Tag Archive: Rebellion

Are Children Naturally Rebellious Against God?

guest-post

A guest post by Jonny Scaramanga, who blogs at Leaving Fundamentalism.

In an earlier blog post, The Dogma That Followed Me Home, Cat Givens described the horrifying abuse she suffered at New Bethany Home for Wayward Girls. This school used the Accelerated Christian Education/ School of Tomorrow curriculum. I too attended an ACE school, and abuse was rife there too. While New Bethany was a particularly extreme example, physical abuse is endemic to Accelerated Christian Education. It is at the heart of the theology that inspires the curriculum. Their beliefs about the nature of the child inform the whole way the schools are built.

Accelerated Christian Education believes that children are inherently wicked, full of original sin, and that this must be driven out of them by breaking their spirits. This results in ruthless discipline. Among the Scriptures that inspire this belief are:

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”

Proverbs 22:15

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

Jeremiah 17:9

Several years ago, I had dinner with a supervisor from my old ACE school. She told me, as though it were completely natural, “sometimes when you look into the eyes of a child that’s being naughty, you can just see this spirit – it’s demonic.”

It’s this theology that leads to ACE’s system of separating children into carrels, with high partitions on each side to stop them from communicating with their neighbors, shown in this ACE promotional video. The message is simple: With your inherently sinful nature, child, you cannot be trusted.

This need to break the child’s will is a staple of Christian Right thinking, says Arizona State University’s Professor David Berliner. In “Educational Psychology Meets the Christian Right,” (website link no longer active) he quotes extensively from fundamentalist literature on child raising. This is John Robinson, leader of the Puritans and hero to modern fundamentalist educators:

“Surely there is in all children … a stubbornness, and stoutness of mind arising from natural pride, which must, in the first place, be broken and beaten down; that so the foundation of their education being laid in humility and tractableness, other virtues may, in their time, be built thereon.”

Who is more a fundamentalist icon than John Wesley? This is his mother’s view on child-rearing:

“A child must be conquered. . . . And when the will of a child is totally subdued, and it is brought to revere and stand in awe of the parents, then a great many childish follies … may be passed by. . . . I insist on the conquering of the will of children betimes, because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education … [and] when this is thoroughly done, then a child is capable of being governed by the reason and piety of its parents.”

The tone has barely changed in the intervening centuries. Berliner cites Jack Hyles, from 1972:

“The spanking should be administered firmly. It should be painful and it should last until the child’s will is broken. It should last until the child is crying, not tears of anger but tears of a broken will. As long as he is stiff, grits his teeth, holds on to his own will, the spanking should continue.”

Berliner notes that this way of thinking is utterly opposed to the healthy development of the mind. “Various subject matter fields now require of a learner curiosity, agency, and thoughtfulness – characteristics that cannot develop well when obedience is the primary goal of child rearing.”

This view of the child as needing to be broken, like a horse, led to hideous abuses at my school. It was not only spanking. In drama classes, if a movement was painful, the teacher made students repeat it endlessly. A classmate recently emailed me to describe a time her sibling was made to snap his fingers until they were covered in blisters. In a choral verse class, children had to hold contorted positions on stage for 10 minutes or more at a time, and the teachers screamed at them if they were seen to move at all.

The same student also described the experience of being paddled at an ACE school:

“I was at [the ACE school] aged 3 – 7, and i cant remember what happened exactly when, but i got paddled a lot and remember having big red marks on my thighs from it and it hurt and was really terrifying! And straight after being paddled [the teacher] asked ‘do u believe that i love u?’ and i said ‘no’, cz obviously i knew that she hated me, and she said ‘YES I DO LOVE YOU!’ and it was just weird and confusing for a small child! and the things i remember getting paddled for were dragging my gym bag along the floor cz it was too heavy, and for drawing a cat on my pace, and for saying i havent had a biscuit when actually i had had a biscuit, which was a malicious lie!

“And [the teacher] would make you say a prayer after being paddled to apologize and I said ‘I wont do it again’ in my prayer and she interupted and said ‘YES YOU WILL DO IT AGAIN’! again, weird and confusing for a child!!”

