Thursday, October 27, 2011

Confessions of a Spanking Abolitionist

Liberty Bell - Philadelphia
Image credit pepsiline on Flickr
It has been bugging me for a couple of months now, but I kept trying to push it away or rationalize it.  Today I realized that I can't do it anymore.  I cannot be a member of a local church where the pastor advocates spanking from the pulpit.  I did it for years, and tried to focus on all the areas where we do agree.  I just prayed, spoke up when I could, and told myself that it wasn't an essential point. 

I imagine that for some of the early abolitionists in the South, the process was similar.  They reminded themselves that most Christians around them believed that the Bible supported slavery.  They minimized it by saying that the pastor only taught that slavery was Biblical once in awhile.  Mostly it was just included in passing references or anecdotes.  I think that they knew and understood the culture, because they had grown up in it.  They probably had people that they loved and respected who were slaveholders.  They didn't want to act out of pride or arrogance.  Perhaps they tried to tell themselves that it wasn't a foundational point of doctrine--just one of those areas where people had to follow their own conscience.

But eventually, the conviction would grow in their hearts that how we view other human beings, created in God's image just like us, our brothers and sisters in Christ, really does matter.  That the command to treat others as we would like to be treated is foundational.  That how we study and interpret Scripture is part of the basis for trust in a pastoral relationship.  That how a pastor views God and people will color the rest of his theology, too.

I live in the buckle of the Bible belt.  And most people here take the "belt" part very literally.  It is extremely common here for pastors to preach on spanking.  The vast majority of churches in the area regularly offer classes where parents are instructed to spank early (often before a year), and often--at any sign of disobedience or defiance (which usually means any time the parent suspects the child of questioning the commands).

My parents, grandparents and in laws were all pastors.  I understand that they are human.  I know that *I* make mistakes, and that humility and the willingness to learn from others is important.  I don't expect us to see everything exactly the same, and there are plenty of areas where I could just agree to disagree.  But I have come to the place where this is foundational for me.  It is about our understanding of the very nature of God, about the atonement of Christ, about grace.  Jesus said that whatever we do to the least of these, we do to Him.  I cannot align myself under a pastor whose view of these issues is radically different from what I believe the Bible teaches.  And knowing what I know how about how terribly spanking can damage families, I cannot support a person in a position of authority who continues to exhort parents to spank. 

It feels a bit lonely.  I am afraid that my friends and family will think I am making too big of a deal about it.  It sounds safer to just maintain the status quo.  It also feels discouraging, considering the dominant culture here.  I suspect that some of the things that are preferences for me (like the style of worship) will be sacrificed.   But I want and need to be an active part of a local body, and I have to be able to be fed without screaming inside that we are all being poisoned.

Image credit trevorstone on Flickr
I don't want a civil war with my brothers and sisters.  But I am firmly convinced that how we treat our children is a human rights issue.  The culture in most of the US sees them as property, as less deserving of protection because of their age, as less than full persons, and then uses Scripture to justify it.  I cannot be a part of that.  (And for those who wonder if I think spanking should be illegal, yes I do.  I don't for a moment believe that hitting a child is a parental right any more than hitting a spouse is a marital right).  I am a spanking abolitionist, and I am seeking a church home.


Rach said...

Bravo! Great post. I think you're very brave; I don't know that I could write this yet myself. :)

Jenn said...

Excellent post - thanks. I live in New Zealand, where spanking was made illegal several years ago. The uproar from the "christian" community (among others) was huge. So many people thought is was their "right" to smack their kids.
Its issues like this that make me ashamed to label myself as a christian in my community - cos we're labeled as homophobic, smacking, rednecks - and for good reason.
Our support of the "anti-smacking" bill and our decision not to spank our children has caused some dissent in our extended family - with my father even going so far as to say that we are clearly not raising our children in a christian manner if we are not spanking. Crazy huh?!

Sarah said...

I feel this in my CORE. Thank you for articulating it so eloquently <3.

TealRose said...

Dulce - you really shouldn't feel lonely you know! Just because us 'spanking abolitionists' are not standing physically shoulder to shoulder with you protecting the children - doesn't mean that in our hearts and souls we are not there already!!!

God bless you ... we are here holding you high ... in our hearts and with much love. You know how right this is .... and you know too how difficult it may become with family and friends - but as we all know, doing the RIGHT thing is what is important, and what is expected of us by God.

Much love ... on your journey through life - and many prayers to find a loving, caring, gentle, peaceful and gracefilled church!! XX

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so very, very much! <3 Your love and encouragement was like a warm hug today. I am honored to be allied with you all! <3

Mike and Christie said...

Honestly, I wish it was illegal too. It really is so strange that Christians loudly argue that they have the right to hit their is a strange thing to want.... the issue is, they equate hitting with discipline and get all confused on the subject. They think if hitting were illegal, discipline would be illegal. How silly, when you really think about it.

Becky said...

Excellent post, Dulce. I left a church for the same reason. I do believe the United Methodist Church has taken a stance against spanking. The church I currently attend has made no mention of it from the pulpit thus far. It is hard when you live in an area where it so, so common, to stick out from the crowd. Bless you.

Anonymous said...

