The Real Michael Pearl

Both TV and print media have pitted me against Michael Pearl, as I have been vocal about my concerns that his teachings about childrearing are dangerous. I have written extensively about Pearl in Breaking Their Will, and this is the second blog I have posted about him.

The pro-spanking, Tennessee-based Christian preacher has become a highly controversial figure, as three children have died at the hands of his followers. [Follow up: On September 9, 2013 Larry and Carri Williams were convicted on charges resulting from the death of their adopted daughter Hana and injuries sustained by their adopted son Immanuel.]

As Pearl notes both on his website and in his book To Train Up a Child, which has sold in the hundreds of thousands, children should not be disciplined but “trained”, and he repeatedly states that this can often be accomplished by spanking them. (Pearl prefers the word “spanking” over “corporal punishment”.) To back up his views, Pearl, who has had no training in child psychology, quotes from the Old Testament, maintaining that God wants parents to spank their kids.

michael pearl no greater joyPearl’s methods include making children who are challenged with potty training take cold baths, denying food to disobedient children, and whipping them with quarter-inch plumbing line. Pearl sees nothing wrong with applying his techniques to infants. One expert recently denounced Pearl’s techniques as interfering with child development. Most alarming, some children have been seriously abused by adults who were followers of Pearl. Three children have been killed.

The American public has become more familiar with Pearl’s teachings, thanks to recent national media exposure. Through interviews, Pearl has reminded us that he tells parents not to spank in anger and warns against abuse.

But just how does Michael Pearl view “child training” done right? I am going to show you, using his own words.

In 2009, Pearl wrote an article on his website entitled “Child Training Marathon”. In the article, he delightedly recalls an incident that took place when he was spending time with a family after the parents had come to him for advice on how to discipline their kids. I describe this scenario in my book in a section called “Breaking Wills”.

Pearl recounts riding in the family’s car late at night when the family’s toddler son becomes upset. He was not sitting near his mother and wanted to sit in her lap. The preacher describes the boy as having “a tough hide that at times absolutely resisted all control. He would whine, and whine, and cry, and plead, and demand.” Then Pearl writes,

Mother was reaching for her baby when the father turned to me and asked, “What should I do?” Again I explained the principle: by allowing the child to dictate terms through his whining and crying, you are confirming his habit of whining and consenting to his technique of control. So I told the daddy to tell the boy that he would not be allowed to sit in his mother’s lap, and that he was to stop crying. Of course, according to former protocol, he intensified his crying to express the sincerity of his desires. . . . I told the father to stop the car and without recourse give him three to five licks with a switch. After doing so the child only screamed a louder protest. This is not the time to give in. After two or three minutes driving down the road listening to his background wails, I told the father to COMMAND the child to stop crying. He only cried more loudly.

The crying and stopping the car and spanking continue with Pearl’s approval. “This was repeated for about twenty miles down a lonesome highway at 11:00 on a winter night,” he writes. Meanwhile, no one heeds the concerns of the mother, whom Pearl describes as a woman who had been emotionally and physically abused as a child and who was, as he puts it, “a very ‘sensitive’ person”. She tells the men that the boy “doesn’t understand”. She had also remarked that he was hungry, sleepy, and cold. Pearl then writes:

I told the father to command the boy to stop crying immediately or he would again be spanked. The boy ignored him until Father took his foot off the gas, preparatory to stopping. In the midst of his crying, he understood the issues well enough to understand that the slowing of the car was a response to his crying. The family was relieved to have him stop and the father started to resume his drive.

But, according to Pearl, the child had not yet been properly trained. In his view, the boy’s behavior still required more spanking.

I said “No; you told him he was to stop crying immediately or you would spank him; he waited until you began stopping. He has not obeyed; he is just beginning to show confidence in your resolve. Spank him again and tell him that you will continue to stop and continue to spank until you get instant compliance.” He did. . . . This time, after the spanking, when Daddy gave his command, the boy dried it up like a paper towel. The parents had won, and the boy was the beneficiary.

The scenario that took place on that dark road late at night is a reminder that Pearl should not be entrusted to tell parents how to raise their kids. While he states that the parents “won”, it is clear that Pearl himself gained particular satisfaction. After all, he was able to get a father to repeatedly beat a two- to three-year-old boy until he subdued the child, one whom Pearl refers to as “a tough nut to break”.

To Pearl, and many parents who follow his teachings, the primary goal of parenting is not to support children by fulfilling their needs to feel safe and experience appropriate autonomy, but to control children. Never mind the fact that a plethora of studies show that corporal punishment and authoritarian parenting are often harmful. In the end, Pearl felt assured that he had, indeed, come upon the holy grail of childrearing.

anderson cooper michael pearl 360

Fortunately, Pearl’s grip on parents is slipping. National exposure of Pearl’s teachings and of the abuses that have followed are leading many Americans to abhor the preacher from Tennessee. Following the publication of a New York Times article on Pearl, an online petition urging Amazon to stop selling Pearl’s book attracted thousands of signatures.

Of course, parents who buy into the idea that Pearl has the ear of God and who are obsessed with controlling their children will continue to follow his methods. Some will continue to see Pearl’s teachings as a license to hurt, and even to kill. We should not be surprised if we hear that another child has been “trained” to death. Yet, at the same time, many more Americans realize that Pearl’s teachings are harmful and pose a risk to untold numbers of children throughout the United States and elsewhere.

Comments

  1. I have to say that I have been stunned by public response to the Pearls and to the video of the judge beating the crap out of his daughter. This is *normal* in devout conservative Christian families. What I want to ask those who are horrified is this: in the national conversation on spanking that we have been having off and on for the past three decades, exactly what did you think we were talking about this whole time? Surely you understood that the Pearl story you repeat here and the video of the judge are best-case scenarios, right?

