The culture of Christian child abuse
Since I know you readers are deeply interested in fighting the good fight for social justice in the bedrooms and parlors of this nation, I'm sure you've seen this horrible video:
This was posted by Hillary Adams, whose father is Judge William Adams, who is a judge for Aransas County, which is in the Gulf region of Texas. Adams admits that it's him in the video, and in the style of abusers everywhere, is leaning on the "just a scratch" excuse, as well as skepticism-inducing claims that his behavior here is somehow out of character. (Compare to Cain's statements this past week for another example of how this works.) No one is buying it, of course, since we all see with our eyes how hard he whipped his daughter with the belt. Additionally, since Hillary set the camera up in her room specifically to capture this, we have to assume a) that this had happened enough before to compel that choice and b) that she was getting really good at predicting when he would go off like this. Research into domestic violence shows that it's not uncommon for victims to become well-attuned to when their abusers have a desire to whip the shit out of someone, and they do in fact get good at predicting it. This also belies the abusers' claim that it's a matter of "losing your temper", but that they are in control of their emotions.
When something like this happens, it's important to put it into context so people realize that behavior like this is not isolated or unusual, sadly. Jill has addressed how common it is for people with disabilities, who are often especially dependent on caregivers, to suffer abuse like this. Hillary has stated that Adams abused all his family members, but it seems he had a special hankering for whipping his only daughter, who happens to suffer from cerebal palsy, so we can see how it fits into this pattern. I want to add to this, and discuss abuse in the context of fundamentalist Christianity.
Now, I couldn't find any religious information about Judge Adams, but he is a Republican, raising the chances to "high" that he's an evangelical Christian. More importantly, if you watch the video—which I only recommend you do if you have the stomach for this sort of thing—one thing will really jump out at you if you follow the workings of the Christian right. Adams keeps using somewhat strange terms like "disobedient" and "submission". For secular people, even those who have witnessed abuse, it's really rare to see someone spell out their goals of inducing submission and obedience. (Or maybe not. I'm sure commenters have some thoughts.) Other language is employed, in no small part because abusers also have to enact a mindfuck on their victims, and convince them that the abuse isn't somehow apart from the values of their time, which for secular people and moderate religious people include equality and individuality. But the words "obedience" and "submission" are flung around Christian right circles without any hesitation. When speaking to outsiders, they often try to play that awful-sounding language off as something not as bad as it sounds. Their schtick is to pretend that they're just using archaic words for the funsies, but when they say something like "submission", they don't really mean submission. (Michele Bachmann tried this tactic when asked about her pride in being submissive to her husband.) But they do mean it. It's impossible to believe otherwise, when you're reading, say, James Dobson extolling the virtues of whipping your kids into submission, or Christian housewives on blogs discussing how much of a struggle it is to frame their legitimate concerns into a submissive framework where even asking questions can sometimes be seen as an affront to a man's godly right to have the final say over household manners. They do in fact believe in a strict hierarchy of power in the household, and in fact, I would argue that fighting against feminist progress on the home front is their main organizing principle.
Spanking your children is therefore a big fucking deal to the Christian right. I would honestly say, reading their materials, that being able to whip your children at will is number two in their list of political concerns, right after abortion. Gay marriage was rising on that list for awhile, but it doesn't seem to have the endurance that fears that the government is going to take their spanking rights away do. In fact, the Christian right has been successful at blocking the United States from ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Children. (We are the only nation besides Somalia not to ratify it.) Within Christian right circles, enthusiasm for spanking is really, really high. At Stuff Christian Culture Likes, the blogger describes the general pro-spanking attitudes:
They don't feel that spanking is the same thing as hitting. They will defend it to their dying breath. Christian culture is very concerned that the government may take away their right to spank.
Pretty much all right wing Christian child-rearing manuals are paens to beating your children. And I mean beating. If confronted about this, fundies tend to backpedal and play off their obsession with spanking as if it's the same thing as a mild pat on the ass delivered to a toddler who has tried to run out in traffic or something. But they lean on the "rod" talk in the Bible, which means they are big on using weapons to beat your children. James Dobson believes you should beat children with a paddle or a tree branch, which he has somehow managed to rationalize into "loving" behavior. And he's probably the most mainstream! Other, less popular family "advice" books get even more elaborate when it comes to describing how to select the weapons to use against someone so much smaller than you. Now, that doesn't mean that all or even most fundamentalist Christians whip the shit out of their kids like this guy did. However, once you've created a cultural expectation that abusing your children is not only acceptable but expected, you can expect people to take it to the next level. Outside of the cursing and the threats to hit her in the face, in fact, there's not much in this video that falls outside of the Christian right prescriptions for "disciplining" a child.
Regardless of Judge Adams' personal beliefs, Christian right ideas about family hierarchy and paranoia that the government is coming to take away their "spanking" rights (I hate calling it "spanking", which allows people to equate it with painless bottom pats, which I still think aren't such a great idea but can't be meaningfully compared to whippings in any way) are the water that conservatives are swimming in when it comes to the Bible Belt. That context needs to be understood when looking at this video. It's not enough to be angry with Judge Adams and call for him to leave his job. We need to look at an entire culture that teaches that beating your children is a good thing to do.
By the way, I want to quickly address the people who are all over internet defending Adams by saying, "I was whipped and I turned out okay." Using the surival skills of victims to condone abuse is not okay. That's like saying it's okay to throw yourself downstairs because two years from now, that broken leg will be completely healed. The here and now counts as much as the later. A child is more than the adult they will become. They are a human being now, and their pain and suffering now matters.