I don't do many posts on current events. But one has caught my eye and my heart this week, and I feel I cannot remain silent about it.
If you read many Christian blogs, you've probably already heard about 7 year-old Lydia Schatz. She was being raised by what were, by all accounts, a very sweet, loving set of Christian parents. And she was horrifically, torturously murdered by those parents.
In an effort to save her soul.
Let me say it again. The parents who systematically, coolly beat that little girl to death were quite normal, well-liked people in the Christian and homeschooling circles where they lived their lives. And their decision to beat the child the way they did was based on the teachings of a couple named Michael and Debi Pearl, who are apparently very popular in conservative Christian circles.
How can this be? How does it happen? Because from what I'm reading, the Schatzes were no different from a whole lot of Conservative Christians. And I say that as a conservative Christian homeschooler myself.
What happened? Did they "snap," as many are describing it?
I don't think they did.
I think they beat that child because they had come to believe that that's what love does. Worse, they believed that that's what God wanted them to do.
A blogger called "Water Lilly" says it best (emphasis added by me):
The plumbing-supply-line whippings went on for several hours. To me, this would indicate that it is more likely that the parents were calm rather than angry. I’ve been angry with my children…but that anger burns hot and FAST… Anger and rage are exhausting, and they don’t last long...I want to suggest that only two types of people will beat their children for hours. The first type are sadists who enjoy hurting others… The second type are parents who desperately care for their children and their eternal salvation. They believe that this world is but fleeting, and that their children’s eternal salvation is the most important parenting goal.
I know from reading a few more of her entries that "Water Lilly" cares as deeply about the salvation of her children as any godly parent does. Indeed, any truly godly parent longs with all their hearts to see their children saved. It's one of the most powerful instincts in a Christian parent's being.
Nothing is more powerful than love, and that power has worked tremendous good in the world. It was because of love that God sent Jesus! But when love gets twisted, perverted, confused and distorted, its power makes it incredibly dangerous.
I am coming to believe that there are no more dangerous people on the face of the earth than those who believe that love and God are on their side while they pursue an evil which they've mistaken for goodness. How can they repent, when they believe they're holy warriors?
How does it happen? How does a loving parent get convinced that beating their child for hours over a minor infraction is an act of love? (In the case of the Schatzes, the "infraction" was mispronouncing a word!)
I can think of several key ingredients for this horrific stew:
- The parents are deeply religious in a legalistic way, not living as people saved by the grace of God.
- They see how the concept of grace has been abused, and they conclude that grace is nothing more than permissiveness. They do not know what grace does, and they fear it is only a get out of jail free card. So they reject it, and will not even consider anything other than punitive measures.
- They are terrified about their children's eternal destinies.
- They know that sin is the problem, but they believe in manmade solutions.
- They believe that they have the power to rescue their children from Hell, and that love requires them to use whatever force is necessary to save them from it.
- They do not know that salvation is a miraculous work of the Spirit which only God can accomplish. They believe it their duty to force their children to accept Christianity, rather than leading them toward a real relationship with the only true Savior (who saves by grace).
There was a time in my life when all of the above described me. You know the proverbial road to Hell that is paved with good intentions? I was firmly on it, and was paving it further under my children's feet. I thank God that I never heard of the Pearls before I was truly saved, because I would quite possibly have fallen for their schemes.
Listen to how it works. One mother asked on the Pearls' website, "How do I deal with an angry child? When he doesn't get his way, when I fix a breakfast he's not fond of, he acts angry and blames me. He often tells me that spankings only makes him angrier. What am I missing?"
Here are excerpts from the Pearls' response:
"He is manipulating you…He controls his weak mother, but the world is not made up of weak mothers…I regularly go to a prison that has over 1200 men in it. Many of them were just like your son when they were his age... Mother, I am trying to make you angry—not hurt, not guilty, and certainly not timid. The Devil is running away with your child. You can stop it. You can break the spell." (emphasis added)
(Note the appeal to fear…that would have hit me hard. If I don't follow the Pearls' methods, my kid will end up in prison! The devil is running away with him, and it's my fault! Note also the idea that the parent is the messiah, the savior, the answer. And see…the answer is found in the parents' anger! To the Pearls, the wrath of man does produce the righteousness of God. I used to believe that, too. Note also the insults and accusations heaped on this presumably "weak" mother. It gets worse.)
(The Pearls often make statements against child abuse, and many people use those statements to try to absolve them. But the ugly truth of what they advocate can't be buried under the nicer words they sometimes publish. Their advice is rife with counsel that is abusive, no matter what they may say in other places. Lydia was not the first child to be murdered by a parent under their approach.)
Your son needs to run smack dab into a big, high, unmoving fence of authority. You, mother, are a pushover, a sucker…To give over to his demands, even once, is like a mother giving drugs or alcohol to her addicted child…Display indifference with dignity… Like an army Sargent [sic], state your will and accept nothing less…If you think it is appropriate and you spank him make sure that it is not a token spanking. A proper spanking leaves children without breath to complain. (Emphasis added.)
So here is a mother who wants what is best for her children, and who knows that her children need to be made right with God somehow. Along comes an "expert" with:
- a self-assured style,
- proud boastful assertions of what he himself could do to miraculously transform her child in a mere 10 days (further on in the same article),
- an arsenal of fear, guilt and insults which he sprays liberally at her, calling her a sucker and a drug pusher!
- tantalyzing promises that, if she only had the backbone to beat her child until he "had no breath to respond," and to be "indifferent" to him, she too could be her child's savior.
As I said, there was a time in my life when I might have fallen for it. I had never experienced the transforming work of the Spirit in my own life, so what did I know of what my children really needed? I knew that sin was the problem, but I knew nothing of grace, so why wouldn't I have believed the lovely promises of all the beautiful results that would come if only I loved my kids enough to…(fill in the blank with any atrocity you like.)
Do you see how it happens? Love can be convinced to do even unspeakable horrors if it believes it's acting in a child's best interests and in obedience to God. Praise God I have not been an abusive parent, but reading even a small amount of the Pearls' advice left me speechless with gratitude that God kept their influence out of my life back when I might have been deceived by it.
It could have happened. It could have. That's why, as horrified as I am by what the Schatzes did, I can't think myself superior. It is God's truth which is superior. His love and wisdom are pure and peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy… (Jas 3:17). And while the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God (Jas 1:20), a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (Jas 3:18).
People of God, live grace! Teach grace! Love grace! And just as importantly, understand what grace truly is. If people knew its transforming power, they would realize that the hope for their child comes from Christ, not a lash.
Please do not use the "Comments" section to debate corporal punishment. I'm not saying that it never has its place, within reason (though right now I'm not sure exactly what I believe about its place and its reason.) But I do know that corporal punishment in and of itself never saved a soul, and trusting it to save is a deadly error and an idolatrous defection from the only One who saves.