    When you hear or read a religious person saying that spanking is just a couple of light smacks on the bottom, put that statement in the same category as “I buy Playboy for the articles.” Of course it isn’t true. It is an obvious and laughable lie. Everyone except the poor naive liberals has always known this.

    And while we are on the subject, let me let you guys in on another little secret. The chief virtues of homeschooling are: there are no mandentory reporters and your kids are never taught that law enforcement can protect children from abusive parents.

    • I don’t believe I read what you just said. Never teaching a child that there are laws to protect them from abuse is a virtue? That is so ridiculous as to be utterly stupid! bad enough that we have abusers like Pearl getting away with this behavior. But saying that children should never be taught the fact that they have protection under the law is without a doubt one of the most ignorant statements I have ever seen/heard.

      • Actually, I think she was saying that it was a virtue for the homeschooling parent who doesn’t want their child to know that law enforcement will help them. If a mandated reporter were present, as there would be if the child were in a public school, the ‘homeschooling parent’ wouldn’t have free reign to abuse their children.

        As a ‘mandated reporter’ for 30 years, I have seen what parents will do to their children in the ‘name of the lawd.

      • Elizabeth says:

        … ever heard of sarcasm? Those are ‘virtues’ of homeschooling to the abusive parent, duh.

    • I will have to totally disagree with part of your statement. I have been a Christian since birth, so have my patents, my grandparents and also my children & grandchildren. Never had any member of this Christian family felt the need or had to for any reason, in any way, shape or form “spank” a child. When you truly live a life filled with God’s love and God’s word, He guides you and your family thru the rightful path of His wisdom. What this so called preacher is doing is not God’s will nor is it becoming of a Christian, not to mention a descent human being. It repulses me to see people who call themselves Christian do such evil acts and advice others to do the same. God is beautiful, God is love and love doesn’t hurt, no matter what anything or how anyone tells you otherwise. Love is always sure and always capable n able to withstand anything that comes from evil because love is God & when you stand with God no evil will ever touch you or your family. What this man is doing is using the words of God & his scriptures to encourage others to convey evil actions against poor, innocent children. These are God’ children. They are sweet and innocent and should be treated with care, kindness n love and guided down a rightful path of the Lord’s word. It’s a shame people don’t see the real evil behind this man. If you’re truly a Christian, then read your Bible, the new and the old testament and see how the scriptures warn you of ‘the wolves in sheep’s clothing.’ People, please, don’t give into these kinds of acts of evil and desperation. Those children will be by God’s side to live the lives He promised us believers. And you? Where do you think you’re going to be?

      • Could you mention God again? I dont think people heard you the first dozen times

      • (g)od is the ultimate narcissistic supply. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissistic_supply

        I was literally told by my father that he ‘would break me.’

        That he would break my will, and that god had given him authority over me, and all women, as the ‘head’ of them. He told my my purpose in life was to live with the boot of a man on my neck my entire life.

        He beat me, he burned my diary and my art work, told me that making art was ‘creating false idols’ and used the precepts of Pearl’s teachings in his every day ‘discipline’ of me, even though my abuse happened in the 1980s before Daniel Pearl published. I was controlled utterly, beaten for saying anything that contradicted the pastor, and abused for pointing out the pastor’s kids were drinking and having sex behind his back, because that was defaming the pastor’s good name.

        My father worked for NASA. He put men into space, and was college educated, but was convinced that god made the earth in six days, and that this made the planet 6,000 years old, and the fossils of dinosaurs and other life forms to be a lie propagated by Satan to lure science into leading men astray from god.

        Richard Dawkins describes religious people as being delusional, and I have to agree. A delusion is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary, and people who subscribe to an unfalsifiable deity are clearly delusional, no matter how much they may bleat to the contrary.

        I suffered for years under the fist of this man until I left home at 16, and even then, he was willing to have me incarcerated in jail for being a runaway rather than to accept I’d gone to live with my boyfriend. He insisted that I marry a man I barely knew, so that he would not have to tolerate knowing his daughter was ‘living in sin’.

        I was made a prisoner by that book and those who read its words literally, and I was beaten while shown the passages in it that proscribed that I *should be* beaten, just like Pearl says. My father was practicing everything Pearl is a proponent of more than a decade before it was published. There is nothing really new about it.

        My father lives in Tennessee, too, and to this day I wake shaking and vomiting from terrifying nightmares of the abuse he perpetrated on me while absolutely positive he was doing god’s will, and who is to say he’s not? The bible is absolutely rife with commands to injure or even kill your children when they displease you.

        gly, did you forget Exodus 21:7 that says: And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.
        Because my father didn’t. My father decried the ‘godless’ world that wouldn’t let him sell me!

        That is in the bible, your precious book.

        So now, in addition to the memories of abuse, I have to deal with people like gly, who insist my father, who prayed every single day, several times a day, who took us to church several times a week and who forced me to attend a one room christian ‘school’ where I was taught absolute drivel that was nothing less that total indoctrination, isn’t a ‘real’ christian.

        Yes. Yes he is. He totally followed the bible in every possible, literal way he could, and he reveled in the control and authority it ostensibly gave him over me. He flaunted that control, and made absolutely certain that that book was a prison from which I could not escape. Its words governed my every misery, and no amount of my prayers made it stop.

        gly, don’t you think I didn’t pray? Don’t you think I didn’t read the bible and try, TRY so HARD to pray so that god would make the abuse stop? And yet… god didn’t. (G)od let it all happen, and lets all the horrors of the world happen… (G)od let those innocent babies die from their beatings.

        Why? Because god isn’t real. (G)od doesn’t exist…

        All that does exist is the narcissism of people like my father and Daniel Pearl, who will accept no criticism of what they perpetrate on innocent kids, and the delusions of people like gly, who defend with their vociferous protests the ‘reality’ of an imaginary cop in the sky who is supposed to be made of Love and yet looks the other way while horrors of every kind are perpetrated on this earth by its followers, reading the VERY SAME BOOK…

        As gly is reading.

