Pearls before Swine?

Okay, so I may sound a little clueless here, but my first exposure to Michael and Debbie Pearl came this week courtesy of Anderson Cooper 360 (of all places). Sure, I’ve seen their names tossed around in some discussions online, but I do not own and have not read any of their materials so I’ve generally not paid attention since I have nothing to contribute. And, frankly, most of the discussions have seemed like people shouting at each other about spanking or not spanking.

What I saw on AC360, though, was disturbing. Per the usual mode, shows like this choose a horrible, sensational case to grab attention and this was no different. My immediate thought was something like, “Great, some morons beat their kid to death and because they read the Pearls’ book it is the Pearls fault. Another pile of post hoc ergo propter hoc nonsense.” Then they began to interview the Pearls.

Now, I’ll admit that I have not yet read their book, but I plan to do so soon—a free copy is on its way to me. Listening to Michael’s explanations of his view of spanking caused me great concern, though. One example—when asked about a seven year old that slugged his sister, Michael responds by saying that the child should receive 10-15 “licks” for this, then lands on the 15 number as he explains the process to the reporter. Michael offers some good general instruction to the reporter about staying under control, etc., but seriously—15 “licks” with a belt or wooden spoon for slugging your sibling? Perhaps I’m jaded by the fact that I slugged my sibling and all of my four sons have done a fair amount of slugging each other, but having what seems like a set fine for this infraction is disconcerting.

If my father or I gave out 15 licks with a belt or spoon, I don’t see how that could not have been excessive. Maybe the Pearls teach some kind of soft swat technique, but that doesn’t mesh with their clear statements that a spanking must cause pain. If each lick must cause pain, then prescribing 15 of them that easily is a dangerous thing to do. Anybody who knows me knows that I am anything but an anti-spanker, but this seriously concerns me. In an effort, no doubt, to be helpful by giving specific advice to parents, it seems that the Pearls have gone beyond what they have biblical warrant for teaching. Spankings should not be handed out like traffic tickets—you were X amount over the speed limit, so your fine is Y.

Mechanical, standard application approaches to discipline are dangerous because life doesn’t fit into molds. Each child is different and every circumstance varies. More serious, every parent is different and also depraved. A swat from me is a lot different than a swat from my wife! Parents who are not blowing up can still be sick and tired of dealing with problems and that can translate into sinful actions. Inside a culture which emphasizes perfectly obedient kids, some insecure parents slide from genuine concern about their children’s obedience to preserving their own appearance. Being given justification for giving your kid 15 licks for slugging his sibling comes very close to enabling sinful abuse.

In other words, there are morons out there like the ones that killed their daughter and put another child in the hospital. Casually telling people to give their child 15 licks with a belt or spoon for fairly common misbehavior is like handing that moron a gas can and a lighter. This is terribly unwise and incredibly dangerous.

Sadly, this new exposure for the Pearls on CNN may just add to their multi-level marketing plan to distribute their goods. I’m sure they and their defenders will claim that they are being unfairly targeted, so maybe it should be multi-leveling marketing and martyr plan. Save your money (and your kids).

Addendum: In our church staff meeting this afternoon I asked the other pastors, pastoral assistants, and interns if they were familiar with the Pearls’ writings. One of the pastoral assistants and one of the interns had some knowledge of them, but that was it. I also asked if the men thought any of our folks were following their teachings and, thankfully, they all did not think so. I told them that my goal in writing this, as well as mentioning this post on my Facebook page, was to raise the issue in case it was circulating in our church. So, if any IC members are reading this and want to let me know what they think, please do.

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