Journey to Freedom: Warbler’s Story

I was barely 19 when my eldest sister decided to make a run for it.

Against all my convictions and everything I parroted that my parents believed, I helped her.
I remember her looking over her shoulder at me, washing dishes, as she went downstairs in our split level home, a silent farewell where we couldn’t embrace or pretend anything was going on.
I remember I was still working on the dishes in the sink when my mom found her empty room and sounded the alarm. I remember pretending I had absolutely no idea, and I pretended that i wasn’t crying into the dishwater as I heard my dad called everyone he could call, attempting to intimidate them into helping him scour the countryside for her or cutting off any resources she might have through them, calling her names and predicting her demise.

I was a little over 19 when my parents sent me to ATI’s Journey to the Heart in an attempt to keep me from following her example.

Against all precedents, they sent me alone on a train and in a taxi to the center of the country where I found theological discrepancies between ATI’s material and my parents own branch of personally branded “THE correct way” philosophy. I remember feeling the sting of rejection when the famed seer himself sent me away curtly when he found out I was there on a scholarship and that our family had never been card-carrying members of his organization. I remember the resentment that would not go away no matter how many times I tried to “tear down the stronghold,” and all the years since that week and this one. I remember the thrill of spending my own money, finding my own train connections, walking around a real college campus with an old friend, and experiencing a day of her academic life.

I was halfway through being 19 when I secretly began corresponding with my sister again.

Against all thoughts of self-preservation, I dared to call her and spend time with her during an afternoon event she came to where the siblings and I were performing our homeschooled talents.
I remember the horrible ending to that evening when my father refused to allow her to hold the baby, and seeing, again as if for the first time, how malicious he was by nature. I remember the tortuously long bible studies he forced us to have wherein he would use an example at least every other week of how wicked she was and how she hated her family and her family’s god. I remember how I first followed one of her links to the blog of a book-writer who changed my life.

I was on the verge of 20 when I began spouting dangerous ideologies that put me on my parent’s radar.

Against every spanking I had ever had, I stood up to my father and refused to allow him to confiscate something of mine. I remember the thrill of having a personal possession that did not have to be shared, a laptop purchased with “graduation” gifts from family. It gave me a window into the outside world, it gave me a taste. I remember looking for the author-lady’s article about how Michael Pearl responded to the first and second child killed by his methods. I remember arguing with my parents in tears that this was deadly and that it was paramount that they look into their punishment methods as they sat there with jaws scraping the floor.

I was a month away from being 20 when I refused to back down one more time, and my father grounded me to my room except for bathroom breaks and meals.

Against my JTTH-inspired vow to serve my family another year, I took a cellphone that was snuck in to me and began calling people who would listen to me and offer advice. I remember “Elizabeth” encouraging me to secure my social security card, and I did it despite having to sneak into my parent’s room and rifle through the family folders to find it. I remember staring at the folder and being too afraid to take my expired passport or anything else in case they would notice the diminished size and suspect I was planning something. I remember the final weeks when our elderly neighbor’s and next-door-secular-homeschooling-family read the author’s finished book and put all the pieces together. I remember being rebellious and locking my room door every night, and every morning finding it unlocked and cracked open.

I was a week and a half over 20 when I went to a local Amusement Park with my family for a special vacation on discount tickets purchased with couponing.

Against all common sense my father ordered all us females to wear skirts for modesty, and I protested by wearing my shortest (knee-length) one with capris underneath. I remember almost getting sent back to the car for the whole day because I pointed out several mini-skirt wearing women and commented on their impressive modesty. I remember holding my tongue because I had one last day to spend with my little brother, and I remember being brave enough to whisper to him what I was planning at the end of the day. I remember the blisters on my heels that I didn’t mind because I spent the night petting my cats and begging them to forgive me for abandoning them.

I was 13 days over 20 when I put a note on my dresser along with money for the cats care and I walked two boxes of clothing over to the waiting car that took me into town.

Against all odds I managed to stay in town most of the day until my sister was able to leave work and come get me. I remember people being extraordinarily kind to the naive should-be-an-adult woman who was hiding in fear and watching the door. I remember staring down at my Friendly’s taco-bowl-salad and being unable to swallow because my brother delivered my father’s ultimatum. I would come home by sundown or my cats would be put out at the edge of the road.
I remember my sister facing her demons less than a year after her harrowing escape in order to help me.

I was only two days older when we drove into a driveway 500 miles distant and I first saw the people who were going to be my teachers and helpers for the next half decade.

Against the new backdrop I bought my first two-piece tankini-and-skirt combo and my sister and I shared a sunny afternoon in their community pool. I remember everyone cautioning us about how these people were complete strangers and if “anything feels off” to come back to my sister’s and to figure things out from there. I remember the new landlady buying me a sheet set for my room in a vibrant lime green along with a “husband pillow” and her humor and kindness made me feel right at home. I remember thanking my sister before she left, and being happy, scared, nervous, and tired as I started my new life with a few hundred dollars in my pocket and the knowledge that I was free, and that I would remain free.

Michael Pearl’s Advice is Child Abuse (According to His Own Definition)

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Hypocrisy occurs when someone claims to have moral standards or beliefs to which their own behavior does not conform. If I tell you that treating your child with respect is important, and then instruct you to disrespect your child, I am a hypocrite.

Michael Pearl is a hypocrite.

This matters a whole lot because ever since high-profile cases of child murder like Sean Paddock, Lydia Schatz, and Hana Williams were linked to Pearl’s teachings, he has repeatedly claimed that those children’s parents did not follow his teachings correctly — that what those children’s parents did “is diametrically opposed to the philosophy of No Greater Joy Ministries.” They misinterpreted. They took it to the extreme. They were abusive, whereas he makes clear you should not abuse.

But Michael Pearl says one thing and then instructs parents to do another. Let me give you an example. This is from Pearl’s September 2001 article “In Defense of Biblical Chastisement, Part 2,” under the section, “When is it abuse?”:

If your child is broken in spirit, cowed and subdued, you have a problem.

This seems pretty straightforward — and in line with Pearl’s claim that there is a line between legitimate child training and child abuse. The standards are simple: if your child training results in your child being cowed and subdued, you have a problem. The problem? You are abusing your child. Hence this section being titled, “When is it abuse?” No Greater Joy Ministries itself lifts up this article as proof that the Pearls condemn child abuse.

Here is the catch: Michael Pearl gives the very opposite instructions elsewhere. This is from Pearl’s July 1998 article “Angry Child,” an article that addresses how to spank a so-called “angry child”:

I could break his anger in two days. He would be too scared to get angry. On the third day he would draw into a quiet shell and obey.

This also seems pretty straightforward. Michael Pearl proclaims his own self-mastery of godly child training: in two days, he can take the angriest of children and render them (1) “scared” and (2) “drawn into a quiet shell.”

Let us go back to Pearl’s definition of child abuse:

If your child is broken in spirit, cowed and subdued, you have a problem.

What does “cowed” mean? It means “scared.”

What does “subdued” mean? It means “drawn into a quiet shell.”

The very things that Pearl says are indicators of abuse are the very things Pearl says are the signs that one has mastered his techniques.

Let me give you another example. In the aforementioned “Biblical Chastisement” article, Pearl says:

You are abusing the child when it starts doing harm to the child.

Again, this is straightforward. Child training crosses the line into child abuse when you are causing damage to your child.

Now look at Pearl’s advice in the “Angry Child” article:

A proper spanking leaves children without breath to complain. If he should tell you that the spanking makes him madder, spank him again. If he is still mad…. He desperately needs an unswayable authority, a cold rock of justice.

Yet again, this is straightforward. Godly child training, or “a proper spanking” as Pearl says, “leaves children without breath.”

I do not mean to get super scientific, but (1) there are no lungs in the human buttocks and (2) breathing comes naturally to a healthy child. Pain inflicted on the human buttocks will therefore only disrupt a child’s intake of oxygen by spiking the child’s stress hormones to a literally traumatic level. That is to say: to spank your child to the point that they cannot take in oxygen, you have to cause nervous system dysregulation. You must overwhelm the child’s brain with pain to the point that the brain’s ability to perform normal human functions — like breathing — become disintegrated. This is why trauma is accompanied by breathing difficulties.

If you are spanking a child to the point that they cannot breathe, you are literally harming their brain. Furthermore, you are potentially disrupting many other aspect of the child’s development. While humans in general have a need for oxygen, children are particularly in need of it. The World Health Organization notes this:

Children have a dynamic physiology that is not only turned up to “high” because of growth demands, but also vulnerable to damage during differentiation and maturation of organs and systems. Their needs for energy, water and oxygen are higher, because they go through an intense anabolic process… Children breathe more air per kilogram of body weight than adults at rest… An infant has three times the minute ventilation of an adult and a 6-year-old has double.

