Wholesale Child Abuse2 March, 2010
When I was young I lived for a time at Grand Canyon. Right on the rim. I went to Grand Canyon Elementary School from early in my first grade year to early in my sixth year. And I saw my first example of child abuse.
Of course, I had no idea that it was child abuse. I just knew that one of my pals (well, he was a good friend at that point (I lost him as a friend because of religion)), a devout evangelical Christian (no idea what particular brand (though he was a strict Biblical literalist)), often came to school with black eyes, a split lip, a bruised cheek, on one occasion a broken arm.
This was before the days of mandatory reporting of child abuse by teachers. When I asked him about the injuries, his reply was some variation of, “I disobeyed authority.” Not in so many words, but he was taught that he was to his father as his father is to god. Disobeying his father, disagreeing with his father, even failing to agree quickly enough with his father, garnered a beating.
His father was, apparently, a firm believer in Proverbs 23: 13-14: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. If you beat him with the rod you will save his soul from Sheol.”
In ’78 we moved back east to Maryland smack dab in the middle of the proberbial Bible Belt (of course I had no idea that the belt existed). And I saw child abuse again (still had no name to put to the phenomena, but I knew it when I saw it).
A boy kicked out of his home because he brought home a book. Dad had no problem with books as long as it was the One True Book — that omnibus of torture and mayhem. When junior brought home a bit of fiction (James Bond, Jr., double-oh-three-and-a-half), this was too much and, at the age of 13, he was out. Eventually his dad let him move back in, though he did have his arm in a cast for about 2 months after that.
A girl who came to school with bruises on her arms and legs (fingertip bruising was visible during gym class). Her father was an elder in one of the more conservative churches in the area. Even talking to a boy deserved punishment. She married at 15 or 16 to a much older man and we never say her again.
This was years ago. Decades in the past. Last century to be exact. Surely we have come further. And in some ways we have. Teachers are required to report suspected child abuse. Today, the three kids I mention above (there were more, many more, that I knew) would have had contact with social services and, hopefully, the abuse ended.
Of course, there are still groups — ministers, preachers, even child psychologists — who are still of the opinion that that children will only flourish if punished, physically or otherwise, for any wrongdoing. One example is No Greater Joy (from Salon):
The teachings of the [Michael and Debbie} Pearl and their Tennessee-based No Greater Joy ministry, which brought in $1.8 million last year in sales of books, DVDs and the like, are widely known and normalized across many conservative Christian churches and home-schooling communities. Perhaps the most popular of several ultra-conservative Christian figures to carry forward this centuries-old strain of Christian thought, the Pearls advocate a specific program of even-tempered, non-injurious corporal punishment, or “chastisement,” designed to bring about total obedience — even by infants — to their sovereign parents. . . . . By no means do the Pearls advocate suffocation with blankets; they are emphatically against “abuse.” But they do not spare the rod. From their Web site: A length of quarter-inch plumbing supply line is a “real attention-getter.”
Yes, they advocate beating children with hoses. Never mind that during the trials after World War II that was considered a war crime. The rod of punishment (literally a rod) is considered a requirement for good parenting (from No Greater Joy Ministries):
If you fail to gain the child’s heart through proper training and chastisement, his self-will may carry him into acts or motives that are evil. When a child has chosen the path of corruption, like anger that results in hurting someone, he has grieved his conscience and is in a psychological state of estrangement from all authority, from God, and from his higher impulses to be good. His guilt will isolate him from the social order and put him beyond the pale of reason and rebuke. It will be the jumping off point into total rebellion. You may see this occur in a child as young as three or four, but more likely in older children.
If you have trained properly, this may never happen to your child, but if it does come to this, you are not helpless. The soul of your child needs to be punished. He feels the need to suffer for his misdeeds. What I am telling you is well understood by the most reprobate of modern psychiatrists and psychologists. They call it a “guilt complex.” Children and adults in this state of mind often do harm to themselves. Their anger is turned inward because they hate the bad person they know themselves to be. Their soul is crying out for justice to be done to the self. They don’t know what is happening, and they will not voluntarily seek punishment, but their soul needs judgment. When your child is in the first throes of this debilitating condition, be kind enough to punish him. Care enough and love enough to pay the emotional sacrifice to give him ten to fifteen licks that will satisfy his need to experience payback.
If you do not see the wisdom in what I have said, and you reject these concepts, you are not fit to be a parent. I pity your children. They will never experience the freedom of soul and conscience that mine do. (emphasis added)
By the standards of No Greater Joy Ministries, the parents of Lydia Schatz, a 7-year-old girl beaten to death with a 1/4 inch plumbing supply line, are fit parents. From Salon:
Her parents, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz of Paradise, Calif., who reportedly called 911 to report that she was not breathing, stand charged with her murder. They are expected to enter a plea on Thursday. According to the authorities, forceful and numerous whippings, apparently with plumbing line, may have caused tissue breakdown so massive that Lydia’s vital organs could no longer function. The Schatzes also face torture and abuse charges for significant injuries sustained by Lydia’s also-adopted sister Zariah, 11, who was hospitalized in critical condition, as well as for extensive bruising on a 10-year-old biological son. (The Schatzes have six biological children and three adopted from Liberia.) Though the remaining children showed no visible signs of abuse, they told police they’d been “disciplined” with the tubing as well. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey told Salon that the Schatzes had explicitly described to police their adherence to the Pearls’ philosophy, which, as one of many horrified anti-Pearl bloggers within the conservative Christian community observes — recalling precisely what prompted the Schatzes’ call to 911 — includes the admonition that a proper spanking leaves a child “without breath to complain.”
The book, “To Train Up A Child,” has sold 1.4 million copies. Copies have been given free to soldiers with families. Telling true believers that their god wants them to beat their child is scary. Telling millions (books, website, and over-zealous preachers) to do it, wholesale, is even worse.
There may be a glimmer of hope in this horrific case. Many in the evangelical community are speaking out against this abuse:
“My wife and I are Christians and the Pearl system is one of the most anti-Christian systems I’ve ever heard of,” says Mathers. “Part of what unnerves me is how many Christians I’ve encountered in the past week who either follow the Pearl system or step around it, saying, ‘They may be a little extreme, but there’s some good principles in there.’ It scares me that there are people walking around with such things being acceptable in their heads. It scares me that people who call themselves Christians are willing to be so mean and merciless, or at the very least, that they feel OK condoning people like that.” (Mathers is also not alone in believing that — long hermeneutical story short — the Pearls’ entire ministry is based on flawed, even heretical, theology.)
Just a glimmer of hope. Until Christians stop viewing themselves as Christians first this shit will continue. They will be ‘mean and merciless.’ When, and more important, if, they begin to see themselves and their children as human beings first and Christians second, abuse will continue because some authoritarian figure tell them it is the ‘Christian Thing To Do.’
Is it truly progress if, during my life, we have advanced from retail child abuse to wholesale child abuse?
I found this through Pandagon which shows that the ministry’s program for child abuse is virtually identical to the cycle of abuse.