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Today I attended a local conference of Christians who are engaged in the fight against human sex trafficking and exploitation. After learning more about this abuse, my first thought was, “Stop the planet, I want to get off.” Human suffering hits me very hard. I have distinct memories of seeing abuse depicted in movies like Roots and Life is Beautiful (and these are not even very explicit movies!), and never being able to shake those images of suffering. I can hardly handle knowing that people, especially children, are damaged by those in power over them.
I also had many thoughts of hope. I was inspired by the stories of how God had worked in the lives of both victims and perpetrators. Even a man who went so far as to arrange to have sex with a minor has repented and turned from his wicked ways. A victim now ventures into hard places at dangerous times to show God’s love to people who are currently being used in the ways she once was used. I cannot understand why God allows this and other evils to go on, but His people are answering the call to put an end to it.
I’m so thankful the church is rising to confront this issue, but I often wonder why so many Christians fail to stand against genital cutting (commonly called “circumcision”) of baby boys, for many of the same reasons they stand against sexual exploitation! We all understand that trafficking is a violation of someone’s body, it goes against God’s plan for their sexuality, and leaves them with trauma and scars. It’s not hard to see the “why” behind this movement, since the harm and evil are so large and so obvious. I want to explain how the genital cutting of baby boys includes some of the same harms, with the goal of convicting more Christians to oppose this practice.
As an advocate for keeping baby boys intact, my mind often connects my issue to other issues. My interest in natural childbirth is linked to protecting a baby’s natural body. My opposition to abortion is connected to protecting babies from painful cutting outside the womb as well. As I stand against the evil of using and harming the bodies of children (or victims of any age) with sexual exploitation, I oppose the elective cutting of the genitals of boys and girls (or victims of any age). Not all harms are the same, but they are all still harmful.
A passion to protect children from the bodily harm of sexual abuse, exploitation, or slavery MUST lead Christians to a conviction against all forms of non-consensual genital cutting—including routine infant circumcision, which is the elective removal of the foreskin of a newborn boy. We should boldly defend the bodies and souls of all people against sexual harm, exploitation of any kind, and any cutting that violates their bodily autonomy.
I call on those who are standing against sexual exploitation to also take a stand against genital cutting for the following reasons:
1. Genital cutting forces someone to conform their appearance.
The AAP is the only world medical organization promoting a “middle ground” approach to male circumcision with other organizations standing opposed to it. Their now-expired statement affirms some “benefits,” which are either minuscule or completely false, while minimizing or ignoring the very real risks. Many doctors are being honest with parents, telling them “There’s no reason your son needs to be circumcised.” For Christian parents, the New Testament is crystal clear that there is no Biblical reason to circumcise.
So that means that infant boys are being circumcised SIMPLY because the adults in charge of them think it should be done. The decision is based on appearance. If a father is circumcised, he knows how his penis looks, and that is normal to him. His wife also sees the circumcised penis as normal, and as part of her husband’s sexual appeal. They often have a negative impression of the natural, normal foreskin-covered penis believing it to be dirty, gross, and unattractive, and will choose circumcision simply because it’s all they know.
Of course Christian parents are not thinking that their son’s penis should be appealing to themselves, but some are subconsciously thinking “This is what I like, so it’s probably what my son’s wife will like too.” This is a subtle and very damaging pattern of thought.
How can a parent look at their newborn son, made by God a certain way, and think that someday his natural body won’t be appealing to his spouse? Our cultural experience with circumcision has caused this, and it’s time for Christian parents to rise up and say “No!” leaving their sons with their God-designed bodies.
Though God, for a time, commanded one man with his descendants to cut their foreskins in a covenantal act, circumcision was never his original plan or design (Hello?! Adam, the original and perfect man, had his foreskin!) and it was meant to end at the cross. American Christians are going against God’s expiration date for circumcision by forcing it on their sons. Christians who stand against most forms of bodily harm, and who usually are opposed to female genital cutting (after all, that’s never mentioned in the Bible) will still support it for their boys.American Christians are going against God’s expiration date for circumcision by forcing it on their sons.Click To Tweet
When baby/adolescent girls endure genital cutting, these reasons are given:
- She will be cleaner.
