My Bible reading today made me think of how great misunderstanding can be if we don’t consider culture. I thought back to when President Bush held hands with Saudi Prince Abdullah when he visited the Crawford ranch in 2005. Many looked askance at such a gesture. It is a sign of a love relationship if done between two grown men in our country, but is merely a sign of friendship to Saudis. I was reading the story of Mary and Joseph losing Jesus on their way home from a journey to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover when Jesus was 12 years old. Traveling in a large band to return home, Mary and Joseph supposed Jesus was with relatives when he was not found with them. They traveled a day’s journey when they realized he was not with them at all. They returned to Jerusalem and finally found him in the temple THREE DAYS LATER (Luke 2:46). Now if I had been missing my child for 3 days and any authority had found out about it, I would have been charged with child neglect. However, the fact that everyone in a community watched over all children in the Jewish community where all were some kind of kin makes Mary and Joseph’s actions in this scenario seem quite plausible. They had good reason for not being worried that Jesus was not right with them. Knowing him to be an obedient child who would go home when told to do so, they believed he was somewhere in the band with other kin.
Consider, however, the case of Mohammad Kargar, an Afghani refugee. He was babysitting a young child of a neighbor as he watched his own children at home. At one point during the day, he kissed his 18-month-old son on the penis. The young neighborhood child told her mother what she had seen. The mother had previously seen a picture in the Kargar’s photo album of the same practice so she called the police. I assume she thought the father was “inappropriately touching” his toddler. Police got a warrant to confiscate the photograph and interrogation followed at the police station. This is from the records of the hearing of the case:
Afghani people who were familiar with the Afghani practice and custom of kissing a young son on all parts of his body testified. Kargar testified during the de minimis hearing that the practice was acceptable until the child was three, four, or five years old. Kargar’s witnesses, all relatively recent emigrants from Afghanistan, testified that kissing a son’s penis is common in Afghanistan, that it is done to show love for the child, and that it is the same whether the penis is kissed or entirely put into the mouth because there are no sexual feelings involved. Kargar also testified during the de minimis hearing that his culture views the penis of a child as not the holiest or cleanest part of the body because it is from where the child urinates. Kargar testified that kissing his son there shows how much he loves his child precisely because it is not the holiest or cleanest part of the body. The witnesses also testified that pursuant to Islamic law any sexual activity between an adult and a child results in the death penalty for the adult.
Kargar also submitted statements from Professor Ludwig Adamec of the University of Arizona’s Center for Near Eastern Studies and Saifur Halimi, a religious teacher and Director of the Afghan Mujahideen Information Bureau in New York. Both statements support the testimony of the live witnesses. The State did not present any witnesses during the de minimis hearing. Following the presentation of witnesses the court denied Kargar’s motion and found him guilty of two counts of gross sexual assault.
Perhaps if Mary and Joseph had been a new immigrant family in America and the news of Jesus’ “misplacement” was noticed by someone in their housing development, they would have been charged with child neglect. Perhaps an angel of the Lord would have had to appear to the judge? I don’t think the fact that Jesus “had to be about His father’s business” would have been an acceptable excuse for his disappearance. I pray that as the world’s people groups get closer, we Christians would “be filled with all the wisdom and understanding the Spirit gives.” (Col 1:9c)
God be with you in whatever culture you find yourself,