        Where am I going to be when I die, gly? Returned to the great pool of starstuff we all are made of, my atoms rejoining the whole of what Is… unjudged and unharmed by the likes of your fantasies, and at last at peace from the agony that my life has been made by people like you and my father.

        • canth,

          I am grateful for what you have shared. Authoritarianism has no place in society, much less in a household, but when a person such as your abusive father uses “holy scripture” to justify his actions and claims that he is acting on the orders of a frightening and authoritarian deity, it leaves a child desperate and helpless and living in a totalitarian regime. In such a regime, the dictator’s actions go unquestioned. Unquestioned by you, so vulnerable in your youth, and those around him.

          I hope you will consider being part of a closed Facebook group for survivors of religious child maltreatment. https://www.facebook.com/groups/childfriendlyfaith/ And watch this post because I am going to members about what you have written and some may comment.

          My heart goes out to you. You are not alone,

          Janet

        • Canth, My father was similar to yours in his abuse and literal interpretations of the Bible. My older sister reported him to Child and Family Services, which toned down his abuse. This was lucky for me, because otherwise, my adolescence would have been much like yours. I’m sorry that no one advocated for you then. I would encourage you to join the group that Jan mentioned above. There are many others like you who talk about their experiences on the forum. ~Michelle

        • Hello Canth,

          Your words are so similar to so many of us. My parents worked hard to break us to in the name of god. The results were painful and long-lasting. You can read my open letter to a deacon of our church here: http://cdugan0.tripod.com/RoyLessinOpenLetter.html

          You really are not alone. I thought I was alone for years until I met Jan, her book filled with 11 other stories like mine, and the Child Friendly Faith Project Facebook group. You are welcome to join us. We will support you. We also work with faith leaders and members to educate them on how biblical teachings support and protect abusers. I am so proud to be working in this way. I’d always been held hostage by such violent teachings of god and the bible.

          Just know that there are many of us working to make the religious world safer for children. And, even more our sharing our stories of religious abuse and finding love and support from each other.

        • Canth, Your physical abuse and indoctrination is very similar to many of us that belong to Janet’s group. My story is very close to yours in many respects. I too left home at 16 and was married so I would no longer bring shame to my family. It was my parents way of getting rid of a problem. I did not conform to their so called Christian beliefs. It was my way of escaping unbearable abuse. Although my abuse happened years ago, some of the memories are like it was yesterday. After leaving home I told no one about how I was raised. I was ashamed of my parents and their beliefs. When I did open up I was lectured on scripture by well meaning people such as gly. After reading Janet’s book I e-mailed her and was asked to join her group. I have since learned how wide spread religious abuse is. The group is a safe forum to share experiences and gain strenth to help on your journey of healing. I had decided to speak up and expose my family’s religion for what it is. Janet, her book and her group has given me the strength to do this. Whatever you decide just remember you are not alone.

        • Canth, I am so sorry to read the horrors you experienced from your father. I was raised Christian and not spanked once. I did witness my brother suffering from corporal punishment. I know that many Christians use that Spare the Rod verse to justify abuse, but certainly not all do! I do think that gly was coming from a loving place in his/her response. The Bible is full of contradictions, and people can choose to interpret the Jesus part of loving and being kind, not critical, etc., or they can use other parts to be total masochists. We can’t judge all people of a religion the same. They are individuals. Nevertheless, I hope you find support and comfort some how after all you have experienced.

    • No… it’s normal in devout families run by psychopaths. My devout conservative parents would liberally open fire if they saw a family “disciplining” their children that way. Granted we’re southern conservative.

    • Home schooling is not a gateway for abuse. I know more than a few late teens who were home schooled and who were NOT beaten or hurt; not abused, nor isolated. No, the school system utterly failed them in their youth and their parents made the sacrifice of mum’s job to put them into a safe, secure and productive learning environment, enriched through group activities with children of a verity of different ages, colours and creeds. The oldest two I know are two of the most well-adjusted, good natured boys I have ever known. The oldest just went to university in Sweden. Their mother is an excellent teacher and care-giver who specialises in special needs. Both sons have ADHD – and got through without medication because of their self-paced home schooling.

      It can be used as a cover for abuse – but so can a classroom.

  2. Thanks for posting this, and thank you for drawing your reader’s attention to the online petition http://www.change.org/petitions/jeff-bezos-amazon-ceo-refuse-to-carry-books-which-advocate-the-physical-abuse-of-children. The petition is spreading like wildfire on early childhood Pages on Facebook and signatures to the petition are increasing rapidly; currently 6,648 people have signed it.

    The Pearls book is appalling; it sanctions extreme physical abuse of infants and children. I find it hard to believe that anyone can think it is acceptable behaviour to whip a 6 month old baby with weed eater cord, but the Pearls advise exactly that. Despicable behaviour that would result in a lengthy jail term for anybody who did so here in Australia.

    I’ve made a commitment – I will buy nothing from Amazon until this book and others like it are removed from their catalogue, and I’ve emailed Amazon to that effect. I urge other people to do the same; nothing gets a swifter response from a company than a consumer boycott.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks for bringing this to the attention of readers. I have again tweeted the petition site, as well as the fact that it has gained thousands of signatures. It would be great if the petition gained more media exposure. I will try to get more reporters interested in the story.
      Best to you,
      Janet

  3. I must admit I have not read Pearl’s book myself ,but it sounds dreadful. I do however remember reading Dr. Dobsen when my kids were young . They are now 32 and 36. I don’t ever think I remember him approving of punishment of infants and certainly not switching them and I feel bad that he is always lumped in with this Pearl guy. I found him VERY helpful with my kids as teenagers. He encouraged parents to say “Yes” to everything we could possibly say yes too and no to those very few things that could be harmful and stick to it. Let your No mean no and don’t back down ,but make the no’s as few as you possibly could. This was the best advice I ever remember receiving in those difficult years.

