Category Archives: Michael & Debi Pearl

Why do Christian news outlets minimize abuse in Christian homeschooling?

Today, WORLD Magazine published an article tentatively exploring the “question” of whether abuse and neglect is a problem inside Christian homeschooling.

Here, let me answer that for you definitivelyYes. Yes, there is a problem. This is not a “question.” This is not a “debate.” Some of us have been talking about it for YEARS.

Look, I’m thankful this issue topic is receiving more exposure among large Christian media outlets, but I’m completely frustrated by the unfair slant of these articles. The sub-title of the WORLD magazine article says it all: “How to keep a few bad apples from spoiling the bushel.”

Right. This little “abuse problem” we Christians have? It’s just a few bad apples. It’s not widespread. Look! We have ninety-and-nine awesome homeschooled sheep! Let’s forget about that one lost sheep, k? She was a bad apple, anyway.

That’s totally how the parable goes, amen?

No, no it’s not. Minimizing abuse is NOT a Christian value and major media outlets should know better. Christians do not abandon the one lost sheep. Christians do not turn a blind eye to the “least of these.”

Sadly, WORLD magazine isn’t the only culprit, here.

Last year, Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service wrote an article dismissing the impact of Mike & Debi Pearl’s To Train up a Child, saying: “while the Pearls may have some amount of influence, it is disproportionate to the amount of space many writers have given them in articles..”

So, once again: abuse within Christian homeschooling isn’t worthy of our attention unless it’s happening on a wide scale. My question is: how many more children must die before we start acknowledging we have a SERIOUS ABUSE PROBLEM within Christianity?

Because even though Merritt went on to agree that the Pearls’ teachings ARE harmful, his general conclusions match Daniel Devine’s dismissive attitude in today’s WORLD article; mainly, yes abuse happens but it’s not a BIG problem. Thank God we’re not like those other bad apple homeschooling parents!

This line of reasoning completely misses the point. By making the focus of their investigation a matter of breadth, the abusive experiences of current and former Christian homeschooled children are erased, minimized and dismissed. This is not OK.

Instead of asking whether abuse in Christian homeschooling is widespread, we should be examining its lifelong impact. 

Instead of asking how MANY are affected, we should be asking HOW DEEPLY.

So, what can we do? Well, for one, we can speak up. If you see or suspect a child is being abused, please don’t look away. Follow your gut instinct and say something! We can also support the good and important work of those trying to make a difference for the future of Christian homeschooling.

I’m so grateful for the hard work of those at Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out and the survey they’ve put together asking adult homeschool alumni to share their experience. If you’re a homeschool alumni aged 18 or older, please go check it out. Your voice is important!

Please also read and share the statement by HARO regarding their response to WORLD Magazine’s “Homeschool Debate” article.


“In what possible context is it OK to spank an infant child?” {my question to Michael Pearl on the BBC}

Yesterday, BBC News Magazine published an article about the growing outcry against Michael and Debi Pearl’s book “To Train Up a Child.” I spoke at length with the reporter doing the research for this article and think he did an amazing and thorough job. Today, I was contacted by the BBC World Service and asked to join a radio program where I would, once again, confront Michael Pearl. You can listen to my exchange with Michael Pearl here (our segment begins at 27:40). Yes, I get fiery and passionate. At one point, I almost started crying because children have died! Michael Pearl can dismiss me, say I’m not providing context and say my experience isn’t normative but I will NOT stop speaking out! I know what his book teaches. I know how it is implemented. And I will keep speaking out until there are #NoMoreDeadKids.

Can Mike & Debi Pearl be held legally responsible for deaths of children? #TTUAC

On CNN, two lawyers weighed in on whether the Pearls can be prosecuted for complicity in the deaths of children. Although a criminal suit seems out of the question, the viability of a civil suit shows some promise. What do you think? Should the Pearls be prosecuted? For starters, I’d like to see a continuation of our grassroots movement–people like you and I speaking out against “To Train Up A Child” and sharing our first-hand experiences. I know the Pearls are beginning to suffer financially from decreasing sales (yay!). But if a civil judgment could help the surviving Williams’ children, I would definitely support a civil suit. What about you?


