The abusive teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl hurt both women and children

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Today you can catch our dear friend Elizabeth Esther on Anderson Cooper’s daytime show bravely confronting the abusive teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl. (Check  your local listings for times.)  Elizabeth grew up in a cult-like religious environment in which these teachings were implemented, so it was quite an act of courage for her to face this man on TV. But she did so in hopes that speaking out will stop the abusive tactics that have already killed three children, and for that she is a true woman of valor.Eshet chayil! 

 Through their “No Greater Joy Ministries,” Michael and Debi Pearl teach a method of child discipline that centers around “breaking a child’s will.” The Pearls advocate using switches on babies and young as six months, and spanking older children with belts and plumbing tubes. Their book, To Train Up a Child has sold hundreds of thousands of copies and, under the guise of “biblical discipline,” encourages parents to beat their children into submission, withhold food, and hose them down outside when they soil themselves. 

Here’s a quote from to give you an idea of their approach: 

Never reward delayed obedience by reversing the sentence. And, unless all else fails, don’t drag him to the place of cleansing. Part of his training is to come submissively. 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.

The Pearls’ teachings have been linked to the deaths of Sean Paddock, Lydia Schatz, and Hana Grace-Rose Williams. 

But it’s not just children who suffer from “No Greater Joys” 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. Citing New Testament passages that instruct wives to submit to their husbands, Pearl advocates a system in which godly wives live as complete subordinates to their husbands, with no “equal rights.” 

At one point, Pearl encourages a young mother whose husband routinely beat her and threatened to kill her with a kitchen knife to stop “blabbing about his sins” and win him back by showing him more respect

Sudden aggressive outbursts are part of what it means to be a man, according to Pearl. “The wisest way to handle the aggressive husband is by not taking personal offense,” she advises. “Avoid provoking him.” 

In an appendix at the end of the book, Michael Pearl weighs in and writes: 

“Has your husband reviled you and threatened you? You are exhorted to respond as Jesus did. When he was reviled and threatened, he suffered by committing himself to a higher judge who is righteous. You must commit yourself to the one who placed you under your husband’s command. Your husband will answer to God, and you must answer to God for how you respond to your husband, even when he causes you to suffer.Just as we are to obey government in every ordinance, and servants are to obey their masters, even the ones who are abusive and surly, ‘likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands’…You can freely call your husband ‘lord’ when you know that you are addressing the one who put him in charge and asked you to suffer at your husband’s hands just as our Lord suffered at the hands of unjust authorities…When you endure evil and railing without returning it, you receive a blessing, not just as a martyr, but as one who worships God.”  

It seems the Pearls believe that a wife should submit to her husband, even if it means her death…and presumably, the death of her children. 

Why bring this to your attention? Because the Pearls are inexplicably popular in certain Christian circles, and abuse in the name of God must be spoken against.

If your church is considering using books by the Pearls as part of its curriculum, please say something. If you see friends or family employing their tactics, confront them. This is not simply a matter of different parenting methods or relationship styles—like Sears vs. Ezzo, or cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers, or complementarianism vs. egalitarianism—it’s a matter of abuse. 

 There can be no more beatings, no more deaths…especially not in the name of Christ. 

Please, speak up on behalf of the defenseless and speak out against Michael and Debi Pearl. 


(And, if you think of it, shoot Elizabeth Esther a message of encouragement today. What she did was very brave.)

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