By Candace Birkelbach

Killeen Daily Herald

Michael Pearl, founder of an evangelist group that prominently provides advice on child care, describes his teachings on physical chastisement as "good old-fashioned common sense."

Opponents of the No Greater Joy Ministry refer to the physical chastisement, or spanking, as corporal punishment.

Pearl and his wife are coming to speak at Memorial Baptist Church on Wednesday.

People who disagree with the Pearls have devoted Web sites to criticize their punishment advice, which is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible and the use of "the rod" as a spanking instrument.

Pearl, a minister in Tennessee, said Wednesday he started publishing books and giving seminars when parishioners from his church started asking his advice on raising children. The Pearls have five children of their own.

The Pearls preach on dozens of child-training topics ranging from bed-wetting to sibling rivalry.

The topic on the group's Web site, "The Rod," has probably generated the most controversy even though Pearl said it accounts for about 1 percent of the content on the Web site.

"The Rod" section provides articles written by the Pearls about what "spanking really is and how to use it constructively."

The article, "In defense of Biblical Chastisement, Part 1," is designed to be a resource to defend those who believe the Bible instructs them to chasten their disobedient children with a rod.

Pearl quotes a Bible verse to align with his defense of chastisement:

"He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Prov. 13:24)."

Pearl then uses Webster's dictionary to define the word rod as "a straight slender stick growing on or cut from a tree or bush."

Rachel Miller, an opponent who wrote from Illinois to the Herald about the Pearls' upcoming visit, said "the rod" described in the book of Proverbs is meant to be symbolic.

"The rod is a symbol of authority and guidance, like a shepherd guiding his sheep or a king governing his people," Miller wrote in an e-mail to the Herald.

Miller said there is absolutely no biblical basis for spanking.

Pearl explained that the media and liberalism have diminished the use of chastisement for training children by labeling it as "corporal punishment."

Pearl writes, "If the Federal or State agencies take me to court over advocating corporal chastisement, this will be part of my defense."

Pearl said children love the biblical training method and are not fearful but bold and creative. He said discipline by parents should always be loving and gentle.

Doyle White, a pastor at Memorial Baptist Church, said a parent should always spank out of love, not anger.

"Spanking is the number one option for an uncreative and uncaring person," White said. "It should be withheld and reserved for a last resort when everything else has failed."

White said parents should spank children for betterment of the child, not for their own satisfaction or sense of self-control.

On his Web site, Pearl advises parents on what devices and the amount of pressure to use for chastisement.

"A swift swat with a light, flexible instrument will sting without bruising or causing internal damage," Pearl wrote on the Web site.

Pearl said he recommends using a -inch piece of plastic tubing, like tubing used in an icemaker, about a foot long, to spank children with.

"They come cheaper by the dozen and can be widely distributed in every room and vehicle," Pearl wrote. "Just the high profile of their accessibility keeps the kids in line."

Pearl said parents should not use their hands to spank children and gave some situational examples of when children need chastisement.

If a child knocks a food bowl off the table, a parent should first tell the child "no" and put the food back, Pearl said.

"If they keep doing it, get your rod out and swat her on the knuckles when she reaches to push the bowl off the table," Pearl said.

He said the child will have a sudden realization of what "no" means.

"When the child is rebelling, she's practicing to be a little hippie or deadhead," Pearl added. "The rod is a way of creating an accurate reflection of a world that has consequences."

Pearl said chastisement should only be used on children who have developed mental processes for understanding consequences.

He said some mothers begin when a child is breast-feeding.

"If the baby is biting too hard, you can pull its hair just a little bit," Pearl said.

Pearl said chastisement is the best thing in the world as a last resort.

Miller said she sees things differently.

She said it is difficult for children to focus on a life lesson if they are distracted by the anger, hurt, fear, humiliation and resentment that result from being hit.

"Jesus Christ taught us that unless we 'become like little children' we can never enter the kingdom of heaven," Miller said.

This implies that children are more in tune with God that adults, Miller explained.

"Why should the unrighteous be punishing the righteous?" Miller asked.

She also asked why so many guidelines were created by supporters of spanking.

"They are aware on some level that hurting those who are smaller and weaker goes against the nature of Christ, and feel a need to justify and minimize what they are actually doing," Miller said.

She said it is God's kindness that leads to repentance, not his wrath.

Lynn Paddock, a North Carolina woman accused of suffocating her 4-year-old son with blankets in 2006, said she looked on No Greater Joy Ministry's Web site for advice on child training.

Investigators found 2-foot lengths of plumbing supply line, similar to the type mentioned on the Web site, in Paddock's home.

Pearl said they have no record of Paddock buying their books or attending their seminars.

He said anyone could go to their Web site, but it does not mean they have taught that person.

"You won't find anything on our Web site about smothering children," Pearl said with a chuckle.

White said there is no correlation between the Pearls and the Paddock death.

"It's not their fault if some don't interpret the information the right way," White said.

Linda Gardner, secretary for Memorial Baptist, said the Pearls offered to host the seminar at their church. The church was already looking to host an event about parenting when the Pearls offered to do a seminar on one of their books.

"I know they are godly people," White said. "They are very loving and do not harm children."

Pearl said their bimonthly magazine is distributed to more than 100,000 people and about 800 people usually come to their seminars.

He said one of his books has sold more than 500,000 copies.

Pearl said he has received more than 150,000 letters from satisfied parents with only about 15 people adamant about discouraging his teachings.

"There is a group of lesbian home-schoolers that always try to protest our seminars," Pearl said. "We don't have anything to hide because it's quite legal to spank children."

He said a Tennessee law declares abuse as having marks that remain on a child for more than 24 hours.

"It is our contention that all authority is misused from time to time, that misuse does not negate the legitimacy of the office itself, rather of the ones who abuse their sacred authority," Pearl wrote on the Web site.

Pearl said children who are raised on his training methods will be successful and taking college classes at age 16 and owning property by age 18.

Miller said there are plenty of alternatives to spanking children.

"Teaching a child to do right is much more effective than exacting judgment for doing wrong," Miller said.

She said parents should treat children as they want to be treated.

"It is amazing to see the cycle of irritability and frustration break when we choose to discipline by restoring relationships," Miller said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a statement regarding the adverse effects of corporal punishment.

"Despite its common acceptance, and even advocacy for its use, spanking is a less effective strategy than time-out or removal of privileges for reducing undesired behavior in children," AAP guidelines on effective discipline state.

Contact Candace Birkelbach at candaceb@kdhnews.com or call (254) 501-7553

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