I Was Wrong to Tell You to Stop Spanking Your Kid: An Open Letter of Apology…

I was wrong. You heard it here first.

That time. At the mall. You hit your kid and I told you it wouldn’t help anything and asked you to stop.

That was really dumb.

Not because I’ve changed my mind and decided we should hit kids, but because I know better. That approach I took almost never works. After all, you were quite young when we had that conversation. I remember when I was young, whenever someone told me to stop doing something, it motivated me all the more to keep doing it. And I could spout off 37 reasons why I was right and they were wrong. I’m sure you did that in your head that day.

What do I wish I had done? [Read more…]

It’s Not Just About Spanking Children, It’s About Breaking Children

Former Pearl follower Becky, from Created To Be His, shares a letter she wrote explaining her concerns with the Pearls and their teachings.  In this letter she also explains what these teachings have to do with the death of Lydia Schatz and includes quotes from the book.

Another Letter To A Pastor About Spanking

Dulce de Leche shares a letter someone wrote to her pastor about her experiences with spanking and why she does not believe it should be preached from the pulpit.  She shares her testimony of what it was like to be spanked and how it effected her.  She also looks at the blurred distinction between spanking and abuse.  This letter may be triggering so it is not for the faint of heart.

On a similar note is this post on The Journey about The Sexual Effects of Spanking.

Letters to Dobson

Discipleship Parenting wrote a Letter to Dr. James Dobson. It is a lovely letter, you should take a look at it. In it she gives a testimony of how his teaching on spanking hurt her family and how they found something better.

She got a reply from Focus on The Family defending their stance.

She then wrote another letter where she explained further how his teachings are damaging and dangerous.

She received another reply from Focus on the Family which reiterated what was said in the first letter.

I highly recommend that you read these letters.

Edited to add that  she has posted 2 addendums to her first letter to Dobson:
Addendum to “Grace”
Handling Disputes Biblically

Email to a Church

Someone on a message board has graciously given me permission to share the excellent email she sent to a church to explain why she would not be returning.  I thought that someone could use this as a jumping off point if they ever need to write a similar letter.

Hi _____,
Thank you for the e-mail. I appreciate you contacting me so quickly and I did feel very welcome at _________ Church yesterday. Overall, I enjoyed the worship service and the [young adults’] group very much.

Yesterday, was a “hefty topic” day for me – a lot to digest – parenting and sex. The only thing that I am deeply bothered by was part of your Senior pastor’s sermon – point number 5 (Prov. 29:15 was his reference for endorsing spanking your children). Let me say at this point that this topic is very, very near and dear to my heart. Over the past 4 years of motherhood, I have researched this topic extensively and dug into the Bible – No where in the Bible could I find specific directions on how you are to spank your children and how many strikes. The things that are commanded by God are spelled out for us – and that information on “this thing” so many claim (as your Senior pastor did yesterday) is “commanded” and “vital” and a “core teaching of Scripture” is just not there.

Also, I would like to add here, as a child who was spanked “correctly,” I literally become ill at the idea that spanking creates any level of a “softened heart.” When did Jesus use anything but loving guidance towards children and towards his own (quite rough around the edges) disciples? If I take the “rod” verses by themselves without looking at the entire context of the whole Old testament, and without seeing it through the lens of the entire Bible, then I can get “spank my child” out of it. However, if I look at it through the light of the whole Bible, and especially Jesus’ teaching, I can see that I am not to hit my child. The Bible clearly teaches that fear and purposely-inflicted pain have no place in gentle, loving, Biblical discipline, and children should be disciplined from birth with an appropriate mixture of kindness and firmness in a manner that respects their feelings and their developmental, emotional, and daily needs. Not only does corporal punishment present a false picture of Jesus to the world, but also to our children.

And so…although I found __________ Church to be a very friendly and welcoming place, I feel it would not be good for me or my kids to be taught mis-interpretation of scripture.

Sincerely,

Letter to a Library

Brenda K.  has written a letter to her public library, asking them to remove To Train Up a Child from circulation. I am posting her letter in case someone might find a use for it. Note that she attached a print out of a news story about the Schatz case. You can find many such stories using my News catagory

Dear Library Staff,

The book To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl of No Great Joy Ministries is, in my opinion, a danger to the children in our community. It is nothing more than a child abuse manual cloaked in promises of producing well behaved children. The advice outlined in this book and on the authors’ website, has been connected to the deaths of two children* (see attached news article), and one can only imagine the lasting physical and emotional damage inflicted upon thousands of other children whose parents have followed these teachings.

