Corpses Don’t Rebel: A former follower of Michael Pearl’s "To Train Up A Child" reacts to the death of Hana Williams

Trigger Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of infant and child abuse.

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This piece was submitted by No Longer Quivering member, “ExPearlSwine” – who understandably wishes to share her story anonymously.

The death toll from parents following Michael and Debi Pearl’s teachings continues to mount. Another child is has been “biblically chastened” to death via corporal punishment, and Michael Pearl is defending his teachings in the mainstream media while promoting his new book. Gary Tuchman and Anderson Cooper both reported on the death of 13-year-old Hana Williams, whose adoptive parents Larry and Carri Williams subjected her to beatings and neglect while following the teachings of the Pearls.

Michael Pearl defends himself and his teachings during his CNN interviews using two arguments:

First, the presence of his book, To Train Up a Child, and the presence of his other teaching materials on “biblical chastisement,” in the homes of homicidal parents, is purely circumstantial. It makes no more sense, Pearl argues, to blame To Train Up a Child for discipline-turned-abusive-turned-murderous than to blame Alcoholics Anonymous brochures in the home for deaths due to drunk driving, or weight-loss materials in the home for obesity. As Anderson Cooper pointed out, this defense is illogical. AA literature says not to drink, especially while driving. Pearl literature emphasizes inflicting physical pain on children in order to break their wills and achieve total obedience to parents. In the Cooper interview, Pearl talks about physically chastising to “get the child’s attention.” What if your child still isn’t paying attention?

Pearl’s second argument comes up every time his teachings are linked to children beaten to death: kids end up abused and killed because parents, despite owning copies of his teachings and trying to follow them, aren’t really following his teachings. They are missing the joy part, the reconciliation part, the praying part, the loving part, or whatever. They discipline in anger instead of in love.

Or—and I suspect this is what Pearl really thinks but can’t say without contradicting his own child-training directions—they should have known when to stop, when they were being cruel and abusive instead of loving, even if the child was still in rebellion and hadn’t budged an inch. At some point, a loving parent with some sense and a conscience will stop inflicting more pain. This is what Pearl believes, or at least one would hope this is what he believes. This isn’t what he teaches.

I followed the Pearls’ teachings for years, and the children I subjected to “biblical chastisement” are very much the worse off for it. I’m wondering which part of Michael Pearl’s teachings he’d say I was missing:

  1. Get Pearl’s teachings and read every single word and pray. Check.
  2. Start striking infants with objects on the hand or in the buttocks area as soon as they are able to reach for something you don’t want them to touch and ignore your “No.” Check.
  3. Hit them harder if they continue. Check.
  4. When they cry, lovingly console them and “reconcile” them to yourself and God. Check.
  5. Always use physical chastisement on them when they don’t respond to spoken correction. Check. If I didn’t strike them, my husband did.
  6. Believe that they will end up juvenile delinquents and go to hell if you slack off. Check.
  7. Pray and study the Bible some more. Check.
  8. Be joyful about chastising your baby all day. Praise God while you slap a three-month-old’s hand with a ruler and think about how godly he’ll turn out. Half a check. It was hard.
  9. The children will quit rebelling and be wonderful children who sweetly, quietly obey and love you to pieces. . . No check.

This is what I was missing: the part where the Pearls’ teaching worked. Only one child out of the oldest four quietly obeyed in response to chastisement, but she also had signs of severe emotional disturbance. She withdrew into herself and didn’t speak until she was two. The other three oldest children out of my Quiver Full of kids would rebel. And rebel. They would go to the wall rebelling. They would rebel until the cows came home and the bulls came home and calves were born. The more you hurt them, the more they rebelled.

Michael Pearl has only three methods to deal with continued rebellion in children, since his teachings are straight from the Bible, and therefore infallible:

  1. Blame yourself. You must not be getting my teaching right.
  2. Hit harder. Pain is of the essence.
  3. Blame the kid. What else is left? Other people’s kids give in and act godly.

Oh, and don’t forget to be loving and joyful and kind and patient just like Jesus (only I can’t see Jesus removing the diaper of a baby to inflict any degree of pain on her whatsoever using any object or even his hand, by any stretch of my imagination). But don’t give in. Don’t stop chastising, and make sure it hurts. Don’t let the kid (and the devil in the kid) win.

