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.
http://www.nogreaterjoy.org/ -Pearls website
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!