The 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) narrowly passed a resolution on Thursday against using corporal punishment on children.
"Most people know the difference between discipline and abuse. I would like us to trust parents that most of them can responsibly [use] corporal punishment," said the Rev. James Emig of the Denver Presbytery, according to a PC(USA) blog.
Many Christians believe corporal punishment is a biblical practice. Proverbs 13:24 says, "Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them." Still, other Christians believe children can be effectively disciplined in a non-physical way.
"I speak in favor in the land of Mr. Rogers. If we can't stand against hitting and abusing children, what can we stand for? Let us love them and not hit them," said Commissioner Susan Maara of New Hope Presbytery, according to the blog.
The General Assembly, which is meeting in Pittsburgh, Pa. through Saturday, voted 334 to 306 in favor of the resolution, which was sponsored by the Presbytery of Grace, with nine voters abstaining. The resolution also states that the church will now encourage "all states to enact licensing laws prohibiting corporal punishment in schools and day and residential childcare facilities."
In January, St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, La., agreed to finally end its long-standing policy of punishing students through the use of paddling following a legal struggle. At that time the school was believed to be the last "refuge" of corporal punishment among U.S. Catholic schools.
A study published online by the journal "Pediatrics" on Monday suggests that there is a link between the "harsh physical punishment" of a child and the mental disorders they could be faced with as an adult. Researchers examined data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), which surveyed nearly 35,000 Americans, age 20 and older, between 2004 and 2005.
"Harsh physical punishment in the absence of child maltreatment is associated with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse/dependence, and personality disorders in a general population sample," the study's authors concluded. "These findings inform the ongoing debate around the use of physical punishment and provide evidence that harsh physical punishment independent of child maltreatment is related to mental disorders."
Only six percent of those surveyed said they experienced harsh physical punishment as a child, which was defined by being at least "sometimes" physically punished through pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping or hitting. These punishments are generally considered more extreme than the "conventional" use of paddling. Reports of severe physical abuse – being hit so hard it left marks or caused an injury – were not considered for this particular study because researchers wanted to examine more moderate punishments.
In the frequently asked questions section of the website for Focus on the Family, a Christian organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo., the ministry says it still supports the use of spanking as a form of discipline, but it must be done correctly.
"Generally speaking, we take the view that corporal punishment should be applied only in cases of willful disobedience or defiance of authority – never for mere childish irresponsibility," says FOTF. "In no instance should it be administered harshly or capriciously. We also believe that spankings are not appropriate for children 15 to 18 months old or younger. Spanking an adolescent is almost always a serious mistake."
In addition to passing the resolution on corporal punishment, the General Assembly also passed a number of other social justice items, including: support for the work of the Environmental Protection Agency, plans to update the denomination's Safe Child Policy, the appointment of two "seasons of prayer" about the upcoming elections and a set of actions and principles called "World of Hurt, Word of Life: Renewing God's Communion in the Work of Economic Reconstruction."