I’m calling this Ebenezer “Vista” because nothing quite worked out like I anticipated. And after it was over, it seemed like downgrading to an earlier version would be best.
I’ve got to admit. I’d just rather not talk about this. I kinda get ill just thinking about it all. For my friends, if I’ve told you any of this whole story, I haven’t told you about this. But it’s important part of the ominous sense of dread that built up over that final year.
The summer of 2006 I renamed the “Summer of Isaac and Gavin” because for the first time in my life I was a stay-at-home-mom. It was a new and happy thing for us. My sons and I did “Letter of the Week” that summer, and you can read about all our fun in my archives. I saw a different side of the infrastructure of our county (where are the sidewalks?) and a different side to the interior of my refrigerator (Pink and fuzzy guacamole? How long has this been in there? Ew!!).
It all started . . . with Sean Paddock’s death exactly two years and two day ago now. You probably don’t remember him. He died as the result of some very, very bad parenting. Lynn Paddock, his adoptive mom, suffocated the four-year-old by wrapping him too tightly in blankets to keep him in bed. If you keep up with the trends among Evangelical parenting authors, it should come as no surprise that she avidly followed the worst example available: Michael Pearl.
The Pearls capitalize on quaint Amish icons and natural family living ideals. They privilege an homesteading aura that is very appealing in our McWorld. I get that. I even admire it.
But . . . you don’t have to look very deep to find problems in his advice. In the end, it is heretical. Plain and simple, he denies Original Sin and asserts a sin-free perfectionism for those who are as accomplished as he. He believes that young children are so amoral and so ignorant that they are no different from animals, and the parent’s responsibility is no different than a farmer’s to his livestock. Where that leads him is clear in his explanation of Romans 1:21:
Obviously the 2 year old can’t glory, the 1 year old, the idiot and the retard can’t glory in anything. But those who have reached a place of intellectual maturity will glory and are expected to glory in God.
He’s neither saying that children are totally unable to save their full-of-sin selves nor is he saying that children are naturally good. In other words, he’s neither orthodox nor warm-and-fuzzy. And his bad theology pushes him to some really scary conclusions. He reasons that a parent can do whatever s/he needs to do to a child in order to “train” him — not discipline him since he’s not capable of receiving any sort of teaching. No, Pearl emphasizes training. He continually compares children to animals and overtly suggests that you train a child like you would a dog. For instance, what do you do when your dog has a housebreaking accident? You take him out and hose him down. You may respond to your 3-year-old’s potty accidents the same way, according to Michael Pearl. I kid you not. In his characteristic folksy style, he remembers advising a father to do just that in To Train Up a Child:
First, I pointed out that the boy’s mother, busy with the other children, would, several times a day, pick up this big kid, talk sweet to him, lay him on a bed, take off the dirty diaper, wipe him with a warm rag, rub a little lotion on the chaffed spots and then put a fresh, smooth diaper on him. Dumping in his pants was an opportunity to get his mother’s undivided attention. Now, we understand that there is no guilt or blame in this matter, especially on the child’s part, but there is something quite inconvenient–except for the kid who loved the experience and must have found it the highlight of his day.
So, my suggestion was that the father explain to the boy that, now that he was a man, he would no longer be washed in the house. He was too big and too stinky to be cleaned by the babywipes. From now on, he would be washed outside with a garden hose. The child was not to be blamed. This was to be understood as just a progressive change in methods. The next dump, the father took him out and merrily, and might I say, carelessly, washed him off. What with the autumn chill and the cold well water, I don’t remember if it took a second washing or not, but, a week later, the father told me his son was now taking himself to the pot. The child weighed the alternatives and opted to change his lifestyle. Since then, several others have been the recipients of my meddling, and it usually takes no more than three cheerful washings.
There’s more, but I’ll let you research that on your own, if you wish. It only gets more and more sad.
So . . . in the midst of a cyber-mourning for the Paddock family and the heresy that passes for biblical parenting advice, KatieKind stepped it up a notch with a challenge for all the Christian moms participating. She called us all to speak out when we heard Pearl being recommended in our little slices of Christendom.
Sigh. . . . I believe the Holy Spirit made me listen close to her urging. I knew that it was crystal-clear that Pearl was not biblical. I knew that people who supported him just didn’t know the whole story. I promised God that the next time I heard him supported I would say something. I’ve gotta admit — I didn’t think anything would come of it because the guy is a real nut!
Not too long later, I got the flu and was stuck on the couch comforting equally sick boys. So I read. A lot. You know how surfing materializes. That may even be how you settled here.
