The Bible and positive parenting
Highlights from excellent articles

Here are a few highlights from an article by Pastor Robert Gillogly called Spanking Hurts Everyone. The full article, which gives a biblical perspective from Old Testament to New about spanking is well worth reading. It is at

Jesus is the Rod of Jesse, meaning a branch from a family tree, was similarly accused of being a drunkard and a glutton. Moreover, his relationship with his parents was also problematic. He didn't live up to familial and social expectations, but what he said and did pertaining to children remains worthy of our consideration and commitment. His teaching was in diametric opposition to the corporal punishment position of Proverbs, Deuteronomy, and his contemporaries. The revolutionary social order Jesus initiated belonged to children. The future will be fulfilled by the children to whom the Kingdom of God has been promised. "Let the children come to me," he taught, "and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the Kingdom of God" (Luke 18:16). This radical reversal in Jesus' teaching remains as enigmatic today as it did centuries ago. Not only did he give children status as human beings, they were to be treated as human beings:

  • Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (Luke 18:17).
  • Whoever humbles himself like a child … is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:4).
  • Whoever receives a child [because of Jesus' commendation to children] receives [Jesus] (Matt. 18:5). On the other hand:
  • Whoever causes [a child to suffer or stumble or sin] it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea (Matt. 18:6).

The latter, in particular, is pretty drastic treatment for those who are derelict in their responsibilities toward children. What did Jesus mean in making these and other references to children? It would appear, without being inordinately presumptuous:
  1. Children were of central importance in Jesus' life and teaching about the new order.
  2. What Jesus said and did in relation to children countered the position of his contemporaries for whom children were objects to be possessed, controlled, and exploited.
  3. There are important implications for the mission of the church today and child rearing methods that issue from his personal example and his teaching about children and the Kingdom of God.

  4. A major implication for Christians is the primacy Jesus gave to relationships rather than rules and regulations. Discipline, in whatever form, must be seen in the context of discipleship. It is tragic that whenever the subject of disciplining children is discussed, even in our churches, it is all too frequently translated into a false and simplistic dichotomy between corporal punishment and permissiveness, as if there are no other alternatives. Discipline comes from the same Latin root discere as discipleship; it means, literally, "to learn." Children will learn by imitation regardless of what they are taught or how they are disciplined. Discipleship is a matter of learning or training by imitation. To be a disciple fundamentally means to emulate the master, imitatio Christi, to imitate the model (cf. I Peter 2:1). Consequently, parents need to abandon the motto, "Do as I say, not as I do!" Such profundity is hopelessly redundant; the children have already learned negative lessons not intended by parent or teacher.

The following is an edited version of an article written by Gregory Popcak, LCSW, a Catholic marriage and family counselor, which considers the role of the bible and the follower of Jesus. The full article can be found at

Ten Reasons I Can't Spank

By Gregory K. Popcak, MSW, LCSW, a Catholic Counselor's Critical Examination of Corporal Punishment

" How do you feel about corporal punishment?"

…. my journey… reflects the research, thoughts, and prayerful consideration of a conservative Catholic, psychotherapist, father of two, and author on marriage and family issues. Ultimately, this article is the foundation upon which my wife and I build our commitment to disciplining our children without corporal punishment. ….

  1. Jesus' Own Example was Discipline, NOT Punishment. There is an important distinction to be made between discipline and punishment. Jesus' own ministry favored discipline over punishment….

    Literally, punishment means, "to cause to undergo pain." At its very roots, it has nothing to do with teaching. Punishment establishes a police/suspect relationship between punisher and the punished. Punishment relies heavily upon the notion of external control. That is to say, the parent is very pessimistic regarding the child's desire, ability or willingness to behave properly, so the parent himself becomes the child's limit and consequence... The philosophy that supports punishment asserts that compliance with the law for the law's own sake ("blind obedience") is a virtue. Spanking is the chief example of punishment. It is the height of external control.

