How the Doctrine of Hell Justifies Quiverfull Authoritarian Parenting

by Libby Anne

From my experience, I would argue that hell is the worst Christian doctrine of all. I’m not even going to get into how there is no justice in punishing finite transgressions with eternal torture, or into all the other problems with the theological ins and outs of hell. Instead, I’m referring to the practical implications of the doctrine.

I am a mother. I look at my beautiful young daughter, so full of life and joy and excitement and curiosity, and I feel my love for her bubbling up in my heart. If I believed that there were any possibility that this sweet little thing could end up tortured in a lake of fire for eternity, I would leave no stone unturned in desperately working to keep her from this fate.

In my quest to keep my daughter from unimaginable pain, I would probably be highly susceptible to religious leaders offering various methods for raising good Christian children, and easily taken in by their promises to keep my daughter’s soul from destruction. I would do anything I had to do, buy any book, try any method, risk any hurt. What parent wouldn’t?

Fundamentalist preacher and author Michael Pearl promises parents that if they discipline their children just so, including an emphasis on absolute obedience and the use of hitting to back it up, they will not stray from God’s path, and if he warns that if children are allowed to grow up without such discipline, they will be set on the path to hell. Is it any wonder that so many parents follow Pearl’s highly problematic parenting methods?

Leading Christian patriarchy organization Vision Forum promises that if you raise your children according to their teachings, homeschooling in order to “shelter” from “evil influences” and “teach God’s truth” and emphasizing the hierarchical teachings of Christian patriarchy, your child will not stray from Christ’s side like all those willful pagan children in the public schools. Is it any surprise Vision Forum has such a draw?

Bill Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles also promises a perfect godly family, with highly problematic consequences. Mercy Ministries and Hephzibah House promise to restore your rebellious teenage daughter’s faith, though both have been linked to abuse.Exodus International promises to “cure” your gay son or daughter, though actual science is nowhere on their side. And on and on and on it goes.

If I believed there was any chance my small daughter could go to hell, I would turn to any method I could to keep her from this unimaginably horrible fate.

Attend church three times a week? Check. Homeschool using only religious textbooks? Check. Control her every interaction with others to keep her away from “bad influences”? Check. Follow strict child training methods that involve enforced obedience and hitting her if she so much as has a bad attitude? Check. Employ emotional manipulation or even threaten to cut her off if she grows up to make wrong choices, hoping that tough love will bring her back? Check.

Simply put, I would do anything I had to to keep my daughter from eternal torture. I suspect any parent would, really.

And then, if my daughter ceased to follow Jesus and I believed that she was on her way to hell, my heart would break. How could I have joy in life thinking of my daughter suffering eternal torture? How could I be happy knowing that pain without end lay in her path?

And how could I not lay some of the blame for her fate on myself? I would ask myself where I went wrong. Should I have sent her to the Worldview Academy, which promises to make your child immune to the wiles of liberal professors? Should I have sent her toSummit, the McCarthyist worldview conference that promises to give young people a conservative Christian worldview, for several summers instead of only one? Or maybe I should have sent her to an even more conservative college, or taken her to the Creation Museum?

Guilt and blame would ensue. How could I not keep my own daughter from eternal torture?

I understand why my parents raised me as they did and then reacted as they did when I questioned their beliefs. And I think now you understand why I really, really, really hate the doctrine of hell.

Discuss this post on the NLQ forum! Comments are also open below.

Libby Anne lives with her husband and toddler somewhere in the U.S. She has left patriarchy for feminism and has found freedom. She is a graduate student with big plans for her life. You can read her blog at Love, Joy, Feminism.

Read all posts by Libby Anne!

This post was originally published at Love, Joy, Feminism– crossposted by permission.

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

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  • Andrew

    While I agree people have problems with the doctrine of hell this is not the fault of Vision Forum, etc.

    The real blame lies in the theological system known as Covenant Theology which badly handles the Old Testament. This system of theology adopts at lot of John Calvin’s teaching who in turn had a serious problem with love and forgiveness (how else would you describe having people tortured, burnt at the stake, run out of town, making people beg for days for forgiveness, and on and on). While some readers here may not believe in hell from a view point of Christian writ it is real. Fortunately the NT is about God’ Grace and mercy and a way to get forgiveness and spiritual freedom from the curse of the law.

