On November 6, Dr. Donald Kraybill wrote an article about Amish and spanking for The Huffington Post, and Erik Wesner posted a follow-up on Amish America. Below is my response to these articles.
“They also note that the book of Hebrews suggests that God disciplines Christians as a father disciplines a son and that such discipline yields "the peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11).”
There are several ways of looking at this verse, depending on one’s view of how God disciplines Christians. If I imagine the view of God in the Middle Ages, He sits on his His throne up in the heavens, watching for someone to sin, and then sends a bolt of lightening to strike that person down. This belief would leave the impression that humans are not good on their own, it is only when God “makes them nice” with the threat of punishment that people do the right thing.
It was in the Middle Ages that the Anabaptists’ beliefs were formed, and they were persecuted for their beliefs as is witnessed in The Martyr’s Mirror, a book found in nearly every Amish home. Perhaps the persecution they endured explains why the Amish religion is still so punitive today. Punishment, or the threat of it, as a way of “making people nice” is very much a part of the belief system in Amish communities, which they instill in children from the time they can understand the concept. This is evident from Naomi’s comments about spankings. I had never heard the folding hands for prayer indicator of when a child is old enough to be corrected, but my severe grandmother had a similar one when she claimed that when a child is aware enough to put a comb to its head, then the child is old enough to be spanked.
Many of the comments concerning Dr. Donald Kraybill’s article have focused on spanking as correction for children, versus no correction. There are many ways to correct a child — spanking being only one of them. The manner in which we do that is important in conveying the values we want to instill in our children. For instance, early on we need to establish that “no” means “no” and that the parent, not the child, is in charge.
Going back to the verse about a father disciplining a son the way God disciplines Christians — in my opinion, the way God disciplines humans is by cause and effect, “what you reap you will sow.” If someone becomes a habitual liar, then people stop believing what that person has to say, even when she occasionally tells the truth. If I bully someone, that person is going to be afraid of me. And one thing I’ve noticed is that it is impossible to be afraid of someone and love her too. Therefore, if I want people to love me, I cannot bully them (including children). It also works in the positive — if I appreciate something and thank God for it, I find joy (I see gratitude and joy as one in the same). If someone does a good deed, she is sure to be a recipient of a good deed. In this way, we learn that what we reap we will sow.
Why wouldn’t we teach our children that there are natural consequences to their actions also? This establishes true authority, without resorting to using our physical strength against a small, defenseless person. Spanking is taking the easy way out, in my opinion. Teaching natural consequences takes a lot more thought and discipline on the part of the parent. It seems to me anger or frustration would have to be present, otherwise why hit a child at all? For me, there is just this enormous disconnect between having affection for a child and intentionally hurting him.
If people get the willies about the phrase “breaking the child’s will” there is a good reason for that. “Breaking the will” is exactly what the Amish mean. My father often used that term and he meant to do just that. I did not get spankings as a child — I got beatings. I cannot speak for all Amish parents, but I know with my own parents there was a great deal of anger and frustration that came with those beatings. The physical pain was nearly unbearable, not to mention the emotional turmoil that comes of being overwhelmed by someone so much bigger, stronger, and more powerful.
If the Amish are successful in breaking their children’s will, it means the children become compliant because they are afraid to be otherwise, which makes them vulnerable to abuses.
The most important aspect of Amish children’s compliance is that they will not question the Amish ways. When they become members of the church, they will be asked to give up their individuality to become part of the community twice a year in communion services. And those who have been “made nice” are happy to accommodate.
- Saloma Furlong
- I am the author of the memoir "Why I Left the Amish." In February 2012, I was featured in the PBS documentary "The Amish" that aired on American Experience. I was born and raised in an Amish community in Ohio. Driven by my desire for freedom and more formal education, I broke away from my community –– not once, but twice. I graduated from Smith College in May 2007 with a major in German Studies and a minor in Philosophy. My education has included research on the Amish with Dr. Donald Kraybill and a semester abroad in Germany, where I studied at the University of Hamburg. During my thirty-year inner struggle of coming to terms with my Amish past, I have gleaned a better understanding of myself and my heritage. It is this perspective that I bring to my reflections about Amish.