Michael Pearl in the News

I finally watched Michael Pearl’s recent appearance on the Today Show, as well as his interview along with Elizabeth Esther on the Anderson Cooper show.

Michael Pearl and the media seem content to keep discussing spanking vs. not spanking instead of focusing on the real issue here–repetitive spankings intended to break a child’s will. I thought Elizabeth Esther did a great job of zeroing in on this. Michael Pearl spouts spanking statistics without acknowledging the fact that the vast majority of parents who spank do not do so in the manner he outlines in To Train Up A Child. In Michael Pearl’s methodology, spanking is not a one-time consequence for disobedience but a means of wearing down the child’s spirit…“spank him until he’s totally broken.” 

I thought I’d share a letter I wrote last summer to my local Christian homeschool group’s email list. The discussion had been sparked by a link to the videos of CNN’s investigation in August 2011. Some spoke in defense of Michael Pearl, claiming that his teachings are biblical and that the Schatz girls suffered from a pre-existing condition called rhabdomyolysis. I felt I had no choice but to speak out against this misinformation so I composed this reply:

“I am not anti-spanking and I don’t enjoy seeing the media put their liberal spin on the topic either. But where the Pearls are concerned the issue goes beyond spanking vs. not spanking. I don’t mean to be argumentative, but just honestly share my family’s journey and the details I’ve learned about the Schatz case, a story I’ve been  following with interest for over a year.

I read Michael Pearl’s book To Train Up A Child back in 1999. As a new wife and mom (my firstborn was 7 or 8 months old), I was very eager to do things right. We attended their child training seminar in the late 90s, I read their marriage/parenting books, watched their videos and read their newsletter for 10 years.

We had a collection of 1/4″ plastic plumbing supply lines in varying sizes–shorter ones for the glove box of each vehicle, and longer ones for each room in the house. The supply lines served as our “rod of discipline,” as Michael Pearl suggested. We were frequently complimented on our well-behaved children (behavior modification does work) and I was a big fan of No Greater Joy…until the spring of 2010 when I learned about Lydia Schatz. I knew the Pearls did not advocate child abuse, and in fact speak against it, so I began looking into this issue on the internet.

I had never paid much attention to the Pearls’ theology before but during my research I learned that Michael Pearl 1. Denies the doctrine of original sin, 2. Has a gnostic view of sin nature (sin works only in our bodies), and 3. Believes in sinless perfection (we are instantly sanctified when we are born again and from then on we sin no more).

Catez Stevens has listened to the sermons of Michael Pearl and points out the doctrinal errors. (I don’t know Catez Stevens from adam so don’t take this as a blanket endorsement!)

Also, there’s a free e-book which examines the false doctrine of Michael Pearl. This book is extremely thorough and I highly recommend it.

The Pearls do recommend using plastic plumbing supply line as a spanking instrument, exactly the same instrument used to spank Lydia to death. And the district attorney in the case stated that there is a direct connection between Michael Pearl’s book and Lydia’s death. Yes, the Schatzes are certainly responsible for their own actions. But it is possible that someone with no discernment could overdo the Pearls’ advice to spank until the child is broken. Michael Pearl himself warns that the battle of wills can sometimes take awhile. But what if the child never gives that submissive whimper? When exactly are you supposed to stop before it crosses the line into abuse? TTUAC never clarifies this. For example (this is from the version of TTUAC that was found in the Schatz home, emphasis mine):

If he continues to show defiance by jerking around and defending himself, or by expressing anger, wait a moment, lecture again, and again spank him until it’s obvious he’s totally broken.(To Train Up A Child, p59)

Switch him 8-10 times on his bare legs or bottom. While waiting for the pain to subside, speak calm words of rebuke. If his crying turns to a true, wounded, submissive whimper, you have conquered; he has submitted his will. If his crying is still defiant, protesting, and other than a response to pain, spank him again. If this is the first time he’s come up against someone tougher than he is, it may take awhile…if you stop before he is voluntarily submissive, you have confirmed to him the value and effectiveness of a screaming protest! (TTUAC p80)

If you have to sit on him to spank him, then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he has surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring, and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally…A general rule is to continue the disciplinary action until the child has surrendered. (TTUAC p46)

Rhabdomyolysis is caused by damage to the muscle tissue, usually caused by trauma such as a car accident. It was not exacerbated by the spanking, it was caused by the spanking. If it were a pre-existing condition surely Kevin Schatz’ attorney, Michael Harvey, would’ve mentioned that fact. Instead, according to the Contra Costa Times, he said in regard to rhabdomyolysis, “most know it’s inappropriate to shake a baby, but few had heard of the medical condition that could be caused by Schatzes’ disciplinary method.

