Many years ago, we at the Coalition for Equal Protection set out on a mission to give children the same protection from physical assault as adults. For a country that aspires to be the best place in the world for children to grow up, it seemed astounding that our most vulnerable members of society were the least protected from harm.
We called for an archaic defence, which allowed adults charged with assaulting a child to claim ‘reasonable chastisement’ or ‘justifiable assault’, to be removed from Scots law.
Children and families across Scotland and organisations from across civic society, including the Church of Scotland and Scottish Youth Parliament, joined together in a movement for change, to remedy what was a fundamental issue of children’s human rights.
So, when the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Green MSP John Finnie and then voted through overwhelmingly by the Scottish Parliament last year, we were both delighted and proud to see Scotland become the first UK country to commit to protecting children from all forms of physical violence.
This Saturday, when the new law comes into force, will mark a momentous day in our journey to making Scotland a country where children’s rights are recognised, respected and fulfilled.
The campaign has been a long and, at times, difficult one. Physical punishment is an emotive subject: it speaks to how we were parented; how we parent. But physical punishment isn’t an effective way to discipline children and, worse, carries with it a risk of harm.
There is good evidence that in many countries, including Scotland and the rest of the UK, the prevalence of physical punishment is declining and public attitudes have shifted.
It is becoming less acceptable, and the vast majority of parents express highly ambivalent and negative feelings about its use. And there is evidence that legal change accompanied by public education campaigns accelerates this change in attitude.
Furthermore, children say it doesn’t work and before the last Holyrood election a Scottish Youth Parliament survey showed that Scotland’s young people – the parents of tomorrow – were overwhelmingly in favour of bringing up their children without physical punishment. More than 80 per cent of over 72,000 young people, aged 12 to 25, agreed that “all physical assault against children should be illegal”.
However, for too many children, physical punishment is still part of their upbringing. And there is evidence for the risk of escalation from milder to harsher forms of physical punishment over time.
It is for these reasons that the Scottish Parliament passed the legislation and stated in clear terms that physical punishment should no longer be part of childhood in Scotland. And this message is even more important now.
Young families are finding that positive parenting approaches which foster warmth and are supportive are better at helping children understand the difference between right and wrong while also making life easier for them and their children.
There is now a wealth of advice available on positive parenting techniques and setting clear and consistent boundaries in a caring and responsible way.
As three charities that have worked in child protection for many years, we know that the best way to help children is to provide support for them and their families. And support is out there to help parents manage stressful situations.
Next week, when the new law comes into force, we will be joining more than 50 other countries around the world, including Germany, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland, to bring in such measures.
This legal reform is something for children, families and the whole of Scotland to embrace and celebrate as a hugely positive development which can improve family relationships and wider society.
In September, when the Scottish Government announced its intention to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law, it made clear its vision was to transform Scotland into a country that values, respects and cherishes every child.
And giving children equal protection to adults from physical assault and ridding our laws of nonsensical and outdated loopholes is a fundamental place to start.
Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.
The Bible speaks, you decide. And please, no revisionists who hilariously say that a “rod” is actually a shepherd’s crook used to gently guide the sheep (children) along.
The Bible says:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. Ephesians 6:1-3
Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Colossians 3:20
In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding. Proverbs 10:13
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Proverbs 13:24
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. Proverbs 22:15
Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. Proverbs 23:13,14
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. Proverbs 26:3
The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. Proverbs 29:15
My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth, Proverbs 3:11,12
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? Hebrews 12:7-9
These verses are often used to justify the brutal, violent beating of children and teenagers. God demands obedience, and children who refuse to obey should be beaten into submission. Through the centuries, countless Christian parents have used paddles, whips, hairbrushes, books, belts, or anything else that was handy, to beat their children. Better to beat them than lose them to the devil, right?
Most of us who were once Bible-believing, sin-hating, devil-chasing Evangelical literalists now see that our disciplinary methods were abusive, cruel, and ineffective. It’s hard to look back at how we disciplined our children as “unto the Lord” and not feel regret and shame. I know that’s how it is for me.
