by Matthew Raley Here is a link to a local Action News special report in which I participated. "For the Children's Sake" addresses the parenting teachings of Michael Pearl in relation to the Schatz family. Many thanks to the news team for running this story!
by Matthew Raley Kenneth and Elizabeth Schatz pleaded not guilty last Thursday to charges of torture and murder in the death of their 7-year-old daughter Lydia. The D.A. cited an autopsy concluding that she died of "'blunt force trauma' over a period of hours on Feb. 5, which caused a breakdown of muscle tissue fatally damaging her kidneys and other vital organs." The defense attorney said he is "exploring extensively ... other explanations for the death of this child."
For me this is not a news item or an abstract legal issue, but a regional agony.
I do not know the Schatzes. But I know and love many of their friends, a group that includes some of our church's families. This wide circle of people is grieving for Lydia and for her surviving brothers and sisters, whose lives have been upended.
Friends of the Schatzes are also grieving for the parents, praying for them and trying to understand how they could have committed such crimes. These friends cannot match the picture of the Schatz home that has emerged in news reports with the family they thought they knew.
I can empathize with their sorrow, and I have no desire to add to it.
There is a larger group of local believers. The vast majority of Christians I know are sickened and enraged by Lydia's death, and by the "not guilty" plea. They have no personal acquaintance with Kenneth and Elizabeth Schatz, and feel at liberty to vent.
It is tempting to hold one perspective as more pure than the other. Friends might feel that they're maintaining love toward two sinners, no matter how extreme their sin. The wider community might feel that such love is twisted. Both perspectives have problems.
How should Christians conduct themselves in relation to the Schatz family? Some thoughts:
1. In their grief for the accused parents, the friends of Kenneth and Elizabeth Schatz are not defending or rationalizing child abuse. Anybody whose loved one has committed a crime knows the feelings of watching justice be done -- understanding that it must be done, but also mourning over the personal losses. Friends have a right to grieve over this couple without their motives being impugned.
2. The community's expressions of rage against the Schatzes are understandable but unhealthy. Comments that I have read on local news sites are frequently violent, profane, and hysterical. (If this describes you, don't bother venting off-topic here. I am now moderating all comments.) The surviving Schatz children will eventually be exposed to the community's rage against their mom and dad. The children can't be shielded from it. Their grief will be long and complex, and they will not feel in the least comforted by the braying of a mob. Christians in particular should not join in. Justice is cool and deliberate for a reason.
3. I would urge friends of the Schatzes that this is not a moment for wishful thinking. Some may offer conspiracy theories about trumped-up election-year indictments or persecution of Christians in the media. These speculations blur the issue. The defense attorney's suggestion that there could be a cause of death besides the beatings will stand or fall on evidence. But it in no way invalidates the claim that there were beatings. This grim reality, reportedly established by the autopsy, is not now in dispute. We have to face the horror of the abuse. The glare of media attention on it is right.
4. There is inevitably the foolish person who wants to find "the good that God is doing" through Lydia's death. If you are this person, let me advise you as a pastor, and as a firm believer in Romans 8.28, that this is an excellent opportunity to keep your folly to yourself. Flippant applications of that verse are never a balm to those in mourning. There are times to grieve, to feel the bite of loss. This is a time for our whole community to feel the loss of a 7-year-old girl -- a loss that will not be restored in this life. Grief is good for us.
Our hope for Lydia and for ourselves is not in some repair of this life, but in the redemption stored up in the next.
After I criticized Michael Pearl's teaching on parenting last week (here and here), I've heard a recurring question. Should we throw out a teaching that has helped so many struggling parents just because some points of doctrine are wrong?
Christian parents today are indeed struggling, often desperate to prevent their children's falling away from Christ. Especially in the last twenty years, many have heeded the claims that righteousness is a matter of training. They want a system that yields results.
Please read this opening sentence from A. W. Tozer's The Root of the Righteous with care:
One marked difference between the faith of our fathers as conceived by the fathers and the same faith as understood and lived by their children is that the fathers were concerned with the root of the matter, while their present-day descendants seem concerned only with the fruit.
In the criticism of Pearl's teaching over the last several weeks, there has been a focus on the fruits of his system. But there has been a dearth of pastoral leadership calling believers back to the root of the matter.
I want to appeal to those parents who say they've seen fruit in applying Pearl's teaching. I understand that you don't want to throw the baby out with the bath. But you can't ignore the connection between Pearl's doctrine and practice.
A child cannot relate to God, he says. Before the "age of accountability," a child is "too young to fathom God," and needs a "surrogate god" in the form of a parent "until he is old enough to submit himself to The Eternal God."
The parent, as God's "surrogate," purifies a child's guilt through spanking. Pearl teaches this point in detail under the heading, "The rod purges the soul of guilt," in his "Defense of Biblical Chastisement, Part 1." Pearl states, "The properly administered rod is restorative as nothing else can be. It is indispensable to the removal of guilt in your child. His very conscience (nature) demands punishment, and the rod supplies the needs of his soul, releasing him from his guilt and self-condemnation."
In this section specifically devoted to the nature of guilt and its remedy, Pearl does not mention anything about the cross of Jesus Christ. Not a single word. He says nothing about Christ purging our sin and cleansing our conscience, finally and eternally.
If you admire Pearl's fruit, I need to ask you, "How do you believe your child is saved from sin? Can your child, right now, approach the Eternal God's throne blameless by faith in Jesus Christ, the high priest? Or are you responsible before that throne for driving sin out of your child and making him or her righteous through training?"
To spank rightly in practice, you have to reject this teaching. If there is a baby in Pearl's bath, she has drowned.
I also feel the need to appeal to other parents -- a growing chorus -- who are shocked by Pearl's fruit.
