We'd sort of assumed that, after the suffocation death of that little boy, the ministry behind the controversial Christian strain of obedience-inducing "chastisement" had been discredited. Far from it: another child died as a result of their methods:
While the method of "training" employed by Michael and Debi Pearl at No Greater Joy ministry is far from new, they're the modern face of the controversial "Biblical Chastisement" movement, are the authors of the popular "To Train Up a Child" manual, have a comprehensive web business, and, not incidentally, were the ones whose programs Lynn Paddock was following when she accidentally smothered her 4-year-old in 2006. And the parents of 7-year-old Lydia Schatz, who are charged with her murder, apparently beat her to death with plumbing supply line, a discipline method the Pearls recommend. The connection is not tangential: according to Salon,
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."
Biblical Chastisement is basically, as one "Biblical Parenting" site describes it, "loving use of the rod." It sets itself against the perceived permissiveness of contemporary culture and is consistent with a frankly Patriarchal social structure. As is the way with such things, practitioners call on selectively-interpreted Bible verses to find a divine imperative. Says the same site,
We don't pretend that certain aspects of discipline don't hurt. In fact, the word 'scourge' is very strong and indicates that at times, chastisement needs to be very painful to accomplish its goals. "Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat him with the rod, he will not die." (Proverbs 23:13) Although parents might feel that they are 'damaging' their child, chastisement brings about a greater good that could not otherwise be accomplished. The scriptures do not deny that the child will suffer if chastised, but only that it is temporary and he will not die. The scriptures do repeatedly acknowledge that the child will suffer without chastisement.
Although the approach has many adherents - No Greater Joy is perhaps the most visible - the movement is under fierce attack from within the conservative Christian community and blogosphere, and many resent something they perceive as fundamentally wrong being linked to Christianity. As one former friend of the Schatz family told Salon,
"I know of many women and men who are quietly speaking out. When material from the Pearls is suggested for parenting classes or Bible studies, they are speaking with the pastor, refuting the materials, begging people to really read what is being said. When another parent mentions the material, they politely respond with the reasons why they'd never use or endorse it. And they are often successful."
Pearl denies that when applied responsibly, the methods are harmful. As he writes on his website,
"We do not teach 'corporal punishment' nor '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."