Sunday, October 01, 2006

Jim Benton on Christian Child Abuse Manuals

Here's a chilling piece by Jim Benton on Christian fundamentalist child-abuse manuals. Sweden outlawed all forms of physical discipline in child rearing in 1979.
Bible Based Baby Beating
By Jim Benton

Warning: the following will be and should be disturbing to many of you, particularly parents. If you are squeamish, or think that children are individuals to be loved rather than creatures whose main job is to obey mindlessly, you might want to avoid this. But you may be the ones who most need reading it. And I can't avoid saying that any of you who are involved in an American political election where one candidate is supported by the Religious Right and Focus on the Family in particular, should challenge this candidate to say whether he accepts practices and attitudes like these.

Two preliminary notes:

1. I can't take credit for the research on this, which is mostly based on the work of Dogemperor on the Talk2Action and websites, and the conservative Christian home-schooling mothers of Stop the Rod who grew sick of the advice they were getting about raising their children.

2. I refer to the authors and their ideas as "Christian" because it is the term they use and they claim to have biblical backing. However, I have no doubt that most Christians, no matter how conservative, would be as disgusted at this matter as any other reader. Maybe more so because it is their religion that is being slandered.

People who discuss Focus On The Family and similar groups tend to look at what such groups are against: gays, abortion, contraception, pornography, sex in general. But there hasn't been enough attention to the sort of things such groups are for. What sort of families do they focus on? What do they think about how children should be raised?

Thanks to the writers mentioned above, I've started focusing on these Christian Right families themselves, or their ideas on child-rearing.

Let's start with James Dobson himself. The quotations below are from his 1992 book The New Dare To Discipline, quoted by Dogemperor, himself a survivor of Christian child abuse, and Stop the Rod. When I use the term "child abuse" here I am referring to physical, not sexual abuse. Of course, as with any quotations, readers should check their accuracy. But having checked Dobson's web sites, I see no reason to doubt Dogemperor.

"My primary purpose ... has been to record for posterity my understanding of the Judeo-Christian concept of parenting that has guided millions of mothers and fathers for centuries." p. 18

Dobson advises to hit a child for "willful, haughty disobedience" and when a child says "I will not!", Dobson advises to "respond to the challenge immediately." Challenging authority and "disrespect" deserves corporal punishment. p. 20

Dobson turns parenting into a contest of wills: "You have drawn a line in the dirt, and the child has deliberately flopped his bony little toe across it. Who is going to win? Who has the most courage? Who is in charge here? If you do not conclusively answer these questions for your strong-willed children, they will precipitate other battles designed to ask them again and again." p. 21

Dobson says parents must not "yield authority to their infants." "A child's resistant behavior always contains a message to his parents, which they must decode before responding. That message is often phrased in the form of a question: ‘Are you in charge or am I?' A distinct reply is appropriate to discourage future attempts to overthrow constituted government in the home." p. 29

Dobson claims that "Nothing brings a parent and child closer together than for the mother or father to win decisively after being defiantly challenged." p. 34

Are we talking about unruly teenagers here? No, as we see with the last series of Dobson quotations (comments mine):

Dobson describes a mother shaking her 3-year-old for spitting. The child spat again. This was "embarrassing" to the mother; she was "too weak or tired or busy to win." (Three years may be too old for shaken baby syndrome. Maybe.) p. 28

Dobson says "spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause genuine tears." p. 35

Dobson's wife whipped their 15 month old daughter for going onto the patio in the rain. Dobson says to show "parental warmth after such discipline" and to have a "loving conclusion to the disciplinary encounter." p. 36

Dobson recommends painful squeezing of the trapezius muscle on the neck to obtain "instant obedience." p. 36

Dobson says "sick and deformed" children can be hit too. p. 57

Dobson recommends using switches and paddles to hit children. p. 64

Dobson recommends starting whipping at age 15-18 months, and "there is no magical time at the end of childhood when spanking becomes ineffective." p. 65

