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How influential are Michael and Debi Pearl? And how harmful?

Michael and Debi Pearl may not be as influential as some presume, but their teachings are still dangerous and deplorable.
Michael and Debi Pearl may not be as influential as some presume, but their teachings are still dangerous and deplorable.

Michael and Debi Pearl of “No Greater Joy Ministries” may not be as influential among Christians as some presume, but their teachings are still dangerous and deplorable.

In Kathryn Joyce’s Mother Jones article published last week, she offered a series of stories that she believes prove evangelical Christians have “orphan fever.” That is to say, a contagious illness is infecting American churches that is harming children by placing orphans in abusive Christian homes so they can be proselytized.

In my response to her article, I did not deny that her stories and examples were truthful or accurately reported. From all I can tell, Joyce is a solid reporter who has gathered stories from various sources on the topic, and I look forward to reading a fuller treatment of the topic in her forthcoming book. But I did (and do) question whether or not the stories told in her article are representative of the large and diverse Christian community in America. One comment I made particularly rankled readers:

“And [Joyce] references a self-published book, To Train Up a Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl, two pastors I’ve never heard of.”

I received numerous emails, tweets, and comments after my response ran informing me that the Pearls were far more influential than I realized. After poking around, I noticed that the Pearls have received some fairly high level media coverage over the years, though of course, hearing about someone or something doesn’t equal influence. So I decided to do some more research.

One of the primary pieces of evidence cited for the Pearls’ influence is the book sales of their self-published work, To Train Up a Child. Joyce herself notes that it “has sold nearly 700,000 copies,” a figure cited in other places as well that seems to originally emanate from Wikipedia. This an impressive number when you first read it, but where does it come from?

As something of a student of the publishing industry, I know that a book’s sales numbers can be hard to track down. Since 2001, the industry has looked to Nielsen Bookscan, which records any books purchased through about 80% of America’s retail outlets and book stores. For example, books bought through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the now-defunct Borders, all report to Bookscan. So what are the Bookscan numbers for To Train Up a Child? As of the end of last week, the lifetime sales reported were—drumroll please—9,579.

Granted, this number only represents sales since 2001, and the book was published in 1994. Additionally, Bookscan does not record Christian bookstore sales, which were presumably where many of these books were sold. Christian publishers say that in order to get a more accurate sales figure of their titles, you should double or even triple the number to estimate how many sold in both secular and Christian markets. If we take the more generous recommendation, that leaves us with an industry estimate of 28,737 total sales from all retail outlets since 2001.

So where does this “nearly 700,000” figure come from? Did the Pearls sell approximately 650,000 books between 1994 and 2001, but only 28,737 between 2001 and 2013? No one knows, though it seems unlikely. Had the book been traditionally published, we could just call up the publisher and ask for a sales report. But in this case, the publisher is the Pearls’ “No Greater Joy Ministries.”

Even if nearly 700,000 units have been printed and released to the public—and there is no way to verify that with any level of accuracy—it still may not tell us what some think it does. I’ve spent enough time around Christian ministries to know how easy it is to inflate self-published book “sales.” For example, a ministry might raise money for a campaign where they purchase a random mailing list for Christians and send their founder’s book (which they may purchase for as little as $1.00) to each address. These books weren’t purchased or even requested, and there is no reason to believe that any of the thousands of books mailed were ever read. But they will show up as product sales in the ministry records.

While Joyce et al may trust the self-reported sales number, it is simply not reliable enough to construct an argument about their influence.

That led me to the second piece of evidence presented to me as an indication of the Pearls’ influence: their ministry financial records. “No Greater Joy Ministries” takes in more than one million dollars annually. (It’s important to note that the last year on record that I can find is 2010-2011, in which the ministry ended up almost a quarter of a million dollars in the red).

Again, this number sounds pretty impressive at first. For those of us who earn an average wage, a million dollars a year sounds like lottery-level income. But in the world of evangelical Christian ministries, it’s not nearly as impressive.

