Why are we surprised?

Minnesota Running Back Adrian Peterson was indicted in a child injury case in Texas.645084_22587626

According to the articles and statements that have been released, he used a tree branch to “spank” his 4 year old son.  The case involves alleged “reckless or negligent injury to a child.”

I do not want to focus on the details of this case, because I am not the judge or jury. I also don’t think that another voice needs to weigh in on it.  Considering Texas’ general hands-off policy, and their absolute love of all things football, the fact that this case is moving forward indicates that this is a case that has to move forward.  If I’m understanding Peterson correctly, he hasn’t denied any of the facts in the case – he just insists they don’t constitute abuse.

So what is abuse?  And, perhaps more importantly, what is a  “spanking?”

Where is that line?

Lots of people claim to know where it is – often tossing out there that common sense can guide you.  So do we just decide that those who cross the line have no common sense?

It is in situations that seem to cross that line that we find the loudest people screaming that it was only “discipline.”  That’s why this case has pushed the issue of spanking back into the forefront of the national dialogue.  Some say Peterson crossed that line, but Peterson insists he did not see the line people are upset about.

There is no agreement among parents, theologians, and “spanking experts” about how to spank.

The Bible does not teach how to spank. There is no definitive “line” we can all point to.  It is a 100% subjective line based on far too many things to go into one blog post.  But that’s the problem, isn’t it?  If there is no line we can all agree upon, we will continue to have parents who insist that any injury caused was unintended and does not mean they were abusive.

The thing is, someone who intends to abuse is a sociopath.  Actual abusers are using unhealthy/dangerous actions and words to exert control on someone who should be able to trust them.  Abuse isn’t about intention – it’s about control.


This is shaping up to be another great example of why a literal reading and application of the rod verses in Proverbs is resulting in great harm being inflicted on too many children.  I know Peterson’s son isn’t the only child being “disciplined” this way – nor is he the only child being injured by this type of discipline.  I addressed issues with how the rod verses are being interpreted and applied here. http://crystallutton.com/you-keep-using-that-verse/

According to his attorney, Rusty Hardin, “It is important to remember that Adrian never intended to harm his son and deeply regrets the unintended injury.”

I don’t think anyone is arguing that Peterson “intended” to harm his son. I’m also sure he does deeply regret the “unintended injury.”  The problem is that the “unintended injury” is a predictable outcome of the action of beating a 4 year old child with a tree branch.

The problem I see in this case is the incredible disconnect between the actions of a grown man, the size of an NFL player, procuring a tree branch and beating a 4 year old child with it and, while getting the branch and moving to the action of beating him, not realizing that causing him injury would be a very probable outcome.

What can be learned?

Peterson has stated that this is how he was “disciplined” and that is why he believed it to be a reasonable choice in “disciplining” his own son.  The sad reality is that in order for Peterson to come to terms with what he did being abusive he will have to wrestle with and accept that he, himself, was abused as a child.

And that means he is perpetuating the abuse that was inflicted on him – which is what abuse victims so often do.

I am heartbroken at reading these words in his statement made on Twitter:

“But deep in my heart I have always believed I could have been one of those kids who was lost in the streets without the discipline instilled in me by my parents and other relatives.  I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed as a man.” https://twitter.com/AdrianPeterson/status/511586600346599424/photo/1

Which brings me to the lesson I think we need to learn as a society.

Ultimately we, as a society, failed Peterson when no one stepped in and stopped his parents – and other relatives – from abusing him.  We will continue to fail him if we fail to loudly declare, in response to his defense, that his own actions are abuse.

We cannot imagine that this case is as simple as an isolated event with yet another NFL player who is caught up in the aggressive reality of football.  We cannot convince ourselves that this is just about him at all.

We will continue to fail OURSELVES if we don’t understand that our own failure to stand and speak up for children and their safety is because we are as immersed in a culture of abuse as Peterson is.  Every time we do something because it was done to us, or excuse something because it happens all the time and lots of people turn out fine, we are doing exactly what Peterson is doing.

I hope that we can take this as an opportunity to wrestle with the reality that how we treat our children says a lot about us – about how we were treated, how we think we deserved to be treated, and how we were taught to treat others.  Like Peterson, we cannot continue to say that we’re only doing what was done to us and act surprised when someone gets hurt based on the fact that we turned out fine (or even great).

No one “deserves” to be treated that way.

No one is better because of having been treated that way.

No one is doing a good thing to their child when they treat them that way.

We have to stop being surprised when there are “unintended injuries” to children who are spanked.

And we have to stop imagining that the only times spankings result in damage are when the injuries are visible or when the parent doing the spanking is caught.


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