Wednesday, February 24

I write this with a heavy heart

I have been trembling for over a week and a half now. There is something that is weighing heavily on my mind, and I have avoided blogging about it, because I know that I will get flack from it. In fact, many of you who read what I have to say with very strongly disagree with me. But I have gotten to the point where I am okay with that. I can not keep this to myself anymore. Please understand I am not writing to throw stones, or defame the character of anyone.

Earlier this month, a little girl named Lydia was working on a reading lesson when she mispronounced a word. She refused to say it correctly, so her parents diciplined her. She was homeschooled, and the daughter of parents who loved her, according to people who know the family. They were, in many ways a typical christian family. They were conservative, and homeschooled their children. Very much like the family I grew up in, and many of my friends. But on this day, they became a news story. Very little about what happened during the next 4-6 hours is known. What we do know is that the mother made a frantic call to 911 to say her daugter was not breathing. 7 year old Lydia died that day, from organ failure caused from major tissue damage. By the time the EMT's arrived, she was in cardiac arrest. Its a sad story.

But, there is more to the story. And this is what has been troubling me. Kevin and Elizabeth, the girls parents, were very vocal followers of a TN preacher named Michael Pearl. He has a magazine, as well as several books that he and his wife have written. The name of his ministry is "No Greater Joy." They are the authors of the popular book, To Train Up A Child. I have read 2 books by the Pearls. The one mentioned before, and Created To Be His Helpmeet. I have also read maybe 20 or so of the articles on his website, which I will not link to, because I do not support them. While I in no means, intend this blog post to be a mudslinging at Michael and Debi Pearl as people, I do think that there are errors in their philosophy of parenting, as well as their underlying theology, that should be adressed.

I am stunned that some conservative Christians support the Pearls ministry. The research that I have done, has shown that his theology is way off from what I believe the scripture teaches about the nature of Salvation, and a parents role in it. He also advocates parenting practices that are abusive in some cases, and this goes way beyond an "old fashioned spanking"

He teaches that submission is the only thing that is acceptable from a child. Cheerful submission. This sounds great! Who would not love to have children that happily complied every time a command was given? Michael Pearl tells you just how to get that submission. The following section is a quote from his article entitled In Defense of Biblical Chastisment:

"If you ever have a child who stands his ground of defiance and you let him win, you have lost his heart forever—unless you are able to go back and win a confrontation and keep on winning. If you ever let his rebellion triumph just one time, it makes it much harder to conquer in the future. After he gains the upper hand, one victory on your part will not be sufficient. You will have to persevere in several contests of wills until he is convinced that he can never stand against your authority."

The section right before this quote, explains how you should spank 10 times, slowly and counting, forgeting what number you are at, ect. until the child fully submits to you. No matter how many licks that takes. Following that, Pearl says that if you give into your child, or stop spanking before the child is humble and submissive, "you have lost his heart forever"

As Christian parents, we all want our kid's hearts to be softened toward God. What a strong thing to say! While I totally agree that we should be as consistant as possible with out kids, what happens when the child refuses to submit? How far is to far? When does loving dicipline become abuse? Why is this line never explained in the various articles on how to apply the rod? Is this truely how scripture teaches us to dicipline our children? Believe it or not, the above quoted passage is one of the milder warnings about letting your child win. I believe, that for well meaning parents who follow the Pearls teaching, letting your child win somehow becomes the worst thing you can do. Somehow it is more abusive to give in, than to beat your child to the point of serious injury or death. And I do not believe that this is what a Jesus who said "Let the little children come to me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven" would do.

According to the police report, Lydia was beaten with a 1/4 inch plumbers line, which is exacty what Michael Peal says makes an ideal "rod". From the same article, under the section called "What instument should I use?" Michael Pearl says:

"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"

As far as Pearl's theology is concerned, I was surprised to learn that he believes that the rod has the power to absolve a child's sin. It can completly take away the guilt of sin, and put the child's world to right. I have never seen such a thing taught in scripture, but rather than the Blood of Christ can absolve us from guilt. The Blood removes our sin and shame! In a teaching tape on the book of Romans, Michael Pearl states he believes he has reached a state of sinless perfection here on this earth. If his premis for his ministry, is based on such a faulty theology, how can we take what he says, and apply it for our own lives?

This is really the harm that I see in the Pearl's ministry. The blood Jesus shed for us was so precious. So valuable, and the only way that sin could be forgiven, or guilt be absolved. While consequences are needed for the order of life, they can not, and do not have the kind of spiritual power that Pearl teaches it has. If a simple spanking could absolve us from sin and guilt, why was it necesarry for Christ to die? I do not have a direct quote for this line of thought from Pearl, but it is in the book To Train Up A Child. If you have heard of the Pearls, or perhaps if you follow their teachings, I would really encourage you to read through the more theological things the Pearl has to say about the rod. This is not about spanking, but more what a spanking does for a child. Does a spanking truely absolve the child from guilt? Does it remove sin? If the answers to those questions is no, can we really trust the advice from a man who bases his teaching on such flawed doctrine?