“If we stopped spanking children, we could change the brains of an entire generation…”

Hana Williams’ parents were recently sentenced to prison. You can read my posts about Hana Williams and the link to Michael & Debi Pearl’s book “To Train Up a Child” HERE. It is time that we, as Christians, lead the way in advocating against spanking because spanking a young child is like giving them a brain injury. Please watch this TED talk and do the research.

“We were like horses, it was our parents’ job to break our wills….”

The following is a true story. The writer has requested anonymity. Stories like these demonstrate how the teachings of Bill Gothard, Michael Pearl, James Dobson and Richard Fugate spiritualized the abusive belief that God wanted parents to “break their child’s will.” Trigger warning: abuse. EE.

: :
I was twenty-two years old.
I was sitting in my therapist’s office, telling him the stories I’m about to tell you. He called them “abuse”. I didn’t believe him. Abuse is something that happened to other people. In other families. Not in ours.
Sure, maybe my parents got a little angry sometimes when they were spanking us, but didn’t everybody’s parents? Sure, sometimes the spankings left bruises and welts, but didn’t we deserve it?
Wasn’t it for our own good? Wasn’t this all out of love?
My brothers and I had been fighting again. We were supposed to be cleaning the basement, but instead we were bickering and fighting, as young boys tend to do. When my dad came downstairs, he was angry. We knew right away that we were in trouble. We sat there on the stairs in terrified anticipation. He walked over to a corner of the basement and found an old broom, with a wooden handle. While we watched, he unscrewed the head of the broom. With a carpenter’s handsaw, he cut the broom handle in half.
A decade later, I still remember the feeling of dread that settled over us as we watched him slowly, methodically cut though that broom handle. Our excuses, our arguments, our apologies were no good at that point. We knew what was coming.
The sawed-off broom handle was a favorite of both parents. Three feet long and an inch around, it was more effective than a wooden spoon. More resilient than a wooden yard stick.
We got used to it, too. A “spanking” consisted of five swings of the broom handle. We’d judge the first one when it landed; if it was too low we’d try to get a bit higher, if it was too high we’d raise on tiptoes. The trick was to get it right in the squishy part of the butt. Too high hurt more, but too low, under the buttcheeks, the bruises lasted longer.
Our sisters said us boys had it easier, because jeans provided better protection than cotton dresses.
We had other tricks, too. We knew that an angry parent meant a more severe spanking, so we’d try to find ways to delay it, to give them time to cool off. They rarely forgot, but it’d be calmer, softer then. Sometimes, when we knew the spankings were coming, we’d hastily apologize and ask forgiveness. That never worked; my dad always said that he could forgive, but there were still consequences.
Some days Mom didn’t want to spank us, so she’d just have dad do it when he got home from work. The dread would hang over us all day, knowing that no matter how well we behaved the rest of the day, we were still going to get spanked when he got home. He worked late hours. Sometimes we’d already be asleep, and he’d wake us up to spank us.
One day, he got home so late that he waited till the next day to spank me. He woke me up early, before anybody else was up, so he could spank me before he went to work.
I took my spanking without arguing, because I knew I deserved it.
He wasn’t angry, or abusive that time. He gave me the spanking I had earned, and then went to work. I remember that I had a really good day that day; I didn’t get in trouble at all. I remember telling my mom that it had been a good day because I’d gotten my “attitude adjustment” at the very beginning of it. That was what they called the spankings – “attitude adjustments”.
We were supposed to bend over and hold onto the bench in the laundry room, hold onto it tight while the broom handle landed hard on the back pockets of our jeans. If we squirmed too much, or yelled too loud, it didn’t count. They’d start over.
Sometimes, instead of the bench in the laundry room, we had to lay face-down on the bed. That way, we couldn’t squirm as much. It felt more helpless that way, but at least were were able to stifle our sobs in the bedspread.
Afterwards we were supposed to hug our parents and pray with them, but we rarely wanted to.
