So far, I've written several stories on what is probably one of the major "deep, dark secrets" of the dominionist movement--namely, the promotion of religiously-motivated child abuse as a form of "child training", the idea being that one can literally beat the devil out of your child and make him a good little "God Warrior" in doing so. (Much of the more hardline material is largely promoted within the "spiritual warfare" movement in dominionism.)
We started initially with an expose of the worst offenders, including some well-known names like James Dobson and Lisa Welchel; we also covered the considerable legal roadblocks that dominionist promoters of "Bible-based baby beating" have put up to make prosecution of religiously motivated child abuse as difficult as possible.
Over the past two days, I've focused on a promoter of religiously motivated child abuse whose tactics have resulted in the deaths of at least two children in as many years that have been reported to media--Michael and Debbie Pearl, who have promoted an empire based on whipping children like recalcitrant mules (a tactic, of note, not likely to work on mules much less children; usually a mule has a perfectly good reason for balking, often the fact he's overloaded).
Today's post goes into a more in-depth look based on an article in the Raleigh-Durham News-Observer detailing a history of the Pearls, and giving some unique--and disturbing--insights as to the persons using these books.
A warning: the stuff I'm about to talk about here is almost guaranteed to be upsetting to most of you, and is potentially triggering to walkaways and survivors of childhood abuse.
To remind you all of the general context here:
In this small, rural community (Pleasantville, TN--ed.), Pearl tends a modest flock. It's through a satellite Internet connection and a traveling road show that Pearl captures a following he pegs at more than half a million people. From military bases in Europe to a Pentecostal church in Smithfield, N.C., parents spank their children with rods, "switching" out their bad attitudes, just at Pearl advises. His books on child discipline are sold at home-schooling conferences, delivered to the doorsteps of new moms and passed from pastors to parents in churches across the nation.
That's how Lynn Paddock, a Johnston County mother accused of beating her children with plastic plumbing supply line and suffocating the youngest, learned of Pearl's child-training methods, according to her attorney Michael Reece. He's popular in her church circle, Reece said.
She scoured his books and Web site a few years ago looking for tips on how to control her growing brood of adopted children. Paddock began whipping them with the thin, flexible pipe Pearl heralds as a good substitute for the "rod" described in the Old Testament.
Paddock, 45, is behind bars, charged with first-degree murder in 4-year-old Sean's death. She also faces felony child-abuse charges in connection with the welts that covered the backsides of two of her other five adopted children.
(The original article had noted that only one other child had been flogged along with Sean.)
I've described these "rods" in the other article and even included a photograph of them in my other article focusing on the Pearls, "Death By Chastening Rod"; these "rods" are capable of causing serious injury.
Interestingly, Michael Pearl himself may be called to the witness stand because of his specific promotion of PVC "chastening rods":
Reece said he is considering ordering Pearl to testify if the case goes to trial.
"She wouldn't have come up with using plastic pipes on her own," Reece said.
One of the more notable things about this article is how it details some of the Pearls' more abusive techniques. Among other things, it's revealed that they promote the use of willow-branch "switches" on young infants.
It also--in something that should genuinely scare everyone involved in the movement against dominionism--gives a frightening quote from Michael Pearl himself regarding the extensive use of their methods in the dominionist correspondence-school "homeschool" community:
By Pearl's math, one-sixth of the nation's estimated 3 million home-schooling families use his training methods.
Yes, you read that right. Fully 500,000 households in the US are regularly using Pearl's methods of "chastisement" on their children.
Pearls' children, interestingly, defend his promotion--but there is good evidence (via nospank.net) that those children were not subjected to the methods in his books.
Very interestingly--and in frightening parallel to another infamous figure, Fred Phelps--Michael Pearl may lead a church that is largely a familial coercive religious group. The article notes:
There's no sign welcoming visitors to Pearl's Church at Cane Creek. Getting there means driving down a steep ridge where the Tennessee foothills begin fading to plains. Then, it's a left at the hand-painted signs advertising vegetables, crafts and furniture. As the blacktop turns to dirt, a bridge leads to the Pearls' farm. At the foot of a cow pasture, on the bank of a rippling stream, Pearl's loyal base gathers on Sundays.