  • Retha

    Libby Anne, most of Christianity believe in some form of hell. (I don’t think the definition of it is eternal torture, though.)

    But the real Christian message is that works of righteousness does not save from it. No amount of home schooling, beatings, keeping daughters at home, etc. saves from it. You cannot, by human control, avoid it or make your children avoid it.

    Only Christ does – if chosen by free will. All a parent could do, is to model the love of Christ and point the child that way. As far as parents believe they can save children or themselves from hell by legalistic rules, they have left the central message of Christianity.

    (“Left the message of Christianity” is not similar to saying they are “no true Christians.” They may be Christians who have slowly been duped and misled by legalists.)

    As works do not save from it, hell does not justify legalistic bondage.

    As for how parents should react to a child they believe is going to hell – they should love the child and pray for him/ her.

  • Calulu

    Libby Anne, have you had a chance to read “Love Wins” by Rob Bell? It’s making much of traditionalist fundamentalism and evangelicals lose their minds over the fact that perhaps no one or very few go to hell. That love wins. Interesting read.

  • nolongerquivering

    When I was a Christian, I could not bring myself to believe in Hell – too much mental gymnastics required – as Libby Anne points out. I realized early on that if there is a Hell, a loving mother would be morally obligated to kill her babies before they reached the age of accountability – thus guaranteeing their eternal salvation. Andrea Yates would be a hero rather than a mental case.

    When I got my first computer and internet connection in the late-90s, I discovered – a website devoted to Christian Universalism. It was such a relief to me to find bible verses and principles which supported the idea of a loving God who is able to save ALL of His creation – not just a select few.

    So – I did not have fear of Hell motivating me to get the whole “biblical family” thing correct. For me, it was a matter of wanting to do my very best for the Lord – living in accord with His perfect revealed will – I was convinced that would be the best way to ensure His protection and blessing for my family. I was sure Satan wanted to destroy my family’s testimony – and I believed, via Corrie Ten Boom, that the “Hiding Place” was in the center of God’s will.

  • madame

    “most of Christianity believe in some form of hell. (I don’t think the definition of it is eternal torture, though.)”

    I agree with this, Retha, but I still have a problem with the idea of hell. However different it may be from eternal burning in a lake of fire, I still think it’s described as, at least, an enternity of wishing you had known better and believed in God before it was too late, which sounds like mental torture to me. Personally, I believe it is an eternity away from God, because that is what you chose. But I’m still not sure of who gets to go there and who gets to populate the new earth. I find the whole thing rather confusing, because it seems like salvation is “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” sometimes and other times it requires a bit more, like “abstain from evil” or “don’t do X,Y and Z or you won’t inherit the kingdom”. So, is it faith alone that saves, or faith + certain works?

    “But the real Christian message is that works of righteousness does not save from it. No amount of home schooling, beatings, keeping daughters at home, etc. saves from it. You cannot, by human control, avoid it or make your children avoid it.”

    I agree that we are powerless over the choices of our children. We can instill values, teach, model, discipline.. whatever. Our children will have to make their own life choices, and belief in God is not something we can guarantee.
    I was raised a bit like Libby Anne (but not homeschooled)and I think my upbringing made me very insecure in my relationship with God. The outcome can be the opposite of what parents are trying to do with all their discipline and strict adherence to principles that are hard for children to understand and that end up harming them.
    Please don’t think I “blame” my parents. I understand them very well, I just don’t want to do what they did.

  • Kristen

    Madame, as far as “don’t do x, y or z or you won’t inherit the kingdom” is concerned, I don’t think that’s what’s being said. Rather, it’s “people who are doing x, y or z will not inherit the kingdom.” In other words, what they are doing shows that their hearts have not been changed by God. It’s what’s in their hearts that’s keeping them from God; their actions are only a symptom.

    I don’t believe in eternal, conscious torment either. But even when I used to, I agreed with Retha that the best way to keep my children from it was to demonstrate the love of Jesus, and pray that God would move in their hearts. If no amount of being good and thinking the “right” thoughts could get me into heaven (but only trusting in God’s grace), why would I think that forcing my children to be good and think the “right” thoughts, would get them into heaven?

  • Lilah

    It seems that any child being raised in that atmosphere is already experiencing hell.

