7 reasons we Christians are keeping silent about Chase
Correction: Christians have come forward since the writing of this post and protested that they are, in fact, speaking out about this case, and that they have many Christian friends who are doing so. I don’t deny this, and I’m sorry I came across as saying that no Christians are speaking out. But the majority of U.S. Christians – particularly Christian leaders and bloggers – are being uncharacteristically quiet.
Of course, many simply haven’t heard of this case yet. I don’t mean to condemn anyone by writing this. But among those of my brothers and sisters who have heard, these are the reasons for silence that I’ve encountered most often.
From the beginning, we Christians have striven to shine as lights in the world. We "seek first the kingdom" not only by preaching the Gospel and pursuing holiness but also by helping plague victims. By opening schools. By building orphanages and hospitals.
We rescue captives. We take in the homeless. We show sinners forgiveness and love.
But too many times in history, we Christians have, under cultural pressure, been sadly silent.
This is one of the reasons I love following Christian blogs. From Tim Challies, the writers at The Gospel Coalition, and Albert Mohler and Russell Moore on current events, to Patheos blogs and writers like Rachel Held Evans and David Bentley Hart, I enjoy reading various Christian perspectives on everything under the sun. Certainly I can’t agree with everything in such a diverse spectrum of blogs, but each writer frequently challenges my assumptions.
But when a highly-publicized case dragged on for months, a case involving parental strife, threats, abuse, coercion, and misuse of power, I expected at least some Christian bloggers to mention it. Many may not have heard about it yet, but surely someone will say something. Any day now.
Before I address the 7 reasons I think Christians who have heard about this case have remained silent, here’s a quick scoop on the case itself. I only know some of the people involved in this case personally, not all, and this is admittedly only a quick sketch, but details lacking here are readily available online.
In the state of Florida, a young boy of almost five was taken from his mother and handed over into the custody of his father, an allegedly abusive man with a considerable criminal record. This man had no part in his son’s life until this fiasco – the parents were never married and separated soon afterward – but he has now been handed complete control over the boy's life.
This at the order of a judge whose actions have been condemned as biased, insensitive, and coercive. The reason for the transfer of custody? The mother, Heather, does not want her boy Chase circumcised. Years ago, the parents initially agreed that the father could schedule and pay for a circumcision, but this was not done. Now that Chase is older, Heather’s research into the matter has changed her mind. Despite the years that have passed, Judge Jeffrey Gillen of Florida recently ordered Heather’s arrest and told her that she "would sit in jail until she gave consent.” After Heather finally complied, in handcuffs and tears, the judge nevertheless handed over custody to the boy’s father. The legal battle is still ongoing, but the father meanwhile has permission to arrange Chase’s unnecessary circumcision. Doctors around the state of Florida have recognized that a signature obtained by threatened incarceration does not in any way constitute valid consent. So far, they have refused to perform the amputation. It has been scheduled by the father and cancelled by various doctors several times.
Chase Hironimus, now nearly five years old, understands the surgery, does not need it, and is terrified of it. A very good medical reason would be needed to proceed. But there is no medical reason. A pediatric urologist testified in court that Chase does not need this cut – an amputation of healthy tissue – and that he would not do this to his own son. In fact, Chase’s life is even at risk: he had a seizure the last time he underwent anesthesia. The urologist’s testimony and the serious risk of seizure have been omitted by many major media outlets. And despite these dangers, Judge Gillen has forced Heather’s consent and authorized the suddenly-"caring" father (who has since allegedly injured the boy by forced retraction) to proceed.
Medical and legal professionals have spoken out (e.g. here) – in fact, it is thanks to their protests that doctors have refused to perform the amputation so far. But I would think that when a young child is publicly threatened with a risky, unnecessary, and unwanted body modification, both the Christian Right and the Christian Left would speak up, too.
After all, to varying degrees, one or both sides are concerned about respecting God’s design, protecting children from violence, honoring Christian traditions and principles, pursuing social justice, preventing pain and suffering, protecting those made in the image of God, and encouraging love and grace towards our children.
