German Churches Up in Arms over Abuse Study

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on November 25, 2013.

German Bible. Photo by J. Stahl.
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 1volume 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’sTim 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:

image1
Source: http://www.ndr.de/regional/niedersachsen/freikirchen109.pdf
image2
Source: http://www.ndr.de/regional/niedersachsen/freikirchen109.pdf
image3
Source: http://www.ndr.de/regional/niedersachsen/freikirchen109.pdf
image4
Source: http://www.ndr.de/regional/niedersachsen/freikirchen109.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 StatesCanada, the United KingdomAustralia 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.

There are wonderful articles referenced here in an older post on my blog and I also have a ton on my Pinterest parenting boards, should you have an account there.

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.

Update on the Twelve Tribes in Germany: Child Abduction Charges

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Background on the Twelve Tribes in Germany situation:

The Twelve Tribes, Child Abuse, and Michael Farris

How American Homeschoolers Enabled and Funded German Child Abuse: The Real Story Behind the Religious Right and the Twelve Tribes

Pray For All the Children of the Twelve Tribes, Part One

Pray For All the Children of the Twelve Tribes, Part Two

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on November 5, 2013.

If you’ve not been following along on my blog, you will want to read hereherehere and here before continuing on.

Here is the latest news on the Twelve Tribes group. Two girls that were in foster care have been missing for a few weeks. They have now been figured to be with their parents and in Switzerland. Below are the news stories I can gather as swiftly as possible. (HA note: these are translated with Google Translate, so the translations are a little rough.)

RTL – Spanking sect 12 Tribes: Two children kidnapped?

Merea K. and her sister Eva — For almost two weeks, the two girls are untraceable. Of their daily school in Ansbach, the two have not come to her foster parents home. The youth welfare office is on the case. Apparently, the 9 and 17 year-old girls are in the clutches of a cult that brutally punishes their children.

Donau-Ries Aktuell- Twelve Tribes: Two children abducted abroad?

The incident occurred about three weeks ago. The two children were placed in a foster family in Dombühl and come from the community in Wörnitz. On the day of their disappearance, the girls went to school like every other day. However, they did not come back. Their foster parents reported the case to the authorities in Ansbach.

Spiegel – Christian sect “Twelve Tribes”: Two children disappeared from foster care

Whether the children returned voluntarily to their parents or whether they were taken from their parents against their will, could not say a spokeswoman for the district office. This is the subject of ongoing investigation.

BR – “Twelve Tribes” disappeared children with their grandmother

 According to current knowledge of the prosecution Ansbach, “the two girls went voluntarily to Switzerland. Their parents also plan to stay in Switzerland.” Chief Public Prosecutor Gerhard Karl told Bayerischer Rundfunk on request. How the children moved to Switzerland, is currently unclear, according to the authorities.

SWR –  Religious community “Twelve Tribes” Missing children are at grandmother’s

The members of the sect who live on the estate Klosterzimmern in Deiningen is accused of beating their children for religious reasons. Therefore, the authorities concerned parents deprived of the custody .Mid-September, the girls were placed with a foster family… As the children moved to Switzerland, was unclear, said a spokesman for the district office. The Authority has filed a complaint against persons unknown for child abduction. In addition, they submitted a request for return of the children. However, since the girls had dual citizenship, this is difficult.

Pray For All The Children Of The Twelve Tribes — Part Two

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Pray For All The Children Of The Twelve Tribes — Part Two, By Jennifer Stahl

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on September 14, 2013 with the title, “The Twelve Tribes group in Germany Part Two.”

< Part One

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Before beginning with this article, please see:

As far as I know, not much of this has made it out into American news as of yet.

It is the so often maligned and often-criticized private broadcaster RTL, which has significantly contributed to the liberation of… children from the …Twelve Tribes sect.
…At the beginning of the week, the television report documented “The sect ’12 tribes’: They preach peace, torturing their own children” …this was the first time the beating allegations against the controversial faith community were brought to light.
W&V: Sekten-Film deckt auf: Wie RTL dem Jugendamt Beine macht [Sect film uncovered: How RTL hurried up the Child Protective Services]

The sect was founded in the 70s by a small group in the U.S.. It is named after the twelve tribes of Israel, according to the Hebrew Bible or the “Tanakh” YHWH  (the proper name of God in the Tanakh) called the chosen people of Israel. Worldwide, there are probably 2,000 members.
Mittlebayerische: Zwölf Stämme: Noch keine Entscheidung [Twelve Tribes: Still no decision]

..A large proportion of children have been placed in foster families, the elder children in youth welfare institutions. Four infants were brought to the police together with their mothers from the sect. They are now living in mother-child facilities…
Focus: Nach völliger Isolation – Sekte Zwölf Stämme: Wie geht es den Kindern jetzt? [After full isolation – 12 Tribes Sect – How are the children now?]

The court heard about the loss of custody of ten children. … Starting next week, the proceedings for the remaining children will be heard at the district court in Nördlingen.Süddeutsche Zeitung: Gericht hört Eltern An (Court hears parent’s testimony)

 The court has removed the children from parental custody, largely due to previous findings, “the specific danger that there would be a considerable damage to the children if they would remain in care with their parents.”
The “Twelve Tribes” are represented particularly in the U.S.. Therefore, the courts are also examining the English-language parenting manual of the sect.
Der Spiegel:  “Zwölf Stämme”: Verfahren gegen Christen-Sekte beginnen

 Lehnberger stated that at the hearing also drafted the 146 page comprehensive education manual of the Twelve Tribes in English, as it plays a instrumental role in the case. A witness for ideological matters [Biblical matters], a representative of the Catholic Church was interviewed on Friday afternoon as well.
… The meetings of the District Court Ansbach are not public.
Augsburger Allgemeine: Zwölf Stämme-Aussteiger”Kriegen sie die Kinder wieder, setzen sie sich ab“ [Ex Twelve Tribes Members: If they ever get their children again, they’ll dissappear.] – This one goes on to say that the hearing for the other parents will begin on Wednesday.

 Director Gudrun Lehnberger said on Friday night that the court of Ansbach did not want to visit the  decision on custody again. The hearings lasted for late into Friday evening for the parents. On Monday morning, more details are expected to shared with the public.

In Ansbach, six former members of the sect were also heard by video feed from a secret location. Due to issues [with the Twelve Tribes], these six individuals have remained living in secrecy…
Nordbayern: Prügelvorwürfe um “Zwölf Stämme”: Verhandlungsausgang offen

 “I think the authorities would prefer to let the issue disappear in the drawer, because otherwise their own failings would have been visible,” said the ex-members to FOCUS. “They all looked the other way.”
Focus: „Alle haben weggeschaut“ Schwere Vorwürfe von ehemaligem Zwölf-Stämme-Mitglied  [“Everyone looked the other way” – Serious Accusations from former 12 Tribes Member]

 The district court Nördlingen have seventeen preceedings ahead… Despite the urgency of this family matter, normal operating procedures of the Court must go on.

The “Twelve Tribes” have criticized the provisional court’s decision on partial withdrawal of parental custody. On the homepage of the Community in Klosterzimmern and Wörnitz the police action is referred to as “children robbed by the state”. Because of the abuse allegations, prosecution is looking at proceedings against members of the sect. An initial investigation on this issue had been set a few weeks ago.
N24:  Sorgerechtsprozesse begonnen Die “Zwölf Stämme” und der “Kinderraub”

On the Internet, the faith community expresses their educational practices… There it is clearly stated: “Yes, we beat our children.” He continued: “We love our children and they are precious and wonderful to us. Because we love them, we beat their butts.”
Focus: Erziehung bei „Zwölf Stämmen“Sekte: „Weil wir sie lieben, schlagen wir unsere Kinder“ (Child-rearing by the Twelve Tribes Sect – “We hit our children because we love them”)

“All parents demand the abolition of judicial decisions,” said District Court Director Gudrun Lehnberger. In the coming week, the case will formally begin with the other children at the district court Nördlingen.
Die Welt: Sekte verteidigt Prügel als Zeichen der Liebe (The sect defended beatings as a sign of love)

[Reporter:] What determines how much a child is changed by [beatings]?
Dietmayer: It depends on how much emotional resources a child has, so how mentally stable he or she is. For many kids, this triggers one psychologically, which in turn may later lead to a variety of psychiatric disorders. And that can happen even if the child is beaten only once.
Augsberger Allgemeine: Zwölf Stämme – Kinderpsychiaterin: Schläge schaden einem Kind massiv (Twelve Tribes: Child Psychologist says “Beating damages children greatly”)

If you would like to know more about how damaging and evil this group truly is, you can hear it from former members directly, here. Please note that this is a site that is primarily in English for former members that speak English. I’m looking around for other resources. It seems that the German site for the Zwölf Stämme has now been suspended.

