Dear Aunt Sevvy:

Our pastor was preaching recently on Christian families, when he suddenly went off on the topic of spanking. He didn’t just mention it as an option of last resort, but talked about it at length and with enthusiasm, almost as though he took joy in spanking children. My spouse and I don’t want to judge others, but we prefer to discipline our children without violence. This has reduced our respect for our pastor, and made us wonder if we need a different place to worship. Peaceful Parents

Dear Peaceful Parents:

You won’t be surprised to hear Aunt Sevvy advise you to talk with your pastor—always the first thing to do when there’s a misunderstanding. Could it be that he doesn’t know how he was coming across?

Let’s hope so, because too much enthusiasm for spanking raises warning flags for Aunt Sevvy.

The phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child” isn’t in the Bible. It’s from a Samuel Butler poem where it is used in the context of sadomasochism in a romantic relationship. Yup, true story. So let’s just never, ever use that maxim again.

The Bible says something similar, though. “He that spareth his rod hateth his son” (Proverbs 13:24). And, “If thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die,” and you “shalt deliver his soul from hell,” (Proverbs 23:13-14). In service of these passages, Aunt Sevvy has known stupid parents who beat their children until they have bruises, insisting they were merely following God’s loving word. And yes, a few children have in fact died from so-called “biblical discipline.” More importantly, children thus treated can be psychologically wounded. Hitting models hitting: hit children tend to hit, and some grow up cruel.

Fortunately, this isn’t Christian discipline! These rules were given to the people of Old Testament times. If you’re going to follow that line, then become fully ancient Hebrew: keep slaves, have multiple wives and concubines, and never wear a polyester-cotton blend shirt. So if you go full corporal on your little ones, you can’t claim to be doing it as a Christian: Jesus always favored non-violent solutions.

But back to your pastor: you owe it to him to find out what’s really on his mind. Let him know that you are concerned about the emphasis you heard, and would like to know how he really feels—whether he was expressing his practice and intention around children like yours, or merely getting carried away in flights of homiletical excess.

This is just Aunt Sevvy’s point of view, but here it is: If physical punishment is a frequent theme of his, Aunt Sevvy might have a hard time respecting other things he has to say.

Yours nonbelligerently,
Aunt Sevvy

You can write to Aunt Sevvy at Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—always without real names. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.

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