Fundamentalist Christianity and the Family

Copyright 1995,1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

A great deal of the talk about "family values" that is being tossed about in the media is coming from various Fundamentalist Christian groups. These groups have very specific ideas of what the proper structure of the family should be, derived from a literal interpretation of certain Bible passages.

One hears a great deal about Fundamentalism, but it is often left assumed as to what is being talked about. Who exactly are the Fundamentalist Christians? There is no one single "Fundamentalist Christian Church," but rather a large number of churches that hold to a similar body of beliefs. Most of these churches trace their roots to Calvinist theology, but with notable differences according to which of several organizations is being discussed. The central tenet of the Fundamentalist creed is that the Bible, literally interpreted, is to be the primary guide to faith and Christian living. The Bible is regarded as being divinely inspired and inerrant.

From this central doctrinal touchstone that the Bible is the primary source of faith and Christian living come a number of other important pieces of Fundamentalist belief. For instance almost all Fundamentalists believe in a literal Creation and try to establish "Creation science" as a scientific system equal to Darwinian evolution. Many Fundamentalists also believe that one can derive Biblical precepts for government and wish to incorporate them into the government of the United States. And almost all Fundamentalists believe that the Bible sets out one true and proper way to organize the Christian family. The Fundamentalists are very vocal about their beliefs, and the noted writers and organizers often are involved in a number of these causes. For instance Reverend Tim LaHaye, who with his wife Barbara conduct Family Life Seminars all over the country and have written several books on Christian family life, runs the Institute for Creation Research and was one of the three founders of the Moral Majority.1

Almost all Fundamentalist writers agree on several central points about their ideas of the Christian family. They all believe that the family was divinely ordered and sanctioned. They also believe in a hierarchical structure of the family in which the roles of the members are clearly defined. Furthermore they believe in the importance of absolute obedience which is to be enforced with physical discipline.

All Fundamentalists share the belief that the family is an institution created by divine mandate. In The Christian Family, Larry Christenson states that the family belongs to God and was created by Him to bring glory and honor to Him.2 To support this statement he cites the account in Genesis of the creation of Adam and Eve. According to him the basis of the Christian family is found in Genesis 2:24, in which God speaks of the man leaving his parents and cleaving to his wife in order to become one flesh with her.3 Because of this, Christenson regards a Christian marriage as being indissoluble and flatly rejects divorce. Like many other Fundamentalists, he regards anyone who obtains a divorce and subsequently remarries as being no longer a Christian. He answers the issue of marital unhappiness by saying that the true Christian will have an eternity of happiness in Heaven, and that the burden of enduring an unhappy marriage on earth is a small weight compared to what would be lost by obtaining a divorce. However he regards divorce as being acceptable for non-Christians since they will go to Hell anyway and should be permitted earthly happiness.4

Another view of the purpose of marriage is expressed by M. Blaine Smith in Should I Get Married?, a guidebook for young singles published by the moderately Fundamentalist InterVarsity Press. Smith suggests that God gives humans marriage because it is necessary to prevent immorality and quotes I Corinthians 7:1-7 to support this view.5

Within the marriage, Fundamentalists set separate, definite roles for husband and wife. Larry Christenson sets this out explicitly by opening his book with the following organizational diagram of the Christian family6:

			Christ -- head of husband
			husband -- head of wife and authority over children
			     |					|
			wife -- helpmeet		|
			and secondary	>>>	children-- obedient to parents
			authority over children

This is clearly a hierarchical, top-down concept of the family. Authority is dependent upon gender and age. By virtue of being male, the husband is the head of the household and in authority over his wife as well as the children. What authority the mother has over the children is derived from her husband.

To the husband Fundamentalist writers assign the role of primary wage-earner and decision-maker. He is also to love his wife with a self- sacrificing, compassionate love that puts her needs before himself. Smith cites Joseph's concern for Mary prior to the birth of Jesus as an example of the sort of compassionate love that makes a marriage work.7 Christenson describes this sort of self-sacrificing compassion as "Christ-like sacrifice," making a parallel between the relationship of Christ and the Church with the relationship between husband and wife.8 Although this view does balance authority with responsibility, authority is not regarded as being dependent upon the fulfillment of responsibility. As it will be seen later, the failure of the husband to carry out his responsibility does not diminish his authority over his wife by one iota.