For example, I looked at some of the ministries around where I live in metropolitan Atlanta, GA. Crown Financial Ministries, a financial stewardship ministry less than 10 miles from where I live, reports annual revenue of more than $23 million. Adventures in Missions in Gainesville, GA reports $15.4 million in annual revenue. Dr. Michael Youssef’s “Leading the Way” and Chip Ingram’s “Living on the Edge” report annual revenues of 13.5 million and 6.5 million, respectively. South of my home, MAP International in Brunswick, GA reports $140.4 million in annual revenue.

Or we might look at a truly influential evangelical, Charles Stanley, whose “InTouch Ministries” is headquartered not far from where I live. With approximately $90 million in annual revenue, InTouch collects the Pearls’ total annual receipts every four days, on average.

You may or may not have heard about any of these ministries or leaders—which don’t include some of the more notable national ministry giants, such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer—but they give you an idea of what evangelical Christian organizations look like from a financial standpoint. If the Pearls’ “No Greater Joy Ministries” were based outside of Atlanta, we can surmise they might be listed somewhere in the bottom quarter of evangelical ministries in the metropolitan area of our city alone.

This information is even less helpful when you consider that we don’t know the breakdown of their funding sources. If one donor gave a one million dollar gift, for example, it means something altogether different than if one million donors gave a one dollar check. Their annual revenue is unhelpful at best, and at worst, undermines the arguments it is being used to make.

This says nothing of the social media reach of “No Greater Joy Ministries” (14,168 Facebook “likes” and 524 Twitter “followers”), which can easily be compared to other evangelical leaders and ministries. And it doesn’t explore the type of crowds they draw at their events. Their “Big Texas Shindig” event, for example, shows 109 people registered through Facebook for the October 2012 event. That’s less than the attendance of some Sunday School classes at many evangelical mega-churches.

What does all of this tell us? It says that while the Pearls may have some amount of influence, it is disproportionate to the amount of space many writers have given them in articles, and it says that pretending that they or their book or their ministry are influential among evangelicals on any large scale is, frankly, disingenuous.

If you take all Christians in America and chop off Catholics, and then you take all Protestants and chop off mainline Protestants, and then you take all evangelicals and cut off progressives, and then you take all conservative evangelicals and chop off egalitarians, you’ll be left with a cohort of conservative complementation evangelicals. Within this faction, as best as I can tell, there is a small group of people who are influenced to any degree by the Pearl’s teachings. Their impact is particularly felt among the small but vocal Christian homeschooling community.

Do they have some influence? Yes.

Are they as influential as some believe? No.

Can we assume that their beliefs and views represent a sizable faction of the larger American Christian community? No.

But that leaves us with a more important question. Even though the Pearls are not as influential as some contend, there are some who have taken the Pearls’ teaching very seriously. So just how harmful are the Pearls and their teachings?

The answer to this question, in my estimation, is very harmful.

The Pearls’ teachings are harmful to women. Their teachings about how to be a Biblical woman and Biblical wife are regressive and oppressive, devoid of the love, compassion, and mutual respect the Bible commends in marriage. But worse, their teachings are harmful to children. In fact, harmful isn’t a strong enough word. They are flat-out dangerous.

The Tennessee couple advocates using “switches” to spank children as young as six months old. They encourage parents to use belts or even plumbing tubes to beat children into submission. Their teachings have been linked to the physical abuse of many children and multiple deaths, including one seven-year-old who was beaten to death by her parents with plastic tubing for apparently mispronouncing a word.

This kind of behavior is deplorable. It is vile. And I’m embarrassed that any who bear the name of Jesus Christ have put a single dollar into their bank accounts. People like the Pearls give others who follow Jesus a bad name.

In the end, I’m grateful to have been urged by readers to investigate this couple and their beliefs. My research tells me that though their impact may be smaller than some presume, the depravity of their teachings far exceeds their influence. The Pearls do not represent the vast majority of Jesus-followers in America, and Christians everywhere should prove it by repudiating their teachings.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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  • “If you take all Christians in America and chop off Catholics, and then you take all Protestants and chop off mainline Protestants, and then you take all evangelicals and cut off progressives, and then you take all conservative evangelicals and chop off egalitarians, you’ll be left with a cohort of conservative complementation evangelicals.: – My favorite quote, Merritt! And. yes, it is astounding how many mothers I know that have read this book.

