Salon Magazine article on dominionist child abuse
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Thu May 25, 2006 at 12:43:51 PM EST
I have been writing a small series so far on one of the dirtier and less-well-known secrets of dominionism--that of religiously motivated child abuse within the dominionist community:

Death by "chastening rod"
Take action: stop sale of baby-beating books!
Another sad case of dominionist child abuse
A followup re the Pearls' dominionist child abuse
Kid beaten by minister for reporting abuse

It is a subject I have a particular interest in, largely because I myself am a survivor of religiously motivated child abuse; it's also an issue that is becoming of increasing concern by groups such as Stop The Rod (which includes excerpts from a number of "chastening manuals" aimed at the dominionist community, and which was originally founded by a Christian homeschooler mom who was gravely concerned about the promotion of these manuals in "Christian homeschool" support groups).

As it turns out, it's no longer survivors (like me) and concerned moms (like the person who runs Stop The Rod) who are speaking out.  Salon Magazine is now publishing an article on one of the more infamous offenders--Michael and Debi Pearl--and on religiously motivated child abuse in general.

The article starts out with the story of Meggan Judge, who was a former user of the Pearls' techniques until she had a case of post-partum depression--and realised the techniques were inherently abusive and dangerous.  

Much of the article covers some of the same ground that articles I have written--and other sources, such as the Raleigh-Durham

The article does give a few new frightening facts, though:

While the Pearls are not in direct competition with Christian media juggernauts such as Veggie Tales or "The Purpose-Driven Life," they are part of the booming religious publishing and products market, which hit $7.3 billion in 2005 -- a 28 percent increase since 2002, according to an April 2006 report by Packaged Facts, the publishing division of Among Christian books, the "Christian Living" subcategory, which includes parenting, is one of the most popular sub-segments; products for children are expanding as well. The Packaged Facts report, titled "The Religious Product Market in the U.S.," cites "the culture wars" as being one reason for this overall growth. "What has until recently frustrated evangelicals is their difficulty in translating political power into social and cultural clout," states the report. "In addressing and attempting to redress this problem, evangelicals are increasingly turning to publishing."

As for their position on corporal "chastisement," the Pearls are following in the footsteps of their forebears -- and are not out of step with most of their peers. "The tradition of 'breaking the child's will' using physical punishment is long-standing among evangelical, fundamentalist, Pentecostal and charismatic Protestants," says retired Rutgers University historian Philip Greven, author of "Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Child Abuse." "It's associated with a very strong patriarchal authoritarian tradition," he adds, along with a belief in the literal truth of the Bible. Greven found calls to physically punish children in 17th and 18th century American Protestant texts; he was surprised, in the course of his research, to see that they'd persisted into the20th century and even today.

Of particular note--the original article links to a series of articles from Focus on the Family wherein the use of "switches" is advocated on small children that kids are forced to get themselves (thus becoming an active participant in their abuse), among other things.

The article also notes that it's not just the Pearls advocating this stuff, and that this stuff is all too screamingly common in the dominionist community:

Indeed, not sparing the rod is the norm among Christian parenting books. Ted Tripp's 1995 book "Shepherding a Child's Heart," which endorses judicial spanking, was recently at No. 37 on Christian Retailing magazine's list of bestsellers; the same magazine, last October, called  W Publishing "one of the first major Christian publishing houses to publish a book that is opposed to spanking children." (The book is "Grace-Based Parenting" by Dr. Tim Kimmel.) And today, there are not only texts, but also products, such as "The Rod of Discipline" (see Proverbs 22:15 ) and a plastic "chastening instrument" said to "fit easily into purse or travel bag."

The article also notes that the Pearls have advocated the literal use of meter sticks and rulers as tools for beating children who have not yet celebrated their first birthday:
"Select your instrument according to the child's size," writes Pearl. "For the under one year old, a little, ten to twelve-inch long, willowy branch (stripped of any knots that might break the skin) about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger tree branch is effective." Additional advice from their Web site: Switching with a length of quarter-inch plumbing supply line is a "real attention-getter."

The article also--notably--notes the use of scripture-twisting in justification of religiously motivated child abuse, a subject rarely touched upon.

It also notes that--of particularly interesting note--some of the most vociferous opposition of the Pearls and other hawkers of religiously motivated child abuse is coming from people who are homeschooling their kids (this is of note because dominionist "homeschool" associations promote these books heavily):

While supporters of child-training see the Paddock case as a tragic misuse and misrepresentation of Pearl principles, some of their opponents have taken it as a call to arms. Recent protest has perhaps been loudest and most organized among home-schoolers. "Most home-schoolers, secular and Christian, are familiar with the Pearls, and speaking out never made a difference. Now a child has died and public scrutiny is on the Pearls. Strike while the fire is hot," says a home-schooling Oregon mother of 16-year-old triplets who blogs under the name "Doc Smith." (She requested that her real name not be used because of the threatening comments she and others have received in response to their anti-Pearl posts.)

