This is Part 1 in a series by Samuel Martin. His website is www.biblechild.com.
It is my pleasure to write about this subject because it was the first real serious subject that I researched and presented my findings in book form under the title "Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking [or Smacking] Controversy." (For more details on my book, please see my website.)
When I first began to do the research for the book in 1996, it was at a time in my life when I was first beginning to exercise my theological muscles and venture out and formulate some of my own ideas. As I have always had a penchant for pastoral ministry (much more so than my father did), I wanted to write something and research a subject which allowed me to deal with serious social and theological questions, but to do so in a way according to how I was trained to present ideas; which was to look at the original texts with a view to help making those texts and their original meanings clearer. I pray that this is what I have done in my book.
My experience with this subject of Corporal Punishment
Like almost all children who grew up in the WWCG environment, corporal punishment was the normal way to "correct" children. Not only were children spanked at home, but they were also spanked in the WWCG school system.
I will talk about this more in a moment, but before that I want to recall one of my earliest memories because it relates to corporal punishment. I remember that I was with my family traveling in Switzerland in the mountains at Interlachen, a very high-elevated place something like 10,000 feet (3,250 Meters or so) above sea level. I remember in fact somehow being temporarily separated from my family and venturing quite close to the edge of the guardrail to look down the slope of the mountain. At that moment, I remember being grabbed from behind by a woman who I did not know. I can remember seeing the cliffs and seeing how far down it was. I could not have been more than four at the time.
The next thing I remember was seeing my parents. My mom was crying and I can't remember exactly what my father looked like. He was not one to cry really, but I do remember the spanking I received.
For me, I was not spanked much because I was pretty well behaved, but as many will I am sure remember growing up in the WWCG circles, little children were spanked and some were beaten badly. I can remember people commenting about how well behaved the children were, but I found that we grew up in an environment of fear. The slightest infraction, like making too much noise when you drank your milk, could merit a swat or swats. Really the environment was oppressive and dominative working to keep constant control of the children.
Even through all of this, I saw some amazing things when I was small. I had a friend who was about my age, maybe a year older. He and I were friends in England before I moved to the USA. He was so well behaved when he was in front of his parents, who beat the living day lights out of him if he transgressed even the most minor of infractions, but when he, who could not have been more than seven at the time, was not in front of mom and dad, I distinctively remember that he had a little toy gun that he played with far out in the garden where his mom and dad could not see it because toy guns in the WWCG were forbidden. Had his parents known that he had that toy gun, you can forget the forty lashes that the Bible mentions (St. Paul calls it Forty minus one); that kid would have been beaten to a pulp!
This example showed me early on that spanking does not engender righteous behavior. (I have a whole chapter in my book on this issue from a theological perspective.) It is a broken repented spirit that seeks to do right, not a broken backside!
I have one final small anecdote that I wish to share about my experience in the WWCG school system. The WWCG was a very hierarchical structure from the Pastor General down to his inner circle, to the regional leaders, to the local church down to the home. Men dominated the whole culture of the church.
My father was one who eventually got into a position where he was at levels in the Church where he was dealing with the Pastor General and his inner circle and this gave him lots of power in the organization. Dad never used that power in a wrong way because in the early days especially, he believed that he was serving God in His True Church on earth. Both of my parents were dedicated loyal members of the Church before I was born. Only in the seven years after I was born did my parents start to have their doubts based upon what happened to them.
Now, with dealing with these inner circle people, my father obtained a status within the denomination that he did not have heretofore. He was writing, speaking and teaching and was recognized as being an excellent authoritative teacher. Some of this status that my father held also came into my life even though I was only six years old at the time. I am the only son of three children and I am the youngest in my family. My father had every intention that I would become a theologian, a minister and a church leader like he was.
Because of this power, people handled me quite carefully. They did so out of fear of my father and the power he had and the influence he had with the decision-makers in the Church.
To understand how much corporal punishment was a part of the fabric of the Church and its education system, I can remember my mother telling me the interesting story about my first day at Imperial School. When I came home from the first day, I informed my mom: "Mom, see I came home from school today and I didn't even get a swat." My mother misunderstood me for a moment, thinking that someone had actually hit her little boy that first day of school (and had anyone done that – my mother would not have reacted too favorably to that event). My sisters were hit regularly at school. Some students were hit even though they had boils on their buttocks as one story I was told. I cannot remember ever being hit once at Imperial and I attribute it to the fear that people had not only against what my father could have done to them (as I said, my dad was not that type of vindictive person who sought revenge for things), but I think also those people knew that maybe one day they might have to deal with this now young boy who would one day be a leader in the church. For these reasons, I think I got some special treatment. I might also say though that I did get spanked at home, but not much because I was pretty well behaved in general. The fact is though corporal punishment at the WWCG school was so frequent and regular that for many students it was a part of their every day curriculum.
The first thing I would like to say about my findings is that if you would have presented the ideas that are in this book to me some 15-20 years ago, I probably would have rolled my eyes over and said something like: "Are you kidding me? This person is saying that our understanding of the Biblical passages on corporal punishment is not clear and plain? Who ever is suggesting such a thing is absolutely crazy!" I am here to tell you that I have altered my views on corporal punishment of children 180 degrees and my views of the holiness of Scripture have not changed one iota. I have been studying this issue now since 1996 and I have 40,000 words in defense of my arguments. I respectfully ask that if you are considering this issue, have a look at my arguments in full. I think you will be glad you did. I say this with all the humility I can possibly muster and I praise the Lord and His Messiah for the opportunity to have researched and written that book. Should any good come out of it, it is to them that I give the full credit and glory.
Now that you know a little bit about my background, I think you'll see how I have approached this issue. I have tried to do so focusing on bringing out what I believe is the Biblical teaching on this subject as well as having a desire to bring out something which is distinctively my own pastoral style. I hope that I have been able to achieve that through my publishing of the book.
At this time, anyone who would like to get a copy of my book, please let me know. I am currently raising funds for a new organization that I am in the process of forming and any person who would like to make a donation to that effort, I would be happy to give them a copy of my book in gratitude for their support. Please write to me in the USA at:
P O Box 30755
Las Vegas NV 89173 USA
For all donations from outside the USA not in US Dollars, please write me at:
P O Box 21543
New Bet Hanina
Jerusalem 91214 Israel
I will happily send out a copy of my book to any party who would like one. Feel free to send any amount you wish.
Part 2 will provide a synopsis of "Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me."