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Originally published September 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 19, 2008 at 10:52 AM

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Spanking advocate sparks controversy in Seattle area

Mars Hill Church is bringing in Christian parenting author Tedd Tripp, whose advocacy of spanking children is creating a stir.

Seattle Times religion reporter

One of the largest churches in the state — Mars Hill Church — is bringing in a Christian parenting author whose advocacy of spanking young children is creating a stir.

The author, Tedd Tripp, says in his book "Shepherding a Child's Heart" that "God calls parents to spank their children."

Tripp will speak at what is being billed as a biblical parenting conference tonight and Saturday morning. His workshops will be held at Mars Hill's Ballard campus and simulcast to four of its six other campuses, in West Seattle, Lake City, Shoreline and Bellevue.

Several residents in Ballard and West Seattle have already expressed alarm, handing out fliers near the church's campuses there last weekend, posting on blogs, and planning protests during Tripp's visit.

"I personally am not against the occasional swat on a kid's behind," said Joanne Brayden of West Seattle.

But Brayden does object to Tripp's view of spanking as a way to create submission in kids, his recommendation that the parent remove the child's drawers so the spanking is "not lost in the padding of his pants," according to the book, and his suggestion that it's OK to spank very young children.

Children are old enough to be disciplined when they are old enough to show resistance, Tripp says in "Shepherding a Child's Heart."

"Rebellion can be something as simple as a small child struggling against a diaper change or stiffening his body when you want him to sit on your lap," he writes, relaying an anecdote about how his 8-month-old son was old enough to be disciplined.

Tripp, senior pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Hazleton, Penn., was not available for comment, according to his church.

Leaders at Mars Hill Church issued a statement acknowledging the concerns by some about Tripp's methods, but did not explicitly say whether it endorses or opposes those methods.

Tripp is a "loving dad and granddad who teaches a parenting method based on the Christian Bible (in accordance with state law)," the statement said.

At the conference, Tripp is expected to look at various ways of instructing and correcting children, and "we leave the final decision to each parent as to which loving and legal methods they will use for their own children."

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State law allows "reasonable and moderate" spanking by parents.

But spanking is discouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says it is no more effective than other methods of discipline, and has negative consequences.

The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, and the more likely they are to spank their own children or approve of hitting a spouse, according to AAP guidelines.

Furthermore, spanking children younger than 18 months old increases the chance of physical injury, the guidelines say.

In essence, Tripp believes that children are born not ethically or morally neutral.

"There are things within the heart of the sweetest baby that, allowed to blossom and grow to fruition, will bring about eventual destruction," he writes in "Shepherding a Child's Heart."

The book also says that it is the parents' job to battle for their child's heart, turning the child away from worshipping "idols" such as selfishness, pride and rebelliousness, and toward God. Parents are to do this using tools given by God: communication skills and the rod.

Parents need to communicate with their child to truly understand what is going on in the child's heart, while several biblical passages, mainly in Proverbs, talk of using the rod, Tripp writes.

Using the rod teaches a child about submission to authority and, therefore, submission to God's authority, Tripp says. Any physical discipline should be done out of love, not anger.

But some Christians disagree with Tripp's interpretation.

"In my circles, most of the parents I know, if they were ever to spank their child, it would be a completely rare occurrence," said Caryn Rivadeneira, managing editor of a blog for women hosted by Christianity Today International and author of a forthcoming book called "Mama's Got a Fake I.D." about motherhood and identities.

"I would never say God calls us" to spank kids, Rivadeneira said.

"I don't think the Bible is jampacked with specific parenting advice," she said. "It says to train up our children in the way they should go. ... But I don't think there's a lot of specific things we can go to the Scriptures for if I have trouble with potty training."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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