I wasn't sure if I would talk about this here. This blog is often kind of a vacation for me. And believe me, I would much rather be writing about something interesting I just read about John Keats, or Laurie and my love for the music of Erik Satie right now. But I have something else I have to write about tonight.
I mentioned about two weeks ago about a life changing and terrible event in our life. In brief, here's the background for newcomers to this story. Last year we had a delightful family come to our church for many months. Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz had a large family, 6 of their own kids and 3 adopted from Liberia, including 7 year old Lydia who shared a special mutual adoration with Laurie. Kevin and I would talk after church often. We went to dinner at their house, they showed us how to milk their goats; they gave us book cases. They were very kind and very sweet. We loved them all very much and still do. We will continue to love them no matter what happens, and no matter what happened. They left our church after about 8 months.
A little over two weeks ago I got a phone call from my pastor. Lydia is dead, her sister in the hospital, the rest of the kids in foster care, and Kevin and Elizabeth in jail. Soon after, Kevin and Elizabeth were charged with an open count of murder, torture and child abuse.
I will not go into the emotions here. I'm not sure I need to and I'm absolutely sure I don't want to. It is probably needless and the zenith in understatements to say that it has been a very rough two weeks. To see this happen to people you love is really beyond words.
The Schatzes followed, to a "t", a system of child rearing which came from Michael and Debi Pearl whose No Greater Joy "Ministry" is based in Tennessee and whose site I refuse to sully this blog by linking to. The Pearls are not professionally trained or educated in child development. They came up with this darkness out of the abundance of their hearts. The first time I pulled up their website about two weeks ago to learn more about this system which I'd only ever heard of in furtive whispers before, Laurie can testify, I literally left my office in tears after only a few minutes and did not want to go back into the room where that was on the screen. It is one of the most hate-filled, wicked and evil systems I've encountered in my life, all with a sheen of "Christian" and "happy families." For the past two weeks, information junkies that Laurie and I are, we waded through the Pearl system and it gets worse the more you dig.
Other people (my wife for one) have done much better jobs laying out the evils of the Pearl system. Generally, one of the major problems is the extremely dangerous and wildly unbiblical position that they preach of sinless perfection being achievable in this lifetime. Mix that with a strict discipline system with one's children and you can probably put together for yourself how something like this could happen. You expect sinless perfection and you will whip your child as often as needed if they fall short.
People, this is exactly why I am so focused on searching out and sticking to good, sound, biblical doctrine! This is why I beat that drum so much. This is why discernment is so vital to a Christian! Doctrine dictates lifestyle! The Pearls teach a system of salvation through obedience, which, as I've now said elsewhere, is about as anti-Christian a message as I can think of. The Pearls' theology is as anti-Christian as anything I've read in Nietzsche, and Nietzsche's philosophy does not endanger the physical lives of children. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, by His undeserved grace, by no work of our own lest we should boast. Along with that, we are called to love. Love is patient, kind, long-suffering. All of which are qualities that are considered parental weakness to the Pearls. Or, rather, they may pervert it in such a way that they may say words to the effect of "I am being patient, kind and longsuffering in diligently whipping my child at every hint of an offense."
Specifically, the Pearls suggest in their book the exact piece of plumbing tubing for whipping disobedient children that the Schatzes used when Lydia mispronounced a word when reading out loud from a Frog and Toad book (I grew up on those books. Their appearance in this story is just another in a seemingly endless line of heartbreaking detail.) The Pearls also suggest things like if your child tries to run when you're about to whip them, stalk them through the house slowly while laughing at their feeble attempts at escape. Also, wear the tube around your neck so that the child sees the weapon every time he or she looks at you. I think part of what strikes me so much about this is that it is a system meant for Christians, and many Christians are buying it while non-Christians I've spoken to have no problem immediately identifying this system as outrageously evil and, in my own words, "morally repugnant." As another has said, this is a major failing of the Christian church in America.
But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.
So, the Pearls have no legal responsibility. They're just making suggestions, of course, and we live in a society where we all enjoy free speech (look, I'm doing it right now!) And every time a child of a parent following their system dies at their parent's disciplining hand (as you can probably imagine, this is not the first time it's happened) the Pearls have no problem throwing the parents under the bus, washing their hands of it to the press. However, we, the people, can still see the blood on the Pearls' hands and this is where social responsibility comes in.
It is unacceptable that a system like this is socially acceptable in what is supposed to be the Christian church. We ought to have a culture where public opinion is so strong against such things that systems like these cannot exist. No Christian should entertain the idea of the Pearl system for a moment and certainly no one should be giving money to these people.
So, being anti-censorship, what can I do? Well, I wrote to Lynn Harris, the author of many books but also the journalist on Salon.com, one of the internet's most major news sources, who in 2006 wrote an article on the death of another Pearl follower's child during discipline, and the subsequent murder charge. We wrote back and forth, spoke on the phone and she produced an article. Yes, the Laurie and Paul Mathers in the article are exactly who you think they are.
Speak out and speak up, Christians. Educate yourself in sound doctrine and let's move public opinion in the church to a place where this system can no longer survive.
If you call yourself a Christian and you don't immediately think it's a foul, unthinkable, disgusting suggestion to whip your child at least 10 times per offense (more "if needed"), wearing the weapon visibly at all times, having a weapon always at hand with which to whip your child, menacingly hunting down your child when they are fleeing punishment in terror like the villain in the Halloween movies, and even manufacturing occasions to whip in order to "train them", if you don't immediately recoil from such things, I would highly recommend you put down the plastic tubing and go pick up your Bible. You may have reason to be concerned about the state of your soul. If you think, as I keep hearing from Christians (and it makes me feel like vomiting every time) that "there's some good in the Pearl system" I would suggest that an apple dipped in cyanide also still contains vitamins. If you eat it, it will taste good, but it will kill you inside. There is not such a dearth of child rearing methods that you ever even need to pick up a system laced with violence, cold-heartedness, and fatal legalism to get "some good points" out of it.
And if you are a Christian, the state of your child's soul should be paramount (and, if you're a parent of any kind, the preservation of your child's life, health and well being should be paramount.) Sharing God's love for them and your own love for them should be at the top of the list. I have no idea why expedient means to get your child to obey is so important. Christ's love for us imperfect sinners is more important than anything! God's patience with our own disobedience is unfathomable.
Michael Pearl, after a tirade on his website about the "lesbians" who are persecuting him (yes, it's that level of rhetoric we're talking about here) does make a point that he doesn't see "the daddies" speaking out against him (yes, also probably not a big surprise, he also uses extremely socially awkward and highly archaic turns of phrase like "damsels", "porno", and "licks" as in "giving licks," as in whipping). He is correct in that I also am not seeing a lot of Christian men speaking out against this. Shame on Christian men. It may have to do with his power-mad system that revolves around constantly stroking the male ego. But it may also be that that day is over. I am one Christian man who will tell the world that the Pearl system is evil, anti-Christian, and it will not stand! The Pearls preach lies from the pit of Hell. I will not sit back and allow them to continue to drag the name of Christ through the mud.
I could go on. And I will elsewhere.
But do go and read the Salon.com article. Also go read my wife's blog entry. It will break your heart. It broke mine all over again and I think we're both starting to realize we may live in that state for the rest of our lives.