The authors claim their cruel methods are endorsed by God, yet they have no religious training or credentials. They take liberties in twisting scripture, and claim treating the smallest and weakest among us in a cruel fashion, is actually a demonstration of love. There is no mention of Jesus’ command to forgive “seventy times seven” or of showing true compassion and grace.

I firmly believe in freedom of speech, but feel the line must be drawn when it comes to promoting violence and cruelty toward children – especially in a community library which I and other reasonable parents help fund.

Additionally, I believe the Pearls’ advice encourages parents to break the law. The State of Ohio’s law regarding corporal punishment says:

§ 2151.031. [Civil Code] It is a criminal act to administer corporal punishment or other physical discipline, or to physically restrain the child in a cruel manner or for a prolonged period if it is excessive under the circumstances and creates a substantial risk of serious physical harm to the child. It is a criminal act to administer unwarranted disciplinary measures to child if there is a substantial risk that if conduct is continued it will seriously impair the child’s health or development.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how easily their methods could result in serious and lasting impairment of a child’s health and development.

Attached are specific examples of some of the most egregious directives contained in the book. Quotes are taken from the seventeenth printing: April 2006 edition, copyright 1994.

Thank you for considering my request to have this book removed from your shelves.

Sincerely,
[Removed]

*Note: The attached news article mentions beating with plastic tubing. This book does not specifically mention plastic tubing, but it does recommend similar implements and says sometimes alternative ones must be found. Their website does specifically mention plastic tubing as an acceptable discipline tool. But regardless of what tool is used, both children’s parents were influenced by the overall message of this book.

* The Pearls admonish parents to “Train Up – Not Beat Up” (p.4), but the book thoroughly extols the value of repeated “switchings.” On page 1 they recommend rewarding a child’s “every transgression with a switching.” A switching is described throughout the book as striking a child on his bare skin with various rod-like objects.

* Child training is compared to training animals such as dogs, mules, and horses. (p.3,4)

* They suggest setting up children – including young babies who aren’t yet walking – to fail, and then switching them in order to “train them” to obey immediately. (p.5-8)

* They believe a baby’s crying is self-centered and manipulative, and on p. 8 insist newborns need “training”. On p. 9 they describe switching their 5 month old daughter’s bare legs with a 12-inch long switch from a willow tree, because she was trying to climb up steps.

* They believe parents should “not allow the child’s crying to cause them to lighten up on the intensity or duration of the spanking.” (p.46)

* The authors declare that the very nature of a child demands punishment by “whipping, paddling, switching, or belting” (p.46, under “The Power of Absolution”). Parents who don’t follow their methods are portrayed as indifferent, lazy, careless and neglectful (p.19) and “creating a Nazi” (p.47).

* On p. 49 and 50 they describe the procedure to administering punishment: “If you have to sit on him to spank him, then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Hold the resisting child in a helpless position for several minutes, or until he is totally surrendered.” The child is to “bend over on the bed or couch… Slowly begin to spank. If you go too fast, you may not allow time enough for the inner transformation to occur.” In the same section, the author says, “I have found five to ten licks are usually sufficient. As the child gets older, the licks must become more forceful if the experience is going to be effective in purging his rebellion. A general rule is to continue the disciplinary action until the child has surrendered.” (p. 49, 50)

* On p. 50 the authors claim “Any spanking, to effectively reinforce instruction, must cause pain” [emphasis in original]. It is most effective to strike a light rod against bare skin, where nerves are located at the surface. A surface sting will cause sufficient pain, with no injury or bruising. Select your instrument according to the child’s size. For the under one-year-old child, a small, ten- to twelve-inch-long, willowy branch (stripped of any knots that might break the skin), about one-eight inch in diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a suitable substitute. For the larger child, a belt or a three-foot cutting off of a shrub is effective.” (The reader is left wondering how administering punishment according to their recommendations, could not cause “injury or bruising”!)

* If a father spanks a child and the child cries for his mother, the mother should hit the child as forcefully as the father did – even if the father was being unduly harsh: “It is better for your child if you support an occasional injustice than to destroy the authority base by your open division.” (p.58)

* They recommend switching a three-year-old by administering “about ten slow, patient licks on his bare legs. He cries in pain. If he continues to show defiance by jerking around and defending himself, or by expressing anger, then she [the mother] will wait a moment and again lecture him and again spank him.” They recommend this until he is “totally broken.” (p.62)

* The authors recommend switching babies who cannot sleep and are crying, and to never allow them “to get up… To get up is to be on the firing line and get switched back down.” They speak approvingly of a mother who switched her 12 month old daughter for crying and not wanting to sleep. (p.63, 64)

* On p.67 and 68, co-author Debi Pearl retells how she switched the bare leg of a 15 month old she was babysitting, 10 separate times with a 12-inch long switch, for not playing with something she told him to play with. She believed he had a “selfish and rebellious spirit.”