We learned not to cry. There was dignity in that, especially when the spanking felt undeserved. I could withstand a five-round spanking with no problem. But the compound spankings, the when multiple offenses stacked up, were harder get through.
I was the good kid, so I didn’t have many of those. My brother wasn’t. He liked to piss of Mom and Dad. It wasn’t uncommon for his him to get hit forty, fifty, sixty, a hundred times in a row. He had earned it.
We’d listen when the other kids got their spankings, Mom screaming the whole time, the sawed-off broom handle crashing against the doorframe or the washing machine on the backswing. We’d try to disappear, or bury ourselves in chores and schoolwork, so that we wouldn’t be next.
We couldn’t get away from the round-robin interrogation spankings. When one of us kids had told a lie, or stole something, and refused to confess. We’d all be lined up, and spanked one at a time, over and over again. Before each spanking we were given the opportunity to confess. The spankings would continue until somebody did.
Waiting our turn for the next spanking, we’d negotiate with each other, try to coax the offender into confessing. With the twisted glee of a younger brother, he kept taking his spankings so that he could watch his older siblings get spanked too. We tried not to give him the satisfaction of hearing us cry.
One night, after a few hours of this, my dad got tired of spanking us. He lined us up on the couch where he read Proverbs to us for a while, all these Bible verses about how lying was wrong.
These spankings were just a part of life, really. We knew the rules, and when we broke them we got what we deserved. It wasn’t the stinging bite of the broomstick against buttcheeks that was the worst, or even the next day when it hurt to sit down. It was the fear before the spanking. The knowing that the spanking had been earned. The desperate negotiating and explaining that failed every time. The wondering how harsh it would be.
But spanking was good, right? If it wasn’t good, then why did the church have a spanking room in the basement, for parents to take their kids who misbehaved during the service? Why was there a wooden paddle hanging on the wall there in the church, with holes drilled in it for aerodynamics? Why did the pastor preach a sermon called “The Holy Art of Spanking our Children”? [ there's a link online. i don't have the courage to listen to it ]
We never knew. “Chaos” is the word the counsellor used. It was an unstable, dangerous place to live. Because it wasn’t always enraged, bruising spankings. It wasn’t always anger and screaming. But we never knew, from one day to the next, which it would be. Kindness and love, or anger and beatings.
Sometimes, when I was on good behavior, I could make it all the way through a day without a spanking. Those were good days.
Sitting there in the counsellor’s office, I still had a hard time believing it was “abuse”.
Abuse is what angry, alcoholic parents did. Our parents were Christians. They loved us. They wanted the best for us. That’s why they homeschooled us. That’s why they spanked us.
We were like horses, it was their job to break our wills.
To this day, I don’t know if our experience was unique in that church. Sadly, I’m afraid it was not. We were in an ultra-conservative pseudo-Mennonite cult for many of those years, the church with with the spanking room in the basement.
Copies of “To Train Up a Child” were passed around the church; I remember listening to my mom discuss it with the other homeschooling moms. I remember picking it up one day, flipping through its pages. It didn’t strike me as abnormal. It was pretty consistent with the abusive discipline culture of that cult-church. It was also apparently compatible with Bill Gothard and his homeschooling cult, an organization we were part of from the time I was in first grade.
I don’t think my parents were monsters. In a way, that made it worse. Because if they were monsters, I could write them off, curse their memory and block them out of my mind and life forever.
But I have all these memories, of screaming parents and sawed-off broomsticks, all mixed together with memories of happy conversations, and all the time and love they invested in us, and generosity and encouragement and kindness.
In a way, I don’t know which version of my parents is real. I like to think think that they were were terribly brainwashed – by the cult-church, by “To Train Up a Child”, by Bill Gothard and his perverted homeschool cult and all his empty promises.
Believing that makes it a little easier to pretend like everything is ok when I see them now.

