“Biblical” Parenting, Part Five: A Parent Who Isolates In Order to Control
Also in this series: Part One: Introduction | Part Two: A Parent Who Assumes The Worst | Part Three: An Extremely Controlling Parent | Part Four: A Parent Who Tries to Change Minds and Hearts through Spanking | Part Five: A Parent Who Isolates In Order to Control | Part Six: Concluding Thoughts
Part Five: A Parent Who Isolates In Order to Control
To briefly review, my first criticism of Reb Bradley’s book “Child Training Tips” discussed the way his advice pushed parents toward the worst possible interpretation of their child’s behavior at the expense of mercy and understanding. My second criticism looked at the extreme level of control that parents are urged to have over their child’s mind and body, which can prevent the child from maturing and can put the parent at risk of developing abusive habits. My third criticism looked at the shockingly broad definition of rebellion and the abusive use of spanking to force children to change their opinions and feelings.
Now here is my fourth criticism:
Criticism #4: Parents are urged to isolate their families in order to maintain extreme levels of control over their children without outside interference.
Of all the bad parenting ideas we’ve seen so far in this book, this one is really the last nail in the coffin. The parental suspicion, the extreme levels of control, the abusive spanking — this combination is very likely to lead to a severe family crisis. And when some members of the family reach their breaking point, they will tragically find themselves isolated from all other forms of support, advice, and information, thanks to Reb Bradley.
First, Reb Bradley wants parents to isolate themselves from other sources of advice, information, and support.
He warns parents not to listen to advice from nonChristians, explaining: “Psalms 1:1 tells us that we will be blessed if we do not seek advice from those without Christ. Although they have the appearance of wisdom and offer insights that may seem reasonable, their thinking is infected with worldliness, and leads to regret” (p. 21). In other words, he thinks nonChristians don’t have anything helpful to offer; in fact, he thinks nonChristian advice is actively dangerous, even if it sounds reasonable.
Then, as he continues to explain, Reb Bradley widens his warning to even include Christians who happen to disagree with his version of Christianity. “God tells us that those lacking the fear of God, whether professing Christian or not, are hampered in their thinking an do not have even the basics of wisdom….Christian leaders have undiscerningly received ‘wisdom’ from the world’s experts, then christianized it, and passed it on to the Church” (p. 22). So, even the advice of most other Christians is suspect, according to Reb Bradley. Parents who take him seriously are very alone indeed.
In giving these warnings, Reb Bradley effectively cuts off parents from the support of professional therapists and Child Protective Services, even if the professional therapist and social worker happen to be Christians. This seems far too naive an attitude for a pastor to have, not to mention incredibly irresponsible, since pastors are required by law to report endangered children to authorities in most states, including Reb Bradley’s home state of California. There are many complex issues that people face, Christian or not, and sometimes those issues put others in harm’s way. Sometimes, we don’t have the luxury of time, of “waiting for Jesus to change hearts”. What about cases of children being physically or sexually abused, or severely neglected? In cases like these, the answer can’t be a simplistic “Everybody just pray more and try harder.”
Sometimes, the situation calls for professional intervention, Christian or not, in order to prevent more harm and tragedy.
Although Reb Bradley claims that his Biblical advice will lead to blessings, while other nonBiblical advice “guarantees trouble” (p. 21), I personally found the opposite to be true. As an older teen attending his church, Hope Chapel, I struggled for years to conform to an ill-fitting “God-given” role, as taught by Reb Bradley. Finally, absolutely miserable and out of my mind with desperation, I went to Reb Bradley privately to ask him for help because, as a legal adult, I was finding it impossible to submit to a controlling father who seemed to actively despise me.
Was there anything I could do differently, I asked? The answer was no.
All I could do, according to Reb Bradley, was to stay home and try even harder to be a submissive daughter, trusting that one day God would honor my obedience by making my dad a better leader. In other words, keep doing the same thing and expect different results.
Luckily, when we reached our breaking point as a family, we were able to reach out for other help, which saved our family relationships from complete destruction. A professional therapist coached my parents in how to treat me more like an adult, against Reb Bradley’s “Biblical” advice. Around the same time, my debilitating depression started to give way to new hopefulness as I finally moved out of my parents’ home to go to college at age 23, which was also against Reb Bradley’s “Biblical” teachings.
