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Dead children have a way of shocking the conscience and making us angry. Especially a dead child like Hana Grace-Rose Williams, a 13-year-old adopted from Ethiopia by Washington State parents.

Police found Hana's body starved and naked, wrapped in a sheet in her adoptive parents' backyard. They had denied her food for days, locked her in a closet, forced her to sleep in a barn, and required her to use a Porta-Potty instead of the inside toilet. She'd been repeatedly struck with a 15-inch plastic tube before she died.

Or a dead child like Lydia Schatz, a 7-year-old Liberian girl whose adoptive parents held her down for hours, beating her to death with a similar plastic tube for mispronouncing a word. Or a dead child like Sean Paddock, a 4-year-old who suffocated because his adoptive parents wrapped him too tightly in a blanket as punishment. After his death, Sean's siblings told police about their own beatings with one of those plastic tubes—a plumbing supply line.

A common theme among these deaths, besides the plastic tube, is the influence of Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of To Train Up a Child and founders of No Greater Joy Ministries. For years, their self-published book has flown quietly under the radar, selling more than 670,000 copies. According to a local district attorney, it was the Pearls' advice to use the plastic tube as a spanking instrument that gave license to Lydia Schatz's parents to beat their child.

When children die horrifically, we want to punish someone. And it has been a short trip from blaming the violence of the parents, to blaming the Pearls (who explicitly teach against the level of punishment these parents exhibited), to blaming the conservative Christian parenting culture.

New York Times told ...

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In the Magazine

January 2012

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