If I hear any more come next week, I’ll update again.  I hope that those of you who are fasting on Yom Kippur have an easy and light fast, and are sealed for another year.  For us, it is a difficult day of prayer with these recent revelations.

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To be continued.

Pray For All The Children Of The Twelve Tribes — Part One

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Pray For All The Children Of The Twelve Tribes — Part One, By Jennifer Stahl

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on September 12, 2013 with the title, “The Twelve Tribes group in Germany.”

Today I wanted to take time and discuss a recent breaking news story coming out of Germany about a cult that is three hours to our east.  If you haven’t heard the news, well, stay tuned as I’ll help get you caught up to speed.

Today’s post is about the Twelve Tribes, or Zwölf Stämme group that is based out of Klosterzimmern in the municipality of Deiningen, and Ansbach, Bavaria. Twelve Tribes is a very difficult group to pin down, theologically speaking. They take elements of fundamentalist beliefs (mostly Independent Fundamentalist Baptist), Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots, Sacred Name and World Wide Church of God beliefs.  Where they diverge, is that they believe and teach that they are the only group that has truth and will be going to the afterlife.

Twelve Tribes also is extremely patriarchal, racist, antisemitic, somewhat communist (they live in communes and everyone works), and engages in child labor. In Germany, Zwölf Stämme is known more for their push for homeschooling which ended somewhat amicably with them creating their own private school that did not have to teach any sex education or evolution theory or anything else that they believe is contrary to “biblical” beliefs.  The agreement with the government included that there would be state oversight so that the community would not be fully removing itself or the children from society at large.

Contrary to the painting by the HSLDA, Germany does not retain Nazi-era laws where it pertains to homeschoolers.

I love all of you, but Hitler was not the one who made school compulsory in Germany. I’ve discussed that before, just a little bit and about our educational system when I blogged about the homeschooling Romeike family.

With the Zwölf Stämme, there have been many concerns of child labor laws being broken before. It is not uncommon with this group that every person gives and puts in work with their fields, and also with their money-making ventures.  What hadn’t been well known until recently, was how abusive and systemically so, their child rearing practices were. There were suspicions, but people cannot be investigated solely based on suspicions here.

There have been teenagers and 20-somethings that have left the cult, but they, for the most part, had been getting psychological help and then moving on with their lives, rather than assisting others in leaving the cult. They have mentioned the abuse, but the onus was on others to go in and prove it was happening other than “he and she said”.

I find this heartbreaking for all people who have been put through abuse like this.

From what I understand from an acquaintance that had gotten in with the group in Vermont, Twelve Tribes is extremely difficult to get into, and that much harder to get out of. The abuse is not just with children, but also with those who come into the group. There are enforcers, and if you question anything, you are starved of food and sleep until you comply with the group leaders. Also, the oversight committee is only very loosely associated with each Twelve Tribe community.  This means any appeals for assistance in leaving will have to be done through loving family members and possibly the local police departments.

From what I can gather, punitive parenting books are quite the rage in the Zwölf Stämme. Interviews with the reporter who came out proving the abuse, and with some of the survivors of the group have mentioned  practices that are inconsistent with child-rearing in Germany and Biblical practice.

The abuses this cult has carried out were well hidden from the German government, because these methods are illegal.

If you’re new to the blog and don’t know much about Gentle Grace Based Discipline, what I am discussing here is the systemic belief that all children are born horrible sinners (or easily influenced by the Devil) that need to be physically and emotionally abused from birth.  What parents want to result from this is first time obedience, unquestioning obedience, and no talking back. What they receive?  Abused children that are terrified to do anything that would ever cross their parents, or the leaders involved in the community. Grace is not for children in this belief system. Grace is for adults who have found some sort of agreement with the leaders of the community that they are living “Biblically” and for them alone.

What hasn’t much been discussed in the German case is the propensity for sometimes sexual predatory action in communities such as these. When you have children that are too terrified to speak out against systemic abuse methods such as whipping for doing anything the parents or community leaders do not like, they also will not speak out when they are being sexually abused, because surely that wasn’t something they were not supposed to do, as someone in authority forced themselves onto them.

I am praying that, beyond all hopes, this is not something that was happening at this Twelve Tribes compound.

The news that has come out of the community is that children as young as six months were taken away from their parents to be punitively disciplined by select members of the community. Babies that cried or were otherwise deemed “sinful” were held very tightly so that they would cry until they could cry no more.

Forty children were removed from the compound outside of Deiningen, and placed into child protective services while being interviewed by authorities who are trying to find ways to assist them, deprogram them and get them into schools and families that can help them detox from this lifestyle.

I cannot begin to tell you how much agony I have been in since the news broke. Several methods mentioned that were employed in the compound are methods I am having PTSD-reactions about from my own childhood.

What has angered me beyond all reason is how quickly Michael Farris, head of the HSLDA was to pick up this story and stand behind the Zwölf Stämme and say that there was no abuse happening. Because we know the HSLDA is all about systemic abuses and hiding those from authorities. It bothers me how little the HSLDA respects other country’s laws and rights to live according to their belief systems and instead do not focus on the abuses that are endemic in their own back yard.

For those who think that is quite the thing for such a blogger as myself to say, I too was an HSLDA child. I didn’t trust them as far as I could throw something at them as a homeschooler, and I trust them even less now that I’ve an adult and living outside of the US. They are a terrible representation for Christians and of Christianity when it comes to how they treat others. Where’s the grace there guys? Really. Where’s the love?

So, after the news breaks as to how the information came to the police and to raid the compound, Michael Farris is notified of the abuses. All he says is “I said something in that nature, but I see now that my sources were wrong.” [He said and implied there were no abuses.]

So, all we get is a “my bad.” Not an apology.

The best news source at the moment, that has discussed what happened, comes by way of The UK’s Independent Newspaper.

The film shows how children are made to get up at 5am and stand though an hour-long prayer session. They are obliged to labour with adults in the community’s farm plots and workshops…
“It’s normal to be beaten every day,” said Christian…
The film also shows… a baby boy being forcefully gripped by the back of the head in a practice referred to by sect members as “restraining.” 
In Germany’s Twelve Tribes sect, cameras catch ‘cold and systematic’ child-beating

The remainder of the news stories I will be quoting are from German news sources. I will translate them and share them here with the original sources. I would suggest using Google Translate to read them if you do not have German language knowledge. It will not be a perfect translation, but it will help you know what is going on. Just plop the link in the translate area and set the translation from German to English (or your language of choice). It will do the rest of the work for you.

There is video here from RTL, where two former members, Christian and Jael (or Yael?) explain how children are mishandled in the sect. I have to admit that I did big giant ugly cries when I listened to them and saw the video attached.

There is also video here from RTL where a former member, Klaus F., discusses his feelings and knowledge about the revelations from the Zwölf Stämme, after having lived for many years in the sect, leaving with his four children but without his wife; who chose to stay behind.

Over and over again, in both videos, a current member of the sect says they “do not call it spanking or hitting, we just call it disciplining.” And goes into detail about how they pick rods to hit the children with.

I do not see how this can be deniable when it was recorded and the members are known.

On top of this, the reporter asked the authorities, and they knew that the children were being spanked, but they didn’t know how badly or how many. (This is cleared up in the second video at about minute seven.)

What angers me is that the members of the group say that they have frequently had doctors come in and they have proof that their children were not abused.

The exclusive 45 minute long news exclusive is now available in RTL’s iTunes app. (They move it off site after 7 days.)

