Questions about ministry grow
By Elizabeth de Alwis
Controversy and media attention is mounting surrounding a Paradise couple accused of murdering their 7-year old adopted daughter, Lydia Schatz, earlier this month.
Much of the attention centers on a link between the girl's death and the child training, discipline and "chastisement" methods taught by a fundamentalist religious ministry based in Tennessee, called No Greater Joy. Michael and Debi Pearl, founders of No Greater Joy Ministry and co-authors of a controversial religious parenting book, "To Train Up a Child," recommend that parents spank their children with a quarter-inch plumbing supply line - the same instrument used on Lydia Schatz and her 11-year-old sister, Zariah Schatz - reportedly for hours prior to Lydia's death and the arrest of their adoptive parents, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz on Feb. 6.
Lydia reportedly died of organ failure before she reached the hospital and Zariah had been beaten so badly her kidneys were failing. She was hospitalized and was listed in critical condition.
According to Paradise Police Lt. Al Billington, Zariah was released from Sutter Memorial Hospital last week into local foster care and she is expected to make a full recovery.
"She has some follow-up check-ups, but otherwise she is fully recovered- well, physically," Billington said.
But the 7-year old girl is dead and her parents are charged with murder and torture, each facing life in prison.
According to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, the final
result of the autopsy will not be released for several weeks, but preliminary conclusions show that Lydia died of a muscle breakdown leading to a chemical and hormonal balance - shutting down her heart and other vital organs. The Schatzes are expected to enter a plea during their court appearance today. In the meantime, this case has sparked a growing firestorm of media attention and blogs with anti-Pearl sentiments posted.
Local radio station KPAY, CBS Channels 13 and 7 in Sacramento have picked up the story, as has Channel 4 Station in Nashville Tennessee. And once again, Salon Magazine tackled the Pearls, "the rod" and reactions to the Pearls' training methods - this time in regards to the death of Lydia Schatz.
Salon Magazine writer Lynn Harris wrote a second article about the Pearls on Monday, "Godly discipline turned deadly," in which she outlines the child training practices and highlights the outrage expressed by many conservative Christians who describe this type of discipline as "horrific."
Harris also authored a 2006 article entitled "Spare the quarter-inch plumbing supply line, spoil the child," which led Butte County District Attorney investigators to look at the methods espoused by No Greater Joy Ministry in this case.
In 2006, the Pearl's methods were briefly connected to the death of a 4-year-old boy, Sean Paddock, who died at his mother's hand in North Carolina. The mother reportedly followed the Pearls' teaching, though the cause of her son's death - suffocation - is not a method the Pearls teach. Harris wrote about Sean Paddock in her first article and she mentions him again in her recently published piece.
She was contacted by Chico resident Paul Mathers, whom she quotes in the article.
Mathers and his wife, Laurie, are Christians who knew the Schatz family, made friends with them when the Schatz couple attended their church for a few months. The Mathers had dinner with the family and be-came familiar with nine Schatz children - six biological children and three adopted from Liberia. In their blogs, they talk about the sorrow, shock and horror they felt when they learned of what happened to Lydia.
They also describe learning about No Greater Joy and the disciplinary methods Michael and Debi Pearl teach.
Laurie Mathers, told The Post yesterday, that the Pearls and their methods were not on their radar until after Lydia died.
"I didn't know what was going on," she said.
When Lydia died, Laurie said they did not know what had happened. They had always thought very highly of the Schatzes.
"We thought maybe it was a mistake," she said. "Like maybe she fell we didn't think this - we thought it had to be a mistake. Then we heard that Zariah was in the hospital and we had to face this. It didn't make any sense until we learned about the Pearl teachings."
As Laurie writes in her blog, "I wanted understanding of what could have led to this tragedy and I got it. The Pearl Method was the missing link. my husband and I have spent hours upon hours since this discovery pouring over Pearl literature, disgusted. Horrified."
"The Pearls preach lies from the pit of hell," Paul Mathers writes in his blog. "I will not sit back and allow them to continue to drag the name of Christ through the mud."
After much research, Mathers described the Pearls' methods as "mora-lly repugnant," "outrageously evil" and "anti-Christian."