When the Pearls’ methods failed, I got stuck on method a. Blame yourself.  I re-read To Train Up a Child. When I knew I had it right, I hit harder. Prayed harder. Did the whole disciplinary routine smiling from ear to ear and cooing like a dove. My babies acted freaked out by my grin (it was a lot like Debi Pearl’s vacuous, huge grin in the Tuchman interview) and were enraged by my efforts to “lovingly reconcile” with them after spankings. They kept up the fight. At this point, I think I would have admitted to myself that something was wrong with this whole child-training method and stopped torturing the toddlers all day to no avail. If you have to be cruel to get the Pearl method to work on some kids, it’s wrong. I had a husband, however, who was firmly convinced that Pearl was right. He went right for the b. and c. options: hit harder and blame the kid.

Options b. and c. are hard to do without getting angry. They are hard to do without leaving bruises, especially since Pearl discipline is cumulative: faced with entrenched rebellion, you are supposed to hit repeatedly and in the same areas. My ex-husband got angry with the kids for thwarting the Pearl method, but he remained coldly self-controlled. He also left bruises. A lot of bruises.

Why didn’t I stop him? I finally did, but early in my marriage I was paralyzed by fear and brainwashed by bad teaching. We both feared raising ungodly kids. We were looking for confirmation that some part of this system worked, and my ex-husband began to get results. The children flinched when he even moved. Cowered when he reached for a spanking implement. Had semi-seizures on the carpet following “biblical correction.” We got compliance with our wishes. Eventually, there was immediate and unquestioning compliance. My ex-husband had quelled the rebellion in three kids. He had created unfocused, freaked-out little robots who obeyed. The joy and the peace that was supposed to suffuse our home according to Pearl, we thought we could dispense with. Maybe it would come later; the Pearls are a little vague on where the peace and love should come into the process, just as they are a little vague on how you can keep “chastising” repeatedly with progressively increased force in the same places without leaving bruises.

To Train Up a Child is a manual of progressive violence against children. Not only are there no stopgaps to prevent child abuse, the book is a mandate to use implements to inflict increasingly intense pain in the face of continued disobedience. The part about not causing injury is vague and open to interpretation, but the part about never backing down or shirking your parental duty to spank harder and harder is crystal clear. The Pearls’ teachings will lead, inescapably, to extremely strong-willed kids being abused and sometimes murdered by fundamentalist parents who are determined to “break” those children.  The Pearls’ defenders will say, “Oh, they took it to an extreme and should have known better.” If anyone knows better than to keep inflicting more severe discipline on an intractable child, they can only apply that knowledge by scuttling the Pearls’ sadistic teaching and being more reasonable.

I think Hana Williams was a lot like my oldest three kids, only stronger. I think Lydia Shatz, the other recent Pearl casualty, was a lot like them too. Maybe their iron wills and endurance came from being born in Africa and living under harsh conditions. Perhaps, like some of my children, they had some innate sense that their parents were screwed up and that all their parents’ so-called “Christian love” did not cancel out or justify their own physical suffering. They resented being classified with the demons for daring to disagree, for wanting a relationship with their parents that wasn’t based on changing their behavior, personality, or identity. The pain only stiffened their resistance. They were not going to be broken by people who continually inflicted pain on them. The only way to break the wills of children like this is to kill them. The 911 call that Carri Williams made to the police dispatcher says it all.

“Operator: What’s the emergency?

Carri Williams: Um, I think my daughter just killed herself.

Operator:  Why do you say that?

Carri Williams, Um, she’s really rebellious, and she’s been outside refusing to come in, and she’s been throwing herself all around, and then she collapsed.”

What’s wrong with Hana? “Um, she’s really rebellious.” She won’t do what we say.

No, she’s not, she’s dead. She can’t rebel any more. And you’re blaming her, saying she did it to herself.