The Ansbach Youth Office has maintained in regular contact since the influx of children in 2010. Their visits would present concerns and worries that could not be dissuaded, but were also “not sufficient evidence for the initiation of family law measures” to be submitted. Only now the Family Court and the Youth Office of Nördlingen districts in the  Donau-Ries region received “credible, concrete and actionable information,” showing that the “physical and emotional welfare of the children could be permanently compromised.”
Der Spiegel: “Twelve Tribes”: Police take 40 children from Christian sect in Bavaria

There are 150 German members of the international community of ’12 tribes’ faith – in their own words “Bible in the tradition of early Christianity.”  …The children are taught early on that Africans, Blacks and homosexuals are cursed; and women belong to an inferior race.
RTL: Raid on sect ’12 tribes’ – RTL reporter provides evidence of child abuse

…the children would be “cleansed” by the blows and “freed from the devil.” Strikes would constantly be administered due to varied reasons. It is enough already to be struck, if a child does not pay attention in class…
…there is “ubiquitous, mutual supervision, built on intimidation, by this spying totalitarian system” which makes it impossible to live differently at all, says Kuhnigk.
Der Spiegel: Suspected abuse at Christian Sect: “They live with their children in their own world”

 “[In Germany] Every child has the ” right to a violence-free education “. And “despite many calls and offers of help” the community members would continue to be “disciplined and mentally abusing towards” their children…
… “Mental abuse and isolation has only occurred when the authorities have taken away our children,” says a father.”
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Those who wish to play are beaten

 Kuhnigk: The children do not have close ties to their parents because they can not protect them. If the parents refuse to,the elders deemed necessary to punish pressure them to give their children over to others to mete it out. The children may not develop individuality. There are no children playing in the yard, fantasy play and free play are prohibited. The children are broken.
Augsburger Allgemeine: Hidden reporter: “I almost cried.”

 …The violence done to the children is “so quiet, so systemic, and planned,” such as torture…
…Also shown is the “Restraining” of the babies with one arm, where a tightly wrapped baby with a black head of hair that can hardly move…
Augsburger Allgemeine: Children of the Twelve Tribes: nearly 100 floggings in two days

…The RTL reporter also was able to procure the special “educational book” of the sect. Here, it refers specifically to physical pain as an integral part of education. Especially for strong-willed children, beating their tails for instruction is recommended.
Augsburger Allgemeine: Spanking as an educational system: Undercover in the Twelve Tribes

“The whole procedure is such that the adult relies on a chair. The child must present themselves to adults then. Either he or she puts their pants down, or it can be pulled down. Then the adults look for a suitable rod with appropriate length and begin to beat the children…
The children are beaten until they say what adults want to hear…   Not a single child has struggled in any form. Anyone who turns away from adults while being beaten, is returned to the ‘right position’ and additionally punished, “said Kuhnigk.
Focus: Incognito reporter in the “Twelve tribes” describes perverse whipping system of the sect

 …a lecture by the cult leader Gene Spriggs in 2000 is documented, among other things. “Our children were brought up with the rod of correction, we do not argue that,” says the gray-haired, bearded man who has tied his shoulder-length hair into a ponytail, in English. “And when we are put in jail for it, then we go to jail, because we know that we are doing right and discipline our children in love.”
Süddeutsche Zeitung: He who spares his rod, hates his son

Against asylum seekers and protesters, the authorities in place practice vigorous crackdowns. But when it comes to the children, when the most vulnerable of society are in danger, the Bavarian courts exhibit boundless patience…
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Embarrassing Failure

I cannot begin to tell you how this breaks my heart.

I know that this is systemic elsewhere, especially in parts of the US. But in a country where children are usually protected?

So many checks and balances broke down in protecting these children.

In a land where spanking and other punitive forms of discipline that include striking a child are outlawed, it’s just unbelievable. To hear in other people’s words what I lived as a child, it just completely validates how I feel about punitive parenting, and how it simply cannot, and does not have a biblical basis whatsoever.

I have sat and written this entire blog post while shaking and having flashbacks of my own childhood and all I can say is that I hope and pray that these parents are given more early childhood education and that their children are not given to them in unsupervised visits until they have proven their mentality and hearts have changed for the better towards their children.

I just cannot imagine giving my children over to someone else to do anything to them. Then again, I am a very protective mother bear, and I never allowed my spirit to be completely broken by my family or their beliefs in punitive discipline.

If there is one thing I could ask tonight, I would ask that you pray for all the children of the Twelve Tribes and do what you can to support the survivors of this awful abuse.

*****

Part Two >

Alternative Narratives On Germany And Homeschooling: An Introduction

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

So much of the “news” one hears these days about Germany and homeschooling comes from the same sources: Fox, The Blaze, World Net Daily, the Christian Post, and WORLD Magazine. Often times it seems like these sources merely copy and paste press releases from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) rather than do their own research. I can also count on one hand how many times they did not bring up Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party or the Gestapo, or encourage their readers to think in terms of xenophobic slurs.

When I wrote my essay about how American-based organizations like HSLDA and the Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF) supported the Bavarian branch of the Twelve Tribes through the efforts and money of American Christians and homeschoolers, I was struck by the vast differences in coverage between American media and German media. I think, honestly, what I was most struck by was that — there has been an abundance of German media coverage on the homeschool question in Germany over the last decade. While that probably ought not be surprising, it was surprising for this reason: that coverage is almost universally absent in American coverage.

And here is why this is a problem: there are really, really important details in the German media coverage that get conveniently left out of the American media coverage.

Details that can make all the difference in the world in how one perceives individual situations.

I am hoping this week to provide the HA audience and a wider audience with some of this missing information. I also want to encourage Christians, homeschoolers, Americans, and so forth to think beyond the predominant narrative on what is going on in Germany — a narrative that is intimately and methodically constructed by HSLDA itself — and consider other narratives and points of view.

This week HA will not be presenting merely one narrative in opposition to HSLDA’s narrative. Rather, we will be sharing viewpoints from a diversity of sources. Some of us might actually believe Germany’s almost-ban on homeschooling is in fact silly, but at the same time believe homeschooling is not a human right. Or we might disapprove of excessive police force against German homeschoolers, but agree with Germany’s almost-ban on homeschooling. Or we might be 100% cool with homeschooling but think it is 100% not cool to use American immigration and asylum policy as a battleground for homeschool politics.

The point this week is not to force any one perspective down your throat. The point is to encourage you to consider more than HSLDA’s perspective — more than the perspective that is allowed to go unquestioned and parroted by Fox, The Blaze, WND, and so forth.

*****

Introducing Jennifer Stahl

As we begin this week on Germany and homeschooling, I am excited to introduce Jennifer Stahl to the Homeschoolers Anonymous audience. Jennifer was homeschooled from the sixth grade forward under the Home School Legal Defense Association umbrella — and she is currently residing in Germany. She has written a number of excellent posts about German homeschool controversies on her own blog.

As a former HSLDA kid currently living in Germany, Jennifer’s voice is a fascinating and important one to consider.

As a former HSLDA kid currently living in Germany,, Jennifer Stahl's voice is a fascinating and important one to consider.
As a former HSLDA kid currently living in Germany,, Jennifer Stahl’s voice is a fascinating and important one to consider.

Here is a little bit about her: Jennifer was raised in a US Military home where she lived in six different states and in two foreign countries before getting married and moving to Germany. She is the oldest of three children and her school background varied greatly, including six years of home-schooling. Jennifer’s faith took a different direction in the last decade, towards Messianic Judaism, which has been a source of contention with her family’s fundamentalist background. After moving overseas and having her first child, she began questioning the doctrine that children are inherently sinful beings who need to be beaten regularly, obey instantly with a happy heart and never question their religious and household authority. She has also been unpacking much of the harm of purity culture, spiritual abuse, and anti-feminism while navigating cross-cultural norms. In processing these issues, she came to realize how much doctrine had been passed off as “Gospel Truth” and began blogging about this late last year.

You can follow Jennifer on her blog at Yeshua, Hineni and on Twitter at @HadassahSukkot. She was recently interviewed about Christian feminism on From Two to One.

*****

Since the Bavarian Twelve Tribes were recently filmed committing child abuse and Dirk and Petra Wunderlich were recently reunited with their children, and HSLDA members have been flooding the Germany Embassy’s Facebook page, there are likely a lot of Germans wondering about this American organization called HSLDA and about homeschooling and the like. So to start this week, Kathryn Brightbill has written “a quick and dirty primer on HSLDA,” so that interested individuals can learn more.