  • I think you are being too dismissive of them. You have read and recommended Rachel Held Evan’s Biblical Womanhood book and I am pretty sure that the Pearls are cited in there under their connection to the quiverful movement. (I just looked and she mentions them 13 times.)

    I have rarely read positive comments about the Pearls but they exist and I know several people that received the Pearl’s book as new parents from very devoted followers.

    All that is not to say that they are representative of the Christian adoption movement, I do not think they are. But I think you can say that they are not representative of the Christian adoption movement, without saying they have no influence in the Evangelical world.

  • I’m not saying they have “no influence.” I am trying to quantify, as much as I can, how deep their influence is and how representative they are of American Christians in general.

  • It has been documented that the Duggars use some of the Pearl’s teachings and methods. The Duggars are visible to a much larger audience and could have brought the Pearl’s some attention as well.

    For the record I’d be in the Protestant progressive egalitarian camp 🙂 .

  • The Pearls are influential in patriarchy circles, but I think Jonathan’s stats actually underscore a long-standing critique of RHE’s book, i.e. that she highlighted extreme examples of the patriarchy movement to make her point. Just because she cited them doesn’t make them mainstream, even in conservative circles.

  • Thank you for taking the time to look further into this issue.

    It is also of note that the two brothers Paul and Tedd Tripp, though they couch their teachings in much more grace-driven terms, they still hint and point to the physical spanking of preverbal infants. It takes a moment to understand that it is what they actually advocate, but if you’ve been exposed to teachings like the Pearl’s book, you can recognize it immediately. One of the slides in Paul Tripp’s converence clearly says “0-5 Years of age – The Rod” And he then goes onto to attest how much smarter infants are than we give them credit for (justifying applying the rod on infants) The Tripps are far more popular (and Paul Tripp himself has adopted and talks about spanking his adopted son which is illegal.) in the Acts 29 Evangelical churches. Tedd Tripp advocates the “spank them until they’re sweet” motto which is the same in the Pearl’s book. There is a lot of crossover that is alarming.

  • I was once in a book study where one of the women wanted to study the Pearl’s book, “Created to be His Help Meet” (she had her own copy and wanted to see what we would think). I (and one of the other women in the group) couldn’t even finish the book because of their stance on women. I really thought it was one of the craziest things that I had ever read (and it really made us angry!) and that book put a very bad taste in my mouth for these people. I completely agree with your article. Thanks for writing. 🙂

  • Most Christians I’ve heard from had the same reaction to their teachings that you did. With the thousands of shares from these two posts and all the comments and interaction on social media, I’m shocked that I haven’t heard from a single person defending them. This is telling, I think.

  • Jonathan, thanks for this. (I very much enjoyed your recent piece on Kathryn Joyce’s article in Mother Jones.) Very interesting to me, whose parents read the Pearl’s book when I was growing up. I also read parts of it when my wife and I had our first child a couple of years ago. I should make it clear that I am no fan of the Pearls. From what I’ve read they are pretty typical old-school KJV-only southern Baptist fundamentalists, complete with run-of-the-mill old-school Baptist complementarianism.

    But I’m afraid it’s fairly evident from this article that you haven’t done a whole lot of research into the Pearls’ actual articles and views. In general, articles that call someone’s views into question should at least let that person speak for themselves. By nature of their conservatism they engender a fair amount of reactionary vitriol, which tends to exaggerate what they actually say. I have read, for instance, of the truly horrible beating you describe. But I’ve also read the Pearl’s book, and I promise that nowhere in that book does it advocate anything like the beatings “linked” to them. They are not necessarily responsible when someone reads their book and then beats their child to death. They advocate spanking, certainly, but not without warnings about not spanking in anger. Advocating spanking is hardly a radical view (though it is probably becoming more so).

