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Third Child Dies from Pastor-Advocated Corporal Punishment

Stephanie Rausser

Would you use a switch on your six-month-old baby? Would you hit your child on the arms, legs and back with a plumbing line? That’s exactly what Evangelical preacher Michael Pearl urges parents to do when disciplining their children in his book To Train Up a Child, which is in circulation among many Christian homeschooling families.

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People aren’t just reading the book, they’re following through with Pearl’s commandments—to extreme and deadly degrees, in some cases. In 2006, in North Carolina, a mother smothered to death her adopted 4-year-old son, Sean Paddock, while using a discipline technique of Pearl’s. Last year, Lydia Schatz, a 7-year-old girl in California who had been adopted from Liberia at age 4, was murdered by her parents, who were also fans of To Train Up a Child.

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Most recently, on September 29, Larry and Carri Williams of Washington State were charged with homicide by abuse when their 13-year-old daughter Hana was found naked and face down in their backyard, dead from hypothermia and malnutrition, reports the New York Times. The Williamses, homeschooling parents of six children and adherents to Pearl’s book, had adopted Hana and a 7-year-old boy from Ethiopia in 2008. On the last day of Hana’s life, her parents beat her with the plumbing tube that Pearl wrote about—he claims it’s “too light to cause damage to the muscle or the bone.” Pearl refers to his starvation tactic as “fasting” which is said is “good training.” He also advocates hosing off a child if they have an accident after potty-training, and Hana was forced to shower outside with a hose and sleep in a freezing barn, or sometimes the closet.

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Some in the conservative Christian camp are putting pressure on book vendors like Amazon to stop selling Pearl’s book, but Pearl and his wife Debi deny any responsibility, insisting some parents take their advice too far and that parents shouldn’t hit kids in anger or leave a bruise. Done correctly, they say, their methods produce happy, well-adjusted kids.

What’s your stance on corporal punishment?