What J. Richard Fugate Says About… Tolerating Child Abuse
J. Richard and Virginia Fugate.
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
J. Richard Fugate is well-known within the Christian Homeschool Movement for his advocacy of child training practices that emphasize parental authority and whipping children with tree branches and dowel rods. The founder of the Foundation for Biblical Research, Fugate is the former CEO of the popular homeschooling curriculum company Alpha Omega Publications. Alpha Omega’s curriculums are recommended by HSLDA and highly praised by Cathy Duffy’s Cathy Duffy Reviews, Mary Pride’s Practical Homeschooling, and Paul and Gena Suarez’s Old Schoolhouse Magazine; Alpha Omega is an HSLDA discount group. Fugate has also served as the Vice-President of Finance for another popular homeschool curriculum company, Accelerated Christian Education, and the Business Manager of Reb Bradley’s homeschool organization, Family Ministries.
Fugate’s seminal book on child training is What the Bible Says About… Child Training, published by Alpha Omega Publications in 1980. Over 260,000 copies of the book have been sold to date. In the book, Fugate claims to set forth “the Biblical system for training children” “without human adulteration” (1-2). This system consists of two elements: controlling and teaching. “The controlling phase,” Fugate writes, “is the establishment of the parents’ right of rulership over the will of the child” (1). His system is fixated on the idea of parental control (or rulership), in which the parent becomes the child’s symbolic “Most High” (121). Indeed, Fugate believes control to be more important than the second step of teaching: “The primary role of the parent is to act as an external control over the child’s nature” (52). This right to control or rule is virtually unlimited: “Government has no right to administer justice…or to exercise authority over other independent institutions, like family and marriage” (26).
Fugate expands on this lack of limits, arguing that “no other institution or person has rulership rights over children.” In cases of abuse, “Parents are directly responsible to God for any misuse of their authority. There is no such thing as ‘child rights’ sanctioned by the Word of God. The child has only the God-given right to be raised by his parents without the intervention of any other institution” (31).
Fugate’s rejection of children’s rights leads him to reject nearly all government intervention on behalf of children. (He makes exceptions only for extremes like child rape and murder.) He rails against “child advocacy agencies and child abuse laws,” saying that, “Parents must not allow government to usurp their authority in those areas in which God alone holds the parents accountable” (32).
Instead of government intervening on behalf of abused children, Fugate believes that children should consider their abuse to be God “preparing such a child to glorify Himself through suffering.” In fact, in the event that you become aware that a child is being abused, Fugate does not encourage you to report the abuse to the proper authorities. Rather, he encourages you to simply “remember that God is in control”:
Parents who misuse their authority fall under the direct judgment of God. When we see a child receive what we consider mistreatment from such parents, we must remember that God is in control and has chosen to place the soul life of that child under those parents specifically. God has a plan for every life, a plan that incorporates even the unfairness of this world. Perhaps the child who receives unfair treatment at the hand of his parents requires just that kind of pressure in order to submit his will to God. Perhaps God is preparing such a child to glorify Himself through suffering just as Job did. God’s plan is greater than anything we can comprehend with our finite minds in our limited moment of time. We see an innocent, defenseless child while God sees a soul for which He has made complete provision. God makes no mistakes; therefore we must allow Him to deal with rebellious parents. (36-7)
In the later half of his book, Fugate again addresses a situation of abusive parents. This time the situation is when one spouse is abusive and the other is not: “Occasionally a parent with a serious sin problem in his own life will truly abuse his child under the guise of chastisement. Such a parent has a soul problem that can only be permanently solved by spiritual means.” Once again, Fugate does not encourage the spouse of the abusive parent to report the abuse to the proper authorities or even take the children away to a safe space. Instead, he gives truly dangerous advice: he tells the spouse to simply “control” the abused children more so that they do not “cause” the abusive parent to continually abuse them. Fugate writes,
If the father has the problem, the mother must take special care to control the children herself. She can train the children not to give their father cause to express his anger against them… The more stable parent must maintain the children’s respect of the other parent. (146)
Tragically, Fugate is not alone among conservative and evangelical child training experts in making such a recommendation. Michael Pearl makes a similar suggestion in his now-infamous book To Train Up a Child. Pearl argues,
Mother, if you think the father is too forceful in his discipline, there is something you can do. While he is away demand, expect, train for and discipline to receive instant and complete obedience from your children. When the father comes home the house will be peaceful and well ordered. The children will always obey their father, giving him no need to discipline them. (58)
Fugate and Pearl essentially want children to tolerate their abuse and walk on eggshells around their abusers. Unfortunately, these suggestions will only further enable and empower an abuser.*** These suggestions will also contribute to the devastating impact of spiritual abuse, as children believe they must be masochistic about the abuse they experience: feeling they have to “praise” God for their pain and not expect the authorities in their lives to seek justice against those who hurt them.
*** If your spouse is abusive towards your children, what should you do, if not heed Fugate’s advice?
Far better advice comes from Kathryn Patricelli at Mental Health Net:
For children who are currently being abused, the main goal is to remove the child from the abuser. The following is a list of possible solutions:
- Get the child away from the abuser, even if this involves sending the child to live somewhere else (e.g., with other family members or friends).
- Get abuse to stop by making police reports or anonymous reports to your state’s Child Protective Services department. Please know that reports may need to be made repetitively (many times in a row) before any action gets taken.
- Get the child a medical exam to ensure that child is being treated for any physical injuries and so that abuse is documented.
- Get the child into counseling with a therapist who specializes in working with abused children.