    I’m not suggesting for a moment that I agree with everything in the Pearl’s book, only that in my opinion they’ve received their share of unfair criticism. They are, certainly, fundamentalists, in the sense that they are dogmatic and myopic in their interpretation of Scripture. This, to me, is indeed very dangerous, and I wouldn’t recommend their book to anyone for that reason alone. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of wisdom, or that they deserve all the criticism they’ve received. Personally I think there is quite a lot of good Biblical wisdom in their book, which a great many parents could benefit from. Sadly their own arrogance and myopia tends to obscure it. There are better books on discipline. But it is uncharitable and irresponsible to demonize them entirely, especially when you haven’t taken the time to hear what the Pearls actually say.

    I’d be interested to hear what you think. Feel free to email.

  • Jonathan, I to am appreciative of your article and would agree with your conclusion that the Pearls are not widely influential in the Evangelical world. Far more influential are Paul and Tedd Tripp ( who were referred to above). I would agree somewhat with Andrew however, it seems to me that in order to not be painted with a more radical fringe of Christianity your article was somewhat reactionary and not rooted in a full and fair reading of the Pearls. I have read their book as well as all of the Tripp’s books. I will go on record as saying that I disagree with them in so many ways and truly take issue with their reading of scripture. That being said there is value in some of what they have to say and we as loving, charitable brothers should not take broad swipes at each other without fairly letting their words speak for themselves. My wife and I have adopted 4 children and we do not apply the Pearls teachings but we do spank ( and contrary to one of your commenters above, it is not illegal!). We would tend to follow more of the Wisdom advocated by the Tripp’s. I would also wonder if Rachel Held Evans would be a fair reading of anyone on the conservative side of Evangelicalism. This is a writer who finds John Piper deplorable after all.

  • I probably did not say enough how thankful I am of your perspective and how much I appreciate your blog. I just disagree to an extent with your take here. Sometimes profound respect gets lost communication written response of disagreement. Much love bro!

  • In my state (Illinois), we were required to sign a document saying we would not use corporal punishment against our adopted children. Perhaps this is what the other commenter meant by illegal? I’m not sure if this is the same in all states, but I have heard from others that they had to sign similar documents.

  • Jonathan,

    This post really struck a chord with me. I hope you will forgive the diatribe, but I feel like there are so many layers to both these stories; the Pearls and evangelical adoption movement.

    I really appreciate your analysis of the Pearls and their “training” techniques, and I would have to agree with the questioning of the scope of their influence. I have taught youth ministry and Christian education in conservative evangelical colleges/seminaries for more than a decade, and Kathryn Joyce’s
    Mother Jones article was the first I had heard of them. That is not to say because I had not heard of them that they have no influence, but I can assume that their influence in the circles I inhabit is modest at best.

    In doing some research on the Pearl’s after reading the Mother Jones article, I ran across a couple of reviews of their work written by Tim Challies ( & I really respect Tim and his insight. As usual, his analysis was helpful to me in understanding the Pearl’s perspective, and I would point you toward it.

    Essentially, it seems that the Pearls are advocating a “baptized” approach to classical conditioning in the vein of theories advanced by theorists such as Ivan Pavlov and B. F. Skinner. Many Christian psychologists and educators acknowledge the pragmatic effectiveness of discipline according to these conditioning techniques, but they equally acknowledge really fail to address the real issues in helping a child to grow and mature well and to become a follower of Christ. Sure, we know we can produce behaviors or extinguish behaviors in a child through conditioning, but I do not know many that are comfortable with a plan for raising children that is purely behaviorally-based for growing healthy children into healthy adults because behaviorism doesn’t address the attitude of the heart. Conditioning deals with extinguishing behavior in a fairly mindless and unreflective kind of way. In fact, several of the most influential classical conditioning theorists go so far as to assert that the role of cognition (thinking) in human behavior is really little more than an illusion. They would say that we are little more than a collection of actions and responses (or repressed actions and responses) that have been reinforced by positive and negative consequences. These theorists make valid observations about behavior, but their worldviews are so disparate from those of biblical Christianity, that they necessarily begin and end in different places from anyone seeking to live with a biblical worldview.