Thank God I escaped from thinking like you, Carri Williams. Thank God some of my babies were mothered without pain, once I got away from their father and all the right-wing fundamentalist teachings that had ruined my life, Pearl’s teachings included. Will I ever forget the confusion and pain in the wide baby eyes of the oldest ones, when I first swatted their tiny hands? They were startled, bewildered. And then they opened their mouths and cried the cry of the completely betrayed, the absolutely alone in the world. I was the only person they even recognized yet, and I had hurt them. To this day, it haunts me, as you will be haunted by your last glimpse of Hana alive, just before she collapsed. Hana’s last stand.

Comments open below.

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

 

  • http://allthewayout.wordpress.com/ Jane Douglas

    Oh, EPS! Thank you sharing your story. It takes a lot of courage to make yourself vulnerable as you have done here. But it’s so important that these truths are known.

    My heart breaks for you and your babies. Your story is so familiar and so sad. I agree completely that the Pearls’ insidious methodology is dangerous and abusive when done precisely as he prescribes – especially when it is inflicted on a non-compliant child.

    Your story is also an indictment on the kind of belief system that can switch off a mother’s instinct to protect and nurture appropriately. Many Christian parents are vulnerable to this sort of teaching. Nothing could seem sadder to us than that a child would grow up in a home where the Saviour is known, and yet not choose to love and serve him themselves. The fear that if we don’t nip ‘rebellion’ in the bud, our child’s life will end a Christless ruin and ultimately an eternity of fiery torment is a powerful motivator. Believers in the Bible, we accept that there is a knowable ‘right’ way of doing things and that if we just do it properly, lovingly applying sound biblical principles, our kids will be safe.

    Although it seems crazy now, I completely understand why you were drawn in. I was too. Although my kids forgive me, we all still sorrow that their father and I ever believed such lies. And the older ones bear the emotional scars. It would be easy for those who had not been victims of Christian fundamentalism to imagine that TTUAC parents are just cruel, or stupid, or have just misapplied Pearl’s bible-based principles. Those of us who have been there know that is not the case.

    Thank you so much for sharing. You aren’t alone. And perhaps some woman who is the the same place we were will read it, and little cracks will begin to appear in the stainless steel structure she has built around her mind…and tiny slivers of light will pierce the darkness there.

    Jane xxx

  • nolongerquivering

    Oh My! I just got the irony of Michael Pearl’s new book, Strong in Spirit’s emphasis on training Christian children to have “intestinal fortitude” ….

    Quote:
    “This is not a time for weak spirits. Some call it intestinal fortitude. I call it guts — spiritual guts. The timid and afraid will fall victim to their appetites and not have the moral earnestness to be men and women of character. The greatest gift you can give your children is to train them to be strong in spirit, courageous, unbending in the face of adversity and temptation.”

    … and yet, when those children have the “guts” to resist their parents’ bullying and abusive insistence that they subjugate their will to Daddy’s – Pearl instructs the parents to whip their “courageous, unbending” children over and over until they submit.

    http://nolongerquivering.com/2011/11/01/no-greater-joy-ministries-capitalizes-on-tragedy-with-the-release-of-michael-pearls-new-book-training-children-to-be-strong-in-spirit/

  • Vanessa Miller

    Be blessed, EPS and your children. Thank you for sharing.

  • Calulu

    At least you had the sense to see it wasn’t working and to abandon this toxic teaching EPS. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com KR Wordgazer

    EPS, there are no words for how deeply I feel for you. Posting what you just did may turn some parents aside from Pearl’s methods and save a child.

  • Andrew

    The day of accounting before God seems like it would be quite violent for the Pearls’. I have concluded that the Lord will subject the Pearl’s and others like them to many stripes, assuming of course they are actually saved. Christ said that it would be better for such a person to have a millstone around their neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea than to face the wrath of God for offenses against children.

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  • http://www.samuelmartin.blogspot.com Samuel Martin

    Thank you for sharing.

    Blessings

    Sam Martin

  • colleen

    I’m an old lady and have been concerned with efforts to prevent domestic violence and abuse for a long time. This blog post blew me away. First, it is SO well written that I found my way to this blog just to read more of what ExPearlSwine has to say. She has a rare and obvious talent and, while I recognize that writing this must have been terribly difficult, she has managed to so with remarkable courage and honesty and awesome dignity. I bow to her. I don’t pretend to know much at all but I do know good writing when I read it and ExPearlSwine writes very well indeed. So, thank you, ExPearlSwine. I hope you keep writing and continue to write about what you know.

