The Schatzes did not come up with their disciplinary methods all on their own. They were followers of the Tennessee-based No Greater Joy Ministries, which is operated by a fundamentalist Christian minister named Michael Pearl and his wife, Debi. The Pearls’ book To Train up a Child is hugely popular among Christian homeschooling parents; it has sold more than 650,000 copies and been translated into many foreign languages, according to the Pearls’ website.
In particular, the Pearls believe that 1/4-inch plumbing line–the very implement the Schatz’s used to kill Lydia–is ideal for spanking children. “It will fit in your purse or hang around your neck. You can buy them [sic] for $1.00 at Home Depot or any hardware store,” notes Michael Pearl on his website. He adds that sections of the pipe “come cheaper by the dozen and can be widely distributed in every room and vehicle. Just the high profile of their accessibility keeps kids in line.” The Pearls’ book was found in the Schatz home with passages underlined. Witnesses say that both Sean Paddock and Hana Williams were frequently beaten with 1/4-inch plumbing line.
Pearl, who has had no clinical training in child development or psychology, rejects criticism that his teachings lead parents to abuse their children. He points out that his book warns parents not to spank in anger. “There are always some that act in the extreme,” he says.
My letter to Zariah, written only on this blog, follows.
How many of us could possibly comprehend your pain?
You were taken from your homeland of Liberia, adopted by a couple who already had many children. Perhaps those adults were compassionate on some level, for they also adopted your younger sister Lydia and another small child. Undoubtedly, many were convinced that this man and woman were good people. After all, they were devout Christians who believed in living life according to the Bible.
But we now know the truth. Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz were obsessed with obedience and allowed the words of one minister to justify the abusive actions that grew out of their obsession. Throughout the time that you and Lydia were tortured, your abusers were convinced that their religion required them to whip you. They took breaks to pray to a god they most likely believed was rooting them on.
You nearly died from the whippings, and you lost your dear sister Lydia, whose tiny frame could not withstand the brutality that the Schatz’s inflicted upon her. Experts have compared Lydia’s injuries to those found on the bodies of earthquake and bombing victims. Due to their cruel actions, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz will spend a long time in prison. How grateful we are that you survived, partly so that you could face your perpetrators at trial and bravely ask them about your beloved sister: “Why did you adopt her? To kill her?” you said.
You must wonder, what kind of country is this, where people injure and kill children in the name of faith; where people take the word of a minister who claims that “God spanks His children”; where people express their religious “freedom” by physically, sexually, and emotionally abusing children?
You may hear about other victims of religious child maltreatment, such as those who are sexually abused by religious leaders who are given so much power that they can easily overpower victims. Or children who are so inculcated with religious dogma that their brains go numb. Or children who die from normally treatable medical conditions, due to the fact that their parents were convinced that prayer, not doctors, would cure them.
It is a sad picture, but I also want you to you know that these perpetrators are in the minority. Most people of faith understand the difference between living according to one’s religious beliefs and being consumed by those beliefs. Most people of faith do not indoctrinate children, but teach them different worldviews. Most people of faith would not sacrifice the health and safety of children to fulfill a twisted religious agenda.
I believe that a majority of Americans feel that a child’s right to a happy, healthy, and safe life trumps everything else, including the right to practice religious rituals. They recognize that faith doctrines—such as those that tell worshipers to spank their kids, that women are inferior to men, or that gays and lesbians are offensive to God—should be left in history books. I believe most Americans would say that the only religious beliefs worth subscribing to are those that promote tolerance, acceptance, and love.
We accept the harsh truth that you are one of many survivors of this kind of abuse. We recognize that religion can lead people to harm children. We admit that child maltreatment happens in religious communities and too often goes ignored. What you have endured is a harsh reminder of what can happen when religion gets into the wrong hands.
But we promise you this: We are committed to eradicating religious child maltreatment. We are talking about it and will continue to talk about it, because raising awareness of the problem is the first step. We are devastated by what happened to you and Lydia. If we could, we would have done whatever we could to ensure that you two were the last victims.
Take good care,