    Pointedly, the Pearl’s approach to understanding people flies directly in the face of a biblical understanding of humanity. God’s Word teaches that we are created in the Image of God (Imago Dei). What separates us from the rest of creation is our ability to think, reflect, emote, and choose. As a result of sin, the Imago Dei in us is marred. There is no amount of external or internal discipline that will change that. We need rescue and re-creation. Jesus died to accomplish just that in our lives for His glory, and the Holy Spirit comes on us to make transformation in who we are. He changes our desires, our motivations, and our proclivities progressively in a way that conditioning never will. Conditioning changes behavior. Jesus re-creates people.

    The Pearl’s influence in the adoption/orphan care community is regrettable if it is present at all. The significant majority of children in foster care and those who have been adopted have suffered some type of trauma. The circumstances of this trauma and their “God-wired” responses to the trauma cause them to develop differently. There are common, well documented brain and bio-chemical differences in these children, and many classical conditioning techniques promise to reinforce their trauma not heal it. Parents of children from hard places would do well to consider the work of psychologists like Dr. Karyn Purvis (author of The Connected Child and psychology professor at TCU). Dr. Purvis and her colleagues promote a positive approach to correction and discipline that values the Imago Dei and reflects the redemptive discipline that we see in God’s approach to parenting us all as manifested in the work of Jesus.

  • Of at least 300 conservative, evangelical families I know, I only know one family that likes and uses their methodology. The few (perhaps a dozen) that are aware of it are opposed or uninterested. The family that uses the book gave us a copy. It sits untouched on a bookshelf. Not very influential in my sphere.

  • Having read their book online – I was shocked, sickenend and angered by the Pearls! It’s a book on ‘How to abuse your child – physically and mentally’ and if it were written with say elders instead of the increasingly insignificant and irritatingly annoying children in mind, despite ‘Freedom of Speech’ their books would never have been allowed out in print – and now should be withdrawn and burned.

    They are most definitely NOT Christian or ‘Biblical’ !! I think Mr Merritt was rather MORE charitible than he could have been !

  • This is the first I have read you. Maybe they don’t know to be here to defend them. What I have seen of their appeal is to people that came from ungodly homes and want a “godly” family now that they are saved. They don’t realize that they have created a religion of works within their own home. They are determined to micromanage their children into heaven.

  • I found this discussion interesting and appreciate Rick Morton’s suggestions for positive parenting resources. I have read the Duggar’s book, 20 and Counting! They have a chapter on Training and Correcting Little Ones and the To Train Up a Child book was not mentioned at all in that chapter. (The chapter has some really good practical parenting techniques and is very positive. FYI) The resource guide of their book does list Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. I have not read that book. So, being that I belong to the conservative (vocal?) Christian homeschool group, I want to make one point. We have had both books, Baby Wise (google that) and To Train Up a Child suggested to us. I never made it through the TTUAC book and never even considered Baby Wise. Why? Because I research, I tend to think for myself, and I find it infuriating that a Christian book or parenting class advocates leaving a very young infant to ‘cry it out’ or suggests that a nine month old is being rebellious by touching something on the floor in their reach. I wasn’t sure if your comment segmenting Christians had suggested that the more conservative of us blindly accept any book a pastor or elder throws our way- maybe that’s not what was meant. Regardless, thanks for writing about this topic and I’ve enjoyed reading several of the articles you’ve written recently.

  • Disclaimer: I’m a recovered Pearl parent. We went to several of their seminars over the years. We found the Pearls via homeschool circles, but was also surprised to see distant relatives who did not homeschool also promoting them. Their church caught hold of the books and bought them by the case. The Pearls were very smart in marketing the book for such a small price. It made better $$ sense to buy a case for a few extra bucks so the books could be distributed to friends/family. And that is exactly what happened and how the hype spread. Once the Pearls got you hooked with that book, you were then hooked by their free newsletters.

