German Bible. Photo by J. Stahl.
In following the story of the Twelve Tribes, I had become aware of a study on religious families and their children, tendencies towards abuse and such being carried on within Germany. I had heard about the study. But not being registered to either the Evangelical, Free Evangelical or local Catholic Churches, we were not polled for the study, though we are a religious household.
I am somewhat curious as to what was in the survey itself. It seems rather revealing that the Free Evangelical churches are showing many of their members do, in fact, regularly beat their children.
For those who do not know, this is illegal to do in Germany.
One of my many concerns within the homeschooling movement and the greater German church community (especially after coming out of this environment in the United States) is to get away from the punitive and corporal punishment mindset, seeing children as sinful inconveniences unless they’re perfectly behaving like little adults and back to what the Bible actually teaches; namely love and parenting being a job of parent and child to do together.
My second major concern was finding on Amazon.de teachers such as: Michael and Debi Pearl (To Train Up A Child is now removed, but No Greater Joy volume 1, volume 2 and volume 3 remain); Ted Tripp has three books represented (this remains, and as does this also); James Dobson‘s harmful books; Bruce Ray’s Withhold Not Correction (also a Spanish edition!); Gary Ezzo‘s books; Elyse Fitzpatrick’s; Tim Kimmel‘s (there is a second book here), and a couple other religious punitive-based child training manuals can be found.
Finding those books means that there is a market here in Germany. That, as someone who was raised so punitively, terrifies me. It terrifies me because this means there are other children being raised this way, who will not know a day in their lives where just being children is not a sin.
I had heard that some time back, that one branch of the Evangelical Churches in Germany had made statements against corporal punishment and other punitive discipline methods, which created some shock when I saw the results of this study: 45,000 students from 9th grade forward and about 11,500 adults were polled (so over 50,000 individuals) and they found that one in six very religious children are smacked by their parents or given other punitive disciplinary methods against their undesirable behavior(s).
In the Catholic and other Protestant students, the rate is considerably lower, if not rare.
The results of the study were published here, and does run through Google Translate in a mostly discernible manner into English. The name of the study is “Christian religiosity and parental violence. A comparison of familial socialization of Catholics, Protestants and Members of the Free Churches.”
More on the study and why everyone’s up in arms:
With parents from free churches that have no academic training, but declared themselves as “religious” or “very religious”, the trend is even more pronounced: More than a quarter of the surveyed children from these families has at some juncture suffered massive violence in their household. The study’s authors also provide a possible explanation: There is “a Christian tradition of parental driven beating as discipline for children.”
NDR – Freikirchen wehren sich gegen Gewaltstudie
The findings in the survey are quite shocking to me. I’ll post some of the figures below for those of you who don’t have time to sift through a pages long PDF:
Now, these are in order, but without all of the information behind what makes this all so shocking. What I want to point out is that this is consistent with studies done in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere as it pertains to parental violence towards children and its affects on the children involved. One study paper that someone had pointed me towards a couple of years ago was “The Long Shadow: Adult Survivors of Child Abuse.” Psychology Today has several articles about this phenomenon as well. One that stands out in my memory is “The Lingering Trauma of Child Abuse.” (Note: My list is not exhaustive, but just to give an example of what one will find on the subject.)
Articles referenced within this NDR article and the PDF are as follows:
…in the late 90s the German Parliament had established a Study Commission to look at so-called sects and mind-control groups. The study found that in fundamentalist Christian communities there is a widespread “…significant advocacy for physical punishment…”
NDR – Kinder schlagen im Namen Gottes 21.12.2011
NDR.de: Critics say the national church must be clear in distancing themselves from such fundamentalist positions. Shouldn’t you make it clearer that you do not agree with such positions [about corporal punishment being biblical]?
[Kerstin] Gäfgen-Track: In the case of these parenting books and this position, I can speak for the national church, because we draw a very clear line of demarcation. We have nothing to do with such, so we want to continuing having nothing to do with such. We wish to strongly condemn such counselors. [Ted Tripp and so on]
NDR: “Wir verurteilen das aufs Schärfste” 21.12.2011
…as they contradict the law and [Christian Beliefs], there is a secret culture of spanking among devout Christians… Parents who follow these beliefs belong to denominations such as those [found in the] Evangelical Free Churches and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who are apt to taking the Bible literally, and consider doubts about the Word of God as whisperings of Satan.
