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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 ...

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In the Magazine

January 2012

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