Justice for Hana Williams…#NoMoreDeadKids {and why Christians should reject Michael & Debi Pearls’ books}

Two years ago I appeared on Anderson Cooper’s TV show and confronted Michael Pearl face-to-face. I explained why his so-called “Biblical” child training practices were abusive.

Just a few months before, a third child had been found dead. Hana Williams’ emaciated, beaten body was discovered in the backyard of her home. The deaths drew attention to Pearl’s advocacy of spanking because her adopted parents, Larry and Carri Williams, owned his book To Train Up A Child. This past week, her parents were found guilty of her death.

Hana Williams

Hana Williams

Among other findings, the autopsy on Hana revealed “patterned contusions on the legs consistent with disciplinary impacts with a switch.” Larry Williams admitted to using a plumbing supply line on Hana–the exact implement Michael Pearl suggests parents use on their children. Hana’s official cause of death was hypothermia–she’d been left outside on a cold night without proper clothing.

The Sheriff’s affidavit was heart wrenching to read and I found myself choking up numerous times. Yes, Larry and Carri Williams went far beyond what the Pearls explicitly recommend in their child-training books. However, the patterns and similarities in these cases should not be ignored.

Larry & Carri Williams homeschooled their 8 children and kept a meticulously organized home. When interviewed, the children gave “mimicked” answers that seemed rehearsed and the investigator noticed that the children constantly looked to their parents to see if they were giving the “right” answers.

Larry Williams interrupted the interview when Hana’s younger brother told investigators that people like his sister “got spankings for lying and go into the fires of hell.”

Micheal Pearl has consistently denied any responsibility for his harmful teachings; placing sole blame on “out-of-control” parents. While it seems that Pearl is not legally responsible, I believe he is morally responsible for what he advocates. Even when his techniques do not result in death, they are still harmful. As I quoted in the above clip, Pearl advocates spanking a child until he/she is “totally defeated.” Those are HIS words.

My prayer is that Christians everywhere will reject the Pearls’ teachings and speak up when they see this book being sold at homeschool conventions, in churches or being given as gifts at baby showers. Please remember the faces of these dead children and pray for their surviving siblings. No child deserves to be raised this way.


Sean Paddock, 2002-2006

Sean Paddock, 2002-2006

Lydia Schatz, 2002-2010

Lydia Schatz, 2002-2010

Hana Williams, 1997-2011

Hana Williams, 1997-2011

 Rest in peace, precious little ones.

I was spanked as a child and I turned out ok. Didn’t I?

It’s late on a night during Holy Week. I’m alone and I’m trembling because I have seen into my heart of darkness and it’s brought everything back….

I was spanked and spanked and spanked and I turned out OK, didn’t I? Look how successful I am! Look at these works of my hands, taste this fruit and tell me it’s not sweet.

I watched Zero Dark Thirty and I didn’t flinch. Not once. I understand torture, see. I know when it’s necessary and I know how to do it. I sat there and watched it and suddenly, I saw something else: I saw my heart of darkness. I could do that. Oh, God. I could do that.

I know how to flip the switch inside my icy heart and simply turn off the empathy so that their cries don’t touch me. This is how I was trained.

When my firstborn baby was six months old, I started spanking her. I packed a layer of ice around my heart and I went very, very calm. I even smiled. I spanked her calmly and systematically without a hint of anger. I wasn’t out of control. I got results. She was so very, very obedient. A model toddler. I broke her. Just like I’d been broken.

This is my heart of darkness: I know how to break children.

Because I was broken this way.

I was spanked and I turned out OK, didn’t I? I follow God with all my heart and I was raised up in the way I should go and I have not departed from it. Yes, yes. Such good, holy fruit.

But I am broken, see. They broke me with wooden spoons and paddles and kitchen spatulas.

After the church fell apart, I thought surely they’d see the light and apologize for spanking me from infancy. I waited for years. But nothing.

And one day, I finally broke. One day I said goodbye.

When you set out to break a child, other things get broken, too. You don’t get to decide which things get broken. You might spank your child to save their soul from Hell but all the good intentions only pave the way to it.