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  • Jessica

    Excellent, heartbreaking narrative. What I don’t understand is how people fail to make the link between believing in a fairy tale and using that fairytale to run their lives, sometimes to tragic results. It is so much easier (and realistic) to accept that there is no god who is watching over all this horror.

  • http://ckfellowship.org vony

    All I say is, this book is being a disgrace to what supposed to be a biblical discipline. The bible never say to starve your children, never say to whipped children. There’s a difference between discipline and abuse. Biblical discipline is meant to correct the mistake that children makes, but we also have to tell them why we discipline them. There’s a law and grace, and in the end parents need to discern them self, what need to be discipline, and what not. Is it a just a simple mistake that the kids makes, or a sin issue like lying and stealing. My husband and I, we spank our daughter, but we never did what this people did. As parents, the bible also command us to keep our child from harms way, it’s common sense . We won’t put our daughter naked outside the house, and starve her to death. The longest we grounded her , IN HER ROOM by the way, is about 8 hours. From 11:00 am- 7:00 pm, but that’s in her bedroom, not outside in a cold winter day. We spank her behind, we never hit any other body part, especially face. We don’t enforce other corporal punishment, like hosing them or use a pipe. That’s not in the bible. We also tell them why we discipline them. It is supposed to be out of love, not out of anger. Biblical discipline purpose is also to teach, so the children know what’s right and wrong. It’s all in the Bible, just read it and learn to discern yourself. I guess Michael Pearl forgot, that the bible also says, “Parents do not make your child bitter !!” Our job as believers is to proclaim Christ, and to give a good witness. And that’s including to our children. How can you be a good witness to your children, if your children are bitter by your action.
    After going through Michael Pearl’s website, I have one conclusion. He doesn’t understand and doesn’t teach about God Sovereign Will. The bible never say or teach about ‘break Child’s will’, Pearl’s teaching of course is the other way around . As human, and also a parents, we can’t rely on our human power to do that, we can’t rely on our own understanding. Michael Pearl forgot, that we are the creation, God is the creator; God is sovereign, we are not. God is Holy, and we are not. Our job as a Christian parents are to put our children in a Godly environment, teach them the right way, discipline them when it’s necessary, give them biblical understanding, nurture them, provide for them, keep them from harm way and pray for them. Our job is to plant a seed in their heart, hoping and praying that someday it will grow and be fruitful. We are living in a fallen world, our children sooner or latter will be exposed to things that are worldly in nature. And that’s when we have to surrender to God. Once you rely on God’s sovereignty , you will find yourself at peace. He is sovereign, and He do all things in our life for His glory.
    You don’t need someone like Michael Pearl to interpret the bible for you.. He’s a human being, his word is not viable. Before taking his word for it, why don’t these people test it against the bible.. One more thing that give me a red flag about this guy, even without reading his book, is he is the KJV only person. Means, that he only rely on one translation of the bible. People who are in a King James Only group, believes, if you don’t read their translation you are in error and most of the times they thing we are not even believers. So, that’s also another thing that he doesn’t understand, God’s means of grace. People will get saved through any means of grace, if that’s God’s will. God’s the one who decide, when and how people will get saved. And many times, not reading through KJV bible, many times NIV, ELT, ESV or NASB.. That’s why, probably in his book, he pushed so much on parents power to change the children, instead of relying on God’s given grace.

  • Lilah

    What I would really like to know is why so many people think that they should follow the Pearls’ teachings. I don’t know too much about the Pearls, but I haven’t once read or heard anything about them having had training in child development or psychology. I also disagree with the teachings of James Dobson, but at least he has a psych degree, which gives him just A LITTLE more credibility than the Pearls have.

  • tricia valdez

    thank you for finally exposing these crazy people,unfortunitly my ex sister in law is raising my nieces with their teachings and i worry about their safety daily,i just hope she can see the light before she harms them .

  • Rita@Goldivas

    Thank you, Jessica!

  • Effie

    If your religion tells you that violence against others is godly, your religion isn’t worth following, nor your god worth worshiping. Your religion is a con game perpetuated by a sadistic sociopath who likes to have power over others.