I love this! You said this: "It feels a bit lonely. I am afraid that my friends and family will think I am making too big of a deal about it."

I think it's a great opportunity for you to share with people (and you can wait until asked) why you left the church. It's possible that your exprsessing your reasons will cause someone else to question the whole spanking thing. Many people who spank do not question the damage it could cause. I know the damage it causes (I was spanked), so I do not spank my son. I think your stance could cause some people to re-think their position. If your words prevent even 1 child from being spanked, I call that fabulous! Standing by your convictions is a brave thing. Bravo to you!

Pippi said...

It's funny you mentioned the slavery issue, because that is one of two very disturbing childhood memories I have of my mom's mentor; some comment she made in response to something I said about how slavery was wicked. She shrugged and said firmly, "They had slaves in the Bible!" Like that made it ok.
Yeah, and they stoned people in the Bible too, and vigilante justice was perfectly acceptable, and spouses were executed for adultery. They also practiced genocide. Which she advocated, sadly.
I hear many parents arguing that our society does NOT recognize children as the property of the parents like it should. They have property and responsibility confused. Our society most certainly DOES view children as property - it's just that the concept is shifting from the home to the state. Children are now thought to be better cared for by the state than by their parents.

yazzy said...


I have had Word.

There is a book. A book that too will be opened on the last day. In that book there is an accounting of every single teardrop that has been shed by a child by a willing hand. And there will be judgment. Oh yes, there will be judgment.

Standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, for the children.


Rae Brown said...

Thank you so much for this post. I have made the decision never to spank my son amidst a family and subculture that believe it is the best way to "discipline". I really appreciate your pointing out that it is a human rights issue. I really hope you can find an awesome church!

Mike and Christie said...

I do wonder.... If you leave the church, where will the voice be that dissents?
I think that nearly 99.99% of the church is filled with those who spank or believe in it. Who will stand up and show a different way, if you leave?

Just a thought.

Terri said...

Wow I love you Dulce! Congratulations on following your heart. I have no religion but honour the great words and works of Christ. I live in an island where about 90% of the population are Christian and the right and efficacy of spanking is unquestioned. So I know how hard it is to stand against the crowd....actually it's not hard, it's what is true for me and to do anything else would be the hardest thing. So walk on sister and stay true to your heart and eternal soul. Thanks for your words that enable me to share that which I feel but can not express.

dulce de leche said...

You all are amazing! I can't tell you how deeply I appreciate your love and affirmation. <3 <3 <3 I wish I could attend a church with you all in it. :)

Leslie said...

Ok, I'm crying reading this. Because I agree with every word you are saying, but I do not have the courage to do what you are doing. To take such a stand, to risk being misunderstood, to be lonely, to lose friends. I pray with all my heart that you find a church body and other moms who get it - who get what you're saying here and how foundational it is. For me, out here on the mission field, I don't think I'll find it. But you've definitely given me food for thought and encouraged me to be more brave about sharing my views with my neighbors and friends - instead of hiding it from them, hiding my blog from them, etc.
Much love,

Meryl said...

Love this post. As another NZer, I can tell you that cultures DO change. To hear someone being afaid to question spanking is very odd to my eyes - where I live, I never hear of spanking and if I do it's always frowned upon. And yet, 20 years ago, I'm sure it would have been much more common.

Oh - and can I mention I hate the word spanking? What a euphemism! People are hitting and hurting their children. Let's call a spade a spade.

Vanessa said...

I'm shaking as I read this. This would be me. My church. My community to a T. The problem is I'm not sure any church I switch to would believe any different. :(

Up until today I have never spoken up against spanking! Never. But now (and I have no idea what came over me) but I started in on a debate about the Pearl's on my fb. With fellow Christians who go to my church. I'm sure I'll just be more judged now, but yeah...whatever.

Basically, I can say I have been there. I was not a Pearl follower at all, but I have spanked and I am NOT proud of it. I am determined to never do it again and am immersing myself with scripture and Godly people who feel the same way. It just feels as if I am swimming upstream though...and it sucks!

Anonymous said...

I want to commend you for following Christ. He gave us two commands - to love God and love each other.

Spanking - hitting are not edifying or showing love. Children learn what they see - respect your child - give firm commands, time outs - but do not hit. If you do hit in anger - ask forgiveness from your child and God.

I started using spanking with my first child - realized my anger could get me in trouble - so stopped when he was 2. Never hit intentionally again.

I read and studied Children the Challenge by Rudolph Dreikers. An excellent book - which made me a much better parent.

All three children are happily married. We have 4 grandchildren and one on the way - NO one spanks. All children are respectful citizens.

Know that there will be conflicts - choose your "battles" carefully. Expect the best, value your child, respect his right to learn, and grow just as we are learning and growing in Jesus.

LOVE your children - enjoy them and treat them as you want to be treated.


dulce de leche said...

Thank you so much! (((Hugs))) I am so grateful that you all are the body of Christ to me. <3

Jan, what an amazing legacy! Thanks so much for the wisdom and encouragement.

Ryan said...

I was raised by a spanker. I vowed to never spank or strike or lie to my children. I raised two happy well adjusted kids. Respect your kids and they will respect you.