    Dobsen is very opinionated I will certaqinly admit that, but I don’t doubt his love of children.

    • Wow- really? A well meaning Christian friend gave me one of his books when my boy was a toddler. I was appalled by the descriptions of getting a switch to punish the child. It sounded perverse and not anything like love AT ALL.

  4. Pearl sounds like a sadist who takes pleasure in inflicting pain.

    Re: Christine’s comment:

    “The chief virtues of homeschooling are: there are no mandatory reporters and your kids are never taught that law enforcement can protect children from abusive parents.”

    It is true that when kids are kept isolated and segregated from ordinary contact with the world, it becomes very difficult to investigate and prosecute child abuse that is perpetrated on these victims. It is only when these children die or hospitalized (near death) that an investigation can even take place. I strongly believe in a parents’ right to raise their children according to their own values and beliefs, but I am more concerned with a child’s right to safety and protection. Children are not property owned by parents and allowing parents to treat children as such is a gross violation of the children’s dignity as human beings and their rights to be free from oppression and physical danger.

    It is incomprehensible to me that an adult is legally entitled to beat a smaller, defenseless person just because they contributed DNA — while the same treatment to another adult would be a criminal offense. How does this make any kind of sense?

    • Natalie,

      You are so right. I have never heard of this horrible man before tonight, and I am disgusted that there are people that follow him. I believe the devil has many disguises, and Michael Pearl is proof of this. When I was reading about his so called “teachings”, I could’t help but feel that he gained enjoyment from the pain inflicted on helpless children. I don’t really believe in organized religion, but I do consider myself a spiritual person. I don’t believe for one second that God would want us to hurt our children, and I am sick to my stomach that there are actual people that follow along with this mad man!

      Christine sounds like an idiot….Does this mean she’s a devout conservative Christian? Hardly! People like this will probably go to hell for committing acts of sin against their children…..It’s just so sad to think of all the babies and children that are suffering because of these misinformed cult-like people!

  5. Nice job exposing this, Jan.

  6. 11:00 was no doubt way past the little boy’s bedtime. He was tired, cold, and ready for bed.

  7. thoughtful says:

    Thanks, Janet — keep up the good work!

    The Pearls sent out a plea, via email and Facebook, to their supporters, about a week ago. Since then, hundreds of new 5-star reviews have suddenly appeared on Amazon. Most seem to be from people who have never reviewed anything else on Amazon, and some are quite similar.

    Apparently, the Pearlites are trying to continue to portray this horror as effective, normal, loving, Christian, and what the majority does.

    Any voices of reason in the reviews, comments, and discussions would be welcome.

  8. I am not very familiar with the law in America, but what are the possibilities of suing this man for incitement to violence? Technically, isn’t this what he is doing? If you give a speech to a crowd that incites racial hatred and those in the crowd end up committing a hate crime, you can be held accountable. This sort of thing is not protected under freedom of speech. Surely this must apply here, where there are children being tortured and killed because of the bile this man is spewing?

    I got here after listening to the Ask an Atheist podcast by the way. I love what you said there and I followed your link here. Great work raising awareness on this issue. Let us know if there is anything we the public can do to help.

    • Hannah,
      Thank you for your kind comments. The same thought came to my mind as I wondered whether Mr. Pearl could be prosecuted. However, this is a very pro-spanking culture compared to most other countries. While other places in the world consider physical punishment a form of violence, many Americans do not. In fact, Mr. Pearl is one of many conservative Christians who believe themselves to be parenting experts (even though they have no training or degree in, say, child psychology) and who advocate spanking.
      I appreciate your efforts to try to educate the public about the harm that results from pro-spanking teachings. As you may note in my book, Breaking Their Will, this harm appears even more likely when the “experts” are perceived to be religious authorities.
      Best regards,
      Janet

      • Sadly, circus trainers break the will of elephants, so they can perform. That is sick!! I can’t believe there are people that need to break their children so they will obey. I could never imagine doing at to my kids, and I know they would not be the same if my husband and I abused them. Maybe God will interfere with this satanist and help the children that are suffering. I’m just glad that people are paying attention to this and I hope we can all make a difference from speaking out.

      • I just want to say about the fact that America is pro-spanking. I have to agree. Also that H many other countries would never allow this treatment of children. I am an American living in Denmark. When I got my resident permit,I received a list of rules I was expected to follow now that I was allowed to live in their country. One of the rules was that, if I were to have any children, that I WA not allowed to hit them, including spanking. That is very different from the “it’s none of your business what I do to my child” mentality I have faced in America.

        Reading only the quotes and reviews about this book has brought me to tears eng burnedme with anger. I just found out that this book exists today. I hadn’t any idea that a book this extreme existed. As though child abusers need any reason to hit their kids, now they’re trying to get religious nuts who don’t know how to think for themselves to get in on the action. You know,I was in labor for 103 hours (no joke). I could never imagine, even if I believed in corporal punishment before, after struggling for so long to bring my baby into this world, to then hit him, force him to obey and to fear me. I want a wonderful, loving, lifelong relationship with my son., anyone, who even for a moment, thinks that beating your child in any way will ever achieve a close loving bond with their child, is sadly mistaken. All they will have to look back on is the empty, hollow person they raised because they

        You do realize that your daughter is supposed to touch things, right? that’s how she learns, about her environment and her place in it. when you hit your child when they touch things, t yes they stop touching, cutbut that also means they stop learning. You aren’t teaching your child in any useful way by hitting, all you’re teaching is fear. Fear that if she does something then she will be hit. She doesn’t learn impulse control, which I’d vet important. She needs that to get through life successfully. If she does anything in the future where you feel you need yo hit her again, you will be building a wall between you and her.