The battle over homeschooling in Germany has raged for well over a decade. There have been many high profile cases, ranging from the Twelve Tribes (Zwölf Stämme) to the Paderborn Seven to Melissa Busekros to the Romeike, Wunderlich, and Dudek families. Most of these high profile cases involve some form of fundamentalist Christianity, with evolution and sex education as motivating factors for homeschooling. They also involve the hand of an American organization like HSLDA or ADF — or a German-based affiliate, like Schulunterricht zu Hause and Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit.

Since it is unlikely this battle is going away any time soon, the least we can do is understand the situation and get our facts straight.

I hope that this week’s series will aid in that endeavor.

How American Homeschoolers Enabled and Funded German Child Abuse

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

*****

“Without the assistance of American homeschoolers, these advancements would not have been possible.”

~ Homeschool Legal Defense Association, concerning German legal association Schulunterricht zu Hause

*****

Last week, German police raided a monastery and farm belonging to a religious sect in Bavaria. They removed 40 children on allegations of child abuse. While the event was originally portrayed by the sect as well as American right-wing news sources as religious persecution, that portrayal was quickly proven wrong. Video evidence of cruel and systematic abuse of children surfaced.

Some homeschool advocates originally attempted to chalk this up as another example of “German intolerance” of homeschooling. German homeschool advocate Jörg Großelümern, who leads the HSLDA-allied Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit (or Network for Freedom in Education), had brought the situation to the attention of Michael Farris, chairman of HSLDA, the U.S.-based homeschool lobbying organization. Großelümern alleged that “the authorities want to create a fait accompli because school holidays will end next week in Bavaria and their private school is not approved by the state.” Farris responded in turn, “Thanks so much for the info and for your leadership and courage.”

When evidence surfaced of real and horrific abuse, however, these homeschool advocates immediately distanced themselves from the sect. Großelümern backpedaled: “I didn’t know what was going on behind the curtain of this sect. They didn’t tell the truth and things must be judged differently now.”

Farris added that, “My sources were wrong,” Which makes sense, since his source was Großelümern.

People can, and do, make mistakes. People can have lapses of judgment. But the elephant in the room is how a German homeschool leader like Großelümern, and an international homeschool advocate like Farris, would not first wait to find out what was “going on behind the curtain.” It is slightly unsettling that their gut reactions to allegations of child abuse in a group universally recognized as a cult was to assume the best about sect parents over the well-being of children. 

But more than this, it is entirely disingenuous.

The sect in Bavaria, otherwise known as the Twelve Tribes, has been actively defended directly and indirectly through the actions of American homeschool advocates — most notably, by HSLDA itself — for the last decade. These advocates have organized legions of American homeschoolers and funneled over $100,000 of American money to groups that have directly and unabashedly supported this sect and its “rights.” Whether through sheer ignorance, or turning a blind eye, HSLDA and fellow homeschool advocates have encouraged Americans to both enable and fund child abuse in Germany.

A Summary of the Twelve Tribes

The Twelve Tribes is a religious cult founded in 1972. I say “cult” not as a dismissive pejorative but because its former members have declared it to be such, using descriptions such as: “The Community instills intense fear in their members,” “The Twelve Tribes cult denied my right to make free will choices,”  and “mind control.”

Former members also argue that common allegations of child abuse within the Twelve Tribes are not only real, but more prevalent than even the news reports state:

  • “Former members made many accusations of child abuse and I’ll state unequivocally that abuse (physical, mental and emotional) occurred.”
  • “The newspapers often sensationalize information, but the child abuse within the Twelve Tribes was 10 times worse than reported.”
  • “We witnessed the beating of children almost to the point of death.”

The sect was created by Gene Spriggs in Chattanooga, Tennessee and was influenced by the “Jesus Movement” of the time. The sect’s beliefs mirror those of Christian fundamentalism and Messianic Judaism. They homeschool their children, hold to a form of Quiverfull ideology, and champion home births with midwives. Adherents to Spriggs’s sect have branched out from Tennesse and now live in Canada, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, and the United Kingdom. In 2001, a New York branch of the sect got in trouble over child labor allegations.

The most recently newsworthy branch is the branch in Germany, where it is known as “Zwölf Stämme.”

Zwölf Stämme

The Twelve Tribes branch in Germany acquired the Klosterzimmern estate in Bavaria, Germany in the summer of 2000.

The sect believes homeschooling is the only Christian form of education. Since, according to them, education “must take place within the ‘church’ or the community of believers,” “[they] train [their] children in [their] own homes.” They also “do not send [their] children to college because they “do not think college is a healthy environment.”

On Thursday, September 5, 2013, German police removed 40 children from the Twelve Tribes’ monastery and farm — their homes in Klosterzimmern and their other home at the Georg-Ehnes-Platz. The Twelve Tribes’ original press release from September 5 portrayed the removal as religious discrimination or persecution, that they were “found guilty based on their association with a religious faith” and that “no specific evidence was produced against any individual affected.”

However, according to the Guardian UK, the police were very clear that the raid was due to “accusations of child abuse.” The state education ministry also was clear, according to the German paper The Local, that it “did not have anything to do with topic of school attendance.”

Unlike some of the reports you might have heard from HSLDA, Fox News, WorldNetDaily and WORLD Magazine, German children are not necessarily required to attend public school nor is homeschooling carte blanche illegal. The German government sanctions public, private, and religious schooling. (In fact, Article 7, Paragraph 4 of Germany’s constitution guarantees the right to establish private schools.) They even sanction homeschooling for families who travel significantly as well as families with sick children.

Indeed, the Twelve Tribes themselves originally had a license to operate a private school. But according to the Guardian, they lost this license due to “unfit teachers”:

Teaching licences were recently withdrawn from the sect’s own school near the town of Deiningen, near Augsburg, with inspectors declaring its teachers unfit.

On their website, the Twelve Tribes say that, “Our children grow up in a loving environment and are educated in the spirit of charity.” Though just last year there were concerns as well, according to the Guardian:

Following a magazine investigation last year in which the abuse allegations were raised, the sect strongly denied allegations of abuse, declaring: “We are an open and transparent community which does not tolerate any form of child abuse.”

So the sect denied allegations of abuse. Yet the police said that the raid was due to “fresh evidence indicating significant and ongoing child abuse by the members.” Though, of course, that is not how WORLD Magazine and others presented the situation. WORLD emphasized that police “didn’t offer details” and highlighted the supposed illegality of homeschooling in Germany and how police had recently “forcibly removed” the children of “a homeschooling family” — as if to connect the Twelve Tribes situation with the “persecution” of German homeschoolers in general.

Now the evidence is out there, though. Not only does it have nothing to do with homeschooling, it also is not pretty. According to the Independent on September 10, 2013, in an article entitled “In Germany’s Twelve Tribes sect, cameras catch ‘cold and systematic’ child-beating”:

Within the space of a few hours, six adults are filmed in the cellar and in an underground school central heating room beating six children with a total of 83 strokes of the cane. The graphic and disturbing scenes were shown on Germany’s RTL television channel last night. They were filmed by Wolfram Kuhnigk, an RTL journalist equipped with hidden video cameras and microphones, who infiltrated a 100-strong religious community run by the fundamentalist “Twelve Tribes” sect in Bavaria earlier this year. Kuhnigk claimed to be a lost soul to gain entry… He collected 50 beating scenes on camera… Mr Kuhnigk’s clandestinely obtained evidence prompted police and youth workers to raid two “Twelve Tribes” communities in Bavaria last Thursday… The evidence he collected at the sect’s community in a former monastery near the village of Deiningen exposes a dark world in which children have no rights and are subjected to round-the-clock surveillance and persistent beatings for the most trivial offences.

While the exposed child abuse is horrifying and not related to German homeschool laws, this is not the first time the Twelve Tribes has been in trouble. They were in trouble as recently as 2004, and that situation involved homeschooling. It also coincided with another important German homeschool situation.

Two Sets of Seven Families

Between 2004 and 2005, 2 different sets of 7 homeschool families each ran into trouble with the German school system. The first set of 7 involved the Twelve Tribes community in Klosterzimmern — the exact same community that just got busted for cold and systematic child abuse. The second set of 7 involved families from a fundamentalist Baptist community in Paderborn, Westphalia. Since right-wing media and American homeschool advocates often compared and connected these two sets of 7 families, it is important to look at each.

