UK Christian Bookseller Chain Pulls To Train Up a Child, Apologises

British parenting blog Lulastic reports that Christian bookseller chain Wesley Owen has apologised to a reader for selling To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl:

This is not a book we would ever stock or would ever want to stock, and I can only apologise that it has been mistakenly listed on our website. We will deal with this as soon as we can.

Once again, thank you for brining this to our attention. I can only apologise for the presence of the book on our website.

The book, which was published in 1994 by the Pearls’ “No Greater Joy”  Ministries, has been notorious for years, but it came under renewed scrutiny last week following the conviction in Washington State of Larry and Carri Williams for abuse and neglect that led to the death of their Ethiopian adopted daughter Hana; the Williamses were reportedly guided by the book.

Kathryn Joyce – who has written about authoritarian family structures among fundamentalists in Quiverfull and about troubling aspects of international adoption in The Child Catchers – has provided a very full account of the tragedy at Slate; she notes:

The book has been implicated in the beating deaths of two other adoptees—an American boy in North Carolina and a Liberian girl in California; the prosecuting attorney in the latter case, Michael Ramsey, called it “truly an evil book.”

Pearl appears to be a monomaniac on the subject of spanking children in the same way that Fred Phelps is obsessed with homosexuality (although in a recent BBC interview he claims it’s only a “very small part” of his child-training teaching); a 2006 post at Talk to Action highlights some grotesque child-raising advice from the book, such as the suggestion of using a PVC “chastening rod” to discourage thumb-sucking.

Writing in Quiverfull (page 77), Kathryn adds that the book

has sold more than half a million copies… But Michael’s unabashed promotion of switching [i.e. hitting with an implement] children has led to boycotts of homeschooling magazines that publish No Greater Joy advertisements, and British homeschooling groups have protested a Pearl speaking tour due to their methods.

In the UK, the issue of the book’s sale on the British branch of Amazon was raised in Parliament last week by Nadine Dorries MP, in a question to Leader of the House Andrew Lansley:

…Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to apply pressure on an issue that has come to my attention over the past 24 hours? A book for sale on Amazon, “To Train up a Child” by Michael and Debi Pearl advocates the beating of children under the age of 12 months, using a switch. The book recommends that a switch be cut from a willow tree, and be no longer than 12 inches in length and 8 cm in diameter. It advocates the use of paddles, rulers and other means to beat children from four months onwards. I have written to the Secretaries of State for Culture, Media and Sport and for Education, and to the Prime Minister’s Office and Amazon. Given that this issue has come to light only in the past 24 hours, will the Leader of the House advise how we can bring this issue to Parliament and apply pressure on Amazon to remove this book from sale?…

According to the Huffington Post, Dorries raised the subject at the behest of a bereavement charity (Saying Goodbye); Lansley said he would speak to colleagues and hoped for a “proper response” from Amazon. Amazon in the UK has now stopped selling the paperback edition, although, as Lulastic notes, it’s a “gesture that seems slightly token as it is still available in other formats.” According to a campaign called Stop Spanking, Dorries has also agreed to contact Senator Patty Murray of Washington State to suggest the same approach with Amazon in the USA (regrettably, although not surprisingly, Dorries is also now citing her involvement in an attempt to occupy the moral high-ground amid media interest in other matters).

To Train Up a Child seems to be in a league of its own, although it’s not the only American Christian book on child-raising to attract controversy due to its readers. In 1997, there was a high-profile murder case in the UK which a man (a former deputy headmaster) was accused of having killed his foster-daughter in a fit of rage; and although he was eventually cleared after three trials due to ambiguities in the evidence, his former wife claimed in 2006 that he was a violent and controlling man with an interest in religious justifications for spanking. According to the Daily Mail:

At the church they both attended, the couple were introduced to a book called Dare to Discipline and went to a series of talks by the author, James Dobson. On their recommended reading list was a similar book called Spare Not The Rod.

“Some families in our church had started smacking their children, which I thought was appalling. Sion decided we had to discipline out daughters to the point of making them the most perfectly behaved children. He became what I would term violent, but always justified his behaviour with this “spare the rod” theory.

Spare Not the Rod, by Robert L. Olivier, was published in 1976 and is obscure; however, Dobson (profiled here) is a major figure within American conservative evangelicalism and his book is a well-known best-seller.

(Some links H/T Why Not Train a Child?)

3 Responses

  1. The book recommends that a switch be cut from a willow tree, and be no longer than 12 inches in length and 8 cm in diameter

    8cm in diameter is not a switch. It’s a tree trunk…

  2. […] UK Christian Bookseller Chain Pulls To Train Up a Child, Apologises ( […]

  3. […] UK Christian Bookseller Chain Pulls To Train Up a Child, Apologises ( […]

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