Michael Pearl – Why the Words We Use to Discuss Child Abuse Matter

Michael Pearl – Why the Words We Use to Discuss Child Abuse Matter August 23, 2019
Screen cap from YouTube video explaining how to punish your socially misbehaving wife.

This morning was a startling wake up call yet again on how our words matter in the extreme when discussing child abuse. Plus we must be vigilant when people who advocate abuse change their wording to downplay what it is exactly they are promoting. They lure the unsuspecting into thinking what they promote just isn’t that bad.

Example: Michael Pearl and his book ‘To Train Up A Child’  In this latest update to the book  much of the language involving beating children has been downplayed to mere switching now. Why would that be? Because this is a book with a body count. There are a pile of dead children and emotionally damaged adults connected to the advice in the book.

After the death of each child linked to use of the book Michael and Debi Pearl did the media rounds swearing up and down that the parents didn’t use the book’s advice correctly, or they spanked a child in anger. They completely ignored the fact that in some of these cases of child abuse not only were the children beaten regularly with 1/4 plastic plumbing line, but parents did hideous things such as lock a child outside in the winter without clothing.

Now as Michael Pearl is much less involved with the ministry after having a stroke, and his wife Debi is also less involved No Greater Joy is being primarily run by a woman by the name of Megan Van Vuren. Megan has attempted to sugar coat and gloss over the ministry’s hard edges, lies and abusive advice. Megan is the one that writes the blog, edits the magazine and puts it together. Until very recently there was a post on the NGJ blog where Megan outlined her many responsibilities, yet the second we spoke of her virtually running NGJ the post disappeared from view.

The website has been edited too. It’s now considerably more difficult to find the tales such as the time Michael Pearl drove with family in the middle of the night and stopped every few miles to beat a toddler then family was having behavioral issues with. This is a newer, more hidden and secretive, and false face being shown. The rules are the same, they’re just more hidden. Which makes this all the more dangerous.

Think beating a child over and over again with hard implements does not have a life long effect? Just take a gander at NLQ friend M. Dolan Hickmon’s book “13:24: A Dark Thriller” and tell me it does not matter. The book has semi-autobiographical details of physical abuse of a child. Ask Mike and he’ll confirm it. Or just hop on Facebook and send Mike a message. He’s quite open about the lifetime of abuse he suffered at the hands of his fundamentalist Christian parents. It has left lasting scars.

As long time readers know I had my first experience with the Pearls shortly after joining a Quiverfull church. An elderly lady at the church who said my four year old daughter was too whiny and clingy gave me the book. I might not have had sense enough to run from the church, but reading the book, the early version of the book before the language was softened and made more palatable, I was horrified.

This lady seriously wanted me to beat my medically fragile child with a bleeding disorder. Can you imagine just how disastrous it would have been for me to have taken Michael Pearl’s advice? I quietly tossed the book, yet made mental note that the Pearls were dangerous lunatics.

This morning Katie Joy of Without a Crystal Ball posted about Joy Duggar Forsyth and her husband Austin Forsyth living in an RV. There is mention of Michael Pearl’s methods of discipline and Joy and Austin’s embrace of them. Katie is usually right on the money in her writing, but she downplayed the seriousness of what it is the Pearls promote by terming it ‘switching’. It’s possible she has the newer updated version of “To Train Up A Child”. I don’t think she intentionally did it, she’s just not aware of the history and extent of what the Pearls push. If you haven’t been enmeshed in Quiverfull it’s hard to comprehend the utterly disgusting and criminal levels of abuse being promoted. Which is the danger of having people who’ve never been in that particular cult writing about it.

We must always call out abuse for what it is, not whatever harmless term the abuser is using. The Pearls seek to normalize abuse.


