Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Do not withhold correction from a child,
For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.
You shall beat him with a rod,
And deliver his soul from hell.
Proverbs 23:13-14

The problem, of course, is that children do die.

One Christian minister includes a disclaimer with his sermon on discipline: "Of course, you must not be too severe. It’s possible to beat a child to death." But even if their bodies survive, their spirits are wounded and something beautiful and trusting inside their hearts has died.

In recent weeks and months, numerous bloggers have discussed the abusive child training methods advocated by Michael Pearl. Below are just three examples of adult children reflecting on the way spanking was utilized in their homes.

Samantha, from her post "Raised to be a Monster":
What is so frightening about these teachings is that they blur the line so badly. They’re insidious, because to parents who have absolutely no desire to harm their children, these teachings, on the surface, seem alright. There seems to be cautious admonishments for parents to have discernment– all the while telling them that if you do not drive rebellion out of their heart you are damning their very soul.... Parents are sucked into viewing their child as the enemy– you are in a constant, never-ending battle for the fate of your child’s soul, and you cannot give up.  
Rochelle, in "When Love Means Hitting":
“I spank you because I love you” is the same thing as “I hit you because I love you.”
Saying this gives children confusing messages about what’s ok and what’s not ok. In fact, more than just abusing the child by hitting them, spanking tells the child that they are worthless and sets them up to more vulnerable to being in abusive situations their whole life, because they don’t know boundaries of abuse.

Quick Silver Queen, writing at The Eighth and Final Square: 
You know, the verse in Proverbs that says foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child but the rod of correction will drive it from him. And the verse that the heart is wicked and who can know it. So the first problem is, they don’t come to parenting with the view that these are people. They come to parenting with the view that these are wicked little sinners who need a radical change, whose thoughts and feelings and opinions and likes and dislikes don’t matter because it is all selfish willfulness.

My parents were taught about spanking as their Christian duty very early in their parenting when someone gave them the pamphlet "Children, Fun or Frenzy?", written by Al and Pat Fabrizio in the late 1960's and still a standard of parenting guidance in many Christian circles.
My obedience to God to train my child requires that every time I ask him to do something, either "come here," "don't touch," "hush," "put that down" - or whatever it is, I must see that he obeys. When I have said it once in a normal tone, if he does not obey immediately, I must take up the switch and spank him enough to hurt so he will not want it repeated. Love demands this.
It wasn't long before we all knew the biblical arguments for spanking. "I'm doing this because I love you", my dad would say earnestly as he pulled out his belt or a wooden spoon. After all, "He who spares the rod hates his son..." (Prov. 13:24) and "whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives."
"For what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons." (Hebrews 12:7-8)
When Dad spanked us, the session usually ended with prayer. Spanking was a common subject of conversation when we got together with other homeschooling families. Out of earshot of our parents, we would compare experiences and swap tricks for getting more leniency. At our house, Mom spanked harder, and longer. She thought not crying was a sign of resistance and pride. But screaming at the top of our lungs didn't seem to lessen the spanking's severity.

Some years later the whole family sat through a series of evening lectures at the local Mennonite church listening to Ray Wenger describe how a godly family should look. His own family was a shining example, singing in harmony together in matching dresses. Afterward, my parents got copies of the lectures on cassette. I listened to them when I was bored while doing the family ironing.

In his message on discipline, Wenger gives very specific guidance for hitting children who "resist the parent's will". As soon as an infant can understand words like "no" or "stop", he says, they are old enough to spank. If they are uncooperative at diapering time, for example, "They're very exposed--give them a good crack where it counts."

Wenger believes the rod should be a parent's first resort. (He recommends a 3/8" wood dowel from the hardware store as a "symbol of authority".) “It needs to be severe enough to be worthwhile. The child needs to learn that the way of the transgressor is hard," urges Wenger.

According to Wenger, "Time out" takes too long and requires a busy parent to monitor the child the whole time. Spanking, on the other hand, is quick and simple. And because the technique is in the wrist, a wife "can spank just as effectively" as her husband: "Your wife can learn to do that with great gusto," Wenger assures the Christian dads in his audience. Quoting the Old Testament, Wenger repeats his formula: the rod, combined with reproof, gives wisdom. Withholding the rod deprives the child of this wisdom.
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child;
but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Prov. 22:15)

Another voice for spanking was the late Denny Kenaston, founder of the Charity Fellowships. Another ATI family gave my parents a collection of Kenaston's sermons, in which he advocates "The Holy Art of Spanking our Children", and "The Rod of Love".

Kenaston's version of spanking is both creepy and utterly theatrical. "Bring the Bible along with the rod", he says, and then recommends the parent start crying with the child before the spanking begins. The parent is to calmly assure the child that the parent is not angry with them, but that the spanking is directed by God: "Open up your heart to this spanking and say, 'I'm going to get everything I can out of this spanking!' Then, "maybe let them have a little prayer... after that, it's time for the spanking." Kenaston does not permit any wiggling or kicking. The child is to put his/her head into a pillow or into the couch cushions and take the spanking quietly. Not one swat or two, but a "thorough spanking": "Spank them till you sense in your heart that the work is done....the work is in the heart."

