Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Breaking the “Diabolical Will” of Infants in the IFB – Even at Hephzibah House: Pondering Pearl and Lydia Schatz Part VII

Warning:  This one's tough to read.

The news media tells us that the Schatz Family also adopted an infant from Liberia (along with Lydia and Zariah), a total of three children. We know that they used the Pearl Method to “chastise” the two older girls, but we are not told the age of the infant they adopted nor whether they also used plumbing line with the baby, too. (Please note that Pearl says that infants have a “diabolical will to dominate.”)

Michael Pearl recommends the spanking of young infants in To Train Up a Child, but we don't know how many people actually follow this specific advice. Many parents read this book, only selecting certain principles from it while resisting others. Some find the plumbing line to be a bit too much, and they stick with wooden paddles and spoons. Some parents follow Pearl's patterns of low or no tolerance for human error and the learning process but use their hand for spanking in order gauge the force that they use with their children. I've heard a friend say of Pearl's advice that she “ate the fish and spit out the bones.” Why am I reminded of the aggressive Asian Carp that threatens the Great Lakes with invasion and ruin?

In ABC's 20/20 Episode, Shattered Faith, we heard clips of Jack Schaap and other ministers affiliated with the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement preach about the virtues of the beating of infants. Elizabeth Esther's blog discussion focuses on this practice, one that she likens to the teachings of Michael Pearl. 20/20 also features Jocelyn Zichterman who explained the literal Biblical translation of Provers 20:30 from the King James Version of the Bible, a verse understood by many within the IFB to proclaim the virtues of bruising. Many believe that both the rod and the bruising induced by correction mystically “drives away evil.”

Should we be surprised to discover that the beating of infants also took place in chapel services at Hephzibah House? Should we be surprised that it was something that the proprietor, Ron Williams, encouraged? Here is another testimony of abuse at Hephzibah House, told to us by Susan Grotte. The scene describes the practices of the prevailing philosophy of punishment within the Independent Fundamental Baptist churches.

Sundays at Hephzibah house were dominated by Church.

I sat in a metal folding chair trying not to squirm since I had no fat left to cushion the hard seat beneath me. I was in the last of 5 rows of 6 girls interspersed with 4 staff ladies. The Hephzibah girls and Hephzibah staff, along with their children made up the entire congregation in the little unfinished basement room. Behind me I heard the familiar sounds of little baby Steven nursing away during the service. It felt good to know that sweet Mrs. K. was behind me. She would not be quick to find fault in my posture or how my hair was curled. The rhythmic sounds of a suckling baby were soothing and normal sounds in this surreal world.

Back straight, eyes forward. I tried to pay attention to the long winded sermon and take good notes. Notes were turned in after every service and checked to make sure we paid attention to the service and were not daydreaming. If staff did not like your notes it was a paddling offense. Ron Williams had a theory that young people who were not engaged in busy work were lusting and enjoying lascivious fantasies.

My feet were cold and my back ached but otherwise the sermon was a nice reprieve from the normal stress of daily life at Hephzibah house.

Ron Williams deep voice filled the small room. He dwarfed the tiny podium.

Patti Williams sat on the left side of the room with all eight children in a row. There was always a well worn paddle laying on the seat beside her. It was not unusual to see her paddle her children for wiggling or making noise during the long sermons. The youngest was Seth, perhaps two years old and the darling irrepressible Benjamin was just four years old. I do not recall a service where that poor little boy did not get a severe beating. I was amazed how undaunted and happy he remained. Seth seemed dull. He just sat and sucked his fingers. He showed no signs of normal 2 year old curiosity and wonder. Maybe that is what a successfully broken will would looked like in a two year old. I found it profoundly disturbing.

Suddenly there was movement. I sensed rather than saw Mrs. K. stand up behind me. I dared not turn my head but up front Mrs Williams also hefted her wide girth out of her metal chair. It creaked loudly in protest. At just 40, Patti Williams was fat, slovenly and mean as a snake. Her grey hair in a stringy bun she stood looking back behind me towards the Mrs. K. and Steven. She had picked up the small paddle. A hard, tight smile crossed her humorless face. Mrs. K. had now made her way into my line of vision.

Mrs. K. was clearly upset as she carried her tiny baby towards the front of the chapel.

Ron Williams just droned on.

My stomach clenched. What was this???

Patti guided Mrs. K. into a small walled off area at the front of the room. The area was meant to be a closet one day. Now it had no door and served to store extra folding chairs. The two women entered the narrow room I had a partial view of the inside of the room but could no longer see Mrs. K. and the baby past Patti’s wide back.

Ron Williams kept preaching.

NO! Oh NO!”

I was frozen. Staring straight ahead and gripping my pencil in horror.


The baby SCREAMED.

We heard every powerful, stinging blow of the paddle hitting that tiny baby. It went on and on, every time there was a pause and I thought it was over it started up again.

Ron Williams actually stopped preaching. Grinning from ear to ear he made a fist and moved it enthusiastically across his body like a diabolical cheerleader, “Hit him again Sister! Hit him again!”

No one moved. No one DID anything. The babies cries were becoming strangled as he choked and he seemed to gasp dangerously between blows.

Go get that baby Susan!” The voice in my head was screaming, “DO SOMETHING!”

I stared straight ahead as Ron Williams resumed his droning sermon. I thought of twenty scenarios where I saved that baby, but I sat glued to my seat. My blood ran cold.

The crying stopped before the blows stopped. Soon Mrs. K. stepped out from behind the wall she was sobbing and clinging to her baby Patti was right behind her with a huge self satisfied smile on her corpulent face, now red from exertion.

The baby was quiet. A spooky unnatural quiet. I watched the little bundle for signs of life intently until I saw his little chest heave showing he was indeed breathing.

How hard would you have to hit a baby to make him stop crying? Why would we all just sit there and let it happen?

I realized I had not taken any notes for several minutes. Somehow, knowing I would be paddled for that offense gave me a bizarre moment of satisfaction . A form of penance for my cowardice.

Everyone took their places.

Ron Williams droned on.

Susan asks, “Why would we all just sit there and let it happen?” I believe that the concept of Bounded Choice, the sense of learned helplessness, and profound cognitive dissonance felt by many constrained everyone to obey. Anyone who intervened to help that baby would have been punished severely, and the baby still would have been punished as well, perhaps even more harshly than he had been. Our choices appear to be open to us when we are under pressure, but the are not viable choices that are truly available to us. 

When you mix a system of violent control, a system of manipulation, an idealistic belief system, and a charismatic leader all together, you really have no choice, save the one dictated to you by the system. In this situation, Susan seemed to have options, but she had only one. She had to obey and follow the system. She was as trapped as baby Steven. In many ways and at the time, her prison was more complicated than his.

Read more HERE as the readers of Quivering Daughters elaborate
on how God is in the business of
healing our will, not breaking our heart.

Click here to read the entire series on the archive.