Beating Babies in the Name of Jesus? The Shady World of Right-Wing 'Discipline' Guides
There is a brutal movement in America that legitimizes child abuse in the name of God. Two stories recently converged to make us pay attention. Last week, a video went viral of a Texas judge brutally whipping his disabled daughter. And on Monday, the New York Times published a story about child deaths in homes that have embraced the teachings of To Train Up a Child, a book by Christian preacher Michael Pearl that advocates using a switch on children as young as six months old.
What many people may not realize is that in the evangelical alternative universe of the home school movement, tightly knit church communities and the following of a number of big-time leaders and authors, physical punishment of children has been glorified for years.
As the Times illustrates -- "Preaching Virtue of Spanking, Even as Deaths Fuel Debate" -- the books of Michael Pearl and his wife Debi have been found in the homes where several children were killed.
They're not the only right-wing Christians who advocate these methods. Some of the most respected evangelical discipline gurus have made beating children not just "respectable" in conservative religious circles, but even turned it into a godly activity.
In 1977 James Dobson founder of the " Focus on the Family" religious empire and radio program, wrote a book called Dare To Discipline, whose purpose was, essentially, to get parents to beat their children.
In his book Dobson glorified a sadomasochistic/spiritual ritual of "discipline." He said he wanted to stop a "liberal" trend in America that was moving away from the godly thrashing of infants. He wanted to help "restore" America to God and the good old days of child hitting. This fit in well with the notion of God as retribution-in-chief that evangelicals endorse.
Dobson isn't alone. There's also the work of evangelical "family values" guru Bill Gothard, with a following of millions. As reported by the Cincinnati Beacon, Matthew Murray, the young shooter who killed a bunch of churchgoers in 2007, had been raised according to the teachings of evangelist Bill Gothard.
"I remember the beatings and the fighting and yelling and insane rules and all the Bill Gothard rules and then trancing out," he wrote Dec. 1 under the monicker "nghtmrchld26" on a Web forum for former Pentecostal Christians.
Bill Gothard is the founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles in Illinois, which promotes a Christian home "education" program. As quoted in the Beacon article Murray said "I remember how it was, like every day was Mission Impossible trying to keep the rules or not get caught and just ...survive every single (expletive) day,"
In The Strong Willed Child (Living Books 1992), Dobson makes a parallel between beating children and beating dogs:
"I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me 'reason' with Mr. Freud.
"What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt. I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!