* The Pearls recommend pulling a nursing infant’s hair if he bites his mother’s breast (p.7), and describe tripping their non-swimming toddler so she falls into deep water (p.70).

* Parents who are learning to “train” previously unruly children, are told to “grin” at the thought of hitting them: “Grin, because you have secret weapons: A Plan, Love, Patience, Reproof, THE ROD OF CORRECTION [emphasis in the original], Endurance….” (p.82, 83)

* On p. 83 the authors extol the wisdom of switching a seven-month-old baby boy: “If he is old enough to pitch a fit, he is old enough to be switched.”

Home Depot

TheLizardLass has started a campaign to ask Home Depot to make Michale Pearl to stop using their name in his teachings.  She has given permission to copy and circulate, so I will include her proposal here:

Hey youtubers, please let Home Depot know what you think of them remaining silent while Michel Pearl tells people to buy building supplies and use them to beat their children.
If you don’t have time or motivation to write your own letter, you can copy the sample letter provided below (don’t forget to sign), and paste it into the Home Depot’s e-mail form which can be found here:
If you have a stamp, mail a printed copy to the Home Depot’s head office USA: Home Depot USA Corporate Office | Headquarters 1400 West Dundee Road Buffalo Grove, IL 60089 (847)577-3969 Canada: Home Depot Canada 900-1 Concorde Gate North York, ON M3C 4H9 (416) 609-0852

Or take a printed copy to your local Home Depot Addressed to the manager and asking them to forward it to the head office. Letter writing campaigns don’t always work, but doing nothing definitely doesn’t work. It only takes a minute, and you may help to save children from being beaten, or even killed. Thanking you in advance,
TLL

Sample Letter —

To The Home Depot: I am writing this letter because I am concerned about references to The Home Depot made by Michael Pearl in the article “In Defense of Biblical Chastisement, Part 2” which can be found at the following URL: http://www.nogreaterjoy.org/articles/general-view/archive/2001/october/01/in-defense-of-biblical-chastisement-part-2/ In this article, as in his book “To Train Up a Child”, Michael Pearl advocates beating children with lengths of plastic plumber’s pipe, and specifically recommends buying these “switches” at The Home Depot, as you can see in the quotation below: “A swift swat with a light, flexible instrument will sting without bruising or causing internal damage. Many people are using a section of ¼ inch plumbers supply line as a spanking instrument. It will fit in your purse or hang around you neck. You can buy them for under $1.00 at Home Depot or any hardware store. They come cheaper by the dozen and can be widely distributed in every room and vehicle.” The child “training” techniques advocated by Michael Pearl, and practiced by the over 500,000 people who have purchased his book, “have resulted in the deaths of at least two children in as many years that have been reported to media” (see the article found at http://dogemperor.newsvine.com/_news/2010/02/22/3936352-a-followup-re-the-pearls-dominionist-child-abuse for more information.) It concerns me that The Home Depot has not demanded that references to your company be removed from the literature published by Michael Pearl. It concerns me that The Home Depot has not publically denounced these books and articles which advocate using lengths of plastic pipe to beat children as young as two years old. By failing to complain about Michael Pearl’s recommendation that people use The Home Depot as a source for obtaining the instruments to whip their children, and by failing to speak out against his teachings now that he has been using your company’s name for over nine years, The Home Depot appears to be, if not endorsing, then at least turning a blind eye to Pearl’s methods. Until The Home Depot publicly distances itself from Michael Pearl by requiring him to remove references to them from his books and articles, and by denouncing his methods, I will no longer be a Home Depot customer. Sincerely,

Concerns About The Pearls

The letter I sent to my pastor about the Pearls. By MarynMunchkins

Dear ***,

This morning’s message was wonderful.  I love how you bring grace and mercy into every message, and call legalism and self-righteous behavior what it is.  It’s truly a blessing to listen.

Unfortunately, my husband had an experience this week which was less than gracious and kind.  He took someone from the church out to lunch, who informed him that he was ungodly, his wife was unsubmissive, his children were out of control, and that he had no hope of ministry unless he got “his house in order”.  His Christianity was also called into question because of sin that has already been forgiven.

