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IFB Evangelist Allen Domelle Says Training Kids is Like Training Dogs

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Cartoon by Randy Glasbergen

Did you know that training a child is a lot like training a dog?  Using Proverbs 22:6, train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it, as a foundation, Allen Domelle, editor of the Old Paths Journal and an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist, compares training a Rottweiler to training a child.

Domelle writes (link no longer active):

In recent years, I have owned several Rottweilers…One of the current dogs I got from them is Tydy. Tydy is a female Rottweiler who weighs in at about 100 pounds, and is all muscle. She is a beautiful dog! Like all Rottweilers, Tydy is a strong-minded dog and needs a strong owner. Don’t get me wrong, she is the most loving dog you can be around, but she is a very strong-willed dog which requires my wife, daughter and me to be sure to be strong, calm and assertive owners.

When I got her as a pup, I immediately started training her. For the most part, she was a pretty easy dog to train. One thing I quickly noticed about her is that it is very hard to break her focus once she gets sidetracked. She is a well-trained dog that I can take to any public place, but I have to be sure to stay engaged with her and keep her focused on what I command her to do.

One morning I was taking her for a walk, and I decided to try something different to keep her from being sidetracked when other people, dogs or distractions walked by us. I took a bag of dog treats and got her nose working instead of her eyes. I quickly found out that I could keep her focused by making me more attractive than those things that would normally sidetrack her. I learned to get a treat out and hold it by her nose which caused her to stay focused on me every time something came that usually sidetracked her. I learned by doing this that she wanted to stay with me more than she wanted to focus on anything else.

That morning it made me realize the importance of parents keeping God’s way attractive so that their children don’t get sidetracked by the Devil and the world. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Just like I train my dog to obey me, every parent has a responsibility to train their child in the right way of life. The age-old problem that most parents face is keeping their children walking in the right ways. I am by no means an expert in child rearing, but I learned that morning walking my dog that if parents would keep the right way attractive, then fewer children would be sidetracked by the world and the Devil.

The principles in training a child and a dog are very similar. It takes time to train. God did not tell us, “Teach a child in the way he should go,” but He commanded us to “Train up a child in the way he should go…” If we are going to keep our children walking in the right ways after they leave home, then we must keep God’s way more attractive than the world’s. There are several thoughts that come to mind when I think of keeping the way attractive.

Here are a few of the comparisons Domelle makes between dog training and child training:

  • Training a dog is not always accepted by those who don’t know how to train dogs. Many who don’t know anything about training dogs will think you are being mean to the dog by not allowing the dog to do what it wants to do, but in the long run my dogs have much more freedom than theirs because I can take my dog in public off leash and they can’t. The dog trainer always has to keep a closed ear to the critics and keep their eye on the way they know will turn out a good dog.One thing you must always remember is that doing right is always right even when it seems nobody else is doing it. You must keep in mind that God’s way is always right whether or not others are doing it. If you do train your child in the way, you will find there will be times when criticism comes your way, but you must not forsake the way. Jesus says in John 14:6, “…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Don’t ever doubt the way because people have said that it doesn’t work. Don’t change the way because society doesn’t agree with it. The way is always right even when the whole world doesn’t agree with it. You know where God’s way is taking your children, so don’t leave it because another way seems more attractive.
  • Training a dog takes patience, hard work, time and determination. If training a dog was easy, then everybody would train their own dog. We know it’s not easy because most people want someone else to train their dog for them. They want others to do the work that theyshould be doing. What most dog owners don’t realize is that they can get the dog professionally trained, but if the dogis going to continue to act the way it should, then the owners are going to haveto be consistent with the rules of training when the dog comes home. This won’t always be easy. That is why you have so many dogs that are out of control.Training children is not an easy task, but let me assure you that you are up to the task. Just like people want someone to train their dog, many parents leave the spiritual training to the church, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders or to the Christian school, but God places that responsibility on the parent. Training children takes wisdom, time, patience, hard work, communication and determination by both parents. If training children were easy, then every child would turn out right. What I have found out is that most parents struggle with their children because they have not taken the time to train them. They tell them what to do, but training is showing them how to do it and following through with each directive. Training children in the way is not going to be easy, but it is very much worth the time and effort when your children continue walking in God’s way.
love and obey

While I certainly can find points of agreement with Domelle, I find it troubling that he would equate training a dog with training a child. Dog owners often take their animals to obedience school. I suspect, knowing that Domelle is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, he thinks that the home and the church are akin to a dog obedience school. Train them when they are young and they will obey and turn out well. Teach a child to come when called for, sit or run when commanded to do so, and urinate and defecate in the proper place, and all will be well, right?

