized of society where the king is Jesus and says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”[1] In the context of society, the term “least of these” invites the mind and heart to consider the elderly, the sick, the poor, the oppressed, and many other categories of human beings. Perhaps one of the biggest categories of the least of us is children. Children are dependent upon parents, society, churches, and inadequate government structures to teach, guide, care for, and raise them as they form in their personhood. Not every child experiences a nurturing upbringing in the home, in fact, many are subject to violence against them from parents, guardians, caregivers, and beyond in what we call child abuse. In this blog, I will show that child abuse in the home is a horrifying problem from hell that has spurned responses from both Christian and secular organizations, but demands a greater response and sincere sense of urgency from us all.

John Chryssavgis describes the sin of child abuse in this way:

Sin for the Church is precisely the abuse of freedom, both ours and that of others; it is the lack of respect for the freedom of each person. We tend to treat people as objects, not as persons. Child abuse, in this respect, is but the extreme example of such behavior. Society has unfortunately accepted this way of life. Children simply cannot defend themselves or survive in this game.[2]

Genesis 1 teaches us that we are all created uniquely in the image of God for a relational living experience. God took the time to intricately create human beings with His hands in an act of affection, care, and nurturing to show parents today the care that should be taken in molding, shaping, and forming their children. With this understanding, child abuse becomes an action of violence (physical or emotional) against the very personhood of a child that God has uniquely created and entrusted the parents to raise and care for. Acts of violence are bad to begin with, but acts of violence against the defenseless are outright horrific.

“I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser,” Adrian Peterson (running back for the Minnesota Vikings) wrote in self-defense of hitting his four year old son with a “switch” (stick from a tree) and causing injury leading to a court trial and discipline from the NFL.[3] According to Peterson, he was simply practicing what was done to him as a child in the name of “corporal punishment” in an effort to show that cycles of abuse and violence continue through generations.[4] It must be understood in the discussion of child abuse, that violence against children is unacceptable regardless of how someone experienced their own childhood. The criteria must be set that striking a child is abuse regardless of the degree in which it was done (with weapons or not).

It’s not that Peterson is wrong in his assessment of generational passing of disciplinary methods. The American Psychological Association released a study in 2012 that confirmed children who are physically disciplined will likely see no problem with continuing the practice when they have children of their own.[5] The problem is that Peterson used his upbringing as an excuse to assault a four year old child and that is wrong. This is a problem our society has when it comes to disciplining children, it is not just Peterson. Thus, we further exacerbate the inexcusable sin of abuse and assault against a child. Child abuse is a problem because violence is unacceptable, and more directly, violence against children is inexcusable. Of reported instances of child abuse, 48.5% are men and 51.2% are women with 2.9 million cases reported every year.[6] Yet, we hear little in a negative light of children being “spanked”, ”whooped”, “beat”, “smacked”, “kicked”, “punched”, and the list goes on. The reason, as I see it, is that we have adopted this idea that the way someone raises their child is a private matter or perhaps have no issue with corporal punishment as we may have experienced it ourselves the same way Peterson did.

However, it goes much further than this in regards to the church and various lines of theological thought. Beth Felker Jones writes of a Christian theology pushed out by Michael and Debi Pearl in their book To Train Up a Child which teaches physical violence as an effective means to disciplining and raising a child which has led to greater instances of abuse and even death when using objects in beatings.[7] Jones writes of the discipline advocated by the Pearls, “The suggested switch for a four month-old child is a branch 12 inches long and an eighth of an inch wide. Rulers, belts and tree branches are recommended for older children.”[8]

The Pearls see corporate punishment as a means to absolve sin’s guilt for children who cannot grasp or understand substitutionary atonement.[9] As one can see from this, the problem from hell that is child abuse has even infiltrated some churches and theological systems. The fact that there is a theology which says a four month old can be assaulted with a “switch” is enough to cause both anger and lament, let alone the stepping up the ladder of violent objects that is advocated for in such a theology. Violence has no place in the church and the church must work on ways to better educate their congregations to steer away from violence.

