Beating children in the name of God

If you don’t know the names, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, Lydia Schatz, or Michael Pearl’s book, To Train Up A … Continued

If you don’t know the names, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, Lydia Schatz, or Michael Pearl’s book,
To Train Up A Child
, you should. Kevin and Elizabeth are the names of two parents convicted, respectively, of murder and manslaughter in the case of their 7 year-old daughter Lydia. Pearl is the self-proclaimed minister/author of a book which teaches the biblical foundation and moral virtue of hitting kids. We need to know their names because they are part of real problem – the problem of sacralizing child abuse, of beating children as a religious act.

Hitting kids is bad enough, but when people hide behind scripture to justify it, it is especially grotesque – it scars the children, and it scars the tradition which justifies it. Tragically, this is going on, it must be stopped, and it is precisely those of us for whom the Bible is a sacred and life-centering text that must take the lead in stopping it.

As is always the case, it is those closest to a tradition that should bear the greatest responsibility for it when it is being abused. We cannot simply distance ourselves from “those crazy people”, because “those crazy people” are using the same books we hold dear to commit atrocities, so who better than those who turn to (some of) the same books, to take on the responsibility of addressing the abuses committed in their name?

The notion of hitting children should simply be repugnant to people, and the scientific evidence against the practice is overwhelming. Kids who are hit, fare no better, and often fare far worse than children who are not. Of course for some biblical literalists that argument will not suffice.

The literalists will quote chapter and verse beginning with Proverbs 13:24, One who spares the rod, hates his child. (The commonly heard, “spare the rod, spoil the child”, by the way, does not actually appear anywhere in the Bible – it’s an expression based on this verse.) But, as I often wonder with such approaches to the Bible, why are such literalists not stoning those who they deem to be Sabbath violators as is demanded by Exodus 31:15, for example? The answer, of course, is that they don’t want to kill people for violating the Sabbath, but for whatever reason, actually want to hit kids and delight in finding a biblical “justification” for it.

Prosecutors in the case against the Schatz’s could not make an additional case for legal liability against Michael Pearl, whose book was among those found on the Schatz’s shelves and which appears to have served as an inspiration to them in “understanding” the religious value of corporal punishment. Frustrating as that may be, that is probably as it should be given the importance of freedom of expression and the chilling effect upon it were it possible to hold Pearl legally culpable for the death of Lydia Schatz.

Legal liability and moral responsibility however, are two different matters and there is no doubt that Pearl bears a measure of the latter whether he realizes it or not. Of course, the real challenge is not to Michael Pearl, it is to the rest of us, especially those who own Pearl’s book, believe, or teach, that hitting kids is a religious act. This is no longer a phenomenon about which any of us can plead ignorance, and we all bear a measure of moral responsibility for every slap and punch.

There is no way to bring Lydia Schatz back, or to undo the damage to her still living siblings, or any of the other children who are beaten in the name of God. We can however do everything in our power to put a stop to the practice. For the sake of these kids and for the sake of the traditions we hold dear, that is what we must do.


Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • lepidopteryx

    Hitting children teaches them that it’s okay to hit people who do things you don’t like. That was not a lesson I wanted my child to learn. IMO, the only reason a person should ever strike another living thing is in self defense or in defense of someone else.


    You are missing an important component here. Lydia Schatz was adopted and she was BLACK. She was African. She and another adopted, black African child were beaten much more severely than the other children. Her adoptive parents and their natural-born children were WHITE.

    Female African black children adopted by white Christian couple so that they could beat them to death. That has a nasty psychopathic sexual sadist vibe to it, doesn’t it? Did the Schatzes beat this little girl to death because Mr. Schatz couldn’t rape her?

    But religion has always been a haven for psychopathic sadists.

  • Secular1

    What Mr. chfield is missing the point is he picks some verses from these fairy tale books that comport with his world view and elevates the old decrypt tomes as sacred. So do those loons. It just happens that the verses they pick are different ones that comport with their point of view. The fact of the matter is those books by ignorants, bigots and racists may have meant words of wisdom in bronze age. But in 21st century they are indeed stupid ignorant, bigoted screeds. We should leave them on the crap hill of history..

  • YEAL9

    Telling the Truth and nothing but the Truth before throwing stones:

    Mass killings listed in the Bible in the Torah,

    # Exodus 32: 3,000 Israelites killed by Moses for worshipping the golden calf.
    # Numbers 31: After killing all men, boys and married women among the Midianites, 32,000 virgins remain as booty for the Israelites. (If unmarried girls are a quarter of the population, then 96,000 people were killed.)

    # Joshua:

    * Joshua 8: 12,000 men and women, all the people of Ai, killed.
    * Joshua 10: Joshua completely destroys Gibeon (“larger than Ai”), Makeddah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir. “He left no survivors.”
    * Joshua 11: Hazor destroyed. [Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (1987), estimates the population of Hazor at ?> 50,000]
    * TOTAL: if Ai is average, 12,000 x 9 = 108,000 killed.

    # Judges 1: 10,000 Canaanites k. at Battle of Bezek. Jerusalem and Zephath destroyed.
    # Judges 3: ca. 10,000 Moabites k. at Jordan River.
    # Judges 8: 120,000 Midianite soldiers k. by Gideon
    # Judges 20: Benjamin attacked by other tribes. 25,000 killed.
    # 1 Samuel 4: 4,000 Isrealites killed at 1st Battle of Ebenezer/Aphek. 30,000 Isr. k. at 2nd battle.
    # David:

    * 2 Samuel 8: 22,000 Arameans of Damascus and 18,000 Edomites killed in 2 battles.
    * 2 Samuel 10: 40,000 Aramean footsoldiers and 7,000 charioteers killed at Helam.
    * 2 Samuel 18: 20,000 Israelites under Absalom killed at Ephraim.

    # 1 Kings 20: 100,000 Arameans killed by Israelites at Battle of Aphek. Another 27,000 killed by collapsing wall.
    # 2 Chron 13: Judah beat Israel and inflicted 500,000 casualties.
    # 2 Chron 25: Amaziah, king of Judah, k. 10,000 from Seir in battle and executed 10,000 POWs. Discharged Judean soldiers pillaged and killed 3,000.
    # 2 Chron 28: Pekah, king of Israel, slew 120,000 Judeans

    # TOTAL: That comes to about 1,283,000 mass killings specifically enumerated in the Bible.

Read More Articles

This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.