I don’t bring this up to so you will address that person.  My concern is far greater.  You see, this person based their beliefs and judgment of our family around the ministry of Michael Pearl.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with him, but I do know for a fact that there are families at *** who are.  I’ve known several families in the Southern Baptist church who have actively used his materials.

I’m writing to you because I’m deeply concerned about them.  In fact, I consider much of his teachings to be utter heresy.  While I see my opinion supported in my own study of Scripture and confirmed by several wiser Christians than I, I’d like you to look at it and give me your opinion.

Michael Pearl’s website is http://www.nogreaterjoy.org  He boasts a comprehensive ministry to families, and his website is well organized and designed.

To illustrate some of my concerns, I’ve selected a few quotes from his website.

One of my primary concerns is his belief that there is no original sin, and we are born in a neutral state – able to choose between good and evil, but not being inherently either.  He also believes that we are instantly sanctified at the moment of salvation – that a true Christian cannot, in fact, sin after receiving Christ.  I can see no support for this theory in Scripture, and, in fact, see much the opposite.

He says “Man has spent many years “undoing” the character of God in himself and his society.”  Yet the Bible clearly says that “There is none righteous.”  We are certainly made in the image of God, but we do not possess His character, and therefore cannot undo it.

He has the audacity to add to Scripture and claim he knows what God would have written.  “If Hebrews 11 were to continue until the present, it would read something like this: “And the followers of Christ, though they were living in bodies of flesh, believed God that they were indeed baptized into his body and thus freed from sin. They went out into the world, walking by faith and hope and so, though they never saw their glorified bodies or the throne on which they were seated, they believed God against the sight of their eyes and so walked in holiness and victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. While the world looked on the things that are seen, these sons of The Last Adam, believed him who is invisible and so inherited the kingdom and entered into the city which had foundations whose builder and maker is God.”  He claims and firmly believes that sin is contained only in the physical body, not the mind or soul; and with salvation comes the literal death of the physical body and the absolute freedom from sin.

This blog article ( http://allthings2all.blogspot.com/2005/09/michael-and-debi-pearls-no-greater-joy_30.html ) is a great summary of that issue.  You can actually listen to Pearl’s series on Romans online at http://www.nogreaterjoy.org/index.php?id=romans-audio to hear exactly what it is that he is teaching.

Pearl has very strong views of the typical Christian church.  “Face it, the church today is not a sanctuary from the world, nor is it a “holy” place. In the best case scenario, it is a slice of the world where there is an attempt at evangelism and worship. But on average, the church is a social club composed of a mixed multitude. Far too often, the church is a recruiting ground of pedophiles and fornicators.”  And “The church itself is actually a mission field. There was a time when the church was a place of worship for believers, and evangelism was done in special meetings or out in the homes and streets, but today, the churches invite the rattlesnakes to come into the house.”  I won’t speak for you, but I am more interested in having sinners come to church than keeping my children from ever being exposed to them.

Michael Pearl’s solution is to segregate from rest of Christianity.  While he does say “Don’t leave the church, anymore than a missionary would leave the field because there are sinners there.”, he also says “The homeschool movement is more than an educational alternative. It is parents putting on the brakes and saying, “my children will not ride this train to hell; I will take charge and direct my family in a different path.” You are part of a cultural shift, and a spiritual awakening. We are in the midst of a revival of the family. It must extend to a revival of community as well. The public church is no longer to be trusted with your children any more than the public schools.”  Please understand that I certainly am cautious about the people I entrust with my children – including those at church.  But, having just had the unfortunate experience of being told that our family wasn’t good enough to associate with by one of Pearl’s followers, I realize that his teaching goes far beyond being cautious of our children.  It’s judgmental.  It’s legalistic.  It’s unforgiving.  And the solution offered is to run from the community – “I would like to tell them to move to a community like Cane Creek and escape the world” – and avoid any and all other Christians that see differently.  It’s far different from Paul’s advice to as much as possible, live at peace with all men.  There is no grace extended to fellow Christians, nor an attempt to correct what is perceived as sin.  They only run away and hide in self-righteousness.

He segregates from the state as well.  None of his married daughters have marriage licenses.  His opinion is, “None of my daughters or their husbands asked the state of Tennessee for permission to marry. They did not yoke themselves to government. It was a personal, private covenant, binding them together forever—until death. So when the sodomites have come to share in the state marriage licenses, which will eventually be the law, James and Shoshanna will not be in league with those perverts. And, while I am on the subject, there will come a time when faithful Christians will either revoke their state marriage licenses and establish an exclusively one man-one woman covenant of marriage, or, they will forfeit the sanctity of their covenant by being unequally yoked together with perverts.”

