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« Training pastors -- and finding them | Main | Historical markers »

Spare the hose?

The New York Times has an interesting online feature about Michael Pearl, pastor of a small independent church in Pleasantville, Tennessee, who has become both revered and reviled as an advocate of corporal punishment for disciplining children.

Pearl self-published a book called To Train Up a Child that has managed to sell an astounding 670,000 copies, promoted through conservative Christian web sites and home school groups, as well as his own "No Greater Joy" website. The book holds to a firm interpretation of a half-dozen verses from the Book of Proverbs that have to do with the utility of rods in raising children, including 23:13: "Do not withhold discipline from your children; if you beat them with a rod, they will not die."

The problem is, some children have died. At least three cases of child abuse leading to death have involved parents who allegedly kept a copy of Pearl's book around, according to the Times.

Pearl, whose favored instrument of punishment seems to be a flexible quarter-inch hose that can be rolled up and carried in one's pocket, argues that his methods are not abusive, but loving, and should never leave a bruise. He would never counsel the kind of extreme measures taken by those who eventually killed their children in trying to control them, he says, and insists that one should never strike a child in anger.

Still, Pearl's promotion of a strongly literal interpretation of Proverbs -- with verses like "If you beat them with a rod, you will save their lives from Sheol" (Pr. 23:14) -- may be the spark that sets an incendiary parent on fire with rage. Or, it may encourage harsh treatment that can be calmly applied but abusive nevertheless.

All parents will decide, one way or the other, what disciplinary methods they will use. Encouraging whipping as the biblical or Christian way of doing things, however, can be dangerous.

I can't see Jesus raising his hand -- or a length of hose -- to a child.

References (11)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Spare the hose? - Tony W. Cartledge Blog - Baptists Today, The Source for Daily Baptist News for You and Your Church
  • Response
    Spare the hose? - Tony W. Cartledge Blog - Baptists Today, The Source for Daily Baptist News for You and Your Church
  • Response
    Spare the hose? - Tony W. Cartledge Blog - Baptists Today, The Source for Daily Baptist News for You and Your Church
  • Response
    Spare the hose? - Tony W. Cartledge Blog - Baptists Today, The Source for Daily Baptist News for You and Your Church
  • Response
    Spare the hose? - Tony W. Cartledge Blog - Baptists Today, The Source for Daily Baptist News for You and Your Church
  • Response
    Spare the hose? - Tony W. Cartledge Blog - Baptists Today, The Source for Daily Baptist News for You and Your Church
  • Response
    Spare the hose? - Tony W. Cartledge Blog - Baptists Today, The Source for Daily Baptist News for You and Your Church
  • Response
    Spare the hose? - Tony W. Cartledge Blog - Baptists Today, The Source for Daily Baptist News for You and Your Church
  • Response
    Spare the hose? - Tony W. Cartledge Blog - Baptists Today, The Source for Daily Baptist News for You and Your Church
  • Response
    Spare the hose? - Tony W. Cartledge Blog - Baptists Today, The Source for Daily Baptist News for You and Your Church
  • Response
    Spare the hose? - Tony W. Cartledge Blog - Baptists Today, The Source for Daily Baptist News for You and Your Church

Reader Comments (7)

If the Pearls hit adults or animals in public with plumbing line or any other implement, they'd be arrested and imprisoned for assault as well as subject to punitive damages for pain and suffering in civil court.

Texas is #1 in the nation for child abuse as outlined in a BBC Investigation "America's Child Death Shame" because the U.S. Media refuses to cover this important issue!

Our federal, state and local lawmakers are failing in their constitutional duty to enact laws to ensure American children have the same legal protections against assault as adults!
Please support Federal Bill H.R. 3027 "The Ending Corporal Punishment (Paddling/Pain to Punish Students K-12) in Schools Act" at donthitstudents dot com

Presidential Candidate, Texas Governor Rick Perry only recently signed legislation, HB 359, giving Parents the RIGHT to Prohibit Pain to Punish Their Children in Schools!

Texas Schools Beat Students K-12 with thick wooden paddles Legally with several "School Paddling States" maintaining "Teacher Immunity Laws" to protect school teachers, coaches and administrators from criminal/civil charges leaving families with no legal redress when their children are injured by school punishment, Corporal Punishment is Illegal in Schools in 31 U.S. States!

“There are two Americas out there for young students right now – one where they go to school knowing that they’ll be guided positively by caring adults, and one where they live in constant fear of getting beaten,” said Rep. McCarthy, a member of the Committee on Education and Workforce.
Paddling is Bullying, Outlaw It, Says U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, who introduced a federal bill to ban corporal punishment in American schools for the second time (H.R. 5628 Died in Congress 2010) on September 22, 2011.

"Bullying is enough of a problem among students; the teachers shouldn't be doing it, too. There's nothing positive or productive about corporal punishment," McCarthy said on her House website.

The bill would ban paddling, spanking and all other forms of physical pain as punishment of students K-12.

Corporal Punishment in public schools is discriminatorily applied to boys, african american, disabled and low income students!

Punishment Injuries to America's schoolchildren that Shock the Conscience as well as local, state and Federal Lawsuits are REAL!
Search "A Violent Education" by Human Rights Watch and the ACLU issued to U.S.Government Officials with recommendations for remedies on 8/20/08.

U.S. Federal Government is Grossly Negligent, allows Pain to Punish Students K-12, Illegal in Schools in 31 U.S. States, over half our nation, constituting "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" akin to allowing State and Local governments to legally permit Slavery!

