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!]