Helping End ‘Faith-Based’ Child Abuse

This guest post by Janet Heimlich, founder of the Child-Friendly Faith Project (CFFP), focuses on a new project designed to address the tragic connection that sometimes exists between religion and child maltreatment. Sadly, Texas is no stranger to this problem. The cautionary tale of fundamentalist preacher Lester Roloff and his homes for troubled teens is a case in point. TFN lobbied for years for the Texas Legislature to suspend the alternative (and lenient) licensing program the state maintained for faith-based child care providers like Roloff. That program was finally allowed to expire in 2001, and the Roloff Homes moved out of the state. Janet writes here about a new project that addresses the problem of child abuse in faith communities.


A boy is beaten because he fidgets during a sermon. A girl is made to feel shameful about her “unclean” sexuality. A teenager is denied medical care because her community only believes in faith healing. When a religious leader molests a child, no one reports it.

Religion is a powerful and positive influence in the lives of many people. But we know that religion can sometimes be used to harm children. Fortunately, the Child-Friendly Faith Project is announcing a new program designed specially for faith communities that aims to end child abuse and neglect perpetrated in the name of faith. What’s more, all faith communities can benefit from it.

The Child-Friendly Faith Communities Designation Program is a curriculum that offers instruction and tools not found in any other training program. It covers all forms of child maltreatment, not just sexual abuse. It teaches about child development and how faith teachings and practices can be both beneficial and harmful. Also, it offers workshops that guide participants through the process of developing effective child abuse prevention policies and new programs that improve children’s wellbeing.

The benefits for participating faith communities are huge. Not only can they feel assured they are meeting children’s emotional and spiritual needs, they are designated as Child-Friendly Faith Communities and promoted as role models in child protection. In this way, these communities serve as beacons to people in their local area looking for a place of worship that truly understands children’s needs. So participating in the Designation Program allows a faith community to grow its congregation.

But we need your help so we can complete development of the program and offer it for free to all faith communities. Please donate to this crowdfunding campaign which contains a 4-minute video that describes the Designation Program. To find out more how you can take part in a Child-Friendly Faith movement, please email us at [email protected].

3 thoughts on “Helping End ‘Faith-Based’ Child Abuse

  1. That is what happens when mentally instable religious fanatics think that the bible was written by God.

  2. I don’t know anything about this particular program, one of the few things I have written in my life that I am proud of was an article I did on “Bible-based Baby Beating” nine years ago. (To my surprise, it is still on the first page if you Google the topic, to my pleasure, there are newer articles that target the same problem.)

    I won’t overplug my own piece — which was an attempt to sum up the other articles I had read, but the Google search will also turn up pieces by ‘dogemperor’ — maybe the best writer on the subject — and coverage of one particular horror, the Pearls — whose practices have been responsible for several deaths over the years — in Salon.

    I have to warn anyone reading any of these pieces — the Salon piece is the mildest and mentions three deaths — that the stories are disturbing and can cause nausea and nightmares. Children are seen as monsters ‘struggling for control’ with their parents — at an age long before they can even talk. Some groups — FOCUS ON THE FAMILY is one (remember, Dobson claimed to be a child psychologist, not a minister) suggest parents have their (obviously older) children gather and strip the ‘switches’that will be used on them, making them part of their own beating. And Dobson is comparatively mild compared to the Pearlts, Tedd Tripp and others.

    They all see children as needing to be taught submission to authority even from infancy, and Tripp even insists that parents should never explain the reasoning behind their commands because ‘obeying when you see the sense of things is not submission.’

    I could go on — have to force myself not to go on — and repeat the whole article and others. Instead I will close with two quotes, the first from a third center of such advice, the Fugates, detailing the ‘proper size’ rods to be used according to age — starting when the infant begins to crawl:

    •From the time the toddler begins to crawl until about 15 months (“age is no real criteria [sic] — how large and how stubborn the child is will be the real issue”) use a blackboard pointer, a balloon rod, or an eighth-inch dowel rod.

    •Age 1-2 a “tot rod” — 3/16″ by 24″ dowel

    •2-4 “mob control’ — 1/4″ by 24”

    •4-8 “train or consequences” — 5/16″ by 27″

    •8-12 “the equalizer” — 3/8″ by 27″

    •12+ “the rebel router” — 1/2″ by 33″
    (The last is the length of, and one third the thickness of, an average major league baseball bat.)

    The final one comes from Robert Ingersoll and the 19th Century, and is so powerful now that photography is so much easier:

    …I do not believe in the government of the lash. If any one of you ever expects to whip your children again, I want you to have a photograph taken of yourself when you are in the act, with your face red with vulgar anger, and the face of the little child, with eyes swimming in tears and the little chin dimpled with fear, like a piece of water struck by a sudden cold wind

    Sorry to take this length, but the subject has always been important to me — and I was raised in such a ‘no spank’ household that I was removed from a Catholic school 3 days into Kindergarten when the nun slapped me.

  3. This is what happens when nutjobs who claim to be Christians are put in charge of children and end up treating them like Satan would. I would think twice about ever putting a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical institution, individual, or couple in charge of children for more than one hour at a time—and for any reason. Their actions and walk quite often never matches up with their talk, and I also think they are violence-oriented people who never saw a war they did not like.