Mega-Pastor Passes Judgment and Blames Mothers

[From the archives, a post that originally ran as a guest post at Julie Anne Smith’s Spiritual Sounding Board.]


John Piper has a message for you moms whose kids don’t behave in public the way he thinks they should: if you don’t make your children obey you, you have only yourself to blame when they end up in the morgue because they got shot dead.

Piper’s article – Parents, Require Obedience of Your Children – starts by referring to a recent tragedy: a California teen with a toy gun was shot by police. Piper admits he doesn’t know if the teen even heard the commands to lower the toy gun, but he chooses to assume the teen not only heard the police but then willfully disobeyed because his parents never taught him any better.

Such an assumption is a baseless sensationalization of that poor family’s tragedy and Piper heartlessly capitalizes on their grief. But he insists on proceeding with his baseless assumption because assuming the worst about things fits his point better than assuming the best.

His real point?

I am writing this to plead with Christian parents to require obedience of their children.

Piper wants to co-opt that family’s real tragedy because it fits the point he wants to make about another family he knows nothing about: a mother and son Piper saw on an airplane. The mother apparently didn’t handle her son in a way Piper approves of. The son was playing with an electronic toy and the flight attendant came by to tell the mother it needed to be put away for takeoff. So the son turned it off. Piper approved of this scene so far, but not for long.

When the flight attendant took her seat, the boy turned his device back on, and kept it on through the take-off. The mother did nothing. I thought to myself, she is training him to be shot by police.

How does he know the mother is training the son to be shot? Because it fits Piper’s assumptions about what he thinks happened to that family in California.

There is so much wrong with this.

First, he appropriates the tragedy and grief of a family who lost a son so that he can then judge another family in a completely unrelated situation.

Second, he jumps to the extreme conclusion that the mother’s failure to act in the manner he approves of on a single occasion on that airplane means her child will grow up not knowing how to make good decisions.

Third, he judges a mother without knowing anything about the child, the family, or what had transpired before he saw them on the plane. Was getting on the plane a major accomplishment for them? Are they traveling to a funeral? Has the child been ill? Piper should know better than to judge, being a parent himself. How many of us – before we had kids – would see parents handling children and judge them thinking we would certainly do better once we had kids? I’ll tell you, becoming a parent ourselves is the surest cure for that nonsense.

Fourth, he applies his ignorant and baseless assumptions about the shooting of that teenager to every child whose parent does not require strict and immediate obedience. They’re training their children to get shot by police, he insists. Piper admits he doesn’t know why the California teen didn’t put the toy gun down, but he’ll insist that the teen’s death informs Piper’s ability to judge the woman on the airplane.

Piper then insists his assumption-laden advice is based on Scripture – Ephesians 6:1 – arguing that since children are told to obey parents then parents are by that same verse required to force their children into obedience. That’s a sloppy way to read Scripture.

Let’s say, though, that parents tried to force obedience as Piper advises. That doesn’t mean the children have actually obeyed. It just means someone bigger imposed their own will.

That’s not obedience.

It’s coercion.

Nowhere in the Bible are parents told to coerce their children.

Happily, there is a way to honor God in how we care for our children, a way that doesn’t rely on Piper’s extremes.

A Better Way to Raise Your Children

Here’s some good advice from Connie Jakab:

Sometimes as parents we stress when our kids are displaying less than desirable behavior.  We blame ourselves or them wondering what went wrong.  Nothing went wrong.  Perfection is not the aim we strive for in our kids – guiding them successfully through whatever bumps and shortcomings is what parenting is all about.  When we struggle with challenges our kids are experiencing, it’s our opportunity to show them the road to overcome.

Perfection is not the aim – not even perfect obedience. Instead, as Connie says, we are to guide our children. How do we guide them into making good decisions, to act in ways that honor God? I think it’s best to follow God’s own example.

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4.)

God is our loving Father and he leads us to repentance by his kindness, patience and forbearance. It’s that last word that seals the fate of Piper’s bad advice, because he doesn’t advocate forbearance but immediate action.

That’s not to say that parents should be marshmallows and let their kids get away with misbehavior. In fact, there are times when coercion is called for, like grabbing your kid and yanking them to the curb when they’re about to run into a busy street.

But when it comes to how one family handles raising children versus how another family does it, none of us should dictate a particular method; one size does not fit all families.

Instead we should support parents, pray for them, and trust that God is working in families now just as he has been throughout time.


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48 Responses to Mega-Pastor Passes Judgment and Blames Mothers

  1. Once again, you’ve come close to my own heart with this one.

    While, in general, I believe it’s up to parents to help their kids make good decisions, and sometimes that means “making” them do things they don’t want to do (like turning off electronics while a plane takes off), I have a child who deals with extremes due to anxiety and depression. (He’s receiving proper support and appropriate treatment.)