    Discipline assumes a teacher/student relationship, or Rabbi/disciple relationship if you prefer. The Latin root of discipline, "discipuli," means, "student".

    Discipline's main objective is to teach the offender what to do …rather than merely stopping the offense. For example, where punishment would say, "Don't speak to me like that! Go to your room!" Discipline would say, "I know you are angry, but you may not speak to me that way. You may say (such and such) if you like. Now, tell me again, respectfully, please."

    Discipline is less concerned with teaching compliance with the law than it is with teaching how to have deeper, more respectful, and loving relationships. Discipline recognizes that" Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:10…. Discipline does not assume malicious intent on the part of the offender. It assumes that the offender is ignorant of an appropriate/meaningful way to meet personal needs. …

    Discipline believes that good behavior is a teachable skill, not unlike math or reading. Because of this, it makes use of the tools that a good teacher would use. Tools like: good relationship/rapport building, teaching stories ("emotional word pictures"), following through with logical consequences, real life examples, personal sharing (discipling), redirecting, practice, and giving information in respectful, repeated and varied ways. People who use discipline correctly do not necessarily differ in the number of limits they establish, so much as in the dramatically different ways by which those limits are taught and enforced.

    Certainly you can see that Jesus' ministry was one which espoused discipline over punishment. Discipline recognizes that violence is not a good teaching tool. Imagine the following happening to you. Your child comes home from school and says that he was spanked because he missed a math problem. You call the teacher to say, "What were you thinking?"

    The teacher responds by saying, "He did not do the problem as I taught him to." "You should have told him again!"

    "I told him plenty of times. He should have listened the first time."

    You press further, " Even so, what do you think he really learned.?

    "Well, you can be sure he won't make that mistake again!

    What do you think of this teacher? Was he a good teacher? I don't think so. I wonder if God thinks the same of us when we use corporal punishment to "teach a lesson" to his children who are on loan to us. ….

  2. Scripture Does Not Support Spanking
    The Old Testament does have two references to corporal punishment, which are the mainstay of its proponents' biblical defense. These are Proverbs 23:13 and Sirach 30:1-3. …

    Ultimately, the Old Testament must be understood through the prism of the New Testament - the fulfillment of the law. Indeed, the Fathers of the Church, saints and prelates from St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Cyprian, St. Ambrose, St. Martin of Tours and St. Leo, consistently declared that the severe sanctions of the Old Testament were abrogated by the mild and gentle laws of Christ. The New Testament has a very different way of dealing with sinners than did the Old Testament. As an example, let us examine the parable of the Prodigal Son.

    A son hurts his father deeply by abandoning righteous ways and pursuing a life of sin and folly. This the father knows. In response, does the father hunt down the child to give him a beating for the "open act of willful disobedience?" No. The father, being a wise man, allows his son to experience the logical consequences of his actions until he is so racked with sadness, estrangement and guilt that he comes running back to his father. The father then throws a party for the prodigal son. To celebrate the son's immoral behavior? No, to celebrate the victory of Love over sin.

    Some punishment. Is God a pushover? No. He simply does not add any harm he could do to us to the harm we have already chosen for ourselves. The father of the prodigal concentrates on a more important motivator: building a relationship that is so strong, so undeniably loving, that the son will never want to "leave His house" again. ….

  3. . The Universal Church Does Not Model Corporal Punishment


    Modern Catholic scholars reflect this conviction when they say that this legacy of corporal punishment ". . . reflect[s] neither the spirit nor the methods Christ who said: 'Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart'." and that the Church should not "employ physical force to coerce the mind of man. . .Our only instruments in the domain of conscience must be reason, God's grace, human kindness and love."

  4. Spanking Flies in the Face of Good Science The Church respects good science because it simply describes the Natural Order created by God. To deny the validity of scientific inquiry, and the truth and relevance of its discoveries is to turn a blind eye to a part of God's revelation to man….