This theology and the other thought processes that encourage corporate punishment are especially problematic as we consider the long term effects of child abuse that begin once the child is abused and last well into their adult lives in a way that makes every moment the past for the adult survivor. The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study in 2012 which stated that “Harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, and several personality disorders.”[10] This means that even though the abused makes the transition into adulthood and appears “well” on the surface, they are often damaged internally and prone to dependency, addiction, and disorders. In fact, 80% of 21 year old adult survivors of abuse meet the criteria for at least one psychological disorder.[11] Further still, medical issues can often arise in abuse sufferers and survivors. One such medical issue is known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and the link between abuse and IBS has been studied for quite some time. Abuse against children creates a cycle of anxiety, fear, paranoia, worry, and stress that continues well into adulthood in what is called neuroticism and this has been the suspected link between abuse and IBS for quite some time.[12] We are often taught about the harmful effects of stress and anxiety in our lives, so it makes sense that they can manifest themselves in medical ways that hinder the lives of human beings. In this respect, abuse does not lie dormant in the past for someone who was abused as a child, it continues well into their adulthood in various other ways. It is bad enough that a child is subjected to these side effects, but we must also realize that it continues throughout the entirety of their lives as well.

It can rightly be said that child abuse has been around throughout the history of the world and likely as old as the concept of violence and aggression itself. The United States government has a long history in trying to combat child abuse. Massachusetts had laws in their books as early as 1642 authorizing the state to intervene and rescue a child who was being abused or raised improperly.[13] In 1807 one of the earliest examples of a case where someone was convicted for assaulting a child took place when a shopkeeper in New York City was found guilty of assaulting his female slave and the slave’s three year old daughter.[14] In 1874, a religious missionary to the poor named Etta Wheeler came across Mary Ellen Wilson who was living in Hell’s Kitchen in New York and found she was being neglected and beaten on a daily basis.[15] At this time, there was no organization to protect children and after exhausting other avenues such as the police and local children charities, Etta consulted with Henry Bergh (founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) who was able to confer with his lawyer and used a variant of habeas corpus to rescue Mary Ellen.[16]

Bergh went on to found the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) and made his lawyer Elbridge Gerry the president of the first organization focused on protecting children.[17] By 1922, the NYSPCC had inspired the creation of three hundred non-governmental agencies to deal with child protection, yet many rural areas lacked such organizations.[18] Around this time in 1919, juvenile courts became prevalent (the first was founded in Chicago in 1899) and they were concerned with delinquent children and could intervene in child abuse issues as needed.[19] However, the Great Depression soon crippled these charities which relied on donations from society and more than eighty shut down leaving the first six decades of the twentieth century inadequate in enforcing child protection services.[20] The Children’s Bureau was founded in 1912 to assist child protection efforts in rural areas, but was unsuccessful until the 1960s when an amendment to the Social Security Act of 1962 named Child Protective Services (CPS) as a part of public child welfare.[21]

Also in 1962, pediatrician Henry Kempe published the article The Battered Child Syndrome which described bruises and injuries to six children he studied and hinted at the reality they had been abused which launched a national interest in child abuse and protection.[22] In 1974, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was passed and created the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect to devote funds to research on child abuse and neglect and has shaped the way CPS works today.[23] In 1980, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (AACWA) was passed in an effort to remove children from abusive parents with the intention of returning them to their families which the government later realized was not always a desired outcome and in 1997, they passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) to set strict guidelines for returning the child to their family, if at all.[24] Today, the combination of CPS and Juvenile Courts work in tandem to seek nurturing and appropriate upbringing for children while removing them from environments of violence and abuse.

There appears much more to do in society in stopping child abuse as it still occurs whether we are privy to it or not. Organizations have been founded over time to help the fight against child abuse. One such organization is the Churches’ Network for Nonviolence that seeks to end corporal punishment for children and to promote positive discipline that does not require violence by advocating for reforms in government and helping to educate churches on abuse.[25] Another organization is the Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) which holds seminars and provides training material to churches to better equip them for handling cases of abuse victims and survivors when the offenses have occurred in the church as well as the home.[26] There are also organizations for survivors such as the one I am a part of and have appeared on their radio show[27] called the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (NAASCA) which uses weekly radio shows (“Stop Child Abuse Now”) and other various materials to educate adult survivors of abuse, enrich their lives, provide a community to lift up and encourage one another, and advocate for an end to child abuse.[28]

The question is always: are we doing enough? As long as child abuse continues, the answer will always be “no”. Legislation and organizations are a great start and are direly necessary, but so much more can be done. Abuse and violence against children in the home is horrific and needs to be eradicated completely in order for society to flourish. It is not a choice of whether or not this is a cause to rally behind, our lack of sincere governmental legislation since 1997 should set off many internal alarms that call us to action in our communities and abroad.

Children often cannot speak for themselves or are threatened with more violence if they speak out. We have a responsibility as a community to be advocates and to defend the value of life at every turn. Violence has been and continues to be the pinnacle of human anger and aggression that keeps children in the margins in their own homes. Where are the protestors for the rights of children after the womb? Will we continue to allow violence to infect our communities?

