Spare the rod, spoil the wife

Just how "Christian" is "domestic discipline"?

Published August 22, 2007 5:27PM (EDT)

Even as I type, I'm still hesitating to write this up at all. Really, this is their business, and it's not for us to judge. But unlike the "Cry U.S.E." campaign, Christian Domestic Discipline/Loving Wife Spanking in a Christian Marriage is not satire -- and I just can't get it out of my head. When I saw the Web site (thanks -- I think -- to a reader tip), designed as a "haven for married couples who practice safe and consensual Christian Domestic Discipline, or for those who would like to learn more about it," my first thought was "Yay. People who are often regarded, perhaps stereotypically/unfairly, as repressed are finding a place for their more-than-missionary desires in the context of their religion. Spank on!" After all, the Web site does specify "safe and consensual," and goes on to say, "Though we recognize by its very nature this subject can be erotic, we will keep this website as clean and wholesome as possible. However, we will not seek to deny the erotic nature of some CDD marriages as we believe it is a natural consequence of following God's plan. After all, He created eroticism to be enjoyed inside a Christian marriage."

I wasn't even particularly bothered by this business: "A Christian Domestic Discipline marriage is one that is set up according to Biblical standards; that is, the husband is the authority in the household. The wife is submissive to her husband as is fit in the Lord and her husband loves her as himself. He has the ultimate authority in his household, but it is tempered with the knowledge that he must answer to God for his actions and decisions. He has the authority to spank his wife for punishment, but in real CDD marriages this is taken very seriously and usually happens only rarely. CDD is so much more than just spanking. It is the husband loving the wife enough to guide and teach her, and the wife loving the husband enough to follow his leadership. A Christian marriage embodies true romance and a Christian man a true hero." I mean, I don't roll that way, but it's not news to me that some people do; as long as they're making love, not laws, whatareyagonnado? (Plus, in its own role-play kind of way, it still sounds kind of kinky.)

But then you get into the not-that-fine print. The disavowal of nonconsensual "discipline" is grudging at best ("Though we believe the Bible gives a husband the authority to use spanking as one tool in enforcing his authority in the home with or without his wife's permission, in today's world we recognize the legality that mandates that all CDD must be consensual. Therefore we do not condone nonconsensual CDD as a rule"), leaving the site one lacy loophole away from greenlighting wife beating. (Again, not altogether news news, but sheesh -- always striking to see in print.)

And then there are the blogs. If you haven't already started to suspect this from the glossary -- which, for instance, defines "maintenance spanking" as "spankings given in regular intervals for the purpose of maintaining a submissive mindset in a wife, correcting minor faults, and/or reinforcing marital roles" -- the blogs are where it becomes clear that at least some couples who practice CDD are not talking about "discipline"; they're talking about discipline, in ways that, not uncoincidentally, echo those who support spanking as the proper way to "train up" a child.

Writes Debbie Lee: "I went to the library on Tuesday thinking that everything was just fine and dandy. When I got back my husband told me to send our son out for a walk. I knew something was up because he seldom disciplines me during the day but I could tell from the way he was acting that he was going to do just that. What did I do? I asked -- incredulous that I had managed to mess up that bad while in the library. Come to find out, I had left the burner on the stove and burnt a pan black before my husband noticed it. I could have started a fire! I still can't believe I was that absent minded. The only excuse I can muster is that I was hurrying to make the library before it closed. I couldn't argue that this was exactly the kind of thing a discipline was designed to manage. I was taken into the bedroom and told to lean over the foot of the bed with my knees on the bed."

On her Amazon blog, Leah Kelly writes: "I've been having a hard time keeping things in order. My husband thinks a maintenance session might help me get back on track. I have neglected my health as of late and have been a bit ill, followed by an exacerbation of fibromyalgia. I am behind on housework a bit (just a bit -- I've been careful to keep that going). I'm behind on homeschooling. My husband calls these the three H's -- Health, House, Homeschooling. Letting these slide will get me in trouble faster than anything."

Of course, violence at home -- "consensual" or otherwise -- is by no means unique to these particular fundamentalists; abusers and victims can find plenty of justification for their actions without distorting Scripture. Further, many (most?) Christians, fundamentalist or otherwise, would likely reject such practices as expressly un-Christian. (Just check the "comments" sections, or Google around a bit.) And these bloggers make explicitly clear that their lifestyles are voluntary; as far as these individual couples are concerned, gai gezunterhait. But ... damn. Reading through these sites, what feels most disturbing to me is the experience of seeing things one may (fairly or unfairly) suspect about a particular (sub)culture writ so large, literal and raw. Your thoughts?

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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