This morning I was watching First Take on ESPN with Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith & Cari Champion. They were talking about the recent plight of the football player Adrianne Peterson and his plea deal for the child abuse of beating his son. He got a simple slap on the wrist of a misdemeanor and 80 hours of community service. There we no additional requirement for individual counseling or parenting classes which I would have insisted on. As the 3 ESPN commentators debated the subject it was clear about their own reticence on this topic, with all of them citing that they too were beat with instruments of some sort coming up and all turned out alright.

For so long folks have used that old bible passage “spare the rod and spoil the child” to justify all manner of corporal punishment and child abuse. People beat their children to control them and get them to do what they want and then justify it by their archaic interpretation of this Bible statement and the fact that they were raised that way and turned out alright.

As an individual who worked in the field of Child Protective Services handling cases of Child Abuse and Neglect for Los Angeles County for over 25 years as well as being a minister for over 20 years, I have a unique perspective from both a spiritual and secular perspective on this issue. What I have to say goes contrary to the accepted Christian clergy belief and practice.

First of all the aforementioned “rod” is not the rod of a stick to beat your child with, it is the rod as in “thy rod and thy staff comfort me,” the familiar refrain from the 23rd Psalm. In other places, particularly throughout all of Psalms, the rod is referred to as strength as in, “the Lord is my rod and fortress,” as mentioned in Psalm 18:2 and 31:3. Or “He is my rod and my salvation,” in Psalm 61:2 and 62:6. Throughout Genesis in particular we get references to the rod as a sceptre or staff that is carried by royalty, Pharaohs, and enlightened spiritual beings like Moses or Gods like Zeus.

Perhaps most significant is the staff of Moses, actually called a rod in the King James Version of the Bible. This rod was used to perform miracles of profound spiritual significance. This Moses’ rod or staff was used to produce water from a rock, transformed into a snake to swallow an enemy snake, and ultimately used to part the Red Sea. Moses was seen carrying this rod in all significant and important matters of spiritual accomplishments and rituals.

In other words throughout scripture the rod was symbolic and representative of strength, power and spiritual transformation. So the real meaning of “spare the rod and spoil the child,” is that if you spare the rod of spiritual knowledge, insight and transformation to your child, they’ll be spoiled rotten.” In other words, without spiritual knowledge your children will be worthless. They need spiritual knowledge and insight in order to be the very best that they can be. Without this “rod” of strength, insight and spiritual awareness they’ll be lost in the world and of no good to anyone.

In other words, nowhere in the Bible does it actually say, “get a rod and beat your kid or they’ll be spoiled.” It’s not literally talking about a physical rod, stick, bat, tree branch, golf club or any other hard physical instrument with which to beat your kid. This is al the speculation and interpretation of minds that know no better and are looking for ways to justify their lack of alternative ways of raising children without beating them. Most of this thinking and actions are based on the way in which they were raised.

When I use to counsel parents who had severely abused their children by beating them with some hard instrument and they would use the excuse that this was the way they were raised. I’d tell them that just because it was done in your day, doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. After all, we use to get around by horse and buggy, but I don’t see any of that anymore. Life is about progress, evolution, transformation and moving beyond where we were before. As we discover more effective ways of doing things we let go of the old ways and embrace the new. Nowhere is this more evident that in our technology where you buy a computer or cell phone this year and by next year it is already outmoded.

So even if we don’t understand the spiritual significance and meaning of the “rod.” We can move beyond archaic ways of raising our children without the use of beating and physical abuse. You beat a dog to train them, although an animal trainer once told me that they don’t ever even have to beat their dogs to train them. So if a dog, of purported lesser intelligence than a human can be trained without being beat, then so can a human child.

I AM living proof that a human being can turn out more than good as a result of not being beat as is the case for my sister as well as my children. I know countless others who have also turned out wonderful and never had a “rod” taken to them in horrific beating. And while the key operative word here is “alright” by those who were beaten with a rod of some sort, none of them liked it, and just about all of them suffer some sort of trauma surrounding that type of abuse late into adult life. Many of them have chosen not to raise their children that way by fear of the rod.

On a deeper level there is this strange psyche of ruling by fear, violence and punishment that so deeply permeates our society. It has been said that you get more bees with honey than with vinegar. In spiritual nomenclature and cosmology, we give lip service to the power of Love and the entire ministry of Jesus based on this Truth. Jesus went so far as to tell us to turn the other cheek and not hit someone who is trying to do you harm and to even love your enemy. But when it comes to children, we’re given leeway to do as we please.

On this matter with the football Mr. Peterson, all of the conversation was about punishing him with 80 hours of community service and suspending him for the year from playing football with total loss of pay. Yet the conversation never got to him getting individual counseling for the trauma he admittedly experienced as a child himself, or parenting to equip him with better skills for raising his own children. As a society we’d rather punish than rehabilitate or even be proactive with preventative measures. We spend billions of dollars on prisons and precious few on preventative and rehabilitative measures. Our punitive approach to reality doesn’t heal anyone as the recidivism rate in our prisons hovers around 68% within 3 years and 77% within 5 years can testify. In other words, out punitive approach as a society is clearly not the best medicine.

I was so happy to wake up this morning and discover that a proposition we had on the ballot here in California to decriminalize non-violent and victimless crimes had resoundingly passed. The billions of dollars that will be saved as a result of this measure are going to be channeled into preventative and rehabilitative measures like education, counseling and more services like parks, boys & girls clubs, and job preparation, rather than warehousing folks in prison. This is a move in the right direction and a much better spending of our precious financial and human resources. It is also an area that the church and clergy can be more proactive with.

Our preoccupation with violence as a society is a root cause of child abuse, domestic abuse, gang violence, violent movies, violent crimes and war. We sanction violence on a large scale with our wars, movies and then are alarmed with violent crime, gangland warfare and domestic violence. We can’t sanction, condone and encourage violence on the one hand with our wars, movies, football, video games, and gun advocacy and then condemn it on the other hand where gang violence, crime, domestic violence & child abuse is concerned. This is why Jesus was consistent. He was unwavering in his admonition to love one another, live in peace and harmony, and forgive everyone all the time across the board.

Our religious and spiritual perspective and obligation must be the same as that of Jesus. We must abhor violence in any form, on every level, and move to promote love, peace, forgiveness, nonviolence, harmony, and inclusion at every level of human society. In this way we create an environment where child abuse, domestic abuse, gangs, crime, wars can cease to be a part of the human experience. As a result we will have resurrected Eden and recreated heaven here on earth.

Browse Our Archives