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NLQ Recommended Reading …

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

I Fired God by Jocelyn Zichtermann

13:24 A Dark Thriller by M Dolon Hickmon

About Suzanne Titkemeyer
Suzanne Titkemeyer went from a childhood in Louisiana to a life lived in the shadow of Washington D.C. For many years she worked in the field of social work, from national licensure to working hands on in a children's residential treatment center. Suzanne has been involved with helping the plights of women and children' in religious bondage. She is a ordained Stephen's Minister with many years of counseling experience. Now she's retired to be a full time beach bum in Tamarindo, Costa Rica with the monkeys and iguanas. She is also a thalassophile. She also left behind years in a Quiverfull church and loves to chronicle the worst abuses of that particular theology. She has been happily married to her best friend for the last 33 years. You can read more about the author here.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Tawreos

    I am not sure why people that think they are 100% in the right would bother changing the words they when talking about it. Don’t they usually claim that it is the devil that wants to word of god watered down? I guess beating kids is more important to them than proudly following the words of god.

  • Friend

    When we had young offspring, a mother in our circle said about her young toddler, “I spank1 him as hard as I can, but he still doesn’t listen. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!”

    A year later, her little boy was diagnosed with a medical condition, some kind of sensory disorder that made things like clothing tags feel incredibly uncomfortable. The mother felt extremely guilty about her own behavior. She did stop spanking1, and treatment helped the child.

  • Jim Jones

    BDSM for babies?

  • Hitting is hitting is hitting, regardless of how you dress it up with weasel words like “switching”, “swatting”, “spanking”…

  • Astreja

    No, I think it’s for the individuals holding the child-beating implements. I’m not sure what they get out of such vile behaviour, but I’m sure that it’s nothing good.

  • SAO

    ‘Switching’ is hitting with a whip-like implement — whipping. ‘Spanking’ is used for everything from one or two firm swats on a diapered (cushioned) bum to a substantial beating.

    Even mild spanking is a bad idea, because when it doesn’t work, parents tend to escalate. When a time-out isn’t working, parents are more likely to look into why and maybe discover that the kid is losing control because they are tired, sick or hungry.

  • Littleblueheathen

    A couple of my cousins were on facebook the other day, and one had posted one of those memes that goes something like ‘Kids today would call this abuse’ and went on to list and brag about all the ways they were hit as kids. I remember those days and can still recall the day I lost all respect for my mother when she was whacking me with a belt and told me if she didn’t punish me that God would take me away from her. I was maybe 7 or so. I remember being turned over knees, hit with switches (they we’re bragging about having to go pick their own), hairbrushes, etc. I don’t remember my transgressions, just being hit.
    All it taught me was to lie and sneak and avoid getting caught and I became very good at it. I Iearned that there’s a way around anything and how to find it.And for many years, my go-to response to being displeased was to hit. Luckily, I got past that before my son was born. I could never leave him with my mother, though. She couldn’t stand the fact that I never hit him.

    TL;DR – – Got “spanked” it had the opposite if the desired effect, and my cousins perpetuate the cycle and brag about it

    PS My kid is a caring compassionate man, none the worse for not being spanked

  • Karen the rock whisperer

    I was never spanked, though it was always on the table. The reason was that I was an exceptionally good kid. Great, huh? Mama was very proud that she never had to spank me. It must have meant that she was a terrific parent. The truth was that I was clinically depressed. I learned early that she was easy to upset, and being yelled at just tore me apart. So I got very good at avoiding being yelled at, and that meant following whatever rules existed.

    I was finally diagnosed and treated for depression in my early 30s. To her dying day, my mother insisted I couldn’t possibly suffer from depression.

    The point of my story is that if your kid ISN’T annoying the heck out of you sometimes, there might be a problem.

  • Karen the rock whisperer

    My dad’s parents were Norwegian immigrants to the US. They didn’t hit children, except in rare cases. My dad, aunts, uncle, and cousins on that side of the family were never spanked. Not that Dad put spanking completely off the table, but the offense would have to be extreme. That entire side of my family turned out to be reasonable, mentally healthy people with really good ethics.