The reality is that a professional’s “unBiblical” advice was far better for my family than Reb Bradley’s simplistic “Biblical” advice. And I know my family’s story is far from unique.
Now as an ex-fundamentalist, I can see that the tendency of many fundamentalists to isolate themselves reveals their deep insecurity about their beliefs. This insecurity is because many of their opinions are emotionally based rather than intellectually based, so they react emotionally instead of responding intellectually when their opinions are challenged. A person who is truly confident about their opinions can face challenges without fear; and a person who is genuinely interested in the truth is not afraid to have their opinions challenged because they are willing to adapt their opinions when the evidence is convincing enough.
There is no healthy reason for people–especially not adults–to isolate themselves from ideas and information.
I suppose though that such isolation is necessary based on the fundamentalist’s worldview: the Biblical way is supposed to go against our human instincts and tendencies, while the worldly way is supposed to be easy and appealing. It’s because of this type of thinking that we see contrasting sentences like these: “upon hearing biblical principles taught, some parents wrestle with accepting them” (p. 23); contrasted with “those without Christ…offer insights that may seem reasonable” (p. 21).
However, I can no longer accept this simplistic view because I believe that life and morality, even in the Bible, are far more complex than that. After all, parts of the Bible appear to condone or overlook actions that today are recognized as immoral by Christians and nonChristians alike: committing genocide, offering a daughter to be gang raped, attempting child sacrifice, actually sacrificing a child, kidnapping slaves and wives, abandoning a wife and child, murdering a child for rebellion, fantasizing about getting revenge through killing infants, establishing the death penalty for homosexuality, etc.
Clearly, both Christians and nonChristians are capable of having noble and harmful desires, good ideas and bad ideas.
Therefore, if something seems reasonable and good, it doesn’t matter to me whether the source is Christian or nonChristian. Similarly, if something seems harmful to myself and others, I disregard it even if the source is a Christian and even if there are Bible verses that appear to support it. I have a mind and a responsibility to use it.
Reb Bradley, in contrast, sees the mind as such a dangerous thing that he even warns parents against paying attention to their own childhood memories. He says, “Those parents who were victims of poor training are right to avoid the mistakes made by their parents, but they must guard themselves from rejecting solid biblical principles, just because they seem close to what they experienced. If our parents’ approach seemed close to biblical parenting, yet bore bad fruit, we can be certain it was not biblical” (p. 24-25).
Don’t trust your own experiences, parents–just do what Reb Bradley says is Biblical.
If it works, then you did it right. If it doesn’t work, then you messed it up somehow, even if it was pretty damn close. This type of thinking is what allows Reb Bradley to give advice freely, take credit for any good that comes of it, and avoid taking responsibility for the bad.
In addition to urging parents to isolate themselves from other advice/information/support, Reb Bradley also urges parents to consider sacrificing their children’s social connections for the sake of parental authority. Although he says that he is leaving it up to parental discretion as to how much isolation is necessary, his intention is clearly to plant doubt in the parents’ minds about the benefits of peer involvement for their kids. He provides a helpful list of potentially dangerous activities for children:
“Too few parents stop to consider the spiritual and moral dangers of the day-to-day situations in which they place their children. They have wrongly considered to be absolutes things like school, youth group, choir, summer camp, sports, friends, theater productions, music, dances, dating, Sunday school, Christian clubs, etc. None of these are inherently evil, but each puts your children under the authority and influence of someone else – someone who does not love your children as much as you do, nor will be held accountable on Judgement Day for them. Is it possible that one or all of those activities or settings has more of a corrupting influence than a redeeming influence on your children? …Too many parents have thwarted their own efforts at training up godly children, because they assumed they needed to send them off to a community program or to a church-sponsored event” (p. 153-154). [emphasis mine]
Keep in mind that Reb Bradley’s primary audience is fundamentalist homeschooling families who are already prone to over-sheltering their children. Yet here he is, suggesting that some children may need to be entirely cut off from the outside world. Here he is, speaking in support of parents who don’t allow their homeschooled children to have peer friendships or even attend Sunday school once a week for an hour. I know from experience exactly how much damage this can do to a person.