  • I would defend both books and do not find either to be unbiblical or uninterested in winning our children’s hearts for Christ. Neither did I find any disrespect for women or lack of humility in their writings. I appreciate the down to earth, “this is what the Bible says and this is how we have lived it out” approach in both these books. On many points I agree with what Andrew said about them. Of course I do not blindly agree with everything they say just as I do not agree with everything any author says. The only truly perfect parenting or marriage book is the Word of GOD and everything I read must be aligned with that. In my opinion, both of the books mentioned here do that. I would also like to say that those books were tremendously helpful to me and especially Created to be His Help-Meet. There is dignity and honor in finding my joy and fulfillment in caring for my husband and children. I am not a second class citizen or a beaten down mousy wife. I am a co-heir of grace with my husband. I submit to him and he lays down his life for me. (Eph. 5) Not every moment and not perfectly but that is our goal. I am just wondering with Andrew, if you have read all their stuff? And if so with what mindset did you read them? I have found that I can find whatever I am looking for in people and in books if i set my mind to it. Oh how I hope I am not sounding harsh or unkind. I just want to jump in here and say I would defend them and I have drawn closer to Christ and to my husband and been a better mother as a result of reading their material and yes I home-school my children and yes I bring other people’s children into my home (foster) with the intention of teaching them about the Living God and His gospel of grace and love and yes I cut my hair and wear shorts and even dance at weddings.

  • Not so. This article shows, with direct in-context quotes from the book, how simply following Pearl’s instructions as written would have resulted in the death of Lydia Schatz. Note also that Pearl’s response to Lydia’s death was to say, “We laugh at our caustic critics.” Any man who can laugh mockingly about the deaths of children at the hands of his followers is “demonizing” himself.

    It frustrates me when Pearl defenders say “There’s a lot of ‘biblical wisdom’ in the book, so we can just overlook the parts that say ‘conquering the child’s will, hold him down and defeat him utterly’ is a good thing.” Let me cook you a pie that’s very nutritious except for the arsenic I put in it; will you eat it and just try to spit out the poison, or go get another pie that doesn’t have a chance of killing anyone?

  • The website is listed in the gray box area. It has also been spoken by Michelle on the show how they use the book and blanket training. I think they have distanced themselves from it recently because of the controversy.

  • Wow, what an incredibly uninformed article. My scrutiny of your integrity began with you referring to them as “pastors”. Debi Pearl has never referred to herself as a pastor, nor would she, it’s not biblical. I have read most of Pearl’s popular books and some of his lesser known ones; they are much more informative than the information you provided. How about starting with primary documents? I hope you don’t use the internet as your only source.

    Pearl receives an hourly wage from the ministry, and does not receive a salary from Cane Creek Church. He worked as an artist/cabinet maker, etc. for many years and feels that taking a salary from his church would put him in a compromiseable position when it comes to God’s word. He has had a prison ministry for 40 years and ministers to the Amish/Mennonite communities in his area. He will accept an offering for speaking engagements but does not require one for his expenses. Number one rule in journalism: Get to know the subject. You can’t get that info from a financial document. Call the guy.

    I am not an employee, distributor or am anyway connected with NGJ Ministries other than purchasing some informative, biblical material from them. I am a confident, mature, outspoken mom who decided to honor her husband because “Created to be His Helpmeet” reminded me that that is what the Bible teaches. My love for my husband and faith in God’s promises and truths has grown greatly since that time.

    Society is what makes the Pearls scary. Women are afraid of losing their power and leverage, men are afraid they’ll have to “man up” and children are afraid they’ll actually be punished for doing wrong, and learn some self discipline. Scary stuff in today’s society. Oddly enough, these are referred to in Ephesians and Corinthians…try the internet, I’ve seen them posted there.

  • Check his website there is an article archived on the dangers of patriarchal families. There is so much heresay in these comments it is unbelievable to me.

