Avoiding Millstones

An Open Letter to Those Who Advocate Spanking

by Rebecca Prewett

Permission is hereby granted to reprint and distribute “Avoiding Millstones”, provided it is reprinted/distributed in its entirety and without alteration (including this statement). In fact, readers are encouraged to distribute this article, in an attitude of prayerful humility, wherever appropriate.
The following paragraphs, which I am including by way of introduction to my open letter, were excerpted from Westword. Please be forewarned that they are quite disturbing and upsetting to those of us whose hearts are tender towards children:

… Renee said she wanted to relinquish custody of David but that if she did so, it would ruin her marriage. Renee reportedly added that her husband didn’t share her belief that the boy had serious problems and that she felt he was being unsupportive…

…Renee had allegedly begun disciplining her sons in a way taught to her by Lynn Roche, a woman who sometimes babysat for the Polreis boys. According to what social worker Smreker told police, Roche said during a deposition last month that when her own children were bad, she’d take the child into the bathroom and explain his offense to him. She said she’d then make the child bare his behind before spanking him one or two times with a wooden spoon.

Then, she said, she’d say a prayer over the child.

Smreker also told police that Renee’s brother, Kevin Risk, said that he’d seen Renee use that same method on Isaac.

Renee’s friend Kathy Brown told police that Renee told her it was important to show David who was the boss, even in matters like potty training. According to Brown, Renee said David had been manipulating her through his toilet habits and that as a result, she was making David get up in the middle of the night and stand in front of the toilet until he urinated. Renee told Brown it seemed to work…

… Renee, who attends St. Paul’s Congregational Church in Greeley, is a very religious person, Kathy Brown told police after David’s death, adding that Renee didn’t like Russians because they are “atheists.” She said too that Renee had dreaded going to Russia to pick up the child because she didn’t want to set foot in a country filled with non-believers…

…Less than twelve hours after Renee’s mother left the Polreis home with Isaac in tow, David lay dying on the floor of Renee’s spacious bathroom. Renee–a woman friends describe as patient, religious and a wonderful mother–had allegedly beat the toddler to death. Police believe that she hit the boy repeatedly with a wooden spoon. When the spoon broke, they believe, she picked up another one and resumed the beating until that one broke, too.

Emergency-room doctors said the boy was cut and bruised over 90 percent of his body. According to the autopsy report, the boy was beaten so badly that he threw up and choked on his own vomit, cutting off oxygen to his brain. A second pathologist, after reviewing the autopsy report, says the boy suffered what amounted to “abject torture.”

One of Renee’s friends later told police that Renee had been afraid something like this would happen. According to adoption caseworker Kathy Edick, Renee said she’d told her therapist that “if she ever hit David, she wouldn’t be able to stop.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Surely we are all sickened and horrified beyond words when we read accounts such as the one I’ve quoted above. Our hearts grieve for the children. Our souls grieve for the reproach this brings on the name of our Savior, the One Who not only welcomed children in love, but issued stern warnings against those who would harm and offend them:

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh! (Matthew 18:6-7)

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in Heaven. (Matthew 18:10)

My purpose in writing this letter is not to argue whether or not spanking has its place in the Christian home. Instead, it is to appeal to those in the Body of Christ who teach and advocate spanking that you would do so responsibly, prayerfully, humbly, fearfully, and in a manner consistent with the whole counsel of God.

In the hope that God might use me in even the smallest way to prevent further tragedy, I beseech you to prayerfully consider teaching and advocating the following:

1. Please teach that some implements and objects should never be used to spank children. In Proverbs 23:13, we read, “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.” Some take this verse to mean that any spanking implement should, by inference, be incapable of causing death or injury. Certainly common sense should tell us that some implements are dangerous and unsuitable.

2. Please teach that some parents, for the sake of their children and their own obedience to the instruction of our Savior, should not spank:

those who lack emotional self-control and have not mastered their tempers. While “You should not spank when you are angry” is good advice, it may not go far enough. Some parents need to be told, “If you have a problem with anger, you should not spank.”

those who are not genuinely grieved and distressed at the thought of spanking their beloved children. Our parents used to say, “This will hurt me more than it hurts you.” Although such a statement doesn’t make sense to children, a parent who does not find spanking grievous, but enjoys or derives some sort of satisfaction from it–who looks forward to an opportunity to spank in order to exert control–has no business spanking.

those who have sinned by injuring their children–even slightly–in the course of spanking or any sort of discipline. It should go without saying that spankings should not cause injuries such as bruises and welts. However, there can be “hidden” injuries as well: spinal misalignment, shaken baby syndrome, etc. And let us not take lightly the possibility for spankings, wrongly administered, to injure the spirit of the child.

those who lack parenting skills to the point that they believe spankings are the only way that they can “control” their children. In an online discussion, some mothers complained about not daring to spank their children in public. Apparently, these mothers had such a poor relationship with their children that, unless they could spank immediately, their children had absolutely no motivation to obey. Such parents, who tend to spank excessively, need to be taught an entirely different way to exercise godly authority.

those who are harsh in spirit, especially those who are prideful and boastful of being strict disciplinarians–and who seem to derive satisfaction from causing their children to fear.