Earlier editions of the School of Tomorrow Procedures Manual have clear instructions for supervisors on how and when to use the paddle to administer spankings (cited, for example, in Roger Hunter’s “The Shock of the Old: The Militant Church and Education”). The Catholic Herald (website link no longer active) described the paddle in one British ACE school as “a cricket bat-shaped US import.” The latest edition of the manual is sanitized, and only says that students who receive more than six demerits should be referred to the school administrator for appropriate punishment. It then quotes three of the Scripture verses most commonly used to justify corporal punishment, including Proverbs 22:15.

The probable reason for this sanitization is that school spankings are now illegal in a majority of territories where ACE is sold. That doesn’t mean spanking is entirely a thing of the past. My school ran a discipline policy that required parents to come in and paddle their own children if the teachers deemed it necessary. If parents declined, their children could not attend the school. The Branch Christian School is one school running a similar policy today.

In places where paddling is still legal, including 19 US states, of course, it happens openly. You can read online the policy at Victory Christian Academy, Florida, (link no longer active) for example. It’s almost word-for-word the same at each school that uses it, because it’s lifted from the School of Tomorrow Procedures Manual. The same discipline policy appears in ACE schools across the world.

What can students get paddled for? That’s for the school to decide, although past ACE manuals have included suggestions. One of the schools that has posted a non-exhaustive list is Cornerstone Academy, Amarillo (link no longer active). The punishment can be awarded for such obscenities as (this is just a selection):

  • Disobedience to school authorities and school policy
  • Being disrespectful to proper authorities
  • Cheating in any manner
  • Lying in any manner (word or deed)
  • Stealing or borrowing without owner’s permission
  • Griping and complaining or chronic bad attitude after being cautioned
  • Being disruptive in class after being cautioned
  • Touching any student in an inappropriate manner
  • Vulgar or offensive slang expressions
  • Consistent failure to have required items for school activities

If there is any question over whether religion can make good people do evil things, fundamentalist child abuse is the answer. My ACE supervisor used to tell the class all the time how much it hurt her to have to paddle us, how awful and painful it was, but she had no choice because God commanded it. No evidence that it might be harmful was considered. No alternative interpretation of the the Bible was countenanced.

It is this doctrine of the child as naturally rebellious against God that must be challenged. It is the idea that the child must be made unquestioningly subject to the teacher’s authority that is the problem. That, and the interpretation of Scripture that makes corporal punishment a non-negotiable imperative, are the great danger. Any attempt to improve fundamentalist curriculum content is a treatment of the symptoms, not the disease.

How NOT to Deal with a 16 Year Old Gay Daughter

teenage rebellion

From Matt Wolf’s documentary film “Teenage”

Today, The Christian Post published an article with the headline, What to Do with Teen Caught Texting Same-sex Partner. The article, written by Evangelical family guru’s Marina and Gregory Slayton, purports to answer a question a reader asked about their rebellious 16-year-old daughter:

My wife just read to me an article you wrote providing advice to a parent of a 16 year old girl caught lying, with the discovery having been through reading her text messages. My wife and I are trying to work through a similar problem with our daughter. The issue is more complicated in that:

(A) our daughter was caught once before, about – months ago, conducting an inappropriate relationship by text message. Months earlier she had embarked on another inappropriate relationship by email.

(B) in both cases the inappropriate relationships were with other girls.

(C) the conversations were filled with fantastic lies about our home life. Everything in her descriptions were completely “over the top.”

So far we’ve ended outside communication for her and restricted her freedom outside the house. Her learner’s permit has been put on indefinite hold. Most importantly, my wife and I have had three significant, God-centered and scripture centered discussions with her. These have been wonderful opportunities to see her grow dramatically in faith.

We are working with a Christian counsellor and our Pastor to try to get through this. Our level of oversight and conversation have increased dramatically. And we are looking at issues like her appearance (between androgynous and masculine), and memberships in (name withheld).

By way of background, she was adopted from (info withheld) by me and my first wife. My daughter suffered emotional and physical abuse as a result of (info withheld). When my daughter was (info withheld) we separated and she and her brother lived with me full time. Over the course of the following four years, we divorced, my ex-wife was in and out of mental hospitals and ultimately committed suicide. I remarried – to a wonderful Christian woman (who helped bring me to the Lord!). My daughter and my wife get along very well, but there are still wounds that need healing. Your advice on our next steps would be greatly appreciated – but also our anonymity.