        I could go on for ages about why spanking or hitting a child doesn’t actuallY achieve anything in the long run even though it may seem on the surface that you have a good little obedient child. I go hope you’ll read some of the books suggested to you by the other person who replied to your comment.

        • Dear Meagan,

          I really appreciate your comment. Yes, this country’s attachment to corporal punishment must seem barbaric to someone who is from a more progressive country, at least in terms of compassionate parenting. But you are helping to let us know how you feel, and many Americans feel just as you do. I hope you do not mind I combined your comments together. One got cut off for some reason. Please feel free to join a closed Facebook group where you will find many individuals who share your feelings about physical punishment. https://www.facebook.com/groups/childfriendlyfaith/

          With gratitude,
          Janet

    • Here in America, people tend to get away with a lot. Drug dealers often do much more jail time than murderers, rapists, and child molesters. Not to say there aren’t many that face a life in prison, or death, but there seems to be a fine line when dealing with cases where a person isn’t directly linked to a crime. It’s very hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this monster caused the death of these children. I believe that Michael Pearl’s teachings are very cult-like, as many of the “christian groups” that are out there today. I wish more people could be informed. I think a lot of people are afraid to say anything against people that seem so godly, because they would be viewed as being negative. I am no saint, but I know deep in my heart that God would never want us to hurt our children. I also feel that if we do hurt our kids, it is because we are weak, and we know no other way.

  9. Michael Breen says:

    This man is a child abuser and probably a Catholic Priest in another life. Yes I was spanked occasionally for misbehaving BADLY but my parents explained things there and then and then told me that they loved me and expressed how terrible they felt doing what they did. This man is not qualified, however what does it take to become qualified in the eyes of the people who this definitely applies too.
    This is a prickly issue and it will take a lot of discussion and common sense. However all of the church’s have to be kept out of this at all costs because they are the worst offenders in this sad situation.

  10. I really hope that poor woman left her husband before the kid began to think that was normal – it is unforgivable behaviour.

    This is horrendous :( I’m not from the US but I wouldn’t expect that sort of thing to be happening in a civilised country and not be acted upon once it is found out.

    He would be viewed as a dangerous cult leader who encourages child abuse here.

    Thnkyou for writing about these this – abuse especially from a religous angle gets hidden away and that is what is most damaging – getting it aired so people can see they are not on their one is one huge and helpful step.

  11. Reading this made me cry. My son is 2 1/2 and if this had happened in my car, (not that my husband would stand for it anyway) I would have told both my husband and Mr Pearl to step away from my child for fear of a little ‘training’ from myself. I live in the UK where this debate on ‘smacking’ does continue but is not as radically represented. Mr Pearl would not gain such influence here.
    I think this is partly due to most parents I know having been bought up in a culture where a( and I DO mean one) quick smack on the bottom was the norm for doing something after plenty of reprimands and as a general rule was used as a deterent more times than it was used.
    It should never leave a mark or bruise. That’s not smacking, that’s hitting, and only on the bottom.
    My toddler may get the occasional smack but only for something dangerous like running off or touching something (which he has been told and understands) is hot so he realises these are things he cannot afford to wait for a warning on. It’s always followed by a hug and a reiteration of why it mustn’t be done ( we love you, we don’t want to lose you or see you in pain) he’s a very happy, affectionate boy who is confident and very aware and always reminded he is loved.
    In another year or so, his language and understanding will grow with his ability to understand reason, negating the need to smack.
    My eldest, now 16, was brought up the exact same way and is a great student, confident, and very empathic and caring.
    There is such a thing as middle ground. If parent’s can’t control their own anger then they will always be ‘bad’ parents whether they hurt their children physically or emotionally.

  12. I have read To Train up a Child. I think to some people the concept is alluring: a simple tough-love strategy that results in children who obey out of natural habit. They see those large, well behaved. fundamentalist families and aim to raise equally cooperative kids who will then discipline themselves after the “training” period is over.

    Unfortunately the reality is that the whole theory is a kind of dog-training strategy, based on unhesitating obedience to the parents and to God. Even dog trainers argue against this kind of punishment based system. I think it’s irresponsible to indoctrinate a child to unthinking obedience. What happens when one of the bad guys, cloaked in authority, tells your kid to do something bad? A kid who knows love and mutual respect, and feels able to assert himself, will be a lot better equipped to deal with the real world, even if he sometimes whines or misbehaves. I’m not arguing for lenience, just a bit of common sense and compassion.

    One more thing: please dont lump all homeschoolers into the protective fundie category. Most of us are just like the rest of you, we just do school in different places.

  13. If God ever came near my children I would call the police, I would.

    Since when is “love” synonymous with “obedience”? That logic seems quite idiosyncratic to me.

  14. me n my husband read this book and we train our 2 years old daughter with spanking since she was 14 mos. when our daugther disobey to not touch some stuffs at home we ask her to not touch bout 3 times and if she dont listen to us we spank her in leg skin with small stick and after she listen to us offcourse she would crying n she will come to me and i give hug and kiss her leg n my husband hug her too and we try explain that mommy n daddy love you thats why you need listen to us and we are spank her not in dangerous area. thats really wonderfull coz by that spanking couple times our daughter dont need spanking anymore bcoz when she doing something wrong or disobey our comandment we just say No, please listen to mommy/daddy and she would stop n obey n no more spank :) its make us happy coz when we bring her to family or friends house she try to touch everything and we just say no, listen to me she would listen its so amazing we are never stressfull coz need to yelling etc . spanking only at first but no more now coz more age she more understand that she wont get spank if she obey her parents.

    but i understand that this book can be danger for some parents bcoz some parents has different brain to cacth up the message in this book. some of them can be too serious some of them can be just like us, so we need to be carefull though to share stuffs like this to people.