I was a stern taskmaster. I believed the Bible laid out the pattern I had to follow IF there was to be any hope of my children turning out well. I can now say that my children turned out well DESPITE the whippings I gave them. Their love, respect, and forgiveness overwhelm me. I don’t deserve it.
They know I was just doing what I thought God commanded me to do, but knowing that I inflicted unnecessary pain on my children is heartbreaking. I am often asked if I think all spanking — which is actually beating — is child abuse. In general, yes I do. I think there are better ways to discipline children than by hitting them. While I make some allowance for slapping a toddler’s hand now and again, I do not think hitting, punching, or slapping a child is the best way to get them to obey or conform.
Yes, the Bible says ___________________, and we who desire to live in a less violent world must be willing to say that the Bible is w-r-o-n-g. The authors of the Bible likely reflected the way children were disciplined during their time, but we have come to the place where we now know that beating children, for whatever reason, is not only unproductive, but it is also abusive.
If you are a parent with young children, how do you discipline your children? I am an old man, the product of an era gone by, an era when violence against children was the rule and not the exception. If we truly want to live a nonviolent way of life, it must begin with our treatment of those who are innocent, weak, and vulnerable. If you had to give discipline advice to a young father or mother, what would you tell them? Please share your advice in the comment section.
Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.
The Sounds of Fundamentalism is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section. Let’s have some fun!
Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of Fundamentalist Calvinist John Piper stressing the importance of parents, even Jesus and his wife, beating their children.
There is a huge mistake going on among many parents today. They don’t want to say “no” to their children. They don’t want to correct them. They don’t want to discipline them or use the rod on their bottoms for disobedience. They don’t want to link sin and pain together. They want to be their children’s friend instead of their parent. They want their children to have “freedom of expression.” This is not raising children in wisdom; for God’s Word tells us to raise our children opposite of this foolish way.
We are still allowed to use a “rod” on children anywhere in America as long as it does not physically injure the child. I pray this never changes since this is biblical! Spanking must bring short-term pain to a child in order to accomplish long-term gain.
I have personally witnessed parents who do not spank and discipline their children. Their children grow up to have little to no self-control and live a life of destruction. They don’t fear sin because they weren’t taught to fear it as a child. Most of them have grown old with many regrets.Yes, it’s usually the mother who doesn’t want to “harm” the child because women are more sensitive and emotional. I have also seen women interfere with their husbands’ discipline of the children and this is devastating for the children’s future. We must never be led by our feelings or emotions but live by the truth of God’s Word. The Lord knows that children need a rod when they misbehave because He knows the seriousness and the destructiveness of sin. The sooner parents nip this in the bud, the better for all.
The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a collection of loosely affiliated independent churches.(See Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps.) There are thousands of such churches in the United States and many foreign countries. What exactly is an IFB church? you ask. While IFB churches and pastors have varied peripheral beliefs, foundationally IFB churches, colleges, evangelists, missionaries, and pastors believe:
I stands for Independent
The local, visible church is an independent body of believers who are not associated or affiliated with any denomination. The pastor answers only to God, and to a lesser degree the church. The church answers to no one but God. Most IFB churches oppose any form of government involvement or intrusion into its affairs (though, in recent years, thanks to their support of the culture war, some IFB preachers no longer believe in a strict separation of church and state). While some IFB churches have deacon boards or elders, almost all of them have a congregational form of government.
F stands for Fundamentalist (or Fundamental)
The independent church is fundamentalist in its doctrine and practice. IFB churches are social and theological fundamentalists. (See Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Fundamentalists adhere to an external code of social conduct. (See An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rule Book.) Often this code of conduct is called “church standards.” The Bible — or should I say the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible — is the rule by which church members are expected to live. IFB churches spend a significant amount of time preaching and teaching about how God and his spokesman, the pastor, expect people to live.
IFB churches are also theological fundamentalists. They adhere to a certain and specific theological standard, a standard by which all other Christians and denominations are judged. Every IFB pastor and church believes things such as:
The inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible
The sinfulness, depravity of man
The deity of Christ
The virgin birth of Christ
The blood atonement of Christ for man’s sin
The resurrection of Christ from the dead
The second coming of Christ
Separation from the world
Salvation from sin is by and through Christ alone
Personal responsibility to share the gospel with sinners
I am sure other doctrines that could be added to this list, but the list above is a concise statement of ALL things an IFB church and pastor must believe to be considered an IFB church.