Fundamentalists like Domelle think that every problem can be solved with discipline and obedience. Read and study the Bible, pray without ceasing, attend church every time the doors are open, tithe and give offerings to the church, and witness to unbelievers. These practices must be drilled into Christian heads until they become second nature. These are the first steps, the first works, that Christians must take on the path of obedience. Once indoctrinated, believers are more likely to obey other laws, commands, and precepts preachers say are straight from God himself. Start the indoctrination and conditioning when children are young, it will be easier to get them to accept whatever the pastor says is “truth” when they get older. If the pastor says, THE BIBLE SAYS, that’s the dog’s, I mean the child’s, cue to perk up, listen, and obey.

Like every IFB preacher, Domelle sees Proverbs 22:6 as the blueprint for raising children who turn out “right.”  Domelle believes parents must train their children in THE WAY to have any hope of their children turning out as God-fearing, pastor-obeying born-again Christians. According to Proverbs 22:6, if parents train their children in the proper way, when they grow old they will not depart from their training. However, as the readership of this blog can attest, this training does not automatically result in adult children loving, serving, and obeying the Christian God.

Polly and I were blessed with six children. From birth, we trained them in THE WAY, yet none of them stayed on the Proverbs 22:6 path as adults. Why is this? Shouldn’t the early dog God training have ensured their obedience? All of them were in their late teens and older when we stopped walking in THE WAY. Why are none of them committed Evangelicals today? Was there some flaw in the training they received that resulted in all six of them abandoning the One True Faith® of their childhood? One would think after fifteen to twenty-nine years of indoctrination and conditioning that they would have stayed on the straight and narrow. But, they didn’t. Why?

Domelle’s child-rearing model is based on strict rules and obedience. Do this and thou shalt live, is the gospel of Evangelicalism. For all their talk about grace, Evangelicals really believe in a gospel of works. Believe the “right” things + live the “right” way = a divine doggie treat called Heaven after death. While many Evangelicals will likely object to my characterization of their beliefs, once all the flowery theological jargon is stripped away, what is left is a belief system that requires fidelity to certain beliefs and a life lived according to those beliefs. Anyone who doesn’t believe the right things and live the right way doesn’t get a treat when they die.

While I am hesitant to use my children as an example, I think doing so will help illustrate the fallacy of Proverbs 22:6 and the Domelle Child Training Program®.  Ask anyone who knew our children when they were young and they will tell you that our children were polite, respectful, obedient children.  All of them made professions of faith, were active in church, and when they were old enough to work they gave liberally to the church, missions, and the needy.  They were, in every way, perfect examples of obedient Christian children. Yet, look at them today. What in the H-E-L-L happened?

When their father, the only pastor they ever had, left the ministry and later left Christianity, they were forced to fend for themselves. No longer were they trained pets, obedient to every command from their earthly and heavenly father. They became wild animals roaming free without the leash of the Bible or the hovering presence of their father. Instead of following a predetermined path, each of them was/is free to wander down paths of their own choosing. No dog whistle or stern command to call them back. They are F-R-E-E, free from the strictures of Evangelicalism, the Bible, their parents, and grandparents.

To the outsider, this freedom looks like confusion. Behind their back, fellow employees whisper, (please read out loud with “concerned” Christian voice)  did you know  _____________ Dad was a pastor? Did you know that _______________ Dad is the atheist who writes those anti-Christian letters in the newspaper? What happened to them? Freedom is what happened to them. Each of our children is free to choose their own path. If they are happy, then Polly and I are happy.

In April of 2009, I sent a letter to family, friends, and former parishioners. In this letter I stated:

I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, she is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye opener.

Polly is free to be whom and whatever she wishes. If she wanted to start attending the local Fundamentalist Baptist Church she is free to do so and even has my blessing. For now, she doesn’t.  She may never believe as I believe, but in my new way of thinking, that is okay. I really don’t care what others think. Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you living a good, productive life? Do you enjoy life? Yes, to these questions is good enough for me.

I have six children, three who are out on their own. For many years I was the spiritual patriarch of the family. Everyone looked to me for the answers. I feel somewhat burdened over my children. I feel like I have left them out on their own with no protection. But, I know they have good minds and can think and reason for themselves. Whatever they decide about God, religion, politics, or American League baseball is fine with me.

All I ask of my wife and children is that they allow me the freedom to be myself, that they allow me to journey on in peace and love. Of course, I still love a rousing discussion about religion, the Bible, politics, etc. I want my family to know that they can talk to me about these things, and anything else for that matter, any time they wish.

Opinions are welcome. Debate is good. All done? Let’s go to the tavern and have a round on me. Life is about the journey, and I want my wife and children to be a part of my journey and I want to be a part of theirs.