The Twelve Tribes Seven

In September of 2004, 7 homeschooling fathers from the Twelve Tribes were arrested for refusing to send their children to state-approved schools. To understand what happened, we must first rewind to 2002. Remember, too, that the Twelve Tribes had only acquired the Klosterzimmern estate in Bavaria a mere two years prior in 2000. So this is occurring shortly after they took residency in this area.

In October of 2002, German police raided the Twelve Tribes and took their children to a nearby primary and secondary school — as is required by law. While the raid led to dramatic scenes, not much actually happened. The kids were taken to school, the Twelve Tribes’ families were heavily fined, and then the Twelve Tribes families did not pay the fines. The bailiff actually felt some sense of sympathy for them.

Two years later in September of 2004, despite everything that happened, the Twelve Tribes still refused to send their children to state-approved schools and still refused to pay the fines. Since they refused to pay the fines for two years, the fines — according to the German newspaper The Spiegel — had reached “a six-figure sum.” So finally, after two years of breaking the law, 7 of the homeschooling fathers from the Twelve Tribes were arrested and placed in prison.

That same month, over in the United States, Ron Strom from WorldNetDaily wrote an article about the situation entitled “7 HOMESCHOOLING DADS THROWN IN JAIL.” He reported,

Seven homeschooling fathers in Germany spent several days in jail for refusing to pay fines that were imposed on them for failing to send their children to government schools. The fathers, who are part of the Twelve Tribes Community in Klosterzimmern, Germany, were forced to spend between six and 16 days in what the group’s website translates as “coercive jail.”

One of the homeschooling fathers who was arrested wasted no time comparing the situation to Nazi Germany:

The ‘wrong’ of the members of the resistance in the Third Reich is being praised today, the members are being esteemed as heroes.

Strom ends his article with instructions for how to help:

Those wishing to help the cause of homeschooling in Germany can contact a legal defense organization there, Schulunterricht Zu Hause E.V.

So the members of a sect had flagrantly violated the law on several occasions and refused to accept both the penalty for that violation as well as obey the law after the fact. Strom from WorldNetDaily presents the situation as something Nazi-like, and then appeals to readers to send money to a specific organization: Schulunterricht Zu Hause.

We will get to this “legal defense organization” Schulunterricht Zu Hause shortly. But I want to point out what the end result of all this legal drama was. Through the efforts of Schulunterricht Zu Hause and another organization, the Twelve Tribes were actually successful. Because at the end of August 2006, the Twelve Tribes won permission to run a private school:

A group of fundamentalist Christians in Bavaria has won a long battle for the right to privately teach their children — without sex ed and lessons on evolution…The members of the fundamentalist Christian sect “Zwölf Stämme” (Twelve Tribes) have won a victory of sorts in their fight to educate their children outside of Germany’s state school system. Bavarian officials have agreed to let the group’s 32 school-aged children be taught by their own teachers in a private school.

According to German broadcaster DW, the Twelve Tribes receiving permission to run their own school — that omitted sex education and evolution science — was not merely a victory for the sect. It was, more importantly, a homeschool victory:

In Germany, there have been partial victories for such [homeschooling] parents. A group of fundamentalist Christian parents in Bavaria recently won the right to have their children taught by their own teachers in a private school subject to state oversight. That helped end a standoff between the religious group called the Twelve Tribes who don’t want sex education and evolution taught to their children. But the truce is temporary — the school is on a one-year trial.

Fast forward now to July 2013, two months before evidence of widespread child abuse surfaced. The Twelve Tribes had their education license — according to the German paper The Local — revoked due to “a lack of suitable teachers.” So not only did these children experience unfit teachers and thus likely educational neglect (as evidenced in July 2013), but also they were being systematically beaten (as evidenced in September of 2013). And note: this is because the Twelve Tribes successfully won permission to run their own private school, courtesy of the efforts of Schulunterricht Zu Hause and others.

The Paderborn Seven

The other set of 7 homeschooling families are from Paderborn, Westphalia. Their situation arose mere months after the Twelve Tribes situation. In January of 2005, we once again hear from Ron Strom from WorldNetDaily:

German Christians who choose to homeschool their children are coming under continued enforcement action by the government, with one group of families fearful they may lose custody of their kids. According to Richard Guenther, an American expatriate who lives in Germany, several families in the town of Paderborn currently “are being heavily persecuted for their faith.”

So in September of 2004 we have seven families from Bavaria. And now there are seven families from Paderborn. (We also are hearing about Richard Guenther, who will be important shortly. So remember his name. And keep remembering Schulunterricht Zu Hause.) Strom makes sure to connect these seven families from Paderborn to the seven families from the Twelve Tribes:

As WorldNetDaily reported [in other words, as Strom himself reported], Seven homeschooling fathers from the Twelve Tribes Community in Klosterzimmern spent several days in jail last fall for refusing to pay fines that were imposed on them for failing to send their children to government schools.

The Paderborn Seven became a news sensation among right-wing media and particularly among homeschool advocates. What had happened, according to a Germans news source on June 19, 2005, was that a community of fundamental Baptists decided to boycott public schools because of “sex education” as well as “anti-fundamentalist-Christian and corrupt education” practices in the schools. Mediation talks were first attempted by the school system, and then fines and penalties.

The German news source, too, compared the Paderborn Seven to the Twelve Tribes Seven, saying, “Similarly violent clashes between authorities and fundamentalist Christians are so far known only from Bavaria.” In fact, the Paderborn Seven attempted to take a page from the Twelve Tribes book by similarly asking for permission to create their own private school. However, according to the Brussels Journal in February of 2007, this request “was rejected by the German authorities” because a court ruled the Baptists had shown “a stubborn contempt” for the state’s educational duties as well as the necessity of children’s development.

As soon as the Paderborn case blew up, HSLDA was on it. The same month it started, January of 2005, HSLDA sounded the alarm:

Seven homeschool families in Northwest Germany are being forced to enroll their children in public school…In order to help these seven homeschool families in Germany, we urge you to call or write to the German Embassy immediately.

HSLDA continued lobbying for the Paderborn Seven, encouraging thousands of American homeschoolers to call and email the Germany embassy. Also, in the May/June 2005 edition of their Court Report, HSLDA mentioned that another organization was similarly lobbying, and that both organizations’ lobbying efforts were working together:

In January, local school officials threatened to prosecute seven families for homeschooling in Paderborn County, Germany. Home School Legal Defense Association immediately sent out two e-lerts, which prompted thousands of phone calls and emails to the German Embassy… Simultaneously, Schulunterricht zu Hause e.V. (School Instruction at Home) attorneys Rich and Ingrid Guenther, who are also homeschooling parents, mediated with the authorities on behalf of the seven families… The combined force of the Guenthers’ influence and the flood of embassy contacts persuaded some officials to call for the legalization of homeschooling and delayed prosecution for nearly three months.

So persuasive was this two-pronged effort on behalf of HSLDA and Schulunterricht zu Hause — which means School Instruction at Home — that German officials were rethinking their positions. Also, prosecution of the Paderborn Seven was put on hold.

Notice, again, the involvement of Schulunterricht zu Hause and Richard Guenther — the latter, we now find out, is an attorney of the former. However, Guenther is not only an attorney. According to HSLDA in March 22, 2005, Rich Guenther is “the head of School Instruction at Home, a German homeschool advocacy group.”

In the midst of a media frenzy over the Paderborn case, American homeschoolers immediately conjured up Adolf Hitler and Nazism. Several homeschoolers have pointed to Mary Pride’s Practical Homeschooling magazine as the source for this imagery. On February 17, 2005, Practical Homeschooling made the (very historically false and simplifying) association between compulsory government education and the Third Reich: “One of Hitler and his buddies’ first acts on taking office was to establish the Reich Ministry of Education and give it control of all schools… Current German officials seem to have this same Nazi-inspired view.”

This Nazi imagery has been repeated time and time again. In the Brussels Journal, August 2005:

Home-schooling has been illegal in Germany since Adolf Hitler outlawed it in 1938 and ordered all children to be sent to state schools…As Hitler knew, Germans tend to obey orders unquestioningly.

Note, too, that the Brussels Journal also references the Twelve Tribes Seven:

Last year the police in Bavaria held several homeschooling fathers in coercive detention.  They belonged to Christian groups who claim the right of parents to educate their own children, but they are not backed by the official (state funded) churches.

