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Missions 101

On Adrian Peterson, Spanking and Public Morality

Sep. 22, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

To be a fan of MN sports is to endure torture. We are considered the state of hockey - yet Texas took away our professional hockey team. The baseball team was good for a few years in the 2000s, but never won a playoff game. The basketball team has the longest playoff drought in the league and was run by probably the worst General Manager in history until he was fired last year. And our dear football team, when we were good, were knifed in the heart by our long-time arch rival quarterback Brett Farve, who quarterbacked our team to the NFC championship game. Such is life.

And now the second most liked sports figure (behind Joe Mauer) in Minnesota is in trouble. By now you have heard the story and seen the pictures. Earlier this year Adrianne Peterson, the best running back in the NFL, put leaves in the mouth of his four year old son and spanked him with a stick to the point that it left welts and caused him to bleed. I won’t link to the pictures that were illegally obtained and posted online, but you caimagesn see it for yourself by searching online.

Leave it to sports to drive a conversation on what a culture deems as appropriate. The NFL has had a tough few weeks with multiple domestic assault charges leveled against high profile players. While I want to focus on the issue here in MN, I would be remiss to not at least note the backdrop of what has been happening the last few weeks.

The Reaction

Minnesota radio has been on fire. Some people think he is a child abuser and claim they will never root for the Vikings again. On the flip side are people who think he did nothing wrong. Charles Barkley argued that all parents in the south would have to be arrested if what Peterson did was wrong. Articles noted that Peterson was just doing what was done to him and his mother was appalled that people thought the kind of corporal punishment he dished out was wrong. His HS football coach reported that he spanked Peterson with a wooden paddle. Some of Peterson’s teammates didn’t see a problem with what he did either. I think I have heard “Well, that’s what my parents did to me…” more times than I can count. The grand jury even had a hard time as they didn’t indict him the first time the prosecutor brought the case to them.

Some of the divide is racial, though I think one generation ago one could probably not make the same distinction. My God-fearing Swedish farming grandfather disciplined his kids with a belt and left some marks on his boys they still don’t forget. Some of his sons did the same for their children. It never crossed anyone’s mind as abuse. But it seems today that views of the appropriateness of spanking has splintered, with the majority of the northern white liberal elite decrying it as abuse, while white conservatives see some merit in spanking. I won’t speak for the African -American community, but many (not all!) seem comfortable with what Peterson did. The liberals say (as always) that we are a more advanced society now and have moved to better forms of discipline. The point is not to debate, but just to note how divided the country is on this issue.

Is This Really About Spanking?

We need to be careful when we equate what Peterson did with spanking. In response to the situation, one writer blamed evangelical Christians for spanking still being legal in the US. Andy Naselli has done a good job summarizing what Scripture teaches here. I’m not going to repeat what he says. I just want to add that we can’t just quote Proverbs 13:24 as if it were the law and binding on all Christians in all situations. Discipline at a basic level is done in the context of love. It seems unwise to me that Peterson would be spanking a child that does not live with him over what was a minor violation. That comes across as power and control and a very short fuse. Think of what it must be like to be a child of a dad who is not around, has multiple kids with multiple women and then shows up and spanks me so hard with a stick that I have welts and bleed. How is a four year old even to know what his father expects from him? I will not be surprised if more information leaks out that he has spanked all of his kids this way. How much money do you think TMZ will offer the mother’s of all of his kids to tell them stories that will bring them headlines?

Public Morality Has Its Limits

Adrian Peterson is a Christian in the ilk of Joyce Meyers and TD Jakes - many football players are. God has been on his lips for many years, but his faith didn’t stop him from having a number of children with different women and having sex with countless others. He recently spoke of his past indiscretions as something he has repented of, acknowledging his lifestyle as wrong. I am happy for him.

He is not the only athlete who has had a lot of sex with different women out of marriage. Football and basketball are highly sexualized sports. There are plenty of NBA stars who are adulterers. Wilt Chamblerlin claimed he had sex with 20,000 women. NFL star Antonio Cromartie has 7 kids with 6 women. They are not alone. It’s not that every athlete is a serial sex addict, but these types of lifestyles have consequences. At the end of his life Chamberlin lamented: “With all of you men out there who think that having a thousand different ladies is pretty cool, I have learned in my life I've found out that having one woman a thousand different times is much more satisfying.”

While the issue of spanking a child has brought out the knives from many reporters and media personalities, Peterson’s other lifestyle choices didn’t knock him off the pedestal of hero or model citizen. Our culture is completely tuned in to the wrongness of men hitting women or children. But that is where the moral compass ends. Our culture still sees differences in men and women when it comes to physical attack, but has blurred the line in just about every other area of life. Surveying news sites (including the beloved conservative Foxnews) that are covering the story, you will find links to soft porn images everywhere. The topics trending on popular search engines was Peterson, a video of some cat and Kim Kardashian….down the list was ISIS killing of some Christians. We are a fickle society. The outrage won’t last any longer than it takes to click to the next news story.

Compassion for Adrian Peterson

I think Adrian Peterson made a mistake. He knew he went too far almost immediately and texted the boy's mother that he had gone overboard in his own mind. Have any other well-meaning parents done that? You would probably say yes, though not to the point a leaving marks on the body. Then again - some think marking up your child is appropriate.

Adrian Peterson has probably never been told by anyone how to discipline a child outside what his parents and community taught him. While his father probably didn’t have a grip that could break a hand or the strength his son has, Peterson’s family disciplined him with a stick or belt, sometimes publically, when he was out of line and Peterson is thankful. It never crossed his mind he was doing something illegal. This is the experience of many people, which is why it’s difficult to pronounce a clear guilty verdict.

Should I vilify him for what he has done? If I show any kind of support for him do I then hate children? I think we will wait and see. If he is smart he will soon become a spokesman against child abuse, think through his authority as a father when he is not around and will continue to live within the confines of marriage. He won’t do this to please the detractors, because he will never be able to. He’ll do it because of the man he says he believes in, abounding in patience and loving-kindness, to him and his children.

Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International.  As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter

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