Their teachings on marriage and submission are equally distressing.   Michael Pearl seems to suggest that the man of the house should always be reverenced, and never openly questioned.  Debi Pearl encourages a woman to always let her husband take the lead – even to the detriment of herself and her children.

This article shows their attitude very clearly.

http://www.nogreaterjoy.org/index.php?id=77&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=117&tx_ttnews[backPid]=71&cHash=0ffe48e952

“It’s called “the circle of love.” You please him, and he likes it – then he pleases you, and you love him – then you honor him, and he grows”

I see this as being diametrically opposed to Paul’s description of marriage and submission.  The husband is to love the wife as Christ loved the church, and the wife is then to submit to him.  Placing the responsibility of a happy marriage on the shoulders of the woman and her attitude is simply wrong.

I know for a fact that women who follow the Pearls have counseled other women enduring relationships with adultery and pornography that if they were better in bed or had a better attitude at home, their husbands would be satisfied at home.

Debi Pearl herself says “You can wake up in the morning with a song in your heart, kissing your child and laughing at the sunlight sprinkling your room. You can serve, give, forgive, and enjoy the victory you have in Jesus. And when you feel that hurt, angry spirit rise up, you can open your mouth in praise and thanksgiving to God that you are free from sin and bondage, and free to be glad. In that kind of atmosphere, a child grows stable and complete, a selfish man stops fighting and trying to defeat and subdue.”

She places the wife in the impossible position of being God to her husband, and causing him to repent.  She tells the wife that it is her Christian duty to endure all things from her husband, and that God will bless her, regardless of the husband’s sin or abuse towards her.

This quote, in particular, illustrates just how far they are willing to sacrifice women and children for a sinful, unrepentant man.  “But if your husband has sexually molested the children, you should approach him with it. If he is truly repentant (not just exposed) and is willing to seek counseling, you may feel comfortable giving him an opportunity to prove himself, as long as you know the children are safe. If there is any thought that they are not safe, or if he is not repentant and willing to seek help, then go to the law and have him arrested. Stick by him, but testify against him in court. Have him do about 10 to 20 years, and by the time he gets out, you will have raised the kids, and you can be waiting for him with open arms of forgiveness and restitution. Will this glorify God? Forever. You ask, “What if he doesn’t repent even then?” Then you will be rewarded in heaven equal to the martyrs, and God will have something to rub in the Devil’s face. God hates divorce—always, forever, regardless, without exception.”

Their views on children are horrifying.  I am well aware that Christians are arguing over many aspects of discipline and parenting.  But there are few who can read the advice of the Pearls and not be shocked by what they claim to be “Biblical”.

You can read the first chapter of their book “To Train Up a Child” at http://www.nogreaterjoy.org/index.php?id=to-train-up-a-child They are extraordinarily punitive, adversarial, and behavioristic.  They compare a child to a dog or a horse, and equate training an animal to raising a child.

“Most parents don’t think they can train their little children. Training doesn’t necessarily require that the trainee be capable of reason; even mice and rats can be trained to respond to stimuli. Careful training can make a dog perfectly obedient. If a seeing-eye dog can be trained to reliably lead a blind man through the dangers of city streets, shouldn’t a parent expect more out of an intelligent child? A dog can be trained not to touch a tasty morsel laid in front of him. Can’t a child be trained not to touch? A dog can be trained to come, stay, sit, be quiet, or fetch upon command. You may not have trained your dog that well, yet every day someone accomplishes it on the dumbest of mutts. Even a clumsy teenager can be trained to be an effective trainer in an obedience school for dogs.”

The Pearls seem to forget that children are still created by God with a free will, and not just animals to be trained.  They have a choice and will just as every adult.

They suggest setting up an toddler to fail, and then switching them in order to ‘train them’ to obey immediately.

“Place an appealing object where they can reach it, maybe in a “No-No” corner or on the apple juice table (another name for the coffee table). When they spy it and make a dive for it, in a calm voice say, “No, don’t touch that.” Since they are already familiar with the word “No,” they will likely pause, look at you in wonder, and then turn around and grab it. Switch their hand once and simultaneously say, “No.” Remember, now, you are not disciplining, you are training. One spat with a little switch is enough. They will again pull back their hand and consider the relationship between the object, their desire, the command, and the little reinforcing pain. It may take several times, but if you are consistent, they will learn to consistently obey, even in your absence.”

