in which I discuss the unthinkable
Perhaps you've noticed the sparsity of my entries here these last two weeks. We've been struggling and praying for appropriate ways to handle what we're dealing with, and when and whether to speak about it. Up until now, for reasons which will become obvious, I've only shared this with a very few trusted friends. Paul made reference to it on his blog several days ago, but with no specifics. I think it may be time for me to fill in the gaps. What we're dealing with is horrible and ugly - about as ugly as it gets. This all happens on the heels of my mother's death, and has now somehow managed to even overshadow that. Mother's death, as difficult as it was...well...it made sense. She was 87 years old, and hadn't been well in many years. This, on the other hand, is a mess, an unfathomable tragedy, one horror heaped upon another. I haven't wanted to speak of it, because I can barely stand to think of it. But a time comes when, for the sake of love, it is right to stand up and speak. And I think, for me, that time has come.
It is now exactly two weeks since we got a phone call....well, let me back up. Over a year ago a new family began attending our tiny church. A husband and wife with nine kids - six biological, three adopted from Liberia. They were a lovely family, the children polite and well behaved. They home-schooled. That's how they found our church actually. They belonged to the same home-school organization as our pastor. Anyway, the wife was one of the kindest women I've ever known. Anytime there was a gathering of the church she and I would often find ourselves off somewhere together, talking quietly until it was time to leave. Her warmth was a soothing thing. No two people could be more different than she and I, and yet there was a sweet comfort in our times together. We'd been to their house a few times for church related functions, and once just Paul and I were there, for dinner. We ate shepherd's pie, and the children were a delight. They showed us how to milk their goats. The husband also had always taken time to reach out to Paul, who in person is extremely reserved and tends to be overlooked, and so Paul was fond of him as well.
After about nine months they decided to leave our church. They had just completed our series of membership classes, so their change of heart came as a bit of a shock, and a disappointment. As I understood it, the differences they had with us were doctrinal. No agreement could be reached, and so they determined to find a church more in line with their beliefs. I was so sad, because I'd grown so fond of my friend, and also her little adopted girls, especially little Lydia, who always looked at me like I was some kind of miracle.
It has been maybe six months since they left, maybe a bit more. I saw them once after that, when we went to their house to pick up a bookshelf they gifted to us, twice if you count the time we chatted with the father and a few of the kids in the parking lot at Costco. Then Saturday night, two weeks ago, we got a phone call. Little Lydia was dead. Her older sister, Zariah, was in the hospital in critical condition. The other seven children had been placed in foster care and both parents were in jail - accused of murder, and child abuse.
I can't tell you how this has shocked and devastated us. We loved this family. We love them still. The first thing we did when we learned of all this, before we had any idea who did what, and still held out hope that it was all some kind of mistake, was to write them letters. Our next instinct was to want to rescue the children, at least one or two of them. But we were told by others who knew them that they would not allow anyone with any connection to the parents to have anything to do with the children (which would become quite understandable later as more details began to surface). So we felt helpless. We then began simply waiting, praying for the best outcome for all involved, and hoping some light would be shed on how such a thing could have happened - and wishing none of it was real. Elizabeth, the mother, is possibly the warmest person I’ve ever known. One of the hardest things for me, has been squaring the soft, meek woman I know with the hard cold fact of a dead child (and another who was at that time critically injured and fighting for her life).
As the days have gone by, more and more information has been uncovered about our friends. It turns out they were following the methods of Michael and Debi Pearl's "ministry" of systematic child "training". My husband and I have spent hours upon hours since this discovery poring over Pearl literature, disgusted. Horrified. I wanted understanding of what could have led to this tragedy, and I got it. The Pearl Method was the missing link. It made “sense” of what made no sense before. From what I've read, and even from some hindsight reflections of what I knew of this family, it appears they were following Pearl teachings very carefully - in doctrine and in practice. If the autopsy reports verify what preliminary findings suggest, it was the form of whipping (using the identical implement recommended in Pearl literature) taught by them which killed Lydia, and nearly killed Zariah.