For many of my teenage years, I only left the house once a week to go to church, where I was not even allowed to participate in Sunday school; I was 17 years old by the time I managed to make my first friend as a teen. The resulting social confusion, anxiety, and feelings of disconnect still affect me today. And I’m not the only one who has noticed these lasting effects that social isolation has on children and teens.
People like me are the reason that the stereotypical homeschooler is a socially awkward misfit.
All children need to learn how to relate to other members of their society in order to successfully enter that society as independent adults. In fact, experiments have shown that even young monkeys who are socially isolated are later unable to relate to their age-mates normally, instead displaying more anti-social and emotionally unstable behaviors. Isolating children does a huge disservice to both them and society as a whole.
Yet to Reb Bradley, giving children the opportunity to learn peer social skills is clearly not a priority, not compared to parental authority. In “Child Training Tips”, he never addresses the probable negative effects of isolating children from peer contact. And he never mentions the numerous positive aspects of regular social connection for children–things such as learning how to get along with many different types of people, learning how to make and keep friends, being exposed to new interests/jobs/hobbies, learning teamwork, learning to receive and give criticism and compliments, learning how to communicate effectively outside the family, practicing leadership skills, learning to say no, etc.
Instead, Reb Bradley exclusively focuses on how children’s social involvement can undermine the parents’ goals for their children. All he can see is that outside influences might interfere with parental authority.
It’s not just the social interaction that Reb Bradley worries about though. It’s also the fun. Yes, that’s right —
Reb Bradley thinks that fun activities are not good for children because they promote immaturity and lack spiritual value.
I wish I were exaggerating, but here it is:
“Childhood is so brief, why would we want them to spend excessive amounts of time doing something which offers no spiritual value, and does little to bring them to maturity? If maturity is developed by denying self and responsibly serving others, andimmaturity is fed by spending excessive time in self-indulging, entertainment-oriented activities, why would we want our children to spend multiple hours each week involved in such things? We must evaluate their pursuits and decide if the time and energy required will actually make them mature and prepare them for their role as adults” (p. 155). [emphasis mine]
You know the bright-eyed grin of a child who is having fun? That is the smile of a selfish child who is wasting time on unspiritual activities, according to Reb Bradley.
I really took this lesson to heart as a teen. I had one fun activity in my life during my early teen years: horseback riding. I had to earn the money for it myself, and I definitely kept to myself at the barn, but it was the one thing that I actually enjoyed for, you know, “multiple hours each week.” But then, when my family started attending Reb Bradley’s church, Hope Chapel, I was suddenly “convicted” about wasting my time and money on fun. I felt like God wanted me to quit my only hobby and save my money for Bible college instead. So I did, and my life became a little emptier and darker that day.
But that, in turn, made me notice that I also enjoyed watching movies, which certainly didn’t have any spiritual value. So I made a vow to God that I would not watch any more movies for the rest of my life, and instead use my extra time to pray and read the Bible. After that, it was unspiritual conversation topics and unspiritual trains of thought that plagued me–so I began to spiritualize everything, even to the point of thinking things like, “Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the bread of life…” while making homemade bread. And so it went; one by one, anything that I enjoyed became a source of guilt to me instead of pleasure, and I sank deeper and deeper into depression.
It has taken me years to undo that damage, re-learn how to enjoy myself, and start to feel alive inside again.
Ironically, it was Ecclesiastes that helped me with that at first; it matched my feelings that everything was meaningless, and yet still told me, “I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8:15).
Remember, in my case, eliminating the fun things from my life was done of my own initiative, as a sign of devotion that was just between God and me. But Reb Bradley is telling parents to use their authority to force that type of devotion on their children. Why can’t he leave anything between the child and God, without a parent in the middle?
Why can’t Jesus call the children himself, and why can’t they respond for themselves?
Why has the verse “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24) somehow been changed into this instead by Reb Bradley: “If any parents want their children to come after me, let the parents deny their children, put crosses on their children’s backs, and march their children down the street behind me.”
In conclusion, we can see that Reb Bradley’s advice doesn’t strengthen families, but instead weakens them by isolating them from the rest of society. The parents will have fewer resources at their disposal, and will be less able to make changes when things aren’t working well. The children, meanwhile, will feel the great insecurity of knowing that every single positive thing in their lives is subject to their parents’ imperfect and spiritually selfish whims, and that they will have no recourse and no allies when their parents take away everything that makes their lives worth living.
To be continued.