Whose Heart Failure?
I am haunted by Lydia. She died some weeks ago when communication with her adoptive parents became fractured as she read a Frog and Toad storybook during a homeschool lesson. She died because she was beaten until she went into heart failure. She died after her adoptive parents took turns holding her down while the other beat her with a 1/4 inch plumber’s supply line, for hours. She died because her parents believed sincerely in the Operant Conditioning methods taught them by Michael Pearl, who in his book, “To Train Up a Child”, tells parents they must spank until the child submits or they have lost that child’s heart forever. She died because her parents, exactly the kind of godly salt-of-the-earth sorts of people that I have sat next to in Homeschooling conventions, relied for wisdom in a terrible situation upon the teachings of men rather than the Holy Spirit of God–or even upon their God-given common sense. Lydia died because horrible ideas have horrible consequences.
I am haunted by this story. I grieve for her and her parents and her eight siblings now in foster care. I grieve because in their spectacular case all my sins are remembered. I grieve because my dearest friend tried for years to adopt two little girls from that same orphanage in Liberia that placed Lydia and her two siblings with the Schatz’. I remember weeping with her as she told me how she was haunted by her inability to shield her spiritual children from any harm that might be facing them at that time, and how we prayed, we prayed for them. I am haunted by Lydia, but I thought I could exorcise her ghost if I learned as much as I could about her case, and as I read I grieved for my own struggles long ago with a recalcitrant child and the rod of reproof, knowing that apart from the grace of God, I too might be in jail.
But Michael Pearl has expressed no grief, nor even sympathy. On the contrary, in a post published after the tragedy on his Facebook page, he callously laughs. One can learn a lot about a someone as he responds to a crisis or to his critics. Now, with nearly two million in sales filling him with smug self-satisfaction, very tellingly Michael Pearl laughs. He is laughing, he says on his blog post, at all his “caustic critics”, for our “foolish, uninformed criticism of God’s method of child training”, and bizarrely, he describes how his whole household, and households like his around the world, are filled with mirth. His granddaughters are laughing as they spank their dolls, and even his chickens are laughing because “they know that same piece of ¼ inch plastic supply line that trained the dogs not to eat chicken….” kept them safe to produce organic eggs for his breakfast. So much rejoicing in Michael’s world! Perhaps he is deluded that he is being persecuted for righteousness.
His teachings are hardly righteous. Clay Clarkson — whose book, Heartfelt Discipline I recommend–disagrees with the Pearl’s estimation that it is they who’ve got a plumbing supply line that is linked to heaven. Clarkson argues that to be consistent with the context, and the actual Hebrew words used for the “rod” and for “child” in the Scriptures the rod Pearl would celebrate with such joy would look more like a cudgel than a 1/4 inch plastic pipe, and it would be used on the back of a bar-mitzvah boy, not on toddlers and young children. The Hebrew word for rod is “shebet” and is describing the staff of a governor, and the word ‘authority’ may be substituted for its use. Michael Pearl not only distorts this idea of loving discipline, but he exalts the rod and imparts it with some kind of mystical cleansing ability for the conscience that the child secretly longs for, powers that belong only to the Christ of the Cross:
“When a child is bound in self-blame and low self-esteem, parents are not helpless. God has given them the gift of the rod. The rod can bring repentance, but it goes much deeper than that. The rod in the hands of a righteous authority will supply the child’s soul with that moment of judgment that he feels he so deserves. Properly applied, with instruction, it will absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, and give him a fresh start through a confidence that all indebtedness is paid.”
The rod is a magic wand in the hands of the parent, guaranteed to produce a new child for the frustrated parent of a strong-willed child. Indeed, like Christ resurrected from the tomb, you will have a new child in nothing less than three days. “Most children can be brought into complete and joyous subjection in just three days”, writes Pearl. And,
“After a short explanation about bad attitudes and the need to love, patiently and calmly apply the rod to his back-side. Somehow, after eight or ten licks, the poison is transformed into gushing love and contentment. The world becomes a beautiful place. A brand new child emerges. It makes an adult stare at the rod in wonder, trying to see what magic is contained therein.”
No wonder harried parents are buying into this. What a pitch.
But Pearl doesn’t just save the abuse for little children, he heaps it on victims of domestic violence: Here’s his sage advice for a woman whose husband is in jail for beating her:
“Think about it, lady; it is a great time for writing love letters and sharing a three-minute romantic phone call once a week. Guys who get out of prison run straight home to their ladies and treat them wonderfully—for a while anyway.”
Lovely. What does she do, Mr. Pearl, when she hears, ‘It’s all your fault! You made me do it!’ Again. When your ‘lady’ is now a bloody pulp on the floor with all the horrified kids looking on. What terrific advice. It is a second emotional abuse of those tormented women, it is unspeakably cruel advice to these victims who need desperately the wisdom to set healthy boundaries as Leslie Vernick demonstrates in this discussion on “Family Life Today” She is the author of the book, “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship.”