Dobson recommends hitting a toddler when he "defies his parents' spoken commands". He advises to hit toddlers when they have tantrums, and when a toddler "hits his friends". Toddlers should be "taught to obey." Toddlers can be given a "firm rap on the fingers." p. 66

Spank children if their bedwetting is an "act of defiance." p. 68

If a child cries more than a few minutes after being spanked, hit them some more. p. 70

If spanking a child doesn't produce obedience, a parent needs to "outlast him and win, even if it takes a few rounds." Parents must always punish "acts of defiance." p. 71

Spanking should not be "too gentle." p. 72

"With most children, tantrums are a form of challenging behavior that can be eliminated by one or more appropriate spankings." p. 108

But Dobson is in fact a fairly mild advocate of Christian child abuse. Let's just take a quick look at some other quotations from supposedly scripture-based child rearing manuals.

To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl (1994; I have this downloaded and will give more quotations in the future. These are my own selections and have no page numbers because the original does not.)

"One father tells of his training sessions with each new toddler. He sets aside an evening for ‘booty' camp, which is a boot camp for toddlers. The child of ten to twelve months is left alone to become deeply interested in a toy or some delightful object. From across the room or just inside the other room, the father calls the child. If he ignores the call, the father goes to him and explains the necessity of immediately coming when called, and then leads him to the father's chair. The child thus led through these paces is being programmed.

He is returned to the toy and left alone long enough to again become engrossed. Another call, and, if no response, the father gives a patient explanation and demonstration of the desired response. The parent, having assured himself of the child's understanding, once again sets up the situation and calls the child. This time, if there is not an immediate response the child is lightly spanked and lectured. The father continues this throughout the evening until the child readily and immediately responds to a summons. Thereafter, until the child leaves home, he is expected to drop everything and come upon the first call. As long as the parents remain consistent, the child will consistently obey. This "obedience training" is carried out in the utmost patience and concentration. The spanking should not be viewed as punishment, but as reinforcement to commands."

"The parents who put off training until the child is old enough to discuss issues or receive explanations find their child a terror long before he understands the meaning of the word. A newborn soon needs training. The child needs holding, loving and lots of attention, but the mother often has other duties.

As the mother, holding her child, leans over the crib and begins the swing downward, the infant stiffens, takes a deep breath and bellows. The battle for control has begun in earnest. Someone is going to be conditioned. Either the tender-hearted mother will cave in to this self-centered demand (thus training the child to get his way by crying) or the infant is allowed to cry (learning that crying is counterproductive)."

"Clearly, the lines were drawn. The battle was in array. Someone was going to submit his will and learn his lesson. Either the father would confirm that this one-year-old could rule his parents or the parents would confirm their authority. Everyone's happiness was at stake, as well as the soul of the child. The father was wise enough to know this was a test of authority. This episode had crossed over from ‘obedience training' to discipline for attitude."

"We have progressed to the place where a discussion of the use of the rod is in order. Let's talk about spankings -- sometimes called ‘whippings'. ‘He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Prov. 13:24).' This seems to go exactly opposite to the feelings of many parents and educators. The passage clearly states that a failure to apply the rod is due to the parents' hating the child. ‘No!' cries the mother, ‘I love my child too much to spank him.' The parent who responds thus does not understand: 1) the authority of God's word, 2) the nature of love, 3) his (or her) own feelings, 4) the character of God, or, 5) the needs of the child."

"The guilt burdened soul cries out for the lashes and nails of justice. Your child cannot yet understand that the Creator has been lashed and nailed in his place. Only the rod of correction can preserve his soul until the day of moral dawning. That is why the soul of man never rests until the conscience has been pacified by a believing look at the bleeding, crucified, substitute of the Lamb of God."

Shepherding a Child's Heart, audiobook by Ted Tripp (1995; from Stop the Rod).