Kenaston's last step involves the parent kneeling beside the child, weeping, putting an arm around the child, and praying. "Maybe sing a song with them... Tell them, 'You are my dear son, you please me in so many ways, you bring so much joy to my life'... Isn't that how God spanks us?" Kenaston's widow Jackie is now a part of Michael and Debi Pearl's speaking "ministry".

Debi Pearl & Jackie Kenaston

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and his brother Steve released a parenting study in 2006. The workbook stated, "Our children are sinners", and went on to quote an 1888 book by John Charles Ryle:
Parents, determine to make your children obey you--though it may cost you much trouble--and cost them many tears! 
They also quoted the more popular Tedd Tripp, author of Shepherding a Child's Heart:
The rod underscores the importance of obeying God.
And John MacArthur's Successful Christian Parenting:
Short, stinging strokes to the backside... should be painful enough to make the consequences of disobedience sufficiently distasteful and unforgettable.

Larry Tomczak, who helped co-found Sovereign Grace Ministries, is another well-known advocate of spanking. In 1982, he published a book disturbingly titled: God, the Rod, and Your Child's Bod.

Sounding like an echo of Bill GothardTomczak explains, "The primary goal in loving correction is to produce godly character..." Tomczak stands by his parenting advice today, despite being named a defendant in a lawsuit alleging decades of abuse, and continues to sell his book The Little Handbook of Loving Correction.

"Were your parents abusive?" my counselor asked.

I didn't know what to say.

For decades, I accepted the answers given. They didn't want to do this; spanking us was what God required. My parents were showing me how to obey by being obedient to him. Like Abraham, they were also showing God how much they loved and trusted him.

Yes, it involved hitting us and causing us physical and emotional pain. Yes, it left bruises that they didn't want others to see. Yes, we closed the windows before spankings so neighbors wouldn't be concerned. Yes, spankings went on and on until a child's will broken. Yes, many meals were interrupted and the rest of us suffered from indigestion. Yes, we stopped alongside the road on trips and the rest of us had to get out of the van so the offending child could be spanked in private. Yes, we kept a wooden spoon by the changing table, and one in the diaper bag, and one in the car. Did I grow up in a abusive home?

In my mid-teens, I gave my first spanking. I had been left in charge, and my toddler brother defied my authority. Having studied Gothard's material on taming lions in a Wisdom Booklet, I quite calmly followed the instructions I'd been taught. I'd seen it done so many times, it felt natural. My sweet and precocious little brother was surprised, and never caused a bit of trouble for me again. The hierarchy had been established.

When I had children, my husband and I discussed spanking. We set limits for ourselves, to keep from repeating anything so drastic as my childhood experiences. But as time went on and we recovered from old wounds, any kind of spanking became increasingly distasteful. We doubted its morality as well as its efficacy, and sought out other approaches to parenting that better suited both our goals and our values.

I regret spanking my children. I regret being harsh or violent with them when there is more than enough harshness and violence in the world. I regret thinking they were born broken sinners I needed to fix.

I am glad my kids still love to cuddle with me now, glad they are learning that inflicting pain is never a valid way to control another person, glad they protest bullying and injustice--no matter who's doing it. I'm glad they are patient as we navigate this adventure of parenthood that is more an education for us than it is for them.

Because of getting to know my children and glimpsing life through their eyes, I am a more compassionate human being.

Related posts:

The Mask of Modesty

Not on Your Side, Debi


Violence Against Children

Children, Fun or Frenzy

Reflections on my Childhood, Part II


  1. Great post, but I had to wonder about the cognitive dissonance of spanking parents when I read this.
    "The parent is to calmly assure the child that the parent is not angry with them, but that the spanking is directed by God:" and then next day or later, they tell you God loves you.

    1. Well, they told us that God "spanked" them, too. When things were going badly, they might even confess some "sin" and explain that God was "spanking" them for it. No wonder relationships seemed so complicated.

    2. I suppose the "spanking" could be crippling financial problems, or a broken boiler etc. Never thought about it like that. I am just glad you and your kids have a good relationship :)

  2. You should look into the spanking methods of Michael & Debi Pearl as well. Scary stuff... and the abuses that come from it are documented all over the internet.

  3. One of my best friends was severely whipped as a child. His parents were fundamentalists and would make him go outside to cut a switch. Sometimes he'd pick one, and then a few minutes later he'd be outside again, this time bare naked, picking another one. I guess if the switch broke too soon during the whipping they made him get another one. I couldn't believe that a parent could humiliate their child like this. He'd have horrible welts on his butt, penis and legs. These kids need to be rescued from their fanatical "parents".