He promises complete and utter perfection from a child if you are consistent with this type of “obedience training”.

“Most children can be brought into complete and joyous subjection in just three days. Thereafter, if you are consistent, the children will remain happy and obedient. By obedient, I mean, you will never need to tell them twice. If you expect to receive instant obedience, and you train them to that end, you will be successful.”

Please realize that this is a far greater issue than whether to spank.  I have my own opinions and beliefs on this subject, and choose not to bring them into my concerns about the Pearls.  This man teaches that INFANTS should be switched on a regular basis.

“You must start training your children one year before their first birthday, because if you don’t, they will be trained without your input.”

Michael Pearl makes a distinction between “training” and “discipline”, but the fact of the matter is that, for him, both involve hitting a child with a switch.

At this time, there is a case pending trial of a mother who used Michael Pearl’s methods on her child, and the child died.
http://www.newsobserver.com/102/story/418676.html

http://www.newsobserver.com/1167/story/436198.html

Mandy Locke has written an excellent article covering Michael Pearl in more general terms.
http://www.newsobserver.com/100/story/434403.html

I don’t want to make his child training advice the point of my concern, although it sickens me.  But, unfortunately, most of the people I know who do follow Michael Pearl’s teachings begin with his advice on raising children.  He preys on their fears as parents and promises them perfection.  He claims any fault with your child is your fault, and consistency would fix any and all problems.

I see and have seen too many well-meaning Christian parents sucked into this lie, and lose sight of the goal.  The women mentioned in Mandy’s article – Chris and Meggan – are both friends of mine.  I been told of the damage their children, their families, and they themselves have suffered as a result of Michael and Debi Pearl.

Women, in particular, are susceptible to damage.  They are told that they are ultimately responsible for the well-being of their children, the care of their home, and the happiness of their husband.  They are expected to be perfectly consistent, perfectly happy, and perfectly willing to do anything asked of them.  It sets them up to be taken advantage of and abused.

It puts men into an artificial place of elevation within the family, instead of holding him to be the servant that he is expected to be to his wife and children.  It borders dangerously close to idolatry.  It gives him a sense of pride and arrogance that is hard to overcome.

I really appreciate you taking the time to look at all this.  I realize it’s incredibly long, and very full of information.  Please don’t feel any hurry to respond – I know there’s a lot of material here.  I’d love to meet with you at some point and discuss it.

Thanks so much for your willingness to help, and the amazing job you do sharing grace with all of us at *** each week.

Sincerely,

Letter to a Pastor About Spanking

 

By Carlos and Dulce

This is from a letter that Carlos and I wrote awhile back on spanking. I shared it on a couple of sites where I posted and have been surprised at how widely it has been shared. While we are learning as parents every day, even the difficult moments have reinforced our belief that the best parenting philosophy is very simple–treating our children as we would wish to be treated.

(See this letter in Spanish here.)

 

Dear Pastor,

 

We are so grateful for all of the ways that you have helped us to connect in a closer way with God. This of course has had a profound influence on our parenting. Yet, in light of a recent sermon, we would like to present to you an alternative Christian view on disciplining children. Christians, of course, are probably the strongest proponents of spanking in the US. It is, so they say, their God given right—it’s what the Bible teaches. That is exactly the point of contention and what we hope to humbly disprove.

 

Let’s take the Old Testament. Some (our more literal-interpreting brothers) would say that it covers a period of about 4000-10,000 years; others (our more moderate and liberal brothers), anywhere between 10,000 to millions and millions of years. Irrespective of which view you hold, it has to be astounding that there is not one example of spanking in the whole Old Testament. This is especially impressive when you consider the large percentage of OT books which are more narrative than didactic. We might also add that there is no example of spanking in the New Testament, even though the time period is significantly shorter (around 100 years) and the majority of the books are didactic and not narrative. Now certainly there are some didactic passages in both Testaments that can be construed as being pro-spanking, however, they can be interpreted in a different light with sound exegesis.