Thank you and bless you,

Parents of troubled daughter

Evidently, the parents took a look at their daughter’s smartphone and found inappropriate text messages; inappropriate being exaggerations and lies about them and sexually oriented texts and emails between two fellow students of the same sex. The parents confronted their daughter and did the following:

  1. Took away her phone and access to the outside world
  2. Restricted her freedom outside of the house, also known as being grounded
  3. Took her to a Christian counselor
  4. Had their pastor talk to her
  5. Took a look at their daughter’s  appearance specifically her androgynous and masculine appearance
  6. Took a look at what groups their daughter is a part of

Most important, the parents sat her down three times with Bible in hand and had “God-centered and scripture centered discussions” with her.

What is clear to me and I suspect is clear to you is that what we have here is a teenager who is either gay, bisexual, or questioning her sexuality and this is conflicting with the religious beliefs of the parents.  I think it is safe to assume that the parents are part of a heterosexual only Evangelical sect and that the thought of their daughter being gay is viewed as a horrible sin and an attack from Satan.

Marina Slayton, author of Be the Best Mom You Can Be: A Practical Guide to Raising Whole Children in a Broken Generation,  had this to say:

…We wholeheartedly support your efforts to seek outside counseling with your pastor and a professional Christian counselor. Hopefully both will bring wisdom, perspective and guidance. As it is written in the Scriptures, there is victory in the counsel of many.

Here are a few thoughts for you, humbly recognizing that in this limited venue I can only skim the surface:

Perhaps your daughter does not understand who she is or whose she is for a very good reason: rejection. Rejected by her birth parents, rejected from her country and then (effectively) rejected by the mother who adopted her. As a result she probably feels she is “different” and “unacceptable.” She is not alone. In a generation that worships tolerance many modern teens are actually intolerant of each other because they themselves do not feel they belong. They cannot show love in a healthy manner because they don’t feel loved. Teen suicide is at record levels in part because so many don’t have a sense of belonging and they don’t feel loved.

So remember: Love your daughter! Her spirit of rejection is most likely daring you to reject her. You and your wife have been chosen by God to be His minister of love to her. We realize this will not be easy given the circumstances. Years of feeling rejected and alone cannot be overcome in a few months. It will take years. And that is OK.

Ask our Heavenly Father to be working in her heart too. That is critical. He can help from the inside out: building vision and love and forgiveness in her heart…

Not one word about her sexuality. Not one word about what is likely the REAL issue driving their daughter’s parent described rebellious behavior. Remember, rebellion in Evangelical circles is a catch-all for every teenage behavior the parents don’t like or approve of. As some of the regular readers of this blog will testify, Evangelicals have sent their children off to Evangelical behavioral modification camps, AKA Christian group homes, for things as trivial as smoking, listening to rock music, or fooling around with their boyfriend.  What non-Evangelical parents would consider typical behavior from a 16-year-old is viewed as rebellion against not only parental authority and the church’s beliefs, but also rebellion against God, the very God who said, for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.

At the end of the article, Gregory Slayton, a Harvard graduate and author of Be A Better Day Today , added:

  • Enlist close friends to join you in praying for her…
  • Fast for her as God leads. Jesus tells us that fasting is very powerful and He is right. I try to fast for my family once a week. A great Christian brother taught me a lot of fasting…and I’m still learning. But there is power there – God’s power.
  • Most importantly, please know that our Heavenly Father loves your daughter very, very much. He has entrusted her to you and your wife. So you can expect (and should ask for) God’s help in these challenges. The Holy Spirit is powerful. Super powerful. So ask God’s Spirit to be at work in your daughter’s heart for healing, repentance, and restoration…

Ah yes, pray, fast, know that God loves their daughter very, very, very much, and rely on the super-duper power of the Holy Spirit to change her life, which is Greek for deliver her the sin of homosexuality.

Like his wife, Gregory Slayton makes no mention of the rainbow-colored elephant in the room. And therein lies the biggest problem for this girl. The behaviors the parents are calling rebellion are likely a result of their daughter’s blossoming sexuality. She feels and thinks one way and her parents, church, and pastor think another way. Not skilled in the art of hiding one’s feelings, I suspect her honesty is being misinterpreted as rebellion. What the girl really needs is to see a counselor who is able to separate her sexuality from the guilt and anger generated by her parent’s beliefs about homosexuality. Put yourself in her shoes. She thinks she is gay, but her parents, church, pastor, and church friends are telling her that her same-sex desire is evil and a sin against God and nature. How would you respond?