Reader to Michael Pearl: My Husband Bought a Pipe

In a recent issue of their magazine, Michael and Debi Pearl of No Greater Joy printed a letter from a reader worried about her two-year-old son. This paragraph struck me:

I can spank him for ten minutes and he is still screaming angrily at me to stop. Today my HAND has a broken blood vessel. I know you suggest a plumber’s pipe, but my husband bought one that was way too big so I hate to use it, and end up using my hand most of the time.

Plumber’s. Pipe. Let that sit with you for a moment. The use of that term upset Michael Pearl so much that he stuck a note in the middle of the letter:

[Note from Mike: I have never suggested a plumber’s pipe be used to spank a child. That was the fabrication of a sodomite reporter for Salon magazine, picked up and quoted by The New York Times and repeated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, another anti-Christian sodomite, and repeated again by Dr. Drew, the BBC, and two dozen other media outlets. In my book To Train Up a Child, I wrote of how I saw an Amish woman wearing a ¼-inch plastic plumber’s supply line around her neck on a string to be ready at hand when needed. It is flexible and will roll up in your pocket or purse. It is not PVC and it is not a pipe. I suggest any small instrument that is light and will not cause damage to tissue—like a kitchen utensil: spatula, wooden spoon, ¼-inch dowel rod, etc., but not your hand.]

Okay, let’s stop right there for a moment. If someone reads your words and comes away believing that you want them to beat their child with a pipe, it may be time for you to rethink the advice you’re giving out. Part of me wants to end this post here, because this is damned important—if someone reads your advice about child training and comes away with the impression that you have suggested spanking children with a pipe, I honestly don’t care what implement you actually suggested. What I want to know is why they thought it plausible that you would suggest using a pipe to beat children.

But while we’re here, I might as well address Michael’s claim that this whole thing was a misunderstanding fabricated by the liberal media. There seem to be two claims made in Michael’s objection. First, he claims that the media fabricated the idea that Michael recommended spanking children with a “plumber’s pipe.” Second, he claims that he recommends a variety of small instruments, like a spatula, or a wooden spoon, or a dowel, and merely wrote of an Amish woman using quarter-inch plumbing supply line.

Let’s start with a quote from an article published on the No Greater Joy website in 2001, long before Micahel Pearl’s teachings were known beyond his immediate supporters:

What instrument would I use?

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.

There is no way anyone could read this and not come away understanding quarter-inch plumbing supply line as a Pearl-endorsed spanking instrument—indeed, the principle instrument recommended. After all, it is the only implement mentioned directly, Pearl gives ample detail on where to obtain one, and a discussion of it takes up over half of this section. Michael’s suggestion that he merely mentioned seeing quarter-inch plumbing supply line used is patently false.

What of Michael’s claims of media fabrication? Specifically, Michael states that the media accused him of advising parents to spank children with a “plumber’s pipe.” The “sodomite reporter for Salon magazine” Michael refers to is likely Lynn Harris, who wrote this article back in 2006. In her article, Harris wrote this of Lynn Paddock, on trial for the murder of her four-year-old son:

Lynn Paddock, 45, a devotee of the Pearls’ teachings, is currently behind bars. She is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 4-year-old Sean, who suffocated when wrapped tightly in blankets, reportedly to keep him from hopping out of bed. She is also charged with felony child abuse in connection with welts found on two of Sean’s other five siblings. Nowhere in the Pearls’ book do they advocate restraining with blankets; however, Sean’s siblings had apparently been struck with a particular type of “rod” recommended by the Pearls: a length of quarter-inch plumbing supply line.

Paddock’s attorney, Michael Reece, confirmed to Salon that Paddock owned “To Train Up a Child” and was a devotee of the Pearls’ teachings. He maintains that Sean’s death was accidental and that there’s a difference between corporal punishment — which he acknowledges may be “unpopular” — and abuse. And actually, Paddock’s connection to the Pearls may serve as part of Reece’s defense of his client. “She’s following a recognized philosophy even if it’s not a mainstream one. The only one who advocates the PVC pipe is Pearl, ” he says. “You can pull a switch off a tree all day long. There’s no other reason to buy a PVC pipe — that’s clearly from him.”