This is a cause that all should find no problem with taking up. It is an issue that transcends political lines. It is an issue that transcends our own upbringing. It is an issue that is the most damning plight of our time. It is a problem from hell itself that causes gnashing in the teeth of the mind and leaves a void of darkness in our midst that desperately needs light to enter and attention to be adequately paid to.

Further, the immediate and long term health effects of child abuse are non-debatable, they are established through medical and psychological research. We cannot allow for one more child to grow up in a threatening environment in the name of corporal punishment knowing that their lives will be forever altered from their experiences. There are countries where corporal punishment is outlawed, but the sad fact is that the United States is not one of those countries.[29] We ought to be ashamed and working to actualize full protection for children from violence and abuse.

Child abuse in the home is, perhaps, as old as time itself. In the name of “corporal punishment”, children are beat, but they are also beat with no reason given other than aggression towards their existence. It is unacceptable and does not have a place in modern society. We can learn from our mistakes along the way in legislation and follow the lead of organizations that exist to come together and form solutions to the child abuse epidemic. From ashes they rise and lashes they receive, hell’s fury thrives in the abuse of a child, and it’s time we close the gates of hell for good.

[1] Matthew 25:40 NRSV.

[2] John Chryssavgis, “Child Abuse–The Role of the Church.” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 34, no. 4 (Winter 1989), ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 19, 2015): p. 358.

[3] Chris Greenberg, “Adrian Peterson: ‘I Am, Without A Doubt, Not A Child Abuser’”, The Huffington Post, published September 15, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/15/adrian-peterson-statement-child-abuse_n_5824610.html (accessed October 19, 2015).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Brendan L. Smith, “The case against spanking”, Monitor on Psychology 43, no. 4 (April 2012), http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/spanking.aspx (accessed October 19, 2015).

[6] DoSomething.org, “11 Facts About Child Abuse”, DoSomething.org, published in 2015, https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-child-abuse (accessed October 19, 2015).

[7] Beth Felker Jones, “Spanking away sin: Christian child abuse.” The Christian Century 124, no. 9 (May 1, 2007), ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 19, 2015): p. 8.

[8] Beth Felker Jones, “Spanking away sin: Christian child abuse.”: p. 8.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Tracie O. Afifi et al., “Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results From a Nationally Representative US Sample”, PEDIATRICS 130, no. 2 (August 1, 2012), http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/2/184.full.pdf+html (accessed October 19, 2015): p. 184.

[11] Tennyson Center for Children, “Child Abuse in America”, Tennyson Center for Children, published in 2014, http://www.childabuse.org/facts (accessed October 15, 2015).

[12] N. J. Talley et al., “Is the association between irritable bowel syndrome and abuse explained by neuroticism? A population based study”, GUT 42, no. 1 (1998), http://gut.bmj.com/content/42/1/47.full.pdf+html (accessed October 17, 2015): p. 47.

[13]John E.B. Myers, “A Short History of Child Protection in America”, Family Law Quarterly 42, no. 3 (September 2008),https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/insights_law_society/ChildProtectionHistory.authcheckdam.pdf (accessed October 14, 2015): p. 450.

[14]John E.B. Myers, “A Short History of Child Protection in America”: p. 449.

[15] Ibid. p. 451.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid. p. 452.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid. p. 452.

[20] Ibid. p. 454.

[21] Ibid. pp. 453-456.

[22] Ibid. pp. 454-455.

[23] Ibid. p. 457.

[24] Ibid. pp. 459-460.

[25] Churches’ Network for Non-violence, “What we do”, Churches’ Network for Non-violence, published in 2012, http://churchesfornon-violence.org/, (accessed October 19, 2015).

[26] Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, “How we Help”, GRACE, http://www.netgrace.org/, (accessed October 20, 2015).

[27] Bill Murray, “Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) – 1143”, BlogTalkRadio, published July 2015, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bill-murray/2015/07/23/stop-child-abuse-now-scan—1143 (accessed October 20, 2015).

[28] National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, “child abuse trauma prevention, intervention & recovery”, NAASCA, updated 2015, http://www.naasca.org/ (accessed October 18, 2015).

[29] Alissa Scheller, “In Some Countries, It’s Illegal To Hit Your Child. The U.S. Is Not One Of Them.”, The Huffington Post, published September 16, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/16/us-states-legal-to-hit-kids_n_5829732.html (accessed October 19, 2015).

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charlestinsley

My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. In particular, I post my thoughts, commentaries, and Bible Study teachings I have done. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor. I am currently studying for a Masters In Divinity at Eastern Mennonite Seminary with PhD ambitions in the study of Theology. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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