Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Switch or a Cross

I have been following quite a few discussions around the blogosphere on the Pearls. A few posts that I would like to highlight are Dana's post Garden of Eden and My Two Cents on No Greater Joy. Definitely worth reading.

Ann also wrote a post called Pearls and Perfectionism . In a very candid way, she explains how the Pearls teachings have affected her. Of the Pearls writing, Ann asserts;

1. Their writings lack clarity.

2. Their writings create sufficient confusion to potentially lead well-meaning, loving parents into abusive discipline.

3. Their writings belittle those who do not subscribe to their paradigm which may cause a parent to doubt any of their own, personal misgivings with Pearl teaching...which is, again, potentially dangerous.

In the comments to the post by Ann at Choosing Home, Jennifer (#67) asked
I often read that people like "some" of what the Pearls say and are uncomfortable or don't like other stuff they put out. I would love to hear some more specifics on what folks don't like about them and why. This is really a question for people who, in general, are supporters or who have been in the past, for people who give them a mixed review.
This post is a small attempt to answer Jennifer's comment from my perspective as one who previously enjoyed the Pearls early teachings but no longer recommends them.

I became acquainted with the Pearls teachings in 1996. Since that introduction, I have read much of the Pearls written material, attended a weekend seminar hosting Mr. Pearl, and listened to a few of their tapes. I don't evaluate as one with a purely negative view of the Pearls. They speak quite a bit about "tying strings" and having a positive relationship with your children. That is always a good reminder.

However, a parent especially a mother, desperate to raise obedient Godly children can come away with the idea that the Pearls way is the only way and not read the material objectively in light of the scripture and her husband's desires. Michael Pearl in the article In Defense of Bliblical Chastisment Part 2 states,
If you do not see the wisdom in what I have said, and you reject these concepts, you are not fit to be a parent. I pity your children. They will never experience the freedom of soul and conscience that mine do.
That's a pretty grave consequence for not following their concepts. No one wants to be thought an "unfit parent" with pitied children! Statements like this don't encourage objective evaluation of his "wisdom" in light of God's Word. No method is completely perfect and true. All ideas should be scrutinized. Some may suggest that this goes without saying. However, when one writes with such an authoritative tone and puts forth such dire consequences for rejecting the concepts, this needs to be explicity stated for humility's sake if nothing else.

Further, their tone in the writing is sometimes a bit harsh and intimidating. This tone coupled with a fear of failure can lead an insecure or perfectionist parent to excessive and harsh discipline. Ann shared honestly her struggle in that very way.

Like Ann, I have also come to a similar conclusion about the lack of consistency and clarity in their writing. It is the lack of clarity in their teaching that is most troubling. After listening to Mr. Pearl at a seminar a few years ago, I came away with a very different interpretation than what I had when I only read the book To Train Up a Child and some newsletters. As everyone does, I took my background and applied it to the material. After the seminar, I realized my idea of training was very different than Mr. Pearls. His method of training and answers to specific questions were not exactly what I thought appropriate in many areas. I began to realize that if I could misinterpret it so could others. While my misinterpretation may not be harmful some else's very well could be. I don't know what is going on in other homes. I began to recommend their materials much more cautiously for this reason.

Last summer, I spoke about this confusion and lack of clarity in my review of Created To Be His Helpmeet. During Part III of the review I stumbled upon a statement by Michael Pearl that caused me to withrdraw my support for them completely. When asked by a woman what to do with an abusive husband Michael responds, (emphasis added)
If you or your children have been hit (other than the children being spanked) so as to leave discernable marks two hours later, and you genuinely fear that he will repeat his battering, you can take legal steps without divorcing your husband....
At the time of that writing and still today it is unclear whether Mr. Pearl believes it is okay for a man to hit his wife as long as he doesn't leave a mark lasting over two hours.

Don't misundertand, this is not the same as accusing Mr. Pearl of hitting his wife. However, his answer does not provide sufficient clarity to leave it without a doubt that a man should NOT hit his wife under ANY circumstances no matter how long the mark lasts. I cannot in good conscience recommend the materials of someone who cannot say in no uncertain terms that hitting a wife is WRONG the first time and intervention of some sort is necessary so he won't repeat it. It may not be the legal authorities but a wife should not have to watch how long the mark lasts or "fear that he'll do it again" before seeking help. He did it once, that's reason enough.

Michael Pearl believes that swift consistent correction the first time leads to a postive change in behavior.
If, and only if, you are absolutely consistent, meeting every transgression with swift penalty, then they will quickly adapt themselves to the new order. They will do the incredible. They will obey. (NGJ, Vol 1, 33)
If a child who disobeys deserves swift correction the first time, why not the same for a husband who violates his wife by hitting her? He is certainly more intellectually aware of his actions than a child.

More recently, I have gone back to the website to see if this had been cleared up. It hadn't. I also read some of their material that I hadn't previously read in print form. Quite a few articles were confusing and lacked clarity. For the sake of brevity, I will highlight only two here.

