'Marriage for Today' Hosts Claim Controversial Child Rearing Methods Are Being Misrepresented

Mike and Trisha Fox Say They Will Defend Michael Pearl in Upcoming CNN Interview

Two popular evangelical Christian speakers and authors, who are a married couple and founders of "Marriage for Today," a radio show helping other couples with marital problems in accordance to the Bible, are scheduled to appear on CNN to defend child-raising methods advocated by controversial Tennessee evangelical pastor Michael Pearl.

The Rev. Mike Fox and his wife, Trisha, told The Christian Post Tuesday they have been successfully practicing child-raising methods advocated by Pearl and his wife, Debi, on their "most beautiful daughter in the world." They also claimed that media outlets have "crucified" Pearl without analyzing the nature of his advise deeply enough.

The 66-year-old evangelical pastor of 40 years and his spouse, founders of No Greater Joy Ministries, found themselves in the spotlight after some reports linked their recent book, To Train Up A Child, to brutal cases of child abuse. Pearl was interviewed by CNN and The New York Times recently.

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In the book, the Pearls instruct parents as to various methods of punishing their children through spanking and other non-standard methods having to do with corporal punishment. No Greater Joy Ministries' website offers multiple articles not only on child rearing, but on topics like "challenging authority," "emotional control" or "how to deal with friends, cousins, outside relationships that may or may not be beneficial," with a separate chapter titled "the rod."

Michael Pearl was interviewed by CNN's Anderson Cooper in October and appeared on his show, "Anderson Cooper 360," on Oct. 26. Cooper pointed out on the show that the book, directed, in his words, at "fundamentalist Christians," advises parents to spank their children with objects like plastic plumbing elements or a belt. During the same show, Anderson referred to a video of a Texas judge, which was much publicized recently and which features the judge spanking his then 16-year-old daughter mercilessly with a belt.

The CNN host also mentioned the case of Hana Williams, whose body was found in her parents backyard in May. Police have reportedly found a copy of To Train Up a Child in the Williams' house. The parents were reportedly practicing some parenting methods recommended by the Pearls, including spanking with a rod.

The Foxs were invited to appear on Cooper's show in the near future, they told CP, in a show that will constitute a follow-up to the story. The couple is to defend Pearl's arguments on the air. This appearance, they claim, is very necessary, as Mike Fox told CP that the Tennessee pastor's side of the argument was seriously underrepresented in the mainstream media.

"It was more than interesting, not only as Christians, but as Ministers, Speakers, authors and writers, but as proud parents to see how media has essentially through a narrow and biased spectrum, crucified Michael Pearl and the methods that are sovereignly based on the Bible," the Foxs told CP in an email they wrote together. "It's amazing to us just how many professed Christians actually take parts out of the Bible as if the Bible were their personal Store coupon section, and only take the things that they prefer and like, and leave out the biblical verbiage and precepts that don't fit into their opinions and molded brand of Christianity."

The Foxs claim all of the Pearls' teachings are simply based on the Bible.

"Not only is physical discipline 'in' the bible, but it 'mandates' it for all parents if we desire to follow God and His word; and if we in fact love our children - we will use it!" they wrote in the email. "Unfortunately, there is a growing, secular-Christian trend of religious-based, yet not Biblically based, mothers and people who are shallow in terms of Biblical understanding, and in depth with emotional irrational perspective."

The Foxs say they owe a great deal to the "fearless writings" of the Pearls. They also quoted the following passage from the Scriptures: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Prov. 13:24 KJV).

On the other side of the spectrum are critics who think that the Pearls' child rearing methods can potentially be misinterpreted, raising a threat to children's safety. One such critic is journalist and writer Janet Heimlich.

Heimlich, a former freelance reporter at NPR, has published a book recently,  Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment (Prometheus Books, 2011), which speaks of potential dangers of child rearing techniques advocated by the Pearls.

Heimlich has been vocal about her concerns that Pearl's teachings are potentially dangerous to children, bringing to attention several child abuse cases that were linked to the Pearls' book.

In a recent blog entry titled "The Real Michael Pearl," Heimlich confirmed her skepticism about certain methods of corporal punishment that the Pearls advocate.

"Pearl's methods include making children who are challenged with potty training take cold baths, denying food to disobedient children, and whipping them with quarter-inch plumbing line. Pearl sees nothing wrong with applying his techniques to infants," Heimlich wrote.

"Most alarming,” she added, “some children have been seriously abused by adults who were followers of Pearl. Three children have been killed."

One of the cases Heimlich refers to here is that of Hana Williams. Another is that of Lydia Schatz, a 7-year-old whose parents had the Pearl book but "ignored its admonition against extended lashing or harm" and whipped her for hours, with pauses for prayer, as reported by The New York Times.

The Pearls' teachings also came up in the trial of Lynn Paddock of North Carolina, who was convicted of the first-degree murder of her son, 4-year-old Sean Paddock, in 2006. The Paddocks had reportedly turned to the Internet for advice about raising their kids, and found the Pearls' website. The boy's siblings testified that they were beaten daily with a plumbing tube, reported the Times.

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