By Tara Pringle Jefferson
When Creflo Dollar took to the pulpit on Sunday, the congregation at World Changers International was waiting to hear if he would address the allegations that he was involved in a violent altercation with his daughter only a few days prior.
Standing in the pulpit, Dollar assured his congregation, “I would never put any fault on my children. As Jesus would never put any fault on me. I love her with all of my heart. Amen. There are two things that are certain in the life of a Christian parent. Number one is that we win. And number two is that tests will come to try and shake your faith.” He added, “As a church family, I want you to hear personally from me that all is well in the Dollar household.”
But is it?
The police report says that Dollar’s 15-year-old daughter called 911 after her father assaulted her, an argument had escalated after he told her she couldn’t go to a party.
“The truth is she was not choked, she was not punched. There were not any scratches on her neck,” Dollar said to his members. “But the only thing on her neck was a prior skin abrasion from eczema. Anything else is exaggeration and sensationalism.”
So what did happen then?
“She was not choked.”
“She was not punched.”
Where is the responsibility or the denial of responsibility? What about, “I did not choke her”? “I did not punch her.” It’s almost as if he was distancing himself from the charges with his words, but of course he has a reputation to protect. As the founding pastor of a booming megachurch, he wouldn’t want any allegations to cause harm to his brand, er, calling.
News reports say his congregation wholeheartedly supported their pastor, which I suppose is their right. But what does it say about our society that we are more concerned with protecting Dollar than protecting his teenage daughter? Dollar’s supporters are quick to say, “We don’t know the whole story.” Or the ever-popular “Teenagers can really take you there,” insinuating that whatever happened was a result of what the daughter did or didn’t do, versus a grown man having full control over his emotions.
If you think I’m trying to paint Creflo Dollar in a negative light, believe me I’m not. What I am trying to do is examine why people are so quick to rush to his defense. There is a difference between the two. He may very well be innocent, but his daughter -— and her 19-year-old sister -— claimed something wicked went down in his house, so I’m going to believe them until I have a reason not to. I know teens can be difficult. My children are still young but as a 20-something mother, I was an unruly teen not too long ago. I remember how I would push boundaries and stay out later than I was allowed, and my parents were there to check me and my foolish decisions.
But never did they ever raise a hand to me.
We say physical discipline is about keeping our children on the straight and narrow, about giving them a chance to learn those hard lessons at home so they don’t leave our homes and fall into a life of crime. We say we want our children to fear us and to know that what we say is law, that there is no negotiating with children who do not pay the bills or buy the groceries. We cling to that oft-misused phrase “spare the rod, spoil the child” to justify leaving our children with bruises and welts. We say, “I was spanked/beaten/whooped and I turned out fine.”
Kudos for you. But the research suggests — no, proves — that spanking doesn’t work. A 2010 Pediatrics study showed that the children who had been spanked were “more likely than the non-spanked to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, become frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against other people or animals.” Yeah, that sounds healthy and exactly what parents are going for when they reach for the belt or the switch.
Stacey Patton, child abuse survivor and creator of the Web siteSpareTheKids.com, an online extension of her positive parenting workshops, has dedicated her life to empowering parents with other, non-physical parenting tools so they can leave forms of corporal punishment in the past.
“Black people need to understand that the problems our kids have aren’t because they aren’t being beaten enough,” Patton says. “We’re only becoming co-conspirators against them. It’s not helping them get along in society.”
Patton works with many social service agencies, spending a good chunk of time with children in the foster care system, where instances of abuse are high.
“You just see the kind of trauma they’ve gone through,” Patton says. “Our cultural conversation needs to change. We live in a society where it’s legal to assault children. We need to start talking about hitting children in the same way as we talk about hitting women.”
Patton knows that part of the problem is that people tend to parent in the same way they were parented — and they aren’t interested in new techniques.
“People who beat their kids do love them — I’m convinced of that,” Patton says. “They just don’t have the tools. I hear people say, ‘I’m not reasoning with a child’ — that actually means having good communication skills.”
Patton says the Creflo Dollar case is an example of Christian theology run amok. “It’s really irresponsible for a black pastor to stand up in front of his congregation and sanction being violent toward children,” she says. “‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’ — that’s not even what that scripture means. Nowhere in the Bible does a shepherd pick up a stick and beat the sheep.”
I’m not here to get Creflo Dollar’s head on a platter. What am I here for is for violence against youth to stop. If the allegations are true, if the daughter’s version of events are what really went down that night, will all those “let’s wait and see”-ers feel shame?
There comes a point where we have to believe our children. We have to do better by them and it starts with giving them jurisdiction over their own bodies. I have a firm rule in my household that I will not discipline my child in any way that I would not like my husband to do to me. So kicking, punching, spanking, slapping — all of those are out.
I read an amazing run-down of the Creflo Dollar case over at the Crunk Feminist Collective (worth reading in its entirety) that sums up my feelings on where we need to go from here: “It is because I believe in Jesus and feminism, that I don’t tolerate violence against women in any form from the men in my life, and I for damn sure, am not gonna sit up and hear violent ish coming at me from the pulpit. Black women have to become as serious about demanding that our churches are spaces where we can tell our testimonies about the violence done to us and be believed.”