Let us assume, simply for the sake of argument, that spanking your child with a “cold rock of justice” is not child abuse in itself. Let us assume, simply for the sake of argument, that spanking your child repeatedly — never stopping until your child submits because Michael Pearl says in To Train Up a Child that “If you stop before he is voluntarily submissive, you have confirmed to him the value and effectiveness of a screaming protest” (p. 80) — does not cause rhambdolysis (Lydia Schatz’s cause of death). Even assuming those two points, we are still left with the fact that spanking your child until they cannot breathe does physical harm to your child.

When does Pearl say child training turns to child abuse? “When it starts doing harm to the child.”

What does Pearl say child training must do? “Leaves children without breath.”

The very things that Pearl says are indicators of abuse are the very things Pearl says are the signs that one has mastered his techniques.

Michael Pearl’s advice is child abuse according to his own definition.

Not On Your Side, Debi: Jeri Lofland’s Thoughts

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Jeri Lofland blogs at Heresy in the Heartland. The following was originally published by Jeri on April 27, 214, and is reprinted with permission.

This week, embattled IBLP founder Bill Gothard received aid from an unexpected quarter–homeschool mom and popular author Debi Pearl.

In the past, self-confessed “old hillbilly” Michael Pearl has sometimes himself been critical of Bill Gothard for helping create the excesses of the homeschooling patriarchy movement–a highly ironic observation coming from the father of patriarchs! But this week, Debi came out swinging against IBLP victims who have gone public with their stories on “Recovering Grace” and other websites.

Beginning her post with the question, “Whose side are you on?” Debi attacks those who have dared to publish accounts of how Gothard lied to, molested, or otherwise mistreated them. According to Debi, these “critics” are “bitter” (that’s the ultimate pejorative in IBLP circles, remember?), they are “foolish”, and they have joined a “Satanic attack on God’s people”.

On the one hand, Debi describes Gothard as a “man who put his whole life into doing a work for God”. On the other, she denies having any connection to IBLP’s beleaguered “ministry” which, she claims, helped “set thousands of people free from bitterness”.

Gothard and the Pearls have, in fact, had a symbiotic relationship for years.

They attended a Basic Seminar in the late 1970’s. IBLP promoted and distributed the Pearls’ parenting book To Train Up a Child. The website for IBLP Australia still offers at least two of the Pearls’ numerous books. At least one of the Pearl girls worked at Gothard’s orphanage and training center (South Campus) in Indianapolis and the Pearls kept several Russian orphans at their home over the summer. Michael solicited donations for IBLP from his followers. Several of the Pearl children’s spouses were raised in Gothard’s ATI program. (I say “spouses”, but Michael Pearl made it clear years ago that his children do not need any such thing as marriage licenses. A ceremony and their parents’ blessing is apparently good enough.*)

Besides being given to racist and homophobic remarks, the Pearls are somewhat obsessed with sex. It gives Michael hope to envision homeschoolers “outbreeding” progressives. He counsels the wife of an angry man to “make love” to improve her husband’s mood. Debi often suggests that being sexually available is a wife’s primary responsibility. Michael even wrote a book on erotic pleasure for fundamentalist Christian couples.

And then there are the Pearls’ highly controversial child training methods, which have now been linked to three child deaths. There is currently a petition circulating to ask Amazon.com to remove To Train Up a Child from its website in the interest of protecting children from parental abuse. According to a BBC report last year, To Train Up a Child has sold over 800,000 copies and boxes of the Pearls’ books have been shipped for free to U.S. troops overseas. “No Greater Joy” pulls in over $1 million a year, with Debi functioning as “the financial brain of the company”, according to her son Gabriel.

Last year, Rachel Held Evans wrote a blunt piece about Michael and Debi Pearl and their abusive “ministry”. First, she quoted Pearl himself describing how to handle a rebellious child:

If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally.”  -Michael Pearl

And Evans added her own warning:

But it’s not just children who suffer from No Greater Joy‘s ministries.When I was conducting research for A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I read Debi Pearl’s popular book, Created to Be His Helpmeet…which I threw across the room a total of seven times.

The writing is awful, the biblical exegesis deplorable, but what troubles me the most is that the book reads like a manual for developing abused wife syndrome.

In their story “The Real Michael Pearl” a few years ago, Religious Child Maltreatment pointed out the peculiar rush Pearl appears to derive from seeing small children spanked into silence, and his sense that he has “come upon the holy grail of childrearing”.

To Pearl, and many parents who follow his teachings, the primary goal of parenting is not to support children by fulfilling their needs to feel safe and experience appropriate autonomy, but to control children.

In April 2011, Cindy Kunsman, a nurse explained the physical dangers of Pearl’s teachings in a post on the No Longer Quivering blog. Homeschoolers Anonymous reposted the piece in September of last year:

Due to the severity of the spankings with [Michael Pearl’s recommended] plumbing line, both Zariah and Lydia Schatz suffered renal failure because of rhabdomyolysis.

…[W]e may never learn the details about new cases of Pearl-related kidney disease unless it is reported by the families of the survivors.

Kunsman went into much more detail about rhabdomyolysis in another post at Under Much Grace. This article convinced me that the Pearls are not just cranks, they are dangerous.

If the children are aggressively spanked on a chronic basis, …it is possible that chronic damage could occur in children that is not bad enough to cause kidney failure but bad enough to cause damage.Unless a child undergoes blood tests at some point, “renal insufficiency” (inefficient kidney function that is lower than a normal, healthy level) could be present and no one would be the wiser. It is conceivable that at least some children have experienced some damage, but not enough to produce symptoms of kidney failure.

In October 2011 Rachel Stone wrote about Pearl in for Christianity Today. Her article included sadistic passages from To Train Up a Child and described the Pearls’ methods as “a program of calculated cruelty”:

One child suffering under this training is too many; it’s my hope that the Pearls will be widely discredited, and soon.

In a November 2011 post, a Chicago blogger pointed out that the popular Duggar family, who are still members of Gothard’s homeschooling cult, not only endorse but actively promote the Pearls’ materials on their own website:

www.NoGreaterJoy.org  Features some of the finest in family-friendly, value-based books, audios, videos, and articles on parenting, husband and wife relationships, ministry and more! Materials include, To Train Up A Child, Jumping Ship, Created To Be His Help Meet, Preparing To Be A Help Meet, Only Men, the Good and Evil graphic novel in over 20 languages and a FREE bi-monthly magazine.

Samantha at Defeating the Dragons and Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism have both written boldly about the dangerous and abusive teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl. Author and mother of five Elizabeth Esther, whom Anderson Cooper interviewed alongside Michael Pearl late in 2011, has been both outspoken and tearful about the horrors perpetrated against children when parents follow Pearl’s advice. You can watch the interview for yourself here.

2011 New York Times article quotes Michael likening childrearing to training “stubborn mules” and explores links between child deaths and the teachings in Pearl’s book.

Dr. Frances Chalmers, a pediatrician who examined Hana’s death for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, said of the Pearl methods: “My fear is that this book, while perhaps well intended, could easily be misinterpreted and could lead to what I consider significant abuse.”

This video shows Michael and Debi Pearl in action at a child training seminar, apparently at the Cane Creek church that meets on Pearl’s property in a Tennessee hollow. Michael would much prefer to be known through his books than through these clips, but there he is on his own turf:

With his wife smiling and nodding beside him, Michael Pearl laughingly advocates cruelty against children. He encourages hitting children, even infants, with implements. He recommends luring young children with tempting objects and then swatting them to teach them obedience and self-denial. He teaches parents to instill fear in their children on purpose. Michael Pearl seems to get off on asserting his domination of a much younger, smaller human being:

” A proper spanking leaves children without breath to complain. If he should tell you that the spanking makes him madder, spank him again.”

The Pearls have long pointed to the supposed happiness of their own trained and obedient children as evidence of the efficacy of their methods. However, Michael and Debi have not taken well to being called out by adults whose parents followed this couple’s advice. Earlier this month, Michael became defensive against vocal homeschool graduates such as those of us who post at “Homeschoolers Anonymous” and posted his response at “No Greater Joy”. But even as he blasts those who speak the truth about their experiences, Michael must admit that homeschooling is no panacea:

“Not every homeschool experience will be a great success. Some will be total failures; others will be good but not altogether good. In some cases, out of six children a family may lose one or two to the world, but they will have two or three that are exceptional human beings.”

Alas for a child who turns out to be a less-than-exceptional human being! Pearl chalks such failures up to satan at work and recommends people buy more of his books, just to be safe.

I really should not be surprised to see Debi Pearl defending Bill Gothard and his ministry against what she considers defamation. But I look at her daughters, their body language, and I wonder what stories they could tell and what they would say about their famous parents if they felt completely safe.

It speaks volumes that the Pearls feel compelled to hitch their ministry to Gothard’s falling star.

