There has been some objection to my statement in The Persecution Complex that child abuse in the name of Christianity is widespread. But in fact, religion is the motivation or justification for a lot of abuse, enough that people have done studies on it.
I’m not here to analyze exactly how widespread or common it is, or give you precise numbers so you can compare them to incidence in other religions or non-religious groups. I’m here to talk about the reality of what is happening, the reality that supposedly Christian people everywhere do, in fact, sometimes abuse children in various ways and justify it or cover it up with their religion.
Perhaps other groups of people commit more abuse. But that doesn’t erase the reality of Christian abuse, or make it less bad, or any less common. All you do if you bring that up is attempt to distract from actual problems, downplay the damage, and protect the criminals.
A few major organizations in conservative Christianity provide plenty of evidence for widespread abuse. Not all of the articles I’ve read in recent years (several dozen of them) are still online, but plenty remain.
Check out one of the major movements against IBLP (the organization run by Bill Gothard for decades). I tried to find the most heartbreaking article that I read there a while back, but I didn’t see it. Browse what they have currently, though, and you’ll find plenty of stories.
Homeschoolers Anonymous is less well known, but they also have plenty of firsthand accounts of Christian abuse.
Another group seeks to document and expose these incidents, and has plenty of references to people who were actually convicted of abuse.
Perhaps one of the most insidious promoters of abuse is Michael Pearl, famous for many books that are popular among conservative Christians, including To Train Up A Child. That one book has apparently sold hundreds of thousands of copies, if not millions. To say nothing of his other books, and dozens of blog articles online.
That hundreds of thousands of Christians follow his advice is worrying enough; that several children have died as a direct result of parents applying the teaching in his book should make it a very serious issue. And what of all the children subjected to injury, who we never hear of because their parents stop short of killing them?
Presumably many of these parents, perhaps even Larry Williams, honestly believed that they were doing what was right for their children. But it shouldn’t take a death to make them realize they’re perpetrators of abuse.
To get an idea of what the Pearls teach, we can analyze one of their online articles. To sum up the basic premise, if you choose not to read the whole thing, he assumes that children are born with a “diabolical will to dominate”, a selfishness that must be beaten out of them. He compares children to horses that must be broken and trained. He compares them to Satan, with a desire for total autonomy and sovereignty. He compares them to gamblers addicted to the feeling of a win.
The obstinate three-year-old in the story is portrayed as an egotistical tyrant who manipulates her parents using “psychological warfare” for the sheer delight of victory over them. Perhaps three-year-olds are cleverer than we give them credit for, but some of these motivations ascribed to her are simply ridiculous.
Pearl says: In a case where a kid is truly broken and contrite, and the child approaches you for reassurance, the hug would be appropriate, but not when it is used as a diversion. I did not hug my kids after spanking them…I had no fear of communicating rejection…Spank your child. Then tell her to dry it up. And with no show of emotion, tell her to get back to what she was supposed to be doing…When they do something lovely, then you can love them.
Here we have what I see as the deepest, vilest heart of his ideas. Only show your children love when they obey you. That final sentence is perhaps the most perfectly anti-Christian sentiment ever expressed. No, I don’t mean that it opposes or attacks Christians. I mean that it exposes a sickening attitude that is entirely antithetical to the foundational principles of Christianity itself.
Pearl says: …in this era of “science,” everything, including behavior, can be explained in terms of chemicals, genetics, predispositions, personality types, in short—a sort of cosmic fate. No one is responsible. So the politically correct approach is to either ignore bad behavior or sedate it with chemicals.
In short, Pearl makes a subtle dismissal of mental illness and varying neurotypes. If a child is always upset, it’s not because they are far more sensitive to light, sound, and touch and thus in nearly constant pain. It’s because they’re demonic little dictators who wish to force their parents to attend to their every whim. In Pearl’s method there is no variation; every child can be beaten into perfect submission with enough physical pain.
But it doesn’t work like that. Some of us only become more obstinate when treated cruelly. Some of us lose vital trust, and the relationship is only damaged beyond repair by what the child sees as entirely unjust punishment. It’s an obvious result, when you punish a child for crying when they are in pain.
Pearl advocates physically hurting your child for anything they do wrong. Anything at all. If they don’t play with a toy you tell them to play with, hit them. If they cry after being hit, then hit them again.
Pearl says: If she can scream “huggie” while you are spanking her, you are probably not spanking hard enough…Do not threaten to spank her until she stops crying. For some children that would work, but you do not want to challenge her to a contest that you cannot win…Pretend to be indifferent to her suffering at the end of the switch.
For the Pearls it’s never about love. Remember, you love your children when they please you. As if we need more proof of how twisted Michael Pearl is, we have some gems from another one of his many articles:
- When she screams or flees, calmly follow through by physically subduing her. Sit on her, if you have to…
- If she stops [screaming], or at least makes a great effort to, then you have won.
As one of my friends so aptly put it, “What the fuck. If your child is having fucking difficulty stopping crying, that’s abuse.”
It’s all about winning, for parents so narcissistic that they perceive any action by a child as rebellion if it isn’t perfectly in line with their will. It’s all about control, making those little people do exactly what the parent desires. It’s a perfect way to damage your children, drive them away from your religion, and in the end reach the exact opposite of your initial goal.
There are ways to discipline without making someone fear you. Respect is what you want, but you cannot make someone respect you by beating them into submission like a slave, because respect is an attitude of admiration. Children are natural mimics. Show them love and respect, and they will mimic it. Beat them, however, and they will only learn that violence is an acceptable response when someone does something they don’t like.
This, my friends, is how child abuse is widely promoted and practiced by Christianity. Many say to take the good from Michael Pearl’s teaching, and use it sensibly, but they refuse to acknowledge that every single thing he says is founded on the very mindset that leads parents to abuse their children.
Don’t end up like Larry Williams, desperately trying to justify what he did that resulted in the death of a little girl. Acknowledge that child abuse by Christians is widespread. Don’t be part of a culture that attempts to keep silent the really bad incidents, and justify the not-quite-as-bad ones.
Your devotion to your faith should not lead you to cover up evil, in some misguided attempt to retain dignity for the religion as a whole.