Suffer the Little Children

Night of the Living Dead

“We need to talk.” My stepfather’s words sent shivers down my spine. The police were leaving and my mother’s eyes were so full of anger I thought they were going to pop right out of her head. “How could you tell them? How could you do this to us?” They sent my sisters to bed and we went into the living room. I’d gone to school that morning and asked to speak to the counselor. At 14 I didn’t know what else to do. I told him everything.

I told him my mother had taken my older sister to the hospital the night before. I told him she was ok, that it was only a cracked rib, but that my mother had not told them what my stepfather did. I told him how in the heat of an argument he had started the car, floored it with the driver’s side door open and crushed my sister between the car door and our brick mailbox. I told him how those several seconds after he swiped her with the car seemed to stretch into infinity. I watched her fall to the pavement, ran outside and when I got to her in the street I saw her just lying there glassy eyed and not breathing. I thought she was dead, and then she finally gasped for air. I told him how shocked I was it was only a cracked rib. I told him how my mother had begged me not to tell. We called Child Protective Services and I told them the same.

Spare the Rod

“The Bible says thou shall honor thy mother and father. You shouldn’t have told. What were you thinking? Jesus said spare the rod and spoil the child.”

“Then he was wrong.” The words just popped out. It was so clear and so obvious that I didn’t even think about it.

“How could you say that?” I stopped and thought about it for a moment. I remembered all the times he had grabbed me by the throat and thrown me against the wall. I remembered all the times he’d punched us, kicked us, choked us. I remembered when I was smaller and my mother used a rhinestone belt on us until she was exhausted and out of breath. I remembered when I was even smaller and she used to make us put on shorts before picking our own switch. For those of you fortunate enough to be blessed with ignorance, a switch is a thin vine like branch from a bush or shrub, the kind that swooshes through air and slices through flesh.

I thought about all the hits, kicks, screams, slaps and unanswered prayers for God to save me. I thought about how everyone had told me all throughout life that God’s official policy on the matter was “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Nothing had ever been clearer. “He was wrong,” I replied.

Ghost of Nightmares Past

I rarely think about these things anymore, but am sometimes reminded such horrors continue for others, and continue to be justified in exactly the same way. Michael and Debi Pearl published a book back in 1994 on child rearing entitled “To Train Up A Child.” The book provides fine parenting tips like pulling a baby’s hair if s/he accidentally hurts the mother during breast feeding, purposely neglecting to feed children and other acts of cruelty.

The book cites biblical scripture to condone violence such as Proverbs 13:24 “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” This is the verse usually shortened to simply “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Another popular verse cited is Proverbs 22:15 “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Perhaps the most horrifying example cited comes from Proverbs 19:18 “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.”

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“To Train Up A Child” instructs parents to “conquer their child’s will” by using quarter-inch plumbing pipe and other weapons on children starting at four months old. Proverbs 23:13 reads “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.” But the instructions outlined by the Pearls have in fact led to the tragic murders of at least three children, Sean Paddock, Lydia Schatz and Hana Grace-Rose Williams.

Freedom of speech keeps the book available, even though “fighting words” which incite or provoke violence have remained unprotected since 1942. In 2002, Planned Parenthood won a lawsuit because names of doctors and their families were being posted on an anti-abortion website, even though the website itself made no threats, nor explicitly or implicitly encouraged or even condoned any violence against anyone. Just the circumstances alone were enough to convince the court that the speech constituted a “true threat,” and hence it was deemed illegal. How a book which explicitly explains what weapons are best for beating children does not constitute a “true threat” is beyond me.

Plenty of Blame to Go Around

I had always had my doubts about their religion, even as a small child. Mom used to read to me and my older sister every night from a children’s Bible complete with illustrated stories—which looked just like a comic book. The stories read like one too. I knew Thor and Spiderman weren’t real and this didn’t seem any different. A rib turned into a woman? Snakes talk? People can live inside whales? All the animals on a boat? Even as a child these things seemed silly, but the adults seemed to take it seriously enough and I thought maybe one day I might have some great revelation which would make it all make sense.

After that night I no longer wished for any great revelation. I saw my parent’s religion for what it was, an excuse to justify violence and anything else that needed justifying. The cops left that night because although I was brave enough to tell, my sisters were too terrified to tell the truth with our parents standing right there in the room giving us the evil eye (fine police work there Longview PD). I forgave my sisters a long time ago, and as time has passed, I have learned to forgive my mother and stepfather too.

My mother was a sophomore when she dropped out of high school to move out of her own abusive home and marry my dad. I was not yet 6 months old when he left her. She was simply unprepared for life, and children. Mike was an angry and bitter drunk, who simply used the most convenient outlet for his anger.

But those excuses don’t apply to anyone else. The other adults, teachers, family, preachers and friends of my parents who knew what was going on in that house let it happen for the same reasons my parents used to justify it. People like the Pearls who not only know about abuse, but encourage it. They are all guilty, perhaps even more so than my mother, stepfather or any other abusive parent. They are the enablers, the guardians and cheerleaders of evil. They believe everyone should honor their parents, no matter what, because a little black book says so.

Because a little black book makes a fine moral compass for monsters.

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