Posted by: Ticktock | March 20, 2012

The Thorn in Their Side

After seeing Janet Heimlich speak about her new book “Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Maltreatment” at my local meeting of humanists, I was fired up and annoyed at the hypocrisy of self-righteous individuals who obediently abuse their children in the name of their deity. The brutality that exists in this community of religious extremists crawls under my skin in the worst way. There’s absolutely no excuse for child abuse, but the worst possible excuse would be that it was in the name of loving god.

Janet Heimlich is also the co-founder of a new organization called “Child Friendly Faith” that advocates for churches to promote responsible non-abusive parenting styles. The other co-founder is Christine Woodman, who also spoke at the meeting I attended. It was her testimony of the abuse that she allegedly experienced and witnessed that really made me pay attention to the issue. She spoke of being spanked relentlessly for half-hour stretches (or longer). She spoke about how she witnessed ritualized abuse for harmless acts from kids that shouldn’t have even merited any form of punishment, let alone the type of torture that violates Geneva Convention. She spoke about the rapist youth pastor who raped other young girls in her church.

What was most important from her lecture wasn’t that she experienced these horrible inhumane things, but that she went through a process of learning to speak out against them. She learned to voice her dissent and speak out against the injustice. She went from quietly accepting the punishments (abuse) as a child, to reporting the rapist as a teen, to finally speaking out about her experiences for the first time at the meeting I attended. And I expect that she will continue to be the thorn in the side of fundamentalist christians as she moves forward with expanding the advocacy being done by Child Friendly Faith.

It’s interesting that Christine may have inspired my own “thorn in their side” moment, even if my experiences are under the context of kids not being disciplined enough. Let me explain. My daughter has been coming home from school on a daily basis telling me about the discipline problems in her class. Sometimes it’s kids hurting each other, sometimes it’s kids hurting the teacher, and one time it was a kid telling my daughter that he was going to bring a gun to school and shoot her. At the same time, I was learning things about the class that were very disturbing, such as the fact that it was the largest first grade class (with over 32 kids), that the class was purposefully filled with problematic kids (who were so bad that the full time school psychologist quit), and that there was very little strategy to fix the discipline problems.

It was time for me to speak up and be that thorn in their side. I went straight to the superintendent and told him about my concerns. He seemed like he was hearing me, but not truly listening. So then I sent him my complaints in writing via email, letting him know that the gossip I was hearing from other parents was that they were planning to abandon the public school, leaving a vacuum of overly-involved caring parents. I was not about to let that happen.

The superintendent called me back and told me that he did care about my concerns. He told me that he had a long meeting with the principal and my daughter’s teacher, and that despite budget concerns, he would be hiring an assistant principal and expanding the number of classes in my daughter’s grade so that class sizes would be more manageable. He scheduled a meeting with the teachers to develop a strategy for discipline, and he called some of the other concerned parents to reassure them that he was listening.

I can’t say whether these changes will actually happen, or whether they will help improve the discipline problems at the school. But I am positive that I’ve made a difference by being that annoying thorn in their side. Thank you Christine Woodman! Keep inspiring people to speak up and speak out… it’s the only way we’ll ever see positive change.



  1. Influencing people to advocate on behalf of children – that is quite literally what I live for. Kudos to you. Being the one who says, “Enough” is an act of great courage, and your children will be grateful.

  2. Well done on making a stand. Timidity and parenthood aren’t the greatest combination in my ever so humble opinion.
    On the topic of abuse of children by the religious, I wonder, if you have seen this? Horrible punishment of the victims – the castration of boys who had been abused by Roman Catholic priests:

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