A Tennessee preacher and corporal punishment advocate is coming under intense criticism after copies of his self-published book, To Train Up a Child, were found in three homes where children died from alleged abuse. In his book, pastor Michael Pearl advises parents to use a switch on children as young as 6 months old to discourage bad behavior, saying he models his methods on "principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules." Pearl says it's unfair to blame the extreme actions of a few unstable parents on a book that has sold more than 670,000 copies, especially since he explicitly tells parents not to spank in anger or hit hard enough to leave a bruise. Does he share any of the blame?
Yes. Encouraging extreme discipline puts kids at risk: Pearl's defense is weak, says Margaret Hartmann at Jezebel. In September, 13-year-old Hana Williams was found dead outside her Washington home. She died from hypothermia and malnutrition after her parents allegedly subjected her to an "intensified version" of Pearl-style discipline. They allegedly beat her with a flexible plumbing tube, deprived her of food, and forced her to shower and sleep outside in the cold. Pearl didn't tell parents to take it that far, but he gave them "a guide to unhealthy and dangerous behavior."
"Pastor still advocates using 'the rod' after third child dies"
No. Blame the parents, not Pearl: "While Pearl's methods are a bit extreme," says Rob Brown at The Hippie Conservative, the discipline he preaches is "typical of those parents who engage in corporal discipline." Most parents who spank their kids don't "take it to the extreme." Some do — whether they've read Pearl's book or not. People blaming Pearl for the violent behavior of a few parents are just trying to "sensationalize" this story.
"Spanking — yes, or no?"
Pearl is at least misinterpreting the Bible: Pearl tells his devout Christian followers that the Bible says they should whip their children, says Tony W. Cartledge at Baptists Today, and then advises them that a flexible quarter-inch hose is his "favored instrument of punishment." That's a recipe for disaster, and a distortion of Christianity. "I can't see Jesus raising his hand — or a length of hose — to a child."
"Spare the hose?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.)
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- 7 ideas from ancient thinkers that will improve your modern life
- Comic-Con 2014: Everything we learned about Avengers 2, Batman v. Superman, and more
- The big, gaping hole in the liberal policy arsenal
- Blame Obama and U.S. evangelicals for the persecution of Iraqi Christians
- Face it, ladies: We can't all be beautiful
- Are there too many good shows on television?
- How to trim $500 from your monthly spending
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
Subscribe to the Week