I do think the the Pearls teach lots of things that sound good. They teach how to have well behaved trained children. They teach that learning starts young. They teach that you need to approach your children in love. They talk of tieing your childs heartstrings. All of those things are correct. However, if they are teaching those things on the premise that you can remove your childs sin, is it wise for us to be following such a teacher who makes the Blood of Christ of no effect?

In conclusion my friend, I ask you today to consider the following:

When does doctrine matter?

When does insisting on complete submission become abusive or deadly?

Is Michael Pearl a good leader to follow based on a flawed premise of the atonement of sin?

Ultimately, Michael Pearl did not beat Lydia to death. Her parents did. But he did teach the parents that Lydia's salvation was on the line if they dared to back down. Unfortunatly, the parents understanding of that cost this little girl her life. Here are links to the news story, No Greater Joy, which is the Pearls website, and a few blogs about the insident that I found interesting. I do not agree with all this, but I thought I would give you the same information I have worked with. -Pearls website

News Story


Blog-I found this blog linked on another blog. This is truely what I was trying to communicate..

I know that this post has gotten long.. And I know that many people think I have stepped way out of line in even writing this.. But that is okay. For my facebook readers, I would like to request that all comments be sent to me via a private message, because I really do not want this to turn into a debate. I have spent a several days drafting this, and I have done my best to say what is on my heart in love. Thanks!


mysticmomma said...

:) thank you.

TulipGirl said...

It is heart-wrenching to write about something so terrible happening within our communities, within families very much like our own. And it is difficult to speak up when we know people who hear us support teachings like these. But you did it, and did it beautifully.

Daniel and Rachel said...

I have grown up knowing about the Pearls, as my parents attended their seminars, read their books, and yes (gasp), spanked us. They did it lovingly, waiting until they could do it without any anger over whatever our offense had been, because they wanted us to understand that the reason they spanked us was that we needed to learn that there were consequences for doing the wrong thing, not because they were mad at us for messing up. I know my parents hated spanking us, because they (especially my mom) would often cry about as much as we did! However, they did it believing that it was in our best interest. I have no regrets. I know my parents love me, I love them with all my heart, and I don't at all disapprove of their methods of raising us. They never spanked abusively...rarely more than a few swats with a "rod," which was usually a small, wooden dowel (I've never heard of using a plumbing line, and I know MANY families who spank their children). I've never done much reading of any of the Pearls' material (I've read Created to Be His Helpmeet) but as far as I know I've never heard any of these things about them spanking to absolve their children's sins. I know why my parents spanked us, and it had nothing to do with our was because we needed to learn that when we did wrong things there were consequences. I think we've all effectively learned that lesson, and have now moved on in life...I don't fear my parents, but they did teach me to think before I acted, and to consider the long term effect of those actions. I know that if I mess up now I'm not going to get spanked (either by God or my parents). However, how do we really know what the consequences of our sins really are? Maybe God doesn't strike us dead if we sin, but maybe the consequence is more subtle, like His not blessing us in a way he could have? We might think "whew, I got away with that, and nothing happened." But how much are we really missing that we never dreamed might have happened? I feel like that was a lot of the reason my parents chose spanking as a method of correction...not to punish us because they were angry, or felt the need to exert their power over us, but because they loved us and wanted us to learn to think about the effects and consequences of our sins. And while we were NOT perfect kids by ANY means, my Mom got many, MANY compliments on how well behaved we kids were, so I think it worked in the short-term sense as well.

I don't know Michael Pearls heart, and I think this poor girl's story is heart-breaking, but I think that no matter WHAT your opinions, beliefs, teachings, etc. (on ANY point, not just spanking!!) are, there will always be SOMEONE who takes you way out of context, and something bad happens as a result. I think that if you picked ANYTHING that you or I believe, we could find at least one person who has seriously distorted that belief, and had bad results. Does that mean we should stop believing it? I'm all for evaluating things, digging into the theology behind them, and making your own decision, but I also think that just because someone, somewhere did it wrong doesn't mean that all people everywhere who do anything similar are also wrong. I'm NOT at ALL judging you for your opinions, I just wanted to add mine. :)

Also, just out of curiosity, if you don't agree with spanking, how do you intend to correct your children? Just wondering, since basically all the Christian parents I know spank their kids, and it's kinda new to me to not.