Paul alleges in his blog that the Schatzes followed, "to a 'T' the system of child rearing developed by the Pearls. Before Lydia's death, Mathers said he had only known about this system from "furtive whispers." "It was one of the most hate-filled, wicked and evil systems I've encountered in my life, all with a sheen of 'Christian' and 'happy families,'" he said.
For weeks, he and his wife Laurie continued researching the Pearls' methods, but "it gets worse the more you dig," he says.
Reached for comment for a previous article, No Greater Joy CEO Michael Pearl provided a statement in regards to this case. However, he declined any further comment at this time.
"We do not teach "corporal punishment" nor 'hitting' children," Pearl says. "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.
Over 1,000,000 parents have applied these Biblical principles with joyful results."
But Mathers says the Pearl system is anything but biblical.
"One of the major problems is the extremely dangerous and wildly unbiblical position that they preach of sinless perfection being achievable in this lifetime," he writes. "Mix that with a strict discipline system with one's children and you can probably put together for yourself how something like this could happen. You expect sinless perfection and you will whip your child as often as needed if they fall short."
"They claim to be a Christian organization, and yet offer no grace and no mercy," Laurie writes. She believes the Schatzes were deceived and ensconced into a sub-culture that encouraged them to think what they were doing was the best, 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 from imperfect and defenseless little creatures," she writes on her blog.
The Mathers are not the only Christians expressing their outrage with Pearl teachings. Rebecca Diamond, a member of Gentle Christian Mommies, is a conservative Christian living in Canada who home-schools her children. Hearing of Lydia's death made her cry, she wrote on her blog, mommypress.com.
"They murdered the 7-year-old," Diamond alleges. "That's right - this self-professed, Christian, homeschooling, adoptive family (allegedly) beat a girl to death."
It was even more horrific for Diamond to learn that the family may have been following Michael Pearl's teachings. "I know that God can bring good out of the ashes of any sort of evil," she writes. "I'm praying that the good that arises out of the torture and murder of this child is that people will finally realize the devastation and wrongness and anti-Christness of the Pearl's 'ministry'. And I'm hoping that maybe, this will be the case that forces them to stand trial along with the parents who espoused their 'training' methods all the way to the point of murder."v Another blog, Tulip-girl.com, has an entire section devoted to criticism of the Pearls and No Greater Joy Ministry. The unnamed writer discusses the Schatz case, Lydia's death and she picks apart the statement Michael Pearl provided to The Post, as well as excerpts from various articles and books written by the Pearls.
She says this case shows how loving parents can be vulnerable to false beliefs and abusive practices, "such as those taught by Michael and Debi Pearl."
In addition to the quarter-inch plumbing supply line, District Attorney Ramsey said he now has evidence that is a direct connection between the Schatz case and the teaching of the Pearls and No Greater Joy Ministry. However, he would not disclose the evidence at this time. It is unlikely however, that the Pearls or their ministry would be, or could be, held accountable in any legal sense.
Ramsey doesn't believe such a charge "would fly." He says the Pearls have specifically warned its followers against hitting children, or spanking in any way that severely injures children - which the Schatzes are accused of doing. They also warn parents not to spank their children in anger.
Ramsey said one parent held the 7-year-old down while the other one used the quarter-inch plumbing supply line. Then, Ramsey claims, they would switch places.
"The courts have never charged NGJ Ministries with teaching abuse " writes Michael Pearl in his emailed statement. "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."
Laurie Mathers says even if the Pearls cannot be held legally accountable, she and her husband are hoping for a world where people won't read their books. Realistically speaking, she said, the Pearls' heavy influence "should be considered under the circumstances, but I don't think it excuses the things that happened."
It could, however, help to explain how this could have happened, she said.
So could a witness. Zariah Schatz was interviewed at the DA's office earlier this week, along with her remaining siblings. She had also been interviewed by police at the hospital while she was recovering from her injuries. Ramsey said child victims are interviewed on video tape by a trained child interview specialist.
All of the Schatz children went through the process, he said. Zariah appears to be making a full recovery, he said, describing her as "a very delightful child," and "quite the chatty Cathy."