"You need to direct not simply the behavior of your children, but the attitudes of their hearts. You need to show them not just the ‘what' of their sin and failure, but the ‘why.'" p. xx

"You want to control the flow of events so that it is never chaotic, but rather a well-structured home." "I am interested in helping parents engage in hand-to-hand combat on the world's smallest battlefield, the child's heart." p. 23

From birth to age 4, "The most important lesson for the child to learn in this period is that HE IS AN INDIVIDUAL UNDER AUTHORITY." p. 133

"Acquaint your children with authority and submission when they are infants. This training starts the day you bring them home from the hospital." p. 134

"It is imperative that children learn to honor and obey. The disobedient child has moved outside the place of covenant blessing." p. 135

"Obedience means more than a child doing what he is told. It means doing what he is told --
Without Challenge
Without Excuse,
Without Delay." p. 138

"When your directives are met by a discourse about why what you have asked is not fair, your children are not obeying. When you are met with excuses or explanations, they are not obeying. When they refuse to respond at once, they are not obeying. When you say to your child, ‘Dear, I want you to go to bed now', there is only one appropriate response. It is not, 'I'll go after I finish coloring this page.' There is only one obedient response. It is to go to bed without delay. If you accept any other response, you are training your children to disobey. You must challenge disobedience and persevere until the lessons of submission are learned. Victory does not come to the faint of heart. Never allow your children to disobey without dealing with them." p. 139

"You must provide examples of submission for your children. Dads can do this through biblical authority over their wives, and Moms through biblical submission to their husbands." p. 142

"Don't waste time trying to sugarcoat submission to make it palatable. Obeying when you see the sense in it is not submission; it is agreement. Submission necessarily means doing what you do not wish to do. It is never easy or painless." p. 145

"Your children must understand that when you speak for the first time, you have spoken for the last time." p. 151

A parent poses the question "What if my child says, ‘But I didn't hear you?'". And Tripp's answer is "One of our children seemed to have much trouble with ‘hearing.' We sat down with this child and had this conversation: ‘You are having trouble hearing. I think, therefore, that you better start to develop the ability to pick my voice out of the other noise in your world. When you hear my voice, you should perk up your ears. From now on, if you fail to obey because you ‘did not hear', I will spank you for failing to listen to my voice.' We only had one spanking for failure to hear. After that the hearing problem cleared up." p. 155

What the Bible Says About ... Child Training (ellipsis in title) by J. Richard Fugate and Richard Fugate (1999; Stop the Rod has scanned the whole of Chapter 17, "The Correct Use of Chastisement" onto its website. I can only quote and abstract ideas.)

A few quick quotes and abstractions (note that "chastisement specifically and always involves causing pain", and ideally marks that will "of course" fade rapidly:

The use of chastisement is revealed (quoting a long series of verses from "Proverbs") as a necessary factor in the child's being trained toward wisdom and away from foolishness.

Mothers should use the rod as well. It may go against her instincts, and "uninformed mothers may even try to interfere with the father's proper use of the rod." But she must learn to become a "godly mother" and learn that chastisement is necessary for the long-term benefit of her child.

The child's rebellion against parental authority is what is being punished, and the child may choose to end the pain simply by submitting. "He should be given the opportunity for an honorable but unconditional surrender."

It doesn't break a child's will or spirit to force him to obey, it just makes him choose obedience over rebellion.

Chastisement is not merely humane, it is Divine. Would it be less humane for the child not to learn the proper attitude towards authority and become a "criminal, a drug addict, or a homosexual"?