*****

*Michael Pearl on marriage licenses:

“None of my daughters or their husbands asked the state of Tennessee for permission to marry. They did not yoke themselves to government. It was a personal, private covenant, binding them together forever—until death. So when the sodomites have come to share in the state marriage licenses, which will eventually be the law, James and Shoshanna will not be in league with those perverts. And, while I am on the subject, there will come a time when faithful Christians will either revoke their state marriage licenses and establish an exclusively one man-one woman covenant of marriage, or, they will forfeit the sanctity of their covenant by being unequally yoked together with perverts.”

 

Sorry, Michael Pearl, But These Fireworks Are Calling You Out: Lisa Joy’s Thoughts

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Lisa Joy” is a pseudonym.

Disclaimer: I have been reading Libby Anne’s reviews of the Pearls’ materials on her “Love, Joy, Feminism” blog as they’re published each week. When I read Michael Pearl’s recent article, “Homeschooling: Success or Failure,” I started wondering what she would say to tear it apart. Then I realized I couldn’t wait to see if/when she’d cover it, so I started writing my version of a rebuttal! So if it sounds like I’m parroting her in some way, I’m not trying to… but I might end up doing so to some extent because I love what she has to say in her book reviews. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or something like that!

“It is such a marvelous pleasure to observe the many young couples coming out of the homeschooling community. They are bright as spring flowers, full of hope and good cheer. Children are springing up like dandelions, without a care in the world, secure in their parents’ love.”

Dandelions… a weed that many people try to kill

Michael Pearl has a nasty habit of dehumanizing people, especially women and children. He compares them to dogs, horses, pick-up trucks (yes, really!), etc. Now we can add weeds to that list.

“There has never been a movement in America that has so consistently produced godly young people and holy marriages.”

Oh, really? Are these marriages “holy,” or are they simply trapped & trying to put on a good face? The latter is my story — married for 13 years to a man I knew was cheating on me and lying to me. But I didn’t dare leave because that wouldn’t be the “godly” thing to do. <sigh> (Don’t worry, when it finally dawned on me that my children were in danger of being molested, I worked up the courage to face all the judgment and criticism from my church and my family, and I left him.)

“These kids—they are in their 20s and 30s but to me they are kids—”

I am 36. I am not a kid. I’ve been a legal adult for 18 years, so I should be an adult twice by now!

My parents still treat me like I’m a rebellious teen-ager, including trying to correct me when I have what they consider a bad attitude, tell me where I should attend church, what I should wear, whom I may date and marry now that I’m divorced, (or as they would prefer, that I am to never marry again, except to my abusive ex!) and even punish me when I stray from their desires for my life. (And no, I’m not currently on speaking terms with them. Enough is enough! When they learn to treat me like the adult I am – twice over – then maybe we can be friends again.)

“are the most emotionally balanced, mentally positive, and hopeful human beings in the world;”

Either that, or they’re really good at faking it and putting on a happy face so that they aren’t a bad testimony. After all, if they and their lives aren’t perfect, they know that it’s their fault because they aren’t spiritual enough.

“and let me tell you something: Even at 68 years old I can see that among them are the prettiest girls ever. There is something about a genuine joyful smile and an inquisitive, positive expression that lights up a healthy female face like sun, moon, stars, and fireworks at the same time.”

Stop and really read this again. Let it sink in. This. Is. Sick. I hope all of you are holding your mouths to keep the vomit from hitting your keyboard or tablet or phone. I know Debi Pearl has her issues, but I feel sorry for her right now. I would be horrified if my 68-year-old husband publicly admitted to admiring women 1/2 or 1/3 his age. Maybe I just have a dirty mind, but for an old man to admit that a pretty face reminds him of “fireworks” is beyond gross. Sick. Sick. Sick.

Michael Pearl says in his “Created to Need a Help Meet” book that when he’s at church luncheons, he wants to be surrounded by pretty ladies! What a sick, dirty-old-man vibe I’m getting from him. <shudder> Even if you’re okay with a 68-year-old having these kinds of thoughts about a 20-year-old “girl,” (really a woman but always a “girl” to Michael Pearl!) remember that he’s married. And he just published this on the Internet and in print. His wife is presumably reading this. Just. Yuck. Nasty. Must. Stop. Thinking. About. This.

“I see young mamas and daddies producing a whole new generation of godly, wholesome kids.”

Or producing a whole new generation of abused, trapped kids who must put on a happy face or they’ll be beaten when they get home for making Mama and Daddy look bad in front of other people?

“If we can’t beat the progressives today, we will beat them tomorrow in the numbers game. While they kill their children and stuff them in a green refuse container bound for the city dump, two of our kids multiply to become eight, ten, or nineteen in about 20 years. Think about that—two million homeschoolers today, ten to sixteen million in twenty years. If you can’t out-vote them today, out-breed them for tomorrow.”

I heard this kind of thing when I was a kid. Homeschooling has been more-or-less legal in America since 1985, when my family started homeschooling. That’s awfully close to 30 years – a generation and a half. So – where are all the thousands and thousands of homeschool graduates who, like me, now have children of their own that are school-age? Oh, wait, that’s the whole reason for this article.

Because these thousands and thousands of homeschool graduates who were going to take over the world haven’t done so yet.

Also, not everyone can have 8, 10, or 19 kids. There’s infertility, serial miscarriages, dangerous pregnancies, painful/uncomfortable pregnancies, financial and practical considerations such as housing and food and clothing, “kids” who are close to 40 and haven’t married yet (thank you, courtship!), and couples who choose not to have kids even though they probably could. And – assuming 2,000,000 is an accurate number, which I kinda doubt coming from Michael Pearl – how many of those 2,000,000 are homeschooling for non-patriarchal reasons? Dad’s (or mom’s) work schedule, convenience of other pursuits (did you know that Ross Lynch of the Disney Channel & the “R5” band is homeschooled? Also the Jonas Brothers?), peanut allergies, disabilities requiring frequent hospital stays and/or constant monitoring, learning disabilities, etc. I don’t think Michael should be counting on a great army of straight (mostly) white Christian conservatives just like him rising up from the ranks of homeschooling to rescue America!

Another point – doesn’t it irk you that if you aren’t following Michael Pearl and similar patriarchal teachers, then of course you’re killing your children & throwing them in dumpsters?! There’s no middle ground. I’ve seen this over and over as I read Libby Anne’s reviews of the Pearl materials. The Pearls see people as all being in one of two extremes – their way, or the way of absolutely horrifyingly evil.

“I know there are a few highly-publicized stories from time to time of homeschooling failures. There is an online militant group of ex-homeschoolers who hate the experience and are actively trying to denigrate us; but anything that grows large will accumulate detractors and dissenters—great enemies even.”

News flash, Michael Pearl – we are the homeschool graduates that were going to take over the world!

Remember us? From your last paragraph? Sure we’re 20 and 30 years older than the generation that you say will end up out-breeding them, but we were told that we would be the ones that would be the mighty army raised up to overwhelm the enemy with our godliness!

I am curious as to which “online militant group of ex-homeschoolers” he’s referring to, because last I checked, there are quite a few of them. There’s the Homeschoolers Anonymous blog. There’s the Recovering Grace blog. There are dozens and dozens of personal blogs that address everything from page-by-page reviews of the Pearl books to personal experiences of de-programming from the cult-like environments (or actual cults!) in which we were raised.

“Satan hates goodness and will find broken people who want everything to be as broken as they are. But we are not moved by their bitterness; we have too much joy and hope to be brought down by someone already way down near the bottom.”

Good thing that you, Michael Pearl, are so godly and perfect that you can so easily ignore the pain that has brought someone “down near the bottom.” What an arrogant – okay, I’ll stop there but you finish it up with your choice of words!

“Not every homeschool experience will be a great success. Some will be total failures; others will be good but not altogether good. In some cases, out of six children a family may lose one or two to the world, but they will have two or three that are exceptional human beings. The Devil is after us. The flesh is still weak. The world has not lost its luster. So there will be casualties. We are saddened by every failure, but we are not daunted or discouraged. The large number of beautiful successes keeps us charging ahead with confidence.”

Again – I heard when I was a kid that I was in the generation that would rise up and change America – and the world – back to godliness. Now Michael is admitting that only about 1/3 or maybe 1/2 of homeschool graduates will be “exceptional human beings.” Another 1/3 to 1/6 will be lost “to the world.” I guess the other 1/3 to 1/2 is just mediocre so they don’t count for either camp? Very convenient, too, that Michael and similar leaders get to designate what is “exceptional” and what is “worldly.” What is good to Michael Pearl may be considered carnal to the Bill Gothard camp. The Doug Phillips followers have yet another definition of what is good and godly. The Amish and the Mennonites and the Independent Fundamental Bible-Believing Baptists have their own definitions. It must be so nice to be a Michael Pearl or a Bill Gothard or a Doug Phillips and get to decide what is godly and what isn’t… that would make life so much easier on me, because I would be the godly one and all of you had better do what I say or you won’t be godly like me!

