Church instructs parents: Spanking is God's will
By John Geluardi and Kim Wetzel, Contra Costa Times, April 26, 2007

Parents who belong to the Bethel Baptist Church in El Sobrante are told in no uncertain terms: Spank your children or oppose God's will.

The church, which also runs the 200-student Bethel Christian Academy, discourages parents from using their hands and recommends using a "rod" or flexible stick to swat children until their will is broken. But an eight-panel church pamphlet with corporal punishment instructions does caution against using instruments such as hairbrushes, cords or 2-by-4s.

"Corporal punishment is not something you do to the child, it's something you do for the child," said Bethel Pastor David Sutton, who wrote the pamphlet. "Your goal as a parent is to correct the child or get him back on the right path."

Parents who do not practice corporal punishment are depriving their children of the only method God says produces wisdom and they risk directly opposing God's will, according to the pamphlet.

Although the pamphlet does not describe anything unlawful, Contra Costa County Children and Family Services is concerned about the church's policy, CFS Division Manager Stacie Buchanan said.

"There's a very fine line between discipline and abuse," she said. "If you go over the line, you risk having us involved."

Determining abuse can be tricky, depending to some degree on a parent's attitude, Buchanan said. State law defines physical abuse as any corporal punishment that results in injury or a traumatic condition, such as severe bruising.

"If it's a mark that might go away in a day, that's excessive and would cause alarm but does not constitute abuse," Buchanan said.

Bethel Baptist Chruch Spanking Guide

The debate about spanking goes beyond just one church's policy, and a bill making its way through the state Assembly could force changes at Bethel Baptist.

The bill, which passed the Assembly's Public Safety Committee last week, would allow adults to use an open hand to spank a child but prohibit hitting with a stick, switch, rod, closed fist, electrical cord or other objects.

Bethel Baptist has had problems with its corporal punishment policy. Earlier this year, the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office removed a foster child from the care of a church family, Sutton said. CFS and the sheriff's office declined to comment Wednesday on the removal, but Sutton said it was related to corporal punishment.

"We guide our lives according to the Bible, not (Children and Family Services)," he said. "We believe (CFS) was wrong."

Church policy on corporal punishment sometimes is misunderstood or exaggerated, said Pastor Kent Brandenburg, the leader of the independent church, which is not affiliated with any denomination and bases all church activities on the word of the Bible as written.

"People think all we do is turn our kids into hamburger or that we don't love them," he said, adding that the church strongly prohibits using insulting language toward children. "The thing is, it's fair and we're not hurting them in terms of injuring them, and afterwards, the guilt is gone. The kid doesn't have to sit around and think she might be a pig."

Sonya Prophet, a church member and parent of two daughters ages 17 and 22, said her children are well-adjusted and that her family has a loving relationship. In fact, Prophet, who was not raised in the church, said she remembers her parents yelling at her much more than the times she received spankings.

"Yelling is personal, and what the child did that was wrong gets lost in the parent's anger," she said. "With my girls, the spanking relieved them of their guilt, which allowed them to be happy in a very short time afterward."

If parents do use corporal punishment, they also should use other methods of discipline such as time-outs and restrictions on activities, Buchanan said

But the church directs parents to spank for all disobedience, because all other methods are not designed by God.

"We disagree with time-outs as a family," said Sutton, who has two children. "That's an attack on spanking."

In a 2001 study, UC Berkeley research psychologists Diana Baumrind and Elizabeth Owens followed 100 families who used light or moderate corporal punishment for 12 years. The study concluded that occasional spanking does not damage a child's social or emotional development.

Owens said Wednesday that she would rather not comment on the Bethel Baptist Church's spanking policy as a research psychologist. "But I can tell you that as a mother and a person (and a Christian) I found the school's promotion of and instructions for regular spanking of children to be very disturbing," she said.

Adjunct Professor Susan Holloway of the UC Berkeley School of Education said she was particularly alarmed by the pamphlet's recommendation that parents swat their children repeatedly until their will is broken.

"That is not any kind of comment a psychologist would endorse," she said. "Getting along in this world requires children to assert their own will, and it's not good to stifle a child's. This is way over the top."

Brandenburg insists that the goal is to break children of bad behavior and return them to a righteous path.

"There's a difference between breaking the spirit and breaking a child's willfulness," he said.

Reach John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or
Reach Kim Wetzel at 510-262-2798 or

To send a letter to the Contra Costa Times, click on

Letter to Contra Costa Times
in response to the above article

April 27, 2007

Dear Editor:

In "Church Instructs Parents: Spanking is God's Will" (April 26), there was no mention of the vast body of serious research produced by world-class scholars that unequivocally condemns corporal punishment. There was no mention of the fact that, based on that research, 18 countries, beginning with Sweden in 1979, have banned all corporal punishment by parents and other caretakers, and that more countries are now in the process of developing such legislation. Surely your readers would have been interested in that information. After all, children are the same the world over, and we are not living in a bubble.

As for the religious justifications for hitting children, one of the best responses I've seen to that line of argument are these words from Rev. Thomas Sagendorf, a retired United Methodist clergyman. He wrote: "The much-touted ‘biblical argument’ in support corporal punishment is founded upon proof-texting a few isolated passages from Proverbs. Using the same method of selective scripture reading, one could also cite the Bible as an authority for the practice of slavery, adultery, polygamy, incest, suppression of women, executing people who eat pork, and infanticide. The brutal and vindictive practice of corporal punishment cannot be reconciled with the major New Testament themes that teach love and forgiveness and a respect for the sacredness and dignity of children—and which overwhelmingly reject violence and retribution as a means of solving human problems. Would Jesus ever hit a child? NEVER!"

A full discussion of all the things that are wrong with hitting, spanking, smacking, whooping, switching, etc., isn't within the scope of this letter, nor should it be necessary. That information is abundantly available, and any literate person with access to a computer can quickly become an expert on the subject. Only among the ignorant, the misguided and the willfully cruel are arguments favoring corporal punishment taken seriously.


Jordan Riak, Exec. Dir., Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE); Web site: "Project NoSpank" at; PTAVE, P.O. Box 1033, Alamo, CA 94507 US; Tel: 925-831-1661; FAX: 925-838-8914



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