Creflo Dollar’s Problematic Corporal-Punishment Defense

Mansfield Frazier on why Creflo Dollar’s spanking defense is problematic.

The news out of Atlanta that the Rev. Creflo Dollar, the pastor of the World Changers Church International, based in Fulton County, Ga. (which serves more than 30,000 members) was arrested for battery against his own daughter, sent shock waves throughout the state, and indeed the nation.

The leader of one of the most successful ministries based on the “prosperity gospel”—which holds that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches—Dollar was arrested by after his 15-year-old daughter called 911 at about 1 a.m. Friday and told a Fayette County sheriff's deputy that she and her father argued when he would not allow her to go to a party. According to the police report, the girl alleged her father charged at her, put his hands around her throat, began to punch her, and started hitting her with his shoe. The deputy also noted a scratch on the girl’s neck. CBS News reported that Dollar told police that he spanked his daughter, and wrestled her to the floor because she hit him.

On Sunday, Dollar, 50, after receiving a thunderous ovation, told his congregation from the pulpit that “a family conversation with our youngest daughter got emotional. Things escalated from there.” Church members seemed readily satisfied with the explanation and many expressed vocal support for their pastor, who also told his congregation that his daughter “was not choked. She was not punched ... Anything else is exaggeration and sensationalism.”

When the minister spoke in regards to the difficulty of dealing with teenage children in a “culture of disrespect,” many in the crowd shouted their approval and nodded their heads in agreement. Many members of the audience seemed eager to accept that 15-year-old girls can be overly dramatic and sometimes put a bit of yeast in their version of a story.

However, according to the official report, the deputy also interviewed Dollar's 19-year-old daughter, who stated at the time that “her father grabbed her sister's shoulders and slapped her in the face and choked her for about five seconds.” She also said her sister tried to break free, but did not fight back and when her father threw the 15-year-old on the floor, the older girl then ran to get their mother. Dollar's wife, Taffi, however, told the deputy she did not see the altercation.

Dollar was arrested and spent 12 hours in jail before being charged with misdemeanor counts of simple battery and cruelty to children and released on $5,000 bail. He told his congregation, “I will say this emphatically: I should have never been arrested.” Later in the day on Friday, the 19-year-old reversed her statement, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Despite his daughter’s retraction, what still could be a problem for Dollar is his alleged admission that he spanked his daughter after wrestling her to the floor.

While opinion is all over the map in regards to utilizing corporal punishment with children, even those who support its use seem to reserve it for children of much younger ages.

In a 2009 Newsweek piece, Po Bronson writes about a study carried out by psychology Prof. Marjorie Gunnoe that found that “children who’d been spanked just when they were young—ages 2 to 6—were doing a little better as teenagers than those who’d never been spanked … on almost every measure.” However, the same study also found that the older the child’s age, the less likely a spanking will be useful.

But in a 2010 study published in Pediatrics, carried out by researchers at Tulane University, found that “children's short-term response to spanking may make them act out more in the long run. Of the nearly 2,500 youngsters in the study, those who were spanked more frequently at age 3 were much more likely to be aggressive by age 5.”

Further, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “does not endorse spanking under any circumstance. It's a form of punishment that becomes less effective with repeated use, according to the AAP; it also makes discipline more difficult as the child outgrows it.”

But scientific studies often come into conflict with religion—from the origins of the universe down to childrearing. In the Bible, Proverbs 13:24 states “whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” And this then might be the biblical admonition Dollar was using for his justification of any alleged spanking.

But Brenda Ward, who holds a masters in social work from the University of Michigan and recently retired after a 30-year career in the field of human services focused on child-welfare issues, stated that some of the more difficult cases governmental agencies have to deal with concern children who are abused at the hands of religious parents.

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“There’s a feeling among some parents out there that they ‘own’ their children and therefore can do anything to them they so choose,” said Ward. “But that’s not accurate, and sometimes runs afoul of the law. The feeling the state cannot interfere in how they raise or discipline their children is prevalent.” Ward, who is African-American, continued by saying that black parents oftentimes are the most difficult to make understand what the law actually is. “They feel they are trying to raise their children ‘right’ by beating on them, but what they really doing is perpetrating the myth that violence is an acceptable solution.” She wondered aloud if the higher incidence of violence in black communities is associated with the way some black kids are raised.

“Children act out,” Ward continued, “and as they get to those midteen years they can get on everyone’s nerves ... but if the parent has done their job right up to this point this stressful time is far more manageable. If I had told my daughter, when she was 15 years old, that she was not going to a party, there would be no further discussion ... she might pout about it, she might slam her bedroom door, but no way would it become physical.”

Ward recounted that while in graduate school the example most often cited was the mother who was attempting to teach her 4-year-old not to hit other kids by spanking her. “By the time a child starts kindergarten—even for the lazy parents who believe in corporal punishment—spankings really should end,” she said. “You can’t teach peace and harmonic living by using violence … there’s simply too much proof that it just doesn’t work.”