The Wave Crashes: Hannah’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Hannah’s blog Phoenix Tat Girl. It was originally published on July 2, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

My Personal Story About Growing Up Religious and How That Ended

I currently live in a sunny, tropical location where I feel privileged to be able to daily observe the waves crashing as they roll in to shore. I use the waves as a metaphor for how I came to be the person I now am. I grew up in a conservative, fundamental, patriarchal, Calvinist, creationist, quiverfull, single-family income family. All of the -isms and ists and such slowly grew into our family until they reached their peak right about a year after I finished my 12th year of homeschooling/co-op/independent learning/community colleges.

At first, my family wasn’t too radical about religion. My parents knew they wanted to homeschool us from the beginning. I was the oldest, and with my father an officer in the military, I’m sure our moving around every 2 years probably played a factor in it. They wanted to give their children a religious up-bringing. I loved my childhood. My mother would take us on great and unique field-trips. We lived on the east coast then, and visiting Monticello where Thomas Jefferson lived and invented, and running on the field where the Wright Brothers first flew their plane, and seeing where George Washington carved his name in a natural bridge in the Appalachian mountains brought American history alive to me.

Then, when I was around 12, a new pastor was brought in by the church, and my dad started to become even more “religious”. He started leading bible studies, and every drive to church would quiz us on Bible trivia. He insisted we have personal devotions every morning as soon as we woke up, and we’d have family devotions every night after dinner. I enjoyed learning about the Bible; I didn’t mind memorizing long passages and worked up to memorizing entire books of the Bible (his requirement before we could learn how to drive). A few years later, when I was around 16, he started taking me to creationism, evangelism, and worldview seminars. I enjoyed going to the seminars because I learned new things. I’d read the Bible countless times; I knew what it said, so different material was fascinating. I thought I wanted to be a missionary, so we took in-depth Islamic studies similar to what missionaries would learn. I went on a couple short-term mission trips, and I realized I loved traveling. I made lasting memories meeting the local people in third-world countries. I particularly loved hearing their stories and seeing how they lived their life, trying to understand their culture.

My father believed everything built on each other, and the Bible and God should impact every part of your life. Christianity was the one thing that my dad and I shared.

I was a “rebellious” child, so I was in trouble frequently, but religion was the one thing that I knew I could talk about with my dad. Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christianity and A Case for Christ made a huge impact on me. I liked having all the answers to life’s toughest questions tightly sewn up in a book. Lee’s life story, that he used to be an atheist and he turned to Christ, was powerful and spoke volumes to me. I was baptized in my late teens, and while I had the occasional desire to “be more worldly” for the most part I was content with my faith.

***Far from the ocean shore, a small ridge forms past out-cropping of rocks. It didn’t know it, but the ocean behind it is telling it it’s going to do something big, eventually.***

Fast forward to the couple years after I graduated. My family (prodded on by my father) switched to a new church. The smallest church we’d ever attended. It was 40-50 people total I believe. My dad liked the pastor because he was staunchly Calvinist, patriarchal, and believed in hard-core evangelism. We became even more religious with church all day Sunday, Wednesday night Bible study, and Friday night evangelism. I had mixed feelings about the church. Since it was super small, there wasn’t an eligible guy in sight (let’s face it, every good Christian daughter gets married sooner rather than later). But I did get on board with the evangelism. I told myself it was preparation for the mission-field.

But still, asking pure strangers “Are you good enough?” never quite sat well with me.

I felt like I was guilting them into something. Shouldn’t a genuine faith not require guilt and fear? I preferred an exchange of ideas, friendly debate, explaining flaws in people’s logic.

I was able to go to community college, and I had a few part-time jobs that kept me out of the house a few days of the week. I loved working and earning a paycheck. Babysitting was easy for me, and better yet, when the babies went to sleep, I could try to catch up on the social culture that I felt so far behind in by watching cable TV, and even an occasional R-rated movie. I’d listen to current music on the radio, and even a couple late-night shows that I knew my mother would never approve of, so I never told her.

***The ridge of water gathers strength, and form. It grows higher and seems to move faster. Even it doesn’t know where or when it’s going to break. It doesn’t know if if it’s going to be majestic and break cleanly, like glass, or tumble over-itself in a mass of foam.***

It starts in a worldly place, with a Christian friend. Of all things, I was trying to explain Carbon-14 dating to her. A tall, dark, handsome and mysterious man who has a couple of classes with me walked over and joined the conversation. He was obviously one of the “others”. The non-believers, the worldly people. We begin conversing, he starts asking me questions, and I tell him I don’t know, but I’d like to do more research. He’s very clear that he doesn’t want me to lose my faith; he just wanted me to think and explore some more. I tell him I don’t mind. It’s a good thing. I like researching and expanding my knowledge. So I go home and pull out every single book in our library that might possibly have to do with creationism apologetics. I read the sections on Carbon-14, and then, like the good scholar I am, I look at the reference pages.

I am shocked to find the vast majority of the references were from obviously other Christian scientists who obviously believed in Creationism.

I had a hard time accepting what I saw there, plainly. The books had been there the whole time, but I hadn’t seen the obvious deception. Their circular and erroneous logic.

***The wave quickly peaks, its crest perfectly formed in the crescent and the face of the wave crystal clear for a nano-second before it crashes and the rest of the wave folds into itself.***

Looking at that reference page was the beginning of the end for me. I’d decided that I’d need to move out. I had to reassess everything that I thought about my life, especially my spiritual life, and I couldn’t do it while living with my family, so I told my parents. My dad arranged for an intervention for me. They took me against my will to his pastor where they guilt-tripped me until I gave up my cell phones. The pastor wanted me to give up my “worldly” jobs, and quit going to a “worldly” school.

He pushed for no internet, no phone, no friends, only family and church until I stopped doubting my faith and returned to the fold.

That was when the wave crashed for me. I viewed it as essentially brain-washing. I told my father “If all you say is true, why do you need to brainwash me? Haven’t you always said the Truth is there? If I dig more, are you that uncertain that Your truth won’t hold?” It was a wave crashing. Because my father had taught me that everything depended on each other, every spiritual belief I had crumbled into a wide swath of bubbles and foam and nothing-ness. And it crashed fast and hard – I had moved out of my family’s house within 6 weeks of looking in that first creation apologetics book.

Then, because my spiritual beliefs vanished, my life choices adjusted. I realized what I truly loved: learning and adventure. Traveling and meeting people and seeing how people lived their lives from their eyes, their culture, their values. I was free to work on my career because I sincerely enjoy earning a paycheck and providing for myself. I realized I could enjoy an intimate relationship without the vows of marriage, because, I reasoned, someone who’s not sure of themselves personally, emotionally, spiritually, or sexually should not commit themselves for a life-time to someone else.

But most important, I was free to be me, and to figure out what life meant to me, not someone else’s interpretation of something that I should live by.

My wave crashed. Because it crashed, my life changed, but it was necessary, I believe it would have happened sooner or later. The ocean that is my life had the tremors all through my childhood. But it opened me up for my own personal journey, and that’s what matters in the end.

The Power of False History: Nicholas’ Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA Note: This is a preview of our upcoming Lightbulb Moments series. We would love for you to contribute your story as well.

By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

My “lightbulb” moment in my youth, which convinced me of the lies that my upbringing was filled with, centered around the study of history. I was interested in history from a very young age, and my parents made sure to purchase fundamentalist American history for me to study. The Light and the Glory and From Sea to Shining Sea by Peter Manual and David Marshall, alongside Foxes Book of Martyrs, David Barton and Little Bear Wheeler’s histories, made up most of my historical and political education. But the history written by these men are filled with fallacies, false history, cherry-picked examples, and gross misinterpretation of historical events.

The main thesis of all these histories was that the Christian God was responsible for the prosperity experienced by the United States. From Christopher Columbus, to the Conquistadors, Plymouth Rock, and the American Revolution, the European conquest of the Americas was portrayed as Christians harvesting souls for the Lord and the Lord blessing them. Columbus was a pious missionary – no mention of him riding on the backs of natives for sport and exacting untold violence on innocents. The genocide against native tribes was “mission work” and “fixing them.”

Constructing this false history was vital to mobilizing Evangelicals and fundamentalists into contemporary political action.

The most important goal was to influence American politics “back to Jesus/Christianity.” The establishment of theocratic laws depends on convincing people that the US Constitution means whatever the Founding Fathers, in their eminent foresight and wisdom, meant it to mean. Supreme Court be damned.

My parents pushed me into the Christian homeschool debate league (NCFCA) at 15, and I began developing critical thinking skills. I remember my first big political debate with my dad (where I believed differently) was over whether we should drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – it was a topic during energy policy year. By the time I was 18, I began to read scholars and historians that disagreed about the foundation of the United States.

I originally intended to only educate myself about the enemy so I could better defeat those damn socialists in an argument, but my research demonstrated that so many “experts” in the homeschooling world were frauds.

They cherry-picked facts and characters, while ignoring all nuance and complexity for their over-simplified, overly-political narratives. It took me four years in a political science bachelors and another 18 months in a graduate program for history to feel like I finally had a firm, realistic grasp of American and world history.

In my final graduate term, I studied Islamic nationalism in communist Eastern Europe and central Asia. Just like the Christian fundamentalists, the militant religious-nationalist factions (Orthodox Serbs, Muslim Kosovars, Bulgarians, and Bosnians, and Catholic Croats), invented history and conflict to motivate their constituents to fight with each other. Everything became clear. People who wanted power created a false history to rally homeschooling parents to a fight what really didn’t exist. Our government has always striven to be secular, and just because a few Founders were Christians doesn’t mean they wanted the United States to be a Theocracy.

The Christian homeschooling movement encourages an intrinsic cognitive dissonance about history.

They praise and almost worship the American Revolution, individualism, liberty and freedom, but then turn around and wish for more theocratic laws that favor their flavor of religion. Fundamentalism of all religions is typically anti-democratic.

The best example of this would be the patriarchal ideas found in the Homeschooling Movement. The spectrum of religiously-motivated sexism, from Complementarianism to outright-Patriarchy, is founded in anti-democratic ideals that women should not have the same civil rights as men. My mom actually believes that the United States started going astray when women were given the right to vote.

By consigning women to the domestic sphere, fundamentalists want to restrict or completely deny women access to the public sphere and civil engagement.

I could not reconcile the sexist, Patriarchal ideas with the stark liberalism of the Founders. I decided that to advocate for laws based on my views of religion would be no better than implementing Shari’a law. I became an outspoken liberal feminist in college, but not because I was “brainwashed,” as my parents would have my family believe. But, for the first time in my life, I had access to an array of scholars, knowledge, and philosophies.

No one brainwashes me, I make up my own damn mind.

The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Ten


HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on August 29, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Nine

Part Ten: Wives, Children and Dogs

After we had settled into the routine of belonging to “the group”, as we called it, it was relatively easy to know what was expected of us, as children.  I knew I needed to obey anything and everything my parents (or other adults) told me, with no questions.  I knew I wasn’t allowed to complain about things I didn’t want to do or argue with my parents about anything.

As a child, I was inherently inferior to adults.

I was not their equal.  I learned this through watching Mr. LaQuiere, my parents, and the other adults routinely put down children.  We were taught we were all full of “foolishness”.  We “needed our wills broken”.  We needed to be taught our place.  We needed to learn absolute obedience and submission to authority.

I still remember the exact place I was when Mr. LaQuiere told my parents explicitly what “complete submission” meant.

“If I told my 15-year-old daughter to take off all her clothes, and get down on her hands and knees and bark like a dog, she should obey me instantly,” he said. “That is the kind of obedience children must give their parents.

Absolute obedience, without questioning.”  This level of humiliation had never even occurred to me.  To know that it was possible was a very distressing thought.  Would my parents or Mr. LaQuiere ever order me to humiliate myself like this?  I silently decided that if my dad ever told me to strip naked and bark like a dog, I wouldn’t, no matter how much I was punished.

I didn’t mind the idea of obeying, because I was naturally obedient.  But I hated the “without question” part.  I liked to ask questions.  I liked to know the reasons behind things.  I liked to know the ‘why’, not because I wanted to “challenge my parents’ authority”, as Mr. LaQuiere called it, but because I genuinely wanted to know.  I had an active mind, and it was always probing to get to the bottom of things, to know why they worked the way they did.  I was told this was disrespectful to my authorities, and that they should never be questioned.  I didn’t need to know the reasons.  I was only a child.

I had no right to know.

This absolute, unquestioning obedience did not just apply to small children.  It applied to all children (a label determined not by maturity, but by parentage), regardless of age.  Mr. LaQuiere expected his adult sons and daughters to snap to attention and instantly obey with the same cheerful alacrity that he expected from a 5-year-old.

This system was put in place by God himself, and it was God who said that any child who did not obey was rebellious, and should be stoned to death by his parents, his siblings, his friends, and everyone else as a lesson in how seriously He viewed disobedience.

Obedience was a universally-praised virtue, with the exception of men.  Men didn’t need to obey anybody (except God, that is).  But wives, children, and dogs were all expected to obey.

Dogs and children were often trained with similar methods.

We had a small, fluffy, Maltese puppy named Sasha.  She was friendly and happy, and eager to please.  But just as my parents were told they didn’t know how to train us the right way, Mr. LaQuiere told them they were failing in training our puppy as well.  She needed to learn absolute obedience as well.  She needed to instantly come every time she was called.  She needed to be punished severely for every infraction, whether it was not coming right away, or making an accident on the rug during the process of house-training her.  Any time we found a mess she made, Mr. LaQuiere said, we needed to drag her over to it, rub her nose in the excrement, and tell her “BAD DOG!” in stern, disappointed tones.  He demonstrated this for us multiple times.  I felt bad for her…she looked so forlorn and sad, being reprimanded for making a mistake.  But Mr. LaQuiere said it was the only way to train a dog.  If she didn’t come when she was called, he demonstrated the proper punishment technique – sometimes he would drag her by her collar or the scruff of her neck.  Sometimes he would hit her, not with a rolled-up-newspaper, which he said was useless, but with his hand.  One time when he was correcting her for something, and dangling her in the air by the scruff of her neck, she yipped at him.  I imagine it hurt to be hung in the air by her skin like that.  He responded by throwing her against the wall.  Never allow a dog to challenge your authority like that, he told us.  I still remember how she yelped, and what she looked like in a frightened heap on the floor, her sides heaving in and out.  After Mr. LaQuiere “trained” her in obedience, she did learn to come when called…her tail between her legs, often slinking along the floor, looking guilty and anxious, never knowing if she was going to be smacked across the room, or welcomed.  Poor little Sasha.  She wanted so badly to please us.  I honestly think she didn’t know what she was being punished for most of the time.  My parents might have thought his techniques were more cruel, if it weren’t for the fact that there wasn’t a single one that he didn’t also use on children.

Children, dogs, and wives were taught absolute obedience. In wives, however, it was called “submission”.  Wives were to submit absolutely to their husbands, who were the heads of the family, and their authorities.

This was true not only if the husband was right in what he asked, or if was kind, but also if he was cruel or wrong.

