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.