B stands for Baptist
IFB churches are Baptist churches adhering to the ecclesiology and theology mentioned above. Some IFB churches are Landmark Baptists or Baptist Briders. They believe the Baptist church is the true Christian church and all other churches are false churches. John the Baptist baptized Jesus, which made him a Baptist, and the first churches established by the Baptist apostles were Baptist churches. Churches like this go to great lengths to prove their Baptist lineage dates all the way back to John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles. (See The Trail of Blood by J.M. Carroll)
Other IFB churches and pastors believe that Baptist ecclesiology and theology are what the Bible clearly teaches. They grudgingly admit that other denominations “might” be Christian too, but they are quick to say why be a part of a bastardized form of Christianity when you can have the real deal?
What binds IFB churches together is their literalistic interpretation of the Protestant Bible, a book they believe is inspired, infallible, and inerrant. Thus, when it comes to training and raising children, IFB Christians look not to the “world,” but to the Bible. They are fond of saying, God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me! IFB pastors have a commitment to literalism and inerrancy that forces them to defend anything and everything the Bible says. In their minds, the Bible is God speaking to man. While humans wrote the Bible, they did so under the direction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It was human hands that wrote the words, but it was God who determined what those words would be. Thus, whatever the Bible says about marriage, children, and discipline is viewed as a direct order from God. There is one way and one way only to raise and train children, and that is God’s way. Want to see what happens when people ignore God’s instructions? Just look at the “world.” Look at how the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world raise their children, IFB preachers say. Want to keep your children on the straight and narrow? Want them to grow up fearing God and keeping his commandments? Practice and obey whatever the Bible says about training children!
So when I ask the question, Does the IFB Church Movement Promote Ritual Child Abuse? the short answer is yes. Their theological beliefs and interpretive practices demand parents ritually abuse their children. The Bible says:
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. (Proverbs 13:24)
Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. (Proverbs 23:13,14)
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)
The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. (Proverbs 29:15)
Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul. (Proverbs 29:17)
Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. (Proverbs 19:18)
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. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. (Proverbs 3:11,12)
A fool despiseth his father’s instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent. (Proverbs 15:5)
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. (Proverbs 26:3)
The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly. (Proverbs 20:30)
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. (Ephesians 6:1-3)
Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. (Colossians 3:20)
It is clear from these verses, and others, that God commands parents to beat their children if they are rebellious or disobedient. To say otherwise is to disagree with God.
In the IFB church movement — which is complementarian and patriarchal — children are expected to obey their parents at all times. Why? So they “may live long on the earth” and be “well pleasing unto the Lord.” IFB parents genuinely love their children. This is why many parents either send their children to private Christian schools or homeschool them. They take their parental responsibilities seriously. Not only do they want their children to be saved, they also want them to grow up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” — serving the Christian God all the days of their lives. IFB parents believe God made the following promise to them: Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6) The question, then, is what methods should be used by parents to ensure that their children will be Christians all the days of their lives? The aforementioned Bible verses tell them all they need to know about how to reach this goal.
IFB parents believe that their children are born sinners, little hellions who are at variance with God. According to the Bible, children, by nature, are rebellious. 1 Samuel 15:23a says, For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. The goal, then, is to drive rebellion and stubbornness from the hearts of their children. God says that the way to do this is with the rod of correction. Not time outs; not grounding; not taking their toys away; not any of the other unbiblical disciplinary methods used by the “world.” God commands parents to beat their children with a rod. No, I won’t use the word spank. When a parent picks up a dowel rod, belt, toilet fill tube, brush, paddle, switch, electric cord, or, as the Gerencser children “fondly” remember, John R. Rice’s book, Home: Courtship, Marriage and Children: A Bible Manual of 22 Chapters on the Christian Home, and hits his child with it, it’s a beating not a spanking. The goal of such physical violence is to drive rebellion and disobedience from the heart of the child.