Our “Pearl years” were characterized by graceless parenting and my heart aches to remember how I used to treat my children, thinking I had their best interests at heart. Anything less than first time obedience was disciplined for as disobedience (I’m glad God doesn’t treat me this way!) We expected behavior out of our children that, realistically, they were too immature to give. We used the rod as our first (and pretty much only) form of discipline. I rarely gave my babies pacifiers because Michael Pearl teaches that this is rewarding self-indulgence and leads to intemperance/overeating later in life. I stuffed down my motherly instincts when it came to training and discipline–I didn’t want to be that weak, emotional mother that Michael Pearl describes as loving herself more than her children. For the sake of my children’s souls I had to be tough and unrelenting, “a cold rock of justice,” to put it in Michael Pearl’s words.

In His mercy, God has drastically changed my perspective on parenting. Studying how God parents His children has been key for me. Sally Clarkson has some great thoughts on parenting with faith and grace as opposed to performance-based training. Also, I’ve been reading a parenting book by Elyse Fitzpatrick called Give Them Grace and it’s excellent so far. [edited to add: at the time I wrote this I hadn’t read Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel. Although I did enjoy Give Them Grace, Kimmel’s book is far better!]

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10 Responses to Michael Pearl in the News

  1. Becky, thanks for doing this. I wrote my thoughts on these topics here: http://comewearymoms.blogspot.com/2010/02/child-discipline-or-child-abuse.html

  2. TulipGirl says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you for focusing on the core issue — this isn’t about “spanking” but about the adversarial, parents-must-win-at-all-costs, repetitive spanking which so easily leads to abuse — even in loving, well-intentioned homes.

  3. Pingback: Why Blame The Pearls At All? | Why Not Train A Child?

  4. Milli Hill says:

    I’m the person who began the petition to ask Amazon not to stock this book and others like it that advise parents to hit / beat / spank / smack their children.
    I enjoyed your article and have shared it via the petition’s Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/amazonpetition and also via another Facebook group I am an admin for Olive Branch, http://www.facebook.com/olivebranchcommunity. Olive Branch is a community specifically for those who wish to parent without corporal punishment, but may need help or support. They may even still be ‘spanking’, we welcome anyone who wishes to find better ways, regardless of where on that journey they find themselves.
    You would be most welcome to join us!
    Meanwhile all the best

  5. Susan T says:

    Excellent work! Thanks for keeping this current. :)

  6. Pingback: It’s Not Just About Spanking Children, It’s About Breaking Children | Why Not Train A Child?

  7. Elin says:

    I think this particular book is especially dangerous when used on an adoptive child. Sometimes an older adoptive child is at baby level when it comes to connecting to people and it is also common that because of the fears that they have of being abandoned again that they have periods when they are less well-behaved just to test that connection. You can imagine when they are not met by unconditional love and instead harsh punishment even though they are not physically abandoned. Also taking into the consideration that these children might not even be able to connect on the same level as a child who has lived in his/her family from birth it is a double betrayal in my view. No one is angry if a baby cannot walk from birth because we know that they simply cannot and in some cases adoptive children cannot connect any better than they do at the moment because they need to learn this step by step.

  8. Nancy says:

    Elin, I am an adoptive mother and I have been just sick at the thought of these poor kids. After enduring life in an orphanage, they were no doubt hoping for the unthinkable: a safe, nurturing home. I am so grieved by the fact that they never experienced that, and instead were sent into a kind of hell on earth.

    I have wondered what happened in their pre-adoption visits and interviews — did they lie to the social workers about how they discipline? Our home study agency made it clear that any kind of physical punishment is very damaging for adopted children, especially older ones.

    In the case of adoptive children, especially, I keep thinking of the verse that says “a bruised reed He shall not break.” That flies right in the face of the Pearls’ teachings, and speaks of grace and tenderness with already wounded children.

  9. Becky says:

    Thank you all for your comments. You give me hope that the tide is turning against No Greater Joy as more Christians realize that our parenting must be infused with love, grace, and gentleness.

  10. Pingback: Corporality « Culture, adventure, stillness

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