To spank or not to spank, that is the question. Corporal punishment is legal in all 50 U.S. states, but America is a bit of an outlier on spanking as far as the rest of the world is concerned. Globally, 44 nations forbid you to spank your kids.
But here's the question journalists need to think about, after a major report on this topic by the BBC: What if your religious beliefs back corporal punishment and you move to a country where that’s not allowed? Wouldn't journalists need to explore the specifics of that belief in their reporting on this topic?
Meanwhile, this story centers on the fact that one country will take your kids away if they find out you are spanking your children -- at all. Here's what BBC found out about a famous case in Norway involving a family with five kids.
Ruth and Marius's life was torn apart without warning one Monday afternoon last November when two black cars approached the farm where they live in a remote Norwegian valley.
Their two little boys, aged five and two, and their three-month-old baby son, were in their big, bright, modern living room overlooking the steel-grey fjord.
Ruth was waiting as usual for the school bus that would bring back their two daughters, aged eight and 10.
But that Monday, it never came. Instead, Ruth saw the two unknown cars. One continued along the main road; the other turned up the farm track -- and a woman from the local child protection service knocked at the door. She told Ruth to come to the police station for interrogation.
The woman said the other black car had taken Ruth's two daughters away, into emergency state care. And she told Ruth to hand over her two older sons to be taken away, too.
The following day, two black cars appeared again. The couple assumed it had all been a terrible mistake and the children had been brought back.
But they were wrong. Four policemen got out. And took the baby.
Now for what religion has to do with it:
Those events have triggered a worldwide protest campaign, online and on the streets.
Thousands of people have joined demonstrations in support of Ruth and Marius in a series of countries across four continents. The Norwegian child protection service, known as Barnevernet, has been accused by protesters of "kidnapping" children -- in this and many other cases.
But Ruth and Marius's story isn't as simple as some campaigners imply. They were suspected of administering corporal punishment, and in Norway, that's completely illegal. …
The campaign in support of the couple has been particularly well-supported in Marius's home country, Romania, and by Evangelical Christians worldwide, because the couple are Pentecostals. Many protesters believe they are victims of discrimination on religious and national grounds.
What follows is a fascinating look into the problems surrounding Barnevernet, why many Norwegians are speaking out against it and how the agency targets immigrants. Opponents of Barnevernet even have their own Facebook page with an icon showing the date April 16, the day they were asking people around the world to demonstrate in the streets against Norway.
There was actually a demonstration here in downtown Seattle that day, as the area has a large Scandinavian community.
This, by the way, is the second story I’ve done this week about immigrants of one religion (Pentecostal in this case) who relocate into another country (in this case, nominally Lutheran) and run afoul of the laws of the receiving country. (The first was about Muslim immigrants in Canada who discover that the marriage and divorce laws they once had under sharia don’t work in the West.)
It’s a shame the writer didn’t delve more into why Pentecostals believe in corporal punishment, if indeed all of them do or whether this is something more Romanian than Pentecostal.
For those who are puzzled as to how Christian beliefs support spanking, look no further than this book, which has 700 reviews on Amazon, so obviously people feel strongly for or against it.
I’d never heard of it until I recently spent a weekend with some friends who, as I was about to walk out the door, handed me this book with a not-too-subtle message that spanking would improve my daughter’s behavior. I was speechless. (I won’t go into details why but trust me, that’s the last thing she needs). I did get halfway through it, then haven’t touched it since.
But it did remind me of the evangelical Protestant culture that believes in spanking and cites biblical passages to support it.
Other articles about this situation, which has inspired diplomatic tensions between Norway and Romania, reveal that the principal of the school –- where the older girls attended -– was the one who reported the family to the police and that “religious indoctrination” was also a factor. Church Militant also fingered the principal, saying she thought the parents were “very Christian” and that their belief in God punishing sin “creates a disability in the children.” The comments section in this piece has a statement allegedly from Pentecostal leaders in Norway saying they don’t at all condone corporal punishment.
Then there’s Dagen, a daily Christian newspaper in Norway, that says all accusations of persecution of Christians over child abuse allegations is sheer bunk and a creation of foreign media. Read their view here.
This World magazine piece has more on the parents' Christian background and what the older daughters said that got their parents in trouble.
So there’s a lot of religious permutations to this story that BBC did not explore. Read the blog entry by friend-of-this-blog Rod Dreher about this topic, especially the comments about corporal punishment and the coercive state and faith.
There’s no one right answer. But the issue is very much entwined with the way people interpret the Bible and anyone reporting on this should at least know what the biblical arguments for spanking are.