  15. Very interesting. I’ve not read that particular book by Mike Pearl, but I knew him in Bible college. I graduated before him and went on into academia, now dean of a seminary. I’ve not really kept up with him, but I shall hazard several comments.

    First, he was always one on the edge, pursuing his own thing, and often making mountains out of mole hills. He was one to be rather autonomous and do his own thing. One example, which I saw on YouTube recently, is that he still holds that the King James Version of the Bible is inspired. I know of no Christian scholar who would agree, none in the world, but that would not deter Mike. In fact, we don’t hold that any translation of the Bible from its original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek is infallible. Only the originals are infallible. I teach both Hebrew and Greek in seminary so this is an area of expertise for me.

    Second, yet I would say that he is a fine Christian, just one who has always taken minority views. When I knew him in Bible College, he was that way, but he also had a good heart for the Triune God and won more people to Christ than the rest of us combined. He has always had great zeal, but too often not backed up by knowledge. He is one of the finest preachers as far as delivery that I’ve ever heard to this day.

    Third, I think you who write the blog come across as very angry and superior in attitude, and accuse him of not having a Ph.D. I do (Th.D., the same in the theological world), trying to pull rank by counting degrees is not a convincing argument. We who are strongly Christian do not place a lot of value on psychology, and I’ve studied it. It is basically bankrupt and is full of ever changing ideas, built of a world view of evolution and chaos, which we reject. We Christians have been rearing children at least since Moses (3,500 years), and have been doing quite well until our compromises the last 50 years. But that is another story. I know that as soon as you hear that we deny your view of “creation”–evolution–that you will shut down. I’ve seen it many times. But I read your books, books by atheists, agnostics, and the liberals who in general hate Christians with an unholy passion (which, by the way, is what Jesus said you would do in John 15:18ff), and if you aren’t reading us perhaps you should. One such book that challenges the form of atheistic and evolutionary arguments was written by a professor who graduated from Harvard and Univ. of Chicago, Philip Johnson, Ph. D., who taught many years at the Univ. of Calif. at Berkeley. His book is “Darwin on Trial.” If you’re not too stuck in liberalism, you might also read Weikart, “From Darwin to Hitler,” who is a historian with Ph.D.

    Fourth, as for your quotes from Pearl’s book on stopping the car to whip to child, I would concur basically with your analysis. That is not the Christian position, but we hold one more of compassion. However, we do spank our children, as Holy Scripture commands, but it is not an unkind beating, not trying to “break the will” as you say Pearl says. He probably got that from a man some decades ago who was also a renegade, doing his own thing, Bill Gothard, but I don’t know that for sure. I’m not sure what Mike means by “breaking the will.” It could be no more than a spanking, but if you have truly represented him fairly with the car scene, I would argue that Scripture forbids that king of thing. Here is one verse against it: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4 NKJ). When one divorces himself from the mainstream of Christianity over the centuries, he tends to become imbalanced, and at worst, as I see it, that is what may have happened to Mike.

    Firth, You are overly concerned. I don’t know how many books the Pearls have written, but their impact has been minuscule. I’ve been in the Christian book world for decades, and I can assure you that I almost never come across their works. I would suspect that those who follow them are like them in being loners and against the mainline Christians. I heard, but don’t know for sure, that he joined the Mennonites, about as exclusive as you can get, or at least that he lives among them and has adopted some of their ways. I was given one of Mike’s book to evaluate by an organization about 20 years ago, and it denied original sin and some aberations in it so I counseled against it. They did not order it. I don’t remember the name of it.

    Finally, I’ve used Holy Scripture to rear my own children, both of whom are married and have wonderful spouses and children. In turn, our children are are rearing their children in the Trinitarian faith (by faith, I don’t meant the absence of reason, as you liberals often think, which is a straw man and every bit as bad as you claim Pearl’s books are, but reason as based on evidence, objective, logical, and historical), and I spanked my kids, not with a piece of pipe, but with something that could get their attention, all in the context of love. We are a very close family, and the love of Christ dominates our every action. And, I NEVER had my kids in public schools, and the same is now true of our grandchildren. Public schools generally teach children how to self-destruct, how to have sex, that same sex unions are ok, thow o despise any authority but their own, how to take drugs, and so on, but you won’t accept that. If you want my book that discusses these matters in detail, order “NOT Ten Suggestions” either on Amazon or on our site: http://www.ftstl.com. I would bet that Mike’s kids love him and his wife, are respectful to authority, do not take drugs, and love the Triune God. An imbalance in one area does not mean everything he says is wrong.

    Thank you for the review; seems rather timely.

    The Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.

    • Dear Rev. Crenshaw,

      Thank you for this insightful and thoughtful comment. It is very interesting to learn about Mr. Pearl’s background. I am only sorry that what seemed to promise an enlightening glimpse into a man who has affected so many people’s lives spiraled into an emotionally charged, less than educational diatribe. Ironically, your commentary is mired in prejudicial assumptions about me as one of what you presumably call “atheists, agnostics, and the liberals who in general hate Christians with an unholy passion,” while, at the same time you criticize “us” as making hate-filled generalizations about all Christians. I would like to know just how such a viewpoint emulates the teachings of Jesus Christ. All that said, I did appreciate some of your points which appeared more open-minded.

      I would like to correct you on a number of things. You say that I accuse Mr. Pearl of “not having a Ph.D.” In actuality, my blog post notes that he “has had no training in child psychology.” Being trained in psychology does not require a doctorate, as I’m sure you are aware. But I want to speak to a larger issue you address. You acknowledge that you and others “who are strongly Christian do not place a lot of value on psychology,” which you view as basically bankrupt” and being “full of ever-changing ideas, built of a world view of evolution and chaos, which we reject.” I appreciate this admission, and I don’t intend to try to change your viewpoint, however, I think it’s a mistake to steer clear of learning anything about psychology. If you or Mr. Pearl were to study psychology, even to a small degree, you might gain something from it. It might strengthen your viewpoint. Either way, your stance has little credibility if you have so little knowledge of what you are criticizing.

