Did Christian Teachers Michael And Debi Pearl Train Parents To Kill Four Children?
DOES reading and adhering to the book To Train Up a Child by Tennessee-based Christian preachers Michael and Debi Pearl make your a child killer? Larry and Carri Williams have been found guilty of beating and starving their adopted daughter Hana to death. They adopted Hana from Ethiopia in 2008.
The Pearls run a Christian ministry called No Greater Joy.
He looks a bit like Santa. (That’s them in the above photo). Their website states:
No Greater Joy is the ministry of Michael & Debi Pearl under the auspices of No Greater Joy Ministries Inc. Michael has been a pastor, missionary, and evangelist for over 40 years. The Pearls’ five children were all homeschooled, and have grown up to become missionaries and church leaders. Though holding a degree from the Mid-South Bible College (now Victory University), when Michael is asked for his credentials on child training he points to his five children. Read more!
We do read more:
In a section called Is a Child Too Young To Spank? He outlines the plan:
While we can reasonably agree that the small child is too young to be punished, and we can understand that he is too immature to profit from reproof, are we to leave the child to himself until he gets old enough to discuss his fleshly actions and riotous ways? “…a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15). Too young for corporal punishment and too immature for reproof? What’s left to us is “Training.” “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Biblical training will incorporate the principle of the rod as a reinforcement to parental commands. By the term “rod,” I mean spanking. The Bible never uses the word “spank,” but it is bold in its use of the word “rod” in regard to child training. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). Notice, it is a rod of correction, not a rod of punishment. The rod that corrects is the rod that trains.
We have made the point here that children under three (give or take six months or so) cannot profit from corporal punishment, but we have made the point elsewhere that small children do profit from the application of the training rod. How are they different? In both cases, the child is being swatted with an instrument. There is a great deal of difference in both the severity and the number of “licks,” and also in the parents’ expectations and perspective. For that reason, we cannot arbitrarily specify a suitable age and declare that it is fitting to spank a child beginning at that point. Children differ, spankings differ, circumstances differ, and parents differ.
Meet the Pearls.
In the section Dogs Cats And Kids we read:
I just got through feeding the dogs and cats. They are nearly as stupid as humans, controlled by their impulses and prejudices. I scatter dry dog food along the driveway so the two cats and two dogs can eat without being too close to each other. But the two dogs think it is their life’s calling to starve cats to death. One dog, whom I call “Useless,” is the worst cat hater. He will prevent the cats from eating, to his own detriment. I can put a quart of dog food on the driveway and throw a handful under the car where the cats can get to it, and Useless will run around the car, here and there lying on his side, pushing his head up under the car with his tongue stretched to the limit, and scraping up gravel and crushed leaves, all with one purpose: trying to deprive the cat of a single pellet of dog food. Meanwhile, the other dog will be gobbling up all the readily available food assigned to both of them. By the time the cat has eaten and the dog has rescued three or four morsels of food, the other dog will have finished off the first dog’s portion, leaving Stupid Useless with nothing to eat. But, at least the cat knew who was boss!
Now, I have seen kids act the same way, and it makes no sense at all. A child has a room full of toys, and another child comes over to visit. When the visitor picks up a single toy that has not felt the hands of its owner in six months, suddenly it is the very toy Snotty wants to play with. It is disheartening to see your child with no more sense than a useless mutt saved from the dog pound’s gas chamber—unthankful, selfish, self-centered, pouty, and downright mean-spirited. Need I point out that all children are descendents of fallen Adam, born into the world without God, possessed of selfish drives that will most certainly result in sinful attitudes and actions?
He talks of The Rod:
When a parent is prepared and willing to use the rod to enforce his word, there is never an occasion when tensions build and tempers flare. The child knows that the parent is going to speak once, and if there is not immediate obedience, the rod will fall. The sure application of the rod will sober a child and cause him to give very serious thought to his conduct and attitude…
Training is done on the spot, without much discussion or hesitation. The rod falls within three seconds of the disobedience. You don’t even break stride. Onlookers hardly notice it, whereas chastisement is more involved and demanding…
The soul of your child needs to be punished. He feels the need to suffer for his misdeeds…
As a rule, do not use your hand. Hands are for loving and helping. If an adult swings his or her hand fast enough to cause pain to the surface of the skin, there is a danger of damaging bones and joints. The most painful nerves are just under the surface of the skin. A swift swat with a light, flexible instrument will sting without bruising or causing internal damage. Many people are using a section of ¼ inch plumber’s supply line as a spanking instrument. It will fit in your purse or hang around you neck. You can buy them for under $1.00 at Home Depot or any hardware store. They come cheaper by the dozen and can be widely distributed in every room and vehicle. Just the high profile of their accessibility keeps the kids in line…
A proper spanking leaves children without breath to complain.