The Rod to Establish the Authority of Our Word
Spanking a Seven Month Old
A mother writes in a wonders if spanking a seven month old is appropriate. The context involves putting the child to sleep for the night. Debi gives a very maternal answer about nurturing the baby to sleep. Michael provides a very ambiguous answer. He offers the same nurturing advice as Debi but doesn't rule out the need to spank a baby for not laying down when told. His answer is very unclear. Initially he appears to say that it is wrong that a child at 7 months is too young
I do caution: A 7-month-old is too young to be spanked as such - too young to be punished.
but at the end he states,
If the child has been mistrained, or if you have failed to provide a good prelude to sleep, and the child rises up to fight and resist, you should evaluate your whole procedure so as to improve your pre-sleep ritual for tomorrow night. But for the moment, you must constrain the child to obey authority and remain lying down. As a last resort, you may have to prove the power of your word by enforcing it with one or two stinging licks (applied with a small flexible switch) to the child's leg that says to the child, "There is no reward for getting up; Mama means business; she is not going to give over to my demands; the path to greatest pleasure is to go to sleep; there is no alternative; my parents always get their way; what can I say? Good night.
This advice is hardly what I would call a straight answer. He says that 7 months is too young but as a last resort, you must "prove the power of your word" so go ahead and give a few licks. Spanking a 7 month old with one or two stinging licks for failure to lay down when told is just plain wrong. To make it even more confusing, Michael Pearl admits a child at that age has no knowledge of good or evil. Yet, a negative consequence is applied to a child who has already learning the "dark side of self-will". Very confusing indeed.

To a parent desperate for answers his answer is unclear but leaves the impression that it is okay to spank a 7 month old as long as you can do it calmly without anger. Spanking with a "few stinging lick" to an infant no matter the tempermant of the parent is wrong.

The consistent use of the rod seems to be the savior for all problems of obedience, bad habits, and the misdeeds of children.

When advising a mother on what to do with a screaming three year old, they write;

Consistency on your part will break that habit in just a few days. Never threaten, and never show mercy. One squeak of a scream gets a switching. (NGJ, Vol 1, pg 26)
The idea that a parent is never to show mercies leaves only the choice of a rod as the solution to this and most other infractions. However, according to scripture, mercy has a definite place and judgement is reserved for those who never show mercy,
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!" James 2:13

Punishing the soul with the rod.

The Pearls establish another use of the rod besides training or chastisement. The rod is used for the punishment of the soul. Here's an example, (emphasis added)

Debi speaks on lying

When our second son, Nathan, was about six years old, we were forced to face the fact that we had a son who was an incorrigible liar. It was difficult to accept because he had the sweetest, most innocent and sincere countenance. And he was smart! I think his bad habit was encouraged by his knowledge that I did not want to believe he was a liar. Consequently, he grew worse until he would actually lie when the truth would have served him better. I realized that somewhere along the line, I had missed the opportunity to deal with him while he was still young enough to easily break the habit. After much soul-searching and many botched ideas, I finally told Nathan that I realized he was a liar, even though I couldn’t catch him red-handed in his lies. I told him that God hated lying, that I hated it, that I had failed him, and that it was very important that he not continue to be a liar. I informed him that everyday for the next seven days, I was going to give him 10 licks at noon. He was to bring me the switch and I would spank him for being a liar.....

.....When the clock struck twelve, I very calmly, and without pity, reminded him, "You are a liar, and lying is an ugly, hateful thing. In order that your soul shall be spared, I'm going to whip you." That was all I said, no praying, no sermons, no "you break my heart' appeals.

She goes on to say how much the spankings grieved her and that after the seventh day her liar was cured of his lying and now hates it. To her credit, Debi admits this may not work for everyone. She also admits, it was HER failure that caused his lying.
I am not suggesting that this is the way to stop lying in all children. This may never work for you, but I was desperate and was willing to try something drastic. If I had been on my toes in earlier child training, Nathan would have never become such a liar.
A lying child is a awful situation. But isn't her son's lying really a result of Debi's failure to properly teach or train him? She claims responsibility but her son paid the price in the form of a swtich. The son hadn't lied on each of the days he was "switched". He was being swatted for who HE WAS not something he did. Nor was there any prayer, repentance, or training involved during the punishment. He was just told at noon to bring a switch.

Michael teaches in Biblical Chastisement part 2

The soul of your child needs to be punished. He feels the need to suffer for his misdeeds.

Where is the switch for Debi's misdeeds. She admitted it was her failure that led to his lying. Shouldn't she get the switch in his place?

Even though Debi believes this may not work for everyone, Michael seems to believe that this is the only way remedy to relieve the guilt of one in this type of situation,
When your child is in the first throes of this debilitating condition, be kind enough to punish him. Care enough and love enough to pay the emotional sacrifice to give him ten to fifteen licks that will satisfy his need to experience payback.
Michael asserts that this can happen to a child as young as three or four but most likely in older chilren. The idea that the soul of a child needs to be punished and paid for by a rod is questionable at best. Mr. Pearl provides no scriptural justification for doing this. Just the warning that if you fail to see the wisdom you are an unfit parent and your children will never experience the freedom of soul and conscience.

I am so thankful that our Savior doesn't deal with me in such a manner. When I was a sinner, my heavenly Father did not chastise me and give me a switching or an eternity apart from Him. Out of love for me, he sent HIS son to die on my behalf. Christ took my sin upon himself and said "I will pay the price." Instead of giving me a "switch", he took my penalty and went to the cross.
He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we may become the righteousness of God.
There is a place for the rod, but it should never replace the cross.

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