In an earlier version of the Religious Horror Show, I wrote about the tragic death of Sean Paddock, a 4-year old boy that was killed when his mother wrapped him tightly in a blanket until he suffocated. His adoptive mother, an avid follower of the religious “train up your child” school of thought touted by Michael and Debi Pearl, leaders of the Tennessee-based No Greater Joy ministry which teach the “spare the rod, spoil the child” method of child “training”. Sean Paddock’s mother Lynn was eventually convicted of his murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, yet the Pearls continue to sell their abusive nonsense to enthusiastic fundamentalist Christian families around the world.
So I suppose it should come as no surprise that yet another mother has killed her child using their advice and methods. Lydia Schatz, a 7-year old girl, was beaten to death with a piece of quarter-inch plumbing pipe, exactly as described in the Pearls’ works. Her parents, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, reportedly called 911 when they noticed that she was not breathing. The autopsy revealed that Lydia had been beaten so severely by the pipe that it caused tissue breakdown so massive that her vital organs could no longer function. The Schatz’ have six biological children and have adopted three from Liberia, one of whom was Lydia. They are also charged with similar abuse toward another adopted child, Zariah, 11, who was hospitalized in critical condition, and one of their natural sons, aged 10, who was hospitalized with extensive bruising. All of the remaining children report having been “punished” by beating with the pipe as well.
“I think many in the Christian and/or home-school community wanted to see Sean Paddock as an ‘extreme’ example. Lynn Paddock was ‘just’ a foster mom. She already had issues. Whatever someone could use to rationalize away the influence of Michael and Debi Pearl, they would. Because they did not want to admit that a ‘normal’ home-schooling mom could abuse her child to death, they did not want to admit that a book that has been normalized in home-schooling circles was a factor in the death, they did not want to admit their own vulnerability to being deceived or hurting their child,” says Alexandra Bush, 35, a “home-schooling mom and theologically conservative Christian” in Sarasota, Florida.
Michael Pearl said, “We do not teach ‘corporal punishment’ or ‘hitting’ children. We teach parents how to train their children, which sometimes requires the limited and controlled application of a spanking instrument to hold the child’s attention on admonition … No Greater Joy does not advocate spanking to the point of serious injury. If indeed these parents were abusive, and that has not yet been proven by the courts, it is regretful that our teachings were not able to turn them from their predisposition to abusive habits.”
This latest travesty has gotten a lot of people in the Christian community to turn against Pearl and his system. Rebecca Diamond, a Canadian Christian homeschooler says of Pearl, “when he uses phrases such as continuing to whip until the crying turns into a ‘wounded, submissive whimper‘ or ‘without breath to complain,’ I’m not sure how he doesn’t bear moral guilt for this. Legally, I don’t know if he can be charged. But morally? I believe that absolutely, anyone who advocates treating children like that bears responsibility.”
32-year old Paul Mathers finds fault with the whole idea of labeling something as a “Christian” system. “Not to be crass, but you slap the title ‘Christian’ on something, and all of a sudden it’sthe ‘Christian’ thing. Sometimes, in my experience, that’s all it takes for Christians to start following something. There’s not a whole lot of discernment.”
Rebecca Diamond agrees. “Pearl’s books play on common fears in the subculture of the deeply religious home-schooling family, who is already by their own choice on the fringes of society: the fear that ‘the world’ will steal children away, the fear that somehow the parents will be to blame.”
Alexandra Bush states, “As a Christian, I believe it has been a failing of the evangelical church in the U.S. as a whole for not warning their members about this type of harmful teaching. It is something the church cannot, biblically, ignore.” Yet we all know that far too many times, the church does exactly that. Whether it’s in abusive religiously-charged discipline programs or Catholic sex abuse, the church can and does overlook anything that gets in the way of their perfect little world. You don’t have the mainstream Christian sects speaking out against Pearl and his system and the more fundamentalist a sect gets, the less likely they are to be critical of people who inhabit their little corner of the underground.
This is exactly where religious delusion and lack of common sense comes into play. Religion pushes agendas and beliefs based on blind faith, not intellectual evaluation. Had the Shatzes stopped to think about the wellbeing of their children before their ridiculous ideas about gods, they would have realized that beating their children to the brink of death and beyond is utterly reprehensible and absurd. This is why religion and the ignorance it generates is such a horror for us all.