But even though this issue encompasses all of these, the silence from Christians is deafening. Why?What is overpowering our commitment to love, justice, mercy, and respect for our Creator's wisdom?Click To Tweet
There are at least seven factors I see here – seven reasons we have ignored Chase as well as the broader issue. There may of course be other reasons, and these seven won’t apply to everyone, but they are the reasons I’ve most often encountered. Some of them are so ingrained in the American Christian mindset that readers will wonder how the bold statements just above could possibly apply to an issue involving male circumcision. Hopefully some explanation of each will help.
1) We falsely think circumcision is practiced by Christians.
From the Apostle Paul to the Church Fathers, from Chrysostom to Aquinas, and from Martin Luther to Pope Pius XII, Christians have rejected the practice of circumcision entirely. In fact, they have viewed it as “discontinued” (e.g. Origen, Chrysostom, Aquinas) by Jesus and even “forbidden” for Christians (cf. the Council of Vienne, the Council of Florence). In the Middle Ages, Christians even feared that Muslims would invade and circumcise Christian men and boys – a fear today fulfilled by the forced mutilation performed on Christian men and boys by the Islamic group ISIS.
This at least is one issue that both sides agreed on during the Reformation. For instance, John Calvin argued that Jews should not circumcise, now that Christ has come. And Catholics have said that circumcision is only "morally permissible if ... it prevents a disease that cannot be countered in any other way" (Pope Pius XII, 1952).
Circumcision, like the Old Testament sacrifices, has been made not only unnecessary but also unhealthy and reprehensible by the work of Jesus Christ. Or so Christians believed until pseudo-medicine reintroduced the practice in the 19th-century United Kingdom. Realizing its harm, the UK soon put a stop to it. Virtually all Christians in the world reject circumcision. Only in the United States do a large number of Christians remove God-designed parts from their infant boys.
This is in part thanks to the untenable assumption that God commanded today’s “circumcision” in the Old Testament – so even if it’s not necessary, it at least must be a good thing, right?
2) We think God commanded the modern form of circumcision for the Jews.
This seems like common sense, but it is categorically false. Scholars (including pro-circumcision Jewish scholars) know it, medieval Jews knew it, reference works like The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion know it, and Christians such as Martin Luther knew it. As the dictionary article says, “It was probably in order to prevent the possibility of obliterating the traces of circumcision that the rabbis added to the requirement of cutting the foreskin that of peri’ah (laying bare the glans).”
This peri’ah step, as Luther mentions, is what causes babies the most intense pain. And it is this step that removes the God-designed functions of the foreskin. This step was not a part of the original procedure but was added by rabbis around the year 130 AD to prevent reversal.
Other evidence of this change includes Paul’s mention of reversal by stretching (not very feasible after the modern procedure!) in 1 Corinthians 7:18, the fact that the Samaritans – who were separated from the Jews before the change – never praticed peri’ah (and still do not), the distinction between milah and peri’ah in Jewish documents, and the clear dissimilarity between the cut described in the Old Testament (e.g. Exodus 4:25) and the multi-step, multi-cut process the procedure requires today.
It’s a move befitting the Pharisees to add something to God’s commands in order to keep the people from being able to reverse it. The new procedure removes what in the adult is 15 square inches of tissue, including several complex structures providing significant functions. God never authorized this extensive modern circumcision for any people group at any time. But this simple fact is now rarely known to Americans since it’s not often discussed. In fact, anatomical discussions in general make us uncomfortable.
3) We are scared to talk about anatomy.
We are especially scared of anything that seems strange and foreign. False rumors and implications made in church when we were growing up have led us to believe that God’s design of this body part is naturally filthy, sickly, and in the way. This is nonsense. Modern circumcision in fact removes an intricate complex of structures with multiple functions.
Men who have lived with this design removed cannot imagine how additional structures could improve anything. Meanwhile, men who live as God designed them are unwilling (unless injured by repeated forced retraction by uninformed caregivers) to part with this highly-innervated and highly-specialized set of structures that provides them with protection, comfort, and other benefits. “Cleaner” is a common myth, but if forced retraction is avoided, cleaning intact babies is actually easier, and adult males have no problem keeping clean.