    I’m positive Piper would consider me a “failure” as a parent. After all my son threw hours-long temper tantrums, and was removed from school in the 5th grade. His behavior was often “out of control.”

    It doesn’t occur to this man that maybe the parent, or the child, wasn’t at fault in that situation? That maybe, just MAYBE, those officers could have made different decisions, that might have led to a different outcome? It certainly doesn’t occur to him to look beyond his black-and-white approach. But then, it’s a heck of a lot easier to judge the parents than to try to understand what’s really going on. Like it would have been easier for me to condemn my child’s behavior when he was kicked out of public school, than it was to stand up to the school officials and call them out on their failure to work with his counselor. It would have been easier to back down and allow them to force him into an (inadequate) alternative program, instead of pulling him out of public school entirely and turning to homeschooling.

    But easy isn’t what good parents do. They do what’s right for their child. Forced obedience doesn’t teach the child to behave. But teaching the child to make good choices for him or herself takes parenting, and that’s hard work.

    • Tim says:

      “But easy isn’t what good parents do. They do what’s right for their child.” – That would have made a dynamite title for this post, LWT.

  2. Ruth says:

    Thank you for posting this! Not too many people have the backbone to call Piper out! As a mom with a kiddo with Tourettes Syndrome I appreciate your compassion and insight. Can’t even count the number of times I have been judged by Christian people who have zero idea what life is like for my kid.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for giving more insight into what this is like for parents, Ruth.

    • Amen to that, Ruth. I don’t have any idea either but (I hope) I wouldn’t judge. We have one child with autism & ADHD (the ADHD has lessened now that he’s older, thank goodness) and one with probably Asperger’s and yes, it has made for some interesting scenes on occasion. Actually the worst thing is the way other people react, *not* my child’s behaviour.

      • Ruth says:

        That is two Ruth’s who have children with exactly the same conditions. Although Aspbergers was changed to High Functioning Autism. How many years of judgement did that cost us? Thank God I was in the teaching system and could be in the same school as them for junior years, after that I just spent every neccesary moment on the the, phone, often daily to their school. Churches didn’t want us, although their dad led Boys Brigade for many years, and I did devotions every session, there people could see us handling average kids very well, but always watching and helping our sons, and other boys who had developmental issues. They are now fine young men, in their late 20s. ‘smack him, needs a belting, hopeless parents, spoilt brats’, the taunts to any children who are different, and their parents are appalling. Does this fellow perhaps forget that he is just a man, just a fallen sinner as we all are, obviously not! He knows things, he thinks, that only God could know, so I form the opinion that, like Icarus, he is flying too close to the Son in his behaviour, and surely his wax will melt, his feathers fall and he will have some interesting questions to answer one day to that same Son, our Lord. I could be mad about this, but after nearly 30 years in the battle, I know ignorance is often responsible for wrong assumptions, but, this one, well, he knows better. The word ‘mill-stone’ comes to mind. I LOVE KIDS, all kids in my life. We simply have interesting kids that we have to interested in for a longer period than others! This how my group of friends regard their loved but different off-spring. Bitterness is pointless, except to the devil as he totes the up on his evil mind……

        • Ruth says:

          Woops, misread posts and got two Rurhs, never mind, must be that ADHD gene doing its thing…..have laugh…my is as I showed him my muddle. 🙂

        • Tim says:

          He apparently does think he knows better, and applies it to families he doesn’t know at all. It’s ignorance and arrogance all mixed together.

  3. Mark Bruce says:

    It seems that one might as easily, and with just as much if not more logical justification, reverse Piper’s logic: The parents of the police officers failed by teaching them that the only acceptable way to behave is through unquestioning obedience to authority. Consequently those officers’ knee jerk response was to treat any disobedience as a dangerous affront, even from a child. Thus Piper–by his own logic–in advocating unquestioning obedience to authority, is teaching police officers to shoot children.

  4. Mark Bruce says:

    BTW, knowing the nature of blog-comment communication, I should specify that I’m NOT saying that Piper is teaching people to kill children. That’s absurd, of course–which means that Piper’s original comment is absurd for exactly the same reason.

  5. Pastor Bob says:

    *sigh – One of many examples of a solid principle (strong parenting can help reduce problems) and running to a an extreme that is hurtful and harsh to the point of painful cruelty. All parents know this, the basics are the starting point, but the NOT rules etched in stone. Variations, knowledge of the child, and knowing God are starting points. Black and white rules are not the best answer all the time. This writer has taken the necessary toughness and turned it from an instrument of love into a tool of cruelty.