    My mother’s father suffered from alcohol abuse, and when drunk2 he had rages. He beat his children cruelly for mostly-imagined transgressions. But while she remembered those childhood beatings with great sadness, Mama thought spanking was just fine. (I wasn’t spanked, see my earlier comment, but that was an odd situation.) That side of my family was full of people who struggled with mental health and were very judgmental of others.

  • Saraquill

    I know someone who thinks spanking1 their kid is kinky1 and finds nothing wrong with it. They didn’t understand my horror.

  • Saraquill

    The Wayback Machine exists, as do older editions of the book. They can’t erase what they said.

  • Friend

    Very helpful description of a problem that goes unrecognized: the “good kid” often pays a much higher emotional price than the rebel/pariah.

  • Friend

    That’s terrifying.

  • AFo

    Changing the wording isn’t going to bring the dead1 children back, or take away the physical1 and mental scars from the survivors. Just look at the Pearls’ own grown children, and the mental gymnastics the family has to do to convince everyone that they’re happy and this was the goal all along.

  • B.A.

    Your cousins sound exactly like some of my co-workers–almost scary how similar. When they start having those discussions,I either go to the restroom,or if I’ve just been,completely block them out and do NOT contribute one word. I totally hate when they go on like that,so I know how you feel.

  • B.A.

    Have you ever notified CPS? If they’re getting sexual thrills or being turned on by it,I wonder if that could be considered a form
    of sexual abuse? It sounds very sick and mentally unsound. I can why you’re horrified;so am I just reading about it.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    It always amazes me how many people in religion don’t get that kids are young people with imperfect control and differing needs that adults. You cannot hold them to adult standards no matter how mature. You feed a hungry kid. You put a tired kid to bed. You treat a sick child. You teach a moody kid how to self regulate their moods. You do not punish them for being children.

  • Point is, it’s ALL HITTING.

  • Astreja

    That’s exactly the kind of thing I was afraid of.

  • Jenn H

    Most people who were hit as kids don’t seem to remember what it was that they were punished for.

  • Saraquill

    I think I was still a minor myself. It didn’t occur to me.

  • Friend

    Please forgive a stup1d question… this is at work, and they have time to reminisce about spank1ings?

    The burden is not on you to fix their behavior, but employers do sometimes want to know about a lack of productivity—even if they don’t care about conflict.

    (FWIW, one time an HR person saw me walking away from offensive comments, and asked what was on my mind. This led to a reprimand of the person who was making such comments in the office. He actually did stop, or at least turned his personal volume down to inaudible.)

  • Friend

    Lots of pro-spank1ng folks would say you should never sp@nk in anger. And of course not while int0xicated. Unfortunately some of them also believe God orders parents to sp@nk their children. So “you’re doing it all wrong” collides with “God orders you to do it.”

    Personally, I have never understood how a parent who has already calmed down could possibly justify sp@nking.

  • paganheart

    Very true. I was a stereotypical “good kid;” I made honor-roll grades; respected my elders; never drank, smoked, or took drugs; came home before curfew; and generally stayed out of trouble. My sister was a bit more rebellious, but was mostly a good kid as well, at least compared to many of our drinking, drugging, dropout, in-and-out-of-juvie cousins. We twisted ourselves into emotional pretzels trying to be good for our parents, who liked to lecture and yell. A lot. I think we were also both quite aware that our parents were often barely holding on financially, and our extended family was a constant source of Jerry Springer-level stress and drama. We both just wanted to keep our heads down and avoid being yelled at. But the price of that was anxiety, depression, and self-harm (cutting) for me, and bulimia for my sister.

  • Joe_Buddha

    My wife, an ex-Mormon, taught clueless me how to raise kids. Which is fortunate as she died before my oldest was in the 3rd grade. I brought my kids up without even punishment, let alone beating. Rather, I included both of them in managing the family and respected their opinions. My daughter graduated cum2 Laude from university, and my son is probably the most honorable person I’ve met. (just don’t tell him that!). They’re both awesome people.