 

Strange, isn’t it, for a teaching that is so adamantly held by so many believers that it is not illustrated once in either Testament? But, even if no narrative biblical passage illustrates spanking, if it is plainly and consistently taught in didactic passages, then we must accept it as God ordained. In the Old Testament the only passages that can be construed as being pro-spanking are found in only one book: Proverbs. A good hermeneutical principal is to not build doctrine on poetic passages. The wisdom books are full of symbolism and hyperbole and are often a stumbling block to the more literal interpreting readers. The “rod” in these Proverbs passages that so many see as a license to spank is symbolic. This Hebrew word is often translated as shepherd’s “staff/rod” or king’s “scepter”. So, if we were to be more literal, a closer translation would be bat and not twig! But that is not the author’s intent. This “rod” is a symbol of authority and guidance, like a shepherd guiding his sheep or a king governing his people. This is why the Psalmist could joyfully exclaim: “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). We do not wish to pass over this lightly, because these verses are the foundation of the Christian pro-spanking argument. However, to avoid repetition, we ask that you read the following links www.gracefulparenting.blogspot.com and www.aolff.org for a detailed analysis of these passages.

 

It is somewhat puzzling that the people who insist that spanking is Old Testament mandated claim the passages from a poetic book, yet dismiss clear instructions from a didactic passage in the Torah to stone rebellious children (Deut. 21:18-21). Why the inconsistency? You claim that one passage is obviously morally wrong. We submit that both are morally wrong, especially in light of the culmination of God’s progressive revelation—Jesus Christ, who taught us, among other things, that unless we “become like little children” we can never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 18:3. See also Mt. 19:14). Implication: children are more in tune with God than adults. Which raises the question: should the unrighteous be punishing the righteous?

 

While the Old Testament is of great value, we recognize that no longer being under the Law changes how we apply some of the OT Scriptures to our daily lives. So even if spanking is Old Testament taught that doesn’t mean it is New Testament endorsed. Throughout the New Testament the one passage used to support spanking is Hebrews 12:4-6. Going back to the original language there, however, also changes the meaning to the importance of discipline and authority in shaping a child, not physical punishment. God certainly disciplines us but He doesn’t physically hit us when he does. Read the text. Proper exegesis shows that the pro-spanking people simply choose to read into this passage the very point they need to prove.

 

So, if there are no passages in either Testament that truly encourage spanking, then we must evaluate discipline according to other principles that the Bible teaches clearly. Jesus teaches us that we have two goals: to love God with all that we are, and to treat others the way we would like to be treated. Nowhere does He imply that His words do not apply to how we treat children. In fact, His interactions with children showed a special effort to value them and their feelings. He also tells us that whatever we do to the least of these we are doing to Him. Can you honestly say that you would want someone to hit you? I can’t. I can say truthfully that I would want loving correction and instruction if I were doing something wrong, but being hit/spanked/popped/smacked would not be a part of it.

 

Jesus’ example was that the one in authority had an even greater responsibility to act in love than the one under authority. We are to demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit. Yet how is hitting a child compatible with the peace, patience, kindness and gentleness in which we are called to walk? The Bible is very specific about how we should deal with sin in others: We are taught that in correcting those who disobey to do so gently (Gal. 6:1). Parents are specifically cautioned to not cause their children to lose heart (Eph. 6:4). Having the people you love most in the world deliberately hurt you is pretty disheartening, regardless of any lofty motives they may claim.

 

The Bible is clear that parents have a responsibility to discipline their children. But discipline and spanking are not the same thing. Discipline is about making disciples, or teaching. It is difficult for children to focus on a life-lesson, though, if they are distracted by the anger, hurt, fear, humiliation and resentment that result from being hit. As career teachers, our professional education classes and our years of experience with students of many ages have convinced us that the research is correct in showing that people learn more effectively through positive reinforcement than from punishment (negative reinforcement). You have seen this in the family of Kevan and Heather ********, whose children are delightful to be around. They do not spank, but instead practice gentle discipline.

 

Another important point is that most of us are able to learn best from example–that is why Paul wrote to be imitators of him as beloved children. Kids are expert mimics. Too many children in our nation are learning that the way to respond to an offense is to hurt the offender. “Turning the other cheek” is not supposed to mean baring a child’s bottom. We recognize that in other relationships of authority (employer/employee, police officer/civilian, pastor/church member, husband/wife) that physical punishment is inappropriate, even when correction is needed. Children are even more vulnerable—surely we can find better ways to correct them, as well.

 

When Christians teach spanking, the majority has several cute euphemisms to describe it and a list of guidelines as to how, when, and with what. There is absolutely no Biblical basis for any of them—they are essentially cultural. Whether you call it spanking, popping, smacking or hitting, they all mean to strike a child in order to produce pain and fear. Why do we feel the need to create so many guidelines: spank only on the bottom or legs, only X number of times, only with your hand/a switch/a paddle/PVC pipe (Michael and Debi Pearl, some of the most popular writers on spanking in Christian circles, advocate plastic plumbing pipe, and we were given a copy of their book by a pediatrician!). Is spanking on the bottom any better than the Waorani practice of slapping their children in the face with stinging nettles? Why, if neither results in permanent injury? If God didn’t impose a limit on the number of times we strike a child, who is to say that 9 times is worse than 2? While not spanking in anger is at least more likely to avoid a total loss of control and avert serious physical injury, watching the person you love and trust more than any other calmly and deliberately choose to hurt you is a chilling experience.