While the husband is the head of the household, the wife is placed under his authority, and all her authority over the children is regarded as being derived from him.9 She is to be submissive to her husband in all things, based upon the writings of the apostle Paul. Even Smith, writing for the relatively moderate InterVarsity Press, brings up the expectation that the wife should submit to her husband.10 Beverly LaHaye, in a book about bringing up good Christian children, talks about a young woman with a strong leadership talent having to learn to submit her dominant spirit to God so that she could become submissive to her husband as well as God, which carries with it the assumption that women should be subordinate to their husbands.11 Christenson makes it not merely an ideal, but a commandment. However he states that submission does not mean becoming an abject slave or doormat of the husband, after the fashion of various Oriental cultures. Rather he regards submission as being humble and obedient to authority. He uses the example of the Church being obedient to Christ and adds that wifely submission protects women and the home.12 In fact he even goes so far as to say that wifely submission is not merely a duty but a privilege which God grants to women to give them a husband's protection from a cold, cruel world which women are supposedly incapable of dealing with adequately.13

In Christenson's eyes there are many dangers from which a woman needs male protection, which she purchases by her submission to her husband. First he points out the danger of gross physical assault, as well as the various emotional assaults that may be levelled against her by various cold, unfeeling individuals. He gives the example of an angry neighbor coming to complain about the misbehavior of the family's children. The wife responds by smiling and directing him to speak to her husband. According to Christenson, this is not a "cop-out" (his term) on the part of the wife, but something that is her right and privilege as a Christian woman. Her husband has the duty to protect her from such things, and by submitting herself to his headship she avails herself of such protection. In addition, the wife has the right to expect her husband to protect her from any and all assaults and disrespect her children may deal her, so that she may maintain the poise and dignity necessary for the moral balance of the home.14

However the storms and shells of the material world are not the only hazards that the woman is regarded as needing protection from. Like most Fundamentalist Christians, Christenson regards the world of the spirit as being just as real and immediate as the material world, if only in a different way. In the realm of the spirit there are both good and evil forces, and the latter pose a grave peril to the immortal soul, a peril to which women are naturally more susceptible. By placing herself in subjection to her husband a woman gains protection from these malign influences and satanic attacks. To support this doctrine, Christenson quotes I Corinthians 11:10, interpreting Paul's words to refer to a figurative covering of male authority rather than the physical veil referred to in earlier verses (and also assuming that Paul's statement is valid for all times and cultures rather than being relevant primarily to the time and culture that Paul was specifically addressing).15

Christenson, like many other Fundamentalists, regards women as being naturally subordinate to men because Adam was created before Eve and that Eve was the first sinner (citing Paul as authority for interpreting the Genesis account in this manner). Christenson even goes so far as to suggest that women actually want their husbands to rule over them, using the Genesis account to support it.16 Later in his book, Christenson quotes a statement by a woman who claims that women don't really want men to give up their position of authority, even when the women try to take that authority from the men, but rather that it's really all a pose and the women really want their husbands to firmly put them back in their places.17 Of course it is always convenient to say that the people on the bottom of the social order really like it that way and when they try to change things they are really wanting the people on the top to say "no" and force things to remain the way they always have been. And often people who have been indoctrinated to their own subordination will come to believe that they actually want to be put back in their places. The case of the machube among the Fulani of Benin is an excellent example of this. When the French abolished slavery, these people had become so convinced of their own inferiority to the Fulani that they continued in effective slavery after legal abolition.18

In fact, Christenson doesn't limit the idea of submission just to wives. He believes that all women should be under the authority of a male. Until marriage they should be under the authority of the father or another male relative, and a widowed woman should place herself under the authority of the church leaders in return for the protection she formerly received from her husband.19 The idea of any woman standing on her own and functioning independently has no place in this scheme of things. Instead women are kept permanently dependent upon males, as though femaleness equalled dependency.

In her subordinate position the wife is regarded as having specific duties, but these all revolve around the home. While the husband is expected to go out and earn a living to provide for his family, the wife is to devote herself to her husband, children and home.20 One almost gets the impression that Christenson believes that a woman should have no interests outside the home, save her church work.