Yes, Harris quotes an attorney in the Paddock case who uses the term “PVC pipe.” However, Harris herself accurately writes that Michael recommended “quarter-inch plumbing supply line.” This is in no sense “the fabrication of a sodomite reporter for Salon magazine” as it is directly stated on the No Greater Joy website.

What of CNN? From an interview with CNN correspondent Gary Tuchman:

TUCHMAN: A rod according to the Pearls’ manual can be anything from a tree switch to a spatula. In the book they describe the rod as a magic wand. God would not commanded parents to use the rod if it were not good for the child. The Pearl say parents should stay in control and not act as extreme, but they also declare any spanking to effectively reinforce instruction must cause pain.

Let’s say a 7-year-old slugs his sister.

MICHAEL PEARL: He would get a 7-year-old would get 10 or 15 licks, and it would be a formal thing. In other words, you maintain your patience there, you explain to him what he’s done was violent and that that’s not acceptable in society and it’s not acceptable in the home. And I would take him somewhere like into his bedroom and I would tell him I’d give him 15 licks.

TUCHMAN: With what?

MICHAEL PEARL: Probably a belt with that boy. I probably use the belt that would be handy. I might use a wooden spoon or a piece of, like, plumbing supply line, a quarter inch in diameter, flexible enough to roll up.

Michael brought up the quarter-inch plumbing supply line.

And then later, there is this exchange between Pearl and Anderson Cooper:

COOPER: But you do advocate carrying around and having, in various rooms of the house and in the car, in some cases, a — I want to get — make sure I have the wording right here. You write, “Many people are using a section of quarter-inch plumber’s supply line as a spanking instrument. It will fit in your purse or hang around your neck. You can buy them for under $1 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.”

So you are advocating parents carry around plumber supply lines with them so they can, if they want to, in your words, spank their child any time throughout the day.

M. PEARL: That springs from a story that took place. I went into an Amish woman’s house who had about ten kids all under 12 years old. And that’s a pretty big brood. And she had a little piece of supply line about a foot long, maybe, hanging around her neck.

And so every time — I asked her why it was there. She said, “Well, when the children are disobedient, I have it right at hand. I don’t have to go looking for it.” And she said, “Just the presence of it hanging around my neck lets them know that they have to walk the line, and so they’re obedient.”

So I thought that was a humorous thing. So I suggested to people that you make sure you keep your little swatters close at hand, because we don’t want to make a big deal out of spanking children. We want to have something ready to right where they sit. If you’ve got a little boy that reaches over and pulls the hair of his brother, you want to first to him say, “No, don’t do that.” But if he pulls again…

COOPER: But you do know that in both cases of these girls who died and were killed, the parents did keep these plumbing supply lines around the house.

Cooper never used the word “pipe.” And despite his claims, Michael did not simply use the story of the Amish woman to recommend that parents keep their “little swatters” close by. Indeed, in the excerpt from his website which Cooper quotes (and which I quoted in full above), Michael does not mention the Amish woman at all. It appears to be Michael who is doing the fabricating here.

What about the other news sources Michael claims misrepresented his recommendations? Let’s look first at what the BBC had to say:

All three of the children who died were reportedly beaten with a plastic plumbing tube similar to one that Michael Pearl had mentioned as a possible spanking tool.

What about The New York Times?

The Pearls provide instructions on using a switch from as early as six months to discourage misbehavior and describe how to make use of implements for hitting on the arms, legs or back, including a quarter-inch flexible plumbing line that, Mr. Pearl notes, “can be rolled up and carried in your pocket.”

Remember, Michael claimed that the media fabricated a claim that he recommended a “plumber’s pipe.” This is false. The word “pipe” was rarely used (in the outlets mentioned, the term was only included in a quote by the Paddocks’ lawyer), and most outlets stated in full that Michael recommended “quarter-inch plumbing supply line.” Most media sources also made clear that quarter-inch plumbing supply line was only one possible implement Michael recommends for parents’ use.

For all his claims of media dishonestly and fabrication, it is Michael who is being dishonest in his portrayal of what happened—and in his portrayal of what he has recommended.

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