By Dr. Stacey Patton
Creator of Spare The Kids
For far too long Christian fundamentalists have preached the gospel of “spare the rod, spoil the child.” And now, a California couple is behind bars after pleading guilty to beating their seven-year-old adopted daughter to death with a 15-inch plumping supply tube that they called “a biblical rod.”
And we’re worried about gay people adopting children?
This week CNN reported that Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, a white couple from Paradise, California beat their seven-year-old black daughter Lydia because they believed God wanted them to. The couple tortured the child for seven consecutive hours, taking breaks for prayer. When police arrived at the Schatz residence, Lydia was still alive. An officer administered CPR, but it was too late.
“We have heard the phrase ‘death by a thousand lashes,’” Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey told CNN. “That’s basically what this was.”
The Schatzes, who had eight other children, didn’t only beat Lydia. All of their children were regularly tortured in the name of God. Lydia’s sister, eleven-year-old Zariah was beaten so severely that she almost died.
“If you spare the rod, you hate your child,” author Michael Pearl told CNN. “But if you love him, you chasten him timely. God would not have commanded parents to use the rod if it were not good for the child,” the book states.
Umph. A lot of good the rod did for little Lydia. Her skin was so badly battered that the medical examiner said her injuries looked like those seen on earthquake or bombing victims.
The Schatz’s pleaded guilty to torture and murder. The husband will spend 22 years behind bars and his wife will be locked away for at least 12 years. At Kevin’s trial Lydia’s sister Zariah faced her tormentor and asked: “Why did you adopt her (Lydia)? To kill her?” Lydia and her seven other surviving siblings are now in foster care.
There’s more to be said here about this horrific crime.
I’ve been reading reactions on various blogs, Facebook and other social networking sites and the consensus seems to be that what happened in the Schatz’s home is an isolated incident of brutality. People have been quick to call the couple a pair of monsters or nut jobs who twisted the Bible to justify their sick indulgence in torturing children.
But I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve gotten myself into with Christians who fervently defend the proverbial saying “spare the rod, spoil the child” and loudly proclaim that the Bible advocates violence against children. But what was the use of the rod, and is it a directive or a metaphor?
Here’s a little lesson I learned about Biblical philosophy and child rearing . . . .
The verse “spare the rod, spoil the child,” as it is often quoted, does NOT appear in the Bible. The closest verse like it is Proverbs 13:24 which reads, “Those who spare the rod, hate their children, but the one who loves their child disciplines them diligently.”
The use of the word rod appears in the 23rd Psalm: “Your rod and your staff comfort me.” Here we can assume that the rod of a shepherd is at least similar in type and use to that in the proverb verse. The use of the rod by shepherds did NOT include beating them.
The fact is, the rod and staff were the two implements utilized by professional shepherds of the day. The staff, which we are most familiar with, has a “crook” or “hook” on the end which was used to stop running sheep, help pull sheep up from rocky places when they’d fallen over, and so on. The rod was used when corralling the sheep to insure they went in the direction they were supposed to go. It wasn’t used to prod or poke, but to direct along the length of the shaft.
Now, sheep were a valuable asset for the shepherd; indeed, without the sheep there would be no shepherd, so the flocks were well taken care of. In fact, a damaged or maimed sheep was a liability, since it was considered tamé, Hebrew for polluted or impure. This being the case, the shepherd who owned their sheep took good care of them and used the tools of their trade as they were meant to be used–to guide, to direct, and to teach (the literal meaning of discipline). However, there were scoundrels who were simply hired to look after the sheep. They had little concern over the welfare of the animals, so they would use their tools in whatever way suited them. These were the ones who might lose their tempers and beat a lamb with a rod just to demonstrate they were more powerful and could force their will upon it.
Children are no less valuable than sheep, and they learn better too! If a sheep is consistency directed, that is limited and taught, they will learn what is expected and generally conform. However, if they are beaten and broken they not only stop responding, but they look for every opportunity to escape–even when escape may mean grave danger.
To “spare the rod” is indicative of a parent who does not discipline their child, that is, to teach, guide, and direct. This is the parent who “hates their child.” To spare the rod doesn’t mean a parent should beat down their children into submission, rather they are to be like shepherds who value and care for their charges and keep them from danger by using the tools of good parenting to teach responsible behavior and appropriate morality.
All Christians need to be careful about how they read and interpret the Bible and use scriptures to justify certain behaviors and practices. Certainly the Bible ought not to be used to promote violence of any degree against children. While it may be true that what happened in the Schatz’s home is a rare incident of murder, but far too many children are hit on a daily basis with hands and other objects because their parents believe that the Bible says it is right.