Last year a four-year-old boy named Sean Paddock died in North Carolina after he was struck with a plumbing supply line, then tightly wrapped in blankets. His mother was punishing him for getting out of bed. She was a follower of Michael and Debi Pearl, whose book To Train Up a Child is familiar to many parents in conservative Christian movements. While the Pearls’ book may seem far outside the mainstream, parents in mainline churches are also picking it up.
Recently I heard a mom at a soccer game proudly describe how she responded to her infant crying in his bed by “punishing and punishing” him. When I asked how one punishes a five-month-old child, she said that he was spanked in his crib. Spanking is nothing less than a mark of orthodoxy for followers of the Pearls, who deem it a necessary means of dealing with sin. They insist that parents who are faithful to Jesus need to hit their children.