      Thank you for the book suggestions. I have noted their titles and will look them up, paying special attention to what they say, or do not say, about children’s welfare.

      I am surprised and heartened that you do not subscribe to the idea of “breaking children’s wills.” But, again, I must clarify a few points of yours. You say that Christians generally “do spank our children, as Holy Scripture commands, but it is not an unkind beating, not trying to ‘break the will’ as you say Pearl says. He probably got that from a man some decades ago who was also a renegade, doing his own thing, Bill Gothard, but I don’t know that for sure. I’m not sure what Mike means by ‘breaking the will.’ It could be no more than a spanking, but if you have truly represented him fairly with the car scene, I would argue that Scripture forbids that king of thing. Here is one verse against it: ‘And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord’ (Eph 6:4 NKJ). When one divorces himself from the mainstream of Christianity over the centuries, he tends to become imbalanced, and at worst, as I see it, that is what may have happened to Mike.”

      My book, “Breaking Their Will” explains what “happened to Mike” and many other Christians who write about the perceived religious requirement to “break children’s wills,” and it goes back to Protestant teachings that existed long before Gothard. Another analysis appears in the Philip Greven’s book “Spare the Child.” I’m glad you bring up Ephesians. It is a passage I mention in my book so as to show teachings that support compassionate parenting. But I disagree with you that “the Christian position” categorically supports corporal punishment of children. Yes, it is true that the CONSERVATIVE Christian position supports spanking. However, many Christians who are more of a liberal bent oppose physical punishment and, like the proponents, draw from scriptural passages to support their position. My book details both positions, however, even though I oppose the physical punishment of children, I do not conclude that spanking or not spanking children makes someone a “true Christian.” The fact is, Christians who want to physically punish, as well as those who do not, can find justifications that support their viewpoints.

      Regarding the popularity of Mr. Pearl’s writings…You are incorrect when you say their impact has been minuscule. His website boasts about the millions of copies of “To Train Up a Child” he has sold, and I’ve spoken to many people who come from religious communities in which churches ordered that book by the truckloads. It is hugely popular within the growing conservative Christian homeschooling movement — particularly among those in the burgeoning Quiverfull movement — which might explain why you have not heard very much about it in mainstream Christian circles. I do remain concerned about Mr. Pearl’s teachings because 1) he is considered to be a religious authority and therefore, many will follow what he says, including beating children with implements which has been shown to be more dangerous than spanking with the hand, as well as other disturbing parenting techniques that aim to control children’s behavior, 2) I oppose the physical punishment of children and adults from a human rights perspective, even if the spanking does not result in severe physical abuse, and 3) as I point out in my book, many parents should not be encouraged to try to control their children’s behavior with corporal punishment. The 3 child deaths and the abuses suffered by their siblings and many other children — cases that have not made headlines — are testament to that.

      I’ve enjoyed having this conversation. I hope you will continue to relay your viewpoints and that we can learn from each other. If we are capable of that, I believe that the dialog will prove enriching to our lives and those reading our comments.

      Best regards,
      Janet Heimlich

      • Thank you for the corrections, but I made it clear on some points that I was not sure of your position, so I did not accuse you across the board. I said it appeared you were liberal, and now you admit it, but then we have no definition of liberal. I’ll give you one: a liberal is one who thinks he is final authority by reason alone in all matters of life and faith. A Christian is one who thinks Holy Scripture is final authority and uses reason to support that so that his faith is supported by both Scripture and reason. One book I would strongly urge you to read is this one, Geisler and Turek, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”.

        If Mike Pearl is popular in the home school movement, I will find out and oppose his views. I have connections there. On rare occasion I have been asked, and I’ve steered people away from him..

        We Christians, by which I mean those who hold to the Nicene Creed, which is held by the three branches of Christendom (Easter Orthodoxy, Roman Catholic, and Protestant), and who hold to the Ten Commandments, do follow Holy Scripture regarding spanking. While I used Eph. 6:1ff to discipline in love, the Greek word for “instruction” used in Eph. 6:4 is also used in Heb. 12:5-11 for physical discipline by God of His people. Physical discipline and love are not necessarily opposites. Here is the passage:

        5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives1.” 7 If1 you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

        The Greek word for “scourge” means physical discipline, and notice that God does such “in love.” Thus, it is not necessarily the opposite of love to use physical discipline, but not the way Pearl suggested in stopping the car so many times. Notice that God says His discipline of His children would seem painful, but in the end the person who is trained by His discipline will learn righteousness. The idea is no pain, no gain. We see the same thing a number of times in the Old Testament book of Proverbs such as these:

        “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Prov. 13:24).

        “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Prov. 22:15).

        “Do not withhold adiscipline from a child; bif you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will asave his soul from Sheol” (Pro 23:13-14 ESV)..

        A “rod” is a physical object, which could be a switch, a paddle, or something. Of course, we are not to permanently injure our children. If you disagree with those passages from the New Testament and Old Testament, you confirm my definition of a liberal and that you may be one. But I don’t mean that as a jab. I have friends who are liberal and/or atheists. We can disagree and dialogue vigorously, and we part friends. One of my best friends of the past was an atheist.

        The problem is not with the Bible but with the way people perceive those who hold to it, and it does not help to have a Mike Pearl confirm some of their fears, though I would like to read his book for myself. I’ve too often found that when liberals read our works they take the worst view possible. They hate us (I’m not saying you do) and want to make us look bad. But even if you had reviewed a book by a conservative Christian, I would still want to read it. So what do these verses mean? In the whole context of Scripture and of the books of the Bible in which they appear, they do not present an image of angrily beating children until bones are broken or their will is broken, whatever that means. Rather, the idea is that some children will not obey without corporal punishment, which is to be administered gently, not in the heat of anger, but nevertheless with firmness. As we often say, “When the board of education is administered to the seat of knowledge the mind will come to attention.”

