Monday, September 5, 2011

Ungodly Discipline

This past weekend, I watched a special on CNN called Ungodly Discipline. It spoke about two topics:

First, how a 7 year old girl from Northern California was spanked/beaten to death by her foster parents in early 2010. The foster parents were followers of Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of the book To Train Up A Child, who believe the Bible commands parents to discipline their child with"spiritual spanking" and the need to break a child's will.

Second, allegations of physical, mental, and sexual abuse at group homes (usually for adolescent girls) run by Independent Fundamentalist Baptists. Specifically, the Hephzibah House in Winona Lake, Indiana.

Needless to say, I found those videos extremely difficult to watch. Children being abused in the name of God has popped up in the news multiple times in the past couple of years. In the United States, it is almost always affiliated with fundamentalist Christianity. In my opinion, this is probably one of the worst practices of fundamentalist Christianity. It's absolutely disgusting.

Over the past few decades, there has been a fierce debate in the United States over the legality of corporal punishment. Many parents still spank their children for misbehavior. However, while I disagree with any use of corporal punishment against a child, there is a difference between spanking and beating. The "spanking" seen in fundamentalist Christian group homes and advocated by the Pearl's in their book and implemented by thousands of fundamentalist Christian families is nothing but child abuse. Implements such as paddles, rods, and canes are used to hit children so hard that they leave welts and bruises. Often, children are hit on their legs, arms, back, and buttocks for hours at a time. The goal of these beatings is to break the child's will, so that they will be entirely submissive and subservient to their parents.

The worst part (which is not in either of the videos) was when a father describe beating his son with a rod because the boy had hit him. They father said, completely seriously, that "spanking" the boy would teach him it was wrong to hit other people. The sheer hypocrisy was astounding. I assure you that boy did not walk away from his punishment believing it was wrong to hit people. Quite the opposite. He walked away believing that hitting people smaller than you is completely acceptable, as long is it is done in the name of God.

It infuriates me that, in the United States, the only people we can legally hit are children. If you beat an adult in a similar fashion, you would be arrested and charged with assault. More than likely, you would spend time in jail.

The video was also upsetting for personal reasons. While my parents were Southern Baptist, not Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, they still believed the Bible command them to spank their children in the name of God. Their "discipline" could be quite harsh. My step-dad would hit me on the back and legs with a belt or a flyswatter, leaving stripes of marks and, sometimes, bruises. Afterwards, it would be painful to sit for days at a time. I have permanent scars from those years. I got quite good at keeping any marks and scars hidden though, for fear that a friend or teacher might notice them. My of my friends in high school would tease me about how modestly I dressed. I would only wear long-sleeved shirts or t-shirts whose sleeves went down to my elbow, never tank tops or anything strapless. Still do, actually. This was in order to hide the scars on my shoulders and upper back from having a glass lamp thrown at me.

Because of my personal experiences, I know the damage that physical and metal abuse can cause when couple with fundamentalist religion. Kids grow up thinking that they are evil sinners, repulsive to and loathed by God, who wants nothing more than to torture them eternally from hell. The fear it induces, both for the present and the future, makes it extraordinarily difficult to question your beliefs. Accordingly, many of these abused kids grow up and end up doing the same to their children.

For me personally, the worst result of growing up in such a home was the twisted view of God it created, one I've talked about on this blog before. Believing that God hates you and is going to abandon you to hell forever creates a hell here on Earth, one that I wouldn't wish on my greatest enemies. While time and a new perception of God has healed some scars, some blemishes will never fully disappear.

What happens to us in childhood stays with us throughout our lives. While I am committed to the idea of freedom of (or from) religion, I am also committed to protecting our children. Group homes like the one from the video should have more government oversight, so that abusers can be caught quickly and the children or teenagers affected can get help. I also believe that corporal punishment of any kind should be illegal. If hitting an adult is unacceptable, than hitting a child should be doubly so.


  1. Those videos were brutal. I'm having a really hard time understanding how those adults justify that abuse.

  2. Lydia, you can find more information about that mindset at

  3. That's a terrible story Sammy. There are two sorts of abuse being described here. One is where parents are encouraged to abuse their children, which seems to be thankfully limited to certain fundamentalist sects. The other is institutional abuse which seems to cross all classes - cathlic and protestant as well as secular institutions. The Australian Government recently issued a formal apology to "forgotten Australians" who grew up in various forms of foster care.

    In defence of fundamentalists, however, a niece of ours who has some quite extreme views on many things posted a horrified response to the Pearls last year - she may believe many odd things, but she still managed to see very clearly that abusing her children was not a godly thing to do.