Let's end with a discussion of suitable size rods to use on children of different ages -- because the hands of a parent should 'symbolize protection, comfort, and beckoning' the Fugates say, apparently without irony. They oppose spanking, preferring to use rods of various sizes. The Fugates maintain that when a rod is used by a parent, the child does not focus on the person using the rod but the rod itself. A child should be, if necessary -- which it shouldn't be since he should be already trained to obedience by eight to twelve -- chastized up until the age of twenty.
  • From the time the toddler begins to crawl until about 15 months ("age is no real criteria [sic] -- how large and how stubborn the child is will be the real issue") use a blackboard pointer, a balloon rod, or an eighth-inch dowel rod.
  • Age 1-2 a "tot rod" -- 3/16" by 24" dowel
  • 2-4 "mob control' -- 1/4" by 24"
  • 4-8 "train or consequences" -- 5/16" by 27"
  • 8-12 "the equalizer" -- 3/8" by 27"
  • 12+ "the rebel router" -- 1/2" by 33"
(The last is the length of, and one third the thickness of, an average major league baseball bat.)

A few final quotes from the Fugates, courtesy of Stop the Rod.

It is un-Christian for a child to "seek attention, food or drink" or to play. p. 12

"Parents do not owe their child an explanation for their instructions. If you think it is necessary to explain your reasons, do so only after he has obeyed. … a clever child who is allowed to question his parents' instructions can confuse the issue and thereby avoid obedience. He may even turn your own words back on you: ‘But you said…' While it is true that you will make some mistakes with the use of your authority, it is not your child's responsibility or privilege to correct you." p. 94

Children "should be expected to follow the commands of their parents to the letter." p. 103

Emphasize "forced compliance" in children. p. 105

Starting at birth, "parents will decide when he should eat, sleep, and play" p. 108

"Women have to be taught when to withhold their natural love for their children." p. 124

"Adult sons who have been over-protected … may even become homosexuals. Biblical child training principles can be self-applied by any adult who identifies himself with this type of upbringing." p. 125

"A wriggling six-month-old baby who intentionally refuses to be diapered can be taught the meaning of "no" in one or two simple lessons. When he tries to crawl away during a changing, he can be told "no," pulled back, and held in place for a moment. The next time he tries to crawl away, he should be told "no" once firmly and lightly tapped once or twice on the upper leg with a small switch. The shocked look and tears will indicate you got his attention and that the command "no" has taken on a real meaning. An angry cry and continued squirming may indicate a strong-willed child who will require more pressure in both intensity and frequency." p. 127

"Never give in to a child who is begging for something he wants. … When a child consistently and instantly obeys his parents on command, he has learned the most important standard." p. 130

I will get back to this topic. There are many other relevant writers I have not mentioned.
[More blog entries about , , , ; , , , .]

Labels: , ,


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...


And I use that term advisedly.

My blood is now quite chilled, thanks. I can hardly believe people actually cheerfully write such stuff as though it's normal.

I hate to say "thank you" for this - but I do.

01 October, 2006 14:40  
Blogger Martin said...

I'm not sure, but I think in many countries the publishers of books like these could be taken to court for conspiracy to commit child abuse.

01 October, 2006 14:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is baffling how they make a leap from "too much" love to becoming a homosexual.

However, smacking a child is a great way to teach them hitting is wrong!

02 October, 2006 19:29  
Blogger Martin said...

Well, they seem to have little problem squaring "Thou Shalt Not Kill", "Love Thy Enemy" and "Blessed Are the Peacemakers" with murderous crusades...

02 October, 2006 19:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just want to add that not all non-believers have jumped on the anti-spanking bandwagon. For example, Russian-American journalist Cathy Young, a self-described Jewish agnostic, wrote an article entitled "Spanking Down" in which she questioned the arguments against corporal punishment (not that she supports the overuse of spanking). A self-described "heathen" who reviewed To Train Up a Child gave it three out of five stars, saying it is a useful childrearing manual for Christians and non-Christians alike.

Personally (and I'll admit I'm a Christian, though I'm not a fundamentalist and have no problem with atheists, agnostics or non-Christians in general and never try to "convert" them), I kind of see the anti-spanking campaign the same way I see Prohibition or the anti-same-sex marriage campaign - that is, not very favourably. All these campaigns are characterized by an overwhelming absolutism and fanaticism that leave no room for reasonable discussion.