Because of her subordinate position in the Fundamentalist scheme of the family, a woman who is married to a less spiritual man is not allowed to attempt to witness to her husband in the normal manner. Instead of trying to talk to him about religion, which Christenson regards as being presumptuous and unbiblical, the wife is to "witness" through quiet deeds, being a dutiful wife in all things and trying to impress him through her good housekeeping so that he will thus become interested in what has made her such a good wife.21 He regards this as a special womanly power granted by God through faith and claims that it can work great changes of heart, while he believes that any overt attempt at witnessing should fail. However even if the program of witnessing through quiet deeds does fail and the man's heart remains hardened, the wife's duty to be submissive and obedient to her husband is not lessened. As an illustration Christenson gives the case of a woman whose cross husband rejected Christianity and even went so far as to order her to quit going to church. When she talked to her minister about it, he told her that the problem was with her. According to the preacher she was a rebellious wife and was resentful of her husband's authority over her and that she needed to learn submission to him and stop lecturing him about God. Supposedly her husband had a change of heart shortly after she started modeling her behavior on this idea of wifely submission, and he even started attending church regularly.22 This story carries several interesting implications. First it blames the wife for the behavior of the husband, implying that any man will come around if a woman can be a good enough wife. Secondly, this doctrine places a woman's obedience to her husband before her moral obligations and seems to imply that she has a duty to obey him even if he should be wrong. And finally it makes it clear that the obligations of husband and wife are not completely mutual. Although it is strongly implied that the husband's duty to protect his wife is conditional on her submission to him, her duty to submission is plainly unconditional. She is still obligated to submit to him even if he is not fulfilling his duties toward her. She is not allowed to "go on strike" in order to get him to meet his obligations. In fact such an action would be regarded as rebellious manipulation. Instead she is expected to endure whatever her husband may do with humility and faith that God will use her submission to him as a way to soften his heart. This doctrine on marital relationships is particularly bad in the case of a woman in an abusive marriage because it blames her for her abuse and condemns her for any attempt to leave the abusive husband.

In addition to clearly defined ideas about the roles of men and women in a marriage, the Fundamentalists also have clear ideas of the place of sex. Both Christenson and Miles do reject the Augustinian idea that sex is dirty in and of itself and is only acceptable when done for the purpose of producing children and that one should stop having sex when the family is completed. Miles even goes as far as to call that idea "perverted and un-Christian."23 However no Fundamentalist regards sex as having any other place in the lives of Christians except firmly within a marriage. Miles firmly rejects the idea that people need regular sexual release and claims that the existence of nocturnal emissions is a proof that God intends for young men to remain continent until marriage. In fact he regards nocturnal emission as a natural gift of the Creator to help maintain control of the sexual drive until marriage.24

Not only is sexual intercourse outside of marriage regarded as evil, but Miles also says that masturbation is sinful when it is either pursued primarily for pleasure, habitual, or causing guilt feelings.25 Furthermore, what makes masturbation particularly wicked is the tendency to fantasize about having sex with a known or unknown person while masturbating.26 In his eyes, having fantasies about having sex with another person while stimulating the relevant body parts is tantamount to actually performing the deed. Therefore the only morally acceptable use of masturbation is as an outlet for single males who are physically incapable of managing their sex drive naturally through nocturnal emissions. This kind of masturbation must be carefully managed in order to eliminate all possibility of fantasizing about having sex with a woman. He doesn't seem to even want the young man trying to imagine having sex with a hypothetical future wife, perhaps because that would be regarded as presuming upon God's will. And if males are permitted the release of masturbation only as a last resort, females are not permitted it at all. Miles regards female masturbation as always being wrong because women do not have any comparable need for sexual release and all female sexual feeling should be kept firmly within the marital relationship.27 To those who complain that this is a double standard he responds that males and females are different and therefore require different standards.

