Twelve Tribes Wedding 001By now this must seem like an old story: Devout Christians abusing kids for Jesus. Perhaps the most common version of this kind of story is clerical child abuse. That’s something I’ve blogged about numerous times over the years I’ve been at this. But there are other examples of it, such as parents letting their sick kids die because they refuse to take a chance on mortally offending their loving, merciful Jesus by getting them the medical care they need. And there are still other examples, such as the FLDS commune where young girls were married off to old men at too young an age.

But the most recent example of this deals with corporal punishment. The Guardian reports that German officials raided the compound of a Christian sect and removed its children (WebCite cached article):

Forty children have been taken from a Christian sect in Bavaria, southern Germany, following police raids at a monastery and a farm after accusations of child abuse.

The children, aged between seven months and 17 years old, are members of the Twelve Tribes sect, which has its roots in the US. They have been placed with foster families while the group is being investigated.

The group, whose teachings are based on the Old and New Testament, is known to believe in corporal punishment. It had been under observation by authorities for some time, particularly for its refusal to send its children to school.

The article explains the nature of their corporal punishment:

By their own admission, parents of the Twelve Tribes, which has around 100 members in two locations in Bavaria where it has had a base for 15 years, are instructed to beat their children “with a small reed-like rod which only inflicts pain and no damage”.

On its website, the group declares itself to be an “open and transparent community that does not tolerate any form of child abuse. Our children grow up in a loving environment and are educated in the spirit of charity.”

But Helmut Beyschlag, head of Noldingen district court, said: “We suspect that parents were exercising abuse.”

According to initial reports, the disciplinary rods used were soaked in oil to make them more pliable during a beating, when children were allegedly struck on their bare feet, arms and backs, inside the former Cistercian monastery.

Let’s be clear: The idea that you can hit children with something so as to cause only pain and never “damage” them, is a fiction. Any time you strike a child with something, you run a very real risk of “damaging” his/her body … with a bruise, or worse. (And yes, I consider a bruise to be “damage.” Bruises only appear when blood vessels are broken, and blood-vessel breakage is certainly a form of “damage.”)

The sect in question is reclusive, and originated in the US in the 1970s. While I’d heard of it before, I thought it had died out sometime in the 1990s. Instead, it seeped into Europe around that time. They’re considered a “cult” in most places they’ve ventured to. In Europe, because they refuse to send their children to school, they’ve run afoul of education laws — and in this case, that’s what put them in the sights of German authorities in the first place.

The Twelve Tribes sect’s reclusiveness stems, it seems, from their belief that they’re recreating the “original” Church as described in Acts of the Apostles. The problem with this is that Acts is not considered wholly reliable. It likely was composed in the late 1st century CE or early 2nd as something of a propaganda piece, sort of a “golden age” retrospective of the Church’s first generation, by its third or fourth. There are very real historical and critical reasons to conclude this, among them being that Acts conflicts, at points, with Paul’s genuine epistles, which were written right in the middle of the 1st century, during the Church’s first generation.

At any rate, along with their probably-invalid interpretation of Acts, the Twelve Tribes sect seems also to have an unhealthy obsession with the Old Testament, in particular the famous “spare the rod” verse:

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. (Proverbs 13:24)

Over the years a lot of ink has been spilt over this verse, explaining how it doesn’t advocate child abuse; e.g. the “rod” mentioned is merely a pointing-stick that shepherds used to guide their sheep where they want them to go, and not a bludgeon to pound kids with; as well as other rationales. But I don’t buy any of these creative reinterpretations. It’s true that ancient fathers used rods to beat discipline into their children … which is why this verse and a few others like it (Prov 19:18 & 22:15, etc.) are present in the Bible … but we no longer do that, nor should we. In the 21st century, we understand that “discipline” means much more than just causing physical pain when a child breaks the rules s/he is supposed to abide by. And we understand that beatings don’t necessarily instill “discipline” in them. We realize there’s a big difference between “discipline” and “abuse”; while the former is just fine (and expected), the latter is unacceptable.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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