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Spare the Rod? A Child's Death Sparks Debate

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While there are moms in both schools of thought, there is no debate that these parents went too far.

kevin and elizabeth schatz

Kate Tuttle: Children die every year at the hands of parents who go a bit overboard in the discipline department. And every parent who reads about one of these deaths -- no matter where she or he stands on the spanking spectrum -- is sickened by the loss and wonders just how it could happen.

Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, a couple raising nine kids in Paradise, Calif., were apparently following the advice of fundamentalist Christian childcare authors Debi and Michael Pearl when they chose to beat their adopted daughter Lydia with a quarter-inch plumbing-supply line. Described in the Pearls' website as a "great tool to get a child's attention," the inexpensive weapon -- apparently used for several hours the day before Lydia's death -- allegedly led to the 7-year-old's total organ failure. (Another daughter, Zariah, was hospitalized in critical condition.) The Schatzes were charged with murdering Lydia and torturing her sister.

Although it's unlikely that the Pearls will face any legal consequences for their role in inspiring the Schatzes' choice of spanking instrument, their connection to the Schatz case -- as well as an earlier death of a child whose parents followed the Pearls' "No Greater Joy" ministry -- has roiled the Christian-parenting world. 

The Pearls defend their teachings, claiming that they recommend only non-abusive spanking (albeit with rubber hoses and tree switches). They defend physical forms of discipline as being Biblically inspired, quoting Proverbs 13:24, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son, but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."

Among the Pearls' most ardent Christian critics are Paul and Laurie Mathers, a couple who knew the Schatzes. In a post about Lydia's death, Laurie Mathers wrote of the Pearls, "...They claim to be a Christian organization, and yet offer no grace and NO mercy. They actually teach parents to show no mercy to their children."

It's only natural that parents seek inspiration and advice as they grapple with the world's toughest job. For those who consider themselves Christian, it makes sense to explore whether spanking (or any other parenting choice) really fits with one's deepest beliefs. No matter what, though, blindly following teachings that involve going to Home Depot and buying tools with which to hit your child doesn't feel very loving -- or very Christian -- to me.


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36 comments so far | Post a comment now
Mandy March 5, 2010, 7:35 AM

I actually stumbled across their site one time, I was reading information about the Duggars and found a link… I am a Christian mom, and not against spanking… However, I found EVERY BIT of their site to be extremely disturbing and abusive. Not only are the ‘parenting advice’ sections filled with inexplicable lack of compassion, but their marriage advice is sadly even WORSE. If you are a woman or child, you are nothing. And even Mrs.Pearl answers questions with hatred, disgust and upright nastiness in childish name calling. To do what they do in the name of God is disgusting.

b March 5, 2010, 8:22 AM

Show me an instance in which Jesus himself hit a child? To call this form of parenting Christian is like saying pigs fly. I believe the phrase they use to justify their behavior is just that, a justification, and is meant to be proverbial (go figure) more than literally translated. Any parent, especially any Christian parent, seeking to do right by God and wanting to know a better way to disciple need only to look inside themselves. Everyone knows when they are doing something wrong, we feel it in our gut. One strike of that rod should fill any God-fearing parent with such a sickening feeling that it would only take once to know that that is NOT how Christ wants his followers to act.

GPC March 5, 2010, 11:04 AM

As far as I’m concerned, a spank is ok, abuse is not. There is a line. My parents never crossed that line. I got a few swats on the butt in my lifetime, and I didn’t end up traumatized in need of therapy. Timeouts do not work and unless your kid’s room is barren of entertainment options, sending them to thier room is useless. Timeouts, etc are a joke to the child…and parents know it. I’ve not seen any of the passive “punishments” work on any child I know. They continue with undesirable behaviours time and time again. What is a person to do? The amount of violence being done by young people today is a testament to the failure of passive punishment. Obviously, in most cases, a lesser punishment is needed, but sometimes kids just need a good swat on the butt.

Beth March 5, 2010, 11:25 AM

I just read through the website referenced in this article and am still sitting here in shock. I am in agreement with previous posts…every bit of the message portrayed there is disturbing. And this is certainly not the ways of a Christian as I learned them. How terrible. I was taught a Christian is loving and compassionate, merciful and forgiving - not an armed mercinary instilling fear in little children. Makes my skin crawl.

Stephanie March 5, 2010, 6:35 PM

It’s appalling what people do in the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught compassion, love, grace, acceptance not abuse and torture. Those poor children. It makes me so sad to think of all the other children in this world being tortured because of this horrible misinterpretation of the Bible.

Grace June 18, 2010, 5:54 PM

Spanking does not work. If you have masochistic tendencies and enjoy being spanked you certainly shouldn’t get the right to decide what developing human beings should receive.

The only instance in which spanking could be OK is between consenting adults.

Anonymous June 18, 2010, 5:58 PM

It amazes how people perpetuate unfounded fallacies (as in time out does not work, I was spanked and I’m fine).

Just look at the whole country of Sweden, where spanking was banned in the 1970s. I have been fortunate enough to live there and they have a beautiful society and country, very intelligent people. They got it right.

Spanking or time outs are not the answer. What kids in the USA need is parents with TIME to actually have, enjoy and raise their kids. Sorry, but parents who spank do it because they don’t have the time to properly and lovingly raise a child.

QRM June 18, 2010, 6:01 PM

It amazes how people perpetuate unfounded fallacies (as in time out does not work, I was spanked and I’m fine).

Just look at the whole country of Sweden, where spanking was banned in the 1970s. I have been fortunate enough to live there and they have a beautiful society and country, very intelligent people. They got it right.

Spanking or time outs are not the answer. What kids in the USA need is parents with TIME to actually have, enjoy and raise their kids. Sorry, but parents who spank do it because they don’t have the time to properly and lovingly raise a child.

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