NLQ Question of the Week: Why Are Quiverfull Evangelicals so Quick to Physically Discipline Their Children?

NLQ Question of the Week: Why Are Quiverfull Evangelicals so Quick to Physically Discipline Their Children? April 30, 2015

QuestionoftheweekThis is a new series we’re going to start running on Thursday evening posts. Examining some of the questions involving long held Quiverfull theology and life.

As I’m sure all of you have seen by now there have been protests, looting and rioting in the city of Baltimore over the death of a young man named Freddie Gray in police custody. One of the stories that has emerged from this tragic situation is that of mother Toya Graham. News cameras caught her slapping, yelling and dragging her 16 year old son Michael away from the violent protests on Monday night. The question of if she was right or wrong to use physical discipline to remove her son from the protest isn’t really up for debate here, the problem seems to be that in the world of Evangelicalism Toya is now being hailed as a ‘hero’ and ‘good mother’ for absolutely freaking out in fear that her son could be the next dead young man in Baltimore and taking the action of physical violence to get him off the streets. Any mother, good or bad, in that situation would face a tough choice as to how to get your child disengaged from the violence and safely at home.  We all do what we must do, good or bad, to protect our children.

Through the years here we’ve highlighted many of the Quiverfull Evangelical Christian ministries that push the idea of physical punishment as the only Godly way to parent even as it has lead to the death of children. Many Christians who are speaking out about Baltimore have only spoken out about the punishment of David Graham as a good thing, buying into the idea that beating children in public is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.
Here’s the question: Why are people so quick to physically discipline their children?
If you haven’t seen the original video of Toya Graham removing her son from the streets here it is. Trigger warning for violence and language.


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  • Nea

    Okay, I have finally got to say this. What she did right then? A couple of slaps in fear and fury over his masked face? That is *nothing* NOTHING AT ALL like the ritualized, constant child abuse touted by Pearl, Dobson, Gothard, et al. NOTHING.

    Did she make an entire ritual of it? No. Did she make up reasons to hit him longer or harder based on him defending himself? No. Did she laugh or mock him or otherwise try to prove that this wasn’t being done “out of anger?” Hell no. (She’s the first to admit she was angry.) Did she sexualize it by making him drop his pants? No. Did she pull a weapon of any kind – a paddle, a cane, a switch, a wooden spoon? No.

    Did. She. Even. Hurt. Him? NO

    Look at her. Her swings are wide, wild, and over clothing and around his upraised arm. She shakes him, but not so badly he can’t keep walking away. Once she got him to turn around and pulled his mask off, it was all over but the shouting (literally).

    Somewhere, Michael Pearl is gleefully writing an essay about how she did it all wrong (according to him). And according to him, she did – because what she does on that few moments of video? Has as much relationship to Evangelical beatings as a gravel driveway does to Interstate 95. I’m absolutely staggered that the proud-to-pound crowd considers her one of their own.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    It’s pretty clear she’s not someone that runs around beating on her kids, this was pure fear for his life on the streets that caused her to strike him.

    Just the fact that so many white evangelicals are lauding her for hitting him makes me sick. But you’re right, Michael Pearl would point out what she did wrong and urge her to do more..

  • Plain English

    This Baltimore mother is disrespectful towards her son, bothi in her language and her hitting. I am not interested in comparing abusers. It is always always wrong to strike a child, including teens. It is a lack of basic respect. Would she do that to her sister and her husband? What the fuck is wrong with people? Well, simply put they pass on their pain. They have not dealt with their own pain and they pass it on. The Pearls and their ilk do it with delight and they truly love to hurt little children. They even bend scripture to their liking, cherry-picking bits that make them excited and ready to do harm. We hit our kids, if we do, because we do not understand real love. To strike somebody you love is insane and contrary to love. If in anger and desperation you have harmed (meaning hit, slapped etc.) a child, immediately apologize and hold the child in your arms. You have done harm and disrespected their autonomy. Do you wish for them to do that to you or others? Would you have done what you did to them to another adult? Deal with your own pain and do not force it on the next generation.

  • Saraquill

    When I was younger and employed to look after kids, physical punishments felt understandable. I was inexperienced and the girls’ antics were often frustrating.

    Instead of flailing away, inflicting pain on the children, I used my words. Not only wasn’t I allowed to hit them, I’ve been that corporally punished kid. It wouldn’t feel right to do that to others.

  • Mel

    Plus, most Evangelical bloggers are white.

    Social scientists have documented that physical discipline tends to be more prevalent in communities that are discriminated against by governmental authority.

    The theory is that the potential risks for failure to obey external authorities (like police) is much higher for members of those communities than the non-discriminated majority and so parents have to teach their kids to obey even if physical means are needed.