I landed in a big forum for fundamentalist Baptists. I’d read there a lot previously, but I had never joined. I could join — I could agree to the membership agreement and all — But I just hadn’t up to that point. Again I’m not telling you the name because I don’t want to start a war. I’ve seen that happen too often between blogs and large forums. If you’ve got a hunch, go find me in there. It’s not hard to search.
But, as you can guess from the way I’m telling this story, I landed on a glowing endorsement of Michael Pearl there. My stomach began to churn, and I remembered my promise. ::gulp::
Like a good fundamentalist, I kept my promise. I remembered all the sayings I had been reared on: “finish the job,” “the best ability is dependability,” “the test of your character is what it take to stop you.” I reminded myself that this Pearl stuff was wrong, and if anyone on the planet should be able to see that, I thought, it’s a fundamentalist, right? You with me on this?? Isn’t that what we do? Point out error? I thought that’s what I was taught while I read all those sayings above the chalkboards.
I took a deep breath and joined. The policy of that forum is to accept no anonymous members. You must use your real name and actual in-real-life facts about yourself (this policy might seem harmless enough, but in its working out, it’s not a good thing.). I poked around and found a lot of people I knew from junior high, high school, and undergrad. I found tons of my own students. These are my buddies, right? I should feel right at home. . . .
I pointed out the error in the Pearls as best as I could. It was met with a polite but inquiring surprise. They asked me to present my case, and I did. I joined the ladies’ forum and offered some prayer requests. It was a pleasant experience. I posted a few more opinions here and there. I’m pretty experienced with internet communication, so I know how to juggle some of the potential communication breakdowns.
Then it snowballed. Bad. The whole thing makes me too sick to go back there and review exactly when it all went south, but one poster seemed to be trying to “out” my position on punitive parenting. He asked me point-blank. I avoided an answer at first by joking it off. But he wouldn’t let go. And with Grant looking over my shoulder and cheering me on, I explained there publicly exactly what I told you a few posts back: “spanking is not biblically mandated.”
To keep things neat, I started a new thread with that in the title. It was a blood bath. I tried my best to keep things on task. I wouldn’t answer ad hominem attacks about how I was just a woman, illogical, uneducated, and inexperienced. I mean, I’m not perfect, so there’s always something to pick at (I’m happy to tell you those things, so you needn’t look too deep). I wondered where the forum moderators were! In my experience with internet forums, that kind of browbeating would not be tolerated. My blog statcounter jumped sky-high. I saw people googling me and sniffing me out. In the thread, I tried desperately to focus on the argument from Scripture since that was what I was trying to point out. I thought at the time that I did a pretty good job of that, but based on the outcome, I must have failed.
The thread quickly reached the forum’s 20-page limit and was closed. I have never posted again over there. I just can’t bring myself to.
But here’s the real kicker. A few weeks later I get an email from my then-employer that I was “blipping on the radar” because of those threads (see below). His email was good-natured. I said that then and I’ll keep saying that. He did instruct me to never speak of my parenting views in the classroom (and I never did!). But overall he was friendly and fraternal.
Over time, however, the tone didn’t stay that way. Apparently, “several” letters were coming in to the administration about me and those posts. I don’t know if they were from members of the forum or not. I don’t know what was said. Months later I did find a poster bragging about disagreeing with a female faculty member, but I don’t know if he was speaking about me or not. In the end, I’ve never been afforded the opportunity to face those critics. It’s all been completely anonymous and very threatening.
I was told that those letter-writers wanted me fired.
So it seems, spanking is a fundamental.
Update on 30 July 2016 — Because of an illogical and ad hominem attack on my scholarship, I engaged in a twitter conversation with Don Johnson, pastor of Grace Baptist Church Alberta and BJU B.A. ’79, MDiv. ’83. I stated that Darren Lawson had said that he had received emails over the Sharper Iron thread back in 2006 — emails that were stating I should be fired because I didn’t spank my 18mo and 4mo. And Pastor Johnson admitted that he was the one who sent them ten years ago.
He’s incorrect when he states I got fired. I wasn’t fired as a result of his efforts, so that was a failed effort on his part. I was given an ultimatum and I resigned. I’ve made that clear for nine years and have included the documents since the beginning.
But consider the irony of a “pastor” in another country writing his alma mater to get a lady fired because she doesn’t hit her 18mo and that makes her a bad influence . . . and then he says *I* need to get over it. This is Bob Jones University.