    It’s worth wondering how much money Michael Pearl, and others like him, have made preaching the godliness of violence by (conservative white heterosexual) men against women and children. Women follow along, fearful of their own salvation if they don’t subjugate themselves to this madness under their husbands’ direction. What is this insanity?

    Both the Pearls and their followers are very, very sick.

  • sherry

    I watched the video and I was (somewhat abused), but what no one has brought to his attention is that they know why he tells to use something other than hand to spank!He twisted again to please himself. How can u not see this? spank with hand , you will also feel the sting a bit, beat with spoon, rod, tree switch, how are you going to feel that also. No way shape or form is this teachin anthing but sadistic abuse! YOU FEEL with your hand so you stop! you beat with an object not attached to oneself so you cushion your own pain how dare you! In this regard he is putting himself before Christ and before God. Did God not say through Christ , God Is head of Christ, Christ is head of church man is head of wife AS CHRIST IS HEAD OF CHURCH. How dare you or any human put themselves before humanity and God, for in my heart and soul you are the snake!
    No i am not selfrighteous, I am just so tired of all the snake oil. yes i have done wrong no excuse and my judgement is with GOD.

  • Poppy

    The bible “never say to whipped children” …???? Um … Proverbs 23:13 & 14 certainly does! This Pearl’s entire line of thinking comes from the bible …. and beating children is absolutely biblical! THAT is the problem!

    The sooner we get that horrid, violent, misogynistic book OUT of society and out of the hands of extremists, the better!

  • Independent

    Oh, yes Proverbs 23:13 the favorite verse of the Pearl followers.

    In Hebrew the passage reads he who withholds the rod hates the child. The torah had two parts the Matot, meaning “tribes” or “rods”, and Massei, meaning “journeys.” Proverbs 23:13 means he who withholds the word of God hates the child.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IQNSpd89iU&feature=youtu.be

    The video above shows how spanking a child is not biblical. Despite the fact many extremist try to pass it off as so.

  • danielle

    OK TO THE LADY WHO WROTE THIS THANK YOU FOR SPEAKING THE TRUTH IT WAS NEEDED I AM A SINGLE MOM A CHILDCARE TEACHER AND I HAVE A DEGREE IN CHILD PHYSCOLOGY AND IN 15 YRS OF CARIG FOR CHILDREN I HAVE NEVER SPANKED HIT OR HURT A CHILD AND ALL CHILDREN I HAVE AND DO CARE FOR ARE HAPPY AND HEALTHY I HAVE READ THE PEARLS BOOK AND IT IS HORRIBLE I HAVE ALSO READ THE BIBLE SEVERAL TIMES THE VERSE SO MANY ‘CHRISTIANS” USE AS AN EXCUSE TO ABUSE CHILDREN SPARE THE ROD AND SPOIL THE CHILD IN THE BIBLCAL DAYS A ROD WAS A STAFF USED TO LEAD SHEEP AS SO THEY WOULD NOT STRAY IT HAD AND DOES HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH HITTING OR SPANKING BABIES AND CHILDREN THE ISSUE IS THAT PEOPLE NEEDED A WAY TO JUSTIFIE BEATING CHILDREN BECAUSE THEY NEVER SHOULD HAVE HAD CHILDREN WHAT BETTER WAY TO DO THAT THAN TO SAY “WELL GOD TOLD ME TO DO IT’ OF COARSE CHILDREN WHO ARE BEATEN AT 4 MONTHS OLD WILL GROW TO BE FALSLY HAPPY AND OBEY THEY KNOW IF THEY HAVE ANY OTHER FEELINGS OR OPINIONS THE WILL “GET THE SWITCH’ I CAN ONLY HOPE THAT PARENTS WILL LOVE THEIR KIDS ENOUGH TO BURN THIS BOOK AND THOSE PEOPLE THAT ARE ADOPTING AND BEATING TO DEATH THIER CHILDREN THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN RESCUING WELL FOR A CHILD ABUSERS THERE IS A SPECIAL PLACE IN HELL LIKE I ALWAYS SAY THERE A MORE THAN A FEW PEOPLE WHO SHOULD BE SPAYED AND NEUTERED


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