  • Friend

    Support from here. One of my siblings was an absolute wreck until mid-twenties, always thinking one false move would bring disaster. Hard way to live.

  • paganheart

    I still vividly remember the time at a family reunion, when my dad and a couple of my uncles told us kids tales of the “whoopin’s” they took at the hands of their parents, in a way that made it seem like they were bragging about how it made them “tough,” and how “lucky” their own kids were that they didn’t get “whooped” the same way. Both my parents were hit with switches, paddles, newspapers, fly swatters, and even belts growing up; my paternal grandfather, a violent alcoholic, often hit his kids (and wife) with whatever was handy in his drunken rages. He died when my dad (the youngest of eight children) was 13, and he wasn’t missed, though his legacy of violence and addiction haunts my family to this day.

    I was spanked a few times (open hand) when I was very young, and no I don’t remember why. I was hit with a belt once, by my father when I was five, and that I vividly remember; I had jumped on my bed until the frame broke. (I would sleep on a mattress on the floor for several months after that, because my parents couldn’t afford to replace the bed at the time. I’m sure that contributed to my father’s anger but in no way does it excuse him.) Honestly I can’t remember being spanked after that; I think at that point maybe, my parents realized they risked turning into their own parents, and didn’t want to go down that path. They didn’t completely escape the legacy of abuse they were raised with, but they did a better job than most of my family.

  • Karen the rock whisperer

    It is. I hope your sib has gotten past that, but at a deep level it can be very difficult to do. I like to talk about my Depression Dragon. She lives in my brain, and is a female version of Smaug from Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. When she’s awake, she likes to whisper in my ear that I’m worthless, I”m going to fail, I can’t possibly reach X goal, etc. I know all of those statements are false, but like Tolkien dragons, her voice is very convincing and her words become earworms.

  • B.A.

    We have quite a bit of downtime. Also,our boss is usually the one to bring up the subject. There’s really nothing I can do,and I’m not saying that as a cop-out. We’re also on a work-site,not at the company’s main campus. As a I said,I just completely block it out and don’t feed into it. But at least it’s not every day or even every week and they pretty much know not to f with me.

  • Friend

    It’s hard to rec0ver from those inner v0ices… i wish you peace and healing. And my sib did rec0ver fairly well, thanks.

  • Friend

    Oh, ugh, I’m sorry. Good for you, for sending the message. Sometimes that’s the best we can do. And maybe over time some of those folks will grow a better conscience.

  • Friend

    Thank you for letting us know your story. That must have been hard, but it sounds like your children truly benefited from your love and devotion.

  • zizania

    I would think you’d stolen my life history except that, instead of being an exceptionally good kid, I became a very secretive and sneaky one. I didn’t get up to anything really heinous (never smoked, drank, or did drugs), but I got away with a lot of minor infractions. I was once joking with my SIL, who was my roommate for a while before she married my brother, that it was a wonder we didn’t end up killing each other because she had a thyroid condition that made her chronically irritable and I was seriously depressed. My mother overheard and remarked that she hadn’t known about the depression. No, Mom, I used to come home from school, shut myself in my bedroom, and cry because my life was peachy.

  • BridgetD

    Of my siblings, three of us are really close in age: myself, my twin, and my younger brother (14 months my junior). Our home life was…dysfunctional. My siblings and I reacted to the pressure in different ways: I tried to bottle things up and not be a burden to everyone else. My sister, who was always kind of demanding, tried to do everything. My brother just became apathetic.

    On the surface, we looked like the “good kids” (didn’t get into trouble, good grades, etc), but each of us eventually ended up boiling over at roughly the same time. I spent half of my senior year of high school in tears due to anxiety/depression, and for two years after graduation I wasn’t able to work or go to school. My sister wore herself out and dropped out of university after two years due to her mental health. My brother ended up in truancy court because he began to straight up refuse to go to school.