Since I was a child I have never understood the (mainly) American penchant for non-mainline Protestants to beat their children to a pulp from infancy.

This is another reason why I do not advocate pietistic and holiness movements and why I started this series exploring the background to these groups. Yes, some are said to be gentler than others, however, even some Amish and Mennonite communities consider extreme corporal punishment to be necessary for the godly raising of children.

A brief background

In the 1970s, whilst America was looking at post-Dr Spock ways of parenting with patience, the new Christian Right advocated the more traditional method of ‘beatings will stop when morale improves’.

During that time, James Dobson, a Nazarene (a Wesleyan-derived holiness church), started Focus on the Family. From what I can remember through his newspaper interviews, he advocated breaking a young child’s will but not his spirit. I believe it was he who said that you must whip your child with an implement, having tried it on yourself first to see if it would hurt — a fallacy if ever there was one. As children grew, the size of the implement would increase in order to inflict more pain.

I wondered what would happen between a parent who had a black-and-white view of the world and a creative or analytical child. What would happen with an adolescent who was turning out to be more intelligent and articulate than the parent? I concluded that, according to Dobson’s model, the child would need to be beaten into submission.

In the fundamentalist worldview, any opposition to the parent — God’s familial representative — is sinful, ‘rebellious’ and counter-productive to a ‘godly’ home life.

If it doesn’t make sense to you, count yourself fortunate.

The same line of thinking extends to Christian homes for troubled girls and boys, some — like Hephzibah House — operated by Baptist organisations. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Other advocates of this type of abuse in God’s name were — and are — associated with Dominionism which began in the 1970s as a fringe movement and has now morphed into various groups and churches which mostly agree on the necessity to have a home worthy of God, perfect obedience and an unquestioning mind. Some leaders are pastors, others are laypeople — especially couples. In the 1990s, Gary and Anne-Marie Ezzo wrote books and course materials on biblically-based parenting. Over the past decade, Michael and Debi Pearl have been popular in ultra-conservative congregations. To provide more of a structured paradigm for the dominionist model as it relates to the home, pseudo-Calvinists involved in Vision Forum have been at the forefront of the homeschooling movement over the past several years. There are also pseudo-cultish leaders who are promoting the dominionist agenda and a formulaic way to make sure one’s home is favoured by the Lord. I’ll go into that much more next week.

For now, however, consider that we are now into our third generation — at least — of conservative Protestants who are supporters of primitive methods seen to bring about increased godliness and Christian domination. The necessary rationale and mindset revolve around the Old Testament, with the Gospels and Jesus Christ taking second place. The doctrines of grace which are essential to Lutheranism and Calvinism have been displaced by the drive for holiness and sanctity.

Balanced = lukewarm

There is a certain mindset which is in place for the extreme fundamentalist. They separate from the rest of us — Catholics and mainline Protestants — because we aren’t on fire enough for the Lord. We take more measured approaches to faith and home life. The extreme denominations see that as being lukewarm and damned.

Here is an illuminating quote featured recently at Commandments of Men in ‘Balance, Extremes and Swinging Pendulums’ (emphases in bold mine):

All three are concepts which turn into crutches for religious addicts – particularly those in the halfway house phase of the journey.

I fear that a lot of people may have misunderstood the point or context of “balance” that Cindy Kunsman brought up in her review of Courageous

“In real life, these formulaic practices tend to degrade into extremes of legalism which compete with balanced Christian living over time. As Vyckie Garrison notes, because the father-centered ideology redefines balance as sinful mediocrity and compromise to be resisted at all costs under most all circumstances, her family “did NOT want to be balanced. This is a core symptom of dysfunction found in families affected by addiction, a pattern of behavior that Vision Forum teaches as God’s ordained plan for godly living.”

Under Much Grace develops this further:

in dysfunctional households, family members learn that extremes are normal, and when they start to live in balance, it feels wrong. They associate their lives and have learned to experience life through extremes of despair and ecstatic joy, so the balance of everyday living doesn’t feel much like living. They have to chase a high, and this makes sense if they’ve spent a lot of time coping with tragedy and events that left them in despair. They learn to hate that place of balance, the zone where balance places most events in life as the dynamically weave around the midline between extremes.

In extreme religious groups which tends to attract people who subconsciously wish to avoid their pain, not knowing that it even exists in many cases, that zone of balance and emotional health gets redefined. Just as dysfunctional adults redefine balance in relationships as deadness and extremes of continual extreme passion and disdain as intimacy (actually the enemies of true intimacy), religious groups tend to redefine balance in religious life as conformity and lack of commitment to God. 

