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Preacher Advocates Spanking, Deaths Fuel Debate

Michael Pearl, a Tennessee pastor whose book To Train Up a Child advocates the use of "the rod" in child discipline, is at the center of a growing debate that now includes the deaths of three children whose parents had copies of the book in their homes.  The New York Times reports:

Debate over the Pearls' teachings, first seen on Christian Web sites, gained new intensity after the death of a third child, all allegedly at the hands of parents who kept the Pearls' book, "To Train Up a Child," in their homes. On Sept. 29, the parents were charged with homicide by abuse.

More than 670,000 copies of the Pearls' self-published book are in circulation, and it is especially popular among Christian home-schoolers, who praise it in their magazines and on their Web sites. The Pearls provide instructions on using a switch from as early as six months to discourage misbehavior and describe how to make use of implements for hitting on the arms, legs or back, including a quarter-inch flexible plumbing line that, Mr. Pearl notes, "can be rolled up and carried in your pocket."

The furor in part reflects societal disagreements over corporal punishment, which conservative Christians say is called for in the Bible and which many Americans consider reasonable up to a point, even as many parents and pediatricians reject it. The issue flared recently when a video was posted online of a Texas judge whipping his daughter.

Mr. Pearl, 66, and Mrs. Pearl, 60, say that blaming their book for extreme abuse by a few unstable parents is preposterous and that they explicitly counsel against acting in anger or causing a bruise. They say that their methods, properly used, yield peace and happy teenagers.

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