This concept of naturally differing standards for male and female behavior runs through Fundamentalist thinking, along with a deep fear that any departure from strict gender roles and sexual morals will lead to the uncontrollable decay of civilization. Larry Christenson claims a link between immodest dress on the part of women and male homosexuality. According to him, the men become sated after seeing women in clothes that leave nothing to the imagination and thus turn their jaded appetites to perverted sex acts to get their thrills.28 Dr. Jack Hyles, although writing primarily about childraising, emphasizes throughout his work the importance of separate spheres for males and females and suggests that this separation is divinely ordained. He believes that this must start early, with boys to be raised to be masculine in appearance and demeanor and do chores regarded as suitable to their gender, while girls should be raised to be feminine and perform only womanly chores that will prepare them for the submissive, domestic role of a woman.29

Noted Christian psychologist Dr. James Dobson (a moderate as Fundamentalists go, although quite conservative by comparison with the mainstream) argues that the current decay of moral standards began with the movies after World War I and hit its full stride in the 1960's with the advent of contraceptives and the attitude that God is dead.30 To support his argument that this alleged decay of American moral standards will ultimately result in the collapse of American civilization unless reversed by a powerful revival of strong family values, Dobson cites a study by J. D. Unwin on the rise and fall of civilizations. According to Dobson's interpretation of Unwin's work, civilizations begin with a strong sense of sexual morality and a strong society. Because their sexuality is controlled, the people have that energy available for creative work. But as they build a more comfortable civilization the people begin to rebel against the strictures of their society and demand the gratification of their sexual desires. When the moral standards are lowered and the people are allowed to sate themselves sexually, they no longer have that energy available for other things, and thus their strength wanes.31

In Fundamentalist Christian thinking relationships with children develop around the nucleus of the married couple. Because God is regarded as the Father, all parental authority is seen as being derived from this divine role. The human father derives his authority spiritually from God's spiritual Fatherhood.32 Hyles calls parents God's earthly vicars and states that children owe their parents love and respect in return for the parents' sacrifices.33 Because there is no female figure in the Godhead, Fundamentalist thought regards the wife as receiving what authority she possesses over her children from her husband. Therefore her role is automatically made a lesser one. Christenson states explicitly that men should not participate in the sort of work that is normally regarded as being the province of their wives because it will degrade their role as fathers.34 Instead the proper role of the father is that of providing moral and spiritual headship for the family. He is to be the primary source of discipline for the family, although he should expect his wife to take care of discipline in his absence rather than waiting until he gets home and telling him to punish the children for all the offenses they have committed during the day. Most importantly he is to take charge of the spiritual development of his children. According to Christenson, the father is a sort of priest of his family, and therefore he has the responsibility of interceding with God on the behalf of his children in order to assure their spiritual growth.35 As proof of this idea he cites Martin Luther and John Knox as great men of prayer who made things happen because they prayed.36 LaHaye cites the inscription on the tombstone of Benjamin Franklin's parents, with the implication that following her (LaHaye's) ideas about parenting one can bring up children as great as Franklin (and neatly ignoring the fact that Franklin was a Deist and had numerous extramarital affairs).37

This sort of use of history for one's own ends is quite common among Fundamentalist writers. Many of them will set forth the actions of various historical personages as models for imitations while totally ignoring other aspects of that person's life. Hyles does this frequently in his book. Not only does he give Franklin as an example of numerous virtues (controlling one's temper, using time wisely and the importance of good habits), but he also mentions Napoleon (who was the byname of tyranny until Hitler), Alexander the Great (known to be homosexual) and Lord Nelson (who abandoned his wife to have a scandalous affair with Lady Hamilton) as persons whose virtues of industry, decisiveness and punctuality should be imitated, without any mention of their flaws.38 A short-sighted or blinkered view of history is common among Fundamentalist writers, who often hearken back to an idealized view of the past for a model of how various aspects of life, including family, should be arranged in the modern era.

In the Fundamentalist family structure the mother holds a subordinate role. Christenson explicitly states that any mother who attempts to usurp or otherwise weaken her husband's authority as a father will lose her own authority over her children because it is derived from his. Christenson suggests that the children instinctively realize that maternal authority is derivative and cannot survive the weakening of paternal authority.39 Beverly LaHay claims that many cases of children who are chronically disobedient can be traced to a mother who is not submitting herself to her husband.40

