Poisoned Bible Project Episode 4: Spare the Rod
Authoritarianism and Childism: What we get wrong about those "discipline" verses
When I was a child, preteen, and so on, I was terrified to go against my parents because the verse “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” (good ol’ KJV) had been drilled into my head from an early age. Compliance was golden: anything else was witchcraft and would leave me open to all manner of terrible things. This was couched as being for my protection, as witchcraft was billed as a gateway to demon-possession and utter destruction.
I loved my parents and thought I loved God so this teaching from them and the brand of churches we attended seemed to be of the utmost importance.
The person who suggested this topic on the Poisoned Bible Project survey didn’t come with exact references in hand, they just mentioned how they’d been raised with a general theme of “disobedient children’s days will be cut short.” When I went to find what scripture this was referencing—because I remember that theme as well—I realized there were a number including the rebellion one (1 Samuel 15: 23) that have all been directed at making children compliant.
I suppose in a warped way this makes sense to a brand of Christianity that preaches you need to pray a specific prayer or God will send you to hell to burn forever and ever in flames that never die. But all of this is a misuse of what was intended.
The idea that disobedient children’s lives will be cut short is a rephrasing of the original command in the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments rendered in the NRSV as “honor your father and mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). To say that disobedient children’s days are cut short is an inversion of the “so you may live long.” And then the inversion of “honor your parents” to “disobedient” is a fascinating and, I believe, utilitarian rephrasing.
While I can’t go into every troubling verse that mentions disobedient children in this episode, I think we can use three sections of scripture to create a helpful–and more equitable lens–with which we can view all of these passages.