Many IFB parents begin beating their children while they are still infants. Psalm 58:3 says, The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Infants are at odds with God from birth. They are liars. Just because they cry doesn’t mean they need tending to. If they are fed and dry, then their cries are viewed as the infant’s way of demanding his or her own way. This kind of thinking carries right on through the teenage years. Children want their own way, and parents have a God-given duty to beat their children into submission — just as God does with rebellious Christian adults. The goal is to break the child’s will. A willful child will not obey his parents or God, so it is crucial that parents thrash their children every time they rebel against the commands of God or disobey their parents.
These practices are, without a doubt, child abuse. Of course, IFB parents don’t see themselves as child abusers. How can it be abusive to follow the teachings of the Bible? they ask. Pastors will point not only to the Bible as justification for ritual child abuse, they will also point to history, saying that back in the days when America was great parents weren’t afraid to beat their children. These preachers point to the decline of Western Civilization and say that one of the reasons for the decline is a lack of rigorous, through discipline of children.
I am almost sixty-one years old. I came of age in the IFB church. My parents, thankfully, did not beat me, but I knew countless children who were methodically beaten by their parents virtually every time they disobeyed their parents or failed to measure up to a certain standard. One dear friend of mine — a pastor’s son — was mercilessly whipped by his father if his grades weren’t up to expectations. I witnessed one of these beatings (my friend was in eighth grade at the time). It was violently brutal, yet the punisher believed he was doing what was best for his son. My friend’s grades, by the way, never improved.
I am sure someone is going to ask if I beat my own children and if I considered this discipline to be child abuse. Yep, the violent beatings my three oldest sons received were, in every way, without exception, ritual child abuse. I have apologized to them numerous times for how I disciplined them. They know, of course, that I did so because I thought that’s what God and the Bible required of me. They also know that I beat them out of some warped sense of “love.” The good news is that my three younger children were spared the rod. I came to see, while they were still young, that beating them, regardless of the reason, was child abuse. Unfortunately, I must bear the burden of my actions, not only as a parent, but as a pastor. I taught countless church members that it was their solemn duty to use the rod of correction on the back sides of their rebellious children. All I can do, at this point, is honestly write about my past life, including how I ritually abused my three older boys.
Were you raised in an IFB family? How were you disciplined? What did your pastor and church teach about training children? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.
Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.
Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.
Recently, Christian Fundamentalist Lori Alexander took to her blog to promote beating children as God’s approved way of controlling children. In particular, Alexander objects to Dr. Spock’s no-violence approach to effectively raising children into responsible adults. Alexander will have none of that. Beat your kids, she says. God demands that parents use a rod on the backside of rebellious children. Not beating your children means you love them more than you love God; that you are more concerned with their welfare than you are being obedient to the violent tribal deity of the Bible.
Dr. Spock: “[Physical punishment] certainly plays a role in our acceptance of violence. If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.” (p. 173)
Lori Alexander: This is in direct contradiction to what God tells us in His Word. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15) “Oh, but the rod isn’t a physical instrument,” people will tell me. Really? Please study all of the verses that mention the rod and you will see that this isn’t true. How does God discipline us? Is He only positive and encouraging? No! “For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6). Chasten means “to correct by punishment; to punish; to inflict pain of reclaiming an offender; as, to chasten a son with a rod.” Scourge means “to afflict for sins or faults, and with the purpose of correction.” Who are we to think we know better than God? No, God doesn’t mean that we should physically abuse our children in any way. [actually, he does] We use the rod of correction as a tool to make them obey and this teaches them self-discipline which benefits them for life. Many things in God’s Word have been taken to extremes and have caused harm for people. This is not God’s way. His way ends in peace and goodness not in evil and harm.
Spock: “My other reasons for advising against physical punishment are, in brief, that it teaches children that might makes right, that it encourages some children to be bullies, and most fundamentally, that to the degree that it results in good behavior it’s because of the fear of pain. I have a strong belief that the best reason for behaving well is that you like people, want to get along with them, want them to like you.” (p. 173)
Alexander: On the contrary, pain and fear are great motivators for good as I shared in the above verse about how God disciplines us. My children were all spanked when they sinned against us or others and none of them were bullies or got into physical fights with others. They were kind to others, respected authority, and were a joy to raise. A one year old can’t comprehend “liking people” as much as they can quickly comprehend a small amount of pain that is swiftly administered for disobedience.