However this does not mean that Fundamentalist writers regard a woman as being powerless or a nothing. Rather they regard her as having a different sort of power, passive rather than active. Much as the wife of a difficult husband is expected to change him through the gentle application of prayer and good works, emphasis is placed upon the power of a mother's gentle prayers for her children. Christenson cites the example of St. Augustine, who attributed his conversion to the prayers of his mother, Monica, who kept praying that he would serve God even when he wanted to linger in sin.41 Beverly LaHaye claims that Susanna Wesley spent an hour every week with each of her fifteen children, and that when they grew up she prayed for them for an hour each week.42

Fundamentalists regard parents as being accountable only to God for the manner in which they bring up their children. J. Richard Fugate makes this quite explicit in his book What the Bible Says About ... Child Training. According to him the parents' word is law in regard to the children and they have the right to force their children to obey their every command. The Bible gives the government no right to intervene in the relationship between parent and child except in cases of incest, injury or death. He even claims that compulsory public education, child advocacy agencies and child abuse laws are cases of the government usurping the sovereign authority of parents. He also claims that one should not intervene when a parent is being cruel or unfair because only God has the authority to judge parents and mortals should leave it to Him. Furthermore he states that God may want the child to glorify Him through suffering or the child may need harsh treatment in order to learn to submit to the parent's authority.43 This idea is strongly reminiscent of the Hindu idea that one should not help someone who has fallen on hard times because that person's misfortunes are the work of karma for past misdeeds and any help would only lengthen the person's suffering.

Children are assigned one simple role, that of obedient child, with their obedience being essential for their salvation. Beverly LaHay explicitly links the child learning to obey his or her parents with submission to God and implies that the child who does not learn obedience to parents will never be able to become a servant of God.44 Similarly, Christenson states that children's obedience to their parents is the key to developing a good relationship with Jesus. According to him, the obedient child is a happy child, because such a child knows where the limits are.45 Dr. Dobson states in the opening of his book Dare to Discipline that disobedience and conflict with parents are not a matter of frustration or other circumstances, but a rejection of parental authority. According to him, children who are disobeying their parents really want to know what the rules are and where the boundaries lie.46 Beverly LaHaye describes children as having desires towards evil and desires towards good, and quotes verses from the Psalms to support this view.47 Larry Christenson completely rejects the idea that children are basically good and that disobedience can be dealt with by talking out the root causes. Instead he regards disobedience as something that needs to be dealt with firmly, preferably through spanking.48

In the view of the Fundamentalist writers, this obedience is to be absolute and unconditional. In defending this idea, Beverly LaHaye gives the example of a missionary who was passed over for promotion because he had a reputation for going behind his superiors and doing things his own way. She claims that his parents should have taught him absolute obedience in childhood so that it would have come to him automatically as an adult.49 Both Hyles and Fugate believe that parents should not explain their commands to their children. Fugate even says that explanations undermine parental authority.50 Not only is this obedience to be absolute, it is to be unconditional. Just as a wife is expected to submit to her husband even when he is in the wrong, children are not relieved of their duty to obey when the parents are in the wrong. Christenson states that God will bless the child that unquestioningly obeys parents even when they are wrong and that the child will be happier this way than if he is permitted to question his parents.51 Later he adds that a good Christian child should never even so much as wonder if his parents might order him to do something wrong, but should trust God to protect his parents from such misjudgment. He does allow that parents should own up for their mistakes to their children, but it must always be on the initiative of the parents.52 For the children to point out the mistakes, or worse yet to call into question the parent's command when it is given, would be rank presumptuousness in Christenson's view. In fact he seems to imply that the parents should insist that the command be obeyed, even if they see that they are in the wrong, and only after resistance has been quashed and obedience secured should they acknowledge their mistake and make amends. Fugate also tells parents that children should not be permitted to point out parental mistakes or contradictions because this is not the child's place.53

