In September 2019, Little Images performed their very first survey of Christians on the topic of circumcision.
(Perhaps it is the first ever survey on this topic!)
I was definitely a newbie at creating online surveys (I laughed at myself later that I had included a 65+ age option for a survey aimed at people who have had a baby in the past 10 years. And no, no one checked that as their age.). One hundred and eleven survey responses were used.
What we learned:
- Most Christians (64%) perceive that the ‘majority’ (defined in the choices as 55-79%) or ‘vast majority’ (defined in the choices as 80% or more) of their local peers who have had children in the past 10 years have chosen to circumcise.
- About 18% of people thought that the number of families choosing circumcision among their local peers was closer to half.
- A majority (~64%) of people responded that they had heard the topic of ‘circumcision for religious reasons’ addressed in their own personal Bible study.
- A majority (~66%) also reported that they had heard this topic addressed in conversations with other Christians. A much lower portion of them checked that they had heard the topic addressed in sermons (12%) or organized Bible studies (7%).
- The most common time to start researching and discussing circumcision is during pregnancy. The next most common response was not to research or discuss it much at all (many of these commented that they left the decision up to their husband, or chose to circumcise baby because husband is circumcised, so did not feel the need to do any research or discussion).
- About half of people (about 53%) talk to friends and family about this topic when researching and deciding- more than talk to a doctor or medical professional about it. One person noted that they consulted their pastor about this topic and several mentioned praying about it.
- Many Christian families are changing their minds on circumcision: 8% have some sons intact and some circumcised (though the survey did not specifically ask the reasoning, the most common scenario for these families is that an older son or sons are circumcised and younger sons are left intact as the family learns more, and many families indicated this in their comments). 17% of families said that their son(s) were circumcised but they would NOT choose to do so in the future.
- Outcomes of not researching or discussing it very much: There were 28 responses that said they ‘did not research or discuss it very much’ or stated in the comments that they didn’t research for their first child(ren) but researched more later. Seven of those were parents who had all girls, and perhaps did not research or discuss it much for that reason. Of the remaining 21, 5 stated that they didn’t research and circumcised their first child but kept future boys intact and 4 stated that they didn’t research and chose to circumcise, but would NOT choose to do so again. So, 9 out of 21 families who didn’t initially research the topic with their boy(s) did choose circumcision, but either did not or would not choose it again.
Our survey was limited in number of questions and responses. What I’d love to find out in the future from a more detailed survey:
- What message do Christians think the Bible gives? Now that I know most Christians have read about the topic of circumcision in the Bible in their own personal Bible study (this is good!) I’d like to know more. Do they believe the Bible discourages or forbids religious circumcision? Or encourages it? Do they think the Bible has a message for culturally based ‘health and hygiene, look like Dad’ circumcision with no religious motivation?
- Are Christians aware of the historical teaching of the church on this issue? Our current survey did not ask if parents were familiar with the teachings about circumcision from Ambrose, Origen, Luther and other Christian thinkers and leaders.
- How is this issue being discussed between husbands and wives? Who typically brings it up first? Prior to doing any intentional research, do most parents imagine or assume that they will circumcise or won’t circumcise? What happens when husband and wife disagree about circumcision?
- What perspective does the outside input give? Our survey asked what kind of sources people consulted when making a decision about circumcision. However, we don’t know what those sources are saying or encouraging. For example, when people consulted a doctor, did that doctor suggest that circumcision is healthy? Unnecessary? Completely up to the parent? Baby should ‘match’ dad? There are physicians out there saying all of those things, and I’d love to know which are the most common for families that ask a healthcare provider for input. Some commenters said that they made up their mind on circumcision based on family history of people having problems with their foreskin (something that I would argue is likely caused by improper care or diagnosis, and the child would have been fine being kept intact). Other commenters mentioned that they needed to have their children circumcised because of medical need- however, the diagnosis they mentioned is only ‘solved’ via circumcision in the United States, not in other parts of the world.
- Does the ‘type’ of church a person attends, the geographical region they live in, or other factors significantly affect the decision to circumcise or keep their child intact? Though our survey asked these questions, I do not feel that we had enough responses to gain a significant understanding of this. For example, we had no responses from Orthodox Christians, only 1 Catholic survey-taker, 1 Lutheran, and 1 Seventh Day Adventist. Even with 16 Baptists (the largest group to respond besides ‘non-denominational’) I don’t think it would be possible to draw any conclusions about Baptists as a group.
What would you want to know about Christian views and experiences with the topic of circumcision?What are you hearing in your own church?If you consulted your doctor as a source of advice on whether or not to circumcise, what perspective did they give?Comment below with your experiences or send us a message!
Hannah lives with her husband and 3 sons in Washington state, where she researches and advocates for children's ethics from a Christian perspective.