Bob Unruh from WorldNetDaily jumped on the Nazi bandwagon a year later, when talking about the Romeike family’s situation, calling it “a Nazi-like response from police.” Unruh also pointed to HSLDA’s involvement in the historically inaccurate Nazi comparison, saying: “[HSLDA] also noted that homeschooling has been illegal in Germany probably since 1938 when Hitler banned it.” Even the late Christopher Klicka from HSLDA played the inaccurate Nazi card in 2006.

(This is a side note, but a necessary one considering all these Nazi references: if your first reaction to something that the German people do that you do not agree with, is to conjure up imagery of Adolf Hitler and Nazism, that is a sign of xenophobia. If you start describing actions of particular people in terms of a whole group of people and those terms involve inherently negative stereotypes, then — yeah, you are a xenophobe. Germans like being compared to their own culture’s own worst nightmare as much as Americans do — in other words, not at all. So consider how you would like it if, every time the United States did something wrong, people constantly brought up the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It would become a sore subject very quickly, would it not?)

The Religious Right’s Global Intentions

To properly understand why HSLDA, an American lobbying organization, as well as American homeschoolers are involving themselves in a foreign country’s domestic policies, one must consider two distinct yet intimately connected phenomena: (1) the American Religious Right’s global intentions and (2) HSLDA’s global legal strategy. The former is the larger context in which the latter exists, and the latter explains HSDLA’s current international tactics.

Since the 1990s, the American Religious Right has become concerned about, and thus interested in, domestic courts and their decisions. While evangelicals had amassed significant political clout through the Republican Party, they had simultaneous lost significant clout through the court systems. Defeats in the courts, according to Legal Affairs in 2006, is what inspired the Religious Right in the 90’s to create public interest firms, including “Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice [ACLJ], and Liberty Counsel [LC], affiliated with the Rev. Jerry Falwell.” Important to the larger narrative here is that, in 1994, James Dobson of Focus on the Family as well as Bill Bright from Campus Crusade created the Alliance Defense Fund (or ADF), which recently was renamed the Alliance Defending Freedom. Dobson and Bright “formed the ADF as a counterweight to the ACLU.”

Through groups like the ACLJ, LC, and ADF, the Religious Right has won significant court battles. But in the early 2000s, a new threat was perceived: international law. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an antisodomy law in Lawrence v. Texas. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy referenced the decriminalization of sodomy by both the British Parliament in 1967 as well as the European Court of Human Rights in 1981. 2 years later, Kennedy again referenced both foreign and international law (Roper v. Simmons).

As Legal Affairs pointed out in 2006, “It didn’t escape the notice of evangelical Christians that judges had looked to foreign courts in two cases that struck at the heart of their agenda.” Consequently, the Religious Right became highly concerned with international law. Organizations like ACLJ, LC, and ADF began the process of created international networks and foreign organizations in order to counter the perceived influence of foreign and international law on American law: first, to change foreign and international law so that it would reflect their own American values; and second, to change foreign law and international law so that, should it influence American law in the future, that influence would be in a way they considered good and righteous.

The result has been nothing less than the full-scale global export of American culture wars. As the American Prospect said in their 2007 article, “Tomorrow, the World,”

Over the past 10 years, American Christian conservatives, once focused on the U.S., have begun to take the culture wars global, developing networks of like-minded activists worldwide, delving into legal battles overseas, and taking with them the scorched-earth tactics that have worked so well in the United States. As the Christian right has expanded its base in America, it has secured more resources with which to venture abroad… Evangelical Christianity and other conservative religious movements gain force in Europe.

The American Prospect points to a number of organizations from the Religious Right that are engaging in the exporting of conservative Christian values, including the ADF. One organization that they highlight is the International Human Rights Group (IHRG), a Christian conservative organization run by a man named Joel Thornton. IHRG “runs many seminars for European lawyers” teaching them “how to bring their faith into politics,” and focus on “winning key cultural debates, from abortion to home schooling.”

What is very interesting about many of these groups is that they are often one and the same. In fact, many of them are nothing more than “shell organizations.” They exist to address one or two issues and then they are disbanded. For example: The ADF, according to Legal Affairs, “has financed locally based lawyers to intervene in a number of foreign cases.” One group of lawyers that the Allied Defense Fund funded was the “European Defense Fund” (EDF), which no longer exists. The EDF was created for one and only one purpose:

With ADF funding, lawyers from a new allied organization, the European Defense Fund, are advising German Christian parents who home school their children but fear they will be prosecuted for failing to send them to school, as Germany’s laws require they do.

So EDF was funded by ADF to defend German homeschoolers — though it also maybe had some project involving the Olympics, according to their now-defunct website. And who was the founder? According to Rome News-Tribute on March 11, 2007, the founder was an American attorney from Rome, Georgia: Joel Thornton. Thornton, former chief of staff for Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice, was “founder of the former European Defense Fund.” However, the EDF was “recently renamed the International Human Rights Group.” So EDF and IHRG are the same thing: an ADF-funded organization led by Joel Thornton to defend German homeschoolers. And if you look at IHRG’s original website, the organization dealt with one and only one issue: German homeschooling. (Their current website is similarly sparse.) And not only is EDF/IHRG “ADF-funded,” it really just is an extension of ADF. Even HSLDA, as an ally of ADF, referred in 2008 to Thornton’s efforts as efforts from “the Alliance Defense Fund.”

So part of the Religious Right’s global strategy of influencing and changing foreign and international law has specifically involved homeschooling. According to the Christian Science Monitor in 2007, this is because German homeschoolers’ plights have “struck a chord with US evangelicals, who often see home-schooling as a way to instill Christian values.” This had led Americans to rush to their aid, “providing legal counsel and lobbying the German parliament.” This is, of course, exactly what the Religious Right is hoping for. They want American Christians and homeschoolers to fight these cultural wars for them.

Through ADF’s efforts and Thornton’s work as both the EDF and IHRG, the American Religious Right is impacting Germany politics, the goal being “to ward off precedents that might someday be used against the ADF’s causes in American courts.” As the American Prospect said, “In Germany, Thornton’s International Human Rights Group” (as well as other allies, which we will talk about shortly) “have taken up more than a dozen court cases dealing with home schooling.” That is actually a conservative estimate. The Christian Science Monitor has said IHRG “has had a hand in more than 40 German home-schooling cases.”

All in all, Thornton believes he has been extraordinarily successful through IHRG and EDF. So successful, in fact, that he and other U.S. culture warriors are mapping out the future and figuring out where next to export American-style culture wars to. Once Europe is conquered, where next? Well, the Middle East, actually:

…It’s all a long way from 10 years ago, when Thornton remembers finding almost no one in Europe who understood how to win the culture wars. Now, the Christian right has done well enough in the Old World that it is looking for new, even less hospitable lands. “The next logical place for us is the Middle East, and we’ll also be able to have an impact,” says Sekulow of the European Center for Law and Justice. “We will succeed there, too.”

HSLDA’s Global Intentions

Just as the Religious Right has set its sight on foreign and international law since the 1990s, so, too, has HSLDA. In fact, everything that you are seeing and hearing about regarding the current situation with the Romeike family is part of a larger, premeditated plan of action that HSLDA came up with over a decade ago. I do not propose that as a conspiracy theory. Rather, this very fact was laid out in detail by HSLDA’s Michael Donnelly three years ago, in the March/April 2010 edition of Court Report.

In that Court Report, Donnelly begins with the January 26, 2010 decision by a U.S. immigration judge to grant the Romeike family asylum due to “persecution for homeschooling.” Donnelly compares German homeschoolers to “the courageous English families who fled to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620.” The granting of asylum (later overturned) was a significant legal precedent at the time. As Donnelly points out, this was “the first case ever to recognize homeschooling as a reason for granting asylum.”

While HSLDA and Donnelly were ecstatic for the Romeike family, they were more ecstatic about something else: that their political strategy seemed to have payed off. That judge’s decision was the Golden Egg of HSLDA’s decade-long plan to get homeschooling established as a fundamental and human right — not just to shake up Germany’s laws, but more importantly — as in the case of the Religious Right’s international efforts in general — to influence U.S. law. I am not making this up. This is what Donnelly himself said: “The Romeikes’ asylum victory is the culmination of years of groundwork to protect homeschooling.”

