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Why Abuse Is Not Discipline

Warning: I’m going to talk about physical and verbal and sexual abuse. 

I used to be a big fan of talk radio.

I used to drive around Minneapolis in my beat-up two-door Cavalier with a McCain sticker on the back, jamming out to the sweet sounds of Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. I used to think the Tea Party was awesome (after all, who WOULD want higher taxes?). I used to think that the liberal agenda was ruining America, and that all we needed was some good old-fashioned Conservative Values to get this nation back on the right track again. I used to think being a Christian meant being a Republican too, unless you were a Lutheran or Mennonite or something strange like that.

It’s been a few years now since I stopped listening to talk radio, but sometimes I still catch bits and pieces of what’s said on those airwaves and it makes me cringe. It makes me cringe because I used to think the stuff they said was good Christian wisdom. After all, these guys were respected by most of the Christians I knew, even WORLD Magazine! Perhaps they never claimed to be Christians themselves, but I was living with the assumption that the voices of Beck and Limbaugh and Hannity were wholly compatible, even complementary, with Christian thought. I accepted without questioning their conflation of God and country, old-fashioned values and Biblical values, Capitalism and Christianity. And I was wrong.

Now I’m wondering, what was it that Christians found so admirable about these people?

My concern with the talk radio guys is not their ideas, but the actual stuff they say. (I’m not sure you can divorce those from one another, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here.) When I think about the stuff I’ve heard from Limbaugh, or Hannity, and how it’s so repulsive and un-Christian sometimes, I wonder why? Is it their right-wing ideas that have led to such despicable words? Or have they just gravitated toward right-wing talk radio because they find there a safe place to spew unkindness? And, speaking as a person who identified as a Conservative for most of my life, what does this say about us, that these are the people we listen to and admire, whose books we put in our Christian bookstores?

I don’t usually like to argue about politics, except for fun. I try to focus more on spirituality and Jesus. But there’s this huge crossover between Christian spirituality and right-wing politics in our country, and it concerns me.

Mike Rice

A few days ago Mike Rice, head basketball coach at Rutgers University, was fired for physically and verbally abusing players. I watched the video footage, where he kicks and hits his players, calls them “sissy b**ches”, screams “You f**king fairy … you’re a f**king fa**ot!” It’s messed up.

But Sean Hannity defends this behavior. 

On Fox News this week, he praised the disgraced coach’s actions as “old fashioned discipline”. He praised the verbally abusive coaching techniques, and said that if they players don’t like it they can leave. This is messed up. And it concerns me, because I always heard Sean Hannity praised by Christians I respected. Because you can buy his books in Christian bookstores. Because I used to nod stupidly in agreement while listening to talk radio and driving around Minneapolis.

“Have we become that politically correct?” he asks. “Maybe we need a bit more discipline in society, and maybe we don’t need to be a bunch of wimps for the rest of our life… My father hit me with a belt, and I turned out ok.”

Sean Hannity on Fox News

But listen, Mr. Hannity: Discipline is not the same thing as abuse. 

I wish I didn’t have to say that, but I do. Because there were families I knew, growing up in the church, where physical and verbal abuse was a normal part of parenting. Where the dangerous, abusive teachings of “To Train Up a Child” were passed around from family to family. Where welts and bruises were normal. Where sawed-off broom handles were fair game. All in the name of love. In the name of discipline. In the name of God.

But discipline is not the same thing as abuse. When you equate abuse with discipline, you pervert the image of a God who says “I discipline those I love.” Then you’re left with a generation of scarred kids who think that God wants to abuse them in the name of love, the way their parents did. Good old-fashioned discipline, as Sean Hannity calls it.

And the abuser is the one at fault.

“These are adults. If they don’t want to play for that team, they can leave,” says Sean Hannity flippantly (though a few minutes later he calls them “these kids”). As if physical and verbal abuse is an acceptable way to communicate. As if authorities are given a free pass to be violent and degrading. As if it’s the fault of the abused, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is a despicable response to abuse. Despicable, but common. It’s the same attitude that says if a woman was raped, it’s her fault – because she was dressed provocatively, or out too late, or because she drank too much. It’s the same attitude that mourns the sex criminals, not the victim, when teenage rapists are sentenced to prison. And sadly, it’s common in our churches too. Because it’s the same attitude that attempts to silence victims and evade investigation when charges of child abuse come to light within churches.

But there’s a better way. 

“He’s trying to bring the best out of them, put discipline in them, raise their game… Stop hitting them, maybe. But I like the intensity, I like the drive, I like that that he’s pushing those kids.”

You’re wrong, Mr Hannity. There’s nothing to “like” about they way Mike Rice acted.  Chris Christie got it right when he said, “The way these young men were treated by the head coach was completely unacceptable … The student-athletes entrusted to our care deserve much better.”

You’re wrong, Mr. Hannity. Because abuse is not the way to lead. Violence is not the way to instill discipline and drive in young men. Putting people down is not the way to push them forward.

So listen, let’s stop tuning in to talk radio for a bit, shall we? 

Let’s tune out the voices that defend abuse, that call people “sluts” and “prostitutes”, that quote the Bible and the Constitution and then spew anger and unkindness and call it all “family values”.

Instead, let’s read through the Gospels a few times. Read about Jesus, who identified with the abused and stood up to abusers. Read about Jesus, who befriended prostitutes. Learn that leadership begins with humility, not with anger. Learn that discipline should reflect love, not violence. Let it seep inside our souls, and resonate as true.

Then next time we hear the  sounds of angry voices on talk radio spewing words without wisdom, we won’t listen. We won’t nod in agreement. We’ll tune out the grating sounds of empty words and listen to love instead.

published April 5, 2013

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