But if God designed something so intricate and useful, why did He command its removal? This was addressed in point #2: He didn’t. Or at least not in the way many Americans assume he did.
4) We think it’s not a big enough issue.
This is perhaps the most common reason I hear from Christians who decline to say anything about this case. We live in a world with ISIS, interracial violence, gay rights issues, economic struggles, debates between pro-life and pro-choice advocates, and innumerable other conflicts. The Charleston shooting has the blogosphere’s attention, as it should. With all of this, who wants another conflict?
But this is already conflict. Conflict that is causing physical, sexual, moral, and psychological harm to the very people we are most called upon to protect – our helpless children. This in addition to a prolonged period of pain (which babies feel, too) and other complications that occur.
Many readers will be surprised that I say “harm” – myths are hard to discard when God’s natural, intricate design falls entirely outside of our experience. As I mentioned above, we are scared of what is foreign. We are scared of what is new. We are scared of what seems to us to be out of the ordinary. And what’s more…
5) We don’t want to feel like we are victims.We are too scared to think we could be victims of harm or could have caused harm ourselves.Click To Tweet
This isn’t an attack on any blogger’s moral character. It’s simply an observation of our default mindset. From crucial Gospel issues – denying we are sinners or that sin is harmful – to everyday mundane issues, this is our normal mode of thinking.
Most of us resist the suggestion that we have been harmed or that we have unintentionally harmed others. And if we admit that five-year-old Chase would be harmed by this circumcision procedure in multiple ways, we risk admitting that we ourselves are harmed – or worse, that we’ve unintentionally harmed our own children.
This also helps us understand why American doctors, many of whom don’t have any knowledge about this intricately designed body part, are sometimes in favor of circumcision. But in this, they stand alone. With access to all of the same medical articles and studies, the majority of doctors stand firmly against circumcision.
6) We have heard that doctors recommend the procedure.
This is easily disproved by a survey of major medical organization statements. Medical organizations in European and other countries are strongly against male circumcision, saying it "can cause complications – bleeding, infection, urethral stricture and panic attacks are particularly common" and "calling upon doctors to actively and insistently inform parents who are considering the procedure of the absence of medical benefits and the danger of complications" (KNMG). The only major organization to be favorable towards infant genital cutting is the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose eight-member Task Force on Circumcision has been called biased and unethical by medical and ethical professionals everywhere. Yet even the AAP stops short of a recommendation.The overwhelming majority of the world's medical organizations stand firmly against male circumcision.Click To Tweet
But even when we learn of the harms of genital cutting from doctors, we are still hesitant to join our Christian brothers and sisters throughout history and around the world and speak out to help Chase. Perhaps there is yet another factor.
7) We don’t want to step on parents’ toes.
Unlike the factors above, which are based on misinformation, this factor makes a lot of sense. Many Christians perceive a continual erosion of parental rights over the past years and decades, and any suggestion that a common parental choice could be the wrong choice is shunned. And even though Chase Hironimus is nearly 5 years old, the suggestion that he should not be subjected to an unnecessary and unwanted amputation of God-designed structures implies that younger children (and even babies) should not be subjected to it, either.
Christians and doctors around the world agree: no, baby boys should not be cut. But even this uncomfortable truth does not stretch beyond the limits of the vocabulary of love. It won’t be easy, but we can advocate change without shaming or attacking those who have made a different decision in the past. We can ask important and uncomfortable questions without failing to love our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. In fact, it is because of love that we must ask these questions.
It’s not too late.
There’s still time. This topic might be uncomfortable, and speaking and writing about it might have some repercussions, but we are called to be the voice for the voiceless and help for the helpless, even at our own expense. Our Lord calls us to do the uncomfortable, the risky, the unpopular, and the compassionate thing.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s not too late.Let us fight for the helpless. Let us honor Christian mercy and our Creator's design.Click To Tweet
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