Years of groundwork for what? Donnelly explains:

Home School Legal Defense Association has been tracking the plight of German homeschoolers for years. In the early 1990s, then–HSLDA President Michael Farris became aware of the struggles homeschooling families were facing in several European countries during his travels on behalf of Christian Solidarity International.

Over the next decade or so, Farris and the late Christopher Klicka would visit Germany frequently and champion German homeschoolers. As early as September of 2000, the Washington Post wrote an article entitled, “Home-school movement goes global.” The Post highlighted how American homeschoolers protested Germany’s homeschooling policies. How HSLDA encouraged American homeschoolers to “[barrage] the German Embassy with e-mail, letters and phone calls.” HSLDA itself bragged in 2000 about how “U.S. home-school families began an aggressive campaign…directed at the German Embassy in Washington, which resulted in thousands of phone calls, more than 800 e-mail messages and 400 letters urging the German government to make home schooling legal.”

“Our goal,” said HSLDA’s Christopher Kilicka, “is legalization of home schooling throughout Germany.”

But HSLDA needed more than phone and internet bullying to be successful. According to Donnelly, “a comprehensive strategy was needed.” This was needed less for Germany’s own sake but more for international reasons: “if Germany could continue to get away with persecuting homeschoolers, other countries might follow its lead.” Which led HSLDA to think personally: “such a trend may not stay on the other side of the Atlantic.”

Donnelly explains that, in looking at losses homeschoolers experienced in Germany, prospects were not promising. Germany’s supreme courts rejected homeschoolers’ claims. In fact, the courts said — and I find this fascinating — that homeschooling (rather than forbidding homeschooling — “was an abuse of parental rights.” So in 2007, Michael Farris and Mike Donnelly met with Germany homeschool advocates — and more importantly, attorneys from Schuzh. Schuzh is the shortened name of the group I mentioned earlier: Schulunterricht zu Hause, or School Instruction at Home. Together, HSLDA and Schulunterricht zu Hause “laid out a new three-part strategy of legal defense, humanitarian assistance, and political influence.”

Key to this strategy, Donnelly says, was creating a Marxist-like “war of position,” or an inversion of German values. Their strategy required a page from Antonio Gramsci’s cultural hegemony playbook: “changing public opinion.” Since there were hardly any homeschoolers in Germany — the latest numbers are approximately 400 families total — HSLDA realized there was no way they could “exert any kind of political influence.”

So they decided to engage in political theater — an international act of high performance art.

HSLDA’s director of litigation “suggested considering a political asylum case.” HSLDA’s first opportunity to do so was in 2006, when they agreed to help a Germany family “get to Canada and file a claim for refugee status.” However, later that year, Uwe and Hanne Romeike fell into HSLDA’s lap. In October of 2006, the Romeike children were taken from their family by German police and placed into a state-approved school.

At the time, Jörg Großelümern (the director of Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit) expressed support for the family: “The Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit strongly empathises with the Romeike family, whom many of us know personally to be an intact and conscience-driven family.” (Interesting side note, considering it was Jörg Großelümern who brought the recent Twelve Tribes issue to Michael Farris’ attention: there is a rumor, which I honestly cannot find verification of, that the Romeike family — HSLDA’s token German homeschoolers — is affiliated with the Twelve Tribes. That would certainly be a fascinating backstory.)

During a homeschool conference in Germany, Donnelly told Romeike that if his family would leave Germany for the U.S., “HSLDA would support [them] in a claim for political asylum.” After selling one of his pianos to fund the trip (because apparently HSLDA could not afford it?), Uwe Romeike moved his family to the U.S. in August 2008. Note that the Romeikes have been in the U.S. since 2008. That is how long HSLDA’s overarching international plan has been in motion, a plan that — according to Donnelly — was aiming for one thing:

“To be able to say that homeschooling is a human right.”

HSLDA and Schulunterricht zu Hause

In addition to overwhelming German embassies with phone calls and emails as well as employing a political asylum case as an Gramscian exercise, HSLDA’s international strategy also required legal “boots on the ground” in Germany. So in August of 2000, Christopher Klicka and HSLDA created a legal defense organization for homeschoolers in Germany. As Crosswalk reported on January 30, 2005, HSLDA “started a legal organization for home schoolers in Germany called Schulunterricht zu Hause, or ‘School Instruction at Home.'” It is also known as “Schuzh.”

Schulunterricht zu Hause was the culmination of efforts by the late HSLDA attorney Christopher Klicka, who — according to the Washignton Post in 2000 — “had contact with home educators in 25 nations around the world over the past couple of years.” In October of 2001, Klicka talked about the organization in a letter to the Brazillian Embassy:

I worked to help network the Germans lawyers and home schoolers and we were able to establish a national home school organization called School Instruction at Home in that country.

The person in charge of Schulunterricht zu Hause as early as 2002 was Richard Guenther. According to HSLDA itself, Guenther’s work through the HSLDA-created organization in Germany was sponsored by “the generosity of American homeschoolers.” HSLDA repeatedly asked for American homeschoolers to financially support Guenther and his organization. This is from 2004:

HSLDA is asking for families to consider donating financial support for the cause of freedom in Germany. You can send donations to the Home School Foundation, earmarked for German homeschoolers. Please go to http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?ID=1211 . We will send the donations on to Schulunterricht zu Hause.

Encouraged by HSLDA, American homeschoolers donated $100,000 to the organization. Furthermore, not only did HSLDA create the organization, it was intimately involved, as Christopher Klicka was on the board. HSLDA also provided the initial funds. According to a January 4, 2006 article by Education Week entitled, “U.S. Home Schoolers Push Movement Around the World,” 

The legal-defense association [HSLDA] taps into its fund for international support — about $15,000 a year — to subsidize start-ups of legal organizations. Other times, Mr. Klicka raises money from American home-schooling parents to support their counterparts overseas… One leader of [Germany’s] homeschooling movement is Richard Guenther, an evangelical Christian and the director of a legal-defense organization founded five years ago. Mr. Klicka organized American home schoolers to raise $100,000 for the organization, and he serves on its board.

Today, HSLDA’s International page for Germany has two organizations officially listed: Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit (led by Jörg Großelümern) and Schulunterricht zu Hause e.V. (formerly led by Richard Guenther, and currently lead by Armin Eckermann).

So HSLDA created Schulunterricht zu Hause in 2000, using member dues to fund its start-up. Then HSLDA rallied American homeschoolers to raise $100,000 for the organization. And HSLDA’s Klicka served on its board. What did Schulunterricht zu Hause do with that American support and money?

With that question, we come full circle to the Twelve Tribes.

HSLDA, ADF, and the Twelve Tribes

I have already pointed out that both the Religious Right in general as well as HSLDA specifically have invested in the German homeschool movement, the former through ADF (and consequently EDF and IHRG) and the latter through Schulunterricht zu Hause. What I should point out first is that these two organizations are actually not that distinct.

The director of HSLDA’s Schulunterricht zu Hause was Richard Guenther.

But Richard Guenther was also the “Director of European Operations” for the ADF’s International Human Rights Group.

So both of these American organizations that rallied American Christians and homeschoolers for “German homeschooling freedoms” had the exact same person in leadership. This ought not be surprising, since IHRG’s Joel Thornton was a huge fan of Christopher Klicka and HSLDA. In fact, in 2000, right around the time when HSLDA was beginning their international strategy as was ADF, Thornton said in his eulogy of Klicka that he “spent time with Chris…in the ACLJ’s offices at Regent University.  Chris was there for the national convention, and he was there to see what could be done to help the home school families of Germany.” (By the way, even Kevin Swanson supported the German homeschool movement and Richard Guenther’s role in it, exclaiming that, “Civilization is dying in Europe.”)

And what did that result in? According to the Christian Science Monitor in 2007,

IHRG and its German ally, Schuzh, have won several cases and scored some coups at the negotiating table. Take, for instance, the case of the Twelve Tribes, a controversial evangelical movement that was founded in the US. Followers live in small, communal groups largely cut off from society. Until last August, a pocket of Twelve Tribes disciples in Bavaria had been locked in a struggle to keep their children out of public schools… IHRG and Schuzh were able to persuade the Bavarian ministry of education to allow the group to set up its own school.

