Friday, 25 November 2011

Some people still follow the teachings of two religious twits

On September 8th 2011, I wrote an article in my blog titled, ‘Abuses of children in the name of religious freedom’ in which I described some of the horrendous beatings caused by people who believed in the teachings of a real religious twit, who’s name is Pastor Michael Pearl. What follows is another article about this twit. I got this new information from an excellent article published by the National Post on November 11th. I am quoting the article literally. I will give my comments at the end of the National Post article.

Michael and Debi Pearl believe God wants them to hit their children. So, one could argue, do the thousands of others who've picked up the evangelical Christian couple's self-published title, To Train Up a Child, a sliver of a book that has sold a remarkable 670,000 copies and been translated into at least 11 languages since it was published in 1994.

It's a quick, simple read, full of the kind of prescriptions distraught parents might crave as they try to instill good behaviour in their children.

But for all the good the Pearls say To Train Up a Child has created obedient, God-fearing youngsters with strong ties of loving fellowship, American authorities say three children are dead, thanks in part to their teachings. In all three cases, police found evidence the children's parents owned the book or received the ministry's training resources online.

The controversy has sparked a backlash against the couple—not only from secular society, but from Christians who fear their espousal of spanking is painting all religious parents with the same brush. Some have built websites such as Why, which campaigns against the book's teachings. A petition to get Amazon to stop selling it online had more than 6,500 signatures Friday.

At the same time, the controversy is reinvigorating a long-running debate among Christians about how to interpret what the Bible says about corporal punishment. The Pearls' case is raising the discussion in churches in the United States and in Canada.

In an email interview with the National Post, Mr. Pearl said his approach to child rearing has been horribly miscast in the media. "The false image they paint of our book and our ministry is indeed ugly and repulsive," he said. "But there are 3,000,000 satisfied adherents ready to bear witness to the sweet fruit To Train Up a Child has produced in their families."

He denies police have connected the couple to any of the child killings and condemns the highly publicized child deaths. He says he spends much of the book warning parents not to use the rod in anger or for extended periods of time - especially if the punishment doesn't seem to be working.

The most recent of the three child killings captured headlines this fall. On Sept. 29, Larry and Carri Williams of Sedro-Woolley, Wash. were charged with homicide by abuse after their adopted and home-schooled daughter, Hana, was found dead. Her naked and skeletal body was discovered face down in the family's backyard.

Investigators say the 13year-old from Ethiopia died of hypothermia and malnutrition after being forced to sleep out in the barn, deprived of food and whipped across her legs. The girl had been beaten with a 15-inch plastic tube on the day she died, the sheriff's report said - the very instrument the Pearls recommend for spankings. Ms. Williams was a big fan of their book and gave a copy to a friend, the report also said.

Last year, Lydia Schatz, seven, also home schooled and adopted from Liberia, died after her parents beat her for hours, with frequent breaks for prayer. Her father, Kevin, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and torture and Elizabeth, her mother, to voluntary manslaughter and unlawful corporal punishment. They are serving prison sentences.

A copy of To Train Up a Child was found in the family's home, as was a piece of the Pearl-endorsed plumbing pipe.

When asked by CNN what may have influenced the Schatzes to beat their daughter to death, Mike Ramsey, district attorney for Butte County, Ca., said, "The book by Mr. Pearl, there's no doubt about that."

The Pearls' teachings have also been linked to the death of Sean Paddock, four. The couple's teachings were discussed during the trial of his adoptive mother, Lynn. She was convicted of first degree murder in 2006 after the boy, who had been wrapped tightly in a blanket, died of suffocation. His siblings testified they were beaten every day with a plumbing tube.

The tube is just one version of the ‘rod’ the Pearls advocate in their literal interpretation of Proverbs 13: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."

They also suggest using a 10-to 12-inch-long willow branch on a child as young as one. Or a one-foot ruler, belt or three-foot cutting of a shrub. Something flexible that inflicts pain but doesn't bruise the skin or leave marks.

Sales of their book have helped the Pearls build No Greater Joy, a not-for-profit ministry run out of the Church on Cane Creek in Pleasantville, Tenn. They have also launched a mini-empire of Christian books and videos that promote a Bible-believing Christian lifestyle.

The Pearl training method begins in infancy, teaching children not to engage in undesirable behaviour by placing something appealing before them and striking them with a switch when they reach for it.

It's an act the Pearls liken in their book to how the Amish train their ‘stubborn mules.’ And it's a strategy Mr. Pearl says parents must carry out with love, not anger. It will prevent them from greater harm down the road, they say, and perhaps even the fiery pits of hell.

But their caveat to keep a cool head strikes Joan Durrant, a corporal punishment researcher, as unrealistic. "Everybody thinks they're emotionally stable, everybody thinks they're not angry" when they discipline a child, said the child clinical psychologist and professor of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba.

"For a parent to hit a child when they're not angry, that flies in the face of any kind of reality. If you've got a cool mind, why can't you think of something better to do?"

The Pearls' advice is the polar opposite of what decades of child development research recommends, she said, a point echoed by George Holden, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who has researched corporal punishment in the religious context.

"I just recently bought a copy of that book. Pearl is scary," said Prof. Holden, who co-authored a study in 1999 that found conservative Protestant parents are more likely to use corporal punishment than parents from other religious groups.

"He's very much into breaking the will, which was a concept back in the early part of the 20th century that is totally outmoded and it's totally out of touch with what developmental psychologists know about how children develop," Prof. Holden said.