  • The Pearls advocate to spank until a child submits. They advocate to show no mercy. Lydia Schatz was beaten to death over a period of 7 hours. The parents took breaks to pray with Lydia. This is the type of methodical spanking described in Pearl’s book, although he himself probably has more sense than to continue this for hours. That’s why these materials are dangerous. They probably weren’t frothing at the mouth while beating her to death. They probably thought they were guiding her towards righteousness. I have read Pearl’s book and I wish I could cleanse my head of it. I like someone’s quote from above – creating a works-based religion and micro-managing children into heaven. The law of grace is the New Testament law. It’s a law, not an option or an idea. So people who are whipping and punishing their children mercilessly to guide them to righteousness are ironically, breaking the New Testament law of grace. I suppose they will answer for it one day.

  • Hi~I am a reader and publisher from China.the Chinese edition of Created To Be His Help Meet and To train up a child were out a couple of years ago,and the Former became one of the best sellers in Chinese Churches.A lot of sisters and wives are reading\group studying it. So it’s really worries me. Thank you for your article~!

  • I am not sure where you got information that spanking adopted children is illegal. That is simply NOT TRUE. Once you adopt a child, that child is to be treated just as your biological son.

  • You’ve certainly changed your tune about Joyce’s reporting:

    “But the problems of this muddled Mother Jones article stretch well beyond Joyce’s non-representative sources, selective examples, broken logic, and half-truths.” – See more at:

    Good for you for planning to read Joyce’s book. Hopefully you will open your mind to what she has to say about corruption in the adoption industry, and the loopy magical thinking that gives that corruption cover.

    I’m still astonished that you had never heard of the Pearls. They are notorious.

  • Actually, this piece supports what I said in the original piece. The Pearls’ influence has been overblown by people like Joyce.

    And I have finished her book. My review of it will appear in an upcoming issue of Books and Culture.

  • As a long term elementary school teacher, I have a fairly accurate sense of the affect of young children who are psychologically healthy vs. those who are not. I am unspeakably sad to say that I know of intelligent parents who, influenced by the Pearls, have been mismanaged their children in deplorable ways. Food withheld, food forced, spanked for pulling off a hat at age 1, spanked for asking to go to the bathroom when they did not urinate, “trained” to use the toilet at less than 1 year, forced to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night when, at 3 or 4 years, they were bed-wetting (after such micro-management, a surprise to no one with any common sense), Underlying so much of this is the assumption that any self-direction on the child’s part is “rebellion”. At any rate, the children have no sparkle in their eyes; they constantly thumb suck; they are always one moment away from hysteria; their speech is unclear, probably because of multiple, untreated ear infections; at least one of the children was significantly underweight. Of course, they are significantly behind in academic development but, this won’t be obvious because they’ll never see the inside of a classroom. They have “arrested development” in the sense that, rather than develop self-management strategies, they must continually be in a reactive mode to even formulate a sense of self. These people are pro-life, a perspective that I can understand and support. Ironically, however, the fate of these children is the strongest argument for the other side. Some things are worse than death.

  • pearls’ are nuts. Anything other than these 3 words about them, are a waste of our precious time.

  • Possession of this book should summarily disqualify anyone from adopting children. Followers of this philosophy have been linked to to horrific deaths of children by beating, exposure and starvation. What exactly is Christian about this I cannot imagine but if if I were a Christian I would hang my head in shame to be associated with these cruel vicious sociopaths.

  • The Pearls should be in jail along with anyone who follows their teachings for training children. Jordan said it all… Pearls are nuts!

  • The Pearls and their ilk’s method of raising children has most vociferously attacked by people who have left separatist, insular IFB churches. I would submit the Pearl’ methods have influence among separatist fundamental organizations. You haven’t heard about them? They probably are more known by those who are in the Bob Jones and Detroit Baptist Seminary or Crown college sphere of influence .These people will have nothing to do with neo evangelical compromisers.

