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Quote of the Day: Bob Jones University Employee Loses Her Job Because She Wouldn’t Let Her Employer Hit Her Child

dennis the menance being spanked

By Camille Kaminski Lewis

When my oldest was born — I called him my “screamer,” since my daughter’s stillbirth two years prior had filled the delivery room with only an ominous silence — I wanted to care for him like God cared for me.

I was working at the infamous Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. I was in middle management, if you will — the head of the rhetoric and public address department. My husband and I had graduated with two degrees each from BJU, and we had both earned our terminal degrees at Indiana University. Mine was a Ph.D. in rhetorical studies with a minor in American studies.


When I sat in that first BJU graduation ceremony after my son was born, I read Isaiah 49 to myself while the event droned on: “Can a woman forget her nursing child? … Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” That had been the first time I was away from my son for over three hours. My body could not “forget” my nursing child. But God says here that just like I couldn’t forget my child, He “will not forget you.”

A thought startled me: So, God loves his people like I love my son!? And wait — God loves my students like I love my son?!

That changed everything. I realized that God wasn’t transactional. I loved my son because he’s my son, not because he obeys.

Choosing to parent my son like God parented me — foregrounding love and care over transactions — brought me to the decision that I would never hit my son, no matter what the church instructed. I told myself that I would just keep this choice quiet until he was grown up and a wonderful young man, and no one from the community needed to know.

Things were fine in those early months of his life. The campus medical clinic (which our insurance benefits required we use) had instructed all of us mothers to look to fundamentalist parenting guru Gary Ezzo for our child-rearing. [Ezzo promotes ritual child abuse.] I knew his books well, but I chose differently. Ezzo said to “feed-wake-sleep” and to only feed every three hours for a minimum of 30 minutes. I used to joke that my son hadn’t read the books, so he would eat for an hour every two hours. His contrary “plan” was eat-wake-eat-wake-eat-eat-eat-sleep-eat-eat-wake. If Ezzo was wrong about feeding, I wondered, what else was he wrong about?

In defiance of Ezzo, I made a 67-cent ring sling to carry my son around the house while I vacuumed, cooked and folded laundry. That child was never happier. But I could not use this sling in public. That would get me labeled as Ezzo’s dreaded “marsupial mom.”

Then, one day, I had to. It was raining. A stroller didn’t make sense. If I wore my son, I could keep him close under my umbrella with me.


That innocent walk left me marked. I became the talk of the campus, especially among its day care staff. Still, I wasn’t too worried ― I was used to campus gossip and didn’t think it was a big deal.

Like with the university medical clinic, I was required to enroll my children in BJU’s cradle-to-baccalaureate educational programs, including its day care. The employee handbook stated that it would “expect” this of the faculty and staff.


One day while while I was waiting for my son outside of his classroom, I heard the “Big Room” teacher marching all the way down from the last classroom on my left. Clip-clop, clip-clop. When she appeared, a little boy around 3 or 4 was reluctantly but dreamily walking beside her. As she got closer, I could see that her jaw was clenched in frustration.

No more than 10 minutes later, the same teacher walked past me again, headed back to her classroom. The child was sobbing. I understood the whole story now. The teacher had taken him down to “Miss P,” the day care supervisor, for a spanking.

As she marched back with a whimpering child, I heard her repeat that ominous fundamentalist phrase: “Happy heart, Joshua! Happy heart!”

She just had taken a child to get hit by a complete stranger, and he wasn’t even allowed to own his own feelings.


When my oldest was 2 years and 8 months old, I could no longer shield him or keep my commitment silent. The campus day care sent me a memo giving them legal permission to hit my son, which they instructed me to sign and return. Just like Ligon and Jason, a virtual stranger would be causing my child pain outside of my purview, and then he would inevitably be told to repeat, “Happy heart!”

The memo was innocently tucked into a packet with innocuous forms and info like campus directories and calendars, all of which we received during our opening in-service meeting. I laid it on my knee and stared at it throughout the entire event.

I didn’t sign it. In fact, a social worker friend told me to write a letter that stated the opposite — that no one was allowed to hit my son.


That was the beginning of the end for me in fundamentalism. Within weeks, my academic dean called me in with my division chairman to inform my 38-year-old self that I was merely a “young mom” who didn’t have enough life experience to know biblical parenting. I thought that burying a baby, completing a Ph.D. and spending over 20 years under BJU preaching would count for something. It didn’t.

After countless meetings with many men higher on the org chart than I, the ultimatum came from the university president himself: “If you cannot hold your position without openly promoting it in spoken or written communication to colleagues, students, or others at a distance from the University, we would have to come to a parting of ways.”

