Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Homeschooling, Hana Williams and the "Rod of Man"

The Williams Trial resulting in the manslaughter and assault charges against the parents of thirteen year old Ethiopian adoptee Hana Alemu Williams continues to generate much discussion. Maureen Evans who closely followed the trial noted that the sentencing hearing was postponed but is now scheduled for the morning of October 29th. Likely owing to the complexity and expense of the case, the Skagit County District Attorney's Office has decided to drop the additional, special “homicide by abuse” charge against Larry Williams. The jury found Carri Williams guilty of this special charge reserved for younger children, but they could not find Larry guilty of the same charge beyond reasonable doubt. Larry will like be required to serve in the neighborhood of fifteen years in prison, and Carri will have to serve a minimum of 27 years and as many as 37 years in prison for the additional guilty verdict of “homicide by abuse.”

A close friend of mine asked me if I was “satisfied” with these verdicts, and frankly, I find nothing about this whole situation “satisfying.” I'd say that the verdicts were just, and that's about it. As we move into the punishment phase of things, how can anything about any of it be satisfying?

As a previous post notes, most of the interest in the cluster of problems that contributed to the Williams' perfect storm situation has come from outside of the Christian community. In a discussion about this with Jocelyn Andersen, reminiscing about a radio talk show that we once did together about the subject, I lamented that the Christians who defend corporal punishment of children have remained largely silent instead of rallying for reform and some working towards accountability. We've had similar discussions about domestic violence and abuse of women, and Jocelyn mentioned again the “rod of man.”

After talking with her, I recalled a Christian song from the 1990s that I never liked very much about “judgement beginning in the house of God.” I liked neither the message of the lyrics nor the music, but the too repetitive refrain stuck in my head. Assuming that Christians count themselves as those who live out the principles of virtue, in an ideal world, when things go wrong within our Christian subculture, we should be very willing to address those shortcomings. But as it is noted in the Book of Samuel, the Bible also sets a precedent through history wherein God uses the “rod of man” to shame and punish those who identify themselves as His followers to make them do what they ought to do. God instructed Moses to use the “Rod of God” to liberate Israel from slavery under the Egyptian Pharaoh, but in our modern situation with so many aspects of serious problems within the Christian church, we're living to see the “Rod of Man” at work.

I think that as Christians, we still have a chance to work towards correcting many of our own problems, or at least limit the potential for suffering for the children who, like Hana, have paid a terrible price for a host of ivory tower ideals, fantasies, and what sometimes prove to be the master plans of self-interested men who seem to be more interested in their own success. I recently came across a website and other several efforts to try to change these outcomes, and I find all of them bittersweet. While I so highly prize religious freedom and civil liberty in the US, because so many have thrown away the sacred trust of those freedoms and liberties, individuals feel forced to turn to the “rod of man” to find justice and even to find a voice. Some have turned to secular outlets of support, just to find a platform from which to speak, for there are few powerful ones in the Christian world. Some propose governmental safeguards and legislation to limit the isolation and xenophobia that is so characteristic of the Quiverfull Movement – a movement that has fostered these problems by burying their heads in the sand so that they can cling to ideals that are often not even their own and are often unrealistic for them.

I'd rather be commenting on how much I love the writings and speeches of those who have defended liberty and freedom – those who called for good people and the happy few to take responsibility for their plights and to pay the price for liberty with their very lives if necessary. I share more common beliefs with Bard's Henry the V to Patrick Henry, but I admire others like Hannah Arendt, Ayn Rand, Alice Miller, and Philip Zimbardo who elucidate the problems well, though I agree less with them about the means and manners of viable solutions because I don't share all of their beliefs about the nature of who man is. (They are the heralds of the rod of man, as they saw it coming and called for all men to act for their own betterment. I'm oft' chastised within Christian circles for citing them and the challenges that they pose for us.) That is very hard for me to admit, but I respect their views and the work that they did, nonetheless. And it is more precious in the dearth of other attentive voices with audiences of people with ears to hear them. I think that our current problems aren't so much that we lack willing advocates but that there are few who will listen. Even fewer are the people who will act.

In alphabetical order below, I list many such new heralds and prophets and good people who want to balance liberty with care for others, especially vulnerable children. Some of them are brilliant champions. They are all concerned and wish to see change. I'm sure that they'd also be happier enjoying the joys of life, attending to pleasantries in their own lives themselves. They, like me, are moved to see something better and to see liberty and freedom in areas where it has been almost thrown away by people who believe that they're entitled to it without a cost. I'm ambivalent about some, but that may be my own grief and melancholy about the state of things amidst a church that wants to ignore unpleasant subjects and doesn't want to venture too far away from comfort. Consider reading them, investigating them, supporting them, or just keeping an eye on them, as I'm sure you'll find a suitable match and someone who share's your background and concerns somewhere in the mix. And some links I just threw in into this non-comprehensive list because they address the problem well.

Non-Profit Organization Seeking Financial Support
Adoptions Gone Wrong (Valerie Tarico at the Washington Post)

Bible Based Discipline Has Led to Child Abuse (Valerie Tarico at

Conflict of Love and Ethiopian Adoption: “Girl Adopted” (Maureen Evans/PBS)

The Evangelical Orphan Boom (Kathryn Joyce at NY Times)

Heather Doney's Interview on Al Jazeera (video discussion of deficiencies in homeschooling – Doney is affiliated with/responsible for efforts at Homeschooler's Anonymous and Homeschooling's Invisible Children)

Home: America's Most Dangerous Place (

Home Schooling and Child Abuse (RE: John Holt/Unschooling)

Homeschooling's Invisible Children (Registry of children who suffered abuse and neglect while homeschooled)

Homeschooler's Anonymous and their HARO Project (Seeking financial contributions for non-profit group startup)

Light of Day Stories: Lessons Learned in Adoption (Maureen Evans)

M. Dolan Hickmon's Book Project (Seeking financial contributions for a fiction based on real life book

No Longer Quivering (Compendium of items concerning all things Quiverfull)

Orphan Fever (Kathryn Joyce at Mother Jones)

The Sinister Side of Homeschooling (Daily Beast)

To Break Down a Child (Series of posts at Homeschooler's Anonymous)

Voice of Russia Radio Interview (with Janet Heimlich and Hickmon)

Why Not Train a Child? (a critical compendium concerning Michael Pearl)


An Overview of Hana Williams' and Lydia Schatz' Deaths (And a list of related resources about Pearl and corporal punishment on this site)