    A former African-American student who was 16 or 17 was in the office with his father when the student started insulting and swearing at the school police liaison – whom all the adults in the room agreed was not doing anything inappropriate to the student. In fact, the police officer was being friendly before the verbal tirade. The father tackled his son to the ground – he didn’t land on the kid and made sure the student landed in a safe position. He then looked at his son and said “Keep this shit up and YOU will DIE on the street. You can be a man OR you can be a dead punk. Man the fuck up.”

    That student got his shit together. It wasn’t overnight, but he passed enough classes to play basketball and graduated on time. When I saw him a few years later, he told me that that day in the office was the first time he realized that his dad was scared that he was going to die. That seeing the fear and anger in his dad’s eyes brought home the dangerous life he was moving into.

    I don’t like physical punishment – but if my kid was pulling crap that endangered their life (and this kid was – he was running with a group of active gang members and using marijuana irresponsibly) and I had no other choices, I’d tackle them, too.

  • Edie Moore McGee

    I agree with Nea here. Great analysis! Not the best parenting practice. I’ve NEVER hit my daughter, who is now 13. There’ve been times I’ve had to really work to keep it together when she did something that made me mad, but it’s worth the effort. That said, in a moment of fear or panic, I might be Toya Graham. Not that these particular circumstances would happen with her. Her response to high school students rioting was, “Don’t they know they won’t get into a good college if they act that way?” It was time for a long talk on the realities of poverty….

  • I have a feeling if I were in her shoes, I may have been a little more violent, with a baseball bat aimed at the rear. I think she showed tremendous restraint. There are times when a parent needs to shock the you-know-what out of a kid, and I swear this was one of them. I can only imagine how terrified she was. She was not doing what she did out of brutality, but out of love. This woman is raising 5 daughters and 1 son. I suspect her income is limited. She’s a single parent. What I saw was a strong powerful role-model, even for a son. I can’t wait to see what she does with her life, and what he does with his. She saved his life, and probably gave him a future. No pain, no gain.

    As far as evangelicals and discipline, what is so strange with the current evangelical movement, when I was growing up, before the Gothard coup, kids who were raised evangelical were the worst behaved of the lot, and the poorest disciplined. I remember Catholic kids were apologetic, and soul searching. Methodists and Presbyterians had a tendency to be ‘liberal’ and embrace ‘liberal’ causes. Pentecostals, Church of God, were their own sub-culture. Evangelicals were a little more conservative, but at that time, it didn’t matter. But, boy did the evangelical kids get in trouble – drugs, booze, they were never disciplined. Heck, I’m surprised they didn’t have drug raids on the church we attended it was so bad. One of the PKs was a pot-head, the other liked sniffing different chemical substances. I swear my sister and I, our two best friends, and their two cousins were the only goody-twoshoes in the whole bunch.

  • Can you imagine the fear and horror she felt? Like she said, she did not want her son to be another victim. I don’t think she had a choice.

  • Rebecca Horne

    I wish people would stop spreading this video and critiquing her parenting. She panicked out of mortal terror for her child’s sake.
    She’s a human who had a human reaction to fear.
    It feels incredibly exploitative to me, that white people on both sides keep passing around this video of a parent in a terrifying situation, and sitting back and analyzing it to discuss what it “means” for all of race relations, police/citizen interactions, and parenting.

  • Mermaid Warrior

    I guess physically hurting someone allows you to quickly and clearly establish your power. Going after a person’s body like that, maybe it shows that you have control over said body. I dunno, what do you guys think?

    On a side note, it’s a bit sad that the people praising her are misunderstanding her. Didn’t she even say that she regrets doing it? Anyway, she didn’t hit him because he was acting like an ill-behaved hooligan, she did it because she felt he was doing something dangerous and got mad that he risked his safety, possibly his life. It’s like if your kid was playing chicken with an oncoming train, you’d be very scared and very pissed off. I don’t condone her actions, but I understand them.

  • SAO

    Why do so many parents spank? Having raised kids in circles where spanking is a horror, I will point out that most other methods of discipline, like time-outs, require the toddler to cooperate. Some parents never get them to work. I got time-outs to work by spanking (two firm but not painful swats on the clothed bum) for non-cooperation. I have seen kids who had horrendous behavior whose parents had given up on trying time-outs. Those parents often excused the kid who was ruining everyone else’s enjoyment of the social occasion by saying, “at least I’ve never spanked my kid.”

    Getting small kids to behave requires consistency. Before I did 1-2-3 Magic, I’d tell my kids to stop doing something and they’d ignore me. I might threaten spanking, but never (when push came to shove) decide the offense was worth spanking for. So, my kids ignored me. It’s easier to yell, yell, yell and then spank when you lose your temper than to hop up and impose a time-out for every annoying thing your kids do (especially on a rainy day) or to remember to praise good behavior.

    Next, most parents read about dealing with small kids, after that, they don’t. As kids grow, their ability to make decisions, understand uncertain consequences, and control their behavior grows. Thus, how you deal with tweens is different and teens different again. But that requires reading and understanding. I got it by going to parenting lessons, not by recognizing this on my own.

