The parental how-to manual “To Train up a Child” is a bestseller among America’s Protestant Christians. It recommends the use of the rod and the paddle for child rearing, even for babies — and was on the bookshelves of several parents of children beaten to death.

Minister Michael Pearl and his wife Debi have already sold more than 670,000 copies of their book. The work, a product of self-publishing, is recommended on the Internet sites of Christian fundamentalists — yet the child-rearing methods praised in it have brought the authorities and media in the U.S. to the scene. The reason: In several cases, the book is connected to children tortured to death.

The Pearls, leaders of a Protestant congregation in Pleasantville in the U.S. state of Tennessee, with five children of their own as well as 18 grandchildren, propagate child-rearing according to the Old Testament interpretation in “To Train up a Child” and other guides. According to them, blows from the rod, cane or optionally also rubber hose are the only correct means of teaching the child obedience. They say, “A spanking (whipping, paddling, switching, belting) is indispensable to the removal of guilt in your child. His very conscience (nature) demands punishment.”

For Babies a Willow Switch is Sufficient

According to them, even babies are not too young for corporal punishment. The authors recommend, however, that the tool be suited to the size of the child: For children under the age of one year, a 12-inch willow switch is completely sufficient; every once in a while a 12-inch ruler should be “a sufficient alternative.” For older children, a belt or larger branch would be “effective.” Important: Always hit on the bare skin, because “any spanking, to effectively reinforce instruction, must cause pain, but the most pain is on the surface of bare skin where the nerves are located.”

The pastor and his wife consider themselves the voice of God with their detailed directions for child torture. The book is riddled with Bible quotes that talk of punishment and castigation to drive out evil. In one place it says: “The God who made little children, and therefore knows what is best for them, has told parents to employ the rod in training up a child. To refrain from doing so, based on a claim of love, is an indictment on God himself.”

Such teachings fall on fertile ground with conservative Protestants, primarily those from the so-called homeschooling movement. Its followers teach their children at home to keep them away from the supposed false doctrines of the secular world. The Pearls’ guide is found on websites like achristianhome.org next to teaching materials for homeschooling.

Guide Recommended to Friends

But meanwhile, the spanking book is making headlines outside of the Protestant congregations. The reason for it is the case of 11-year-old Hana. The girl was found dead in the yard of her parents a few months ago, U.S. media reported. According to them, the child died from hypothermia and malnourishment; the corpse exhibited signs of spanking. The parents had punished the girl for what they considered defiance with food deprivation and spanking with plastic tubing — both methods that are propagated by the Pearls.

According to investigators, the mother, a Protestant Christian who homeschooled her six biological and two adopted children, had praised the Pearls’ book to friends and even shared a copy.

Prosecutors Saw Harmful Influence

In the meantime, two further cases have become known. Last year, a seven-year-old girl died in California after she had been hit for hours with a rubber hose. The adoptive parents, Protestants who homeschooled their nine children, were convicted of torture and homicide. U.S. media reported that the prosecutors found it evident that the Pearls’ book had a detrimental influence on both of them. In fact the book states: “The plastic tubing is a good spanking instrument. It’s too light to cause damage to the muscle or the bone.”

In 2006, a four-year-old suffocated after his parents had wrapped him in a blanket according to the Pearls’ instructions on their website. The boy was one of six children the deeply religious Christians had adopted.

Meanwhile, the Pearls continue to furnish parenting tips on their website, nogreaterjoy.org — and refer to their five children and 18 grandchildren, who have become happy people and good Christians.