Child Abuse and Fundamentalism

Here’s the blog post I’ve been avoiding for months. Oh, I’ve been taking notes and collecting sources. My notes file was so huge that it took me a long time to pare down what could be materials and syllabus for a college course into a nice, short, readable blog post. But yes, dear reader, I think I succeeded! Let me know. (There are boatloads of links at the end – of course.)

I almost titled this one “Corporal Punishment, It’s Baked Into the System”. And let me say up front that this isn’t JUST a problem with those who believe the Bible is their inerrant guide to life. Violence is obviously a human problem. It seems that we humans have a tendency towards violent responses to disobedience. “You did what? After I told you no? I’m gonna make you regret that . . .” We like power and control, don’t we?

What if your Holy Book TELLS you to hit them?

Without education and awareness of child development, (and why isn’t this study a requirement for any human being who wants to be a parent??) getting children to obey often means using some type of threat. Again, it’s a human problem. I’m quite certain that, in every part of our world, a child irritating an angry, out-of-control adult is a recipe for disaster. But what happens when that angry adult can quote Bible passages to support his assertion that “God tells me that I HAVE to hit him!”? What did “recipe for disaster” just turn into? I don’t have a good turn of phrase, here.

There are many, many research studies, books, and essays that clearly show that Fundamentalist Christianity has an enormous child abuse problem. (Yes, list at the end.) Because we don’t need polls and analysis and newspaper articles to see the problem. All we need to see is Heaven and Hell. The bedrock of Xtian faith is pain-avoidant obedience. Disobey and burn in hell for eternity. Obey and worship and you will be rewarded after you die. Carrot and stick.

Some xtian friends of mine would be correcting me right now. It’s about Jesus! It’s about the love of God! It’s about being a better person and being closer to God! It’s not about hell, I don’t believe in hell! The Fundamentalist who has gotten this far is shocked to learn that there are xtians who don’t believe in hell (and they’re certain that those people aren’t real xtians so they WILL go to this place that they foolishly don’t believe exists) and they are furious with me for spelling christian as “xtian” so they probably just left. I can tell you, from years spent in a Fundamentalist church, that there are a plenty of very devout folks out there who live in terror of “backsliding”, of failing in some way that risks sending their Jesus-loving soul to hell despite their prayers and pleadings. I know someone who was raised fundie who dared to tell his parents that he is an atheist. They disowned him. Having any contact with their non-believing son would damn them to hell. This fear of eternal punishment, combined with the belief that the Bible is inerrant and the constant demand of obedience or else — it’s a bit problematic.

It’s in the schools. It used to be everywhere in America.

There have been SO many xtian schools and boarding schools that have been shut down after students go public with tales of abuse – it’s just been one after another for decades. Nineteen states still allow spanking in schools. That’s public schools! In private schools, religious exemptions make corporal punishment legal, except in the states of Iowa and New Jersey. Recently the Circle of Hope School closing has brought the religious abuse issue front and center again, so we might begin to see those religious exemptions begin to crumble.

Oh, look, it’s the Bible Belt. From:

Some of these public schools even specify the type of paddle to be used on the students. It should be noted that corporal punishment is considered a human rights violation. In adult to adult interactions, striking another human being with an object is felony assault. Schools are one of the few remaining public institutions that allow corporal punishment. It’s not allowed in American prisons. In fact, even animals fare better than children, because beating an animal is a crime. Why, then, is an adult beating a child NOT a crime?

There have been so many horror stories: The Rebekah Academies, Agape School, Shepherd’s Hill, and hundreds more, where students have been beaten, chained, starved, isolated, sleep-deprived, and raped, living in situations worse than most prisons. When the leaders are made to answer for these abuses, they are always outraged and defiant, saying that they were doing what was required, obeying the word of god.

I have clear memories of abuse from the xtian schools I attended. I remember unruly students being led to stand in front of the class, and the teacher pulling off his belt and whipping them until they screamed. Yes, the kids in those classes were pretty well-behaved. I see a problem when that good behavior stems from fear of pain and humiliation.

There are lots of Pro-Spanking groups

Even in 2021, when many psychological studies have clearly shown that corporal punishment is not only ineffective, but detrimental to a child’s development and overall mental health, there are a lot of preachers telling congregations that spanking their children is a godly requirement. (Yep, sources below. Not here.)
There are pro-spanking websites that list lots of books that tell parents WHY they should be hitting their kids and how to do it. (Ok, I’ll list one here. Here ya go: Along with pro-spanking arguments, it lists 23 Pro-Spanking books.) You can even go online and buy cross-decorated “Paddles of Discipline” and specially crafted “Rods of Correction”.

1/3 of adults who were spanked as children claim that the spankings were a good thing. 2/3 of America still believe that spanking is a valid parenting tool. Some folks may argue that spanking can be done in a cool-headed, loving, positive manner. I believe that striking a child in any way, for any purpose, is wrong. Teaching a child that a slap or punch (or whip!) is a way to gain control of others is wrong.

Why this subject is personally important to me

I know about this subject because I lived through fundamentalist-based child abuse. Bible verses were quoted, claims of “we’re doing this to save your soul from hell” were made. It was my Mother – my Father was the enabler. And she had issues, stemming from her own history of abuse, in addition to the religious influence.

When I was a child, there was a mindset that children “must be seen and not heard”. That they must be molded into obedient workers. Any disobedience, rebellion and back-talk must be stomped out. The only acceptable answer to any directive was “Yes, Sir” or “Yes, Ma’am”, and to get right to work. The Bible clearly says that inflicting pain is the most effective way to raise a good little xtian. God punishes his children, so parents should follow his example:

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

Hebrews 12:5-6

I was repeatedly told a story about the Good Shepherd (Jesus) who, if he kept having to chase a lamb who kept running away, would break its leg to teach it a lesson. He then carried the little lamb until its leg healed, and then the lamb wouldn’t ever run away again. And this was supposed to be a story about love. Thankfully, if you search the internet for this story today, you will find it thoroughly debunked.