There came a moment when I stopped spanking my children. This story is in my book. It didn’t stop all at once. But there was A Moment. A moment that changed me, a moment that made me realize I was on the same road paved by good, holy intentions. The same road to breaking a child.

I stopped. I stopped. Dear God, it took far too long but I finally did stop. And my children were spared. Most of them don’t remember a thing.

So, yes. I turned out ok, didn’t I? I still smile and laugh and live responsibly. I am a good citizen! A loving wife! A dutiful mother! You would never know that for years I cut myself. That I still equate pain with love. That I still believe I’m not good enough. I still have nightmares and struggle terribly with anxiety and dark waves of depression.

You would never know that a broken will=broken relationships.

But yes. I was spanked as a child and I turned out OK, didn’t I? DIDN’T I?

No. I turned out “ok” IN SPITE of being spanked.

At least I no longer have a heart of stone. At least now I have a heart of flesh.
And now I weep with those who weep.

Were you spanked as a child? Was your will broken, too? Were you spanked to “save your soul from Hell”?Comments will be moderated to protect safety of shared stories.
This comment box is for sharing, not debating.
Anonymous comments accepted. 

UPDATE, 3/29/13: my most sincere thanks to those of you who have shared your stories with us. Your bravery, vulnerability and honesty inspire me. Due to the busy holiday weekend, I am unable to further moderate comments so I am closing the thread. As always, my email is available if you would like to send a private message. Much love, EE.
Happy Easter.

Love until it hurts

I spread my life out on the table. My editor and I sifted through the pictures, newspaper clippings, poems I’d written as a child. We were looking for the stories, the driving questions, the point of conflict, the resolution.

And we found it.

But not before I curled up in a chair and broke down, weeping. My editor fetched a tissue. I pulled my knees into my chest.

I wept because he’d asked me a question that pierced my very soul. He asked: “In the book you seem so detached from your babies. Why is that?

I couldn’t answer for several minutes because my whole body was shaking.

He’d asked the hard question, the horrifying question, the good question.

It broke me, but I told the truth.

The truth is: yes, I experienced childhood trauma. Yes, bad things were done to me in the name of God. But the truth is that I also perpetuated the pain because I believed this was what God wanted me to do.

The only way I, as a mother, could implement the child-training methods was by detaching myself from the natural mother-child bond.  I detached myself from my children. I went cold. I went numb.

God, forgive me.

The utter shame of this swept over me in the conference room and I could hardly breathe.

I did the horrible thing. I participated in the evil system. 

I didn’t tell this story in the first draft of my book because we got out of the cult before my children were old enough to remember any of it. I didn’t tell this story because I eventually rejected the child-training methods of Mike & Debi Pearl.

But still. Initially, I participated. I missed the early bonding with my first two babies. The saving mercy is that I DID STOP. I have to keep telling myself this or else I will simply collapse under the weight of shame. I did stop. I finally stopped the cycle of abuse.

My third child was born free.

I bonded with my third baby. I held him. I nursed him whenever he wanted. I let him sleep in my bed. I poured all of me into him. I was free to love him. And it was a Revelation.

And I rebuilt the bond with my older children. Today, my oldest children have scant memory of those early years. They are assured of my love. I have asked their forgiveness and God has restored the stolen years. He is still restoring.

I am loving them and loving YOU by telling the truth of my story–telling the truth until it hurts.

Because I know there are mothers out there who bear the quiet, shameful secrets of spanking their children in the name of God. I know there are mothers wondering if the bonds broken by religious abuse can be restored. I know there are mothers wondering if a broken will and broken heart can be mended and made whole again.

I’m telling my whole story now because I want you to know I’ve been there, too. I’ve done that. I weep for the lost years, too.

And yes, restoration is possible. Reconciliation is possible. It’s never too late. Even when it seems like it’s too late, it’s not. Restoration may look differently than you expected–it might look messy and patched-up, cobbled-together.

It may look like you simply forgiving others because they knew not what they did. And you forgiving yourself because you didn’t know what you were doing either.