A private property warning is tacked to a sturdy oak at the foot of the church: a weathered red assembly hall perched on 10-foot stilts to survive floods. On a crisp Sunday morning earlier this month, Pearl, in muddy boots and a bright orange shirt, chirped "good morning" to a wobbly toddler as he strode to the front of the drafty room. Debi, his wife of 35 years, hugged every neck and patted every little head in sight.
Three dozen or so locals -- a third of them Pearl's kin -- settled into plastic garden chairs in the one-room sanctuary. Debi Pearl, perched delicately beside her husband, smiled brightly as her granddaughter fished for a raisin from a snack bag. Older children sat as still as statues.
Yes, you read that right--the same place where, as the Pearls have claimed, "jezebels" protested their practices is essentially a "congregation" of around 36 people, at least 12 of which are related to the Pearls. (Even Phelps' familial cult Westboro Baptist Church is larger.)
Disturbingly, Michael Pearl may be involved in "faith-based coercion" in the prison system, especially disturbing in light of the fact that fully 83.8 percent or more of people in the prison system who are incarcerated for violent offences have histories of severe child abuse and there is increasing evidence that severe abuse may in fact cause criminal behaviour in a percentage of the population (this based on a NZ study showing that for the one third of the human population having low levels of monoamine oxidase A, 85% of boys with low MAOA who have suffered physical abuse have gone one to commit antisocial and criminal behaviour as adults):
Pearl prayed for the souls of the murderers and rapists he preaches to each week at a state prison; another man read an e-mail message from a congregation member on a mission in Southeast Asia. Long silences separated their discussions as they waited for one of the men to pick a hymn or read Scripture.
Speaking of abuse, the Pearls seem to have little concern that they could be potentially causing criminality with their "child training" techniques (much less thousands, thousands more examples of "spiritual warfare collateral damage"):
"The chances of one of them committing a crime is pretty good," Pearl said, shrugging at the question in his churchyard after Sunday services and refusing to say much more.
As it turns out, the Pearls are making a surprisingly tidy earning off of promoting literally beating the hell out of kids:
No Greater Joy Ministries is doing a brisk business. The ministry earned just over $1 million last year from sales of a half-dozen or so books, said the general manager, Mel Cohen.
Up a hill from the Pearls' home, 11 employees answer letters and design six newsletters a year for more than 70,000 readers, Cohen said. "To Train Up a Child," their first and best-selling book, has sold more than 500,000 copies. Used copies are also sold on the Internet and grabbed up at yard sales. Debi Pearl's first solo book, "Created to be His Helpmate," sold 150,000 copies since publication 14 months ago. Business grew so rapidly this past year that the Pearls hired Cohen, a businessman experienced in running Christian ministries.
Cohen said practically all proceeds go right out the door -- to pay for foreign missions, to cover printing costs for the newsletter and translation services to print the books in 25 other languages. The ministry also ships free copies of the books to American soldiers.
Despite Pearl's international recognition among Christian fundamentalists and home-schooling parents, people hardly know him in the community he has called home for nearly two decades. Natives scratch their heads as they try to place him. A cluster of men loitering outside a country store in Pleasantville can't decide whether he's the fellow with the bushy white beard or the lanky guy who used to work at the lumberyard.
Stella Rhodes, postmaster in the nearby town of Lobelville, say most folks around the region figure Pearl is a "half-Mennonite," the kind, she said, that gave in to modern luxuries enough to buy a car.
"Most people around here don't have a clue how big their business is," Rhodes said. "To tell you the truth, I think that's just the way they like it." A decade ago, when the couple started selling their books, Rhodes used to hand-stamp every package the Pearls mailed.
Yes, you read that right--they have earned over a million dollars from their books, sold 500,000 copies alone of the very book linked to the death of young Sean Paddock, and are giving guides on baby-beating and making your wife be a "submissive helpmate in a Christian family" free (and potentially unrequested) to our servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan (and potentially Iran, too, in the next few months).
The article also gives a good idea of the Pearls' techniques in action, and the mindset of the dominionists who use the Pearls' techniques. One particularly disturbing report shows that even county-supported nonprofit groups are promoting "Biblically sanctioned" baby-beating:
Highlighter and pen scribbles mar the pages of Joel Killion's copy of "To Train Up a Child." The Wilson father's only daughter, Moriah, is just 2, and already Killion has read Pearl's discipline book four times.
"We're preparing her to be someone's mate one day," said Killion, who works in the banking industry.