Please support Federal Bill to Abolish Corporal Punishment, Pain to Punish Students K-12 in ALL U.S. Schools at donthitstudents dot com

Nov 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Worley

I have never really bought into the fad of asking, "What would Jesus do?"
Jesus reacted to various situations of the day in the best way he could at that time. He responded to life events with the same difficulty we do today. Maintaining restraint is difficult. Consider two different reactions of Jesus to two different events in his day.
On the one hand we have an aggressive reaction by Jesus when he used a corded whip to clear the temple. He made a point by generating fear in those aorund him. He emptied the house of God by way of using a whip with force. It achieved the desired result, didn't it?
Then on the other hand a totally different example of how Jesus handled a bad situation is seen in the story of the the elders surrounding the woman who was caught in adultery of John 8:9. Jesus not only did not raise his voice, he took his time before speaking at all and it sent a powerful message that saved a woman's life. Jesus lived as we do, he suffered the same frailty, frustration and rage of the human condition as we do. I bet if we really could ask God himself, what would you do? We would recieve surprising answers.
I am the Court Advocate for victims of Domestic Violence in Harnett County, NC. Abuse that harms is a use of force to abuse, torture, beat, oppress, force, or subjugate. The Biblical record does not show God's discipline as ever having this purpose. We can't know what God's reaction might be to some of our experiences in life, but we can see what he did not do to others.
Nell S. Grimm.

Yesterday the good "Christians" were burning witches at the stake, taking slaves, physically chastising their errant wives, inventing and implementing the most depraved torture devices history has ever seen.......

Today the good "Christians" are teaching everyone the godly way to beat their children. They're very specific, too.

I think Jesus would want his good name back.

Nov 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMMead

"If we really want a peaceful and compassionate world, we need to build communities of trust where all children are respected, where home and school are safe places to be and where discipline is taught by example."
Desmond M. Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, 2006. See

"The much-touted 'biblical argument' in support of corporal punishment is founded upon proof-texting a few isolated passages from Proverbs. Using the same method of selective scripture reading, one could also cite the Bible as an authority for the practice of slavery, adultery, polygamy, incest, suppression of women, executing people who eat pork, and infanticide. The brutal and vindictive practice of corporal punishment cannot be reconciled with the major New Testament themes that teach love and forgiveness and a respect for the sacredness and dignity of children, and which overwhelmingly reject violence and retribution as a means of solving human problems. Would Jesus ever hit a child? NEVER!"
The Rev. Thomas E. Sagendorf, United Methodist Clergy (Retired), Hamilton, Indiana. Personal communication, 2006.

Ten Reasons I Can't Spank A Catholic Counselor's Critical Examination of Corporal Punishment By Gregory K. Popcak, MSW, LCSW

"I have always been an advocate for the total abolition of corporal punishment and I believe the connection with pornography that is so oriented has its roots in our tradition of beating children."
Gordon Moyes, D. D., Pastor, Uniting Church, Superintendent of the Wesley Central Mission, Sydney, Australia. Excerpt from personal communication, 1980.

"I have never accepted the principle of 'spare the rod and spoil the child.'I am satisfied that such punishment in most instances does more damage than good. I recently read a biography of George H. Brimhall, who at one time served as president of Brigham Young University. Concerning him, someone said that he reared “his boys with a rod, but it [was] a fishing rod” (Raymond Brimhall Holbrook and Esther Hamilton Holbrook, The Tall Pine Tree: The Life and Work of George H. Brimhall, n.p., 1988, p. 62). That says it all."
Gordon B. Hinckley, President, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1994 General Conference.

United Methodist Church:
UMC General Conference, May 3, 2004, takes a stand against corporal punishment in all settings.
Click on the following links:
Rita Swan, introduced both resolutions, describes strategy

Parenting In Jesus' Footsteps

Arms of Love: A grace based explanation of Biblical child rearing:

Nurturing God's Way

Churches Network for Nonviolence

Christian website about attachment parenting:

It is worthwhile to read the articles of Herbert Ratner, M.D., a public health physician, former Consulter to the Pontifical Institute on the Family, and editor of Child and Family Quarterly. He was also an advisor to the La Leche League at the time of its formation. Back issues of Child and Family Quarterly are available from Child and Family, P.O. Box 508, Oak Park, IL 60303

Matthew 19:8
Just because something is a long-standing tradition, doesn't mean it was ever right to begin with.

Nov 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMMead

Bill Gothard would be proud!

Nov 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDRS

The fact of the matter is that you can take what the Bible says or not. As to whether or not Jesus would have spanked a child, I can guarantee if he was their father, he would. He obeyed the scriptures. The Proverbs scriptures are directives to parents, and parents only, not teachers or grandparents to spank their children with the rod.
The rod is better than hands because it is separate. Hands should always be for embracing and loving. The rod represents God's authority and using it on your child in a calm manner-- not raising your hand up but just "flicking" your wrist provides a sting that lasts all of about 3-5 seconds. The child then has a reminder to obey, which could in some cases save his/ her life. "Get out of the road" (car coming). If they fall down and throw a fit because you don't know how to draw boundaries because you love yourself more than your child, they'll die or get hurt in that situation.

What is really sick is that you are calling good, evil and evil, good.

Nov 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

As for seeing Jesus do this...would Jesus sleep with his wife? Would Jesus join the army? Would Jesus the policeman use his stun gun to arrest a violent offender? That is a silly argument. The Bible speaks plainly. It is smarter than you...or I. So, you don't like anything from the Bible that requires you to do something contrary to your comfort. Well someone in such a case needs to change! I suggest that you change the Bible. Its a lot easier than repenting and trusting God.

Nov 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEric Holland

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