But the answer is yes. YES. Yes, you will be healed. Yes, you will be made new. Yes, the God of love makes all things beautiful in His time.

I am rewriting my book now.

I’ll be disappearing for a bit.

I’m prepping for a long, deep dive back into the book. This time, I am telling the whole story. I am telling the whole truth, so help me God. I am loving until it hurts.

I have six weeks to complete this deep dive.

Pray for me in this silence? And pray that I remember to come back up for air.

Pray that I love and that I write until it hurts.

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts
there can be no more hurt, only more love. –Mother Teresa

Lydia Schatz’s 2 year death anniversary #NoMoreDeadKids (and look how far we’ve come)

When I first started blogging about the abusive child-training practices of Michael and Debi Pearl, I was–as Michael Pearl dubbed me–a small, “vocal minority.” As you will see in the video below, Pearl attacked me with all kinds of scurrilous accusations. I kept speaking. I kept writing. Along with several other bloggers, we spearheaded the exposure of Michael Pearl’s abusive teachings. Eventually, mainstream media picked up on the message and CNN investigated Michael Pearl.

Today, two years after the death of Lydia Schatz, the world has heard our message. Anderson Cooper invited me to go on his show and explain my first-hand experience with the Pearl’s methods. And just recently, Christianity Today joined our outcry and urged parents to choose other methods of child discipline.

I made this video 2 years ago and never published it because Michael Pearl’s vicious attacks against me were taking their toll. I’m publishing this video today in honor of Lydia. The message in this video is just as relevant as it was 2 years ago because the Pearls continue to sell thousands of books. Children are still in danger.

I’m deeply thankful for those of you who joined me in refuting the Pearl ministry. Please continue to share our message with anyone you know who might be susceptible to their teachings.

RIP Sean, Lydia & Hana.



Yo, yo, yo! Give it up for: “Book Burning Thugz” aaaaand “Enemeeez of da Troof!”

Let me introduce you to my party people in da club.

According to No Great Joy Ministries, those of us who are speaking out against Michael Pearl are “enemies of the truth” and “book burning thugs.”

Enemies of The Truth? Book Burning Thugs?

Aw, come on, now. That ain’t right. According to my Street Lexicon, these names appear as: Enemeez of da Troof and Book Burning Thugz. (I personally prefer Book Burning Thugz. But y’all can call me BBT for short.)

Oopsie-daisy. I’m guessing someone over at No Greater Joy made a wittle mistake in translation. Enemies of the Truth? That’s sooooo not “The Authorized” 1611 King James Version!

Before we start name-calling, let’s break it down from DA ORIGINAL GREEK, yo. I mean, far be it from me to misinterpret this name-calling or to spread misinformation.

According to my handy concordance, the TRUE meaning behind these names are as follows….

  • In the King James Version, these names often appear as: “Truth’s Enemies Hath Encamp-ed Me Round About” and “The Scoffers, They Doth Scoff.”
  • Then again, if we’re going to use the Amplified Version of these names, you might find “Book Burning Thugs” translated as:

BBT Diddy


And in The Message version, my gangsta name goes something like this: BBTfoshizzle!

But I mean, who takes The Message seriously, right? That’s just a dumbed-down version for peeps who can’t handle da TROOF, am I right?

The point is, No Greater Joy Ministries is giving me WAY too many props. They’re claiming I’m part of some “coordinated attack.” Dudes. I can barely coordinate my outfits. Not to mention my gangsta aliases.

But hey, if you think my Distraught Pants are all that plus a bag of chips? I ain’t gonna be mad atcha!

Thug Life 4EVA, yo!

Peace out,

BBT…fo shizzle.

[full disclosure: I ain't never burned no books. Carbon emissions, people. Get widd da program.]

**addendum to the disclosure**

if you call me names, it’s not disrespectful to have fun wid those names
plus, also, if you send me hate mail–I’m gonna flip dat script, too.
p.p.s. i wrote this because frankly? I needed a laugh. Book Burning Thugs? REALLY?!