    Another reason for Mother’s Day.

    • Tim says:

      Your take on it (“strong parenting can help reduce problems”) is exactly right, PB. I like how you phrased it because you recognize that even strong parenting is merely a factor, not a guarantee of results.

  6. Jeannie says:

    Great comments here (as always!). Piper knew nothing about either situation; he just USED these situations, one tragic and one merely irritating, to pile a load of guilt on parents. Ain’t nobody got time for that. 😛

  7. This reminds me of some very ardent Piper followers that I was in a Bible study with, handing me a list of scriptures instructing me to discipline my (brain-injured) child, “for his own good.” The pastor having previously asked me, “have you started spanking him yet?” Good grief…

    • Tim says:

      That’s about as heartless as can be, Truth.

      And speaking of Piper followers, I’m a little surprised I haven’t had any show up yet to tell me how wrong I am to criticize his parenting advice.

    • Noel says:

      He had the nerve to ask you this? OMG How is that any of his business. Why do so many people have the impression that they are entitled to tell you how your relationship with your child should be? We don’t have to live according to anyone’s specifications. And Hell to the NO I wouldn’t want my relationship with my kid to be in spanking terms. I am not an animal to solve issues with my hands and legs for crying outloud. I am a human being..

      • Tim says:

        It amazes me what people think is their business, Noel. Whether it’s a church pastor or a parent at my kids’ school. I eventually developed a highly efficient way of coping: ignoring them no end. I think some people failed to appreciate the skill with which I carried that out.

  8. Erica M. says:

    I commented on this before, but Mom and I actually had an interesting talk about this today. One of my friends went way off the rails. Her parents admitted that they essentially let her have her own way throughout childhood and only started cracking down when it transformed into more risky teen behaviors. On the other hand, she also has more of a risk-taking personality as well, so it’s possible her behaviors may have shown up anyways.

    (Whenever Mom brags about my brother and me, I like to point out that we’re basically too lazy to get into anything. XD)

  9. dpersson7 says:

    I just had a conversation with my daughter-in-law about this very topic. The conclusion we came to is that if building a loving relationship with the child is the priority, everything else will fall into place. Consistent kindness and forbearance has a tendency to make the rare occasions that stern correction is necessary all the more effective, because it is saved for situations in which the child’s well being is at risk. The thing that I find lacking in John Piper’s teaching is that parenting is not about a parent’s authority being established, but it is about parents being conformed into the image of Christ through their parenting, which includes exhibiting Christ’s character. I don’t ever remember Jesus coercing anyone into doing anything. He reasoned, cared for, healed…, poured out his life for people.

  10. Pastor Bob says:

    Heard one this morning. Goes like this’
    Two sons, identical family life. One could not bring himself to have a long lasting relationship, bad decisions, trouble with the law (non-felony), could not hold down a job, the bad decisions adding to bad choices, we all know the story.
    = Brother #2, good choices, healthy relationships, CEO of the company he founded, vibrant good nature, the opposite of his brother.

    A researcher asked them identical questions and one answer stuck out, the question was “To what do you attribute the reason your life has gone the way it has?” Both answered this with the same answer: “With parents like mine, I had no choice.”

    Parenting is an important part of raising the child. Over and Under Estimation of the importance is possible. Let us pray for all parents!

  11. Michelle says:

    I was raised by my parents to respect authority and follow the law. They did not tolerate riff raff from either my brother or me. And we were well behaved, for the most part. But I can count a number of instances during my college years where sheer stupidity and a feeling of invincibility led me to make some crazy decisions that leave me incredulous to this day that I was not thrown out of college or thrown in jail. Was that my mother’s fault? No – that was mine. I made the decision, in spite of what I was taught by my parents.

    Even before my golden age of stupidity – my affectionate nickname for my college years – I could point to any number of times I did what was contrary to my parent’s wishes and clear instruction because I wanted to. Period. Did I usually face the consequences? If they figured it out, yes. But again – that was not their fault. It was mine – my choices, my desires, my decision.

    My point: you can teach your children all the right things and they will still make all the wrong decisions. When I finally reached the end of my golden age, all that I was taught came flooding back to me and I actually value the loving guidance and discipline with which my parents raised me. But I have plenty of friends who did not do that – they went off the deep end and stayed there, even those that came from “good homes”. On the flip side, I have friends whose home life was a hot mess, and they have turned out to be strong parents to their own children.

    There is absolutely no nuance in Piper’s statements. These types of blanket statements (judgments) are just plain hurtful. Very disappointing.