Mr. LaQuiere said God instructed wives to submit, and men to love their wives: and one way to love wives was to teach them to submit.  One Wednesday night, he described how he taught his own wife absolute submission.  He called it “The Story of 11 Mile”.  He and Mrs. LaQuiere were driving somewhere one day, and it was a place they hadn’t been before, so Mrs. LaQuiere was trying to help him find the way there.  They needed to turn on 11 Mile, so as they were driving, she saw it, too late, and said, “Dear, we’ve passed 11 Mile!”  He said she was wrong, he was sure they hadn’t passed it yet.  She disagreed.  He was displeased by her lack of submission.  As they drove on, it quickly became clear to him that they had, in fact, passed 11 Mile.  But this was not important compared to the fact that Mrs. LaQuiere had insisted on contradicting him, showing him disrespect, and refusing to submit to him and agree that he was right.  So to teach her a lesson, he refused to turn around, until she showed submission by saying “You’re right, dear, we didn’t pass 11 Mile.”  Apparently she didn’t want to do this for a while, and he kept right on driving.  Finally she told him, “You’re right, dear.  We haven’t passed 11 Mile.”  Once she submitted to him by accepting that he was right, no matter what, he turned the car around, and they drove on to their destination.

Today I think of this, and I HAVE. NO. WORDS.  What the heck?!  He was wrong, and she merely pointed out that he passed a street, but he couldn’t even allow her to think he might have made a mistake.  His pride, his sense of absolute authority and need for submission was so great that he actually forced his wife to lie to him and tell him he was right, before he would make a simple U-turn.  Poor Mrs. LaQuiere.  I sometimes wonder how she stood it.

Mr. LaQuiere’s worldview was simple: wives, children and dogs were all divinely ordained to be submissive and obedient to him.  He wasn’t being revolutionary – he was just following God’s plan.  It wasn’t his fault that God had made him male, human, and given him offspring.

He knew his place in God’s design, and no one was going to shove him out of his rightful position of superiority.

photo credit: Joel Dinda via photopin cc

Reflections of a Homeschool Graduate: Part Three


HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kallie Culver’s blog Untold Stories. It was originally published on June 20, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Two

Homeschooling: The Fall Out

When we first started homeschooling, we utilized a mixture of curriculum, beginning with Christ Centered Curriculum, Christian Liberty, and Saxon Math. In fifth grade, we switched to a new curriculum called Accelerated Christian Education, or A.C.E. By this point, my parents had been researching and were unhappy with the academic quality of the material that we had been studying. Research in the Christian Homeschooling world led them to settle on the A Beka Video curriculum, one that I know many in our circles considered too rigorous and too expensive. My parents settled on doing Program 2. This program entailed your parents doing all the grading, setting any deadlines, determining the calendar, etc., whereas Program 1 entailed sending all reports, grades, quizzes, tests, etc., into Pensacola Christian Academy to be graded and recorded. With Program 1 you were considered a satellite student and thus allowed to travel to Pensacola to graduate at the end of high school if you wanted to participate. We continued to do Program 2, however, until I graduated six years later. Given that the number of children in our family continued to expand, A Beka gave my mom more freedom to focus on the babies and toddlers, and required less hands-on time spent with us older children in school, as we could watch the videos, do the required work, and come to her only when we needed help.

For me, homeschooling was something that I loved and hated. I was a very self- disciplined child and an avid reader, so I loved the challenge academics posed. I loved learning new things. I loved learning to write. I loved every time I aced a quiz or a test. Most of all, though, I loved reading. I can’t even remember when I couldn’t read. I was the kid who would check out 40 books at a time from the library. I would read in the bathtub, outside in a tree, and under my covers with a flashlight late into the night. Every chance I could possibly find, I was probably somewhere with my nose in a book. History was fascinating to me, and I quickly developed an insatiable love for the historical fiction genre in the library. Granted, my choices were greatly censored to safe children’s versions, or Christian versions, but I didn’t care. I read every single book I was allowed to, and then read them again. If, however, I had to list out what hurt me the most and impacted me negatively through homeschooling, it would be a lack of structure, a lack of personal boundaries, a lack of accountability, a lack of educational opportunity, and a very biased education.

Today I want to focus on the first three.

A Lack of Structure: 

I saw how kids who went to school got to have a set schedule every day. They had teachers available whenever they needed help. They got to socialize with friends every day, play sports, and do extra-curricular activities that I could only dream about doing. So many people like to throw out that homeschool kids aren’t socialized. The problem was not that we weren’t socialized – if your basic meaning of the word entails being around children your own age. We had plenty of friends and people of all ages that we interacted with socially on a daily basis. My parents worked hard at that time to maintain a social life for us kids, which then meant monthly outings with other Homeschool families, where we would go bowling, roller-skating, on a picnic, or to a church hosted pot-luck.

Every few months they might arrange a mini-conference, or an art clinic that we would also participate in. We attended weekly piano, voice, ballet, and tap lessons throughout my junior high years, and continued with piano through high school. We also had an in-ground pool, so we had friends coming over to our house all the time. The problem was we only socialized with people exactly like us. The only diversity I ever really encountered growing up were the extended family members and few friends that I knew who went to public school, most of whom also grew up in a small town in Texas, going to church every week, and living the typical Friday Night Lights life. It just so happened that my bubble of a world was even smaller.

In family as large as ours, there is very little room for an “I,” since for things to work, individual needs are frequently sacrificed for what is best for the family. Sports were out of the question, as it meant a minimum of driving an hour one way for practices and two-hours one-way minimum for home games. Packing up the entire family for that kind of rigorous schedule for just one kid was not an option, much less the cost involved. As far as a schedule, given my father was a pastor and operated a Christian counseling ministry out of our home, the only word for describing my family’s lifestyle growing up is flexibility. My father was also a private investor, for additional family income as well as his own personal business pursuits. With a Father who worked from home and a stay-at-home mom there was no schedule to build our lives around. The schedule could change at a moment’s notice, whether it was a sudden family trip, a decision to go spend the day with some of our closest friends, a homeschool group event, a church event, or a trip to the nearest city – the schedule changed frequently.

In order to allow for this kind of lifestyle, we did school on a calendar year, year-round. As long as we finished out the video curriculum by the return deadline at the end of the year period, it didn’t matter as much how strict our schedule was. This also applied in the daily school schedule, since when you have all day to do it and you are at home anyways with that large of a family – interruptions were frequent and easily found. This often drove my list-loving, black/white, rule-follower personality insane. I would create schedules, chore charts, and lists for my mom, thinking that if I created the perfect one the family would all fall into a system where I could feel a sense of stability and control – but they kept failing again and again. This is where my mom would ironically point out how it was probably great training for life as a military spouse in the Air Force, because if it’s one thing you can’t do in the military life with a husband in the flying world, it’s plan too far ahead or plan on a predictable schedule.

Life has taught me there are two sides to every coin. Flexibility and finding the serenity to let go of controlling every detail of our lives is a challenging quality to develop in a healthy way. I am thankful that I learned from a young age to embrace change quickly, even if I didn’t always like it. However, for a child growing up in that atmosphere, I also learned too easily how to sacrifice my own feelings and needs for the greater good, believing that was the only option.

A Lack of Boundaries:

When I talk about a lack of personal boundaries, homeschooling for me and many other kids I knew meant that an individual child’s needs often suffered or went completely unnoticed for the greater needs of the family. I never learned how to say no or to express an opinion without first validating it by either saying “I feel that God is leading me…” or pointing to someone else and attaching my need to theirs. Personal space in a house with that size of family was also a rare luxury. I didn’t even know what it meant to have healthy personal boundaries, or that it was ok to need and want personal space. I have learned the hard way that for a child to have a healthy development into adulthood, they need to begin learning how to establish and articulate their own likes, dislikes, personal preferences, and wishes at home. This means they have to be able to feel safe to express an opinion, draw a boundary line, or even say no. While it may seem best for a young child to be wholeheartedly compliant, never learning boundaries and never learning how to be an individual within the safe confines of a loving and healthy family environment translate into a lot of heartache later on.

In sharing this, it is not my intention to ever minimize the good that I experienced growing up, because I know that my story could be far different. My parents or siblings never abused me physically or sexually. I was a happy child for the most part, who loved my family, God, and life, and saw everything in life with an undeniable optimism. I have read story after story of others like me who endured far worse, and I would never want to portray my experiences as anything else than what they were. My trials and pain came more after I left the home. Those ingrained traits of selflessness, unquestioning submission, and my desperation to please and be liked—turned into seeds for some of my hardest lessons and greatest nightmares as an adult on my own.

Having little individual development as a young adult coupled with self-hatred, insecurity, and a belief that being a girl severely limited my role in society at large meant I left home with no clue as to who I was, what I wanted, how to say no, how to establish healthy boundaries, how to trust my own decision-making abilities, or how to value myself. I was powerless, having been taught to only be a submissive child and female completely dependent on men. I transferred that submission and unhealthy levels of co- dependency to mentors, to church leadership, and to men that would come into my life – never realizing that for years I would be a walking doormat and frozen at any sight of conflict.

Growing up with the belief that for me to want something on my own was wrong meant that (as a young girl) for years all I knew to do was to want what other girls wanted. When my older sister got a horse, I wanted one, too. When my cousin started playing the violin, I wanted to learn, too. When someone did something different then me, lived differently then me, or pursued an interest different then me – it would only cause me to further buy into the lies of comparison. Who I was and what I wanted on my own was not only not allowed, but also never good enough. This is why I easily fell into the traps of first copying, and if that wasn’t allowed, then judging and mocking. It was easier to criticize and set myself up as better than others than to deal with the ache of wanting to know why I couldn’t be like them.

My parents and I have discussed this at length. I know that, as a parent, it would be hard to realize the messages your children are internalizing, especially when they don’t communicate them to you. I know now that the community and the spiritual teachings we fed on at that time played a large role in making me believe I had no right to voice what I was internalizing. I am sure it also played a role in why my parents never thought to question if I was hiding my true feelings. The entire family structure was often a subject of sermons and teachings, and many of these teachings centered around what proper familial roles entailed. It meant a strict patriarchal and complementarian view of marriage, where the man is the leader of the home and all decisions defer to his wishes and judgment. So, as a daughter, I was raised in an environment that taught me that my wishes were secondary. They were to be subordinate to my parent’s wishes, as it was our role to honor and obey our parents unquestioningly. They were secondary because I was female, and daughters and wives did not question what the father or male leader in their life wanted. They were secondary because I believed there was no time or room for individual wishes with a family so large. Lastly, they were secondary because, as a Christian, personal wishes were highly subject to being classified as selfish and self-serving.

In effect, a message that was perhaps at one time or in certain situations begun on some level as basic consideration for others – I internalized as a far more violating message:

Your opinions do not matter.

Your wishes are selfish and wrong.

You are a girl and thus your voice doesn’t count.

In believing these, I began to try to kill my desires and dreams by telling myself things like:

Your love for school and academic achievement is a source of pride, so not getting to pursue education further is the cross you must bear.

You would probably love your friends and activities too much at school, and thus become selfish and too easily influenced by peer pressure to sin – so not getting what you want is God protecting you.

Your family needs you too much at home, so for you to want to leave them and to secretly wish for things like graduation or a prom is selfish, worldly, and wrong.

So the struggle to hide only grew stronger. The web of comparison, lies, and self-hatred spread everywhere. The harmful reality of these messages, doctrine, and beliefs hung my family out to dry a few years later when my sister’s marriage was destroyed. As I have mentioned in previous posts, for my family, choosing to support her divorce meant losing a community and lifetime of friendships. We never realized how debilitating our doctrines and beliefs concerning women were until they left my sister at the mercy of protecting reputation and enduring abuse for the cause of Christ. The mere fact that those who claim to follow Christ can then twist and use Him as a reason to protect abuse in any situation makes my blood boil to this day.

It has been a journey for all of us to process through, grieve, recover, reexamine, change, and move on. It has now been almost eight years since our world fell apart, and I am so grateful that my siblings today are receiving a completely different childhood experience. I know that not every kid or family gets a second chance.

A Lack of Accountability:

As far as a lack of accountability, given how many children there were and how much my mother had to divide her focus between so many children – homeschooling placed a huge responsibility on me as a teenager to be self-disciplined, self-motivated, and studious. If I had wanted to skip subjects I could have. If I had wanted to look up answers I could have. I often graded my own quizzes and tests. By high school, I was largely on my own when it came to my education. Granted, I actually enjoyed school, and I was a Pharisee about following the rules, so the thought of trying to cheat was contemptible. Yet, I know other siblings of mine, and friends in similar situations, who found ways to work that system and missed foundational parts of their secondary education, if they got a high school-level of education at all. I know girls my age that were lucky enough to get to an eighth grade education level, as college was considered unnecessary and a waste of money for girls. I myself only completed pre-algebra, geometry, and a consumer business math elective in my math high-school classes, and so had to retake several preparatory math classes to be able to complete College Algebra once I got to college.

In high school I remember crying after every local high school graduation ceremony I attended because I knew I would never have one. I carried that pain with me through my college years, and the day I walked across a stage to receive my college diploma felt like someone had given me a pair of wings. College for me was a gift I will treasure forever. It sparked a flame, and I am still not done. Now I am in the midst of obtaining my Master’s Degree, and, knowing how much I love school, it probably isn’t the end.

Education is an investment that will never give a bad return. Through college I have found that I thrive in a classroom setting where there are clear expectations, accessible help, accountability, and competition. I wish I’d had that as a child because I know I would have done well.

As an adult, I have developed a love for running. It makes me feel powerful. It helps me de-stress and produces tangible results I can see in increased strength, discipline, and endurance. I have also found a community, inspiration, and well of encouragement in running with other women. Knowing how good it makes me feel has made me wish, on more than one occasion, that I could have discovered it sooner through something like track or cross-country, as a young girl, with other girls my own age.

I know that many parents today, mine included, find it hard to hear voices like mine point out how homeschooling failed us. For those parents who made this decision with the best of intentions and hearts full of love, I know it’s hard to see something you thought would be so good lead to your child’s confusion, heartache, and pain. However, what must be remembered is that it is equally as important for me, and others like me, to be honest about homeschooling’s failings–even if it means being painfully honest.

Consider how you respond.

Do you automatically reach for conversation stoppers? Consider how, if you respond defensively, refuse to listen, or respond with “but it wasn’t all bad” or some version of “don’t write it off altogether” it comes across dismissive and leaves little room for the conversation to go anywhere. Suddenly, the focus is again on the adult child taking care of your needs, your comfort level, your emotional stability, understanding your decisions, or protecting their relationship with you—instead of it being about honestly communicating what they have experienced and how it has affected them.

Love and healthy relationships grow with truth and vulnerability. It’s not easy to listen to where we have failed each other or how we see, interpret, and experience things differently. It takes courage.

Nathan Pyle, when writing about his relationship with his son and what he has learned about parenting, couldn’t have put it in a more beautiful way when he said,

“No parent gets it perfect. For all of our best intentions and best efforts, we will create wounds in our children. We have a better chance of avoiding paying taxes than we do at not creating a wound, or thirty, in our children. It is going to happen. I’m not beating myself up over this. Nor do I think I am overstating my impact as a parent. I’m just being honest about what is so. I need to tell the truth about this so that I can begin the internal work necessary to hear him tell me about his wounds. The key isn’t to try and become the kind of person who doesn’t create wounds, the key is trying to become the kind of person who helps heal wounds – even the ones we inflict.”

Part Four>

When Siblings Become Swords: Trista’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Søren Niedziella. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Søren Niedziella. Image links to source.

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Trista” is a pseudonym.