Killion picked up a copy of "To Train Up a Child" years ago at a yard sale, before he met his wife, Lauren. He finally read it when Lauren became pregnant. When he saw the book stashed in a goody bag for new parents delivered by a Nash County nonprofit after Moriah's birth, he felt even more confident in its methods.
Applying Pearl's training techniques wasn't easy, Killion admits. Letting his baby girl cry it out from her lonely crib nearly broke the young father's heart.
The regimen was even tougher on his wife, who majored in child development at East Carolina University. "No spanking" had been drilled in her head. Lauren Killion, a stay-at-home mom, said she would sit on the couch and wince while her husband switched Moriah's hand with a twig from a bush.
"I used to think the switch was so mean and cruel," she said. "But all in the hands of a loving parent, it's right."
Moriah is docile, and the Killions say everyone asks their secret. The Killions believe in Pearl's methods so much, they snatch up copies of "To Train Up a Child" and give them to other young parents.
So let's review so far--we have parents whose solitary goal for their child is to be a housewife and breeder of "God Warriors", which in and of itself is not encouraging--and, sadly, is quite common in dominionist "spiritual warfare" communities. The only role for women is to breed, "obey her husband as her husband obeys God", and homeschool (and beat) the younguns.
They leave a young infant to cry in her crib, which is now known to be potentially damaging to bonding--much less potentially dangerous (the kid could have laid on a sharp object, rolled over and gotten herself trapped, etc.)
They whack a child who is less than two years old with a "switch" from the yard.
The child is "docile", but most pediatricians will tell you docility is one of the two possible consequences of abuse--essentially the kid withdraws. One pediatrician (whose wife is a regular poster on Dark Christianity) has reported that some children from dominionist households that use these sorts of "chastening" methods have withdrawn to the point they have symptoms almost indistinguishable from higher-functioning autism. Even for kids who deal with abuse by being docile and withdrawing, there are severe, lifelong trust issues that can prevent them from establishing stable relationships with other people.
Another parent quoted has also unknowingly crossed over to the level of abuse:
Beck relied on his advice to teach her daughter, then 3, to stay in bed after being tucked in. After 23 nights of getting switched with a willow tree branch, her daughter, now 12, finally relented. "Mike Pearl taught me my daughter needed to know there was a limit," Beck said.
(Nowadays, in many jurisdictions a report that a three-year-old child was being "switched" on a nightly basis for 23 days for getting out of bed would trigger at least investigations of abuse by the parent.)
"Spiritual warfare" groups promote the books and by their own statements don't care about the "collateral damage" and "friendly fire":
Berry Byrd, a Pentecostal minister in Smithfield, says "To Train Up a Child" is the most brilliant parenting book he'd ever read. This month, he ordered 25 copies and passed them out to young parents in his congregation.
"I sure wish I had this book when my boys were growing up," Byrd said. "This 'timeout' business just doesn't work."
Byrd doesn't worry that a mother less than 10 miles away hurt her children after reading Pearl's books. He urged his parishioners to use common sense.
In some cases, this has caused parents to seriously rethink the methods--and question their "Biblical" justification:
"I was sucked in. I wanted to be happy and wanted happy children," said Chris Jones, a mom from Georgia who eventually gave up Pearl's techniques. "He makes you think he has the ear of God."
. . .
"You have people that are so needy, and there's such danger in them going too far," said Jones, who says she abandoned Pearl's training regimen after realizing she had alienated her small children.
"You have to suppress your natural instincts and natural mothering to be able to do this," she said. "I learned that there is a good reason something is trying to stay your hand."
The article also gives info on how the Pearls (and by extension a lot of dominionist "family" groups) recruit:
Mothers never suspect a backlash because Pearl's books and newsletters are filled with stories of happy, godly children. The trick: training them while they are young. He urges fathers to tempt the little ones with an off-limit toy. When the child reaches for it, the father is advised to swat his hand or leg with a rod.
Pearl explains in "To Train Up a Child" that he used this strategy to keep his kids from going near a shotgun. Pearl also gets creative: When his children were toddlers and strayed to the pond's edge, he pushed them in and let them flounder to prove how dangerous the pond could be.
(Needless to say, the taunting of a kid with a toy and whacking Junior with the chastening rod when he grabs for it is both physically and emotionally abusive. You're flat out teaching kids not to want anything or trust. The pushing of kids into a lake and letting them "flounder" to teach them to stay away from it is amazingly dangerous--the kids could well have drowned.)