Spock: “I don’t think physical punishment is necessary or particularly effective.” (p. 215)
Alexander: It sure has been for centuries before you wrote your book, Dr. Spock. Children were much better behaved than they are now. God’s ways will always trumps man’s ways.
Spock: “All schools should be friendly, creative places like the best I’ve seen. We should wean ourselves away from physical punishment.” (p. 33)
Alexander: When I went to elementary school, the principal had a wooden paddle in his office and he used it! Children were well-behaved for the most part. There was nothing going on like there is in the schools today. A swat on the back side is a quick, effective method against disobedience.
Spock: “Recently I visited a small private school . . . with the idea of asking children . . . what advice to parents they’d like me to incorporate in the forthcoming revision of Baby and Child Care. In a thoughtful mood, the class was unanimous that parents should not hit their children. . . One child added that if you’re crying and your parent tells you to stop and then hits you when you don’t stop, it only makes you cry more.” (p. 229-233)
Alexander: And asking children how they should be disciplined is a wise thing? If he asked adults how they would like their government to run, I’m sure some immature adults would say that they shouldn’t be put in prison for abusing drugs, driving drunk, and getting tickets for speeding and running red lights. Children do NOT know best how they should be raised. Why not interview parents of adult children who are now upstanding citizens and ask how they raised their children instead?
Spock: “I hope American parents can outgrow the conviction . . . that physical punishment is necessary to bring up well-behaved children. . . There are parts of the world where it has never occurred to any adult to strike a child. I have known personally or professionally dozens of families in which the parents never lifted a hand–or otherwise punished or humiliated their children–and yet the children were ideally cooperative and polite. Children are eager to be ever more grown up and responsible.” (p. 13)
Alexander: Yes, I am sure parents can raise good children without ever spanking them but it takes a lot more time, energy, and effort and to tell you the truth, I haven’t seen many who are successful at it. In order for spankings to work, a parent must be consistent, firm, and loving. It doesn’t work without these three key ingredients. [In other words, busy parents beat their children so they will have time to do other important things such as reading the Bible and going to church.]
Spock: “There are several reasons to avoid physical punishment. It teaches children that the larger, stronger person has the power to get his way, whether or not he is in the right. Some spanked children then feel quite justified in beating up on smaller ones. The American tradition of spanking may be one reason there is much more violence in our country than in any other comparable nation.”
Alexander: No, it teaches children that they must obey and respect the authority in their lives, whether they be parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, and government which is a good thing. My children never beat up on the smaller ones. If they did, they would have been spanked and would have never done it again!
My son is 2 years and 10 months. He is a bright, affectionate, patient, obedient child. Or at least he was until about 3–4 weeks ago. At that point he decided to start fighting me on EVERYTHING. Today I told him that he couldn’t wear his shoes upstairs (he never wears his shoes in the house, far less upstairs, and he was already wearing just socks) and he threw himself down on the stairs pouting. I told him to come talk to me, and when I picked him up he refused to look at me, and when I made him, he started screaming.
Then I told him he needed to eat his carrots at lunchtime (vegetables have been our number one battle his entire life, but had been going great the last year or so), and he had a gigantic tantrum. He screamed and yelled and refused to do it. I gave him mild spankings, then he went back to the table and still refused. I told him he could go eat by himself and he told me no. So I gave him a good spanking and he laid across my lap screaming “NO! NO! I DON’T LIKE IT!!!!” continually, refusing to be quiet. Eventually he gave in, but he was still angry, not repentant.
He will throw fits about the craziest things. Yesterday we went to the park, and my mom (who had played with him the whole time) asked if he had a good time. He definitely had, but decided to say “No!” I told him that wasn’t true and it wasn’t polite and he needed to say “Yes, thank you.” He refused and threw himself down on the ground and made me drag him to the car (although he stood up right quick when I accidentally drug him through dog poop). Once in the car he tried to fight me on getting buckled and then tried to hit me.
