To Train Up a Child: Michael and Debi Pearl’s Endorsement of Child Abuse

For some reason, people pay a lot of attention to terrible stuff.  Reality television. Car crashes. The news.  Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This book is easily the most reprehensible and disgusting book I have ever seen. EVER. So pay attention, people. Let me treat you to a few moments of shock and terror.

This may come as a surprise to you, but there’s a fairly high percentage of religious wackos in the US. And by “wackos,” I’m not referring to socially-conscious Christians like James Dobson that advocate bare-handed swats on a child’s bottom until they’re four or five.  I’m referring to the foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalists that bomb abortion clinics, wage “Holy War” (oxymoronic), and  physically “train”  infants by switching, slapping, biting, or otherwise harming them. If you find yourself in any of the categories mentioned in that last line, I’ve already insulted you enough; don’t stick around for me to rub salt in the wound.

The wackos I’m writing about today are Michael and Debi Pearl, of No Greater Joy Ministries, Inc. They’ve got a substantial following and many other family and child-rearing products available for purchase. Their only qualification to give child-rearing advice is that they have five children, all homeschooled, and grown up to go into ministry. Their helpful advice has been cited in several deaths, and they’ve been investigated, although not convicted.

Check out this quote from  Jeff Hodson’s article in the Seattle Times:

Sean Paddock suffocated when he was wrapped too tightly in blankets.

Lydia Schatz died after being spanked for several hours.

And Hana Grace-Rose Williams, of Sedro-Woolley, was left out in the cold, where she died naked, face down in the mud.

The deaths of the three children occurred in different parts of the country — North Carolina, California and Washington — but each allegedly happened at the hands of their parents, all of whom were charged with murder.

The parents had several things in common: They adopted children, home-schooled them and lashed them with quarter-inch-diameter plastic tubes. They also used the child-rearing teachings of a Tennessee evangelist, Michael Pearl, and his wife, Debi.

The Pearls wrote “To Train Up a Child,” first published in 1994, and which teaches parents how to use a “switch” to make their children obey. Michael Pearl says it has sold more than 670,000 copies, been translated into a dozen languages and is popular with some Christians who home-school their children.

Normal people,  go ahead and rubberneck:

How did I find this monstrosity of a book, you ask? My mother, bless her, paid money for a copy of it because someone at our church gave this an endorsement. (Here’s where I get out my sign that says “Yes, I’m a cult survivor.”) So, anyway, I found this book kicking around the house. I was in high school at the time, but had younger siblings (a couple of them much younger), and I was a voracious reader. Once I cracked the cover, my mind was blown and I’ve never managed to forget it.

Fast forward a dozen years or so.  I saw a copy of this book at a thrift shop and paid the fifty cent paperback price just so someone else didn’t buy it. Not being a book-burner (apart from a few of my old diaries), and not wanting it to fall into the hands of some dolt looking for religious justification to abuse kids, the wretched thing has sat on my shelf ever since. I shuffle it around and kind of hide it from myself, and then every now and then, I face it.

To Train Up A Child Table of Contents

Here are a few little gems from between the pages:

“One particularly painful experience of nursing mothers is the biting baby. My wife did not waste time finding a cure. When the baby bit, she pulled hair (an alternative has to be sought for baldheaded babies). Understand, the baby is not being punished, just conditioned. After two or three times of biting, with the accompanying head hurting, the child programs that information away for his own comfort. The biting habit is cured before it starts. This is not discipline. It is obedience training.”  (Umm… maybe stop nursing when your kid sprouts teeth?)

“Never reward delayed obedience by reversing the sentence. And, unless all else fails, don’t drag him to the place of cleansing. Part of his training is to come submissively. However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.”

“The parent holds in his hand (in the form of a little switch) the power to absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, instruct his spirit, strengthen his resolve, and give him a fresh start through a confidence that all indebtedness is paid… A child properly and timely spanked is healed in the soul and restored to wholeness of spirit… A child can be turned back from the road to hell through proper spankings.”

“The fantasy arising from Barbie dolls causes a child to role-play a porno queen.”

If you’d like to make a dent in the war on abuse and ignorance,  write comments,  emails, and letters to the Pearls. Share info about this with your friend. Spread the word about this nonsense. If enough of us speak out, we can help churches realize that there’s nothing “Holy” about this book or its message. Maybe if enough of us banded together we could even convince Amazon to stop carrying the darn thing.

For a more rational Christian perspective on spanking,  check out Christianity Today’s article, Thou Shalt Not Abuse.

About literatelibran

Writer of words, thinker of thoughts, dreamer of dreams, mom. View all posts by literatelibran

2 responses to “To Train Up a Child: Michael and Debi Pearl’s Endorsement of Child Abuse

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