“It has been our ministry to help parents raise godly children from birth to grandkids. We have addressed every conceivable subject several times from different angles, written over twenty books and thousands of articles, read your letters and answered many of them. We have heard your stories and sought to understand problem areas and the things that make for consistent success. So one more time, I will address the reasons for the few who fail.”

“The few who fail”? I guess if he repeats it often enough, he can convince his followers that the “online militant group of ex-homeschoolers” he mentioned before is in fact just a couple of hotheads. Except that he just said that approximately 1/3 of homeschooled kids go “to the world,” and 1/3 apparently just disappear. That doesn’t sound like “a few” to me. That sounds like 2/3. That’s the majority. Like, 2 out of every 3 homeschooled kids is considered a failure.

If a friend recommended a restaurant that was so delicious and so wonderful and only 2 out of every 3 people got food poisoning… do you think I’d want to eat there?

“How many times have you heard me say, “More is caught than taught,” or, “Your attitude speaks louder than your words”? I have often said, “Children are rooted in the soil of their parents,” and, “You must model what you want your children to become.””

So if Johnny or Susie ends up going bad, it’s your fault, not Michael Pearl’s. Shame on you for being so imperfect.

“It is not enough to teach morals, good character, the Constitution, Creationism, and modesty. Goodness without God is humanism at its finest.”

This is exactly one of my big complaints about the ATI curriculum. It’s a bunch of rules, but with very little to no teaching on having a relationship with Jesus. In fact, Jesus is barely mentioned. The only major teaching I can remember about Jesus was “The Commands of Christ.” Emphasis on the commands. Still no relationship. Most of the Pearl family-related books, such as “To Train Up a Child,” and the “Help Meet” books, throw a few out-of-context Bible verses at you, interpret them for you, then tell you what you need to do in order to raise kids properly, or be a good wife, or keep your wife in line. Again, there is very little emphasis on a relationship with God.

To be fair, I have not read/listened to any of Michael Pearl’s doctrinal teachings, but the family books are by far the most popular of their materials, so that’s what I’m basing my complaint on. They’re just another manual, another to-do list, of what you must do so that you and your family will be godly, as defined by Michael and Debi Pearl.

“Right living without worship is the arrogance of Cain, unacceptable for its lack of faith. Satan can tolerate us being good as long as God does not receive the praise and worship. The world can appreciate and even praise our morals (it makes for good citizenship), but they despise us giving glory to the God of creation, who is the judge of all men.

“Good kids without God are just bait for the sharks of this world. Sometimes the bait in its naïveté wants to be eaten. We can control the family and our environment so as to protect our children from the world—until they get old enough to seek it out, and then the only protection they have is that which is within. If God is not within, they are empty vessels waiting to be filled with folly and fornication. Those who fall from the highest moral standards fall further and land harder, doing more damage.”

Or – maybe those kids grow up, get a taste of the “real world” at their jobs, in their communities, or in their marriages, and realize that the big bad world wasn’t really as awful as our parents thought it was.

“I have observed that most of the failures come from families who did not raise their children in a community of believers.”

Ah, here it is again! The failures aren’t the Pearls’ fault. Nope. Definitely not. The failures aren’t Bill Gothard’s fault. Or Doug Phillips’ fault. Or patriarchy itself’s fault.

It’s because you didn’t take your kids to church.

Except there’s this little thing called “home church,” that the ultra-conservative homeschoolers and/or ultra-controlling homeschoolers like because then there’s no Sunday School, no friends, no youth group to steal the teens’ hearts away, no rock music to invite demons into their souls, no teachers or pastors to offer a different opinion… if another family or two joins your home church, then they’re carefully screened and carefully controlled to make sure that they don’t bring in any worldly influences.

“Few families are completely balanced, able to supply all the needs of their kids.”

Shock – there’s one line in this article that I actually agree with? Kinda. I disagree with the word “few,” because all families are imperfect, because all parents are imperfect, because all people are imperfect. Still, I come within 3 letters of agreeing with this statement. Don’t worry, it won’t last long.

“But in a church of like-minded saints there is balance. The church of Jesus Christ is God’s supply line of ministry to the family. If your family is not part of a Bible-believing congregation of saints, your children are being deprived of God’s method of sanctification and ministry. If there is no church or community of believers within comfortable driving distance, then move to where you can hear the preaching of the word and participate in ministry, and your kids can socialize with other godly youth.”

My parents changed churches 5 times in my growing-up years, and a 6th time since I got married. Yes, that’s 7 different churches within my first 25 years of life. If you’re going to change churches every time you disagree with a church policy (not doctrine, *policy*) or every time they play a taped accompaniment with <gasp> drums with a soloist, then that’s not a very stable environment for your kids to grow up in. Remember that because you follow Michael Pearl, and/or Bill Gothard, and/or Doug Phillips, your family is one of the spiritually superior ones, so chances are, you’re more spiritual than your pastor or fellow church members. It’s difficult for a kid or teen with that mindset to be able to fully engage in and learn from church. Been there, done that.

Also, it’s very easy for Michael Pearl to tell families to “move to where you can hear the preaching of the word.” He’s never had to do that, because he is the preacher of the word. (Whose word, I’m not 100% sure, but I suspect he’s preaching Michael Pearl’s word more than God’s Word. Again, my only exposure to the Pearl philosophy has been through their parenting books, but there’s precious little true Bible in there!) It’s not exactly easy for a family, especially a large family, to just pack up & move to a new place and find a new job for dad that will allow mom to still stay home with the dozen kids, plus how about a house that they can afford debt-free that will fit all those people?

“But when everything else is right, if the husband and wife relationship is not a thing to be envied by the children, you can be sure that you are going to lose some if not all of your children to the world. The last you will hear of them as they look back over their shoulder is, “Hypocrite.” I have heard many say, “If that is what a Christian is, I don’t want anything to do with it.””

Nope. That’s not what turned me away from my parents’ brand of Christianity.

It was actually reading the Bible for myself (gasp… a WOMAN reading the Bible FOR HERSELF?!) and realizing that most of what they taught me IS NOT IN THE BIBLE.

“You need to have a family Proverbs time.”

Conveniently enough, one of the other articles in this newsletter just so happens to be about Proverbs Time! The Pearls are very good at self-promoting their other publications, as you’ll see in a minute.

“You need to “go to church.””

Why is “go to church” in quotes in the original article? You either go to church or you don’t. He doesn’t seem to using a quotation from another source. So these quotes just don’t make sense. Weird.

“You need to involve your family in ministering to others. You need to teach morals, character, and the Bible stories; but most of all, you need to look at your children and smile with delight, and they need to see you looking at your spouse and smiling with appreciation and thanksgiving. It is the difference between success and failure.”

Anyone else notice what this is? IT’S A TO-DO LIST.

If you can check off all these things – Proverbs Time, “go to church,” minister to others, and so on… then your kids will be a success. You can beat them within an inch of their lives (or beyond, as tragically has happened several times) and they will still grow up to love you and admire you and want to be just like you and raise their kids to also be just like you.

“Read again Created to Be His Help Meet and Created to Need a Help Meet. Listen to my FREE Romans messages online, and my series Sin No More, available through the NGJ web store.”

There it is – more self-promotion. Just in case you haven’t bought the “Help Meet” books, or the “Sin No More” series, then hurry your little self over to the No Greater Joy web store and send us money, stat! At least Romans is free… but it still seems a little tacky to be promoting his own materials as the solutions to all your problems! This also reminds me of Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, and the like. Excellent sales technique – create a problem, then conveniently offer a solution the customer can buy to solve that problem. When that doesn’t work, encourage them to buy more solutions.

This is what I think Michael is saying:

“Yes, some homeschooled kids are failures. It wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t the system’s fault – it was their parents’ fault because they didn’t follow my checklist! Here, buy more of my stuff & listen to me preach & at least your kids will be successful!”

This Present Darkness: A Review of M Dolon Hickmon’s “13:24”

* Read our exclusive interview with M Dolon Hickmon and enter our 13:24 Giveaway. *

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

The highest praise I can give M Dolon Hickmon’s debut novel is a trigger warning: While I believe that everyone everywhere needs to read this book, I must urge those with a history of physical or sexual abuse to approach this title with care. I personally had a nervous breakdown after I finished it; I couldn’t breathe because it felt like someone had punched me in the gut. And I could not console myself by saying, “This is fiction.” It isn’t, as anyone who has experienced child abuse will recognize.

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Hickmon gives readers an uncommon gift: a brief look behind the curtain of tragedy, a fleeting chance to understand a little more than we did.

In his prologue, the author explains his intentional use of real-life parallels, based on his childhood experiences and research into religiously-motivated child abuse. Also examined are the intersections between child trafficking rings, physical and sexual abuse, and fundamentalist cults. Woven with fictional elements, these create the book’s complex, dark, and brutal narrative.

13:24 is the story of two young men: Josh, a rising rock star, and Chris, the neglected teenaged son of a drug addict. Their stories begin distinct and distant, but as the novel develops, their pasts—and futures—are revealed to be connected in ways that both shock and disturb.