    • In study after study, spanking has been found to increase deceitfulness, noncompliance, oppositional/defiant behaviors and violence in children.
    • Research consistently demonstrates that corporal punishment creates and maintains "willful defiance" and other unmanageable behavioral problems. (Thus, the notion that "willful defiance" deserves corporal punishment is exactly counterproductive.)
    • Children who are spanked have lower average intelligence scores, and demonstrate poorer school performance. This is not because they are less intelligent, but because they are more reluctant to demonstrate their intelligence for fear of being 'wrong' and, as a result, harshly judged.
    • Spanked children show less creativity and are less inclined to take healthy and appropriate risks; yet are more likely to take inappropriate risks.
    • Children who are spanked demonstrate a diminished ability to say 'no' in personally demeaning or dangerous situations (including drug use and sexual situations) - especially when encouraged by peers.
    • Spanking has been shown to significantly increase violent/bullying behavior (especially in boys) and shyness (in girls).
    • Children who are spanked have higher rates of constipation of the bowels, depression, substance abuse, suicidality, anxiety, and irrational fears/phobias.
    • Long-term studies indicate that girls who are spanked show a greater risk of ending up in abusive marriages; boys who are spanked have a higher than average chance of becoming abusive spouses.
    • Adults who were spanked as children tend to be less happy in their marriages.
    • Adults who were spanked as children tend to reject the religion of their parents. All of the above - and more - have been attributed not to abusive levels of corporal punishment or violence to children, but, rather, to commonly accepted level of spanking. These are the scientific findings of the profession. …

  5. Spanking Is Violence Webster defines violence as "physical force used so as to injure." Having scientifically established that spanking does cause injury (although, in most instances, not immediately perceptible), it follows that spanking is a form of violence. ….

    About the culture that must exist in the family which espouses and lives the "Gospel of Life", Holy Father says this:

    "It is above all in raising children that the family fulfills its mission to proclaim the Gospel of life. By word and example , in the daily round of relations and choices, and through concrete actions and signs, parents lead their children to authentic freedom, actualized in the sincere gift of self, and they cultivate in them a respect for others, a sense of justice, cordial openness, dialog, generous service, solidarity, and all the other values which help people live life as a gift." (The Gospel of Life)

    The evidence is compelling that corporal punishment does not instill in our children or lead them toward any of these qualities. In fact, it tends to cultivate deceitfulness, violence, fear, and a rejection of parents' authority and religion as arbitrary and nonsensical. ….

  6. Spanking as Sin or Occasion of Sin ….Most parents who use corporal punishment admit to having struck their children "unjustly" (i.e. through some fault of their own, rather than the child's). This mistake is certainly one all parents have made, regardless of admission; and one most admit is sinful. If spanking unjustly is sinful, then the risk of sinning by spanking at all is unacceptably high. As Catholics, we are obliged not only to avoid sin, but to avoid the near occasion of sin, and entreat the Lord to "lead us not into temptation." Especially, we must avoid the temptation to do harm to the least of His children.

  7. God's Justice is Subject to His Love
    Parents who use corporal punishment often defend it by saying, "God is a God of Justice." Certainly, but His Justice is subject to His Love. If this were not so, could any of us, in light of our own sinfulness, justify our existence, much less the precious gift of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection? How telling are Scripture: "If you mark our iniquities, then who could stand?"; and Liturgy: "O felix culpa, quae talum ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem" ("Oh happy fault, which gained for us so great a Redeemer").

    Scripture tells us that the greatest of the spiritual gifts - of which Justice is one - is Love. Love is defined for us: "Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish. Love is never rude, neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong, but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to Love's forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure." (1 Cor. 13: 4-7)

    …As Christians, we are not called so much to be the administrators of His Justice ("Judge not, lest ye be judged.") as we are called to be the embodiment of His Love, perfected in humanity - and for humanity - by Jesus: "Love one another as I have loved you." ….