They learn to experience the world through a framework that prefers extremes and controversy, or rather through conspiracies and extreme themes of apocalypse and triumph. People mistake balanced Christian living as lack of devotion and lack of intimacy with God. Some use gender motivated “culture wars” to play out their unresolved and displaced emotions. Some use the chase of religious highs or the attainment of perfect piety as another way of displacing their internal struggle.

Please note that last sentence about piety!

And this introduction into the desired imbalance starts as soon as a child is born.

Extreme punishment is ‘cleansing’

The Revd Ronald E Williams, Pastor of Believers Baptist Church in Winona Lake, Indiana, and director of the Hepzibah House for ‘troubled teens’ (mostly girls) says in ‘The Correction and Salvation of Children’ that not beating your offspring into submission will consign them to hellfire. As others do, he uses verses from Proverbs to support his methods.

I’m going to map his perspective on a chronological timeline:

When should a parent start using the rod of correction on a child that the Lord has brought into the family? … A child very quickly demonstrates his fallen, depraved nature and reveals himself to be a selfish little beast in manifold ways. As soon as the child begins to express his own self-will (and this occurs early in life) that child needs to receive correction. My wife and I have a general goal of making sure that each of our children has his will broken by the time he reaches the age of one year. To do this, a child must receive correction when he is a small infant. Every parent recognizes that this self-will begins early as he has witnessed his child stiffen his back and boldly demonstrate his rebellion and self-will even though he has been fed, diapered, and cared for in every other physical way.

On what occasions should a child be corrected? Whenever a child directly disobeys authority or shows disrespect and rebellion toward authority, that child should receive correction. Lesser infractions of course would receive lesser forms of correction with the rod being reserved for the more serious infractions.

It’s a cleansing ritual (this is scripturally impossible, by the way, because we cannot purify another’s soul):

The first part or the procedure of correction is highlighted by “Thou shalt beat him with the rod.” The one who does the beating, in other words, is the one who saves this child in a spiritual sense! Here is a very mysterious promise to a parent in the Scriptures, that consistent, Godly, disciplined correction of the child with the rod of correction will in some mysterious sense be instrumental in that child’s spiritual salvation from sin and death …

The beating spoken of in this passage is done often and consistently so that the child recognizes he will always pay a price that he does not want to pay for rebellion against his authority. Such a child who is Biblically trained and corrected will be far more likely to respond to the spiritual concepts of sin and salvation when he reaches the age of understanding. A vital principle for a parent to grasp in this business of child correction is that our children will leave our house to obey their heavenly Father in exactly the same way as they have obeyed their earthly father.

You can understand now why many on the Christian Right think that God or Jesus will give them a whipping if they sin.

Now, note:

Obviously, by the grace of God, there are exceptions to this general rule. By the mercy of God, the Lord has often reached down and saved a rebellious youngster who has left the home of parents who never corrected him in a Godly fashion. It must be remembered that he was saved by an all-wise, merciful, and loving heavenly Father who regenerated his heart even though his earthly parents were unfaithful in the area of correction.

That is the only biblical passage in the piece. We are saved by God’s grace, not parental or filial beatings!

Yet more on the cleansing ritual aspect:

A child may in fact be bruised by a session of difficult correction. In fact, the Lord has already anticipated this objection and has discussed it briefly in the Scriptures. “The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly” (Proverbs 20:30) …

God makes the point that if a child is bruised during one of these sessions of correction that a parent should not despair but realize that the blueness of that wound cleanses away the evil heart of rebellion and willful stubbornness that reside in that depraved little body. I must hasten to add that no parent should deliberately seek to bruise his child nor should that be the goal of Biblical correction. I simply must agree with the Lord and declare that if a bruise does occur, God knows about it and will use it to cleanse the guilty heart of that erring child.


To put it another way, the one who does not Biblically beat his child, in a loving and consistent way, in a very real sense predisposes that child for hell and even has a direct part in sending him there! This truth is precisely why the Lord says you “hate your child” if you do not chasten him betimes (Proverbs 13:24).


Although a hand may have to be used in an emergency session of correction, this is not what the Lord had in mind. Your hand cannot do an effective job of correcting since you will inflict about as much pain on your hand as you will on the child’s buttock. Your hand should represent love and affection, not correction. The Lord prefers this inanimate object called the rod.

