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The New York Times has an interesting online feature about Michael Pearl, pastor of a small independent church in Pleasantville, Tennessee, who has become both revered and reviled as an advocate of corporal punishment for disciplining children.

Pearl self-published a book called To Train Up a Child that has managed to sell an astounding 670,000 copies, promoted through conservative Christian web sites and home school groups, as well as his own “No Greater Joy” website. The book holds to a firm interpretation of a half-dozen verses from the Book of Proverbs that have to do with the utility of rods in raising children, including 23:13: “Do not withhold discipline from your children; if you beat them with a rod, they will not die.”

The problem is, some children have died. At least three cases of child abuse leading to death have involved parents who allegedly kept a copy of Pearl’s book around, according to the Times.

Pearl, whose favored instrument of punishment seems to be a flexible quarter-inch hose that can be rolled up and carried in one’s pocket, argues that his methods are not abusive, but loving, and should never leave a bruise. He would never counsel the kind of extreme measures taken by those who eventually killed their children in trying to control them, he says, and insists that one should never strike a child in anger.

Still, Pearl’s promotion of a strongly literal interpretation of Proverbs — with verses like “If you beat them with a rod, you will save their lives from Sheol” (Pr. 23:14) — may be the spark that sets an incendiary parent on fire with rage. Or, it may encourage harsh treatment that can be calmly applied but abusive nevertheless.

All parents will decide, one way or the other, what disciplinary methods they will use. Encouraging whipping as the biblical or Christian way of doing things, however, can be dangerous.

I can’t see Jesus raising his hand — or a length of hose — to a child.

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