  4. "I regret thinking they were born broken sinners I needed to fix." Well, there's the rub, isn't it? Yes, even Unitarian-Universalists (whom most would say aren't even Christians, though that is in my opinion like saying that Reform Jews aren't Jews) acknowledge that human beings are fallible by their very nature. We make mistakes, and some of those mistakes come from our animal instincts while others simply some from not thinking very well. I am not sure that a parent hasn't a duty to try and "fix" both of these things -- to temper our raw desires with a sense of right and wrong that all decent people in any culture share (not stealing, not killing, not lying, &c.) but also to help our children learn the moral reasoning that puts such principles into action. Hitting a child is not an effective teaching method; it merely teaches the child to do whatever is necessary to avoid being hit (e.g., training the child to be a more skillful liar), as opposed to reinforcing the sort of positive behavior and clear reasoning we want the kid to learn. Worse, if we spank our children through latency period and into early adolescence we may actually sexualize the experience and instill it as a paraphilia; I cannot help wondering how many of these self-styled "Christian" child-beaters are closet spankos themselves and abusing their children in the service of their own (sublimated, to be sure) erotic thrills.

    We are told in the Gospels that Jesus bade His disciples put up with the children flocking to him, and not to hinder them, "for of such is the kingdom of God." The cartoon of our Lord putting a little girl over His knee and walloping her bottom as the subtext of her getting into a beehive and getting stung is in my view perverse in the extreme, both sexually and theologically. The Bible does NOT say -- anywhere -- that Jesus told his disciples, "Send the little stinkers to me and I'll make sure they don't sit down for a week." But then one can't help thinking that a lot of this punitive-orthodox nonsense with which "heartland" Christianity has encumbered itself arises from being meaner than the New Testament bids us be. This is, after all, the new dispensation -- not the old wrathful Jehovah who is said to have drowned all of humanity except Noah and his family but the Son who preached love for one another, even to the point of asking a blessing upon those who persecute us. If we are truly Christians, we should remember what the vineyard owner said at the end of the day: "Why be angry because I am kind?"

  5. Yeah....what happened to the 11th commandment - to Love as Christ loved?
    As you say, he is never recorded spanking anyone.
    The worst thing about it in my experience is that being hit seems to make hitting almost second nature.... it takes courage and great self-will to stop yourself from following the example set for you. Interesting paradox, if beating children will fix the problem of self-will and self will is required to discipline one's self sufficiently not to inflict the same abuse on one's children...

  6. Reading this gave me chills. My parents both attended last days ministries and they severely abused me until i was 16 and forced out of my home for being pregnant. I was put in foster care because i was a bad example for my 5 younger siblings. I grew up thinking all the things happening to me were normal. I know now, they are not. I ask myself as a 25 year old woman, who's farther was the same age as I am now when he did those awful things to me when i was 5, if i could do what was done to me to anyone's child. No! I could never spank a little girl, i could never sit upon her wretching naked body and spank her bottom which included my labia at the time. I could never hit a little girl!!!!! I could never listen to her beg and cry, and hit her harder. I would never make her shower naked in cold water as I watch, just because she wet her bed. I could never lock her in her room with no food or water, and a bucket to pee in. I could never have a 13 year old strip for me in the name of jesus and bend over and spank her as she cries. Scared. Ashamed. Afraid. Almost broken. But i was not broken. I am a 25 year old woman, who will never speak to her father again. I cannot look at that face, and not be afraid. That is no way to love a daughter. Children are people too!

  7. Evidently grace-spouting Bible thumpers believe kids should pay in pain for their sins, both large and small, these same ones who teach you to forgive unrepentant enemies. Whenever an adult Christian sins, he is gently guided through some vague, open ended "restoration process" without first needing to be beaten to qualify for Jesus' forgiveness. You never hear of a wayward preacher being whacked on the bottom for using profanity or inappropriate conduct toward ladies. Those who are bigger and stronger have an easier time of it than the little ones they hold to a higher standard of holiness. Love for Jesus can't be beaten into a child, and he can't be forced by threats of punishment to grow faster into a perfect Christian. The only one in scripture to teach the beating of children is Solomon, a womanizer, idolater and apostate king who built child-eating idols for his crowd of heathen wives. Jesus did not advocate violence toward children. If you can't teach a child to love Jesus without beating the soup out of him, there's something very very wrong.

  8. I believe in over-the-knee, bare bottom spankings for naughty children, even into their teenage years. Soundly spanking a child's bare bottom is a purely natural form of educative correction.

    My own childhood suffered from the deprivation of bottom warmings, even when I clearly deserved to be spanked. I can think of several instances, including as a 14-year-old, when my mother had profound cause to pull down my pants and turn me over her knee for a good, sound spanking. Instead, I was punished by the withdrawal of her affection.

    I was a shy, sensitive boy, respectful of authority. With a solid, compact build, I know my full, round backside would've been especially satisfying to smack and paddle over my loving mother's lap. Never being spanked simply made it that much harder for me to learn the critical lesson of Actions & Consequences.