I grew up in patriarchy. The seeds of powerlessness and fear were sown in me from my earliest years. Having a voice or power in my family was not easy, in fact, it was a constant struggle. However, this system and hierarchy created and maintained by my parents allowed the rivalry and teasing typical of siblings to grow into unhealthy imbalances of power.

There was a distinct hierarchy in my family. Masculinity and age determined your respect within the family unit. My position as a girl and the youngest member of 7 children meant I was the lowest of the low. My position was to toe the family line, get along and agree with those who were ‘above’ me.

There was one sibling I did get along with very well. She (Anne) was two years my senior, and we were joined at the hip since I can remember. In many ways she faced the same trials I did, however, her sweet and caring demeanor made her a more naturally lovable person.

I was told that I should ‘submissively endure suffering as Christ did.’

I was regularly told I was inept, stupid, crazy and extreme. When I was mercilessly teased or abused to the point of tears, my mother would reprimand me for not loving my brothers. She told me stories of how much she desired brothers. It “shocked” her that I could not “endure a little teasing.” She would have traded most anything to have brothers. Teasing was normal and I was “weak,” “like a little girl” to be offended by the rudeness of my siblings.

On several occasions my mother told me the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, saying he loved his enemies and died for Christ. She asked me how he could be so holy and I was complaining about teasing? “Isn’t that silly?”

Minor errors or failures on my part were magnified and viewed as my identity. Once, one of my sisters, roughly 10 years my senior, told me, “You are inept, and incompetent. I know a five year old who knows how to use a key. No wonder mom and dad don’t let you do anything.” This rant was delivered after I accidentally broke her key to the house by turning it the wrong direction in the keyhole. At the time, I was 13 years old I was already insecure. The verbal attacks against my character only made me more angry, hurt and hateful towards myself and those around me.

As a girl it was my duty to ‘support the men’

Although an imbalance of power existed between me and all of my siblings, this imbalance was larger when the sibling was male. As a child I was expected to serve my older brothers without question. If they requested something I was ‘unloving’ if I did not do as I was told. Anne and I were often required to make food for them, clean up after them and in other ways serve them. When they were in college, we were required to make food for guests they had come over and prepare for parties that they were hosting.

My brothers were also heavily involved in sports. My sister and I were told, “You need to support and love your brothers.” When we begged to be involved in activities, sports or anything social, we were told that such things would conflict with our brothers and we “need to love your brothers. Why do you not want to support them?”

Under the patriarchy, it was clear girls did not matter. Our development, desires and needs were entirely subservient to males, because men act, while women are acted upon.

These things caused more anger in my heart. I hated being told I was useless, what I wanted didn’t matter. I would cry out in anger to God, “Why did you make me a woman?? I can’t do anything because I’m a girl and girls are useless.”

I felt a need to punish myself for being crazy

As a child I did not know how to cope with the feelings of helplessness, uselessness, hate and anger. I turned to self-harm at the age of 12 as a means of coping with how horrible I felt about my identity. Being homeschooled posed problems to self-harm. I was constantly watched, and my parents openly mocked the idea of therapy and mental health. They portrayed mental illness as a weakness, something attention seeking individuals contrived to gain pity.

I would find creative ways of hurting myself. I would chew my nails and fingers until they bled. Often my fingers would be raw from excessive chewing and peeling layers of skin off. I would scratch myself, especially my stomach, until I bled. I would ‘cut myself while shaving,’ craving the release I felt when my legs bled. Hiding in my closet I would bang my hands against a pole until they became swollen. One time I even purposefully beat my head against a wall in an effort to give myself a head injury.

I craved affection. I wanted to experience love.

I sincerely believed no one in my family cared about me. Part of the self-harm narrative was an effort on my behalf to gain the love of my family. In my mind I would rationalize, “If I am hurt very badly they won’t be mean to you. They would want to help you, right? See, they really do love you. You need to try harder to really hurt yourself.”

Often I would ponder dark thoughts, sure no one would notice if I were dead. I thought perhaps people would be happy to have the ‘crazy’ girl gone. I wanted to die, but was not sure how. It was something I constantly thought about. I would day dream of being murdered, mutilated and beaten to death. These imaginations served as a mental outlet for my pain.

I was careful not to display my pain to others. Instead, I developed a dual identity. I hated my siblings, but I desperately craved their affection. They were the only people on the planet I interacted with. If they did not love me, I believed myself beyond the love of anyone. In my world, friends were not allowed. Thus, if my own family did not love me, who on God’s green earth would ever see anything lovable in me?

On the outside, I was confident, defiant, strongly defending myself, rebelling in any way I could, actively antagonizing others in an attempt to exact revenge. This was the way my anger reacted.

Other times, my desire for affection would win and I would berate myself and say, I matter and I’m going to earn their respect. When my efforts failed I would oscillate back to hating my siblings and the pain they caused in my life.

Today, I am in my early twenties, a senior in college and headed towards a successful career. Yet when I am around my siblings, I feel like that hopeless, unloved child again. I never felt loved by my siblings. It is hard to feel love from people who hurt me so badly for so long. I still acutely feel the pain inflicted from childhood. It is impossible to negate years of being dismissed as a silly, crazy little girl.

The patriarchy damages its victims in many ways. In my case, it removed the joy of having those I call family.

Pleading for Death: Trista’s Story

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Trista” is a pseudonym.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes/Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies/Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee/In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

I sat between two graves, softly singing this verse over and over. Going home was terrifying and death was an appealing thought.

As a child I was told I was “defective” and “half-aborted”.

When my mom would become upset with me, she would become psychotic and scream about how I was, “brainwashed at youth. It is surprising you can even think at all.” When I ‘rebelled’ again, I was told I could not think for myself because I was “half-aborted.” This was why I had to be protected by my father, who was the portal through which God and God’s will came to me.

As soon as my dad got home and I was released from school, I would lie to my parents, telling them I was going to the back of our five acre lot to the creek. I was still not allowed off the property alone, but they didn’t mind if I roamed through the backyard. Sometimes, I would go back to the creek, but usually I would walk back to the nearest trees and then cut through the neighbor’s yard and ran as fast as I could to the cemetery near our house.

The cemetery was only a half mile away and it offered me an outlet for the dark emotions I felt. I would sit between two graves and sing “Abide with Me” over and over. In between singing I would pray for God to kill me, begging with him to strike me dead.

Imagination was my only solace.

Because I was monitored daily by my parents, it was impossible to self-harm. But I thought about death, pain and torture daily. I wanted to hurt myself, but was terrified that if my parents found out they would refuse to send me to college, leaving me a victim in their house till the day I died.

With the fear of discovery always present, I used my imagination as an outlet. I would imagine various scenarios where I was in extreme pain. I would chew my nails until they bled as a form of pain because no one suspected I was doing this to hurt myself. The things I would dream about always involved death and pain. I imagined being beaten, shot, strangled, and stabbed to death. I contemplated different ways of committing suicide. There was a pond near the cemetery, and I would imagine drowning myself.

I loved the cemetery because it made me feel closer to death, closer to home. I hated my earthly home. It was full of pain and darkness. I was always alone, told I was stupid and useless. My father would mock women. In my home, being a woman made you worse than men. I wanted so bad to be a man, but I could not change my gender. 18 years of being in the cage of patriarchy made me hopeless. Happiness was not possible. I wanted death.

My daily prayer was “Jesus, take me home. I want to go home and be with you.” This was my way of pleading for death. I was trapped in a world and life that I had no control over. I was an object upon which my parents acted. I had no rights, and my desires did not matter.

The world I lived in told me I had no power.

The only power I had was in prayer, and I prayed for rescue, which for me meant death because I saw no other alternative to the pain in my life.

When I left for college two years later, I thought my preoccupation with suicide, pain and death were over, but I was very wrong.

Voddie Baucham, Daughters, and “Virgin Brides”

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on January 12, 2015.

Last summer, Michael Farris denounced patriarchy. Or, so he claimed.

Among those who homeschool for religious reasons, there is a subculture sometimes called the “patriarchy movement.” Michael Farris, founder of the powerful Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and probably the most well-known leader in the Christian homeschooling world, has for decades espoused the beliefs of this movement. But in the last year and a half, two of its leaders, Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips, lost their ministries in the midst of sexual abuse scandals.

Last summer Farris issued a white paper that allowed him to throw Gothard and Phillips under the bus and portray himself as reasonable—the good guy in all of this. But not only did Farris make it clear that he does not understand what the word patriarchy means, he also started making exceptions right away, first and foremost for his friend Voddie Baucham, another leader in this movement. Farris pointed out that Voddie had recently enrolled his adult daughter, Jasmine, in a Christian online college program, which apparently (for Farris) makes him not patriarchal.

Who is this Voddie Baucham and what does he stand for?


To give you an idea, let me offer a page from Baucham’s 2009 book “What He Must Be . . . If He Wants to Marry My Daughter“:


And here it is in text:

The first line of protection for our daughters is protecting their purity. Quite simply, our job as fathers is to present our daughters to their husbands as virgin brides (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). I can hear the audible gasps as I write the Bible reference. More importantly, I understand the trepidation. Moses’ instructions in Deuteronomy 22 are downright horrifying. However, it is part of God’s revelation in the BIble and is thus worthy of our full attention.

But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)

So Farris condemns patriarchy, but is willing to make cuddly with this guy.

At the moment, you’re probably simply on the edge of your seat, wondering what Baucham says next. I have that for you too:


And here is the text:

Regardless of our revulsion at the idea of a woman being stoned for promiscuity, we cannot avoid the principle inherent in the text. The father is the one responsible for protecting his daughter’s virginity. This is evident for at least two reason. First, the father must provide evidence of his daughter’s virginity. Second, if there is no evidence, and the charges are true, the father must endure the shame and incomprehensible pain of the capital punishment of his daughter at his door!

Note that Baucham is primarily concerned with how hard it would be for the poor father to have his daughter stoned at the altar—not a thought is given to the daughter who is, you know, being stoned to death. Grrr.

Again, no one is arguing for the stoning of promiscuous young women whose lack of virginity is discovered on their wedding day. However, the timeless principle here is the responsibility of a father to present a virgin bride at the marriage altar.

This principle transcends the law/grace divide. This is true for all people in all places at all times. Nothing in the New Testament would remotely suggest that fathers are to stand down as the protectors of their daughters’ virginity. . . .

While the Deuteronomy passage deals with protecting virginity, Exodus 22 address the question of what a father is to do if his daughter loses her virginity.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with this idea, Baucham appears to be in the evangelical camp that believes the laws of the Old Testament are no longer binding, because we now live in the covenant of grace (rather than the covenant of the law), but that the Old Testament laws can still be instructive in understanding God’s character and desires. I was raised in this camp myself.

But you may now be wondering about the Exodus 22 passage Baucham mentioned.


Here’s the text:

If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins. (Exodus 22:16-17)

Note that the father has the right of refusal in this matter. The text is unambiguous. The man who seduces the virgin must answer to her father. Moreover, he must do right by the young woman and marry her, unless the father “utterly refuses to give her to him.” Note that the daughter does not give herself to the man in marriage; the father gives her to the man he deems appropriate.

When I talk about the patriarchy? This is what I’m talking about. Men like Baucham believe their adult daughters are bound to obey them in word and deed, and that they possess their daughters’ virginity to hand off to another when they choose. I’m lucky that my father was fairly introverted and hands off, but I still had a hell of a time with it when my courtship when rogue (or, to put it more specifically, when I took the reigns to my own love life).

And while Baucham is against stoning unmarried daughters who are sexually active, one wonders what he thinks should be done with them. It can’t be pretty.

Finally, note that the section above is followed with this heading:

A Patriarch Must Arrange for His Daughter’s Marriage by Finding a Suitable Husband and Making Proper Arrangements 

That is what we’re talking about here.

And yet, to Michael Farris, Baucham isn’t patriarchal. Right.

The Child as Viper: How Voddie Baucham’s Theology of Children Promotes Abuse


Note: the following piece is a long-form article. If you prefer to download and print the article for more convenient reading, you can view and download the article as a PDF here.


“One of the reasons that God makes human babies small is so they won’t kill their parents in their sleep. They’re evil.”

~ Voddie Baucham



Voddie Baucham is considered by some to be “the most sought-after homeschool conference speaker around the country.”[i] The Pastor of Preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas and founder of Voddie Baucham Ministries, he is a prolific writer as well as a skilled public speaker. Due to his tendency to cite and interact with the ideas of secular thinkers, he has been dubbed an “Evangelist to intellectuals.”[ii]

Baucham’s early life was difficult. As a young black kid, he was raised by a teen-aged mother after his father “went off to pursue a career in professional football.”[iii] While his mother was a practicing Buddhist, Baucham converted to Christianity in college and went on to study apologetics and theology at Houston Baptist University and both Southwestern and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminaries.

Baucham has written a number of books, including Family Shepherds, What He Must Be If He Wants To Marry My Daughter, and Family Driven Faith. Due to his own experience of fatherlessness growing up, much of his work focuses on the importance of fathers playing not only an active, but controlling, role within families. “All I ever knew was fatherlessness,” he writes, a fact that gives him a passion “to train a generation to follow hard after God in spite of what their forefathers have done.”[iv] His desire to see fathers become the active leaders — what he calls “patriarchs” — of their families has led him to support and associate with many of the most visible leaders and organizations of the Christian male supremacy movement, titled “Christian Patriarchy” within the homeschooling world. Baucham has aligned himself with people and groups like Doug Phillips and Vision Forum,[v] Geoffrey Botkin and the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences, Kevin Swanson and Generations with Vision,[vi] and Scott Brown and the National Center for Family Integrated Churches.[vii] Baucham is an outspoken advocate of Christian home education[viii] as well as the stay-at-home-daughter movement, which calls for requiring daughters to remain under the authority of their fathers until marriage.[ix]

Due to his engaging communication style and rhetorical prowess, he has become one of the most sought-after speakers for Christian homeschool conferences. Over the last decade, Baucham has presented at an increasingly large number of such conferences all over the United States,[x] often keynoting alongside other national homeschool leaders such as HSLDA’s Michael Farris.[xi] He has received national visiblity beyond the Christian homeschooling movement due to his association with the Gospel Coalition and his controversial declaration that Michael Brown, a young black teenager shot multiple times by a white policeman, “reaped what he sowed.”[xii]

The Child as Viper

While there are many aspects of Voddie Baucham’s worldview that deserve attention and introspection, this paper will focus on one specific aspect of his worldview: the image of the child as viper. Baucham frequently employs the image of the child as viper in his speeches and writings. It first appeared in Baucham’s 2007 sermon on “Child Training” at Hardin Baptist Church, and later appeared in writing in his 2011 book Family Shepherds.

The image of the child as viper is intended to invoke the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity in relation to children. It is meant to transform the way we think about children’s so-called “innocence” or “purity” and consequently transform the way we think about raising and disciplining children. Notably, it is meant as a criticism of modern child development experts and gentle parenting advocates who eschew authoritarian methods of parenting and harsh, punitive forms of corporal punishment. The child as viper is the foundation of Baucham’s defense of spanking.

This image is also invoked in an attempt by Baucham to separate his ideas about child training from the ideas of people who (allegedly) deny total depravity, most notably Michael and Debi Pearl. In Baucham’s worldview, children are inherently broken and comparable to serial killers in their desire to shed blood. Thus the iconography of the child as viper is not simply intended to be humorous or poetic. It is intended to be concrete and applicable: just as one must restrain and control a viper from following its own, potentially murderous, nature, so too must one restrain and control a child from following their own, potentially murderous, nature.