In order to obtain this absolute obedience, uncompromising discipline is strongly recommended by Fundamentalist writers. This is justified by the idea that human nature is primarily sinful and must be dealt with firmly in order to bring it to righteousness. Dr. Dobson argues that too many liberal Christian writers have placed an excessive emphasis on the love of God and that one must first understand God's justice in order to comprehend His greatest expression of love, Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross.54 Christenson, Dobson, Hyles and Fugate all believe that God holds parents accountable for how they discipline their children and cite the case of the sons of Eli (I Samuel 3:13-14) as a Biblical example of what happens when parents fail their duties.55 In this Biblical story so beloved of these writers of Fundamentalist advice literature Eli, the high priest before Samuel, did not discipline his sons and they grew up wild and immoral. Their misbehavior in the tabernacle so displeased God that He not only slew them but Eli as well, and passed the office of high priest out of Eli's family to Samuel. Christenson claims that stern discipline and tender love go hand in hand, and refers to the example of Susanna Wesley, noted for her advocacy of harsh physical punishment aimed at breaking the child's will, spending so much time with her children.56

Christenson believes that the process of discipline should start in the cradle, and claims that babies quickly learn to manipulate their parents through crying and fussiness if it is not quickly curbed.57 Beverly LaHaye also believes that discipline should start early, and quotes Susanna Wesley as writing to her son John (founder of Methodism) "The self-willed child must be broken and brought into subjection before he reaches two years of age."58 LaHaye also believes that the "strong-willed" child to which Mrs. Wesley referred should really be termed "self-willed" and is actually weak because the desires and appetites of the moment control the will, and that firm discipline breaks these desires and appetites so that the will can be shaped for God.59 Hyles and Fugate also suggest that parents should begin to spank their children while they are still infants. Fugate even suggests using blows to teach a six-month-old baby not to wiggle while being diapered. If the child screams as a result and keeps squirming, the parent should deliver the child another swat.60 None of these writers take into account the fact that infants simply lack the cognitive abilities to comprehend directions and comply with them.

Fundamentalist writers do differ on what is reason for this sort of discipline. Christenson extolls the days in which children washed breakable dishes and got taken to the woodshed (spanked) for breaking one. He claims that modern durable dishes aren't such good teachers of responsibility because they can be handled roughly.61 He does not seem to consider the idea that children might break dishes through clumsiness or developmental lack of the necessary co-ordination. By contrast Dr. Dobson states that discipline is to be reserved for deliberate acts of defiance of parental authority, while cases of childish irresponsibility and immaturity should be dealt with by alternative consequences.62 As an example of what he regards as deliberate defiance and the proper way to deal with it he gives a personal story of how he talked back to his mother and she grabbed a girdle and delivered him a stinging blow to the body as punishment.63

Fugate also tells parents that spanking, which he calls "chastisement," should be used only to deal with a child's rebellion against parental authority. According to him, only physical pain can conquer the rebellious child and that attempts to change the child's behavior by other means will only fail. He directs parents to spank until the child cries tears of true submission and that if the child will not submit, the parent should leave the room to rest and give the child a chance to reconsider. If the child does not confess rebellion and submit, the spanking should resume. He also encourages parents to take a "cooling-down" period before administering a spanking if they are angry, and that the child should be told to wait for his punishment.64

However Fugate also claims that many cases of forgetfulness and mistakes are actually a form of passive rebellion and should be treated as such. The child is to do a task exactly as the parent requires, since he believes that obedience is no place for creativity. He also advises parents that there is no such thing as an accident and they should not accept any excuses because the fact of guilt, not the reason behind the incident, is important. There is always a guilty party who must make restitution. Even a clumsy child should be expected to pay for items that are damaged through his clumsiness.65 Hyles takes this "no excuses" philosophy even further by stating that a mistaken report of an event is morally equivalent to a lie. He even discourages the use of words such as "approximately" and tells parents to insist on accuracy in ever detail of their children's statements.66

Dobson suggests that a spanking, which should be hard enough to cause tears, can then be followed by a discussion of why the child's behavior could not be tolerated. He believes that this makes spanking more effective than non-corporal punishments in dealing with defiance.67 In another of his books he uses Leonardo da Vinci's statement "He who does not punish evil commands it to be done" as support for using spanking to deal with stubbornness and defiance.68 Here he neatly ignores that da Vinci did not live the sort of life he would regard as exemplifying Christian virtue. Christenson advises parents that spanking should be the first response to misbehavior rather than a last resort, and quotes numerous Bible verses to support this notion.69