He never used to hit me, but in the last week it is like his tantrums are not effective so he is trying more intense techniques. He refuses to answer me when I talk to him if he doesn’t feel like it. Any time I ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do, he throws himself on the floor either in a pouty lump (which to me is a quiet tantrum) or in a full-on screaming tantrum.
The mother has tried to beat her son into submission, but her assaults have proven ineffective. Here’s what she has tried so far:
I can spank him for ten minutes and he is still screaming angrily at me to stop. Today my HAND has a broken blood vessel. I know you suggest a plumber’s pipe, but my husband bought one that was way too big so I hate to use it, and end up using my hand most of the time.
I want to clarify, I don’t spank him nonstop for ten minutes straight. I spank him a few times, tell him to stop screaming, wait ten to thirty seconds, and if he isn’t trying to obey I spank him a few more times, and so on. I give him a swat every time he screams no (or something similar) at me. But I’m not whaling on him for ten minutes, it just takes a ten-minute block of time sometimes for him to submit.
Pearl begins by correcting the woman about using a plumber’s pipe to encourage her child in the Lord. Evidently, the woman’s husband bought a rigid PVC pipe, and not the quarter inch supply line Pearl recommends:
I have never suggested a plumber’s pipe be used to spank a child. That was the fabrication of a sodomite reporter for Salon magazine, picked up and quoted by The New York Times and repeated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, another anti-Christian sodomite, and repeated again by Dr. Drew, the BBC, and two dozen other media outlets. In my book To Train Up a Child, I wrote of how I saw an Amish woman wearing a ¼-inch plastic plumber’s supply line around her neck on a string to be ready at hand when needed. It is flexible and will roll up in your pocket or purse. It is not PVC and it is not a pipe. I suggest any small instrument that is light and will not cause damage to tissue—like a kitchen utensil: spatula, wooden spoon, ¼-inch dowel rod, etc., but not your hand.
Pearl goes on to restate what he calls Biblical child training principles:
For the sake of our readers, especially those who are new to our material, I will briefly state the concept of traditional, common-sense child training. Children, like adults, are complex souls of conflicting drives and emotions. They [infants] come into the world with all of the passion and lust but with none of the wisdom or self-control. To say it another way, small children have a gas pedal but no steering wheel and no will to apply the brakes. Infants, toddlers, and small children require steering and restraint. Parents must apply the brakes from time to time whether the children like it or not. Children must be made to submit to the oversight of caretakers, for “a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15b).
When children are a little older (4 or 5) they are more responsive to being guided through reason and modeled behavior, but when they are two or three years old, reason is about as useful as a set of encyclopedias. Furthermore, good modeling goes unnoticed by a 2-year-old, whereas bad modeling seems to be very contagious at any age, more so when they are very young. A 2-year-old will pick up a lousy attitude like a cold in a toy store.
All psychologists and so-called “child rearing experts” agree that parents and caretakers must set boundaries, or “limits” as they sometimes call them. They also agree that parents must “enforce” those boundaries. One psychologist says, “If you don’t set and stick to clear limits, your kids will push and push until they get their way.” But the professionals don’t offer any definitive means that parents can employ to “enforce” limits. “Time outs,” where children are sent into isolation for a period of time, are not enforcement; they are abdication of authority to the attrition of time. The entire Bible verse quoted above is: “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15).
Pearl spends a good bit of time analyzing the woman’s plight, looking for unstated reasons for the child’s aberrant behavior. Pearl puts much of the blame back on the mother and her inconsistent child-rearing methods. If she is consistent, Pearl says, then beating the child with the rod of correction will effectively end the child’s rebellion. He goes on to remind the woman that “the principle is that you as the lawgiver must win all contests of will. You must be the chief potentate and he the obedient servant to the rule of law.”
Michael Pearl continues to preach the gospel of ritualized child abuse. His materials are widely read in some Evangelical circles, generating $1.5 million in annual sales. I pastored numerous families over the years who thought Pearl’s book, To Train Up a Child, was the go-to text for parents wanting to practice Biblical child training. The good news is that Pearl’s sphere of influence is shrinking. Some Evangelical parents now realize that beating their children into submission is child abuse, and that there are other, more effective ways to discipline their children.
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.”
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
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.