those who are not distressed and sorrowful over the tears of their children. Unfortunately, many parents have trained themselves to harden their hearts against the cries of their children. (“His crying annoyed me so that I spanked him again.” “I’ve gotten used to letting my baby cry it out for however long it takes.”) Such parents often lack the ability to determine whether a spanking has become overly harsh or even abusive. It is frightening to what extent they will remain unmoved by the pain and distress of their injured little ones.

those who lack tenderness and compassion towards their children, or who lack the ability to express love to their children in a meaningful way. Such parents are in danger of either provoking their children to wrath or breaking the spirits of their children, if not abusing them physically.
I’m sure rational Christians would all agree that those parents mentioned above should be counseled, rebuked where necessary–even brought under church discipline if there is unrepentant sin–and urged to cease immediately from spanking. They need to be taught godly alternatives.

In light of this, I would also humbly ask those who advocate spanking to consider prayerfully whether they know their audience well enough to instruct them on this topic. Some spanking advocates seem to teach as if their audience consisted mainly of permissive wimps who need to be exhorted, with almost evangelistic fervor, to spank. However, we must all consider if a mother who is, to quote a real example, raising welts under her baby’s diaper (welts she described as making her “want to puke”) really needs more encouragement to spank. I would beg you, unless you are fully certain before God that your message about spanking could not possibly be used to justify abuse, that you would consider either altering your message or only teaching it to those whom you know personally. And, even then, we must be careful. I’m sure that none of us want to experience the horrible anguish and regrets that Lynn Roche, mentioned in the newspaper article quoted above, must feel.

3. Please teach that parents who spank should do so in an attitude of grief over sin and in an attempt to model both the justice and mercy of God. Hebrews 12:6 is often quoted as teaching us that we must discipline our children if we love them. I would argue that it also teaches us that any form of discipline, even spanking, must be an expression of godly love, as beautifully defined in 1 Corinthians 13.

4. Please teach the whole counsel of God. Do not allow parents to be misled into believing that “chastisement” and “spanking” are synonyms, or that spanking is either a divine commandment or the only Biblically appropriate form of discipline.

5. Please do not attempt to bind the consciences of those who resist the idea of spanking their children. Perhaps God, Who knows their frailties, has given them their conviction against spanking for a reason.

6. Please teach the following words of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or they foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in Heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. (Matthew 18: 3-11)

May it never be said that those who name the name of Christ are advocating anything less–or more–than what He would have us teach. And may our hands or feet–or words–never be a source of offense to little ones.

May none of us be worthy of millstones!

Your sister in Christ,

Rebecca Prewett
Mother of six

UPDATE: Renee Polreis was convicted and sentenced for the murder of her adopted son. Although her defense, in essence, attempted to blame the toddler for his own death, the jury found Mrs. Polreis guilty. She since appealed, and lost. Some of her friends insist that the child was suffering from Reactive Attachment Disorder and that he literally beat himself to death. It seems that the courts continue to disagree.

ADDITIONAL UPDATE: It has come to my attention that some readers have misinterpreted the above article to mean that I equate all spanking with abuse. I believe that a careful reading of what I wrote should make clear that this is not my position.

Douglas Wilson, in his book Standing on the Promises, offers much wisdom on the topic of discipline. I’m going to quote some of the statements that seem especially apropos to this article:

Discipline is corrective; it seeks to accomplish a change in the one being disciplined. Punishment is meted out in the simple interests of justice

In bringing up children, parents should be disciplining them…God disciplines His people as He takes them through the daily process of their sanctification. He has their final glorification in view, and all His discipline works towards that end. But on the last day, He shall punish the wicked. When God finally pitches the ungodly away from Himself, He will have no intention of their subsequent improvement.

Because discipline seeks to correct, it has accomplished its purpose when the correction has been made. And because children are very different, this means that there will be godly distinctions in the discipline received by various children…

Because the Bible defines discipline as an act of love, it will only function properly in a broad context of love…The manner of the parent in discipline should be to show that the intention is to restore fellowship between parent and child. But if there is no context of love, then there is no real fellowship to restore…

It is not enough to have a context of love surrounding all acts of discipline. The discipline itself is to be done in a loving way. If a parent has the attitude of “Let me at that kid!” and is angry or embarrassed, he is spiritually disqualified to administer the discipline. When the parent is qualified to discipline, he probably does not feel like it, and when he feels like it, he is probably not qualified. This is why discipline must be applied in obedience to God’s Word, and not in a an emotional reaction to a particular situation.

Obviously Renee Polreis was not spiritually qualified to discipline her son. My entire point of this article was to admonish those who advocate spanking to be cautious and wise in helping their audience determine whether they are spiritually qualified to spank their children.

On a further note, I’ve been asked several times via email some rather personal questions about our family’s disciplinary practices. After giving it considerable thought, I’ve decided that two answers are in order to any who would ask in the future:

How complete strangers on the Internet discipline their children should not enter into any parents’ decision making process on this important issue.
It is important for me to respect the privacy of my children, especially as they are growing older. I consider any sins and failings on their part and the resultant discipline to be something that I should not trumpet forth to strangers, especially since these failings would be forgiven by the time I would be answering questions posed via email. My children (those old enough to voice opinions) tend to agree.