Following in the footsteps of a British blogger known as Carlotta -- who, pre-Paddock case, worked to draw attention to the association between the Old Schoolhouse Magazine, a popular Christian quarterly for home-schoolers, and the Pearls' ministry, one of its advertisers -- Doc launched a boycott of the magazine and its partner blog services, and Other bloggers picked up the banner. (One printed anti-Pearl T-shirts. ) As a result of such efforts, Doc estimates, at least 250 bloggers have left Rumors abound that the Old Schoolhouse's subscriptions have dropped since the boycott -- its current readership is around 100,000 -- but according to the magazine, business is booming. "Subscriptions are actually up," says Nancy Carter, marketing manager. "With bad P.R. I think you also get folks saying, 'Hey, we want to show you we support you.'"

Doc admits that this boycott is but a "small battle" in the fight against child abuse. Ideally, she'd like to see the Old Schoolhouse -- a major market source for an often-isolated community -- stop printing articles by the Pearls and advertising their wares. But she hopes at the very least to draw attention to the methods espoused by the Pearls -- and distinguish them from other branches of the home-schooling community. "When a secular person/parent whips a kid, they're doing it because they're ignorant or just a jerk. They don't say God gave them permission or commanded them to do it," she says. "Home-schoolers who beat their kids make all home-schoolers look like freaks."

One home-schooling/blogging mother went so far as to buy the plumbing hose and try it on herself. "What I did was take the small supposedly 'harmless' tube and LIGHTLY tap myself on the forearm with it," she reports. "Not only did it sting like an SOB but it also left welts on my arm for TWO hours afterwards."

The article also notes some interesting statistics, which are especially relevant as many of the same folks hawking books on how to beat your baby for God are also hawking books on how women should "submit to their husbands" and how "God hates divorce" even in the case of abusive spouses:
"The evidence is that any corporal punishment, on average, is harmful down the road," says leading family violence researcher Murray Straus, professor of sociology and co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire. Among other problems, it has the potential to threaten the parent-child bond, inhibit the development of conscience, lead to juvenile delinquency, and even partner violence, Straus says. (Some disagree, saying -- for example -- that children who grow up with an understanding or fear of "consequences" are less likely to get into trouble down the road.) "There are now three very good studies showing that the more someone was spanked as a child, the more likely they are to hit their partner as an adult," says Straus. (Some suspect that spanking at home, or paddling at school, may be particularly harmful to girls.)

The article also notes on how dominionists are coached in these books, and also coach each other, on how to hide the signs of baby-beating:
Her father goes farther. "Don't be so indiscreet as to spank your children in public -- including the church restroom," he writes on his Web site. But discretion, here, is more than just the better part of embarrassing your kid. "I get letters regularly telling of trouble with in-laws who threaten to report them to the authorities," he goes on. "Parents have called the Gestapo on their married children. Church friends who have noses longer than the pews on which they perch can cause a world of trouble. If you cannot get [your children] trained before going out in public, stay home and read our four books again. If the Federal or State agencies take me to court over advocating corporal chastisement, this will be part of my defense: 'He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Prov. 13:24).'"

For similar reasons, the Home School Legal Defense Association recommends spanking only in private. (The HSLDA is a Christian organization, though it serves home-schoolers without regard to affiliation. It is dedicated to preserving the "fundamental right of parents to choose home educations, free of over-zealous government officials and intrusive laws.")

All in all, a very good article, and a good introduction for those who are wishing to research--or wishing to work against--religiously motivated child abuse in the dominionist community.

I wouldn't be surprised if the writer was reading your pieces - Salon has to be highly aware of Talk To Action : there's quite a profusion of connections between Talk To Action writers and Salon.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri May 26, 2006 at 07:01:02 AM EST
If so, I'm REALLY glad that this is getting out in the open.  This is an aspect of dominionism that very few people are aware of, and even the relative "moderates" in the field of dominionist "child training" (like Dobson, also head of one of the largest dominionist groups in the US) still advocate abusive forms of discipline--even to the point of advertising links to their website on major secular radio stations.

by dogemperor on Fri May 26, 2006 at 07:38:16 AM EST
Yesterday : He listens a lot to Rush Limbaugh and watches the 700 Club, but he isn't very happy with George W. Bush these days. It was an interesting conversation. He and I agreed on a number of things including our oppostion to gambling casinos.

My brother and his wife started out listening, I believe, to James Dobson's advice on coporal punishment of children. Now, with their last two kids ( they have 4 ) I don't think they do that any more. If so only rarely. The latter two children seem a bit more lively and expressive, but the older two may be just going through a phase.

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