What seduces a parent to follow the inherently abusive ‘child-training’ practices taught by Michael & Debi Pearl? Simple. It’s the sparkling promise of perfectly obedient, unflaggingly cheerful children who will grow up to follow God all the days of their lives.
This guarantee is based on an interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 that assumes if parents raise their children in a God-fearing manner, their children will never depart from following God.
But as Tim Kimmel points out in his book “Grace-Based Parenting,” if that interpretation were correct, how do we account for the many children of devoutly conscientious parents who grow up to reject the faith? (pg. 111)
A better understanding of Proverbs 22:6, Kimmel writes, comes from understanding the original Hebrew usage:
The expression ‘train up’ is used in other Hebrew literature to describe a maneuver that ancient midwives used to cause newborns to being the sucking impulse. Right after birth, they would take the juice of crushed grapes or dates and put it on their index fingers and massage the baby’s gums and palate. Besides developing the sucking response, this also cleansed the newborn’s mouth of amniotic fluids.
When used in Proverbs 22, the writer is saying that we should use childhood as an opportunity to build a clean and healthy thirst for life that God has uniquely designed for that child. –“Grace-Based Parenting,” page 111)
Kimmel goes on to point out that when ‘train up’ is combined with the Hebrew phrase ‘in the way he should go,’ what Proverbs 22:6 is really saying is: ‘train him up his way’–meaning, train the child up according to the CHILD’S unique way.
In other words, parents ought to raise their children according to the child’s way; ie. according to the unique talents and gifts innately endowed within each particular child.
But if, as Michael Pearl teaches, Proverbs 22:6 means a parent ought to raise a child GOD’S WAY, then if a child grows up to abandon the faith, obviously the parent failed to raise the child properly.
This interpretation may seem like a minor difference but it has massive implications for how Proverbs 22:6 is practically implemented.
In Michael Pearl’s view, Proverbs 22:6 is viewed as a promise of God (read: guarantee), the fulfillment of which is entirely incumbent upon the parents’ “faithfulness” to properly ‘train’ (read: spank) their children.
I’m convinced that this single misapplication of Proverbs 22:6 is how Michael Pearl is able to justify the blatantly abusive tactics he recommends in his book “To Train Up a Child.”
This misinterpretation enables him to recommend the spanking of 7 month old infants (pg. 79), sitting on a child while spanking him (pg. 46) and spanking until the child is “totally broken” (pg. 59).
Furthermore, Mr. Pearl’s interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 validates ideas like “first-time obedience” (a child obeying instantly upon hearing a parent’s command) which essentially flings wide the door to harsh, abusive discipline.
Still, regardless of which interpretation is “correct,” it should be self-evident to everyone that the abusive mistreatment of children is morally reprehensible and indefensible.
Those who abuse and those who teach abuse are both morally culpable.
I, too, am culpable. As a young, impressionable mother living inside a harshly legalistic church, I was indoctrinated into Michael Pearl’s teachings. I followed his methods for awhile–it’s what I thought “God wanted.”
It was only by God’s grace that I finally allowed my maternal instinct to override what I was being taught.
I rejected Pearl’s methods while my children were very young–although I still live with regret and shame for all the times I should have listened to my heart and my maternal instinct instead of suppressing it to achieve “perfectly obedient” children.
This is why I continue to speak out. It’s my moral obligation–and perhaps a form of penance.
Kyrie, eleison. Christe, eleison.
Watch me confront Michael Pearl on Anderson Cooper’s TV show this Friday, Dec. 2nd. Your support and love mean so much. Grace and peace, EE.