This paper examines the relationship between Voddie Baucham’s iconography and theology of children: how the iconography of the child as viper relates to his theology of children. There is also a greater question: When one examines the words of Jesus of Nazareth in the Christian Gospels, what theology of children does Jesus give us? What iconography does Jesus bestow upon children? Is that theology one that emphasizes the systemic sinfulness of children or bestows upon them a preferential treatment in the Kingdom of God? Is Jesus’s iconography of the child congruent with Baucham’s iconography of the child as viper or does it differ?

As Baucham so frequently likes to remind his audiences, ideas have consequences. And if the ideas underlying Baucham’s theology of children do not match Jesus’s own words and attitudes towards children, there will likewise be consequences.

The Patriarch as Animal Control

Voddie Baucham articulates his theology of children most clearly in his 2011 book Family Shepherds. The book is a defense of Baucham’s belief in Christian male supremacy and the importance of fathers being the ruling spiritual patriarchs of their families. “The rule of men in their families is so important,” Baucham claims, “that God honored it by confering upon us his own title, Father. We’re the governors and guides of our families.”[xiii] His book’s title is derived from his belief in the importance of patriarchy: “The very term family shepherd assumes that a man is the head of his household”[xiv] (emphasis in original).

To Baucham, child training is key to the father’s role as family shepherd. Thus he dedicates an entire section of the book, Part 4, to “The Training and Discipline of Children.” The purpose of such training and discipline is “to raise kingdom-minded warriors.”[xv]

Calvinism and Total Depravity

The cornerstone of Baucham’s child training system begins with propositional theology, namely, the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity. This doctrine is best expressed by Calvinist theologian Loraine Boettner who said every single human being is “is so morally blind that he uniformally prefers and chooses evil instead of good, as do the fallen angels or demons.”[xvi] Total depravity is an amplified version of the more universal Christian belief in original sin, the belief that “our nature as human beings since the fall has been influenced by the power of evil.”[xvii] Total depravity is original sin on theological steroids.

That every human being, even a newborn child, is totally depraved (like “fallen angels or demons,” as Boettner said) underlies Baucham’s worldview. Thus he begins his “Training and Discipline of Children” section with a chapter on “Remembering The Fall,” where he stresses the importance of placing total depravity as the starting point for child training: “Most men are completely unaware of the impact their theology has on their parenting. This is a fact that cannot be ignored when it comes to equipping family shepherds.” Baucham explains that all theological systems come down to an ancient debate between two people: Augustine and Pelagius. “The battle between Augustine and Pelagius, contrary to popular belief,” Baucham argues, “was not just about explaining how people are saved. It was a clash between two radically different understandings of humanity.”[xviii]

Baucham argues that the Augustinian position, which was later “completed in Calvinism,” is that “man is fallen and utterly incapable of any good.” He contrasts this with the Pelagian position, which he describes as the belief that man is a “rational free agent” who is “essentially good, or at least neutral morally,” and has “the capacity to choose righteousness.” Baucham holds to the Augustinian/Calvinist position and is thus dismayed about “the prevalence in our Christian culture today of Pelagian, or at least Semi-Pelagian doctrine, and how this influences the way we view child training.”[xix]

Critique of Michael Pearl and Behaviorism

Baucham then dedicates 5 pages to attacking a curious target: Michael Pearl and his child training book, To Train Up A Child. Michael Pearl is a widely known homeschool leader and speaker, and To Train Up A Child is one of the most well-known books on child training within the same Christian homeschooling circles in which Baucham travels. (In fact, Baucham himself says that “the influence of Pearl’s work in certain circles cannot be overestimated. This is especially true in homeschooling families.”[xx]) Like Baucham, Pearl is a zealous advocate of corporal punishment. This makes Baucham’s critique particularly conspicuous. He argues that Pearl is “the seminal example of the influence of Pelagian/Semi-Pelagian theology and behaviorist psychology on child training,” and is “influenced by the twentienth-century psychologists B.F. Skinner, Carl Rogers, and Carl Jung.”[xxi]

Baucham justifies this critique by citing passages from To Train Up A Child where Pearl refers to a child as “incomplete creation” and “not a morally viable soul,” and therefore, “before [a child] can decide to do good, his parents must CONDITION him to do good”[xxii] (emphasis in original). Baucham interprets this as Pearl making a theological, rather than a behavioral, argument, and thus argues it is “Pelagianism 101” because “Pearl, far from employing a gospel-centered approach” to child training, “introduces classic behaviorism.” When Pearl argues that parents must condition a child to “do good,” Baucham assumes Pearl is saying “‘doing good’ is something that one can accomplish apart from Christ through proper conditioning. This,” Baucham declares, “is a direct contradition of Jesus’s teaching.”[xxiii]

Pearl actually argues that every child “will inevitably partake of the forbidden fruit,” which is an affirmation of the doctrine of original sin. However, when Baucham cites Pearl saying that, he emphasizes Pearl’s next sentence that says “you can make a difference in how he [your child] will respond after he has ‘eaten’”[xxiv] as proof that “Pearl denies original sin outright.” This is clearly twisting what Pearl said. Pearl’s argument is that all children will/do sin, but parents can influence how their children respond to that fact. Baucham misreads the passage so that he can claim that Pearl’s system results in “a child-training approach that relies on behavioral modification as opposed to spiritual transformation. Instead of the child’s greatest need being the gospel, his greatest need is a parent whose ‘role is not like that of policemen, but more like that of the Holy Spirit’… Repitition, correction, and conditioning are the hallmarks of Pearl’s ‘method.’”[xxv]

This is a key section because, as we will see, Baucham actually believes in behavioral training just as much as Pearl does. However, Baucham desperately wants to distinguish himself from Pearl. Curiously, the main distinction for Baucham is the metaphor used: whereas Pearl believes parents should be more like “the Holy Spirit” in their children’s lives, Baucham believes parents should be “like that of policemen.” Baucham’s system thus ends up being more authoritarian than Pearl’s, and that is caused by the fact that Baucham not only believes in original sin (as does Pearl), but also total depravity. How Baucham applies his belief in the latter (total depravity) makes Pearl’s child training system appear gentle and weak in comparison.

Vipers in Diapers

The child is, Baucham declares, a “viper in a diaper.” While this might at first sound like simply an attempt to humorously rhyme “viper” with “diaper,” he means it seriously: “Our children are not morally neutral or incomplete beings; they’re sinners.” But they’re not only sinners; they are diseased: “Remember, your child has a disease.” As diseased sinners, children are hellbent on evil and thus must be restrained like law enforcement officers restrain criminals: “We don’t ask police officers to change hearts, but to restrain evildoers! And that’s precisely what parents are charged to do” (emphasis in original). “Family shepherds do not engage in corrective discipline because we believe it’s efficacious,” Baucham claims, but rather because fathers “have a duty to restrain our children.”[xxvi]

Because Baucham believes children are inherently evil and viper-like, he believes that child training based in behaviorism (what he claims Michael Pearl advocates) is insufficient. Child training must not consist only in behavior modification but also enforcement of certain thought patterns. There must be not only outer, but inner, change: “We must therefore view the gospel, not behaviorism, as the ‘central focus on parenting.’…In short, our children must learn that they’re sinners. They didn’t simply ‘pick up bad habits’; they sin” (emphasis in original). Children must be taught that they are inherently broken: “Formative discipline begins with the reality that our children’s greatest need is regeneration…Johnny doesn’t disobey because he’s cranky, tired, or hungry… He does it because he’s a descendant of Adam.”[xxvii]

Baucham heaps immense praise on a Puritan minister, Cotton Mather, for his view of children as depraved. Mather, who was responsible “more than almost any other”[xxviii] for the Salem Witch Trials in 1692, penned a book called A Family Well-Ordered in 1699, which Baucham says is his “favorite book on the Christian family.”[xxix] In that book, Mather describes children as “slaves of devils”: “Devils are worse than Indians, and Infidels: till thy Children are brought home to God, they are the slaves of Devils.” Mather instructs parents that “your Children, are the Children of Death, and the Children of Hell, and the Children of Wrath, by Nature.”[xxx] Because children are “defiled, depraved, horribly polluted,” Mather believed they were “better whipt, than damn’d.”[xxxi]

One sees Baucham’s admiration for Mather (and Mather’s understanding of children as “defiled, depraved, horribly polluted”) in Baucham’s emphasis on children needing to be “restrained,” rather than simply “trained” (as Pearl advocates): “A police officer doesn’t watch a criminal commit a crime and refuse to act due to his inability to change a man’s heart. No, he does what he can to resist the criminal and restrain him, knowing that his duty—while limited in its ultimate effectiveness—is necessary. It’s the same for parents.”[xxxii]

Child training, therefore, is about restraining the depravity in children. Baucham thus goes further than Pearl. Whereas Pearl believes one can actually train children to do good, Baucham believes this is an impossibility. Parents not only cannot “change a man’s heart,” they cannot even expect decent behavior: they must treat their children as criminals deserving of restraint. Parents must expect and see the worst in their children, as seen in the following passage about how Baucham advises parents to handle an argument between two kids:

“The next time those two daughters of yours quarrel, don’t ask them what happened; tell them! Remind them of the essential reason for their disagreement, and that God knows exactly why they don’t get along: ‘What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel… (James 4:1-3).’ And what’s the solution? Is it that they need to learn to share? Perhaps. But there’s a deeper issue, one that gets to our need for repentance and dependence on God: ‘Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you…Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep… (James 4:7-10).’”[xxxiii]

In other words, when your two young kids have a disagreement, Baucham suggests you do not ask them what happened. You should instead assume they are disagreeing because they are naturally covetous and murderous and must repent of their depravity. But Baucham also goes a step further. Not only should parents assume the worst, they must also threaten their children with eternal torture in the flames of hell:

“Tell them what God threatens to those who so behave. Let your child know that God is serious about what they’ve done, and show them what his Word threatens for those who continue to do it. This may seem like manipulation, but it isn’t. If God has warned us against something in his Word, we owe it to our children to point out the warning. If our neighbor has a sign up that says, ‘Beware of Dog,’ we certainly have no qualms about warning our children to stay off of his property. So why should we feel the slightest apprehension about telling them that God says, ‘But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death’ (Rev. 21:8)?”[xxxiv]

The threat of eternal torture by hellfire is a driving concern for Voddie Baucham (as well as his favorite author, Cotton Mather). But more than that, the driving concern is that one’s children do not end up among such “detestable” people as murderers: “Family shepherds are responsible for restraining the sin in their children,” Baucham warns. Restraint, rather than behavior modification, is the goal as behavior modification is ultimately doomed due to children’s evil (unless God sovereignly intervenes according to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination). Thus “the Bible’s chief form of corrective discipline” is “corporal punishment,” to strike fear into children so they will not act on their natural, depraved desires — desires that include murdering their own parents, a desire that Baucham believes all infants have (as we shall later see). Physical punishment is “the authoritative response that reminds the child the parent, under God, has the final word.” And children only become “too old” to be physically hit by their parents when they are “twenty or twenty-one,” Baucham says. Until then, because “your child has a disease,” “we must train our children. Just like an athlete training for a big game, our children need multiple repetitions in order to master their discipline.”[xxxv] Thus, whereas Pearl believes training is for children to do more good, Baucham believes training is for children to do less evil. This is a small but profound difference.

Finally, it must be noted that, to Baucham, all of the aforementioned sentiments are not only necessary for child training, they are — more importantly — expressions of love. To not physically hit one’s child — to keep them from acting on their depraved nature — is child abuse. And according to Baucham, “A family shepherd would never abuse his children.”[xxxvi]

Multigenerational Faithulness and Wombfare

While the previous section likely strikes the reader as intensely anti-child, especially since Baucham sees children as not only “vipers” but “defiled, depraved, horribly polluted” vipers, it is important to note that Baucham also believes children to be blessings. While this might seem contradictory, it is consistent to Baucham because children — though inherently broken — have a utility. Insofar as they have utility, they are blessings to families. In fact, Baucham encourages parents to not only conceive children, but conceive as many as possible. To understand these points, we will next examine Baucham’s 2009 book What He Must Be If He Wants To Marry My Daughter.

What He Must Be is Baucham’s list of requirements that must be fulfilled by his daughter’s future husband (and any Christian parent’s daughter’s future husband). These requirements are typical of the Christian male supremacy (or “Christian Patriarchy”) movement to which he adheres:

  • The future son-in-law must believe in a “multigenerational vision.”[xxxvii] “Multigenerational vision,” or “multigenerational faithfulness,” is a catch phrase within the Christian male supremacy movement. It was popularized by two of Baucham’s fellow Christian male supremacy advocates, Geoff Botkin of the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences and Doug Phillips of the now-defuct Vision Forum. It is essentially a four-generation plan established by a family’s patriarch to achieve “a new, conscientiously Christian dynasty”[xxxviii] If each subsequent generation is faithful to the original patriarch’s vision, there will arise “a blessed, elect, fourth generation.”[xxxix]
  • The future son-in-law must hold to male headship in the home (or what Baucham terms “Gospel Patriarchy”[xl]).
  • The future son-in-law must be committed to the idea that “the father is the one responsible for protecting his daughter’s virginity” because “our job as fathers is to present our daughters to their husbands as virgin brides.”[xli]
  • Finally, the future son-in-law must be “committed to having children” — and by that, Baucham means “not simply receive children passively—this is a man who desires children, who seeks children.” Baucham requires his future son-in-law to want “lots of them.”[xlii]

The reason for this last requirement — desiring lots of children — is not because children are enjoyable. After all, Baucham considers children to be “defiled, depraved, horribly polluted.” Nonetheless, he repeatedly cites Psalms 127:3-5a,[xliii] where children are declared to be “a reward” and “like arrows in the hand of a warrior.” The man “who fills his quiver with them” is “blessed.” (This is a favorite passage of Christian male supremacy advocates. It is also the foundational verse for the “Quiverfull” movement,[xliv] a movement promoting Christian “wombfare”[xlv] for the sake of out-breeding non-Christians, particularly Islamists.[xlvi])

In his 2011 book Family Driven Faith, Baucham declares it is those who reject large families — rather than those (like himself) who consider children evil — who are creating an “anti-child culture” in the United States. People who use birth control are “hir[ing] a doctor to speak on our behalf” to God. (Elsewhere he describes using birth control as body “disfigurement” and/or “mutilation.”[xlvii]) The message from such doctors to God is that their patients “hereby declare they no longer trust, nor welcome you in this area of their lives.” Baucham cites fellow Christian Patriarchy advocate Albert Mohler who says, “This rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God’s design.”[xlviii]

Thus to Baucham, real love for children comes from seeing their multigenerational utility — and also the multigenerational utility of having many children. To value children apart from their utility is anti-child, not pro-child. Furthermore, because having a large family is necessary to successfully achieve the patriarch’s “multigenerational vision,” wanting to have autonomy in one’s parenthood plans is also anti-God. Since a commitment to having many children is “essential to a multigenerational marriage,” [xlix] the more children one has the more “blessed” one is in this task of multigenerational faithfulness.