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, and to love them only when they are lovable. ("When they do something lovely, then you can love them.") The whipping is to begin in infancy. It is to be used in "training" - what you might call behavior modification, and in "chastisement" which is actual punishment. They suggest keeping a whipping instrument in every room, and that the plumbing line they recommend is a perfect implement because it is inexpensive, available at Home Depot, and the parent can even drape it around his or her neck, so when the children see the parent, they see the whip*. And it gets worse. They speak as if it's all sweetness and delight, and yet talk about calmly stalking the child if it runs from the spanking, laughing at their frail attempts to escape. And there's so much more**, yet all couched in language of smiles and happy families. There is no Good News to be found there, just legalism, punishment - salvation by "the rod". Listen to the powers Michael Pearl ascribes to the rod - powers I've only heard elsewhere ascribed to Christ and His Cross:
"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." (Emphasis mine)
It is possible that my friend and her husband will spend the rest of their lives in prison. If the news and police reports are true, then this may be the penalty their actions call for. Paul and I determined from the outset that regardless what happens we will continue to extend the grace and hope of the Gospel to them there. And with every new horror that I learn, I find I love them no less. They are sinners, and so am I. They need the grace of God, and so do I. I, as a Christian, have been called to the ministry of reconciliation. As a recipient of God's mercy, I am called to extend that same mercy to every sinner I meet - no matter the sin.
So that's what we find ourselves dealing with - and the pain of loving the people misled by this religious system. None of this absolves our friends of the responsibility which they bear, nor am I making excuses for them. But, I believe they are not the only ones who bear responsibility. They were deceived, and were also ensconced in a little sub-community which encouraged them that what they were doing was the best thing, and even the most godly thing. The Pearl's system does not just mold children, it molds well-meaning parents into the kind of people who think they can and should expect perfect obedience and perfect behavior from imperfect and defenseless little creatures. In fact, it teaches them that if they don't succeed in this, they are not fit to be to be parents at all.***
So, that's where we find ourselves...living, waking, and sleeping with this tragedy never far away. It will stay with us in some way for a long time (likely forever). I hope you will pray with us that our friends will come to understanding and repentance, and that they will come to know the mercy and grace of God which their doctrinal system has so carefully hid from them. I hope you will pray for their precious children, the 8 that are left, scattered to the four winds and so confused - that they will be protected and loved wherever they are, placed permanently in loving and caring homes, and come to know the love of the Savior Jesus Christ and His mercy and grace to undeserving sinners. That they will not be poisoned against Him because of the way He has been misrepresented, or continue to think of obedience as a means to grace rather than a product of it and thus either try to earn their way to heaven or lose hope altogether. I hope you will remember us in prayer as well, for wisdom and opportunity to help in any way we can...if there's any way we can...and that somehow, in all of this, that God be glorified.
I've included a couple of links to news stories. There are some inaccuracies in them, but they give what the public sees, and whatever general information the police have seen fit to share:
Here are a couple of other articles addressing the Pearl "ministry", which also include many other helpful links:
*What instrument would I use?
"As a rule, do not use your hand. Hands are for loving and helping. If an adult swings his or her hand fast enough to cause pain to the surface of the skin, there is a danger of damaging bones and joints. The most painful nerves are just under the surface of the skin. A swift swat with a light, flexible instrument will sting without bruising or causing internal damage. Many people are using a section of ¼ inch plumber’s supply line as a spanking instrument. It will fit in your purse or hang around you neck. You can buy them for under $1.00 at Home Depot or any hardware store. They come cheaper by the dozen and can be widely distributed in every room and vehicle. Just the high profile of their accessibility keeps the kids in line." (quoted from the Pearl's website)
** "And when you do spank, make sure that it is forceful enough to get her undivided attention. If she can scream "huggie" while you are spanking her, you are probably not spanking hard enough." (quoted from the Pearl's website)
"They try you, test your limits, and seek emancipation from all authority and rule of law. They are liberal totalitarians seeking a following, not passive peasants groveling to do your will. Children must be broken to the yoke of authority. " (emphasis mine - notice "passive peasants grovelling" is the desired state; quoted from the Pearl's website)
*** The soul of your child needs to be punished. "He feels the need to suffer for his misdeeds. What I am telling you is well understood by the most reprobate of modern psychiatrists and psychologists. They call it a “guilt complex.” Children and adults in this state of mind often do harm to themselves. Their anger is turned inward because they hate the bad person they know themselves to be. Their soul is crying out for justice to be done to the self. They don’t know what is happening, and they will not voluntarily seek punishment, but their soul needs judgment. When your child is in the first throes of this debilitating condition, be kind enough to punish him. Care enough and love enough to pay the emotional sacrifice to give him ten to fifteen licks that will satisfy his need to experience payback.(This post has been edited slightly from its original form. A bit of information regarding a specific doctrinal matter which may or may not have been the reason our friends stopped attending our church has been removed, and the wording has been altered for the sake of clarity in a couple of other places. In addition, we now attend a different church than we did at the time of this post.)
If you do not see the wisdom in what I have said, and you reject these concepts, you are not fit to be a parent. I pity your children. They will never experience the freedom of soul and conscience that mine do." (emphasis mine; quoted from the Pearl's website)