How harmful are the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl?

In recent years a number of religion-related child abuse news stories have included a few paragraphs about a book called, “To Train Up a Child,” written by Michael and Debi Pearl of No Greater Joy Ministries.

For instance, there was the 2010 beating death of 7-year-old Lydia Schatz, along with the severe beating of her 11-year-old sister, Zariah Schatz. The latter ended up in hospital with kidney failure.

Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz had used a quarter-inch plumber’s supply line in what they called “biblical chastisement” of their daughters.

The father was sentenced to two life terms for second-degree murder and torture. The mother was sentenced to 13 years, four months for voluntary manslaughter and infliction of unlawful corporal punishment. And that was after they agreed to a plea bargain.

At the time, the Chico News and Review wrote

The PVC tube may seem like a strange punishment tool, but for those familiar with the teachings of Christian fundamentalists and authors Michael and Debi Pearl, it is nothing new.


February, 2010 report

Earlier the Paradise Post reported

It was a lengthy article in Salon Magazine that led investigators to No Greater Joy Ministries, Ramsey said. The title of the article is ‘Spare the quarter-inch plumbing supply line, spoil the child.

The article, written in 2006 by Lynn Harris, explores the Pearls’ methods. Though the Pearls were well-known in fundamentalist religious circles, they became more widely known when their methods were implicated in the death of a 4-year-old boy in North Carolina, as well as the alleged abuse of his two siblings. The mother, Lynn Paddock, reportedly followed the Pearls’ disciplinary methods. Her son’s death was caused by suffocation when she wrapped him tightly in blankets.

The Pearls do not advocate restraining with blankets anywhere in their teachings, however, the boy and two of his five siblings had welts caused by a “rod” recommended by the Pearls – a quarter-inch plumbing supply line.

The Pearls released a statement defending their methods, but also stating that they do not teach ‘corporal punishment’ nor ‘hitting’ children.

But the case drew, not for the first time, negative attention to the couple. Lynn Harris wrote a follow-up article for Salon, titled Godly discipline turned deadly. She noted that this time around the Pearls’ controversial child “training” practice came under fire from Christians themselves.

In October 2011 “To Train Up A Child” again featured in a murder investigation. The parents of 13-year-old Hanna Williams, whom they had adopted from Ethiopia, were accused of starving and locking the girl outside — resulting in hypothermia that killed her.

That case is still winding its way through court.

CNN report, October 2011: Punishing kids in the name of religion

At Religion News Service, faith and culture writer Jonathan Meritt has taken a good look at the Pearls and their teachings.

In his article, How influential are Michael and Debi Pearl? And how harmful? he examines how much influence they have among Christians:

If you take all Christians in America and chop off Catholics, and then you take all Protestants and chop off mainline Protestants, and then you take all evangelicals and cut off progressives, and then you take all conservative evangelicals and chop off egalitarians, you’ll be left with a cohort of conservative complementation evangelicals. Within this faction, as best as I can tell, there is a small group of people who are influenced to any degree by the Pearl’s teachings. Their impact is particularly felt among the small but vocal Christian homeschooling community.

Do they have some influence? Yes.

Are they as influential as some believe? No.

Can we assume that their beliefs and views represent a sizable faction of the larger American Christian community? No.

But, says Merritt, that brings up a more important questions. Since there are people who do take them seriously, “just how harmful are the Pearls and their teachings?”

The answer to this question, in my estimation, is very harmful.

The Pearl’s teachings are harmful to women. Their teachings about how to be a Biblical woman and Biblical wife are regressive and oppressive, devoid of the love, compassion, and mutual respect the Bible commends in marriage. But worse, their teachings are harmful to children. In fact, harmful isn’t a strong enough word. They are flat-out dangerous. […]

My research tells me that though their impact may be smaller than some presume, the depravity of their teachings far exceeds their influence. The Pearls do not represent the vast majority of Jesus-followers in America, and Christians everywhere should prove it by repudiating their teachings.

More articles on this topic
Preacher’s parental advice raises abuse questions
Why Not Train A Child — a clearing house or information and arguments against the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014