Child abuse and neglect – consider the culture

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,



9 comments on “Child abuse and neglect – consider the culture

  1. Dawn, I come away with mixed feelings on this one. Yes, culture teaches people to live a certain way and in their thinking, this is “right.” My parents told us kids that we could or could not do certain things solely on the grounds of “Because I said so.” Where does “culture” meet the “line in the sand” that God has drawn for ALL people and become just plain old SIN? The Book of Judges says that the people “did what was RIGHT in their own eyes.” The really believed that it was right. So do we excuse them because they have been deceived and have reasons and supposed logic to worship other gods and offer their children as sacrifices? Romans 1 says, 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
    24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
    My question is, is there a certain amount of years that must pass before “sinful behavior” becomes “accepted cultural customs.” Do we move the line in the sand for different cultures?
    You’ve given me a lot to think about, Dawn. We have become a world where values, customs, cultures, “freedoms” and religion have been shooting hard and long at God’s authoritative Word. And it seems that the smaller the world gets, and the more that these “cultures” and “customs” integrate into the Christian’s world and teaching, the more weakened we become and we do move the lines in the sand.
    Great post today. Hope others give their thoughts on this!

  2. Dear Cora,

    I think the line in the sand is the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law, love. In both instances above, I do not see where the commandments or Jesus’ “law” of love were transgressed in Jesus’ family or in the Kargar family. Surely, the sexual molestation of a child, the killing of a person, and the true neglect of a child is wrong. I don’t think any of that occurred in either of these cases. Certainly, cultures get things wrong. We do have to be discerning, but in the cases above, I discern no wrong. Do you?

    Missionary, Bruce Olsen, in his book Bruchko tells of his time with the Motilone Indians of Columbia. They only wear a G-string over their private parts when in their villages. When they accepted Christ, Bruce did not tell them they were indecently exposed and expect them to wear more clothes. They felt modest in their G-strings. In fact, once they went off to school in the city, they voluntarily wore western clothes “to fit in”, but they continued to wear their G-strings under their western clothes because they felt undressed without them.

    We must learn to accommodate one another IF we can do so without violating the law of God or causing another brother to stumble (that is a who other issue!) No?

    Thanks for your thoughts, Cora. They surprised me. I didn’t mean to rubber stamp all that is done in the name of culture. I’m glad you posted early so I could make that clear.

    Much love,

    • Dawn, thank you for your reply here. I reread what I wrote, and I’m sorry if I sounded condemning of this man’s particular actions. I think what I, personally, find hard is when and where I need to “draw the line.” The love and grace of God is so awesome and wide to me, and I’ve never been sure if I, personally, go too far in my acceptance — almost as if I tipped the scales all the way to the other side from that which I was raised in. I never seem to raise my eyebrows or frown at anything. Am I too forgiving and too forebearing??? I think as I commented above, I was forgetting the actual example you gave and got caught up into where it can lead and how far it can be taken. Sorry about that.

  3. a very interesting post Dawn…
    To the pure, all things are pure… I have thought often about this raising my three children. Often they resist ‘tradition’ because it passes ‘judgement’ or assumes that it is the only right way. I find them more tolerant, not of evil , but of the different customs of others. Some things I would not feel comfortable doing but I must be careful not to judge others who do those things out of pure motives. God sees the heart … my heart… and all others… I know he understands my motives and whether out of a pure heart I speak and live… I will believe he does the same for all people.
    Love always protects and I am sure in the case you wrote about, that was what the neighbours were trying to do, though not understanding the pure motives of the father to his son. These are touchy grounds (pun intended) and only by God’s grace can we discern and react as he would have us.

  4. Dear Susan and Cora,

    These indeed are touchy grounds and we really really need the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. It’s interesting that you mentioned protection as the neighbors’ motive, Susan. I bet she was teaching her daughter “good touch/bad touch” so the little girl dutifully reported what she saw as “bad touch”. Her mother, knowing no good reason (in her worldview) why this would ever be acceptable behavior for a father with his son, was compelled to report him to the authorities.

    Ironically, the father’s gesture toward his son was done as a demonstation of the deepest love he could have for his child BECAUSE it was placed on the least holy part of the body. Ask anyone from Afghanistan! This is certainly a real twist for a westerner!

    Cora, you really touched on the problems inherent in cultural discernment. I, like you, come out of a time when all of us were fairly alike in our opinion of what was right and what was wrong and that assessment was fairly narrow in scope. The world has certainly changed. We must broaden our range without “crossing the line”. No easy.

    Love you, Ladies,

  5. Dawn, what a fascinating post! And thank you! I had never heard of this cultural issue and yet it makes so much sense. If that culture is speaking the truth, as I have no reason to believe they aren’t, then it seems a crime that the father was punished as he was. Yet, if someone came over with the cultural practice-as is the case in some countries per specific religious/cultural norms-of allowing pre-pubescent girls to be given away as wives for immediate sexual use, then I have a very hard time with that-despite their cultural norms. This is a very difficult issue. I recently read the book about a girl who was divorced at age 11. She was married off at age 8 or 9 and experienced the horrors of an unloving husband who forced himself on her repeatedly until her miraculous ‘rescue’. It makes me ill to even think of it. I am very glad you shared this information. I am still thinking about the previous post and this adds to it.

  6. Dear A.,

    There is a novel called Nectar in a Sieve about the life of an Indian girl of the poorest class. She is married to a man at age 12. There are vivid descriptions of hunger in the book that I will never forget. This woman watches as her daughter becomes a prostitute to survive, her son get shot for stealing food and her youngest starve to death.

    This is a terrible “norm”. One that we should all fight against, but how? The young girl had no choices. Her husband was good to her, but what if he had not been?

    Some Bible scholars feel the virgin Mary was 12 years old when the Holy Spirit came upon her. It was customary for young girls to be betrothed to men in their 30’s who were finishing their apprenticeships. Joseph was thought to be about that old since he was a carpenter. Perhaps it was cultural that Jesus began His ministry at age 30.

    Indeed, there is lots to think about here.

    Thanks for thinking along with me,
    God bless you,

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