One mother expressed regret about having used the Pearls' methods and is grateful she stopped using them before potentially maiming her child:
Meggan Judge, a mother in Alaska, wishes someone had stopped her from following Pearl's instruction sooner.
"Thirty times a day, I was striking my son. He wasn't even 2 years old," Judge said. "I kept waiting: Where is this joy we were promised?'"
She slowly gave up Pearl's methods three years ago after locking her son in his room one afternoon for fear that she would hurt him.
Years later, hearing of Lynn Paddock's story, Judge knows she's lucky. She suspects she could have been driven to such lengths if she hadn't met a community of other Christian mothers on the Internet who urged her to abandon Pearl's teachings.
"Without a doubt, I know I would have been capable of that," Judge said. "Anyone who says they wouldn't is a liar. I never knew I had anger issues until I started using his methods."
(emphasis mine, and--having also been subject to multiple-times-a-day "chastenings" as a kid, I can definitely believe it)
The newspaper article also gives some notable examples of abusive childrearing techniques promoted by the Pearls:
This is a sampling of Pearl's advice from "To Train Up a Child" and his newsletter, "No Greater Joy":
PROBLEM Baby bites during breast-feeding
SOLUTION Pull baby's hair
I've noted this abusive practice in my article "Death by Chastening Rod"; a child who bites during breastfeeding is often not aware he is causing pain. The appropriate response is to remove the child from the breast, not to yank baby's hair.)
PROBLEM Boy is a crybaby
SOLUTION "When he begins to scream his defiance or hurt, just ignore him. ... If he demands attention to a supposed wound, then reach in your purse, pull out a terrible tasting herbal potion and give him a spoonful. After he gets through gagging on the vitamin and mineral supplement, tell him that he is now completely healed, and invite him to come back for another dose if he again gets hurt."
This is abusive and dangerous.
Firstly, if a child is demanding attention to a supposed wound, the appropriate response is to check the child and--if he is not hurt--reassure him he's okay.
Secondly, it is not appropriate to dose a child with a "terrible-tasting herbal concoction" or "vitamin and mineral supplement" as a punishment; firstly, if a kid cries a lot, you run a real risk of potentially poisoning Junior. Secondly, you teach him that medicine is Bad and is a form of punishment (not what you want to teach him if, say, you need to get meds into him to treat an illness). Thirdly, this is a thinly-veiled version of "hot saucing"--the tactic of placing Tabasco or a similar hot-sauce on the tongues of children for "sassing", "lying" or "backtalking". (Hot-saucing is itself considered abusive by many CPS agencies, both Tabasco and Texas Pete have issued formal statements condemning the use of their products as "chastening aids", and most child experts outside the dominionist community also find it cruel and potentially dangerous due to both swelling from the "heat" and the risk of a possible allergic reaction.) Some of you who are sufficiently old enough may remember when castor oil was used as a similar punishment--there's a reason stuff like this was left behind in the fifties!
PROBLEM Rebellious child who runs from discipline
SOLUTION "If you have to sit on him to spank him, then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he has surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring, and are unmoved by his wailing. Hold the resisting child in a helpless position for several minutes, or until he is totally surrendered. Accept no conditions for surrender -- no compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final."
Firstly, benevolent sovereigns generally do not hold someone down forcibly to show they are bigger or tougher. (The US embassy recently had to be reduced to essential personnel, and all non-essential personnel and families evacuated, and an order was sent to all Americans to leave Nepal quite recently because of a sovereign trying to show his subjects he was "bigger and tougher". The French Revolution happened in part because of efforts to quell dissent. Heck, in America's own mythology the American Revolution happened largely because King George and Parliament tried to hold down the Colonies to show who was "bigger and tougher".) Truly benevolent sovereigns listen to their subjects, and will try to assist them for the betterment of their countries. (There's actually an entire concept called "noblesse oblige" that states a good king must--as an obligation of being king--treat his subjects with respect and work for the whole good of the country; in return, the king gets privileges, but this is purely dependent on helping and looking out for his subjects and not mistreating them.)
Secondly, this is abusive, and (as noted above) is at minimum going to engender resentment towards the parents. If the parent breaks the will successfully of the kid, this makes it very difficult for the kid to learn to trust, say, a future wife or equal. It can leave girls open to exploitation of all sorts. (Unfortunately, the Pearls promote the idea of women being subservient to men as "men are to God" so this is likely by design.)