The sentiment I expressed in 2009, still holds today.

Training children as someone would train a dog robs them of their ability to reason and think for themselves. This is why preachers such as Domelle tell parents to send their children to a CHRISTIAN school or home school them, and when they graduate from high school it’s off to a CHRISTIAN college.  From birth to graduation from college, church children are indoctrinated, taught to only view the world through the distorted lens of Evangelical Christianity. And if these Christians color outside of the lines? As with disobedient dogs, they are punished. For many children, this punishment is enough to make them heel, but for others, they rebel. They tire of being told what to believe, what to think, or how to live. Once  free of their leashes or stakes in their parents’ backyard, they run until they can no longer see from whence they came. While this new-found freedom is dangerous and fraught with difficulty, they have no intention of returning to lives defined by commands and obedience.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Brian

    Your line, “If you want to live…” is very apt in this matter. When the dog disobeys, the dog is punished and that does not mean a gentle whisper of encouragement. Children need the same, apparently and to beat the fucking hell out of them early on is to defeat Satan before he gets a foothold. If it was just dog treats then what would happen when Satan comes along with a new dog-treat. NO! You must be fervent and observe each attempt to deviate from your orders, your commands. Meet them with punishment, with severe pain! Praise Jesus, whose father gave him over to be punished! And look what happened! He became magical and rose from the dead and appeared here and there and was better than ever before. The Cross is what children need to learn how to be Jesus. I do not understand why this man is talking about dogs? Is he trying to wake people up to the obvious? Children are vipers and need to be crushed. If they live, then it was ordained. Never mind all the doggy treats, you sissy Christian cowards.

  2. Avatar
    Karen

    The thing is, I suspect children who get positive rewards from their religion are more likely to stick with it. I was smart enough to start privately questioning Catholic dogma before I got to high school, but I was as comfortable as a depressed person could be in my Catholic high school world and was not about to rock the boat. I didn’t really start to struggle with a profession of faith until my senior year, and continued to attend Sunday services at my college’s Catholic student church (Newman Center) for a couple of my undergraduate years. By that time I didn’t believe much of it, but the services were uplifting and energizing. Of course, as young Catholics in the late 1970s, we weren’t being sent out to preach the gospel but to save the world. Whatever Rome’s position might be, the Church in California was about feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and generally Doing Unto The Least Of These.

    It wasn’t until my senior year of college, when Husband-to-be and I broached the subject of secular wedding rather than a Catholic service, that my mother had an inkling I’d fallen away from the Catholic Church. The proverbial fertilizer hit the fan, of course, and we were eventually married at that Newman Center. The only Catholic services I’ve attended since then were weddings and funerals, and Mama spent a couple of decades being devastated. But as I said, the roots of my rebellion were laid down before high school; it was just easier to go with the program for the longest time. Doggie treats, and all that.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      There were a lot of rewards in the church culture I grew up in. It was very strict but we had a lot of fun, especially once I reached ninth grade. The church I attended had a large youth group and there was always something going on. Most of the girls I dated were in the same youth group. We had regular activities and Sunday night youth group meeting, which afterwards we’d all go out to a restaurant and hang out. Great times. In a couple of weeks Polly and I are meeting up with a couple of friends that were once in the same youth group. Oh the stories… 🙂

      But, as I survey where all the youth group kids are today, I see that very few of them are still in the church. Most still believe in God, but they don’t regularly attend church. Some are atheists, others are everything from pagan to Buddhist. Why didn’t they stick with it? Once they became adults, the fun was over. What was left was dogma and strict rules. Now free to choose their own path, they chose a path that led them out of the Evangelical church.

  3. Avatar
    Monty

    Man, I always heard that PKs are the wildest lol! My former IFB pastor has 3 (now adult) children. 2 girls 1 boy. Only the youngest still regularly attends and she’s the wildest of them all! She just had her second divorce. Not judging…I just know that to be a PK in an IFB church with not one but TWO divorces, especially when your father is the senior pastor, looks bad. Bit she is definitely wild.

  4. Avatar
    Emersonian

    Out of curiosity, Bruce, how old were your kids when you wrote that letter? Did you discuss your break with your former beliefs with them openly at the time?

    Also, I don’t have kids, but if I did and they were in favor of the designated hitter, I’d have to disown them. Some things aren’t negotiable.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      My children were 16-30, the youngest three still lived at home. We had a family meeting about our loss of faith — a rip the bandaid off approach. Polly and I don’t meddle in the lives of our children. They are free to live their lives as they see fit (even if we disagree). All we ask from them is that they allow us to do the same.

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Bruce Gerencser