Technique and Thought Reform

For someone who writes about family as frequently as Baucham, it is remarkable how infrequently he writes of children or family life bringing joy or happiness into parents’ lives. Instead, there is a consistent emphasis on finding the most efficient methods for family organization. Such an emphasis is what sociologist Jacques Ellul termed technique, or “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.”[l] Baucham “has his eyes on the prize,” as it were, and that prize is not the health and well-being of his children. Rather, the prize is the most efficient method by which one restrains the sins of one’s children in order to maximize one’s multigenerational success. As Ellul observed, “Technique requires predictability and, no less, exactness of prediction. It is necessary, then, that technique prevail over the human being… The individual must be fashioned by techniques…in order to wipe out the blots his personal determination introduces into the perfect design.”[li]

Since, for Baucham, the goal of child training is implementing the best technique by which one restrains the sins of one’s children in order to maximize one’s multigenerational success, the means are of absolute importance. In fact, finding the right means becomes the driving concern. As Baucham says in Family Driven Faith, “I desperately want my sons and daughters to walk with God, and I am willing to do whatever it takes.”[lii] This is reminiscent of Ellul’s observation about a technique-driven society: “Our civilization is first and foremost a civilization of means; in the reality of modern life, the means, it would seem, are more important than the ends.”[liii] For someone “willing to do whatever it takes” when it comes to child training, the means — or technique — will take center stage as they are justified by the ends.

Children as Brutish Beasts

The problem that Baucham faces in finding the right technique comes from the theological proposition with which he begins: the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity. There is a tension here: if children are born “radically depraved,” as he claims in his 2010 sermon on “The Doctrine of Total Depravity,” how can parents actually expect productive results from child training? If one believes in total depravity, therefore, that fact must be front and center in one’s technique. Baucham makes this observation in his aforementioned 2010 sermon: “One implication, for example, is the way we discipline our children, or discipline our children. If you disciple a child, or discipline a child, and don’t believe in the doctrine of total depravity, it will change the way you approach the discipline of that child.”[liv]

In that sermon (which received widespread attention after football player Adrian Peterson was charged with physical child abuse[lv]), Baucham begins with describing the “fallen” state of mankind, the state of total depravity:

“Fallen man has fallen desires and his feet are swift to shed blood. Why? Because he wants what he wants and everyone else is an obstacle to his own satisfaction. So fallen man apart from God is swift to shed blood. Fallen man apart from God reeks havoc on his fellow man. Fallen man apart from God wars with his fellow man.”[lvi]

Baucham then argues that this fallen state is, apart from the divine intervention of God, a permanent state. It is not a state that one can “educate” or “discipline” a human out of:

“This is what it means to be lost. You can’t educate a man away from this. You can’t argue a man out of this. You can’t discipline a man into this. You can’t coax him, you can’t — there is nothing that you or I can do about this because the blinders on his eyes are there supernaturally and must be removed supernaturally.”[lvii]

Supernatural, divine intervention is thus the only solution. However, at the same time, Baucham agrees that one can “condition” a human to act “better.” This conditioning is behavioral modification — the sort of modification that (as we noted earlier) he attacks Michael Pearl for allegedly advocating. Baucham says,

“Here’s what we often do: we find man in this condition and we try to compromise with this man. We find a man in this condition and we try to clean him up on the outside. We find a man in this condition and we begin to work with him and we say, ‘Don’t talk like that, talk like this.’ And if you get a man who is in this condition to talk differently because of behavioral modification, what you have is a man who inwardly is still corrupt but outwardly has learned to use his tongue, his throat, his lips, and his mouth in order to get what he wants by being deceptive about it. If you can somehow guide his feet so that he is no longer as quick to shed blood, if perhaps you can incarcerate him so that he longer has the opportunity to shed blood, what have you really done? You have merely put a man in a position where what he is on the outside — what he is on the inside cannot be expressed on the outside.”[lviii]

So humans are universally “swift to shed blood,” are “radically depraved,” and can only become “good” by means of divine intervention. However, they can be trained, their behavior can be modified, so as to exhibit outer morality. Baucham considers this to only be a temporary fix that inherently creates its own set of problems: “what he is on the inside cannot be expressed on the outside”; in other words, behavior modification by itself can create cognitive dissonance within a human being.

Finally, Baucham notes that, while we’re willing to admit a serial killer is “radically depraved,” we are unwilling to admit newborn babies are the same as serial killers. That is wrong, he says:

“Your problem and my problem is this: we believe this about everyone else but not about us. We believe this about the serial killer but we don’t believe it about me… If we don’t understand this — I’ll say it again — if we don’t understand our children and their greatest need, and we look at these behaviors of our children, and yes, we want to correct those behaviors but we do not understand that the reason our children — these small little cherubs — these so-called ‘innocent ones’ — the reason that they do what they do is because they are every bit of Romans, Chapter 3, Verses 9-18. They come into the world like this. One of the reasons that God makes human babies small is so they won’t kill their parents in their sleep. They’re evil. Yes, this is true of children: ‘None is righteous; no, not one. None understands. No one seeks God. No one does good.’ Yes, that little, precious one — you better believe it. If you don’t, you miss the big picture and you don’t realize your desperate need to get the gospel to your child again and again and again and again.”[lix]

To Baucham, children and serial killers should be placed in the same category of depravity: the category of total depravity. In fact, they are not only in the same abstract, spiritual category of total depravity, they also share a common desire to murder. Infants are so naturally evil that they would kill their parents in their sleep if they were larger. The solution, then, is not simply behavior modification. As we noted earlier, Baucham believes restraint is the end goal of child training — restraint so that less evil is achieved, rather than the achievement of more good. After all, humans cannot have their evil “educated” or “disciplined” away, but the evil can be restrained. But this solution requires something extra: the enforcement of certain thought patterns. In this case, Baucham expresses that enforcement as a “desperate need to get the gospel to your children again and again and again and again.”

The Three Phases in Child Training

Baucham expands on this “desperate need” for the enforcement of certain thought patterns in another sermon of his, a 2007 sermon delievered to Hardin Baptist Church entitled “Child Training.” In this sermon, he describes children as “brutish beasts” and once again invokes the image of the child as viper: “When it was small, we laughed about it. It was cute. ‘Oh aren’t they cute at that age?’ No, that’s a viper in a diaper and you better get it under control. It’s not cute. It’s not funny.”[lx]

To get the viper that is a child “under control,” Baucham argues for three phases in child training:

First, the discipline and correction phase: The discipline and correction phase is for “the first few years of [a child’s] life.” This phase involves demanding children give their attention to their parents so that children realize parents are the center of their lives: “In this phase we’re saying to our children, ‘Give me your attention. Give me your attention. You need to pay more attention to me than I do to you. Give me your attention. The world doesn’t revolve around you. Your world revolves around me… Your world, toddler, revolves around me, around me.’”[lxi]

Second, the catechism phase: The catechism phase is for children ages 3-12. During this phase parents are supposed to teach children “what to believe.” Baucham says, “We tell them, ‘Give me your mind. Give me your mind.’ That happens as soon as they become verbal — we start working on that.”[lxii]

Third, the discipleship phase: The discipleship phase begins when a child reaches 12 years of age. Baucham explains that, “Biblical adulthood is considered from age 12 or 13 to age 30. You ever notice we only see Jesus at two ages in the Scripture? At 12 and at 30. Why? Because according to the biblical model, childhood is from birth to 12. At 12 there is a ceremony… At 30 you’ve entered into senior adulthood… They’re the two breaking points in the life cycle and development cycle.” (Notably, Baucham neglects to mention we see Jesus also as an infant in the Gospel Nativity stories. This is understandable, though, since that would require a complete rethinking of his theology of children.) Baucham describes this third and final child training phase with the phrase, “Give me your hand.”[lxiii]

The three phases of child training, then, are: the discipline and correction phase for newborns through 3 years old, where you demand that children “give me your attention” and teach them that their worlds revolve around you; the catechism phase for 3 year olds through 12 year olds, where you tell children what to believe and demand that they “give me your mind”; and finally, the discipleship phase for 12 year olds and up, where you demand that they “give me your hand” and teach them how to act.

Thought Reform and Self-Erasure

Note that all three phases of child training involve the parent demanding something of the child: the child’s attention, the child’s mind, or the child’s hand. Training, therefore, entails a child giving up some part of their self (up to and including their own thoughts and will) so that the parent can replace the child’s thoughts and will with the parent’s. It does not entail the care and guidance of that child’s own self. Rather, it is the erasure of that child’s self and the replacement of the child’s self with the parent’s self. This is the enforcement of certain thought patterns, or what psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton called “thought reform.”[lxiv] It is directly linked to the future development of dissociative identity disorder, as “loss of control over parts of one’s mind—identity, memory, and consciousness” induces “traumatic stress.”[lxv] It can also lead to a child later self-harming “out of dissociative experiences.”[lxvi]

Additionally, this process of erasure must be immediate. To Baucham, every stage of training requires that a child responds to the parent’s commands without hesitation. Hesitation implies a disobedient, and thus sinful, will:

“If I tell them to do something and they don’t do it when I tell them to do it? That’s delayed disobedience and the technical Greek word for delayed disobedience is disobedience… And according to Scripture, I cannot tolerate that. If I tolerate that, I’m tolerating sin.”[lxvii]

Part of child training, therefore, involves not merely the erasure of the child’s self. It also requires that a child willingly erases any and every aspect of their self as soon as the parent demands it. Thus, self-erasure is — slowly but surely — trained into the child as the natural, rather than unnatural, response to the demands of the parent. The Christian message of “dying to self” becomes a developmental and psychological, rather than spiritual, command. Furthermore, the this message becomes linked to the parent rather than God.

The final observation we need to make about the connection between Baucham’s doctrine of total depravity and his ideas on corporal punishment is that the act of physically hitting a child is — to Baucham — the ultimate parental tool or weapon in achieving the child’s self-erasure, otherwise called “breaking the child’s will” by Christian disciplinarians.[lxviii] (And in contrast with Pearl’s technique, which Baucham claims creates cognitive dissonance by changing a person’s actions but not that person’s will, Baucham’s technique avoids that — not by respecting the person but — by changing a person’s actions and beating down that person’s will.) It becomes the catch-all technique: when all else fails, use it until it works. Use it over and over and without ceasing as long as is necessary until the child finally breaks, until the child finally agrees to erase their self.

The Sin of Shyfulness

The following passage from Baucham’s child training sermon is crucial in understanding exactly how this method is to be implemented. Please note that if you find intense descriptions of corporal punishment to be triggering, that you might want to skip this quotation:

“God says your children desperately, desperately need to be spanked. Amen, hallelujah, praise the Lord! — and spank your kids, okay? They desperately need to be spanked. And they need to be spanked often. They do. I meet people all the time, you know, and they say, ‘Oh yeah, I can think of maybe 4 or 5 times I’ve ever had to spank Junior.’ Really? That’s unfortunate, because unless you raised Jesus the Second, there were days when Junior needed to be spanked 5 times before breakfast… When they were 2 and you said, ‘Come here,’ and they said ‘No,’ — you should have worn them out… You might feel like picking up the phone going, ‘I think I’m gonna kill him.’ That’s ok. ‘Cuz you know what Proverbs says about that? It says don’t spare the rod! ‘Cuz ‘though you beat him with the rod, he will not die but you may save his very soul from destruction.’

“…Let me give you an example — the prime example. The so-called shy kid, who doesn’t shake hands at church, okay? Usually what happens is you come up, you know — and here I am, I’m the guest, and I walk up and I’m saying hi to somebody and they say to their kid ‘Hey, you know, say good morning to Dr. Baucham!’ And the kid hides and runs behind the leg — and here’s what’s supposed to happen. This is what we have agreed upon silently in our culture. What’s supposed to happen is: I’m supposed to look at their child and say, ‘Hey, that’s okay.’ But I can’t do that. Because if I do that, then what has happened is, Number One, the child has just sinned by not doing what they were told to do. It’s direct disobedience. Secondly, the parent is in sin for not correcting it. And thirdly, I am in sin because I just told a child that it’s okay for them to disobey and dishonor their parent in direct violation of Scripture. I can’t do that. I won’t do that. I’m gonna stand there until you make them do what you said.

“…I have a pastor friend of mine. One of his daughters was just really defiant in this one particular area. And they had one instance where they had drawn the line and they were like, ‘This has to end today.’ And they told her, did the training, everything else. And so they were leaving and there was a deacon — there was a deacon family — and they walk out, you know, supposed to greet, say bye to the deacon, shake the deacon’s hand. She won’t do it. Pastor goes back in the office, goes through that whole process — spank the child, comes back out, child won’t do it again. Goes back again, asks the deacon, ‘Will you please wait here?’

“Thirteen times.

“Thirteen times.

“That deacon was like, ‘Little girl, please…’

“They never dealt with it again.”[lxix]

There are several important observations we need to make about this passage:

First, this passage begins with Baucham’s underlying assumption about children’s nature. Since children are “radically depraved,” it only makes that they would “desperately need” to be physically hit. In a worldview colored by total depravity, children are in a perpetual state of being one step away from becoming serial killers. It makes sense, therefore, that they need to be watched — and treated — like they are a danger to not only themselves, but more importantly to those around them. Physical restraints (including physical punishments) are required.

Second, since children are “radically depraved,” it also makes sense that they would “desperately need” to be physically hit often. That a child would not need to be spanked “5 times before breakfast” is understandably a surprise to Baucham. In his mind, of course a child would require so many spankings. Every potential action, facial expression, emotion, and other expressions of a child’s feelings, needs, or will could be declarations of war, declarations of an infant’s intent to murder the parent in his or her sleep. Thus an oppositional and antagonistic interpretation is forced upon the parent-child relationship. The parent cannot let even one potential declaration of war go unpunished, lest the child be allowed to run roughshod over the patriarch’s authority.

Third, natural stages in child development should be the last way that a parent interprets its child’s communications. Every potential action, facial expression, emotion, and other expressions of a child’s feelings, needs, or will could be declarations of war. Note that Baucham says a child who exhibits what most people would consider shyness is not a shy kid. Rather, that kid is “the so-called shy kid.” This is identical to when Baucham refers to mental illness as “so-called mental illness” in his sermon on total depravity.[lxx] The implication of both of these statements’ “so-called” phrase is obvious: shyness is not really shyness; mental illness is not really mental illness. Rather, both “shyness” and “mental illness” are excuses modern secularists give for sin. The “shyness” of a child is willful disobedience to a parent’s orders. Similarly, the “mental illness” of an adult is simply that adult reaping the consequences of living life in opposition to God’s commands.

Fourth, and finally, we see how exactly Baucham desires his technique to be implemented: until it achieves the desired result(s). There is no alternative; there is no safety hatch; there is no escape clause. In the disturbing example of the pastor who had thirteen spanking sessions (sessions, not just spankings!) with his young daughter, we see that — once the parent has established that he and his daughter are in an antagonistic situation where one will must be broken by another — there is no option to switch tracks. A common sensical solution — such as asking the young girl why she does not want to greet the deacon (could the deacon have abused her? could the deacon remind her of some other adult that abused her?) — is out of the question. In fact, to pursue any other solution would be to allow the child’s will to triumph over the parent’s. Thus the child must be physically hit ad nauseam until the child finally is exhausted and agrees to erase the part of their self they are desperately trying to protect.

The end result of all of this is, as we have seen, thought reform, or the enforcement of certain thought patterns. The child must come to see their self as inherently broken, as unworthy of being the focus of attention or deserving of the right to assert self, and as deserving of self-erasure and physical punishment. This is what it practically means to Baucham that there exists a “desperate need to get the gospel to your children again and again and again and again.” The child must “learn their place” at all costs, child development experts be damned — even if it requires thirteen spanking sessions.