I’m not going to fill paragraphs with tales from my childhood, I’ll only give one example and leave it at that: When the first few lashes came down, I would try not to cry. I eventually broke, and usually started begging for mercy. Then I would get some variant of “I’ll stop when you stop” (crying/talking) so I had to pull it together.

I got “spanked” approximately 3-4 times a week. I was not an evil child. My grades were A’s, I did my chores, I did not talk back, I never got in trouble at school. No, usually the sins that made a “spanking” necessary were things like not getting a spoon clean enough while washing the dishes, tossing a book to my brother instead of handing it to him, leaving some dust on my dresser while cleaning my room, anything, absolutely anything, really. My infraction was usually a total surprise to me, now that I think about it.

Sure, I lied sometimes. There were times when I knew I was out of line. I remember, in 6th grade, we had a math assignment that I had completely messed up. The teacher was reading the answers aloud and having us grade our own papers. I realized that my grade was going to be a C – or worse! – and I started erasing my answers and changing them. I got caught, of course.

Did I know it was wrong? Sure. But the bad grade was going to earn me a spanking, so the risk was absolutely worth it.

That’s where this fear of pain completely breaks down as behavior modification.
Here was a golden opportunity for a parent – it could have been a bonding/learning moment that would have stuck with any child – just a gentle discussion about why owning up to the mistake and re-learning the skill would have been so beneficial. How the grade was a non-issue, as long as better skills were acquired. It could have been a great lesson in being honest and learning how to correct a mistake.

But no. The only requirement was perfection.
Cheating, in the silly, frantic hope that my Mother would not learn about my mistake, was actually a SANE response. Hell yes, pain is a great teacher. But pro-spankers think that pain-avoidance will get linked to avoiding bad behavior?! Nope.

Parents who inflict pain are teaching their children to fear them and AVOID them. They are teaching their children to go to extreme lengths to not get caught. They are teaching their children to hide anything that might get cause their parent to get angry. They are teaching their child that the child can not express any of their feelings or opinions, because the only thing that matters is obedience – children are not allowed to have opinions. A lot of parents equate fear with respect. Fear is just fear. This is not love. This is not respect. This is only control.

What to do?

In my previous blog posts, I have criticized Bible stories, xtian behaviors, – I have pointed my finger at something and said “this is bad”. I don’t exactly have a track record of presenting answers to problems, here. But for this one, I want to find answers. I may spend a little research time trying to learn what is being done to correct this evil. Maybe I can help in some way. If I find something good and useful, I’ll update this post.

“Cartoon by David Hayward, the NakedPastor”

========== Just a Couple O’ Links and Sources========================

Some VERY Good Books on the Subject:

Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse by Philip Greven (1992)

Amazon Review: This is a richly researched, acutely unsettling study of corporal punishment in the United States. It focuses on the “Christian” use of Biblical texts to justify corporal punishment and its destructive legacy in our culture. Greven’s insightful scholarship traces rationales for parental brutality through generations of religious apocalyptic thinking. 

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment by Janet Heimlich (2011)

“Insightful, provocative, exposing, and well written, Janet Heimlich casts a bright light on the presence of child abuse in institutional religion, forcing it out of the dark corners of denial and into the arena of honesty and reality. I hope it is widely read.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong

Some Pro-Spanking Preachers:

Stephen Anderson, Faithful Word Baptist Church

Voddie Baucham

Doug Britton

Sam Crabtree, Bethlehem Baptist Church

James Dobson, Focus on the Family/The Family Research Council

Roger Jimenez, Verity Baptist Church

Michael Pearl, No Greater Joy Ministry

In this post, the author of “Breaking their Will” takes on a true monster, Michael Pearl. She re-examines a section from one of his own books that describes how he counseled a Father to discipline his crying toddler. The 2-3 year old child was crying, upset, and wanted to sit with his Mother. Pearl instructed the Father that no child should be allowed to dictate adult behavior, and that the Father should demand that he stop crying. When the child did not, Pearl had the Father whip the boy with a switch. The Father whipped a toddler at least 3 times with a switch because he would not stop crying.

Janet says “The scenario that took place on that dark road late at night is a reminder that Pearl should not be entrusted to tell parents how to raise their kids. While he states that the parents “won”, it is clear that Pearl himself gained particular satisfaction. After all, he was able to get a father to repeatedly beat a two- to three-year-old boy until he subdued the child, one whom Pearl refers to as “a tough nut to break”.

This was exactly my Mother’s mindset. The child has to learn early that their parent is the ultimate authority, and that they do not get to make demands, talk back – even crying at the “wrong time” is the sign of an evil, rebellious child.

Lester Roloff He died in 1982. My Mother thought that he was John the Baptist to Christ’s Second Coming, and constantly wondered if there was any way that she could send me to the Rebekah Home, a school for troubled teens that he ran in Texas.

The places were hell-holes. Children were starved, beaten, and caged for any infraction. He fought an 8-year court battle to keep his three homes open, arguing that he was just following God’s will, but he finally lost in 1978. In 1979, State Officials shut the three schools down. His “ministry” is still going strong, however.

Tedd Tripp, Capitol Hill Baptist

Some Pro-Spanking Sites:

Fundamentalism and Child Abuse

In the Name of God: A Profile of Religion-Related Child Abuse

Abuse in Schools

Speaking out against abuse

Published by libbylawrence

Fundamentalist turned Atheist in the US Bible Belt. Sharing fun memes and musings with anyone who is interested.

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