(NEW YORK) -- When Melissa Fletcher was little, her mother would dress up in a gray wig and horn-rim glasses, ring the doorbell and pretend she was "Myrtle" from the child protective services.
"Where did this bruise come from?" she would ask systematically. "Myrtle” made it a game, quizzing and recording her five little ones, drilling them to say, "I fell" or "I bumped into something."
She didn't want authorities to find out about the two- to three-hour beating sessions that her husband carried out on his children in the name of God -- so-called "breaking the will of the child".
She and her family members were followers of Christian author Michael Pearl, who cites the Biblical maxim, "spare the rod and spoil the child." Today, he is at the center of controversy over corporal punishment that authorities say led to the deaths of three children.
In his book, Training up a Child, Pearl, 66, advocates use of physical punishment or "switching" even in infancy. Pearl and his wife are founders of the fundamental ministry, "No Greater Joy," which posits, "spank and save a child."
In May, the 11-year-old daughter of Larry and Carri Williams of Sedro-Woolley, Wash., died after they allegedly used Pearl's methodology, according to The New York Times. The parents were charged with homicide by abuse on Sept. 29 and have pled not guilty.
Hana, who with her brother had been adopted from Ethiopia, died from hyperthermia and malnutrition and was found face-down in her backyard, according to the report.
Police said Hana had often been whipped and was forced by her parents to sleep in the barn and shower outside with a hose. They say that her parents had used a 15-inch plastic tube that is recommended by Pearl to discipline children.
Lynn Paddock of Johnson County, S.C., was convicted in the first degree murder of her 4-year-old son, Sean, in 2006, and the teachings of Pearl came up in the trial.
The boy suffocated after being tightly wrapped in a blanket, and his five other siblings testified they had been beaten daily with the same plastic tubing.
Pearl told The New York Times that it's absurd to link his book to cases of abuse.
Disciplinary measures like these, some with wooden rods and rubber whips, are practiced in many of the thousands of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches around the country, according to experts familiar with the church.
These groups know what the outside world thinks of them and that some of it is considered abuse, but they consider it Biblical," said Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.
Fletcher is now a 36-year-old mother and lives in Hawaii, but she is in therapy reserved for soldiers of war because of the ritualized trauma.
She said sometimes the welts inflicted on her would break open and bleed, but her parents never took her to the doctor.
For years, Fletcher thought her upbringing was "normal," but after getting her first job in a hospital emergency room, she realized it was child abuse.
"We had always been told to forgive and forget and it was a real awakening," said Fletcher.
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