"There's a lot of dangerous things here that would likely result in abusive behaviour."

Christians have risen up to condemn the Pearls' teachings not only as misguided, but as a faulty interpretation of what the Bible teaches.

William Webb, a Toronto based religious scholar, calls it gutter theology. "They are literalists who haven't figured out how we ought to move from Scripture to ethic," said Dr. Webb, adjunct professor of New Testament/Biblical Studies at Tyndale Seminary, a private religious college.

"Can the Pearls' position be derived from scripture? Yes, absolutely. But is it reflective of the Bible's redemptive spirit? No."

Many Bible-believing Christians interpret the rod as a guiding mechanism, not a physical stick, said pastors and Christian parents interviewed for this piece. They also believe God does want them to discipline their children, but that non-physical punishment is preferred. Some still do spank their children, but would not train them through a series of smacks as the Pearls prescribe.

Samuel Martin, a self-described religious activist and researcher based in Jerusalem, has joined a chorus of voices trying to pull the book out of circulation.
"The Pearls are the most visible people right now in the last four to five years concerning this issue," he said. "But they're just the tip of the iceberg," he added, saying he doesn't doubt Mr. Pearl's assertion that more than three million people follow his lead and spank their children in the name of God.


In an email exchange with the National Post's Sarah Boesveld, evangelical pastor and author Michael Pearl discussed his controversial book To Train Up a Child, which promotes the use of spanking to help children grow into good Christian adults. Below are some edited excerpts.


To Train Up A Child is nothing more than the common-sense approach to traditional parenting that has been practiced for the past 6,000 years by every people group on the earth. My contribution to the traditional approach is to encourage parents to place more emphasis on training before the need to discipline arises. The book also strongly encourages parents to focus on maintaining a joyful fellowship with their children.


The authorities do not link our book to any crime. In his capacity as Butte County District Attorney, Mike Ramsey said, "Even the Tennessee pastor that espouse[s] hitting children right from infancy says that you must watch that you don't cross the line. Clearly this is a situation where the line was crossed from discipline to beating to murder."


I offer the Scripture not as the sole justification for traditional corporal discipline, but only to answer the charge of "Christians" who would challenge the use of an instrument other than the hand. As to it being abusive to "hit" a child with an instrument instead of the hand, I assert that the hand is for loving, not discipline. I would never think of hitting a small child with my big hand. It could damage the backbone.


Research has shown that the properly trained, nurtured and spanked child scores higher on all positive measures, both as a child and as an adult. Spanking as part - a small part - of a comprehensive nurturing process instills self-control and discipline in a child, rendering him more emotionally stable and balanced as an adult.

Excerpts from To Train Up A Child: Turning the hearts of the fathers to the children by Michael and Debi Pearl of No Greater Joy Ministries in Tennessee. It was first published in 1994 and most recently in 2010.


Let's talk about spankings. "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Prov. 13: 244). What God says goes exactly opposite the "feelings" of many parents and educators. The passage clearly states that a failure to apply the rod is due to the parents' hating of the child. "No!" cries a mother, "I love my child too much to spank him." The parent who responds thus does not understand: 1) the authority of God's word, 2) the nature of love, 3) his (or her) own feelings, 4) the character of God, 5) the needs of the child.


I am the General. My wife is my aide and advisor—the first-in command when I am absent.

I rule benevolently. Love and respect are my primary tools of persuasion. I lead, not command, from a distant bunker. All of my family knows that I will lay down my life for them; consequently, they will lay down theirs for me. To instantly obey a command is their part of the teamwork. Even today, without looking at the children, I can snap my finger, pointing to the floor, and they all (including the ones over six feet) immediately sit. I can point to the door, and they all exit.

My own commentary

Ever since the beginning of Mankind, it was a firm belief that the parents should spank their children if they misbehave. But in the latter part of the last century, social scientists and later legislative bodies arrived at the conclusion that corporal punishment is not the proper way to discipline children.

I remember being beaten with a ski pole and a strap by my mother when I was a child and being strapped on my hands and caned on the butt in school. I also remember one foster parent beating me with a switch and the other strapping me on the hands after letting the strap soak overnight in the sink so that it would be heavier. I can assure you, the beatings didn’t do anything to improve my behavior.

There are many other means of instilling discipline without having to use corporal punishment.

Canada outlawed the use of the strap and the whip in prisons as a means of discipline because it was apparent that it actually made the prisoners bitter and you certainly don’t want prisoners who are released back into society being bitter at society.

I don’t know if the inflicting of corporal punishment on those of us who received it had an effect on our lives but even though I loved my mother, I also feared her when I was a child and no child should have to fear his or her mother or father.

I remember back in 1959 when I was a senior supervisor in a home for retarded children, I spanked a small boy each time he threw a roll of toilet paper into the bowl of the toilet. But each time I spanked him, he cried out that he loved me. It finally dawned on me that he was doing what he did so that he would be loved. I didn’t spank him any more and instead I told him that I and the other staff really loved him and after that, he stopped throwing the rolls of toilet paper into the toilet bowl.

As frustrating as raising children can be, there simply is no justification in beating them. Unfortunately, there are thousands of parents who believe in the teachings of that religious nutcase, Pastor Michael Pearl and his equally nutcase wife, Debi Pearl that inflicting physical punishment is the way to correct their children. It isn’t the proper way at all. It will simply instill fear into them. Raising children to live in fear is counterproductive.

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