This is one I myself was subjected to as a kid.
PROBLEM Child whines to mother after father disciplines him
SOLUTION Mother must go over to child and "give him one or two licks on his exposed ankles or legs while commanding, 'Obey your father.' "
Abusive; a better response is to explain to the kid what he did wrong and that you agree with the other parent that he misbehaved. (I myself was subjected to this one a lot.)
PROBLEM Child lies
SOLUTION Switch him 10 times at noon each day. Make him pick the tree branch.
A better response is to explain to the kid how lying is hurtful, including asking him how he would like it if other people lied to him.
Dominionists, as an aside, use this for a lot of things other than "lying", and very often a part of dominionist "discipline" involves making the kid get the very tools of their own "chastening"--making them an active participant in it. (There are two parallels I know of in the adult world--in some states, making a condemned prisoner choose his own method of execution; in states that practice torture, forcing the tortured to choose the manner of torture or forcing them to get the implements of torture. In the latter case, it is explicitly meant as an additional form of psychological torture and survivors report it as damaging and humiliating as the physical torture itself.)
I myself, as well as my sister, were often subjected to the "get yourself a switch because you're going to be whupped till you cry" method of "chastening" for offenses as simple as yelling too loudly in the backyard or the usual sibling scuffling or even walking outside of the yard without permission to the next door neighbour's.
In fact we got whacked enough that we started becoming minor experts in the strength of wood, etc. Thin switches hurt more, thick switches a bit less, and old wood would often break. (My sister also notably learned to cry on command to stop the beatings sooner; I ended up telling my folks at age four that they could "beat me till their hands fell off but they weren't making me cry" and I've pretty much held to that.)
One time (I was possibly all of four years old) I picked a log that was so large that I could not pick it up but had to drag it as the "switch"--my child brain figured if the beater couldn't pick it up, they couldn't whack me till I cried.
Unfortunately, this did not work in practice--I got whacked with a separate, parent-picked switch not only for the original transgression, but got whacked again for being "willful" in picking a log to prevent a "switching".
PROBLEM What to use for a rod
SOLUTION For babies under age 1, a footlong willow branch shaved of its knots. For older kids, plastic plumbing pipe, a 3-foot shrub cutting or a belt to help turn a child "back from the road to hell."
THIS is likely the quote that could potentially cause the Pearls to be listed as an accessory to manslaughter or even murder (depending on whether child abuse deaths are considered manslaughter or murder in the state of North Carolina).
Note that beating of children under the age of 1 is advocated with willow-switches, and the beating of children older than 1 with PVC "chastening rods", large sticks, or belts.
Again, I've been subjected to all of this--when I first reported I had been hit with some of this to my high school counselor (at age 16, not realising before then that it was abusive or even particularly weird for kids to be hit with belts even at the age of 14-16) they called CPS. (Unfortunately, CPS in my area was unaware of religiously motivated child abuse and tended not to trust any reports from teenagers. :()
I've been told by a therapist that I could potentially retroactively file charges, but I'm not sure it's worth it--as it is, I still don't trust the system to help me. And that's one of the big things that these "child training" techniques do--destroy any trust in the idea that people might help you when you're down. If anything, it teaches you that the very people who are supposed to protect you are going to be the very ones causing harm.
There's a quote from "The Crow" that comes to mind--"'Mother' is the word for 'God' on the lips of all children". If so, parents who use the techniques of the Pearls and other promoters of dominionist "baby-beating" guides are teaching their kids that God is a horrible, vengeful, abusive entity not to be trusted. They're making people who either are afraid God is going to smite them for the smallest transgression--or they are making people who question the necessity of a God at all.
It is notable to see the idea of God of the dominionists--vengeful, smiting at the smallest transgression, sending disasters to people, the "Jesus soaked in blood and splitting his enemies in twain" as depicted at the end of the "Left Behind" books. Hating people for how they were when they were born, hating them for things they can't control, cursing people who aren't as vengeful.
It is probably the case here, sadly, that there may be truth to the quote from "The Crow" about Mother being the word for God on the lips of children--and they are learning their terrible lessons about the dominionist God in infancy, as their Mother thrashes them with the willow chastening-rod for the wails of a seven-month-old child who just misses the closest thing he knows to God in the world.