This will be alarming to those of us not in this mindset:

Many parents in using the rod of correction on their child do so with an obvious lack of vigor and often stop short of the child’s will being completely broken. Manifestation of this error is illustrated in countless homes as a child gets up from his session of correction still spouting rebellious words and giving willful looks at his discouraged parent. The parent has no one to blame but himself for this problem since he did not completely break the will of the child during the session of correction. A child who is still willing to resist the authority of his parent after having received the rod of correction is still in need of more of that same rod.

Both my wife and I have often remarked that it is good that one of our children was not our firstborn. This particular child who came along later in our family was extremely willful and rebellious toward our authority and would often require sessions of correction lasting from one to two hours in length before the will would finally be broken! Had this child been our first, we may well have been tempted to despair of the grace of God.

In the first part of the article, he advocates that even young adults — especially girls — be punished in this way.

As long as you have a child under your authority and your home where you can directly supervise and correct him, there still is hope that you may turn that child from his wicked ways and break his will. You may still teach him to submit to authority in his life

A good illustration of this hope is found in the case of a mother who called me from a distant state about her troubled teenage daughter … I explained to the mother that we did not have room to receive the girl at the time because our beds were filled. However, I mentioned that I could give her a possible answer for her predicament. I also said, “But I doubt that you will follow through.” The mother, hearing that there might be a solution to her crisis, desperately implored, “Yes, I will take your counsel. What is your solution?” I then proceeded to explain that the mother should get a stick that would not break and get after that daughter until the daughter asked for peace in their relationship …

Three weeks later, I received a phone call from this same mother. I had forgotten who she was and was reminded of her identity only when she reminded me of the lock and chain she had purchased to secure her daughter. I remembered who she was at that point since that was a unique method of restraining the girl. I asked, “Well, what has happened since our last conversation?” The mother replied that she had taken my advice to secure a large stick that would not break, and to quote the mother, “I wore off her behind!” I chuckled at the mother’s response and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the story … The mother then said, “And it has lasted for three weeks! But I think she needs it again this week.”

Note how the mother’s attempt to amend her daughter’s behaviour translated into a carnal desire to repeat the experience. Not unlike Christian Domestic Discipline with its ‘maintenance’ sessions: ‘Honey, I’ve saved your soul for the Lord and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it!’

You can read more about Williams’s Hephzibah House here — not for the faint-hearted or sensitive, by any means.

Reformed Baptist minister Voddie Baucham promotes ‘first-time obedience’, which relies heavily on corporal punishment to break a child’s will. Baucham also believes that a child’s innate shyness is ‘selfishness’ and must be beaten out of him. He insists on being addressed correctly by toddlers after church. Carnal? This man is how many times the size of a small child? Why would he feel threatened by their shyness or social inadequacies?

I’ll go into more of his perspectives next week, however, these parenting methods raise several questions, as Under More Grace shows:

I wholeheartedly agree that letting children (or encouraging children) to engage in rude, disrespectful behavior as a toddler encourages “rank disobedience” later in life. Yet how appropriate is it for an adult to put a small child into a situation wherein the adult expects the child to behave like a rational adult, capable of demonstrating the emotional control of an adult? I think that reasonable tears of fear/hiding one’s face in shy behavior demonstrates an appropriate response under certain circumstances, and the intolerable sticking out one’s tongue are two very separate issues …

Fear is not a sin in a two year old, and fear can sometimes manifest as anger or as shyness. Even adults run to the Rock of our Salvation and hide in the clefts as the adult and valiant warrior Psalmist often did. We trust under the feathers of God and find solace in His shield and buckler when we are afraid, even crying out to our Heavenly Father. Why would this similar behavior be inappropriate for a two year old? …

I am also confused about what Baucham argues here regarding the apparent the virtues of a two year old, wondering how a totally depraved creature who has not yet come to faith in Christ with understanding and credulity can also be filled with the Spirit as evidenced by desirable behavior as a manifestation of willful choice. Does Dr. Baucham believe that good behavior always indicates the manifestation of the indwelling Holy Spirit? Can’t an unbeliever who has been conditioned with behavioral consistency and techniques of “child training” manifest good behavior, or can’t good behavior be feigned apart from the work of the Spirit? Cannot and do not unbelievers, consummate examples of “the good person,” raise respectful, polite and obedient children? How does one differentiate this “deceitful feigning” of good behavior from the miraculous manifestation of the indwelling Holy Spirit, all prior to the child’s mature and willful faith in Christ with understanding of the atonement?

