100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Should Circumcision Be Illegal?

I read an article recently that a certain state in the US was almost successful in making circumcision illegal. This is certainly a great concern to the Jewish community! But my own wife is quite a passionate advocate for the banning of circumcision. She considers it to be cruel, and would even go so far as to call it child abuse. But how should I, as a Christian, feel about this issue of circumcision?

When my wife was pregnant with my son, I had been a Christian for less than one year. But my wife was not saved. And at that time I was studying theology under a certain Bible teacher who had once explained that "circumcision is healthy, since a foreskin is able to trap dirt and germs..." and that studies had shown there to be less cases of cervical cancer in countries where circumcision was more commonly practiced. So I, as a new Christian, ate this up. "Oh, the wisdom of God..." (you see), "in giving circumcision to the Jews!" And so I told my wife that I wanted our son to be circumcised, believing myself to be wise as God was wise in giving the Jews circumcision for health reasons. But my wife believed back then, as she does now, that circumcision is cruel and ought to be illegal.

So this was a point of contention between us. I wanted to "be wise", but my wife didn't want to "abuse our child." Finally the day came when my wife went into labour, and we were still unresolved on this matter. My son was born after a 7 hour labour, and they handed him to me to hold. It was while I was holding him that the midwife asked about whether we were going to have him circumcised. My wife told her that she didn't but that I did. And the midwife asked "is that for religious reasons?" "No, no!" I said emphatically, for that would be thoroughly anti-Christian. So I explained it was for health reasons, based on what I'd heard, and for no other reason than that. Then the midwife said that we should discuss it and when we'd come to a decision to let her know. But I looked at my wife, and then I looked at my son, and I think that perhaps God gave me some true wisdom at that moment. Looking at my wife, I thought "Though I've said it is for health reasons, I'm sure she will forever suspect that my real motive was religious... and surely for her sake I should give up my own preference in order to send the right message, for there is no commandment from God that a Christian must circumcise their children." And looking at my son I thought to myself... "I have here in my arms a Gentile child. Since the time of Abraham there have always been Gentiles!" (They seems to have survived fairly well despite having foreskins!) "No, this is a Gentile child, and he should forever be seen as a Gentile child; for the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles!" So before the midwife even left the room, I looked up and said, "It's fine... I don't want him circumcised." (And you should have seen my wife's reaction to that!) I had been so adamant about this for months "because it's the wisdom of God", and just like that I saw my own foolishness. It was also my first lesson in questioning what preachers say from the pulpit!

I later discovered that these studies which supposedly show circumcision to be healthy are truly flawed. But one thing which was sort of a landmark moment for me was when my wife showed me a YouTube video of an actual circumcision. I might be able to find the link on request, but it really was horrific! If circumcision is optional for Christians then there is no reason at all to choose the circumcision option! But does this mean we should ban it? By no means... (and I still disagree with my wife on this point). Just as I relented from circumcising my son because it is evident that Gentiles have survived with their foreskins for so many thousands of years, it is also evident that the Jews have survived for thousands of years. Yet my wife has dug up arguments to show that circumcision is a high-risk operation. While I'm somewhat sympathetic to my wife's view on circumcision, in so far as I would say there's no good reason to circumcise your children, I don't necessarily agree with all of the arguments she would make... She also argues, for example, that it reduces sexual pleasure for men. I doubt it! But most importantly, circumcision is important to the Jews, and what would banning it mean to them? Paul had Timothy circumcised for the sake of the Jews they were witnessing to, even though there was no religious requirement for Timothy to be circumcised. Just as I relented from having my son circumcised for the sake of my wife that I was witnessing to, we should permit the Jews to practice circumcision lest they blame a "Christian people" for taking away that right, and we close off opportunities to witness to them. It's true that circumcision is brutal, but I think that's part of the whole point of circumcision! Biblically, circumcision symbolizes the separation of our sinful nature through adherence to the Law. But separating our sinful nature from us isn't easy when we try to do it "through the Law"; it's very difficult and very painful! This symbolism works, and as Christians we should understand and be thankful to God that through the cross it's not this horrible ordeal!

But what I'm talking about here doesn't apply only to circumcision. I wrote recently about how the Muslims have (allegedly) petitioned for Christmas celebrations to cease at my children's school. As I've been discussing this with people, the response I typically get is something like "Well we should demand that they can't celebrate Ramadan!" But look, why would we cause them to despise us!? They want talk of Jesus Christ at Christmas silenced so their children aren't exposed to Christian ideas; but how much better is it when a Christian can say, "From childhood I've listened to you teach me about Islam, (or Evolution, or New Age, to broaden this scope even further), and yet I firmly believe in Christ." Now we should fight to have Christianity in schools, but let's not fight to have other world views banned. As Paul taught us by his example, we must be "all things to all people"...

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:21-23)

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