The story opens on a gruesome murder. While the body count rises, questions multiply as a small-town detective chases Chris as a murder suspect. Along the way, readers encounter events and characters with uncanny real-life parallels: Josh has flashbacks of being abused by his minister father, who resembles Michael Pearl and advocates harsh physical punishment; in another thread, a controversial parenting manual is linked to a spate of discipline-related deaths, bringing to mind real-life cases, like those of Hana Williams and Lydia Schatz. Elsewhere, an imprisoned child abuser is freed through the efforts of a “homeschool legal defense fund”, reminiscent of the Home School Legal Defense Association. At the same time, an oily “Christian psychologist” heads a James Dobson-esque media empire, with tendrils in state and national politics.

13:24 may be fiction, but it describes the lives of any number of people I have known. In its imagery, I recognize moments that friends and colleagues have breathed and suffered through. That is what made this novel so hard for me to read.

The book exposes what many religious and homeschooled children experience every day. Readers witness their pain and hear their cries. We see their misery multiplied when it is justified in the name of God; we see their tragedies covered up to save face and preserve religious “freedom”. And unlike a Frank Peretti novel, there are no angels rushing in to the save the day. We must pick up the pieces and fight this present darkness.

Despite the darkness, 13:24 has a poetic beauty. That beauty is in the narrative symmetry: a murder begins it and a murder concludes it. While death marks where the story begins and ends, there is a profound shift in what those deaths mean. This is the power of Hickmon’s prose: he delves deep into pain, into what he has described in his subtitle as “faith and obsession,” and shows us the human faces behind news headlines’ “monsters.”

13:24 is not easy reading. It is neither uplifting nor redemptive. It will crack your heart open, set your blood on fire, and turn your screams into music. Most significantly, the characters’ actions are neither justified nor condemned by the author. He simply allows them to exist. In doing so, Hickmon gives readers an uncommon gift: a brief look behind the curtain of tragedy, a fleeting chance to understand a little more than we did.

Mom’s Cycle Was on the Family Calendar

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on December 21, 2013.

I did not realize it was a homeschool thing. Or just a conservative thing. Or unique to some families.

I thought almost every man er family tracked mom’s cycle, and all the daughter’s cycles too.

Libby Anne recently wrote a post on Charting Your (Wife’s) Monthy Cycle. Here’s what she says:

[Michael Pearl] recently advised young husbands to track their wives’ cycles so they would know in advance when their wives were going to go all hormonal and ballistic on them—when it was their time of the month. Most of those who commented responded in horror to Michael’s suggestion, and I was horrified too—but in my case I was also struck by the familiarity.

My father tracks my mother’s cycle on his own personal calendar.

I read her paragraph two times just to see if I read this correctly. Do Libby Anne’s readers not find tracking your wife’s cycle familiar? Every day I learn something new about other families. Because I thought EVERY FAMILY.

As a kid, my dad tracked my mom’s cycle on the family calendar.

Oh yes.

There were a couple of reasons for this. First of all, Bill Gothard actually teaches this. And my dad got validation from Gothard (and as I found out from Libby Anne, from the Pearl’s too).

In his 1986 volume, Research in Principles of Life Advance Seminar Textbookon page 170-171, Gothard suggests “that a man keep track of his wife’s menstrual cycle and use it as a reminder of the sufferings and death of Jesus, then quotes Isaiah 53:4-5. ”

Second, my dad told us that he needed to prepare himself for the worst. He used to joke around, “It’s day 20, it’s time for me to go out of town.” Folks, my mom’s period was on the dang calendar.

Oh, gosh, I was traumatized by it.

By the time I was a teen and had regular cycles,  not only would I not tell my parents when I was having my period, but also I would hide all evidence that I was having it. For example, if I left behind trash in the bathroom trash can, and one or the other of my parents saw it (which did happen, and yes mom watches the trash can apparently), I would be mocked and teased.

So I had to get better and better at hiding it. With the small house and number of people, I’d have to sneak out to dump my trash in the middle of the night because during the day, I could not get the trash out of the house without somebody noticing.

Literally, I was terrified that one of my parents might discover I was having my period because I did not want to go through what my mom did.

Every time I stood up to my mom, Dad asked if I was having my period (as far as this goes, Mom would too). I would want to smack him back and say, “No, Mom was really rude to me.”

Then he’d just say she was having her period, and I should be more nice.

Honestly, yes, crazy

So Libby Anne’s post reminded me that maybe this is crazy logic coming out of certain families, or from certain teachers, such as Bill Gothard and Michael Pearl. But maybe it’s not everyone.

What did your dads do?

An Open Letter to Debi Pearl

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on October 24, 2013.

Dear Debi,

I was very excited when I read your article of this past August, titled “The Roland Study.” In that article, you began with this opening paragraph:

My grandson Roland, who just turned one, has taught me more about the development of babies and toddlers than I learned my first sixty-plus years of life. It is not that he is such a fine teacher; it’s just that, now that I’m a grandmother, not responsible for meeting the daily needs of my children, I can seriously focus on what makes him tick:  how much he understands, what causes him joy or anxiety or fear, his interests and responses—and, most importantly, what a child is capable of learning at various ages.

I am glad to know that you, like me, have become fascinated by listening to children and trying to understand what makes them tick.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? I am writing because I am concerned about your husband’s book, To Train Up A Child. I understand that he stands by what he wrote there, but I have read the book multiple times and feel that the central messages of that book run contrary to what you wrote in your article.

Let me offer some examples.

First is the way one views the natural behavior and needs of infants and toddlers. You urge parents to “always assume your cranky baby is sleepy, sick, or bored, and do something to alleviate the problem or meet the need.” This is wonderful advice! Yet in to To Train Up A Child, Michael has this to say of a cranky baby:

As the mother, holding her child, leans over the crib and begins the swing downward, the infant stiffens, takes a deep breath and bellows. The battle for control has begun in earnest. Someone is going to be conditioned. Either the tender-hearted mother will cave in to this self-centered demand (thus training the child to get his way by crying) or the infant is allowed to cry (learning that crying is counterproductive). Crying because of genuine physical need is simply the infant’s only voice to the outside world; but crying in order to manipulate the adults into constant servitude should never be rewarded. Otherwise, you will reinforce the child’s growing self-centeredness, which will eventually become socially intolerable.

In other words, you say that cranky babies should be assumed to be sleepy, sick, or bored, but Michael urges parents to view a cranky baby as selfish or rebellious.

Which is it? Should a parent respond to a cranky baby with love and compassion, as you urge, trying to find a way to meet that baby’s needs, or should a parent view a cranky baby as “self-centered” working to “manipulate”?

Next is the issue of actually listening to your children. In your article you write that, as a result of “studying” your grandson Roland, you felt as though you were “quietly listening to him speak before he could actually talk.” Yet nowhere in To Train Up A Child does Michael focus on teaching parents to parents to listen to their small children, whether they can talk or not. In fact, the word “listen” appears only three times in the book. It once refers to a girl listening to train whistles, and once to a father listening to his daughters sing, and the third time it is the child who must listen, not the parent:

However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.

In other words, you urge parents to listen to small children, to try to hear what they’re trying to say, but Michael focuses on forcing them into submission without ever mentioning listening to them.

Which is it? Should parents listen to their children, even young babies and toddlers, or should children be the only ones to listen, required to “surrender” because the parent is “bigger” and “tougher”?

Finally, when speaking of your study of Roland, unable yet to walk, you state that “I could clearly see that he knew what was happening and wished he could join the parade of feet running here and there.  This baby boy was frustrated by his baby body.” Yet nowhere in his book does Michael point out that children might be frustrated, whether by the limitations of their bodies or by anything else. For instance, Michael states this:

How many times have we observed the grocery store arena? A devious little kid sits up in the command seat of the shopping cart exercising his “childhood rights” to unlimited self-indulgence. The parent fearfully but hopelessly steers around the tempting “trees of knowledge of good and evil.” Too late! The child spies the object of his unbridled lust. The battle is on. The child will either get what he wants or make the parent miserable. Either way, he conquers.

In other words, you urge parents to consider that they’re children’s actions may be the result of natural frustrations, but Michael seems completely unaware that this could be the case

— or else he simply doesn’t care.

Which is it? Should babies and small children be assumed to be rebellious and selfish, or should parents consider that their children’s behavior might be the result of natural frustration, like Roland’s frustration with not being able to walk? Why does Michael not address the fact that the child in his anecdote might be hungry, or overstimulated, or tired?

I know this may be hard for you to hear, Debi, but many parents who read To Train Up A Child come away viewing their children’s normal behavior as sinful and interpreting their children’s natural needs as selfish as a result. They don’t come away with the idea that they should listen to their children or try to understand what makes their children tick, because that’s not in there.