This carnality under the guise of ‘godly discipline’ can be fatal.

Notional pearls of wisdom can lead to prison

Michael and Debi Pearl — an unassuming couple if ever there was one — have (amazingly) made their living in recent years by advocating that parents use a length of plumbing line to beat their children, starting in infancy.  It’s cheap and convenient, they say, because you can have them located easily all around the house and on your person.

In November 2011, America’s ABC News reported on three deaths that resulted:

In May, the 11-year-old daughter of Larry and Carri Williams of Sedro-Woolley, Wash., died after they allegedly used Pearl’s methodology, according to a reported The New York Times. The parents were charged with homicide by abuse Sept. 29 and have pled not guilty.

Hana, who with her brother had been adopted from Ethiopia, died from hyperthermia and malnutrition and was found face-down in her back yard, according to the report.

Police said Hana had often been whipped and was forced by her parents to sleep in the barn and to shower outside with a hose. They say that her parents had used a 15-inch plastic tube that is recommended by Pearl to discipline children.

You can read Hana’s horrifying saga here in the Skagit County Sherriff’s Office report.

More from the ABC article:

Lynn Paddock of Johnson County, S.C., was convicted in the first degree murder of her 4-year-old son, Sean, in 2006, and the teachings of Pearl came up in the trial.

The boy suffocated after being tightly wrapped in a blanket and his five other siblings testified they had been beaten daily with the same plastic tubing.

And, another terrible and moving case of Lydia Schatz, who died in Paradise. California, that is. In 2010:

7-year-old Lydia Schatz of Paradise, Calif., was “whipped” to death with rubber tubing for mispronouncing a word during a homeschooling lesson. She died from severe tissue damage and her sister had to be hospitalized.

An ex-fundamentalist blogging at I must follow if I can, is now a member of a mainline Presbyterian church. He lived in the same community as the Schatzes and recalls:

They homeschooled their 9 kids, dressed like Mennonites. And because of the long sleeves and long dresses, nobody knew the children were being beaten.

It was a wake-up call to realize I had helped to plant a tiny church which did not have the kind of resources that may have allowed us to confront the Schatzes. Instead, the church consisted of a few other Fundamentalist, home-schooling “breeder” families, who reinforced and encouraged each other’s isolationist views. Everyone looked to the Schatzes as shining examples in parenthood—not because any of us knew what went on inside their house, but because we all noticed how well-behaved their children were and secretly envied it. If only we had known

Karen at Then Face 2 Face has more, including the passage with the word which Lydia had problems with, which came from Frog and Toad Together, a book about true friendship. Karen tells us that the Schatzes adopted Lydia and her sister Zahria from Liberia (an unstable country where children are treated as cannon fodder).  Lydia and Zahria were in an orphanage at the time. You don’t make friends in an orphanage. You know you will never see your parents. Your relationships are nil. So it’s no wonder that Lydia stumbled over the same word again and again in a story about companionship and loyalty which she never knew.  This must have caused her great pain, a distress which she could not — or would not have been allowed to — articulate. (Having moved around because of my father’s transfers with his employer, I know to a lesser extent what Lydia and her sister endured. In that situation, there are no friendships, no Frog and Toad. It is not surprising that certain anomalies manifest themselves, triggers which would not feature in children who had grown up in the same town all their lives.)

Her adoptive parents couldn’t even show her a Frog and Toad example of security and gentleness.

Karen describes what happened:

I am haunted by Lydia. She died some weeks ago when communication with her adoptive parents became fractured as she read a Frog and Toad storybook during a homeschool lesson. She died because she was beaten until she went into heart failure. She died after her adoptive parents took turns holding her down while the other beat her with a 1/4 inch plumber’s supply line, for hours … She died because her parents, exactly the kind of godly salt-of-the-earth sorts of people that I have sat next to in Homeschooling conventions, relied for wisdom in a terrible situation upon the teachings of men rather than the Holy Spirit of God–or even upon their God-given common sense. Lydia died because horrible ideas have horrible consequences

Both of Karen’s posts are worth reading in full — moving and poignant.

Meanwhile, Michael Pearl is unrepentant.

Beatings can cause renal failure

Plumbing line is not the only implement which can injure or result in death. A switch off of a tree will get the job done, too.