 

I would submit that the reason behind the euphemisms and rules that Christians create is that our conscience is condemning us. We are aware on some level that hurting those who are smaller and weaker goes against the nature of Christ, and feel a need to justify and minimize what we are actually doing.

 

Another issue with spanking is that as the child grows, the spankings must get harder and longer in order to produce the same level of pain and fear. When do they eventually start to cross the line into abuse? Of course, most parents stop spanking once the child begins to approach them in size and maturity. We agree that then it is more appropriate to use the Biblical admonition, “Come now, let us reason together…”. If the child is old enough to reason, spanking is unnecessary. If the child is too young to reason, then the child is too young to effectively understand what the parents are trying to teach, and the spanking is both cruel and pointless.

 

The false dichotomy that always pops up is that if parents don’t spank, they are not disciplining their children. That suggests that parents are relying on spanking as their main or only form of discipline. Permissive, lazy parenting is neglect. The responsibility given to parents is a great, even fearsome one. By choosing not to spank, we have gained deeper insight into our children’s hearts. It has challenged us to deal with anger and pride, and earnestly seek God’s wisdom, patience and love. Proactive parenting is more “work” than spanking, but already the rewards have been great.

 

There are so many alternative ways to discipline that result in harmony and renewed connection between the parent and child. Teaching a child to do right is much more effective than executing judgment for doing wrong. When we as parents obey our directive to treat others as we want to be treated, it causes us to get behind the eyes of the child and deal with the root of the problem rather than just suppressing an outward behavior. It is amazing to see a cycle of irritability and frustration break when the parent chooses to discipline by restoring relationship. Many parents assume a time-out is the default choice if parents don’t spank. However, often what children need is more time WITH the parents to reconnect, reassure and restore. Without turning an already lengthy letter into a book, if you are interested in other approaches, we would be happy to explain how we handle specific situations or direct you to sources that we have found beneficial.

 

The plan behind redemption is clear: God wants to reconnect with us. All of the history of the Law shows that merely punishing sin doesn’t change the heart. What changes the hearts of our children is relationship. Obedience grows out of love and trust rather than a self-centered desire to avoid punishment. If children obey simply out of fear of being spanked, their motivation isn’t righteous, but only self-centered.

 

As a child of God, my choice for obedience isn’t based on a fear of punishment. It isn’t a get-out-of-hell-free card for me. It is because I love Him and have learned to trust Him. My children are learning to obey for the same reasons. If my children do wrong and repent, for me to go ahead and hit them seems very inconsistent with the way that God has forgiven my mistakes. I have a responsibility to show the same grace toward my kids that I have received. It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, not His wrath.

 

We have chosen to look at this from a Christian perspective, but we find it interesting that the research is overwhelmingly against spanking. The American Academy of Pediatrics, like many other professional organizations involving children and health, has issued a statement against corporal punishment on the grounds that it is not nearly as effective as positive reinforcement and that it can be harmful physically and emotionally. In fact, there are some indications that spanking is associated with increased delinquent and antisocial behavior, increased risk of child abuse and spousal abuse, increased risk of child and adult aggression, decreased child mental health and decreased adult mental health. Consider this in the light of Jesus’ warning against causing little ones to stumble.

 

Sometimes it is difficult to discern what the Bible teaches on specific issues. You have often used the illustration of God playing hide and seek in order to encourage us to dig deeper and seek Him with all of our hearts. On the topic of spanking, He has given us glimpses of His heart–the parable of the unmerciful servant (Mt. 18:21-35), I John 4, James 2:13. None of these suggest ignoring or excusing sin, but they all teach us to be humble and loving as we show others, regardless of their age, a better way.

 

In closing, we chose to write this to you because of our respect for you. We know that you are someone who has the courage to look beyond the easy, superficial answers and the integrity to hold convictions that may not be popular. Believe us, in Christian circles not spanking is tantamount to heresy, but it is a very worthy cause. We humbly suggest that spanking is just another religiously transmitted disease. We love you and your family and are grateful that God has placed us under your spiritual leadership. May God bless you and your family.

 

 

By Carlos and Dulce