Let me take a moment to tell you a bit of my own story. When my daughter Sally was ten months old, she discovered some potted plants on our coffee table. I told her “no” but she would not give up her interest in them, and, as a result of reading To Train Up A Child, I saw that as disobedience and the beginning of life-long rebellion. So I began to switch her hand every time she touched the plants. Nothing worked, and our relationship suffered. It was only when I called the contest off and took some time to try to understand Sally’s perspective—something never suggested in To Train Up A Child, by the way—that everything changed and my relationship with my daughter began to blossom. Rather than viewing her actions as disobedience or sin or selfishness, I sought to meet her at her level and understand what made her tick.

You said in your post that you have learned more in the last year about the development of babies and toddlers than you learned in the entire first six decades of your life.

Debi, I’m asking you, please reread To Train Up A Child and examine the advice given there with your new understanding in mind.

Ask yourself what message parents will take away from the way babies and toddlers are portrayed, described, and represented. Ask yourself about how articles like this and this and this teach parents to view and understand children. And then ask yourself whether it might be time to pull production of the book.

Thank you for listening,

Libby Anne

How Doug Phillips Wreaked Havoc on My Family

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on November 5, 2013.

My parents homeschooled me K-12, and during those years they fell under the influence of several Christian leaders who spread toxic dogma and find their following within the Christian homeschool movement. My parents never followed Gothard, but they did follow both Michael Pearl and Doug Phillips. I’ve talked a lot about how their devotion to Michael Pearl taught them to think that if they raised me “right” they could ensure that I stayed on the straight and narrow, copying my parents in my beliefs and in my lifestyle. But I think it’s worth fleshing out what my parents adherence to Vision Forum did to my life, because, well, let me put it this way:

Without Doug Phillips, I would have been spared an incredible amount of pain, grief, and yes, broken family relationships.

One of the signature teachings of Doug Phillips and Vision Forum is the idea that unmarried adult daughters are bound by God to obey their fathers. Yes, obey. I need to be extremely clear here: My parents did not believe this before they came under the influence of Doug Phillips. While Phillips is not the only person teaching this, he is, completely and totally, where my parents got this belief. I actually do not think my parents would have latched onto this idea had Doug Phillips never mounted a pulpit. One reason for this is that Michael Pearl himself has spoken out in recent years against the patriarchal ideas put out by Vision Forum. Had my parents not already bought the Vision Forum line regarding adult daughters, they certainly wouldn’t have gotten those ideas from the Pearls.

I considered not going to college. Oh, I came from an upper middle class home, college was always the expectation, and I’ve written before about why my parents did not follow Doug Phillips’ argument that parents should not send their daughters away to college. But I personally very strongly considered these arguments against college. I was enthralled by Vision Forum, which seemed to offer everything I’d been taught to want all tied up in a neat little package. I spoke with some friends, including some who tried to talk me out of going to college and did not go themselves based on very similar ideas. If things had been slightly different, Doug Phillips’ rise to prominence would have robbed me of a college education. And you know what?

There are women for whom this is exactly what happened.

I remember the first time I disagreed with my father on a theological point. I was an adult and was attending college away from home, but my parents still held me to be under my father’s authority—as had I. I also remember when my father ordered me to break off my relationship with Sean and cease any and all contact with him. Again, I was an adult at the time and was attending college away from home, but my parents still held me to be under my father’s authority—and here I bucked. I refused to place my mind and my heart in my father’s hands, for safekeeping until he would hand them over to a man of his choosing.

Do you know what happened? A tidal wave of Vision Forum materials entered our home.

Oh yes, we’d already had plenty, but more began arriving day by day. I have a very distinct memory of running errands with my mom while she played a CD informing me that as an unmarried daughter, I was commanded by God to obey my father whether I understood, agreed, or wanted to. Tears were streaming down my mother’s cheeks as we drove from store to store running errands, and at each store she would order me to stay in the car and keep listening. She had a captive audience and she knew it. I have a very distinct memory of my mother, tears running down her cheeks once again, ordering me to take any theological question to my father, and to accept and believe what he told me.

This period of my life was the most painful I have ever experienced, and you know what? The most toxic of the beliefs driving this excruciatingly painful period of my life came into our home and into our family by way of Doug Phillips.

If my parents had accepted that I was an adult and that while they might not like my beliefs or choices, I was no longer duty bound to obey them, this period would have been much smoother. Yes, it would have still been tough. They had expected to produce a clone of their beliefs and lifestyle and that didn’t work out. But they wouldn’t have thought they had the right to try to make me obey my father. They wouldn’t have interpreted my actions as those of a willful daughter rebelling against her father’s rightful and god-given authority over her. My father wouldn’t have felt the need to formally put me “out from under his authority” for disobedience to his commands and my mother wouldn’t have spent the next six months convincing him that he had no biblical mandate for doing that.

My family was utterly rent to shreds during that period, and all because I deigned to think that I, as an adult, ought to be able to make up my own mind and make my own choices. I know he is not to blame for all of it, but I lay much of what happened during that time at the feet of Doug Phillips. That man and his ministry have caused me and my family an incredible amount of pain, and you know what? It wasn’t just us. Doug Phillips and the organizations he founded have wreaked this same havoc over family after family after family.

The rot that emanates from this man and his teachings goes deep in the Christian homeschool movement.

And that is why I care.

It turns out that even as Doug Phillips was preaching a doctrine of male authority over women in general and adult daughters more particular, he was out there making a lie of his entire premise. Because see, this entire thing is based on the idea that women are the weaker vessel, vulnerable and in need of godly male protection. But if Doug Phillips, Godly Male Protector Extraordinaire, can’t even remain faithful to the wife he is supposed to be protecting and shepherding, what does that say? And do you know what pictures are disappearing off of the Vision Forum sites? Those of the young adult daughters of Phillips’ colleagues and friends. If it turns out that Phillips conducted his affair with one of those young woman, what does that say of the reliability of the system he spent his life building, the system he convinced so many Christian homeschooling parents was the godly solution to a dangerous world?

Let me finish by quoting Lana of Wide Open Ground:

It’s not the affair that irks me. Whatever there. We all get messy. It’s that he said I couldn’t be trusted to go to college. And he said I couldn’t be trusted to be pure before marriage if went on dates or to college or whatever. . . .

This is what Mr. Philips needs to do.

He needs say look folks, I get it now. I’m messed up human like the rest of us, men aren’t better than women, and assuredly men in Christian leadership aren’t better than a lay woman. In fact, most of you are probably doing better than me.

And then he needs to get out of his daughters’ way.

Yeah, that right there. He needs to say it.

(Not) An Open Letter To The Pearls: Samantha Field’s Thoughts

Samantha Field blogs at Defeating the Dragons, and she was recently featured in a Christianity Today story entitled, “Finding Faith After Spiritual Indoctrination.” This piece was originally published on her own blog, and is reprinted with her permission. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing” and “The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence.”

So, a friend of mine sent me this post by Michael and Debi Pearl the other day. I encourage you to go read it, just so that you have some context for the following rant and can follow along. There’s a bunch of stuff that’s wrong with this article, and I’m just going to unload both barrels here. Also, in case I get something wrong, because that is totally possible. I’m ranting, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want clarity or cogency or accuracy. If you think that I’ve blown something out of proportion, and you would like to point out a subtlety or nuance, feel free. Or, you can get up here on my soapbox and rant with me. That’s cool, too.

Every family emits its own light. After viewing a family for just five seconds, I know so much about them. After being introduced to each member of the family, they are an open book.

This is from Michael, and all I have to say is No. Just — no. Five seconds? Really? Everyone is just an open book to you? I shouldn’t be shocked anymore at the unbelievable arrogance and condescension Michael Pearl emits, but somehow, every time, it’s like someone slapped me in the face with a fish. Yes, some people are perceptive, and are capable of accurate first impressions– but this claim goes right along with Micheal’s exalted view of himself as a self-proclaimed “prophet.”

The man was about fifty, certainly not a looker.

Now we’re in one of Debi’s sections, and all this does is remind me of Debi’s rather extensive story about the “one ugly hillbilly” woman in Created to be his Help Meet. This observation has absolutely no bearing on the story she’s about to relate — except as possibly to judge the “Old Dude” (what a demeaning way to refer to someone) for not conforming to her physical standards, and to judge the young woman who appears later for having an emotional connection with someone who isn’t a “looker.” There’s no logical explanation for this — it’s just more of Debi’s self-righteous judgment spilling out of her. Both Michael and Debi have demonstrated, throughout the sum total of their careers, an astonishing lack of compassion and simple human empathy.

Right here, at our church, among all these righteous families! I stood amazed at the audacity of the human race.

In other words, how dare people with actual real-life problems dare show themselves in our church! How dare someone who doesn’t conform to our little universe of perfection! How dare you come in here, and violate our incomprehensibly narrow view of the world!

I tried to ask the girl questions to ascertain the cause of this odd arrangement, but he answered as if the questions were directed to him, and the young lady deferred to him as if he were her voice of conscience. I thought that unless her father had truly been abusive, she should return to her family, but I was making no progress engaging her to consider her options.