        Children only learn vertical authority (toward God) by obedience to horizontal authority (parents). If they are allowed to do their own thing, they will naturally reject any authority above them, define their own ethics, and dare anyone to challenge them. God gave His authority to parents (“Honor your father and mother,” “Children obey your parents” Eph. 6:1). It is horrible for a parent to allow a three year old to scream profanity at them and for the parents to say, “I just can’t control him.” That is beyond ludicrous, and indicates the parent does not love the child to allow him to self-destruct. That parent needs the rod!

        My father left my mother and me when I was about three so she was the only disciplinarian. She would take the Bible, sit me down, show me what I had done wrong, then take the Bible and show me what I should do, then give me physical “encouragement” to obey. It worked very well, for me, my children, now for my grandchildren, for my mother, her mother (whom I knew real well), and for her grandmother (whom I also knew, she died when I was 9). As I said before, we have a long history of generally rearing godly children, going back at least to Moses 3,500 years ago (see Deut. 6:1ff). It is in this age of secular permissiveness that we have so much rebellion with kids having sex down to age ten, taking drugs, and killing each other in school. What has happened? I would argue that the lack of Christian influence is the problem, and the dominance of secular humanism in society. In the name of no discrimination, we want everything reduced to its lowest common denominator, which was predicted by several Christian theologians over 100 years ago when public education was first growing. (If you want to see the documentation, I can provide that.) To condemn all Christians as some kind of mean ogres who delight in beating their children and screaming at them is a straw man, and will never make an impact on us.The vast majority of us are not that way.

        I will see if I can purchase Mike’s book and read it, but my schedule is so tight with a church and a seminary to run that it may be a while.

        Thank you for the forum.

        Curtis Crenshaw

        • I am enjoying your insight, Mr. Crenshaw, but I do object to your definition of a liberal. A liberal generally knows that they don’t have all the answers, therefore argue for tolerance and diversity. Conservatives tend to be adamant about their views and not tolerate diversity. Of course, this is a generalization.

  16. Serena Walker says:

    I was raised in a family of eight children and when I was about seven or eight years old my parents decided to start reading the Michael Pearl book, “To Train Up A Child”
    I remember the cover of the book at the time, it was a picture of a horse drawn buggy with many children smiling and waving from the sides of the buggy.
    My parents followed it religiously, cold baths, excessive spankings, and full submission to their authority was expected every minute of my waking hours.
    I remember the book sitting on the shelf, and I remember a dread in seeing the cover even at a young age, because when my parents read it, the beatings got worse. They slowly broke my will, they “trained” it out of me as one would do with a horse.
    My younger brother had just been born around this time, and I remember the switch being used on his bare legs, just as I later learned the book had indicated needed done. He was not even walking at the time.
    This book ruined my childhood, and I am still being treated for anxiety and panic attacks.
    I wanted someone to know my story, I grew up feeling unloved, ugly, worthless, useless, and stupid. Michael Pearl’s teaching are evil.

    • Serena,

      Your story is tragic and far too common. Thank you for helping us understand just how damaging Michael Pearl’s book is. It is unfortunate that he is considered a religious authority by many parents, for this helps give his teachings credence in their eyes.

      Best to you,
      Janet

  17. What kind of piece of worthless garbage is this man? I think someone should send him overseas to Iraq and let the Taliban deal with him and his sack of s*** wife. I wonder if it’s possible to call the child abuse hotline about this book because I’m considering it. It’s written proof that they physically abused small children. If anyone knows if it’s possible to call the abuse hotline, respond to me! Thanks!

  18. So, if a parent does this to his children this is a crime, and evokes such an outcry.

    But if a policeman or a prison guard does this to a “criminal,” as such is done every day and every hour across America, no one complains and the cops get away with it.

    We all need to remember that this is all part of the same mentality and same patriarchal institution.

    • Its actually the other way around. Most Pple n the world c it as ok to hit children but think hitting is bad when being done to adults

  19. If I could meet Micheal Pearl in the flesh I would not hesitate to grab this Fake Ass Prophet by the throat and teach him how to break a Man’s spirit. See he will only attack those who are defenseless and can not protect themselves. He is no man but a lonely low self esteemed man-child with mental issues. He will get the horrible karma that is waiting for him. He is pathetic and I can’t wait for the day I hear the news of him getting a taste of his own medicine.

  20. Michael Pearl is a murderer.

  21. This man should feel the pain of all the children he has caused to be spanked and whipped. I was severely punished for even minor things. I clearly remember my parents using the paddle on my bottom and the belt on my penis, always bare. I still have panic attacks and anxiety over this, and I can’t form attachments to people. I hope Michael Pearl burns in hell.

    • Hello, Miguel,
      Thank you for sharing some of the abuse you experienced as a child. If you are on Facebook, I wanted to let you know about a closed FB group that I believe would offer you guidance and support as you deal with the emotional scars of what you have suffered. Many in the Child-Friendly Faith group are survivors like yourself.
      Take care,
      Janet
      The Facebook group can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/childfriendlyfaith/ Please be sure to read the “about” description which contains rules about communication and posting.

  22. Most of these postings have not taken into account the fact that Parents hurt their children, Not the Pearls. As a matter of fact, most people can take anything out of context. Short of being led around by a leash and told what to do by an Authoritarian Big Brother, why are we not holding ourselves accountable for our Own Conduct. Just a thought here people.

    • I take what you have said to heart, Maria. We can’t solely blame Hitler for millions of Germans following his lead. Charismatic leaders will always be there, exploiting people’s vulnerabilities. I run a nonprofit that is trying to educate congregations so that this kind of thing does not continue.
      Regards,
      Janet
      http://childfriendlyfaith.org

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