Trigger Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of infant and child abuse.
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:
- Get Pearl’s teachings and read every single word and pray. Check.
- 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.
- Hit them harder if they continue. Check.
- When they cry, lovingly console them and “reconcile” them to yourself and God. Check.
- Always use physical chastisement on them when they don’t respond to spoken correction. Check. If I didn’t strike them, my husband did.
- Believe that they will end up juvenile delinquents and go to hell if you slack off. Check.
- Pray and study the Bible some more. Check.
- 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.
- 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:
- Blame yourself. You must not be getting my teaching right.
- Hit harder. Pain is of the essence.
- 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.