Back to Michael. This is where I agree with him — this interaction shows that something about their relationship is off. The married man (I refuse to refer to him as “Old Dude”) is forbidding this young woman to even speak, and that seems to be something that is the standard for them. Either because of the married man in this situation, or because of her abusive home, she’s been silenced. She’s literally voiceless here. But this is the only time anyone even mentions this. It stands out to them as a little odd, but not that odd. Because women are expected to let men “lead.” If you’re going to be a “good Christian woman,” silence is expressly demanded by people like the Pearls. So it’s only a little weird, instead of the gigantic flaming red flag it should have been.

And this is one of the places where Michael builds on a long-standing understanding in these types of circles, and you can see it in the words “truly abusive.” This is so incredibly loaded. Because, to Michael, who endorses extreme physical punishment that borders on the sociopathic, “true abuse” would have to be on the level of breaking bones before he was convinced. Emotional and psychological trauma– don’t even exist. Because the ramifications of emotional abuse are just “bitterness” and “un-forgiveness” to the Pearls. Michael would voluntarily send an adult woman back into an abusive situation in order for her to be “under her father’s protection” than ever admit that a “Christian father” is capable of abusing his children. Psychological trauma– just spiritual and heart issues. And her “options”? This girl doesn’t have options. She’s not even allowed to speak for herself– which could indicate that she’s being manipulated into believing she doesn’t have options. When a woman can’t even talk how can she make an actual decision?

At this point in the story, Debi has burst in with an unexplained prophecy, declaring that she’d heard from God, and was speaking with his authority. She gives no context, and disappears as quickly as she came. Then, she sits down the woman for a talk. She does seem to give the married couple and the abused woman some benefit of the doubt– at first.

Undoubtedly his relationship with his wife was already barren before the girl came along, but the old wife had now become the second woman.

What the. Crap on a cracker. Debi– seriously?! You hear this from God, too? A voice come booming out of heaven to tell you that their marriage was “undoubtedly barren”? Which, if you’ve read Debi’s book is without exception always the woman’s fault. If this married man is developing a emotionally intimate connection, it’s obviously because his wife doesn’t smile enough, or doesn’t know how to put her makeup on. Clearly.

I had to try to help Little Miss see the error of her ways.

To most young brides the husband appears clumsy and unfeeling. But as the wife continues to obey and reverence her young husband, he will grow in appreciation for her soul, and in time learn to care for her emotional and spiritual needs.

I explained to Little Miss that having even a small part of this “mysterious relationship” with another woman’s husband, especially in her own home, in front of her, is exceedingly cruel and evil.

Already touching her spirit, I knew what the answer would be, but I wanted the girl to understand she was indeed not innocent.

If there was ever going to be any change to this situation then she had to understand the full ugliness of her actions, so I drove homehow depraved and self-centered she was to do such a thing as to interfere with the sacredness of marriage.

Being cloistered might have been bad for her, but now she was partyto damaging the sacred.

Girlie, it will come to you soon enough, and you will need a place to flee.Don’t come here. The invitation for a place to stay is closed. I would not trust a ‘regret’ girl around this ministry.”

This should speak for itself.

Debi doesn’t care about the abuse this woman has experienced. It doesn’t even matter– it only enters as a “but” statement. The fact that the married man in this situation talks about being “highly skilled in the art of caressing souls” straight to Micheal’s face doesn’t matter. They’re not even capable of picking up on the GIGANTIC BILLBOARD-SIZED RED FLAGS that should tell them that the man in this situation is taking advantage of a tender, fragile, desperate and abused young woman.

Because it’s the wife’s fault for not reverencing her husband, or not fulfilling him, or not having sex with him enough, or not keeping herself pretty enough. And then it’s the abused woman’s fault. Her fragility, the fact that this married man deliberately chose a woman sheltered enough to not understand exactly how he was going to “caress her soul.” He’s vulnerable because of his wife, and the abused woman is preying on his vulnerability. No, he’s not emotionally manipulative, or taking advantage of this situation at all. It’s all the woman’s fault, because being abused by her parents and then manipulated by another man (which she’s probably been taught since infancy is a legitimate authority over her, simply because he’s a man) doesn’t make a lick of difference.

And then comes the hammer. Debi tells her that she will absolutely not help an abused woman when this woman eventually realizes that she traded the frying pan for the fire. Because she’s responsible for the married man manipulating her. She’s cruel, evil, depraved, and self-centered. She’s not hurting, she’s not lost, she’s not desperate for someone to realize that she’s a person, and that she needs help.

Michael and Debi Pearl– YOU are cruel, evil, depraved, and self-centered. You’ve been blinded by the power you’ve wrested from innocent people by being false prophets. You are completely and desperately lacking of any form of common sense or sound judgment.

The article goes on (with Michael inserting an insignificant caveat about how holy and righteous he was, and how men should stay away from women, because, well, women will seduce them away from God), but the story is over. They switch into analysis mode, and I just . . . can’t.

If you are a young woman in a cloistered situation, beware of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Staying in the frying pan is much to be preferred, for you can always jump when a clean alternative shows itself.

Samantha hits her head on her desk repeatedly at the sheer idiocy and ignorance.

Do they never even stop and listen to themselves? Are they so blind to reality that they’re incapable of understanding how ridiculous a statement like this is? When you’ve grown up in a “cloistered” home– by their definition, a family so sheltered they can’t tell “right from wrong,” how the hell do you think an infantalized woman (or man, for that matter) is capable of being aware of the difference between “clean” and supposedly “unclean” alternatives? They’ve been purposely and deliberately shielded from having that kind of power.

Micheal and Debi Pearl are dangerous.

People listen to them, people respect them, people make excuses for them when their teachings are responsible for the slaughter of innocent children. Their loyal followers say that reactions like mine are exaggerated, that I’m just not giving the benefit of the doubt. If I’d really read all of their books, if I’d actually paid attention to what they advocate, I’d be fine with them. I’m just not understanding their true message, which is obviously of love and directly from God.

No.

have read their books– I’ve read every single last one of their books multiple times. I idolized them as a child. They were just so brazenly honest, so overwhelmingly clear– how could Michael be anything but a prophet sent from God to teach the fundamentalists how to raise their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?

But as I got older, I started realizing, with a mounting horror, just how clearly evil their teachings are. What they advocate fosters and nurtures abusive homes. They explicitly encourage women to stay with physically abusive husbands and utterly dismiss the existence of marital rape and don’t even acknowledge that men emotionally and verbally abuse their wives.

Debi repeatedly tells women that if their husbands are abusing them, it’s clearly their fault. They’re just not reverencing their husbands enough. Reverence your husband, and he won’t yell. Reverence your husband, and he won’t beat you. Reverence your husband, and ignore the fact that he’s raping you when you don’t want to have sex– because you’re not even allowed to say no. If you say no, he’ll just go sleep with someone else.

And Michael– spank your child until he obeys. Spank your child with an ever-increasing-in-size pipe until he instantaneously submits to your every uttered command. Spank your children until they are cowed. Spank your children until they would never even think of disobeying you. Because that’s what’s going to teach them about how to obey God.

The only language the Pearls are capable of speaking is a language of violence and abuse.

The Breaking of a Child, A Story of Near Disaster

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on April 25, 2013.

*****

The next day was Tuesday. Hope did not say please and so did not have breakfast, lunch, or her bottle. By late afternoon Hope had gone for forty-eight hours—two straight days—with nothing to eat or drink but a single six ounce bottle of milk. By that time she was beginning to act strangely. Her usual vivaciousness had disappeared, replaced with a sort of melancholy. She lay on the couch listlessly, uninterested in playing or even reading books. 

*****

I’ve hesitated from sharing this story because of how personal it is, but I think it needs to be told because it illustrates perfectly the danger of the Pearls’ teachings. See, when I first read about the death of Lydia Schatz, my immediate thought was that I understood how something like that could have happened. The Schatzes followed the discipline methods of Michael and Debi Pearl, who teach parents to view their relationship with their children as a battle for dominance that they must win. Once a contest is started, the Pearls say, you can’t back down. You can’t blink. My parents are also Pearl followers, and there was one time when a situation got similarly out of hand, but in their case, mercifully, they blinked. Their basic humanity got to them and overrode the Pearls’ advice; they got scared by what was happening, by what they were doing to their child, and they backed down.

My parents didn’t follow the Pearls’ discipline methods because they wanted to do us harm—they followed them because they wanted what was best for us. When the Pearls’ discipline manual came to them highly recommended by their Christian homeschooling friends, they read it and found its reliance on Bible verses and (simplistic) theological arguments convincing. The Christian homeschooling movement puts parents under intense pressure to turn out perfect children, and in that environment books like this seem to make sense. But even the best of intentions can have disastrous results—and that is what the Pearls’ book does, it takes parents’ best intentions and spins them into something twisted.

