No Greater Joy: Another child dead from Biblical child-rearing advice

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

A couple, with nine children, beat one of them to death and left another in critical condition with kidney failure, while following the teachings on child discipline promulgated by Michael and Debi Pearl, which are very popular in the fundamentalist Christian community and in particular the Christian homeschooling movement. Here's the story at Salon, and check out the links in it, particularly by a friend of the family. In short, a 7-year-old girl named Lydia Schatz was beaten until her organs failed from chemicals released by broken-down tissue. She died, and her older sister Zariah is in critical condition.

Those who haven't pored over the sometimes insane teachings of the fundamentalist Christian community may not be aware of No Greater Joy, the Pearls' ministry, focused on teaching good Christian child-rearing techniques. In their magazine, and their book To Train Up A Child, the Pearls explain how best to cause your child to voluntarily submit its will to yours, as the Lord commanded. One does that by, when necessary, beating the child until there they are "without breath to complain".

A swift swat with a light, flexible instrument will sting without bruising or causing internal damage. Many people are using a section of Πinch plumber s supply line as a spanking instrument. It will fit in your purse or hang around you neck. You can buy them for under $1.00 at Home Depot or any hardware store. They come cheaper by the dozen and can be widely distributed in every room and vehicle. Just the high profile of their accessibility keeps the kids in line. Michael Pearl, In Defense of Biblical Chastisement, Part 2

This is not the first child murdered by parents following the Pearls' guidance; four years ago a 4-year-old boy named Sean Paddock was suffocated by his mother, who was also a follower of the Pearls. This new case is even more striking, though, since the parents murdered their child with the same implement the Pearls favor most.

I'm not usually given to outrage over news stories but I think there's something pretty important to note about this. Namely, that the Pearls' teachings are very popular; To Train Up A Child has sold well over half a million copies, quite a lot for any author, and particularly a lot in the small but growing Christian homeschooling movement. They're not the only ones, either. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, advocates corporal punishment for children as young as 15 to 18 months. He also recommends beating children with objects, just like the Pearls, although he believes that a more moderate beating, enough to make the child cry rather than to leave it unable to breathe, is sufficient to rid a toddler of its "defiance".

If a child flees, don t chase him. Wait and allow time for the tension to go out of the air. Slowly pursue him, explaining that he cannot win. If it takes a long time, that s fine. Go to his hiding place and laugh at his frail attempts. Michael Pearl

And of course, this is not the biggest news story in Christian child abuse lately -- that would have to be the attempted kidnapping of 33 Haitian children by a Christian missionary group, supposedly to be adopted (although they took the children without engaging in any legal process, and many of the children had at least one living parent.)

What disturbs me the most about this, particularly after reading that personal account by the Schatzes' friends that I linked above, is that I don't think these parents were malicious, or uncaring, or depraved. I can't imagine that the Pearls are anything but sociopaths. But I don't think the Schatzes are. They adopted three of their nine children from Liberia, Lydia and Zariah among them, and it's easy to understand how much of a challenge older children adopted from overseas are likely to be, and how much difficulty even loving parents have in raising children who probably had emotional problems stemming from earlier in their childhood. (One of the Schatzes' biological sons also had extensive bruising, and while the other six children showed no physical signs of abuse they all told police they had been beaten with the plumbing tubing as well.)

And this gets at the danger of fringe ideologies: for people who believe that the key to successfully raising children is beating them, and if you're part of a church group that promotes them (a lot of them do), and if you believe that the advice of the secular world is a trap that will lead to your children falling away from God, then how will you know what to do when the advice you're given doesn't lead to the happy, peaceful family life you've been promised?

If you want a child who will integrate into the New World Order and wait his turn in line for condoms, a government funded abortion, sexually transmitted disease treatment, psychological evaluation and a mark on the forehead, then follow the popular guidelines in education, entertainment and discipline, but if you want a son or daughter of God, you will have to do it God's way. To Train Up A Child

A few fundamentalist Christians have advocated against the Pearls' brutal advice for child-rearing, but what their book recommends isn't qualitatively different from the recommendations of other conservative Christians. And the justifications are the same, and firmly rooted in the "Culture War" ideology that drives so much of fundamentalist thought. (And the Pearls know enough about the larger culture to warn parents not to "train" their children in public -- not even in a church bathroom.) This is part of the same movement that leads parents to have a "Quiverfull" of children -- i.e. as many as they possibly can, in order to overwhelm our Godless society with sheer numbers. And the Pearls, of course, are devoted homeschoolers, and advise that wives must remain in submission to their husbands (just as their husbands remain in submission to Jesus.)