Pearl does not stop with his heresy with his exaltation of the rod. He also teaches that a believer can achieve sinless perfection, as stated in an article titled “Living Parallel Lives in the Same Space,” ( No Greater Joy, Jan.-Feb. 2005 –I am not giving links to his website, I will not be responsible for any more hits he will get with this notoriety! Google the quotes) Pearl says:
“WE SHOULD AND CAN SIN NO MORE! … I have been preaching AND LIVING this gospel of sanctification for many years.” Further, in the same article Pearl claims that prisoners that he ministers to “come to me all the time, bubbling over with joy, and tell me that THEY ARE NOW FREE FROM ALL SIN” (p. 21)
This blogger sheds further light on these questionable teachings and the duplicity Pearl uses in responding to his critics. But it would take a book to detail all the Pearl’s unwisdom; and I haven’t even touched upon Debi Pearls own Gospel-less brand of teaching to wives and mothers, epitomized in her field trip suggestion posted in This Old Schoolhouse Magazine: take your kids to an airport to evaluate the clothing choices of the travelers, and rate them on modesty. What a heartless focus: zeroing in on the tight pants and crop tops that are merely a reflection of the broken lives within the bared skin. No vision of the damaged people who need a Savior, and who might welcome some good news from winsome Spirit-filled believers. But I do not think any outreach would be successful on that little Pharisaical excursion into the world.
The homeschooling community has become blind guides: our distorted message to these desperate people is devoid of grace: your dress is bad, your music and movies are bad and we hate your influence on our kids–and we will build ourselves the City of God, safe from you. We have experienced a kind of heart failure. When I read suggestions like this in This Old Schoolhouse magazine I just gave up–I quit reading and subscribing to the homeschool literature, and going to the conventions. They have nothing to say to me anymore. I suggest that rather than this kind of separation from the world, we separate ourselves instead from our dead legalism, and stop funding these ministries and magazines.
The Pearls have developed a cultish kind of following devoted to their teachings, because pragmatically, they work — after all, Skinner’s experiments with mice demonstrated that! But their teachings are straying more and more from the truth once delivered to the saints, and are well on their way to preaching another gospel. It is not okay to say that they are legitimate teachers anymore, and that there is good in what they do. Children do not need to be relieved of the guilt of their sin by the atoning stripes of the rod–they must be shown the Cross. Women can and should separate from their abusive husbands. And the Lydia Schatz tragedy is a completely logical extension of Michael Pearl’s instructions that the parent should not stop “chastising” until the kid cries ‘uncle’–no, that is inaccurate, he teaches the child should not have any breath left in him to cry at anything, there should not be even “breath left in them to complain.” The Pearls are false teachers who must be shunned, and publicly. We have a kind of heart failure in the homeschool community when we endorse such teachings.
I wish I’d shunned this type of teaching. We never set up a “training ground” at our house, but like Pearl I believed in the power of the rod, that it was a magic wand that would transform my toddler into a model of submissiveness. I tried as best I could, believing I was a bad parent if I didn’t wield it–but I must have done something wrong. I was an obvious failure as a mother. Our toddler tantrumed several times a day, for hours, several hours at a time, and at that time I had a newborn on my hip as well. The police made a visit to my home one night, after an alarmed new neighbor heard the screaming from the bathroom again, where for survival’s sake I’d learned to leave her whenever she went into another bewildering rage. It was the grace of God that kept me away from her then, and all those other times.
I was so overwhelmed, and filled with guilt. According to the sort of warped thinking that is promoted by the Pearls, I did not love my daughter enough because I could not consistently wield that rod. I was so afraid of what I would do if I did pick up a rod that stings but does not leave a mark, and spank my troubled child until she was quiet, spank until there was not, in those ghastly words, “breath in her to cry ‘huggie’,…” spank until I heard that “wounded, submissive whimper.” For then the “admonition is complete.”
The wounded submissive whimper that never came from Lydia Schatz, she resisted that terrible night until her heart finally gave out. Oh, that smiling survivor of a country nearly destroyed by recent civil war; that little girl who came off the plane so relieved that she was safe at last, only to find that she was a child soldier in a very different war–a war of wills–and she must have decided she was never going to surrender. She had lived through worse things. She thought when she got off the plane at that airport that she was done with unimaginable horrors.
Lydia, I weep for you even as I type those words. We failed you. We promoted the teachings that led to your death. I am so thankful you are safe now from all that would ever threaten you, forever. Safe in the Savior’s protective embrace, where there are no more tears–no suffering like yours there, ever again.
Tags: biblical chastisement, Biblical discipline, Clay Clarkson, Heartfelt Discipline, Lydia Schatz Operant Conditioning, Michael Pearl, Michael Pearl duplicity, No Greater Joy, Pearl heretical teachings, sinless perfectionism, The Old Schoolhouse, To Train Up A ChildYou can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.