So often spanking is utilized according to the Ned Flanders model—all or nothing. And religious adherents are on both ends of the punishment spectrum. One controversial discipline manual that purports to offer Christian parenting guidance, “To Train Up a Child,” suggests training children as the Amish train mules. According to the book, infants are to be lashed when they reach out for forbidden objects of desire. On the other hand, groups such as ParentingInJesusFootsteps.org argue against any physical discipline because it’s not mentioned in the Beatitudes, Golden Rule or parable of the Prodigal Son. The United Methodist Church passed two antispanking resolutions in 2004, arguing that Jesus wouldn’t approve.

While all these groups may appeal to the Bible, the Scriptures are actually much more nuanced about parental discipline…

While the rod passages get all the attention, that’s not all the Bible says about correction. In his letter to the Ephesians, for instance, St. Paul reminds kids to obey parents. But he adds, “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.” In Colossians, fathers are told, “Provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” In First Thessalonians, the greatest affection is compared with the care a mother gives her own children, and Christians are routinely encouraged to be humble, gentle, forbearing and—most important of all—forgiving in all their relationships.