But at the risk of sounding trite, there is a question we must present to Voddie Baucham: What would Jesus do? As we consider this question, we encounter a number of critiques of Baucham’s technique and worldview. To these critiques we now turn.

Critique #1: Baucham’s Theology of Children is Unbiblical

As we consider Jesus of Nazareth’s own words concerning children and their place in the Kingdom of God, there are many questions that might arise. For example, how do Jesus’s words about children relate to traditional Christian doctrines such as Augustinian original sin, Lutheran bondage of will, and Calvinist total depravity? While such questions are certainly important and worthy of examination, they are tangential to this section’s purpose and will thus be put in brackets. This section’s focus will simply be on what Jesus says about children and what theology and iconography of children we can deduce from his sayings.

Jesus and Children

We shall start with the earliest passage in the Gospels in which Jesus mentions children, Mark 9:33-37:

“And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And He sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’ And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”[lxxi]

In this passage we see Jesus take a radical departure from the ideology of his historical context. In the ancient Palestinian context, children were considered the lowest of the low, legally on par with slaves. They had no rights. They were considered property of their family’s patriarch. As theologian Joyce Ann Mercer observes about this passage,

“In Mark’s story, the child becomes the occasion for Jesus to explain (yet again) the reordering of social relationships and power made real under the reign of God, a concrete way of showing the meaning of ‘being last of all’ (paston eschatos, Mk. 9:35). Horsley describes the issue in terms of children’s social status: ‘In ancient Palestine, as in most any traditional agrarian society, children were the human beings with the lowest status. They were, in effect, not-yet-people. The [language that] “the kingdom of God” belongs to children sharpens the agenda of the whole Gospel story that the kingdom of God is present for the people, the peasant villagers, as opposed to the people of standing, wealth, and power.’ In the patriarchal honor/shame society being described, children were quite literally the possession of their fathers. Thus in this story the child’s low social standing accentuates Jesus’ message that [we should] lift up the lowliest.”[lxxii]

One thus cannot overstate the iconographic significance of the act of Jesus taking a child, placing that child in the center of the people’s midst, and declaring that whoever loves a child — loves this lowly piece of property with no legal standing — is loving divinity itself, is loving the very manifestation of the incarnate God.

The Gospel of Mark continues this theme of children as images of God in the next chapter. This is from Mark 10:13-15:

“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”[lxxiii]

In this chapter Jesus is engaging the religious teachers of his time in a serious debate about marriage and divorce. (Mark 10 begins with the controversial “divorce passage.”) Right in the midst of this debate, parents are bringing their children to Jesus to bless. Considering how theoretically important the divorce conversation was, the disciples try to shoo away the children. Yet Jesus was “indignant.” He “rebuked” the disciples in public and declared, “Let the children come to me.” Jesus not only prioritized the child over and against a doctrinal debate; Jesus declared that “the kingdom of God” belongs to the child. The child is not only inherently a manifestation of the incarnate God, the child is also inherently a possessor of God’s kingdom and the model by which one enters that kingdom: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

These passages about Jesus’s interaction with children were so important — and so revolutionary in terms of their historical context — that the other Gospel writers also included them. They are repeated by both Luke and Matthew. In Luke’s version (seen in Luke 18:15-17), Jesus is busy lecturing to the crowds about parables and other serious, adult matters. As in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gets interrupted by parents bringing children to him. And also as in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus prioritizes the child over his adult audience:

“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’”[lxxiv]

Once again, Jesus asks that the children come to him — and that the adults do not hinder them. And yet again, the child is held up by Jesus as the model by which one enters the Kingdom of God. This is repeated a third time in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 19:13-15), the context being the same debate about divorce as seen in the Gospel of Mark:

“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.”[lxxv]

The Gospel of Matthew goes even further than the other Gospels in establishing how Jesus thought of, valued, and gave preferential treatment — or what some theologians call “preferential option”[lxxvi] — to the child. In Matthew 21:14-16 we see Jesus envisioning the child as ecstatic worshiper of the divine:

“The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant, and they said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise”’?”[lxxvii]

Here we have Jesus healing the blind and the lame. These miracles are so overwhelming that children are running around the temple screaming — likely with either joy or astonishment. Either way, the children are being raucous and making a scene — enough so that the religious authorities are becoming annoyed by their unruly behavior. They point out the children’s behavior to Jesus, yet Jesus points out to these authorities what the Psalmist David in the Tanakh wrote in Psalm 127:3-5:

“Lord our Lord, your name is the most wonderful in all the earth! It brings you praise everywhere in heaven. From the mouths of children and babies come songs of praise to you.”[lxxviii]

From the mouths of children and babies come songs of praise to God.

Let me repeat that:

From the mouths of children and babies come songs of praise to God.

This is a far cry from the image of the child as viper or a theology of children that considers the child to be a miniature serial killer in the making. Rather, this is Jesus affirmingly quoting the Psalmist who declares songs of praise to God are on — to borrow Baucham’s phrasing — the mouth, throat, tongue, and lips of children. And Jesus affirmingly quotes this imagery to remind the religious authorities of his day that children — even (and perhaps especially) in their raucous, unruly behavior in the temple — are signals of transcendence, are miniature reminders of how we should all be related to God.

The final passage we must look at is Matthew 18:1-6 and 10-14:

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea…’

“‘See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.’”[lxxix]

This passage summarizes everything we have thus observed about Jesus’s attitude towards children: Children represent to Jesus “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” They are the image of what one must “become like” if one wants to “enter the kingdom of heaven.” Not only that, they also serve as a litmus test: whoever accepts a child in Jesus’s name is accepting Jesus himself. They also serve as a warning: whoever rejects a child might as well drown “in the depth of the sea.” These are nothing short of serious exhortations, which Jesus reminds his audience when he says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.” Jesus also reminds his audience just how important they are: God would not let even one — not even a single child — go missing. God would not rest until a lost child is found. Children are valued simply for who they are, not for their utility.

This is the immense value that Jesus places upon the child. And this immense valuation of the child is exactly what is missing from Voddie Baucham’s teachings.

Jesus and Vipers

While we must conclude, then, that Baucham’s iconography and theology of children directly contradicts Jesus’s, we must note that Baucham has at least one thing right: Jesus of Nazareth does speak of vipers. In fact, Jesus employs the imagery of vipers on several occasions in the Gospel. However, in contrast with Baucham, Jesus does not invoke that imagery in the context of children. Rather, he invokes the imagery of vipers when talking about people like Baucham: religious leaders.

Before looking at Jesus’s use of the viper, it is important to understand the imagery of the viper or snake within the Judaic worldview. The snake is one of the first characters introduced in the Book of Genesis and its role within the narrative is the antagonist against the paradise that is humanity’s original home, the Garden of Eden. The snake’s personality is made immediately apparent in the narrative in Genesis 3:1-5:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”[lxxx]

The reader is made aware from the beginning that the snake is “more crafty” than all the other animals. Its antagonistic role in the story is to be the cunning manipulator: the teacher that uses rhetoric and intelligence to convince someone that what is true is false and what is false is true. It is the snake’s false teaching that thus propels the entire story of humanity forward — out of the paradise that is Eden and into the broken, hurting world that we all know and experience.

One cannot overemphasize the importance of the snake playing this role in the context of the Judaic worldview. The snake’s role in this worldview is markedly different from other ancient religions’ worldviews. “The snake,” says scholar Joseph Campbell, “in most cultures is given a positive interpretation. In India, even the most poisonous snake, the Cobra, is a sacred animal…The serpent was revered in the American Indian traditions…In the Christian story the serpent is the seducer…The serpent was the one who brought sin into the world.”[lxxxi]

Thus the Judaic worldview stands out in contrast to other religions at the time in portraying the snake in a negative light. That negative light is textually obvious: the snake represents cunning and deception; the serpent is the false teacher who deceives.

When we look, therefore, at how Jesus employs the imagery of the snake or viper in the Christian Gospels, we see continuity. Jesus employs this imagery in the exact same way it was employed in the Book of Genesis. Namely, he invokes the viper in the context of religious authority — teachers who use cunning to deceive and mislead their followers. As many as three times in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus refers to religious authorities as vipers:

  • Matthew 3:7: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’”[lxxxii]
  • Matthew 12:34: “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”[lxxxiii]
  • Matthew 23:33: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”[lxxxiv]

What is important to note here for our purposes is that in every example of Jesus referring to vipers, it is in the context of the powerful, the religious authorities and teachers, the world power structures, the ruling classes. Those are the individuals who hold the power to deceive. Those are the forces that hold the means to marginalize and oppress. The image of the viper is never used in reference to the powerless — most notably, the children that Jesus says shall inherit the Kingdom of God because they are “last” in the kingdom of earth.

Frankly, it would not even make sense for Jesus to refer to children as vipers or snakes. Since the imagery of the viper or snake — in both the Tanakh and the Christian Gospels — invokes the imagery of the cunning machinations of authorities, such power would not be available to infants or children simply by virtue of age. A newborn infant cannot even communicate their basic needs apart from wailing. A young child is entirely dependent on their elders for sustenance and nurturing. How would it be possible for an infant or child to be an authority, let alone an authority with the ability of cunning machination? Such Machiavellian technique is the domain of adulthood — the adulthood to which Baucham, not a child, belongs.

“Children,” notes theologian Janet Pais, “are inherently disadvantaged.” In contrast, “adults have power over children and the warning of the gospel is for those who have power. We are not to lord it over those who are weaker, but to serve them. The child is Jesus’ specific example of those whom we are to serve (Mk 9:33-35).”[lxxxv]


As stated in the beginning of this section, we are putting in brackets larger theological conversations about systematic theology. So while we have observed that (1) Jesus’s iconography of children involves not vipers but rather manifestations of the incarnate God itself, (2) Jesus’s theology of children involves children being the model by which we enter the Kingdom of God and deserving of preferential treatment by those in power (namely, adults and religious authorities), and (3) Jesus’s imagery of vipers is only used in the context of and against the religious authorities of the day who took advantage of their position and power to hurt and oppress the powerless and vulnerable, we will leave it to professional theologians to work out what these observations mean for doctrines like original sin and total depravity. Our purpose here is simply to point out that Jesus of Nazareth used very specific imagery and emphases when talking about children — imagery and emphases that directly contradict those employed by Baucham. In the Gospels, children are spoken of and treated with a historically revolutionary amount of respect, love, and value — the very respect, love, and value that are grossly absent in Baucham’s worldview.

In short, Voddie Baucham’s theology of children contradicts the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as evidenced in the Christian Gospels and is thus unbiblical.

Critique #2: Baucham’s Theology of Children Encourages Contempt for Children

The next critique of Baucham’s theology of children is that his theology of children encourages contempt towards them. One observes this fact simply from any of Baucham’s teachings or writings. Let us review the words and phrases used by Baucham (and his favorite author Mather) to describe children:

  • viper in a diaper
  • diseased
  • slaves of devils
  • defiled
  • depraved
  • horribly polluted
  • like a criminal
  • murderous
  • like a serial killer
  • evil
  • desiring to kill their parents
  • needing to be controlled
  • desperately needing to be hit

All of these words and phrases are overwhelmingly negative. But more than that, their purpose is to conjure up contempt. These are not the words and phrases that one would use to conjure up, for example, empathy. An empathetic response to the frailty and imperfection of an infant or child would use vastly different adjectives and nouns. Whereas describing an infant or child as “murderous,” or analogizing between an infant or child and a serial killer, is meant to stir up feelings of negativity. One does not respect or empathize with a serial killer; one finds a serial killer repulsive and disturbing (as Baucham himself states). Thus one ought to — if one follows the analogy — find children repulsive and disturbing as well.

The issue of contempt deserves our attention because contempt towards children is a foundational motivating factor in the abuse of children. When one holds a child in contempt, one is dehumanizing and devaluing that child — which makes the abuse of that child easier in one’s mind. Not only that, but when one holds a child in contempt, one is directly in defiance of Jesus of Nazareth — because Jesus granted revolutionary humanization and value to children. Contempt for children is the very opposite of Jesus’s welcoming of children. Just as Luke said in Acts 4:11 that, “Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone,” so too does Baucham reject (via contempt) children, who are explicitly said by Jesus to be the immanent manifestations of God.

Theologian Janet Pais provides a helpful and relevant explanation of what it means to have contempt for children:

“Just as ‘the problem’ of racism or sexism or poverty does not reside in the person who is black or female or economically disadvantaged, ‘the problem’ of children does not reside in children. The problem is an adult problem, and in particular a problem stemming from the attitude of many adults toward children… This attitude is contempt… Having contempt means that our behavior towards the smaller, weaker, needier person is different from the way we would behave toward the same person if she or he were as big and strong as we are… We say to a child, ‘Don’t be a baby,’ thus at the same time expressing our contempt for the child and teaching the child to have contempt for anyone who is smaller and weaker. We say that ‘childish’ is not the same as ‘childlike,’ the one undesirable, the other desirable. This is an expressing of contempt for the child’s point of view. We say, ‘Don’t be a child!’ Jesus tells us the opposite: Be a child! Be the child you were and still are.”[lxxxvi]

We see this attitude of contempt in Voddie Baucham’s theology of children most directly in how he applies the doctrine of total depravity to the specifics of child training. Instead of respecting children as autonomous, valuable human beings who can speak for themselves, he insists, for example, that parents should impose their own interpretation upon a quarrel between two siblings:

“The next time those two daughters of yours quarrel, don’t ask them what happened; tell them! Remind them of the essential reason for their disagreement, and that God knows exactly why they don’t get along: ‘What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder… (James 4:7-10).’”[lxxxvii]

In this example, the two daughters are not allowed the chance to speak up for themselves (even if one was legitimately wronged by the other). They are smaller than the parent, and thus the parent is encouraged to ride roughshod over the children and their experiences. This erases the children. The children are treated simply as property on which the parent has the right to impose its own interpretation of events, regardless of what truly happened. And as Pais notes, treating children as property is a perfect example of adult contempt for children:

“The contemptuous adult views the object of contempt indeed as an object, not a person worthy of respect. Contempt itself thus is abusive and oppressive. Adults, often unconsciously, act toward children out of an attitude that the child is a possession properly subject to their control…An adult may value a child for what the child can do or achieve, but this is not the same as valuing the child simply for being who and what the child is. With a contemptuous attitude, an adult may use the child for the adult’s own purposes, mold the child to be what the adult wants the child to be.”[lxxxviii]

As we have seen in Baucham’s child training system, this is exactly the goal Baucham has in mind: to “mold the child to be what the adult wants the child to be” — or as Baucham put it, to “desperately want my sons and daughters to walk with God, and [to be] willing to do whatever it takes.” Yet such desperate attempts at molding inevitably lead to erasing who the child is and the fact that child stands before God — not their parent(s) — and must give their own account. By erasing the child’s self, Baucham’s technique — and its underlying theology — directly encourages an insidious and destructive form of contempt towards children.

Critique #3: Baucham’s Theology of Children Promotes Abuse

The third and final critique of Baucham’s theology of children is that it promotes child abuse. This is due to a number of reasons, the first of which is related to our last point: encouraging contempt towards children increasing the risk of child abuse. This is due to the statistical likelihood of child abuse occurring in homes where parents view their children with contempt. Thus by encouraging parents to view their children as brutish beasts, poisonous vipers, or potential serial killers, Baucham is increasing the chances of those children being hurt by the adults in their lives.