Emilia Liz (

09 October, 2006 06:39  
Blogger Martin said...

From my Swedish perspective, there is no anti-spanking campaign. Spanking is simply an illegal act here and has been so for nearly 30 years. Anyone advocating the spanking of children might as well be advocating cruelty to animals or drunk driving.

Around here, hitting a child is perceived as nearly as low as you can get. If I beat my kids and my friends learned about it, then they'd most likely report me to the police. (At least I hope they would.)

09 October, 2006 07:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look, I'm not a parent yet, and I'm not sure I'll use corporal punishment with my future children. Let me also be clear that I oppose child abuse (example, whipping a child repeatedly for accidentally spilling a glass of milk). But just as I don't consider drinking a single glass of wine with dinner the equivalent of being an alcoholic, I don't put moderate spanking and child abuse in the same category. You should look up "Robert Larzelere" for some good arguments against the anti-spanking movement.

Emilia Liz

05 December, 2006 22:03  
Blogger Martin said...

In my culture, arguing for spanking kids is seen as comparable to arguing for theft and larceny. Hitting a child is seen as really, really low behaviour. Still, our children grow up to become responsible citizens. And more importantly, the children of non-violent parents are happier.

I wish you many fine children and I hope that you won't feel the need to hit them!

06 December, 2006 09:11  
Blogger Giacomo said...

Startling new evidence reveals that child abuse in the vatican was orchestrated and kept secret by official order

13 March, 2007 10:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have miss quotes throughout your blog that are obviously meant to sway people toward your own misinformed opinions.

19 May, 2007 18:43  
Anonymous Jess said...

It doesn’t really matter to me if the quotes are accurate I think it’s more about the princable of the thing. Childern should not be abuse and that’s all that matters. I’m a film student making a documentary about the healing end of child abuse, that is to say that I am taking a look at adults who have overcome child abuse. Now I really think that if there was no more child abuse (of any kind and there is a lot more than mental & physcal) That there would be so much less vilionce in the world. I came across this blog while doing research for my documentary. We must be the change we wish to see, I urge you to learn how to not to do to them what was done to you. Stop the pain and raise up hope in the fruit of your loin, that which came from your womb. If you want more info on the documentary I’m doing than look me up on myspace
Here is a number to call if you are in the states and need to report child abuse.
Childhelp® USA National Child Abuse Hotline
TDD: 1-800-2-A-CHILD

06 November, 2007 03:50  
Anonymous Sara said...

As a listener of "Focus on the Family," I have never heard Dobson advise someone to "whip" their child, although he advocates spanking. I'm not sure the way you quoted was exactly accurate. It seemed twisted for emotional effect. From listening to him, he always seems like a person who deeply cares about children and believes discripline is good for children.

I personally think physical pain isn't such a horrible thing for a child to experience as a consequence for disobedience. And just becuase a parent uses physical pain in their arsenal of discpline doesn't mean it's abuse. I don't use it on my child yet, of course he is only 16 months and dosen't do a lot of willfull disobedience yet.

I'm just curious how many people who have posted are parents and if so, how they discipline their children effectively?

I've never read the book by Pearl or the others, but most Christians I know that have mentioned the Pearl method of displine are horrified by it.

Finally, Jess, you said it does not matter to you if the quotes are accurate, and I'm wondering why you would be ok with that. Does that mean it's ok if you got misquoted? To misrepresent others is wrong, IMHO.

16 December, 2007 02:27  
Blogger Martin said...

how many people who have posted are parents and if so, how they discipline their children effectively?

I'm a father of two (9 and 4). I don't "discipline" my children very often, preferring instead to reason with them. But when occasionally I feel a need to coerce them into doing or quitting something, a stern voice usually does the trick. If they persist, I use loss of privileges. "No TV, no computer, no dessert unless you do this or that".

I am certain that me causing my children physical pain would just sour my relationship with them, cause them not to trust me and make them less happy & harmonious people in the long run. It would also teach them to hurt my grandchildren.