In general, my parents’ adherence to the Pearls’ discipline methods meant that we children were not allowed to show a spark of defiance toward them and were expected to be 110% obedient 110% of the time. Bad attitudes were not allowed, and obedience was expected to be immediate, complete, cheerful, and without complaint—anything short of that was disobedience. When we were disobedient or defiant—or were seen as being disobedient or defiant—we were spanked with a wooden paddle until we were sorry, repentant, and compliant. We learned quickly that things were easiest for us if we just rolled over quickly, so we generally did.

But the story I want to tell here is the time my parents ended up in a battle of the wills with one of my sisters, Hope, who was only eighteen months old at time—a contest of the wills that quickly spun out of control. Now I say that there was a contest of the wills, but I actually think it was a one-sided contest—I think my sister was confused and bewildered, not defiant or rebellious. But it didn’t matter. Her actions were interpreted as rebellion and that was all that mattered. This story is illustrative of the danger of the Pearls’ child rearing methods.

It all started one Sunday at supper time. Hope had recently gained the ability to lisp a little “peez,” so my parents held her plate of food out to her as she sat in her high chair and asked her to say please before they would give it to her. They weren’t trying to make any special sort of point or anything, just to teach her to be polite and ask nicely for things. But for some reason, she wouldn’t do it, and my parents interpreted that as a sign of willfulness on her part. They told her she couldn’t have her supper unless she said please—so she sat and went without, watching us eat our warm spaghetti, steaming garlic bread, and fresh spinach salad as the delicious smells wafted over her high chair.

Hope no longer breastfed, but my parents still gave her bottles of milk. That evening my mother bathed Hope along with the two or three siblings closest in age to her, and then dressed her in her warm footie pajamas. Then, as usual, she prepared a bottle, this time asking her to say please. But Hope would not say please. After some cajoling, my mother reluctantly snuggled her into bed in her crib, empty stomach and all.

In order to explain the mindset my parents were operating on here, I’m going to quote directly from Michael Pearl’s To Train Up a Child (p. 11):

Be Assured of Two Things

First, almost every small child will have at least one time in his life when he will rebel against authority and attempt to take hold of the reins…. This act of stubbornness is profound—amazing—a wonder that one so young could be so dedicated and persevering in rebellion. It is the kind of determination you would expect to find in a hardened revolutionary facing enemy indoctrination classes. Parents who are trained to expect it, and are prepared to persevere, will still be awed at the strength of the small child’s will.

Second, if you are consistent in training, this attempt at total dominance will come only once in a child’s life, usually around two years old. If you win the confrontation, the child wins the game of character development. If you weaken and allow the child to dominate, the child loses everything but his will to dominate. You must persevere for the sake of the child. His will to dominate must be dominated by the rule of law (that’s you.)

Based on the Pearls’ teachings, my parents believed that they were now engaged in a contest of wills with Hope, a contest of wills that revolved around her refusal to say “please.” If they gave in and let her get away with that refusal, they believed, all would be lost, and much damage done. On the other hand, if they won the contest, they would put Hope on the path to a happy, healthy, and productive life. They could not lose. They could not back down. They had to conquer Hope’s will and refuse to let her dominate them.

The next morning at breakfast, Hope was put in her high chair, dressed in fresh clothes and hair tied up in a bow, and offered food—a warm bowl of oatmeal topped with brown sugar—if she would say please. But for whatever reason, Hope would not say please. So once again, she watched us eat while getting nothing for herself. And later that morning she was once again offered a bottle on the condition that she must say please, and once again she did not say it, so once again she went without. Lunch came and passed—peanut butter jelly sandwiches with pretzels and carrots—still without a please.

We children began to see it as a challenge—a challenge to do whatever we could to get Hope to comply and say please. We kept her bottle handy and again and again over the course of the day we offered it to her, urging her to comply and say please. In between our attempts we got out her toys and played with her, enjoying her babyish smiles. Finally, sometime that afternoon, Hope lisped out something that sounded vaguely like a little “peez” and was therefore given the bottle. She drank it down—all six ounces of milk—as though she was famished, which of course she was. By that time she hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in twenty-four hours.

But then supper came and Hope once again would not say please for her food. Once again she sat in her high chair and watched us eat, unable to avoid the aroma—and my mom is a very good cook. Once snuggled into her pajamas, Hope was again offered a night time bottle—and again she would not say please. My parents concluded that while they may have won one battle—she had surrendered her will and had said please for a bottle that afternoon—the war was still on, and they must win it. And so Hope went to bed hungry, having only had a single six ounce bottle of milk that entire day. As she read a bedtime book to my small siblings, Hope among them, I could tell that my mom was concerned—but determined.

My parents did not feel that they were starving Hope, because they were quick to offer her food—and tasty, tempting food—if she would only say please. Their interpretation of what was happening was that Hope had gone on a hunger strike, a hunger strike she could end at any time by simply obeying and saying please. The problem wasn’t with them or their actions, it was an internal battle within Hope. All Hope had to do was to stop being rebellious and submit her will to theirs, and it would be over.

The next day was Tuesday. Hope did not say please and so did not have breakfast, lunch, or her bottle. By late afternoon Hope had gone for forty-eight hours—two straight days—with nothing to eat or drink but a single six ounce bottle of milk. By that time she was beginning to act strangely. Her usual vivaciousness had disappeared, replaced with a sort of melancholy. She lay on the couch listlessly, uninterested in playing or even reading books. I sat and held her in my arms, worried. My siblings were worried too, but Hope seemed barely aware of our attempts to coax her to say please, offering a bottle as a reward.

I knew nothing other than the Pearls’ discipline methods, and had been taught since I was small that if parents didn’t break their children’s wills while small, those children would grow up to be miserable and unhappy. I believed all of this. This entire situation, then, was confusing for me, because I saw the pain my sister was in but I still believed in the system, still believed that her pain was justified and necessary. If only she would just say please, I thought. But another voice nagged me: Is she even able to anymore? What happens if she doesn’t? When will this end? And yet, I didn’t do anything. I wish now that I had—that I had secreted her some food and water, or attempted to intercede with my parents. I wish that my sense of compassion had overridden my brainwashing and belief in the system. But it didn’t.

That evening Hope didn’t say please for either supper or a bottle. She acted tired and didn’t make eye contact, so mom put her to bed early. By this time, my parents were becoming extremely concerned about the situation. In some sense, they were stuck. They believed, based on the Pearls, that if they gave in and gave Hope food or a bottle they would be allowing her to conquer them—they would be submitting their will to hers rather than the other way around. The Pearls teach that even giving in once—just once—will set back everything that had been gained and even threaten to ruin the child forever. And yet, here was their eighteen-month-old daughter, still toddling and barely starting to lisp words, wasting away before their eyes. The atmosphere was tense, and I think in retrospect that they were frightened.

The next morning, everything was different.

See, that night my mother had a dream. She dreamed that Hope died, and that Child Protective Services was called to investigate, and that they took the rest of us children away. They say that dreams are our subconscious processing and regurgitating, and I think this was an obvious case of that. But my mother’s interpretation was different. She told us that the dream was sent by God, sent to tell her to give in and feed Hope, give her her bottle, and end the contest. Thankfully, Hope was still strong enough to eat and take a bottle, and her recovery didn’t take long.

My mother’s dream gave my parents an out—an opportunity to give in and cede what they saw as a contest of wills even though the Pearls strongly advised parents against ever doing this. Yet my parents did not reject the Pearls wholesale. Believing they couldn’t end the contest entirely, they instead changed the requirement—they now asked that Hope say please only for snacks or dessert, withholding them if she did not. About three days after they ended the main contest, Hope lisped “peez” for a Popsicle, and regularly did so for snacks and desserts after that. Part of me wonders if it was a developmental thing, and if my parents assumed she was able to say please on command a week or so before she was actually able to.

This story illustrates the way the Pearls’ teachings can lead parents to become caught up in real or perceived contests of the will with their children, and result in those contests spiraling out of control. When parents believe that they can’t back down ever, no matter what, without threatening their children’s temporal and eternal well-being, we shouldn’t be surprised when some parents, like the Schatzes, refuse to back down and instead persist in continuing the battle until the contest escalates to a disastrous end. It doesn’t even take bad parents for this to happen, it simply takes well-meaning parents following toxic advice. And this, perhaps, is the most dangerous thing of all about the Pearls’ teachings.

My own parents continued to endorse the Pearls’ discipline methods even after this incident, but nothing like it ever happened again. I think maybe this incident frightened my parents, and shook a little bit of common sense into them. Perhaps it took a small edge off of the infallibility they imputed on the Pearls, or perhaps it simply awoke a little nagging doubt in the back of their mind, doubt that served as a check on things getting out of control. Either way, when I recall this incident and look at my sister Hope, now in her teens, I am reminded of the danger the Pearls’ teachings pose to both parent and child. And even after all these years, telling this story hasn’t been easy.