“To Train Up a Child” Parenting Book Leads to Multiple Child Deaths

Michael and Debi Pearl are the “ministers” behind No Greater Joy Ministries Inc., the organization responsible for publishing To Train Up A Child, a parenting guide used by some evangelical Christians to teach their children complete obedience.

To Train Up A Child advocates the use of severe corporal punishment and even starvation as a means of training children to be wholly submissive.

In the last seven years, the deaths of three children – all adopted – have been attributed to use of the Pearls’ book. 4-year-old Sean Paddock was killed by his adoptive mother Lynn Paddock in 2006, 7-year-old Lydia Schatz was killed by her adoptive parents Kevin and Elizabeth in 2010, and 13-year-old Hana Williams was killed by her adoptive parents Larry and Carri in 2011. In all three cases, the parents were convicted of murder.

Alicia Bayer, who has written extensively about the Pearls for Examiner.com, notes that their training methods include:

  • Using plastic tubing to beat children, since it is “too light to cause damage to the muscle or the bone”
  • Wearing the plastic tubing around the parent’s neck as a constant reminder to obey
  • “Swatting” babies as young as six months old with instruments such as “a 12-inch willowy branch,” thinner plastic tubing or a wooden spoon
  • “Blanket training” babies by hitting them with an instrument if they try to crawl off a blanket on the floor
  • Beating older children with rulers, paddles, belts and larger tree branches
  • “Training” children with pain before they even disobey, in order to teach total obedience
  • Giving cold water baths, putting children outside in cold weather and withholding meals as discipline
  • Hosing off children who have potty training accidents
  • Inflicting punishment until a child is “without breath to complain”

Hana Williams, the most recent victim of the Pearls’ methods, died after having been beaten, starved, and left outside to suffer hypothermia. (You can read the horrifying story of her life with her adoptive family here.) The Williams’ were sentenced at the end of October and will likely die in prison. But in spite of a third child being murdered as a result of the teachings in their book, the Pearls refuse to bear any responsibility or show any remorse for promoting such terrifyingly dangerous ideas. On the No Greater Joy website, Michael Pearl wrote earlier this week:

Hana Williams’ parents were given the maximum prison sentences. Articles are appearing in blogs and newspapers across the country that are full of fabrications, lies and misstatements about To Train Up a Child. It should not be taken as fact just because it is written somewhere.

What the Williams did is diametrically opposed to the philosophy of No Greater Joy Ministries (NGJ) and the content of the book. The motivation of NGJ is to provide materials that help parents raise healthy and happy children ….

The methods outlined in the book have been endorsed by psychologists, psychiatrists, and child behavior therapists and are widely used to change inappropriate behavior.

It is alleged that Hana’s parents owned a copy of the book; they either did not read it or totally ignored the content. The book repeatedly warns parents against abuse, and emphasizes the parents’ responsibility to love and properly care for their children. There are hundreds of thousands of parents who have and are properly applying the philosophy of the book with the joyous results of happy, productive, and well-adjusted children.

The proper application of the book could have corrected their poor parenting and prevented the abuse and death of Hana Williams.

Michael Pearl may be able to somehow conveniently distance himself from the deaths of these children, but the fact remains that many even within the Christian community believe that Pearl is – at the very least – morally guilty of influencing parents in a way that results in the murder of children. Rebecca Diamond, a Christian homeschooler who lives in Canada, told Salon in 2010, when Pearl “uses phrases such as continuing to whip until the crying turns into a ‘wounded, submissive whimper’ or ‘without breath to complain,’ I’m not sure how he doesn’t bear moral guilt for this. Legally, I don’t know if he can be charged. But morally? I believe that absolutely, anyone who advocates treating children like that bears responsibility.”

You can read To Train Up A Child online, if you’d like to see for yourself the kind of abuse the Pearls advocate. There is a petition on change.org asking Amazon to stop selling To Train Up A Child and similar books that advocate corporal punishment. As Bayer notes in her most recent post on the ministers, the Pearls’ books “are commonly given out in some churches and sent for free to military families. It is unknown how many other children’s deaths could be tied to the books.”

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