  • Laura

    What I heard, growing up in Southern Baptist church, was that God has no grandchildren. In other words, you can’t choose salvation for your kids. You can love them, pray for them, teach them right from wrong, model upright behavior, take them to church, and that’s about it. Their salvation is on them, to “work out with fear and trembling” (or at least say the sinner’s prayer and mean it) just as yours is on you. I’m sure SB churches are different from each other but that’s how ours was.

  • Libby Anne

    Andrew – My parents weren’t Calvinist or involved in covenant theology. They were more evangelical.

    Retha – My parents did believe in Grace. They were all about grace. They absolutely taught that salvation was a free gift that must be chosen through free will, not something we could earn. In fact, they taught that if you thought you could earn salvation, you weren’t actually saved. Only knowing that we can’t do it by ourselves and need Christ as our savior brings salvation.

    My parents weren’t trying to “earn” salvation for anyone by homeschooling, etc. Rather, they wanted us to be saved – to choose salvation – and were willing to do anything possible as parents to raise us to come to that realization. It wasn’t about them saving us or our works saving us – it was about raising a child in the atmosphere most conducive to them accepting Christ’s gift of salvation.

  • Kristen

    Libby, I think you’re right– parents who believe in eternal, conscious torment, and also in salvation through faith, will do whatever it takes to help their children grow up to have faith. Possibly the difference where I was concerned lay in believing (and going to a church that taught) that the best way to turn a child towards the grace of God was to raise them in grace, love and mercy. Harsh rules and law had done my own faith no good, and I believed (and still believe) that giving harsh rules and law to my kids would be more likely to drive them away from God than lure them towards God.

    I agree with Vickie that the doctrine of eternal, conscious torment, along with the doctrine of the “age of accountability,” results logically in the best thing you can do for your kids being to murder them before they reach a certain age. That’s why I think hell conceived on those lines just doesn’t make sense, or fit with the character of God as I understand God.

  • Retha

    That first paragraph – that is what I tried to say. And an atmosphere where no other choice is known, or the other side badly misrepresented with lies, is not conductive to free choice.

  • Former Patriarch’s Wife

    Hell was very much a motivator for my own parenting (ala the Pearls) as well as my own unquestioning obedience to my husband’s commands and wishes.

    While I believed I was motivated by a love and zeal for the Lord, there was also a good bit of fear in there. How can there NOT be fear, when you have a God who will love you *IF* you join His team, or will otherwise drop you into eternal hell fire if you do not perform properly? I honestly don’t see how it can’t be fear-based at some level, when Hell is part of the theological paradigm, no matter how one might try to make it otherwise.

    Because obedience was such a huge important issue, because my child’s obedience to me would parallel their obedience to God (or so I was taught), obedience was tantamount to their eternal destiny. Sadly (so sadly), I parented accordingly…and I wasn’t a hypocrite about it. I lived my own life accordingly, too, bending my will, setting aside my dreams, putting down my own thoughts, emotions and desires on a constant basis in order to obey my husband (a sick, sick man) as God commanded me to do.

    To me, there were only two options given to me: obey God or go to Hell. Therefore, as a mother, I was doing my children a kindness by helping prepare them for this world where only two options dwelt. Keep in mind that I am a smart well-educated woman with a good dose of common sense (believe it or not). I just…wholly believed in a really warped story.

    I’m glad I woke up. I’m so glad I woke up. So, yes, I agree with the post in that the doctrine of Hell is not innocuous. Not at all.

    Btw, we fully supported Worldview Academy, too, and sent our youth there… *bangs head on wall*

    Have you heard that song by David Bazaan, “Bless this Mess,” where he references Hell as “the poison in the well.” That song has brought me to tears so many times. Also, “When We Fell,” addressing the outcome of what happens when you believe that you and all other humans are cursed, as well as how Hell is used as a motivator to believe in the whole entire package.

    He really hits the nail on the head (and captures the pain of coming out of a paradigm that you had invested so much time and energy and passion into—for him, he turned to the bottle for a few years because he couldn’t take the pain of it). Worth you-tubing and listening to. I ended up buying the whole album (Curse Your Branches) on MP3. It was one of those things I would just listen to over and over for a little while, in a grieving/healing sort of way. Painful but good, if you know what I mean?