  • In many states, it is absolutely illegal to spank children (ie corporal punishment)- be they your biological/adopted children or someone else’s children in your care. In my state (TN) it is not illegal to spank your children, which is the state the dangerous Pearl’s live in (I’m so embarrassed that they live here!) However, in TN, you can still be investigated by child services if your child is spanked in public, or has marks left on the body- which is the whole idea behind the Pearl’s book apparently- how to use corporal punishment without getting caught. They’re disgusting.

    That was the point that the poster was making, that it is as illegal to spank adopted children as it would be to spank biological children, in those states where it is illegal.

  • I know I am quite late with my comment, but I figure it might still be worth sharing.

    I grew up in a home that practiced the pears beliefs. My father distributed dozens upon dozens of copies of their book “created to be his help meet” to young women who were coming to the age of marriage, or to married women that he knew. To my little sister 12 and 14 he gave the book, “preparing to be his help meet”, and for quite some time we were raised under the principles of “to train up a child”

    So what did this look like, my father was a religious man, extremely religious, he was also obsessed with work, and obsessed with being in control. He was the head of the house, and, any question of his authority, or any action that might not be seen as perfectly serving him was a huge issue. I recall one time when our family was screamed at because his slippers were not by the door when he returned home from work.

    I am one of even children, my father believed that the more full ones quiver wars, the more blessed you were by God. I have no problem with having a lot of kids, but it was so religious for him that. The fact we did not have the money to support ourselves didntm at Tralee. Once went an entire month eating nothing but potatoes because we couldn’t afford groceries and he was too proud to go to the food panty.

    My mother wasn’t allowed to work outside of the house, she wasn’t suppose to ever contradict my father, she wasn’t allowed to refuse his sexual advances, she was expected to rake the emotional abuse in stride, because the man is always right. Us kids were also verbally abuses on a regular basis, and, there were some beatings, although not terribly frequent and more so towards some of us than towards others (i was a particularly terrible child as a i refused to believe that the way our family lived could possibly be the way things were suppose to be)

    After 23 years of abuse, and a fear of physical harm from my father, my mother finally left, we spent over a month living in a safe house, and it was six months before I saw my father again. As is taught in the pearl books, marriage issues always stem from the woman , so my mother was painted as a villan, as the evil one, and we we told we were now defective goods.

    My mother stayed for many years believing what debbi pearl says about it being good for the woman to stay. My mom was nearly 50 years old before She realized life didn’t have to be one of oppression and misery. My sister was 21 before she realized that marriage didn’t have to be some Severlt uneven, that she didn’t have to be the slave to a man, and certainly that she didn’t need a man to complete her.

    This book, is widely used in my community, taught in some churches, the beliefs widely shared and used among the women. I live in a town full of oppression and guilt, a Christian cult, (while not really a complete community like the Amish or anything, simply groups of people from the vacuity who meet weekly and all live under these absurd rules).

    It hasn’t made for great relationships, it has lead to the women being oppressed and abused, the children feelings abandoned, hopeless, angry, some running away from home, many abandoning the faith.

    So it may not be as widespread as it is said to be, but certainly as dangerous.

  • Marian, The author wasn’t advocating the things the Pearls wrote. He was exposing them. As an atheist, I would have thought that you would not have believed in demons, but I agree that a practice that advocates brutality toward any one, especially those who cannot defend themselves, is demonic. Jesus said to his followers,”The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28) So, the true followers of Jesus are those who are servants to others, not those who beat and bully others into submission. This is how you can tell the phony “Christians” from the true followers of Jesus.

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  • I had a hard time in my marriage. I argued with my husband all the time. We were very unhappy. I read Created to Be His Help Meet and my husband I are very happy. I’ve never been more In love and happy with my life and husband . 🙂

  • It’s great to hear that you think for yourself. The problem with so many people with these kinds of books (Pearls, Tripps) is there might be some wisdom (just the title itself about shepherding a child’s heart is appealing, for example), but there is so much bad in there. Plain and simply. It’s so sad to me to think that these young parents just want to do right and then they read this and think it’s gospel truth. Use your instincts that God gave you. As a mom of five children, I focus on adventure and love and being there for my kids and teaching them manners and to love the Lord- rather than blind obedience. – cornelia