Daniel and Rachel said...

Whew, sorry that last comment got so long!!! :) LOL.

Bob said...

This is my hubby's account but I had to post after your last comment.
There are many wonderful grace-based parenting books out there to read. READ as much as time will change the way you view yourself as a parent and that will revolutionize your parenting.
Never lose your compassion for children. Jesus had MUCH love and compassion for children. I think this is what is missing in many of these families. God will give you wisdom each day to deal with the issues that come up in your kids lives. Issues that no doubt you struggle with as well. Think about what helps you refocus on Truth. Is it someone spanking or threatening you at every turn? If you raise your children immersed in the Gospel, they will desire it as well...just give them time and PRAY-because we have no power to discipline them into believing.

For our family (5, 3, 8mo)-we rarely have to spank but we do when it is necessary (not my 8mo old!). I'm so thankful that we have a God who guides and directs our paths...even through parenting (the hardest job of all!).

Emily S said...

"Also, just out of curiosity, if you don't agree with spanking, how do you intend to correct your children? Just wondering, since basically all the Christian parents I know spank their kids, and it's kinda new to me to not."

I'm a Christian and I don't spank my children, but I do discipline them every day. The word discipline comes from the root word disciple and I try to disciple my children the same way Jesus disciples his followers. He never hit anyone, never punished. He explained, encouraged, and modeled. He guided them like a shepherd guides his sheep. That is what I do with my children.

You can find more information here:

*Chris and Jennie* said...

Rachel- Thank you for your thoughts! I really tried to stear this post away from the spanking debate. I am MUCH more concerned about the Pearls bad doctrine, and how that influences how they teach spanking.

I was also spanked by loving parents, and I don't feel abused or mistreated. But my parents never once had the thought that spanking me would somehow save me. That is herasy, and I do not understand why the Pearls are defended so passionatly when they openly teach these things.

As far as spanking goes, I think that there are other effective ways to raise godly kids. I do not believe that spanking is a sin, or abusive, but sometimes I wonder just how productive it is. If I can teach the same thing in a different way, why spank? Even most parents I know that passionatly defend their right to spank, use other means of consequences.. So, why is spanking such an issue? Why are people not freaking out about their right to put kids in time out, or send them to their rooms?

All of the reading I have done into the original hebrew language has not backed up the "thou shalt spank" position at all. And I went to the hebrew to back up what I always believed, that to spank was a biblical mandate. It isnt there from what I have seen.

I know that it goes against what I was always taught.. But the other thing that my parents drilled into my head, was not to build a theology based on several verses, that are pulled from both the biblical, and cultural context.

So while I do not think that parents who spank their children are abusive, or wrong even, per se..
I do believe its wrong to claim that the Bible mandates it. Does that make any sense?

Anyways, that just to clarify what I meant by this post. It wasnt really about spanking, but about the bad doctrine that the Pearls teach, as well as the fact that they advocate way more than an old fashioned spanking.. And there have been multiple time they have been linked to abuse cases, and to at least 2 deaths now. The other was Sean Paddock a couple of years back. I find that very sad.. :(

x said...

Please take a moment to visit:

And thank you for sharing your heart and reaction to the latest death we know of related to this sort of teaching.

Aaron and Naomi said...

Mmmmm, interesting....I don't know the situation of this family where the daughter died, but something weird had to have been going on because that's not normal!

I would agree that the Bible doesn't command spanking, but I do think that's the recommended method of training

...he that spareth the rod hateth his son,but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes...a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding...foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him...withhold not correction from a child, for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die..the rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame...chasten thy son while there is hope and let not thy soul spare for his crying...

Those verses ARE in the Bible and I think you really have to stretch things to say it doesn't mean some kind of spanking. However we know God doesn't want us to abuse our children, so their MUST be a balance - and our job is to find it.

As for the Pearls, I think they have some good stuff, and some wacky stuff, but anytime someone follow a person instead of the Lord and studying things out for themself, they're going to get messed up - and some people follow the Pearls to that extent.

Anyway, how you raise your kids is none of my business, but now you have my opinion too :) This is sort of fun to talk about now b/c it doesn't convict me...but I'm sure we'll all learn more than we want to on this topic in the next 20 years! scary thought!

*Chris and Jennie* said...


For another perspective on spanking, I wrote a blog about what the word "rod" means in hebrew.

I am not sure you can use those verses in proverbs to defend the type of spanking that is done today. Perhaps if a very large staff was used instead of a stick/spoon/belt whatever..

There are lots of thoughts out there, and I am not sure what the right answer is.. But I guess I am not convinced that spanking is the only, or even the recommended way to raise a child.

I do appreciate discussion though. :)

Love ya!