Dobson, Christenson, Fugate and LaHaye all advise parents to use a neutral object such as a belt or spoon rather than a hand to administer spankings.70 LaHaye suggests that the child should be required to get the family's "rod" and bring it to the parent for the administration of the spanking.71 Fugate even claims that children naturally recognize the rod as a symbol of authority, while belts and paddles cannot produce this supposed automatic response. He also claims that there is no pride in enduring the pain of a slender rod, as opposed to a paddle, and that the very act of bracing oneself against the blows causes the punishment to sting even more, so that the only way to stop the pain is to submit.72 By "submitting" he means relaxing the muscle groups in the area being struck. Dobson and LaHaye both make statements to the effect that God designed the child's posterior in such a way as to make it the ideal place to apply spankings. LaHaye quotes several verses in Proverbs (10:13, 19:29, and 26:3) as proof of this, although the literal word used in all of them is "back" rather than "buttocks."73 However Dobson also suggests that a pinch or squeeze to the trapesius muscle of a young child is a useful alternative to nagging for mild misbehavior and neglect of duty.74 This would seem to contradict both his statement that the buttocks are the divinely appointed area for administering corporal punishment and his doctrine that corporal punishment should be reserved only for deliberate defiance, not immature behavior.

Dobson suggests that a child should be allowed to cry for a while after a spanking, but that after a time the tears become nothing but complaining and that the parent can tell this by a change in the tone of the cry. At that time the parent should tell the child that it is time to stop crying, and if the child fails to comply the parent should administer more of what caused the tears in the first place.75 LaHaye also suggests that a parent should give a second spanking to a child who screams in anger after the administration of the first.76

If the doctrine of absolute wifely submission to her husband has deleterious effects, the emphasis on corporal punishment of children has even worse effects. Philip Greven has devoted an entire book to the effects of physical punishment on individuals and society. In this book he examines the writings of a number of Fundamentalist Christian writers, including those examined in this essay. Greven makes a strong case that frequent use of physical punishment from an early age with the explicit aim of breaking the child's will has profound consequences on the psyche, even when the early beatings are not consciously remembered.77 Among these consequences are profound fear, which can become even more pronounced when children are required to wait for their punishment as several Christian writers suggest in order to give the parents a "cooling- down" period to get rid of personal anger.78 This deep-seated fear seems to be linked with the powerful fear of Hell found in the doctrine of the sects promoting corporal punishment, as well as the drive to apocalypticism, the fascination with the idea of the imminent end of the world from which only the "chosen" will be saved. This fear can also develop into paranoia in later life if the original roots of the fear become forgotten.79

But fear is not the only response that children may have. Other children may instead respond with anger, which they are forced to bury deeply in order to avoid further punishments such as those LaHaye suggested for the child who screams in anger at being punished. Such buried anger may smolder for years before it finally erupts. As an example Greven gives the example of Allen Wheelis, a psychoanalyst who recalled how his father made him use a straight razor to cut an enormous yard full of tall grass and used frequent whippings to enforce this outrageous command. After being forced to do this for most of a hot summer while his friends were having fun, Wheelis finally erupted in rage at his father and shouted abuse at him.80 No doubt other people have retaliated with physical violence rather than just angry words.

Children who are beaten also will often become distanced from their emotions until they lose the ability to empathize with the pain of others.81 In extreme cases this process of dissociation can lead to the fragmentation of the victim's personality in what is known as multiple-personality disorder. Greven cites the case of "Sybil," who developed sixteen distinct personalities to deal with the fear and rage of growing up in an intensely apocalyptic Fundamentalist home where Armageddon was daily table talk and savage punishments were a regular part of life.82

Corporal punishment can also have deleterious effects on the developing sexuality of the child. Most of the Christian writers who advocate corporal punishment ignore the sexuality of pre-pubescent children and thus overlook the erotic element of linking love with pain.83 The buttocks, which are the usual area for administering spankings, are also intensely sensitive to erotic stimulation, and this combination of pain and love can become fixated to the anal area in the child's mind.84 Much of adult sadomasochistic activity is a consentual re-creation of the memory of childhood beatings. Greven points out that the subtitles of the sections in Larry Christenson's book which deal with corporal punishment, such as "The Rod: The Way of Love," would fit perfectly in a manual for adult bondage fantasies. He also points out that the claims of these Christian authors that children want to be disciplined when bad does not necessarily mean that this is really good for them, but that children confuse love and pain in their minds. He cites the case of a girl at an extreme Fundamentalist colony at Island Pond, New York, who was taped pleading for her father to give her a spanking to make her "feel decent."85