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Liebe geht durch den Stock 30.9.2010
…It is striking that the violence of evangelical parents seem to have a lasting effect on their young. With [such] systemic beatings, it may be that parents seek to break the will of children so that they would assimilate the beliefs of adults; warn psychologists..
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Schläge im Namen des Herrn 17.10.2010
There was a study published in April of this year (2013) by infoSekte in Zürich, Switzerland entitled “Erziehungsverständnisse in evangelikalen Erziehungsratgebern und -kursen.” (Yes, this too can be run through Google Translate!) It is 61 pages long, detailing “Problematic trends such as corporal punishment or psychological violence arising in connection with certain child rearing methods … [and] possible effects of certain parenting styles.” Also explained in the document is how Switzerland signed and ratified the UN Rights of the Child in 1997; and such parenting styles are incompatible with such an agreement.
The UN Rights of the Child is the very same document that many Christians in the United States have pushed for a refusal to ratify since the 1990s.
(The US has signed, but not ratified as of this date in time.) Also something to note; Michael Farris has really pushed home-schoolers into a frenzy over it as taking away parental rights to discipline punitively and claim it is “biblical.” (For the uninitiated, Michael Farris is the head of Patrick Henry College, The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and loosely affiliated with Schuzh, which defends many German home-schoolers in court. You may have recently seen Michael Farris in the news pushing against the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
If you get a chance, please do read this study. I understand that 61 pages is awfully long, but it is worth it. There is a serious problem when familial violence becomes an accepted piece of one’s culture and religious upbringing — when we normalize it to the extent that no one is shocked at all.
Issues brought forward by the Twelve Tribes in Germany are not at all shocking in many parts of the United States because such methods have become so normalized.
So many people believe it is the right thing to do. Anything contrary is “unbiblical.” That is not to say that there are not Christians, like myself, who believe that corporal punishment is actually what is contrary to the Bible.
If one wishes to claim that the Bible teaches beating their children, I would have to recommend you go back and actually investigate those claims for yourself as this is not understood to be the case within the Jewish community; and from whom we get the proof-text “spanking”/”smacking” passages from. It is a purely Christian phenomenon that came into place some time in the middle ages, as far as I can find at this juncture. Before, corporal discipline was for adult members of the faith who wished to submit themselves to flagellation.
One book that discusses this phenomenon and suggests a better way is Samuel Martin’s Book, Thy Rod And Thy Staff They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy. I have others, should you wish to peruse them, but they are not free.
If you don’t know about the Pearls and their harmful teaching, I’d be happy to throw you more than the recommendation to read Hermana Linda’s Blog and this review of the Pearl’s ministry. I would also like to mention that any court willing to speak with me personally is more than welcome to discuss punitive upbringing, homeschooling, corporal punishment proof-texts, etc. I’m not an expert, but I’ve lived through it and am working to change things with my children and advocating for others to the best of my abilities.
Update: Michael and Debi Pearl and critiques about them and information on the Hana Williams case were on CNN last night via Anderson Cooper. If you still doubt the methods this couple advocates, look no further.
I would like to leave with a closing message by Robbyn Peters. It is “Violence: A Family Tradition.” For those who are still unconvinced, I ask that you please consider Robbyn’s words and investigate for yourself.
- German Churches Up in Arms over Abuse Study (homeschoolersanonymous.wordpress.com)
- The Sick Biblical Literalism That Puts Children at Risk of Abuse and Even Death (new.exchristian.net)
- Faith Healing: Religious Freedom vs. Child Protection (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- More religion as child abuse: Parents get stiff jail time for beating their child to death using Christian guidelines (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- Little-known Statistics About Child Abuse in the United States (pediatrics.answers.com)
- Being Good for Goodness’ Sake: Why Operation Christmas Child Is Wrong (huffingtonpost.com)
- Catholic Teacher Accused of Boy’s Molestation (vaticancrimes.us)