    I will note that my kids’ school called me in for a meeting with the counsellor, who told me I needed to improve discipline and gave me 1-2-3 Magic. This was after a very stressful period where my husband had started working in another country and I was on my own until school was over.

    (Note, for the people who think 1-2-3 Magic is about making your kids hop up and obey your every order, it’s not (stop behaviors, as in stop hitting your sister, are treated differently from start behaviors, as in start making your bed). What 1-2-3 Magic taught me was to focus on the important stuff and consistently enforce it and to ignore the rest.

  • Jenny Islander

    I think that Real True Christian parents are by and large discouraged from reading about how children’s minds work because that’s psychology and psychology is [insert scare word here]. So they end up using a very crude form of Skinnerian conditioning anyway. And largely in the service of eliminating “rebelliousness” that is just a passing phase in the developing brain.

    There is also the constant repetition of the idea that there is a little circle of good, right behavior floating in a giant sea of bad, wrong behavior. If [insert euphemism for hitting children here] is identified as the only good, right kind of child discipline, then a Real True Christian parent who decides not to [euphemism for hit] may just give up. This is, of course, what child training gurus preach: either [euphemism for hit] them or you’re a horrible permissive parent and your child will run away to Vegas with your credit cards, use drugs, and kiss somebody you wouldn’t let in the door. Discipline equals hitting equals discipline. No hitting equals no discipline. It’s a load of crap, but if you’ve also been trained not to read the books those people write because books are magic and the words will infect your brain…

    And let’s not forget the endless drumming on obedience. I’m a Sunday school teacher. Previous Sunday school teachers had bought the so-called Anglican edition of a popular curriculum, so I got the latest version when I took over the program. Every.fricking.lesson for the first MONTH was about obedience! So I looked up the author’s name. He was all over sites designed for Real True Christians. His “Anglican Edition” was just Real True Christianity rearranged to match the Revised Common Lectionary. Obedience without hesitation, without question, without so much as a flicker of an unapproved expression: boot camp standards are what these authorities preach, and you don’t get boot camp standards without boot camp tactics. But drill instructors aren’t allowed to hit people in boot, damn it, and anyway these little kids didn’t volunteer!

  • Nea

    She didn’t. Her son was about to make a mistake that could get him KILLED. What mother would be calm, worry about respect, even think about college?

  • Nea

    The kids at my local college burned so many cars to protest a football loss that the overhead power lines melted. Then got upset when it was called a riot.

    The students at Penn State took to the streets in a mob and burned and rolled cars to protest Paterno’s firing.

    I could go on for a very long time listing how often college students act just like this over sports. It is time for a talk about more than just poverty.

  • Nea

    So many up votes!

  • BlueVibe


  • SAO

    I think the Christian community loves this because, as mentioned, a mother is physically disciplining her kids, but more importantly, it’s suggesting that what’s wrong with Baltimore is not police brutality but black thugs with poor parenting. The facts that the list of black men killed by police in the last few months is long; that more than 100 people have won settlements against the Baltimore police, at a cost to the city of more than $10M; and that police brutality was the #1 issue in 9 forums she held recently, is ignored. If only those black thugs had mothers who made them respect authority and hit them when they didn’t!

  • Hannah

    I have been refusing to watch/share it since it came out. I could never quite put into words why… but you just said it. They’re taking a moment of parental terror and not only judging her for it, but also using it to make Baltimore about something other than what it is.

  • Joy

    Are incidents like that as widely reported as when it’s inner-city African Americans doing the rioting?

    I wonder if the race and/or the wealth of the rioters makes a difference in the amount of news coverage. (The more rich and white the rioters, the less news coverage.)

  • Nea

    I shudder to think that you have very likely hit the nail on the head.

  • Sharla Hulsey


    My mom told me when I was a teen what her philosophy on spanking had been when my sister and I were little. She said there’s a very small window when it actually works as a deterrent to any kind of behavior, and it should be used sparingly enough that it’s a shock when it does occur. Her best example of when to spank was when a toddler was fixing to run out into a busy street, and Mom yanks the child back and administers a whack or two on the behind. The child has no fear of something of which it SHOULD be afraid, so the sudden yanking and spanking instills the fear.

    And then you have a teen who (as teens do) was careless, maybe driving recklessly, and gets into an accident. Maybe, fortunately, in this case no one was hurt; but the car is totaled. Parent’s response is a mixture of relief, anger, and fear: “I’m glad you’re okay. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!”

    I think there’s a wilful refusal to understand the Baltimore mom’s fear. After all, if we recognize that she’s not punishing bad behavior but terrified that he’ll get something much worse than her slaps, then maybe we have to recognize that she has genuine and legitimate reasons to be afraid for him, and we’re all sort of complicit in those reasons.