A 2009 New Zealand study by the Ministry of Social Development found a correlation between people’s attitudes about children and how those people treat children. The study found that people who view children as “innately bad” are more likely to support physically hitting children. This is because those people saw children as being “born with a sinful (rebellious) nature” and thus “one of the duties of the parent is to curb rebellious expressions by the child.” These same people were okay with “treatment that is less respectful than that which is available to adults.”[lxxxix]

Similarly, a 2009 study in the United States found that parents who have a higher risk of physically abusing their children are more likely to be people who have difficulty interpreting the ambiguous behavior of a child (like an infant crying) in positive terms. The study discovered that, “While both low and high CPA [child physical abuse] risk parents appear to be equally likely to encode ambiguous behaviors (e.g., infant’s crying) in negative terms (e.g., difficult, uncooperative); low risk parents appear to have a somewhat greater capacity to also encode such behaviors in positive terms (e.g., sweet, loving).” What makes a difference in situations that could escalate into the physical abuse of a child is a “greater capacity to encode ambiguous or challenging moments in parenting in positive terms” That capacity “may buffer against pervasively negative interpretations and attributions and thus protect against angry or aggressive reactions.”[xc]

These results — and others like them — have been replicated numerous times. The implications are clear: if you view your child negatively, you are more likely to get negative results. “Parents high in [child physical abuse] risk,” for example, were found to be “especially likely to rate children displaying neutral emotional expressions as hostile and difficult.”[xci] Thus, “problems can…arise when parents engage in maladaptive thinking. Mothers at a higher risk of child abuse, for example, are more likely to attribute negative traits to children who demonstrate ambiguous behaviour, and see this behaviour as intentional.”[xcii] Or as Janet Pais succinctly puts it, “Believing in ‘a bent toward evil’ in children can only produce evil.”[xciii]

Baucham is encouraging parents to do exactly this: to view emotional expressions of their children as hostile, even evil; to attribute negative traits to their children; to see children’s behavior as intentionally sinful; and to be less empathetic towards children. This is a direct recipe for increasing the risk of a child experiencing abuse.

The second reason why Baucham’s theology of children promotes abuse is because it encourages the erasure of children’s selves, which grooms those children to either be future abuse victims or future abusers. To understand this point, let us return once again to Baucham’s example of the two daughters quarreling:

“The next time those two daughters of yours quarrel, don’t ask them what happened; tell them! Remind them of the essential reason for their disagreement, and that God knows exactly why they don’t get along: ‘What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel… (James 4:1-3).’ And what’s the solution? Is it that they need to learn to share? Perhaps. But there’s a deeper issue, one that gets to our need for repentance and dependence on God: ‘Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you…Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep… (James 4:7-10).’ 

“…Tell them what God threatens to those who so behave. Let your child know that God is serious about what they’ve done, and show them what his Word threatens for those who continue to do it. This may seem like manipulation, but it isn’t. If God has warned us against something in his Word, we owe it to our children to point out the warning. If our neighbor has a sign up that says, ‘Beware of Dog,’ we certainly have no qualms about warning our children to stay off of his property. So why should we feel the slightest apprehension about telling them that God says, ‘But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death’ (Rev. 21:8)?”[xciv]

Let us imagine how this situation would typically manifest. Child A has a toy that belongs to her. She is the rightful owner of the toy and she loves playing with it. Child B wants Child A’s toy, so he goes up to her and grabs it out of her hands. Child A gets angry and begins to cry. At this point, the Parent enters the room.

According to Baucham, this is how the Parent should handle the situation: The Parent does not ask Child A or Child B what happened. Rather, the Parent lectures both Child A and Child B about how they’re sinful and deserving of hell and thus desperately need Jesus. They are informed that if they do not both repent of their sins, they will spend eternity burning in the fires of damnation.

Let us now consider what the end result of such a method will be: Child A had a right to be upset and was justified in being angry. The toy was her property. She had a right to it. However, when she spoke up about something of hers being stolen, and when she tried to speak up for her own rights, the result was the Parent shutting her down and simply telling her she is a sinner and thus she needs to repent as much as Child B. The message, then, that Child A receives is this: because you are a dirty sinner, you have no right to your self, you have no right to speak up when you are violated, and because you are a dirty sinner you deserve whatever happens to you.

In other words, Baucham’s technique is grooming Child A to be the perfect abuse victim.

What about Child B? Child B was in the wrong. Child B did something specific that explictly violated a moral standard. He took something that was not his. However, when the Parent intervened, the Parent blamed both Child A and Child B equally — and simply chalked up Child B’s wrongdoing to a general sin nature and not actually the action that Child B took. The message, then, that Child B receives is this: because you are a dirty sinner, it’s not so much what you actually do that’s wrong but rather just your general nature; you’re inherently broken. Child B will therefore separate right and wrong from his or her actions and become detached from their consequences. His self will become fragmented, or “split,”[xcv] and he will place distance between his ego and his actions, which can lead to future violent and antisocial behavior.[xcvi]

In other words, Baucham’s technique is grooming Child B to be a sociopath.

By encouraging child training that rests upon the foundational principle of erasing children’s selves, Baucham has created a system that communicates disastrous and damaging messages to children. It thus not only increases the likelihood of parents abusing children, it also grooms those same children to either be abuse victims or abusers.

The third and final reason why Baucham’s theology of children promotes abuse is seen in his lesson about the “so-called shy kid.” When a child is too shy to meet a stranger, or recoils in fear at someone they don’t want to greet, Baucham insists that it is a manifestation of the child’s evil and therefore the child must be punished. The problem here is that Baucham’s message yet again erases the child’s self. His message truncates every unique child into one platonic form of child-ness, rather than respecting every child’s different personality as being made in the image of God. The fact is, children respond different ways to stimuli and some children are highly sensitive to stimuli. Forcing them to engage when they are overwhelmed does not help them become mature; rather, it makes them willing to let others violate their boundaries and their selves. As one mother of a highly sensitive child has noted, “Where does it say in Scripture that a six year old child should be eager to shake hands with any strange man who walks up to her?”[xcvii]

When put that way, you realize how easily this message could lead to a young child being abused by an adult in power. In fact, Baucham’s story about the pastor’s young daughter who was afraid of the deacon takes on a grotesque shape in this light. What if that young girl had been abused by the deacon? And that is why it takes thirteen spanking sessions to break her resistance, when that resistance should have been lauded? Sadly, we will never know. We will never know because the pastor broke her will like she was nothing more than an animal to be trained — just as Baucham had instructed.


This paper examined how Baucham frequently employs the image of the child as viper. This image underlies both Baucham’s iconography and theology of children. Namely, he views children as radically depraved and animal-like and therefore justifies an authoritarian and punitive system of child training. As he believes children are inherently broken, he takes issues with other disciplinarian systems that focus solely on behavioral modification. In Baucham’s mind, such systems are doomed to fail because they neglect the enforcement of certain thought patterns — or “thought reform.” Thought reform necessitates the gradual breaking not only of a child’s will but also a child’s mind, erasing that child’s self so that it responds immediately and naturally to the demands of adults.

The problem with this theology of children, however, is that it directly contradicts the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in the Christian Gospels. In the Gospels, Jesus thinks about, values, and gives a preferential treatment to children in a way that is radically different (and revolutionary in its historical context) from Baucham. Jesus lifts up the child as the model for entering the Kingdom of God. Jesus embraces the child, rebukes the adults who try to keep the child from his embrace, and grants the child a preeminent role in the eternity to come. Jesus takes a sledgehammer to the power differentials of the day and declares that whoever welcomes the child — whoever welcomes the powerless, rights-less infant — welcomes the incarnate God. It is in relation to the religious authorities like Baucham, the adults who tend to the world power structures, that Jesus invokes the image of a viper.

We also saw that Baucham’s theology of children creates problems beyond fidelity to the biblical message. We saw that his iconography of the child as viper and his theology of children as inherently broken directly contributes to increased risks of child abuse. By amplifying the antagonism and distrust between child and parent, Baucham’s teachings encourage parents to see the worst in their children — which makes parents more likely to hurt their children. It also grooms those children to either be future abuse victims or future abusers.

In conclusion, it is incumbent on Christian homeschooling communities and leaders everywhere to call out Baucham’s theology of children for what it is: unbiblical, contemptuous, and abusive.



[i] Karen Campbell, “why is voddie baucham really being marginalized by the sbc?,” November 21, 2008, link, accessed on January 10, 2015.

[ii] Illinois Christian Home Educators, “Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr.,” link, accessed on January 10, 2015.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Voddie Baucham, What He Must Be If He Wants To Marry My Daughter, Crossway Books, 2009, p. 19, 27.

[v] Gina McGalliard, Bitch Magazine, “House Proud,” 2010, link, accessed on January 10, 2015.

[vi] Kevin Swanson, interview with Voddie Baucham, “So You Want to Marry My Daughter?,” Generations Radio, June 2010, link, accessed on January 10, 2015; R.L. Stollar, Homeschoolers Anonymous, “End Child Protection: Doug Phillips, HSLDA, and the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit,” link, accessed on January 10, 2015.

[vii] National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, link, accessed on January 10, 2015.

[viii] Voddie Baucham, “Why Homeschool? An Apologetic for Home Education,” Getting a Great Start, Christian Heritage/Home Educators of Washington.

[ix] William Lee Adams, Time Magazine, “Meet the ‘Selfless’ Women of the ‘Stay at Home Daughters Movement’,” December 8, 2010, link, accessed on January 10, 2015.

[x] Balancing the Sword, “Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr.: Homeschool Conference Speaker and Workshop Leader Details,” link, accessed on January 10, 2015.

[xi] Libby Anne, Love Joy Feminism, “You Don’t Say, Mr. Farris? On Making Exemptions,” April 7, 2014, link, accessed on January 13, 2015.

[xii] Voddie Baucham, “Thoughts on Ferguson,” The Gospel Coalition, November 26, 2014, link, accessed on January 10, 2015.

[xiii] Voddie Baucham, Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes, Crossway Books, 2011, p. 11-12.

[xiv] Ibid, p. 101.

[xv] Ibid, p. 111.

[xvi] Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Two Sparrows, reprinted 2013.

[xvii] R.C. Sproul, “TULIP and Reformed Theology: Total Depravity,” Ligonier Ministries, November 7, 2012, link, accessed on January 9, 2015.

[xviii] Baucham, Family Shepherds, p. 113-4.

[xix] Ibid, p. 115.

[xx] Ibid, p. 118.

[xxi] Ibid, p. 116.

[xxii] Michael Pearl, To Train Up A Child, No Greater Joy Ministries, 1994, p. 17-18.

[xxiii] Baucham, Family Shepherds, p. 116-7.

[xxiv] Pearl, p. 21.

[xxv] Baucham, Family Shepherds, p. 118.

[xxvi] Ibid, p. 118, 134, and 139.

[xxvii] Ibid, p. 119 and 125.

[xxviii] Charles W. Upham, Salem Witchcraft and Cotton Mather, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1859, p. 12.

[xxix] Baucham, Family Shepherds, p. 123.

[xxx] Cotton Mather, A Family Well-Ordered, or, AN ESSAY to Render PARENTS AND CHILDREN Happy in One Another, 1699, p. 4, link, accessed on January 9, 2015.

[xxxi] Arnold Binder, Gilbert Geis, and Dickson D Bruce Jr., Juvenile Delinquency: Historical, Cultural & Legal Perspectives, Routledge, 2001, p. 36.

[xxxii] Baucham, Family Shepherds, p. 126-7.

[xxxiii] Ibid, p. 125-6.

[xxxiv] Ibid, p. 127-8.

[xxxv] Ibid, p. 133, 135, 137-9.

[xxxvi] Ibid, p. 144.

[xxxvii] Baucham, What He Must, p. 25-29.

[xxxviii] Geoffrey Botkin, “A Botkin Family Secret Revealed,” Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences, May 14, 2010, link, accessed on January 9, 2015.

[xxxix] Doug Phillips as cited by Kathryn Joyce, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, Beacon Press, 2009, p. 229-30.

[xl] Baucham, What He Must Be, p. 59-65.

[xli] Ibid, p. 54-56, 163-6.

[xlii] Ibid, p. 124-5.

[xliii] Ibid, p. 123-5.

[xliv] Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR, “In Quiverfull Movement, Birth Control Is Shunned,” March 25, 2009, link, accessed on January 14, 2014.

[xlv] Monica Duffy Toft, “Wombfare—Religious and Political Dimensions of Fertility,” Political Demography: How Population Changes Are Reshaping International Security and National Politics, edited by Jack A. Goldstone, Eric P. Kaufmann, Monica Duffy Toft, Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 223.

[xlvi] Nancy Campbell as cited by Joyce, p. 184.

[xlvii] Voddie Baucham, “Child Training,” sermon delivered on November 4, 2007 at Hardin Baptist Church. Audio: link, accessed on January 13, 2015. Transcript: link, accessed on January 13, 2015.

[xlviii] Voddie Baucham, Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk with God, Crossway Books, 2011, p. 25-27.

[xlix] Baucham, What He Must Be, p. 126.

[l] Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, translated by John Wilkinson, Random House, 1964, p. xxv.

[li] Ibid, p. 138.

[lii] Baucham, Family Driven Faith, p. 31.

[liii] Ellul, p. 19.

[liv] Voddie Baucham, “The Doctrine of Total Depravity,” sermon delivered on May 2, 2010 at Grace Family Baptist Church. Audio: link, accessed on January 13, 2015. Transcript: link, accessed on January 13, 2015.

[lv] Stephanie Hanes, Christian Science Monitor, “To spank or not to spank: Corporal punishment in the US,” October 9, 2014, link, accessed on January 13, 2015.

[lvi] Baucham, “Total Depravity.”

[lvii] Ibid.

[lviii] Ibid.

[lix] Ibid.

[lx] Baucham, “Child Training.”

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Ibid.

[lxiii] Ibid.

[lxiv] Robert Jay Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of ‘Brainwashing’ in China, University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

[lxv] David Spiegel, “Coming Apart: Trauma and the Fragmentation of the Self,” Dana Foundation, January 31, 2008, link, accessed on January 14, 2015.

[lxvi] Sharon K. Farber, “The Inner Predator: Trauma and Disassociation in Bodily Self-Harm,” New Orleans APA Panel, Trauma—Obvious and Hidden: Possibilities for Treatment, August, 10, 2006: “These acts are generated out of dissociative experiences. In every act of self-harm there is more than one participant and more than one self-state. There is the dissociated part of the self being abused and another dissociated part doing the abusing. Dissociation makes possible the extraordinary feat of being the victim and the victimizer all at the same time.”

[lxvii] Baucham, “Child Training.”

[lxviii] According to R.J. Rushdoony and Chris Klicka, “the child’s will” should be “broken to God’s purpose.” See Appendix A, “The Difference Between Christian Education and Humanistic Education,” in Chris Klicka, The Right Choice: Home Schooling, Noble Publishing Associations, 4th printing and revised edition, 1995, p. 422.

[lxix] Baucham, “Child Training.”

[lxx] Baucham, “Total Depravity.”

[lxxi] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001.

[lxxii] Joyce Ann Mercer, Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood, Chalice Press, 2005, p. 51.

[lxxiii] Bible, English Standard Version.

[lxxiv] Ibid.

[lxxv] Ibid.