  8. Spanking does not Respect the Gift of Will The Church, Scripture, and good science teach us that the will is a good and essential part of our humanity. We Catholics have what might appear to be a hopelessly optimistic and respectful attitude toward the human will. Scripture tells us that from our creation, the will is given to us as a gift from God. Holy Father and the Church have endorsed the goodness of the human will. Science has described the will as essential to survival and continuation of our human species. As Catholics, we hold a unique place in the support and defense of the dignity of the human person; and the will is integral to the definition of our human condition. We are responsible for living and educating our children to live in a way that respects the will - and its prominent role in the process of right living. To do less, to give in to non-Catholic pressure and influences which instruct us to "parent" in a manner which is demeaning or harmful to the will, is to deny this uniquely Catholic perspective toward our humanity. …

  9. Spanking Conflicts with the Church's Teaching on the "Age of Reason." Spanking is used most often on children who are younger than the age of seven, which is the age of reason as defined by the Church. Most supporters of corporal punishment admit that spanking tends to lose its "effectiveness" past this age. …

    Any form of punishment which serves to debilitate the will, or works to subordinate it to the will of another; and which holds the child culpable before the age of reason is in conflict with the God given nature of the child and the teaching of the Church. Spanking is both destructive of the necessary educational process and punishing of those who are innocent of it.

  10. Catholic Luminaries in Child-Rearing Oppose Spanking Catholics whose life's vocations involved the care of children, and who received graces to fulfill these vocations, categorically oppose corporal punishment. St. John Bosco, St. Elizabeth Seton, Father Flanagan and Maria Montessori are prominent examples of Catholics whose love and wisdom helped shepherd thousands of children on a path to God, and who saw corporal punishment as antithetical to this mission. …. Conclusion

Well, there you have it - ten reasons I, as a Catholic, loyal to the teaching Magisterium of the Church, family counselor and father believe corporal punishment and Catholicism to not mix. I ask you to consider these reasons with an openness to the fullness of life as seen and taught by the Church, and with a real desire to seek the truth.

To renounce corporal punishment is a "conversion;" it is to begin the difficult journey which consists in "putting new wine in new skins." You will not be alone. The Wisdom, Grace and Love of the Holy Trinity will guide you. Should you decide to continue spanking, you ought to prepare a defense to Christ's pronouncement of love: "What you do to the least of these, you do to Me."

About the author:
Gregory K. Popcak is the clinical director of Professional Solutions, a private counseling practice in Weirton, WV. He received his undergraduate degrees in theology and psychology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and his Masters in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh, where he specialized in brief treatment models of family therapy.

He is an active member, as well as associate music director, of St. Agnes Parish, and resides with his wife, Lisa, and their two children in Steubenville, OH.

What would Jesus do?
By Rev. Thomas E. Sagendorf

Some Christians use the Bible to support the practice of spanking. Especially the "spare the rod" passage from Proverbs. However, this is an illegitimate use of scripture. Unless these folks are willing to use the same kind of selective prooftexting to support THE BUYING AND SELLING OF HUMAN BEINGS (Genesis 17:13), SLAVERY (Ephesians 6:5), THE BEATING OF FOOLS (Proverbs 10:13, 26:3), THE SUPPRESSION OF WOMEN (I Corinthians 14:34, Ephesians 5:22), SANCTIONS AGAINST MARRIAGE (I Corinthians 7:25-38), INCEST (Genesis 19:30-36), and INFANTICIDE (Psalm 137:9), they'll have a hard time explaining why they single out a passage from Proverbs in support of corporal punishment. It's hard to conceive of Jesus ever hitting a child. For any reason! The very suggestion is contradictory both to what he taught and the way he lived. When anxious adults wanted to shoo the children away, Jesus rebuked the adults and welcomed the children. "Of such," he said, "is the kingdom of heaven." A popular slogan these days is, "What would Jesus do?" This becomes the most reliable biblical authority for Christians when it comes to hitting children. Jesus just wouldn't do it. Why, then, should we?

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