The Pearls are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But is their advice a call to kill? No. It’s not.
But Janet Heimlich, author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, is no fan:
Pearl’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.
She recounts an episode from the couple’s blog:
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.
They don’t advocate killing. But they do support controlled violence.
The New York Times reports on the aforesaid Hana:
Late one night in May this year, the adopted girl, Hana, was found face down, naked and emaciated in the backyard; her death was caused by hypothermia and malnutrition, officials determined. According to the sheriff’s report, the parents had deprived her of food for days at a time and had made her sleep in a cold barn or a closet and shower outside with a hose. And they often whipped her, leaving marks on her legs. The mother had praised the Pearls’ book and given a copy to a friend, the sheriff’s report said. Hana had been beaten the day of her death, the report said, with the 15-inch plastic tube recommended by Mr. Pearl.
Michael Pearl confronts the issue:
Hana Williams’ parents were given the maximum prison sentences. Articles are appearing in blogs and newspapers across the country that are full of fabrications, lies and misstatements about To Train Up a Child. It should not be taken as fact just because it is written somewhere.
Oh, the irony from a man who cites the Bible as reason for hitting children. Go on:
It is alleged that Hana’s parents owned a copy of the book; they either did not read it or totally ignored the content. The book repeatedly warns parents against abuse, and emphasizes the parents’ responsibility to love and properly care for their children. There are hundreds of thousands of parents who have and are properly applying the philosophy of the book with the joyous results of happy, productive, and well-adjusted children.
The proper application of the book could have corrected their poor parenting and prevented the abuse and death of Hana Williams.
What else has been written about them?
“The Schatzes followed, to a “t”, a system of child rearing which came from Michael and Debi Pearl… The Pearls are not professionally trained or educated in child development. They came up with this darkness out of the abundance of their hearts… It is one of the most hate-filled, wicked and evil systems I’ve encountered in my life, all with a sheen of ‘Christian’ and ‘happy families.'”
Mathers told Salon.com:
“I would love to see the people rise up and say no to the Pearls, that this will not stand. I would love to see the Pearl system become anathema, disgusting, and shunned by the world. I would love to see the Pearls out of a job. Before another child dies.”
There there was the death of 4-year-old Sean Paddock of North Carolina.
Lynn Paddock surfed the Internet, said her attorney, Michael Reece. She found literature by an evangelical minister and his wife who recommended using plumbing supply lines to spank misbehaving children. Paddock ordered Michael and Debi Pearl’s books and started spanking her adopted children as suggested. After Sean, the youngest of Paddock’s six adopted children, died last month, his older sister and brother told investigators about Paddock’s spankings.Sean’s 9-year-old brother was beaten so badly he limped, a prosecutor said. Bruises marred Sean’s backside, too, doctors found.
Sean died after being wrapped so tightly in blankets he suffocated. That, too, was a form of punishment, Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell said.
In 2011, the Seattle Times added:
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, however, issue a warning to parents: Never spank in anger. And they say many people have “misconstrued” their words.
Critics claim the couple’s advice amounts to a prescription for child abuse.
“It’s truly an evil book,” said Michael Ramsey, the district attorney for Butte County, Calif.
Michael Pearl is far from media ignorant: He noted in 2010:
You may have noticed No Greater Joy and Michael Pearl receiving a lot of negative press lately over advocating corporal discipline as part of a comprehensive child training program. Television reporters came out to the office. We were in newspapers from coast to coast. Even CBS, after running an uninformed criticism of us, offered to fly us to New York to answer their unfounded charges on The Morning Show. I was eager to answer, and readily agreed. Those of you on our email list were immediately informed and many of you prayed for the will of God to be done. CBS called for a pre-interview and then canceled the afternoon before the show. I think they discovered in the pre-interview that I was not the Bible-thumping caricature they had hoped. One news outlet reviewed our website and gave a very positive review, saying there was nothing in our material that would ever lead to child abuse. On the bright side, our sales skyrocketed this month. Even before this recent publicity, one out of every 75 Americans have been introduced to our ministry.
It’s free speech. The Pearls are breaking no laws. They cannot be held accountable of any children’s deaths. But anyone who reads their books and thinks hitting a child with a length of pipe a good idea is, in our opinion, a nutcase who has lost the plot. And if that’s not good enough for you to eschew the Pearls, then why not take God’s advice?