[lxxvi] The “preferential option” concept is seen in liberation theology with regards to poverty. Theologian Gustavo Gutierrez argues the Christian Church must show a “preferential option for the poor,” in other words, “solidarity with the poor, along with protest against the conditions with which they suffer.” See Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation: 15th Anniversary Edition, Orbis Books, 2014, p. xxv. In the context of a theology of children, a preferential option for children is seen in Jesus’s identification with them as “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” due to their humility and powerlessness.

[lxxvii] Bible, English Standard Version.

[lxxviii] The Holy Bible, Easy-To-Read Version, World Bible Translation Center, 2006.

[lxxix] Bible, English Standard Version.

[lxxx] Ibid.

[lxxxi] Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, Anchor Books, 1991, p. 53-4.

[lxxxii] Bible, English Standard Version.

[lxxxiii] Ibid.

[lxxxiv] Ibid.

[lxxxv] Janet Pais, Suffer the Children: A Theology of Liberation by a Victim of Child Abuse, Paulist Press, 1991, p. 17, 20-1.

[lxxxvi] Ibid, p. 7, 10-11.

[lxxxvii] Baucham, Family Shepherds, p. 125-6.

[lxxxviii] Pais, p. 10-11.

[lxxxix] Sophie Debski, Sue Buckley, Marie Russell, “Just Who Do We Think Children Are? New Zealanders’ Attitudes about Children, Childhood and Parenting: An Analysis of Submissions on the Bill To Repeal Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961,” Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, Issue 34, April 2009.

[xc] Julie L. Crouch, Joel S. Milner, John J. Skowronski, Magdalena M. Farc, Lauren M. Irwin, Angela Neese, “Automatic Encoding of Ambiguous Child Behavior in High and Low Risk for Child Physical Abuse Parents,” Journal of Family Violence, Issue 25, 2010, p. 73–80.

[xci] Heather J. Rissera, John J. Skowronskib, Julie L. Crouch, “Implicit attitudes toward children may be unrelated to child abuse risk,” Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal, Issue 35, 2001.

[xcii] Joan E. Grusec, Tanya Danyliuk, “Parents’ Attitudes and Beliefs: Their Impact on Children’s Development,” Encyclopedia on Early Child Development, December 2014, link, accessed on January 13, 2015.

[xciii] Pais, p. 39.

[xciv] Baucham, Family Shepherds, p. 125-8.

[xcv] Erin M. Myers, Virgil Zeigler-Hill, “No shades of gray: Splitting and self-esteem instability,” Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 45, Issue 2, July 2008, p. 139-145: “Splitting refers to the tendency to form cognitive representations of the self and others that are either all-good or all-bad.”

[xcvi] David A. Wolfe, “A Developmental Perspective of the Abused Child,” Child Abuse: Implications for Child Development and Psychopathology, SAGE Publications, 1999, p. 53-55.

[xcvii] Sallie Borrink, “Highly-sensitive children, shy children, spanking and Voddie Baucham,” link, accessed on January 13, 2015.

I Was an LDS Homeschooler: Tirzah’s Story, Part Two

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Tirzah” is a pseudonym.

< Part One

Part Two

When I went on my mission everything changed.

I learned LDS doctrine and began to really see how dangerous the Patriarchy “doctrines” were. I realized that everything Doug Phillips was so persuasively teaching my mom through his books and CDs and all his lovely “Christian” products was an insidious poison that was slowly strangling me and all of my younger siblings, boys and girls alike. We butted heads constantly through our emails and letters. I began to push back harder and harder against the dangerous changes I saw her making.

She threatened on several occasions to have me sent home.

I talked with my mission President about it every time we met it seemed. He assured me that if she tried or stopped paying (the money that I had worked for free to earn for years) that he wouldn’t allow me to be sent home. It was such a relief to have someone who recognized what was happening and could explain theologically why my instincts were right, and why that lifestyle was theologically unsound for any person who claimed to follow Christ.

I dreaded going home. I thought about trying to extend my mission somehow, but I knew it wouldn’t happen. Now please don’t get me wrong, I love my mom, my step dad, and my whole family. But I knew that a big battle was coming between my mother and I, and I dreaded it.

I flew home, she and I exchanged an awkward hug, then loaded my stuff in the car. We hadn’t even left the airport before it started. I wasn’t allowed to use Facebook because “we weren’t a Facebook family”, my sleeves (which were perfectly acceptable as a missionary) had to be longer, my makeup lighter, I had to start school but I couldn’t use the cars, or get a job, or get into debt. I wasn’t allowed on the computer more than 20 minutes a day, no “modern” music and of course, they had to approve of any boy friend that I might get. And if they didn’t approve then I had to break it off, to set a good example for my sisters.

I tried to work with her for a couple of weeks, tried to get her to see that she couldn’t expect people who were well into their 20’s to be willing to live like a little child. She would have none of it. We weren’t really adults because they paid for our bills. I countered by offering to get a job and help pay for rent and utilities. That was unacceptable because it would disrupt the family, and emasculate my step father. It went on and on, I was called into her room every other day to report to her what my plans were and how I was going to accomplish them, and then she would go through piece by piece to try to dismantle them.

But I wasn’t having it.

A few weeks after getting home I met my future husband. My parents were fine with him until we started dating. Then nothing he did was good enough. If he did handy man work for my dad he was too blue collar. If he didn’t work during the winter then he was lazy. We had to figure out very early on what our goals and plans were, if we weren’t planning on getting serious/married then it wasn’t worth it to continue going out. We decided to get serious. My parents were still unhappy, and placed even more restrictions on me, an 8 pm curfew being one. I found ways around their new rules and got more guilt trips about how prideful I was and how rebellious. I didn’t care. Then came the day when they tried to send me to a different state to keep us apart.

That was the last straw. I called my mom to try to reason with her, but she was adamant. They couldn’t trust me, and she didn’t know if I was fornicating on their couch or not (I wasn’t…) so the only solution was to send me away. And that’s when I told her something that I had never said to her before. “No.” There was silence, then a tense “What???” “No, I’m not going.” Then came the hastily worded mini lecture about how I needed to follow their rules in their house ending with “You know if you really don’t think you can follow our totally reasonable rules then you can always leave.” (This was the worst threat she could imagine ever being given for some reason). “OK.” I replied. There was an even longer silence, followed by an incredulous “REALLY? This is worth losing your family over?!”

Only in my mom’s sad world of jumbled theology would moving out be akin to losing one’s family.

I called my husband/then boyfriend and told him what had happened. His parents found a place for me to stay within a few hours, so I once again began packing my belongings up into a suitcase. Later that day as I talked to my (step)dad he informed me that “they weren’t done raising me”.

I told him that they were.

The next 18 months gave me a very strained relationship with my family. Many of my younger siblings, especially my sisters, felt like I had abandoned them. My parents forbade my husband and I from spending time with them because we were such an evil influence (I taught my 18 year old sister about how ovulation can affect how attracted she felt towards men and then told her she could read biology books at the library to learn more, that’s what I had to do… ) The fact that we didn’t hide the fact that we were having sex as a happily married couple meant that we were trying to sully the rest of them.

All the while I also dealt with feelings of guilt for “abandoning” my younger siblings. I had nightmares where I was trying to get them out and away from danger and they wouldn’t listen to me because my mom told them they were safe. I still felt so responsible for them, and like I had somehow failed them. My husband patiently cared for me and helped me understand that they were now responsible for themselves, that they were the only ones who could get themselves out.

I had to step back and let them learn on their own.

He told me that if one of them did try to leave and my mom kicked them out then that sibling could live with us as long as they needed, but they needed to get themselves out first before we could help. He told me that leaving was the best example I could have given them. And even though it was incredibly hard to let go of needing to take care of them, he was right.

I bore the brunt of the disapproval, the suspicion of rule breaking, the constant monitoring and spying, and it was a responsibility that I took seriously. I bore the constant mind games, the guilt trips, the hours of lectures on my rebellious nature, because I hoped it would make things easier for them. And now looking at everyone grown and on their own, I know it helped them be able to get out. Because I showed them that they could. That it was OK to leave and be adults. That they could be trusted to make their own decisions.

Now I know how to answer my mom’s question if she ever asked again (we are on much, much better terms now!).

I would tell her that she is what changed us. That I couldn’t trust someone who never believed me and tried to keep me in an unnatural relationship. I would tell her that the patriarchy garbage she had bought for so long is just a ponzi scheme for abuse. I would tell her that I am not a horse to be trained, and that the life she wanted me to live would have set me up for being just as abused and stuck as she was.

I could tell her a lot of things, but honestly, I probably won’t.

I think it would kill her, or damn near close.

But I can tell you, you new parents who are wondering if it’s worthwhile to “train up your child”. Believe me, it’s not. It never will be. Choose a different and more peaceful way. Teach them tolerance and love. Teach it by example every day. Lead them, guide them, walk beside them, but don’t every think you can spank or guilt them into loving God. Teach them correct principles and trust that God will touch their hearts.

Now, as I look at my own sweet babies sleeping in their beds, I know that things will be different. We are planning on homeschooling them, but mainly because our schools here are terrible. We are not “training them up” to be obedient unthinking robots. We let them experience the natural consequences of their choices. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s so much better. They make wise decisions on their own because they *know* where foolish decisions lead. We do give them a swat or two on the butt when they’ve done something harmful, but those are rare instances.

Our home is not perfect, but it is happy, and our children know they can trust us.

And that is the greatest gift a parent can ever receive. 

I Was an LDS Homeschooler: Tirzah’s Story, Part One

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Tirzah” is a pseudonym.

I was homeschooled my entire life. As were all my brothers and sisters. I actually don’t mind at all that I was homeschooled. I enjoyed it, a lot. As an educational method I think it can be remarkably effective, giving children an unhindered environment to learn at their own pace and truly develop their own talents.

That being said, I still feel compelled to write and share my story. It’s not as bad or traumatic as some, but not as happy and rosy as others.

A few years ago my mother looked at me with a mournful and wistful look and sadly asked, “What happened to us? You used to trust me and confide in me so much, then when you were about 11 that all changed. Why did you stop trusting me?”

I didn’t know how to answer that at the time.

I was still sorting through my childhood and I genuinely believed that the change our relationship had taken was somehow my fault. I didn’t think it was all my fault, but surely a large portion of it was mine, because my mom loved me, and I was the one who was annoyed by her.

My family is LDS (you know, those controversial Mormons?). As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we have a doctrine that is distinct and very very different from any evangelical Christian denomination. But for a family that wants to homeschool for religious reasons back in my day there really weren’t any LDS oriented curriculums. So my parents did what many Mormon homeschoolers did: they branched out.

Abeka was the first inclusion I can remember. The books were vaguely creepy to me, with randomly placed Bible verses that had no bearing at all on whatever the subject matter was. Gradually more items worked their way in. Books about Amish and Mennonite children who learned valuable life lessons about greed, vanity, and perfect immediate obedience. They were also creepy, but I loved to read so I read them occasionally out of sheer boredom.

My dad was extremely abusive. He was large, frightening, and he thrived off of intimidating people. Especially us. He kept my mother in a constant state of fear and desperation, so as very small children we were largely unmonitored, my mother desperately cleaning one room after the other as we moved through like a storm of tiny Tasmanian devils. My mother eventually gathered the courage and resources to leave him and she gained full custody of all of us in the divorce. I came out of that experience with some deep rooted trust issues with men. I didn’t want to be left alone near any man.

My mother didn’t help in that matter, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Now a newly single mother my mom faced a lot of pressure to put us in school. She didn’t feel like that would be the right thing, so she figured out ways to make money while staying at home. She also needed to figure out how to undo the years of bad habits we had learned when it came to our cleaning habits. And that is when she discovered the Pearls and their masterpiece of parenting wisdom “To Train Up a Child”. Suddenly her mind was opened- children were like horses who needed guidance and careful training, who needed to learn instant compliance in order to learn obedience to God. If they didn’t receive that training then their souls would be in peril and they would wander off into the lost paths of darkness, and be pulled into the hedonistic world of Babylon.

I got the horse analogy a lot as a child and teen. I was the oldest at home, my older brother having been sent off to live with our father, and as the oldest she not only needed me to be the example, but to also make me the example. So I got lots of switchings. Sometimes it was a switch, others a belt, once a wooden spoon but she broke that on me. Then I was in more trouble because I made her break the spoon.

I had no privacy for my thoughts. “Murmuring” was not tolerated, because Laman and Lemuel murmured (book of Mormon people) and that ended up creating an entire civilization that rejected God. I wasn’t allowed to feel any anger towards her for the sudden changes in my life, and anything but perfect respect and admiration was unacceptable.

My mom didn’t use the spanking philosophy for long, she couldn’t bear to continue to inflict bodily harm on her kids (gee, I wonder why…..) but the attitude and mentality behind it remained. Seemingly overnight I had gone from being decently self sufficient and independent to being unbearably incapable and never to be trusted. The siblings that I had spent my entire life protecting from my father and mentally ill brother suddenly needed to be protected from me. Suddenly I was a pathological liar who bullied and harmed them out of spite and malice. I was never to be believed, because I was older and bigger, and they all told the same story. My younger brother was the perfect and honest one who would never lie to her… Only me. I was the liar, I was too rebellious, too unruly. I was leading my siblings astray.

I was always made to feel self conscious of my body.

My mom once pulled me aside at the public swimming pool to inform me that any time I stepped out of the pool I needed to wrap the towel around my waist because men might think my legs were really sexy. I was only 13, and wasn’t even close to puberty. Once at 17 a boy in my youth group cruelly called me a “corner girl” to hurt me, they all knew that I had never so much as kissed a boy, so that was an especially painful barb. When I told my mother about it, instead of defending me she told me it was because my shirt was too tight and they could see the curve of my breasts. We were always warned about sex, but never taught anything. It would lead us to immoral acts, and if I learned anything about it then I might say something to my siblings and that would cause them to be immoral too. Every decision I made had to be weighed against how it would affect them.

But her lessons on my responsibility as the oldest and the counseling we had received in our abuse survivors group sunk in, and not how she had hoped. I knew that it was my responsibility to teach “the youngers”, as I referred to them, how to move into adulthood in spite of my mom’s desire to go back in time and re-raise us. So I pushed on. I persuaded her to let me get an email account. She was very worried about allowing me on the computer, and told me that I could become addicted to pornography from the junk mail, or kidnapped by a stranger who would try to “get me” from the chat rooms. After establishing some rules I got one. Within a few years the others each has one as well. The same went with phone usage, then cellphone use, then Facebook.

Eventually I decided to serve a mission for our Church. But because it was several years before the age change our church recently had, it meant that I lived at home till I was in my 20’s to save money and prepare for my mission.

It was during that time period that my mom discovered the Christian Patriarchy movement.

She feel in love with the notion of “stay-at-home daughters” carefully protected and guided by their wise and loving parents. My mom had remarried by this time, and desperately wanted to take back the abuse and neglect we had receive from our biological father. What better way to do that then having sah-daughters? Oh she thought it was lovely and refined. But still unreasonably expected us to function as adults. But her vision of adult daughters was one of daughters who were wise enough to submit to their parents.

At the time I went along with it, but with a great deal of reservation. I tried to be humble and submissive and recognized that I was still living in their house so I needed to respect their rules. I worked for my step father and “contributed” to the family. Don’t get me wrong, I had some pretty decent perks as well, lessons in music and other sports that I valued highly, but it was still miserable.

When I went on my mission everything changed.

Part Two >