Greven also points out the links between childhood spankings and such things as domestic violence and authoritarianism. The feelings produced by beating are carried into all adult relationships, whether with other family members or with people outside the family. He connects the phenomenon of Nazi Germany with the authoritarian pedagogical doctrine in force at the time many of its participants were children and suggests that groups with similar child-raising techniques are likely to produce the same sort of blind obedience to authority.86

Of course the most horrifying cases are the ones in which corporal punishment crosses the boundary into child abuse or even causes death. Greven cites a number, mostly from various splinter sects on the extreme fringe of Fundamentalism. In most of these the charismatic leader of the group has led his followers to live in a colony apart from the rest of society, such as Island Pond, Stonegate or Reverend Frank Sanford's The Kingdom. In Sanford's "Kingdom," a two-year-old girl was beaten until her whole body was covered with welts because she failed to understand a command given by her father. And in the case of Stonegate, a two-year-old boy was literally beaten to death because he refused to apologize to a playmate. After his death the leader of their group was brought to trial as an accessory to murder and convicted on the grounds that she had taught that corporal punishment was a necessary tool for the enforcement of child obedience and should be continued as long as necessary to obtain compliance with orders.87

Most tellingly in his critique of Fundamentalist doctrine on corporal punishment, Greven points out that the Fundamentalist writers are completely un-Biblical when they tell parents to instruct their children that Jesus commands them to receive the rod. Not once in the four Gospels did Jesus ever say anything about children being hit as punishment. All the passages that these writers are so fond of quoting come from Proverbs, which is a book of the Old Testament.88 This does fit with the Fundamentalists' tendency to emphasize the Old Testament and a legalistic interpretations of God's expectations.

Even so, the idea of corporal punishment remains a powerful theme in the minds of Fundamentalist thinkers. Fundamentalist thought is founded primarily on a concept of an authoritarian God, so it is not surprising that Fundamentalist writers would carry their authoritarian ideas into their notions of the family. As has been demonstrated, the Fundamentalist family structure is primarily authoritarian, with the wife and children being subordinated to the husband and expected to render unconditional obedience even if those above them do not fulfil the obligations of their station. This emphasis on authority and obedience can be traced back to Calvinism and its emphasis on the will of God, but the particular spin that these writers place on it probably came as a reaction to the social changes of the 1960's, in particular the rise of permissive parenting and the changes in gender roles brought about by feminism. These changes were very frightening to people whose mindset told them that the best society lay in the past and change equalled decay.

When Fundamentalist writers talk about "family" and "family values" they are referring only to their own definitions of these terms. These narrow definitions are derived from a literal interpretation of Biblical statements regarding family and leave no room for alternate family structures. Therefore they regard other forms of family as not being families at all, giving them more fuel for their claim that "the family" in America is falling apart. It is important to recognize their rhetorical techniques for what they are.



Background Materials

Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. "The Mask of Obedience: Male Slave Psychology in the Old South" American Historical Review. v. 92 (December 1988).

Conway, Flo and Jim Siegelman. Holy Terror: The Fundamentalist War on America's Freedoms in Religion, Politics and Our Private Lives. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1982.

Greven, Philip. Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse. New York: Alfred A. Knopf 1991.

Primary Sources

Christenson, Larry. The Christian Family. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany Fellowship, Inc. 1970.

Dobson, Dr. James. Dare to Discipline. Wheaton, IL: Living Books 1988.

________. The Strong-Willed Child. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1978.

Fugate, J. Richard. What the Bible Says About ... Child Traning. Garland, TX: Aletheia. 1980.

Hyles, Dr. Jack. How to Rear Children. Hammond, IN: Hyles-Anderson 1972.

La Haye, Beverly. How to Develop Your Child's Temperment. Irvine, CA: Harvest House 1977.

Miles, Herbert J. Sexual Understanding Before Marriage. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1971.

Smith, M. Blaine. Should I get Married? Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity 1990.

Copyright 1996, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

This paper was originally written for a class in Family History, taught by Assistant Professor Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, Illinois State University.

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