Spare me the God talk about spanking and stop abusing kids in your church

Physical abuse that went by spanking was mandated at my church growing up. Elders there convinced my parents, who did not want to spank, that they had to for religious and political reasons, and they gave very harsh instructions. They went to town. I started getting migraines young, and now i get 3 to 7 migraines a week. No one has any excuse for hitting a child. Evidence that spanking or physical abuse is harmful isn't new, but psychology was dismissed as a liberal conspiracy (along with evolution and global warming) against God fearing conservatives.

In my first letter about a year ago, pasted below, I asked for an apology. That's all. My folks apologized, took responsibility, expressed regret, said they had uncritically gone along with what everyone was saying and doing, but the men who taught them to abuse and established a culture of abuse at Church Creek in the 80s and 90s have so far refused to apologize or allow me to speak to them in person at a session (church board) meeting. I've been direct and discrete, but their teaching and practice for over 20 years was public and deserves public critique, so I'm asking for a public, written statement of acknowledgement and regret. News is, the rhetoric and practice there has mellowed, but the letter they sent me explicitly stated nothing has changed. It needs to.

Attn: [Pastor] and Clerk of Session
Church Creek Presbyterian Church
2234 Plainview Rd.
Charleston, SC 29414

Hi [Pastor],

As we discussed on the phone, I would like to speak to the Church Creek session about its teaching regarding corporal discipline during the 80s and 90s when my brothers and I were growing up. Parents like mine (and those of my peers) were persuaded to spank too hard and too often, even though they were initially opposed to spanking. There were also a lot of harsh things said about spanking that by themselves were unhelpful for kids to grow up hearing. I am asking that a written apology be communicated to church and school alumni.

Unhelpful Practices  Spanking as the primary mode of discipline for disobedience.  Up to 10 swats at a time, frequently 3-5.  Spanking often 3-5 days a week, and not uncommonly 7 days a week.  Spanking again when kids didn’t acknowledge sin and repent.  Implements such as belts, rulers, and plastic and wooden spatulas were used.  Ritualized confession and prayers for forgiveness after each spanking.  Red marks and bruises were common. Pediatricians were sought and referred who wouldn't "freak out" over
marks from spankings. When we didn’t cooperate (submit) we got hit on legs, back, knuckles, and writs.  Pants and underwear were dropped to ankles even with parent of opposite sex; shame was “part of the
punishment.”  All the ritual and control around spanking procedures did not prevent more serious abuse such as hitting, slapping, grabbing, pushing, and throwing things.  When other men at church witnessed excessive discipline, they occasionally said something. Adults were aware that in some families, corporal discipline was out of control, and too little was done.  Spanking continued until I was 12 and I decided to stop letting my parents spank me.

Unhelpful Sayings:  "The government" uses child abuse prevention policies to take children away from Christian parents.  God gave kids bottoms because they're perfect for feeling a lot of pain with only a little injury.  Spanking doesn't hurt near as much as hell.  Spanking leads to regret, which leads to repentance.  If it's not on a bare bottom, it's not a real spanking.  Un-spanked kids will drive their parents crazy.  Parents who don't spank don't really love their children.  Schools that don't spank can't control their classrooms.  Kids who aren't spanked are spoiled rotten or become criminals or lazy deadbeats.  Spanking shows we take sin seriously.  Christians who don't spank aren't real Christians, and their churches aren't real churches, and they don't take the bible seriously.

The disciplinary environment the church encouraged led to traumatic experiences with lasting effects for myself and others raised at Church Creek. Hearing a formal statement of acknowledgement and regret would go a long way.

William H. McLellan

The response several months later written by new Assoc. Pastor that came by pdf said none of what the pastors and elders taught back then about spanking was official church teaching and that spanking wasn't supposed to hurt or be embarrassing. Official church teaching on God's "covenant" with families and children was stated. Ignorance of excessive discipline was claimed. They said they hoped I feel better but that they would not apologize. I sent the following angry reply a few days later, several months ago now, and haven't heard a thing since, but I also haven't acted on my plans to speak out until now.

[Assoc Pastor],

This isn't an apology. It's a defense of a perspective the elders might have now, what might have been, but I wasn't challenging baptism or covenant theology. This is about what happened to me and my peers. My parents didn't want to spank but we're told they had to. Elders and teachers at CCS taught a harsh line on spanking, certainly saying it should be embarrassing and painful. It was explicitly tied to political culture wars.

The Session didn't know? My dad [Elder 1] was on the Session. Other men, some elders, talked to me and my parents about what they perceived to be excessively harsh discipline, but nothing changed. When I was 11 Dr. [Elder 2] did physicals for the boy scout troop and told me he would talk to my parents about the bruises they were leaving on my body, but he never did. There was a system that made this happen. You're new. Maybe you wish this was all an excessive application of what was taught and the elders were in the dark, but that's not true. [Elder 3], [Elder 4] and [Elder5] were among the loudest voices on spanking "harshly", even using that word.

My dad threw a garden rake at my brother and me for fighting at a church workday. [Deacon 1] came over to talk to him, and dad got [Former Pastor] to come out and tell Dan and me not to fight so much. [CCS Principal and Deacon 2] asked my parents not to spank us again for getting spanked at school and to stop grabbing us by our necks and shoulders. But nothing changed. So many missed opportunities to protect covenant children!

A Session who believes in the covenant should be the last group to shirk responsibility and hide behind "we didn't know what was going on." You are the church, whether as an individual you were there or not. You as a Session owe all of us a public apology. I insist. I am in contact with my peers, and I intend to speak out publicly about what was done to us at church and school in God and his covenant's name.



  1. Greetings from the UK. Sorry for your troubles.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

  2. how many times did i hear "spare the rod, spoil the child" growing up in that church/school...? i have looked back on that part of my life with criticism for many aspects but hadn't thought much about their punishment doctrine and how messed up it was. thank you for sharing your experiences and for calling them out. my general impression is things are lot better there now but that doesn't excuse what you went through and i hope they issue a true apology to you & your peers.


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