16 December, 2007 10:45  
Blogger Jeremy said...

A great alternative I suggest to these books is "Love and Logic" by Jim Fay and Charles Fay. Great ideas that don't require you to get angry or hit your child.

18 December, 2007 00:34  
Anonymous JIM said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

02 January, 2008 03:20  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

quote: If they persist, I use loss of privileges.

Martin, your use of bargaining through loss of privileges is a great alternative to the examples of corporal punishment described by the Christian authors. But what do you, or your fellow citizens, do in extreme cases when a child has "nothing (no privileges) to lose" and acts in defiance through forms of vandalism, such as urinating on the floors or setting something on fire? many children in the US have an "I don't give a ****" attitude towards authority.

03 January, 2008 09:59  
Blogger Martin said...

My kids have never descended to spiteful vandalism. The worst trick they've tried is to hit me or their mothers -- when extremely upset, of course. We have countered that by holding them at arm's length or putting a closed door between us and them until they have calmed down.

In cases of particularly severe violence from the kids, strong loss of privileges has also followed. E.g. a few months ago when my son whacked his mom in the head. We didn't allow him to go to a birthday party that day, grounded him for two days without computer use and postponed our planned buying of a Nintendo Wii for several months.

You also seem to be asking about what society at large should to about adolescents who act up badly. I think that's another issue, and a harder one to solve. If they act like that when they're teens, you've alreadly lost the opportunity to raise them well. But I'm sure there is nothing to be gained by beating them at that age either. Quite the contrary.

03 January, 2008 10:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many of these people have successfully reared any children???

Martin - Your children are 9 and 4? Talk to me in 20 years when they are grown. Maybe you will be fortunate to not have a strong willed child. I have reared 5 - 2 strong willed, 1 compliant, the other 2 in between. Dobson is seriously misquoted on this site. You should read the whole book with an OPEN mind! We did occasionally use spanking, but NEVER in anger. Our children are now responsible, happy adults. Two of them have children of their own, and are doing a fine job of rearing them. Oh, by the way, we still have a great, adult relationship with our children. They even let me babysit (which is a lot of fun - I love kids)!

Don't be so quick to define all corporal punishment as child abuse. I have seen many children who were never spanked or hit or disciplined in any manner turn into angry, irresponsible adults, expecting to be GIVEN everything they want rather than earning it for themselves.

06 February, 2008 18:27  
Blogger Michelle said...

James Dobson is an evil terrorist who doesn't deserve the credentials he puts behind his name. Have you read the story about how he beat the shit out of his dog when it didn't do what he wanted? The sound of pleasure oozing out of his words is something only a sick and twisted individual would feel when causing physical pain against another creature. He is a menace to the human race, and anyone who thinks his words are laced with brillance should be in therapy. Non-religous therapy.

Besides, as any good parent knows, there is NO winning or losing when dealing with a child. That man is a sociopath wrapped up in religious garb, and saying a few token words makes needy people follow him like he's throwing crumbs to the starving.

For the record, the Christian Bible also commands parents to kill their children for certain disobedience. So to whom do you listen? Some whackjob psychologist who needs duct tape on his mouth? A book written some time in the bronze age filled with murder, rape, incest, infanticide, abortion, and other horrors? Or do you do what any other thinking person does and trust your own instinct, conscience, and your connection with your child?

09 February, 2008 18:05  
Blogger Michelle said...

And I have three children. Two of them would have been classified as "strong willed" according to that hack.

And when they are adults, it will ensure that they are less likely to be victimized by theories such as these. "Beat your children." "Jesus loves you."

09 February, 2008 18:07  
Blogger Martin said...

Go, Michelle!

09 February, 2008 18:59  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jyflsng, In sweden it Isn't about Defining corporal punishment as abuse. It IS abuse.

The worst kind of spankers are the once who think a child can't be raised without it.

Torture is probably a good way to get people to do what you tell them, but it's still wrong, Isn't it?

14 February, 2008 15:25  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

eXTReMe Tracker