    • Tim says:

      “golden age of stupidity” – I want to use that phrase as soon as possible, Michelle! It sounds like you had good parents who let you grow up to be a good adult yourself.

  12. Marg says:

    It’s a real worry that a Christian leader would callously use the example of a terrible family tragedy just to make a point. It reminds me of Piper’s graceless comments about Tozer’s widow just to make a point.

    Also, I’m not convinced that the instructions for children to obey their parents in Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20 are limited to, or even aimed at, young children. I think it is likely that adult children are also (or only) in mind here. Most of us do not limit Ephesians 6:2-3 as being applicable only to to young children.

    I think Piper is wrong on a few levels.

    • Tim says:

      Interesting point about adult children, Marg. And you’re right about the wrongheaded use of others’ tragedies in playing on emotions in order to pursue an agenda. I just don’t see how that lines up with responsible teaching. Emotions are fine, of course. God gave them to us. But this type of capitalizing on tragedy is abhorrent.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It’s a real worry that a Christian leader would callously use the example of a terrible family tragedy just to make a point.

      It’s like the Professional Activist types who come out of the woodwork after a school shooting: “A dozen dead? A school and town shattered? WHAT AN OPPORTUNITY TO ADVANCE *MY* AGENDA!!!!!”

  13. Anonymous2 says:

    John Piper is getting old. His mind is losing its elasticity. He simply has neither the need to be pleasant and circumspect — nor the desire to be. Many old people, including my excellent father, show signs of rigidity: both of the arteries and the thinking. They make unwise proclamations, and are deaf to the concerns of others. They get frustrated easily and feel entitled to being taken seriously, even when they’ve lost some very critical skills.

    I don’t trust John Piper’s judgment any more than I trust my dad’s driving.

    (I’m sure I’ll be just as bad.)

    • Anonymous2 says:

      One of my friends, a Reformed professor, predicts it will only get worse now that he retired.

    • Tim says:

      Please do not attack Mr. Piper personally, nor speculate on whether one’s age leads to one thing or another.

      Desiring God Ministries has many people in its organization, and even though these might be Mr. Piper’s words they are a pronouncement from the organization. There are many people who could be keeping watch on what the ministry is producing for public consumption.

      • Anonymous2 says:

        You’re right. The blame goes organization-wide. I apologize for making the assumption that Piper’s social media presence is 100% of his own agency, and for presuming I know his medical and mental situation. It is likely a systemic problem.

        But I am close to a Christian organization about the same size as Desiring God Ministries that also puts out a huge amount of social media. I see a remarkable number of PR disasters at Desiring God. Something is wrong over there.

        I remember when Piper first came to the limelight in the 1970s. Christian opinion leaders were rightfully divided on his writings; they still are. Many of his ardent followers today don’t realize that.

        • Tim says:

          I’ve come to the conclusion he doesn’t run the twitter account with his name but that someone in the ministry posts everything for him, and that he doesn’t read the account or anyone’s responses to it either.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          And with Twitter’s 140-character limitation, it’s really hard to get more profound or complex than “I Made a Poopie!”

          Why do you think they call them Twits?

    • Billie Fod says:

      Piper is actually only 69, not really ‘old’ (I’m 66 so I can say that, lol!) Perhaps hard-core Calvinists like him tend to get rigid earlier because they are that way to begin with!

  14. Anonymous2 says:

    Piper (and/or his Desiring God team) may possibly be damaging their own organization. A quick look at at the ECFA site shows their cash donations sway wildly. And their “Other Revenue” (book sales? conference income?) has not surpassed its 2012 level. This is not a growing organization, which ought to be a wake-up call to them.

    • Tim says:

      All organizations wax and wane, though. If it’s merely that they are not as well supported now as they use to be, that factor alone wouldn’t raise a concern for me. But their mistaken doctrinal stances and their repeated ham-fistedness when it comes to how they express their doctrine might be leading to their lack of contribution, If so, I would consider that a good thing.

  15. Anonymous2 says:

    I agree with the possibility that their doctrine or expression of the doctrine might be a problem. I too can understand ups and downs of cash donations, but if “other revenue” derived “from tuition, fees, investments, rents, sales of inventory, and other income” has not exceeded 2012 levels, there’s a possibility that their own fans aren’t buying their books, attending their conferences, or asking Piper to speak at the same rate. I wonder if anyone in your readership has a more informed explanation for the drop. We’ll get another data set in a couple of months when they post their June 2015 year-end numbers to ECFA.

  16. Anonymous2 says:

    Without the seeing 990s, it’s over my head too. And I realize that I’m forgetting the obvious: periodic 6- or 7-figure book advances could account for much of that fluctuation.

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