In 2002, sons of a Baptist pastor beat a 11-year boy, Louie Guerrero, so badly that he was hospitalised for renal failure. You can see the photo of his back at this post at Under Much Grace, which has more on the story:

Louis Guerrero also required a blood transfusion.  (To my knowledge, there are now three cases of renal failure related to corporal punishment as a Christian practice.)

From a CNN transcript of the Wolf Blitzer show:

BOBBY TAYLOR, BOY’S ATTORNEY: They took him to this private home, and the person who took him was the — I won’t call him youth minister, but he was a 22-year-old minister, and apparently, he may have been the son of the minister of the church — cut a branch off a tree, made my client lay on the bed, and there began to beat him, and beat him for almost an hour.

BLITZER: The child is reportedly conscious now, but has been in a local intensive care ward since the middle of last week. The incident allegedly occurred while the boy was attending a religious summer camp at the church, for Spanish-speaking children. But, church officials say that, because this happened at a sub-chapter for Spanish- speaking members, it’s not a church matter, and they won’t comment on camera …

BLITZER: The child’s parents refused to speak on camera, but they said when the young ministers dropped their son off at home, one of them told the parents they should discipline the boy further.

The Deseret News reported on December 13, 2003:

Joshua Thompson was ordered to serve 26 years for injury to a child and 20 years for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The sentences will run concurrently and he could be eligible for parole in 13 years.

Caleb Thompson was sentenced to concurrent 14-year sentences on the same convictions, meaning he could be eligible for parole in seven years.

Caleb Thompson, who held Guerrero down while his brother beat him, said he was sorry for causing the boy’s injuries.

In 2011, a Mennonite girl was removed from her home for the same reason. The Pearls’ whipping methods were also implicated.

This type of renal failure is related to rhabdomyolosis (physiology diagrams at the link):

Rhabdomyolosis describes the condition which follows massive skeletal muscle deterioration, liberating large amounts of muscle cell waste into the bloodstream. As a nurse in critical care, working in critical care for more than ten years and in nursing for twenty-five, I’ve cared for about four patients in active and severe rhabdomyolosis, two of which were related to metabolic/medical processes and two were trauma related. The trauma cases were patients that had major muscles that were torn apart in car crashes, and the damage was extensive and very visible. Some marathon runners and people in or training for triathlons can develop clinically significant rhabdomyolosis because of extreme and abnormal muscle cell rupture, showing high levels of muscle cells in their bloodstream after these types of events. My salient point here: moderate to severe rhabdomyolosis is not a common occurrence. It certainly should not be a consequence of spanking or discipline.

… I am concerned that cumulative damage can occur over time and that more acute damage (rapid onset of symptoms) may also occur in other children in the future. I’m also concerned that the church may never find out about most of these cases and cannot really get the information needed to truly evaluate the safety of Pearl’s method …

Zariah Schatz will live with compromised kidneys for the rest of her life because a part of her kidneys died. She may have enough function after treatment, but she will be compromised somewhat. As she ages, this will be a health concern for her.

Have there been undiagnosed cases of rhabdomyolosis and has it occurred on a chronic basis producing renal insufficiency in some children? Many of the communities of people who rely on the Pearl method eschew traditional healthcare. Some children are never issued birth certificates, born with the assistance of lay midwives. What else goes unnoticed?

I think that it would be wise for the church to take notice of these matters before one more child suffers. You only get 2 million nephrons in life (those tiny little wonderful miracle tubes in the kidney), and they don’t grow back if they get damaged. Could the plumbing line be ironically destroying a child’s own metaphorical plumbing?

As Christians, we all need to be aware of abuse of women and children. As was said earlier, those delightful, well-behaved children might be undergoing a daily calvary. Pastors, elders and teachers also need to be on the lookout for symptoms which could indicate abuse.

In the meantime, for the über-conservatives out there: no amount of beating will cleanse your child’s soul, although it may send him to Heaven sooner — and land you in prison.

For further reading:

Kidney disease related to Pearl (Under Much Grace)

Why good people make dangerous choices (Under Much Grace)

Links related to Lydia Schatz, the Michael Pearl method of child training and First Time Obedience (Under Much Grace)

Is Michael Pearl responsible for a girl’s death? (Tritone Life)

Ezzo feeding methods versus American Academy of Pediatrics

Gary Ezzo’s educational background and run-in with John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church (documentation begins on page 2)

God isn’t your dad