Also, from the American Prospect:

Thornton’s group and [Schulunterricht zu Hause] helped get the German state of Bavaria to allow disciples of Twelve Tribes, a controversial American evangelical group called a cult by some of its ex-members, to set up its own school.

Both ADF and HSLDA’s Schulunterricht zu Hause were the organizations that enabled the Twelve Tribes — the sect that just got busted for cold and systematic child abuse — to win permission to keep their kids isolated from the rest of the world. In fact, mere months after the Twelve Tribes were first prosecuted by violating German law, HSLDA asked American homeschoolers to donate to Schulunterricht zu Hause:

Please continue to support School Instruction At Home, which HSLDA helped to establish in Germany… Please consider donating to School Instruction at Home… Please go to http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?ID=1211 to make a tax-deductible gift to the organization…

Sincerely,

Christopher J. Klicka
HSLDA Senior Counsel

Not only did HSLDA and ADF support, enable, and fund the Twelve Tribes through the efforts and money of American Christians and homeschoolers, HSLDA partnered with the sect to lobby German embassies. According to Barbara Smith’s Home Education Foundation in New Zealand in January of 2005,

Home educators in Bavaria, the Twelve Tribes Community, have been fined for not sending their children to school…Richard Guenther, an American ex- patriate who lives in Germany and is helping the Twelve Tribes Families, says, “The claim of the parents is that the local school is raising the children to be promiscuous and the girls prostitutes.”…The American Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and the Twelve Tribes Community are both encouraging home educators everywhere to email the German authorities

Side Note About Homeschool Politics

Richard Guenther was a key player in the German homeschooling movement since the early 2000s. After HSLDA created Schulunterricht zu Hause, he was the director. He was also appointed Director of European Operations of the IHRG/EDF by the ADF. He has been referred to as “the HSLDA of Germany” as well as “the Lafayette of German homeschooling.”

So, you might be wondering, why have you not heard about him in the last few years?

Well, Richard Guenther is the pseudonymous “Mr. Smith,” who has authored many articles for HSisLegal.com, arguing in recent years that — no joke — HSLDA has singlehandedly destroyed the German homeschool movement through sectarian, patriocentric politics. A chronological timeline of the HSLDA/Guenther debacle — which apparently involved tensions with Homeschooling Pillar Gregg Harris and Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips — can be read here. Note, too, that Richard Guenther’s son, Hans, was interviewed by Gregg Harris’ sons Brett and Alex on September 28, 2005 on their Rebelution blog. They were “thrilled with the quality of his answers.” It seems the children’s parents were not as keen about each other.

Honestly, this seems like a repeat of the Seelhoff vs. Welch debacle, with Harris and Farris marginalizing out of their movement someone who is “out of sync” with the “vision.”

Enabling and Funding Child Abuse

Placing the recent revelations about the Twelve Tribes sect into this historical context changes the shape and color of how both Jörg Großelümern and Michael Farris initially responded to the German police raid. This sect is not some random group that appeared on the headlines, thereby excusing the homeschool advocates’ unfortunate assessments of what happened. Rather, this sect is one of the most prominent examples of the Religious Right and HSLDA’s international strategy for defending homeschooling freedoms abroad.

On account of the efforts by ADF and HSLDA’s German organization, the Twelve Tribes won the right to continue to keep their children isolated from the rest of the world. This was an extraordinarily important case, as it would lay the groundwork for the next case a few months later, involving the Paderborn Seven. What ADF and HSLDA did for the Twelve Tribes was both directly and indirectly funded by American Christians and homeschoolers, who were led to believe that their money and time would be used to support healthy families and their right to direct their children’s education.

Yet ADF and HSLDA chose to defend a high control religious sect. One can say, “We didn’t know what was happening behind the curtain” all one wants to, but that does not explain why they did not take the time to figure that out (which seems to be a really important why, considering HSLDA previously called a man who kept children in cages a “hero”). It does not justify the fact that they used over $100,000 of American money and the dues of their members to create Schulunterricht zu Hause which used that money and support to defend a sect of child abusers. Because of ADF and HSLDA’s tinkering in German affairs, the children of the Twelve Tribes have lived for almost a decade in near-isolation.

The children of the Twelve Tribes suffered horrifying abuse until last week because American dollars enabled and funded that abuse.

“My sources were wrong,” Michael Farris said.

How many other sources of yours have been wrong, Mr. Farris? And how many other children have suffered because of them?

The Twelve Tribes, Child Abuse, and Michael Farris

The village of Klosterzimmern near Deiningen, Germany is home to the "Zwoelf Staemme" (or, "Twelve Tribes").
The village of Klosterzimmern near Deiningen, Germany is home to the “Zwoelf Staemme” (or, “Twelve Tribes”).

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on September 11, 2013.

Last week, German authorities removed 40 children from the Twelve Tribes sect.

Police raided a Christian sect in southern Germany, taking 40 children into foster care on suspicion they were physically abused and seizing sticks allegedly used to hit them, authorities said Friday.

Members of the so-called “Twelve Tribes” sect acknowledged that they believe in spanking their children, but denied wrongdoing.

The Twelve Tribes sect, founded in Tennessee in the 1970s, boasts 2,000 to 3,000 members and has faced child abuse complaints and the removal of their children in the past. In Germany, they have run up against both the country’s ban on spanking and its ban on homeschooling. Last year, the Twelve Tribes community there, which resides in its own compound separated from the surrounding community, founded its own private school to get around the ban on homeschooling; within the last couple of weeks, that school was shut down when it was found that it did not employ the required certified teachers. Accusations of abuse cropped up at the same time, and last week Germany authorities removed the children.

Several days ago Jörg Großelümern, who runs Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit (Education Freedom Network) in Germany and is listed on HSLDA’s Germany page as one of two contacts for German homeschoolers, posted a link to the story on Michael Farris’s facebook wall along with some explanatory text. Michael Farris responded (for those who don’t know, Farris is the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association—HSLDA—and is probably the most prominent spokesperson for homeschooling in the United States). You can see the exchange as follows:

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Later that day, one of Farris’s followers posted another link, voicing her dismay, and Farris again responded. You can see the exchange below:

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Today, the full extent of the charges against the Twelve Tribes group have come to light. And guess what? They have it all on film. [Trigger warning for abuse.]

The little blonde-haired boy is about four years old. He simpers as a middle aged woman drags him downstairs into a dimly-lit cellar and orders the child to bend over and touch the stone floor with his hands. Another little boy watches as the woman pulls down the first boy’s pants and then draws out a willow cane.

“Say you are tired!” commands the woman in an emotionless voice. The swoosh of the willow cane is audible as it strikes the screaming child’s bottom three times. The little boy refuses to say he is tired so he is hit again and again – a total of ten times – until, in floods of tears, he finally says “I am tired.”

Within the space of a few hours, six adults are filmed in the cellar and in an underground school central heating room beating six children with a total of 83 strokes of the cane. The graphic and disturbing scenes were shown on Germany’s RTL television channel last night.

They were filmed by Wolfram Kuhnigk, an RTL journalist equipped with hidden video cameras and microphones, who infiltrated a 100-strong religious community run by the fundamentalist “Twelve Tribes” sect in Bavaria earlier this year. Kuhnigk claimed to be a lost soul to gain entry. “Seeing this systematic beatings made me want to weep, it made me think of my own two children,” he said. He collected 50 beating scenes on camera.

Samantha, a fellow homeschool graduate, posted the link to the article detailing the filmed abuse to Farris’s facebook wall, and again he replied. Here is the exchange:

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Farris should have waited for the facts before speaking—and he really needs to find more reliable sources.

To be honest, one of my biggest concerns about Farris is that he seems to always give the parents the benefit of the doubt and to assume that abuse allegations are false (invented by vengeful authorities with corrupt motives, of course). Assuming that parents are innocent before even looking at the evidence means that abused children go unnoticed and ignored. (Not coincidentally, speaking before having the facts is how HSLDA attorney Scott Sommerville ended up calling child abuser Michael Gravelle a hero. Oops.)

The default should not be to assume that the parents are innocent and the charges drummed up by vengeful authorities and lying children. The default position should be to take immediate steps to protect the children and then remain cautious and wait for the facts to come in. Somehow I don’t find it surprising that Farris places the interests of the moment above its children.