The Child Abusers of the Christian Right
How "pro-life" conservatives have made America a land of violence against children
Two striking stories have appeared in the New Yorker in the last month, each tangentially about the Christian stranglehold on American adoptions, and how it hurts adoptive families, biological mothers, and children. One is about an adoption scammer, a woman who faked prospective adoptions and raked in millions of dollars on the hopes of desperate couples — couples that, notably, were often excluded from traditional adoption agencies, because they were interfaith or same-sex. Another is about the Christian “troubled teen” industry, wherein kids are shipped off scared-straight bootcamp-style programs, only to be badly abused — including one girl who is pregnant, refused an abortion, and then forced to give up the baby she wants to keep.
Both of these industries — the baby-brokers of the adoption industry and the misogynist abusers of the troubled teen industry — are allowed to thrive with relatively little regulation because the religious right has demanded it, and because politicians have allowed it. And these aren’t the only industries or entities that put kids and other vulnerable people at risk and justify it with Christianity: From homeschooling to childcare to women’s health corporal punishment to fostering to parenthood itself, the Christian right is hurting kids and their families, and calling it pro-life.
In her newsletter this week, writer Talia Lavin delves into conservative Christian parenting techniques, which are authoritarian and violent. There is a large and disturbing cottage industry of Evangelical child-rearing advice that essentially tells parents that children are little sinners who need their “will” beat out of them. According to many of these books, this physical punishment should start in infancy, and may involve beating children with hands, wooden objects and plastic tubing. One of the most popular conservative Christian parenting guides is To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl, a book that has been tied to the deaths of several children (Debi Pearl’s other book is called “Created to Be His Help Meet,” which is about a woman’s role in marriage). Another well-known guide is “Dare to Discipline” by James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and one of the most influential American Evangelical figures of the last century. The idea behind all of these books, Lavin writes, is to convert children from “strong-willed” sinners into “compliant” followers using brute force and physical abuse.
All of this is bad enough (and you should read Talia’s whole post and stay tuned for the rest of her series, because it is definitely bad enough). But Evangelicals in the US are so politically powerful that they haven’t just abused their children, they’ve created a legal landscape in which physical abuse of children is broadly permitted, those who might notice physical abuse are cut out, and children who are not born into these abusive Evangelical families are alternately funneled into them or made to live more violent, perilous lives.