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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  1. Avatar

    It is very strange that zealous Christian leaders often think that they could readily discount the lifelong experiences of others and assert that they are the only ones with the truth. Just because they have read (selected parts of) their bibles and studied under certain seminary teachers.

    “You are a young mom, you don’t know know anything.” How condescending.

    I once went to one “counselling” (i.e. conversion therapy) session with a highly prominent Evangelical “pastor/counsellor” from where I come from.

    He started throwing baseless claims about my parents and our family dynamics at me. He made wrong assumptions about me. But of course, the counsellor “was right” because he was a “Biblical counsellor” with the Bible as his manual.

    I then thought to myself, I spent years dealing with my homosexual feelings and all its social and mental consequences. In “gay years”, I am much older than him. And yet he thinks he has more insights into my inner life because “the Bible and Christian psychologists” tell him so? How bizzarre.

    From that point on, I realised that many prominent pastors are often no better than us the pew sitters. Despite their outward show of divine wisdom, many of them have clay feet. “Professing to be wise, they become fools”, indeed.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Kel—I have been living as a woman for two decades. To this day, there are people (including relatives) who presume to know what I am, let alone feel, better than I do. Some are religiously motivated, but one relative who is convinced, to this day, that I went through my transition (including gender affirmation surgery) to “avoid “ being gay. That same relative shunned me because he thought I was gay!

    Missi—The most control any employer ever had over me was when I was a counselor at a sleep-away camp. Even so, the level of control I experienced came from living on the premises and was nothing like the author of the article suffered.

    My mother was a strict disciplinarian. But she never would’ve abided anyone else treating me the way those day care workers treated the author’s kid. I know this for a fact. She once beat someone who hit me for allegedly doing something that, my mother knew, I never would’ve done.

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    I thought I’d heard enough horrible authoritarian ideas. But to force an employee to allow her child to be spanked? And by a complete stranger? Sickening.

  4. Avatar

    Religious fundamentalism demands total control over its followers, and this is an unfortunately superb example of that authoritarianism. The type of discipline sounds very much informed by IBLP (Bill Gotherd) and James Dobson. It’s amazing that someone got fired from BJU because she didn’t want staff to beat her child. That shouldn’t surprise me, knowing what I know about fundamentalism, but I guess I have been in the real world too long.

    Religious fundamentalism really comes down to the acceptance of a system in which one guy (pastor, religious leader – almost always a straight man) is ordained/chosen by God to be the leader,. Whatever rules the leader sets are deemed to be correct, enforceable, and applicable to all followers without question. (*terms and conditions apply – the leader’s close inner circle may be granted exceptions because the deity told the leader so, for whatever reason). There are often levels of leadership, typically with certain groups (generally women and children) considered to inhabit the lowest levels, excluded from any form of leadership, and subject to the harshest, most stringent rules and regulations. Members, particularly those at lower levels, are segregated from outside resources and society in order to maintain the purity of the authoritarian structure; consequently, it is quite difficult, if not impossible, for rebels to leave. Threats of expulsion along with scare stories about the outside world are often used to keep members in line. It’s a system rife with abuse. BJU is a classic example of one of these abusive authoritarian structures.

  5. Avatar
    Ben Berwick

    Disciplining a child is one thing, but I’ve never been a fan of spanking/striking a child, and being forced to permit strangers to hit my child in order to keep my job?! What an horrific employer this organisation is.

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    Did that little boy have any idea what he was being spanked for? Very young children have a shaky gasp of their own behavior. (I have heard plenty of stories of children who did not realize they started a fire when playing with matches, or similar dangerous actions) A long time ago I read something about Native American culture: they asserted that hitting a child would make misbehavior worse. when I heard that some rural schools would allow teacher to hit children I could not believe it; New York apparently outlawed it before I started school (in 1950). I have also observed children get scolded for involuntary behavior: One student was scolded for years for “not paying attention”. Eventually we (classmates and teachers) realized that he had lost his hearing! I did not realize until we were packing to leave Los Angeles that the schools in that district allowed teachers to spank students. Junior started to read before he started kindergarden. In first grade is teacher thought he was simply turning the pages, not reading ahead. He had no clue he was expected to read one line and let the next child read the next line. If he had been spanked for that we would have gone in and read the teachers and staff the riot act. The school got a new reading expert who figured it out. The teacher looked upset, but never apologized. (I wonder if she was worried she had made similar mistakes in the past) What happens when a child who was controlled by spanking grows tall and strong enough to turn around and punch that cruel adult??

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    Charles S. Oaxpatu

    I know what nearly all attorneys say about this issue: “Never—–and I do mean NEVER—–even so much as touch another person’s child without their permission.” You can get your ass sued so fast your head will spin if you do, and the person who sues you will most likely win. Even grumpy old Judge Judy aligns with this.

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Bruce Gerencser