Some of the fruit is indeed shocking. The killing of a child by people who apparently took the teaching to a logical extreme is a horror.
But what if Pearl's fruit did not appear so vile? What if Pearl's adherents all stayed perfectly within his stated limits for spanking? What if their fruit consisted solely of compliant, pleasant children who were helpful and never got in anyone's way? What would we say then?
I would say this.
Those most resistant to the gospel of forgiveness by faith alone in Christ alone are the compliant people whose childhood guilt was purged by many spankings, and who never depart in adulthood from the way in which they were trained up. As Pearl himself says (in the same section cited above), a child relates "to his parents in the same manner that he will later relate to God." Just try convincing a man trained this way that he needs, or could ever have, a Savior.
I urge my fellow critics of Pearl's teaching to talk about the Gospel. This is the moment to contrast Pharisaical legalism with the power of Jesus Christ.
I waited too long to research Michael Pearl. I'm grieved that I reacted to fruit instead of studying more deeply. Pastors, it's time for us to declare ourselves on the root of the matter. Our numbers are too small today (cf. this list). Join us!
Here is the root question I believe we have to raise with our congregations: "Is there any training that replaces Christ's all-sufficient righteousness?"
Our people need to see the great price of following Pearl.
by Matthew Raley Here is Michael Pearl's response to those who have been warning about his teachings: laughter. You'd never know from his post that a girl had been killed. This is all about him, apparently.
By the way, what's up with this "our children" thing? Does he think he has millions of children?
by Matthew Raley A few weeks ago, a prayer request went out at church for a family whose child had died suddenly. We later learned that the unnamed family was that of Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, now charged with the torture and murder of their 7-year-old adopted daughter Lydia.
The couple will enter pleas on March 18th.
Many of our people know the Schatzes personally through home school groups, so the story has already hit them hard. Could the couple really have done this? What could have motivated them?
But Butte County D.A. Mike Ramsey asserts a "direct connection" between Lydia's killing and the teachings of Michael Pearl, raising the killing to another level. The story has been picked up by Salon, which had already run a critical examination of Michael and Debi Pearl in 2006.
Many of our people read the Pearls. Privately, I have been asked several times over the years about the Pearls' teachings, and my answer has always been, "They're authoritarians. Run away." I give the same answer about Bill Gothard and Gary Ezzo, other child-rearing gurus. Since Lydia's death, however, I have been looking more closely at the Pearls' teaching, and I need to make my views public.
Before doing so, I want to be specific about where I think Michael Pearl's responsibility lies in relation to Lydia's death. Local law enforcement investigators and national journalists have not accused the Pearls of advocating child abuse, being careful to quote Pearl's warnings against doing physical harm to children.
These critics are making a different argument, namely that Michael Pearl irresponsibly encourages abusers, even if the encouragement is unintentional.
I agree, and I want to show you that the encouragement toward abuse is in Pearl's theology. His false gospel imposes mandates on parents that go far beyond what God requires.
1. Michael Pearl does not believe in the imputation of Adam's sin to all human beings.
He writes, "When a descendent of Adam reaches a level of moral understanding (sometime in his youth) he becomes fully, personally accountable to God and has sin imputed to him, resulting in the peril of eternal damnation." Pearl adds, "When man reaches his state of moral accountability, and, by virtue of his personal transgression, becomes blameworthy, his only hope is a work of grace by God alone."
This seems like a minor quibble, but it is profound. The Bible's teaching that all human beings have an inherited sin nature means that no human institution has the ability to purge sin and do away with guilt. Only Christ can change our nature. Throughout history, teachers consistently attack this doctrine in order to tell their followers, "If you put yourselves under my authority, you can learn the secret to getting rid of your sins."
Pearl imposes on parents the mandate to form godliness in a child before the "age of accountability." Pearl believes that parents have a direct role in saving children. The "hope" he offers in "a work of grace by God alone" is for those whose parents failed.
2. Michael Pearl believes that spanking delivers a child from guilt.
Because Pearl does not believe you inherit a sin nature, he articulates a new doctrine of salvation that is dependent on a parent's will. In his article, "In Defense of Biblical Chastisement", he writes,
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 [my italics].
That simply annuls the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Notice that forgiveness is granted only on the basis of the punishment of the sinner, and that a human "righteous authority" is the source of this "gift." "All indebtedness is paid," Pearl says, not by Christ, but by the rod. No parent can believe this statement without also believing that he or she has the authority to cleanse a child of guilt.
Pearl goes much further:
To the child, a righteous parent is a surrogate god, representing the rule of law and the bar of justice. When the child is yet too young to fathom God, he is nonetheless able to relate to his parents in the same manner that he will later relate to God. The properly administered rod is restorative as nothing else can be. It is indispensable to the removal of guilt in your child. His very conscience (nature) demands punishment, and the rod supplies the needs of his soul, releasing him from his guilt and self-condemnation. It is the ultimate enforcer, preserving the child in authority and discipline until he is old enough to submit himself to The Eternal God.
These statements are the logical and inevitable application of his semi-Pelagian view of sin. Before the age of accountability, O parent, thou art a god.
(For another detailed treatment of Pearl's teachings, cf this analysis.)
To spank a child as a reasoned limitation on his or her behavior is one thing. But to imagine that you are purging the child of the guilt of sin, and that the pain is psychologically purifying, is to cross into another rationale entirely. In the wrong mind, it forms the imperative to "give" more and more pain. Such a mind would ignore Pearl's warnings against abuse, to be sure, but not necessarily his logic.
The news accounts of "quarter-inch plumbing supply line" sold by Pearl are chilling, but nowhere near as disturbing as the doctrine he sells.