And the striking thing is how few Christians are willing to buck these teachings. I'm only aware of one Christian parenting book that actually advocates against corporal punishment, and it's practiced by all the conservative Christian families I'm acquainted with. Members of fringe groups don't criticize their fellows -- when you're in the middle of a "war", you can't concede territory to the enemy. If the war is ideological, you can't concede that the enemy might be right about something. And in this war, children like Lydia end up the casualties.

If the crying turns to a true, wounded, submissive whimper, you have conquered; he has submitted his will. If the crying is still defiant, protesting and other than a response to pain, spank him again. To Train Up A Child

The Pearls, of course, claim that "training" a child is not abuse, and they warn parents not to spank children while they're angry. However, their own words are more damning than anything any of their detractors have said. People in the grip of ideology will do horrible things out of a conviction that they're in the right. Even, sometimes, beating their children to death.

Comments

Good but horrific article.

If a child flees, don't chase him. Wait and allow time for the tension to go out of the air. Slowly pursue him, explaining that he cannot win. If it takes a long time, that s fine. Go to his hiding place and laugh at his frail attempts. Michael Pearl
This is one of the worst things I have ever read. It sounds like the ravings of a madman, a cruel and evil person. He is promoting the terrorizing of small children.

Ugh. That reminds me of an essay I had to read for a theology class detailing how a minister broke the will of his 15 month old son through starvation. Link/ It's that same "for their own good" argument.

My biggest problem with religion - any religion - is that it allows people to justify to themselves doing the most evil shit imaginable. Whether it's owning other human beings as slaves; flying planes into buildings; or apparently, beating your own kids to death; there's a sacred text out there to tell you it's OK. And we're not talking about twisting things or taking them out of context: most of the time, the justification is right there in the plain reading of the text.

I've said it before, I'll say it again, and I'll never stop saying it. Religious fundamentalism is the greatest threat mankind has ever faced and if we continue to allow it to not only spread, but to flourish insidiously like a black mold creeping through the framework of western civilization it will be the end of us all.

This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it!

I read Michael and Debi Pearl's book To Train up a Child when I was a teenager. One of my mother's clients gave it to her and signed her up for their newsletter. Very appreciated. I lovingly called it How to Beat a Child.

If your goal is to traumatize children and treat them like evil terrorists--which is how they're described in the book--then you could not possibly come up with a better plan for raising your children.

Quote Originally posted by Cluricaun View post
I've said it before, I'll say it again, and I'll never stop saying it. Religious fundamentalism is the greatest threat mankind has ever faced and if we continue to allow it to not only spread, but to flourish insidiously like a black mold creeping through the framework of western civilization it will be the end of us all.
I agree totally.

Quote Originally posted by Cluricaun View post
I've said it before, I'll say it again, and I'll never stop saying it. Religious fundamentalism is the greatest threat mankind has ever faced and if we continue to allow it to not only spread, but to flourish insidiously like a black mold creeping through the framework of western civilization it will be the end of us all.
Word.

The Pearls, of course, claim that "training" a child is not abuse, and they warn parents not to spank children while they're angry.
So, it's better to calmly beat and terrorize your child. Got it.

Psycho freaks.

The thing that gets me the worst is that these fuckers are organized like some sort of massive underground Nazi party (yeah, I Godwinned it, so what? They actually deserve it) and they still insist that there's some sort of conspiracy to repress them. The Liberal Homosexual Athiests are everywhere! They're trying to destroy our way of life!

And there are a lot of us, but jesus christ are we a shambling mess of disorganized half starts and undeveloped ideas. The thing is that we're not at all organized and that there isn't something like The Knights of Dawkins out there actually combating these fucking loons is a tacit allowance for these kinds of things to continue and spread as they continue to solidify their positions while the rest of us fiddle away as Rome burns around us. And by the time they do get the balls to step as boldly forward as they really want to and we end up with some batshit crazy almost-like-The-Stand kind of laws passed in some forgotten "fly over" portion of our country and they start crucifying teenage girls who get pregnant in Topeka it'll be too late to really do anything about it.

There is a culture war happening right now that makes the 1960's look like a joke, and it scares me to death that we're not fighting back with every ounce of our resolve.