- Her husband will expect her to be circumcised.
- It’s healthier.
- This is what all women in our culture do.
When boys are cut, the reasons are the same! When the world tells our children to conform and look a certain way, we rightly reject that on their behalf and teach them that God made them perfectly. Circumcision for appearance undermines our ability to teach our children to value themselves just the way God made them. Instead of forcing baby boys to conform to American cultural norms, Christians should welcome their sons, perfect the way God created them.
2. Genital cutting is a choice made by the wrong person.
No one asks a newborn boy, “Would you like your genitals cut today?” Though they don’t have words, by their screams and post-op suffering, they are trying to answer and are being ignored. There are adults in this world who make the consensual decision to have their bodies, even their genitals, altered. Our society agrees that in almost every situation, this is not appropriate for children.
We do not let children consent to tattoos, labiaplasties, breast implants, ear gauges, or Botox. Even if we did, most children would say “No!” because they do not want to be in pain. We reserve painful procedures for medical needs only, and that is the right decision!
Yet somehow, the circumcision of boys gets a pass. It’s painful alright, as this video devastatingly proves (trigger warning: this video is of a neonatal circumcision). We must not electively modify the body parts of children.
Those who have been abused or exploited in the sex trafficking or child pornography industries have had their autonomy violated in the worst kinds of ways. People make choices for them they would never make on their own, leaving them with life-long harm.
To attempt to prevent harm, we teach our children that their bodies belong to them, and to report anyone who tries to force them into sexual acts. Beyond diaper care and necessary medical interventions, we must leave the genitals of children alone. No person should have their body altered until they can give informed consent. Circumcision is an act of altering a person without their consent, which Christians must consistently oppose.
3. Genital cutting sends a body-shaming message.
I have been watching Call the Midwife, a historical fiction TV series about babies and birth in 20th century England, and nearly every time a baby is born they declare “He’s perfect!” or “She’s perfect!” And as you may or may not know, circumcision of boys never took hold in England and is rare there to this day.
American parents today will pronounce the same judgement of perfection over their boys and their girls, but do they mean it?
How can someone tell their son he is perfect, and then let him be wheeled away for genital alteration surgery the next day?
I’m sure not all Christians agree, but I personally believe it is a tragedy that some women grow up and decide that their genitals are not perfect. They will go under the knife to have their vulvas altered in certain ways to match some sort of ideal that men in their lives have.
Where does this pressure come from?
To a certain degree, it’s porn, which has a strong connection to sexual exploitation and trafficking. If men spend time watching fake women who look a certain fake way, they will expect the women they are with to look that way also.
To any woman self-conscious about how she is I would say “You are beautiful the way you are! Find a Godly man who loves you the way you look already, and who doesn’t demand you change to some fake ideal. Following God’s idea plan of purity and marriage, the only person being involved with your personal parts is the one who has committed to you for life.” In an ideal situation (and I acknowledge that many people are in broken ones), this eliminates any comparing or feelings that she should look a different way.
Moving to the topic of boys, forcing babies to be circumcised treats them the opposite of how most of us treat girls. Instead of “you are perfect the way you are,” they get “you’re mostly perfect except this one part that needs to go.” As a one-day-old male, he is being forced to conform to the possible future expectations of a spouse who may not even be born yet!
Why do Christians accept this?
Why do we have a double standard by which girls are proclaimed perfect and beautiful, and boys are considered flawed? Let’s stop shaming the bodies of newborn boys, telling them that the way God created them isn’t good enough.
4. Genital cutting goes against our duty to safeguard the sexuality of kids.
Sexual abuse is rampant in our world, and sadly also in some churches. Our churches must be vigilant to protect kids from words, pictures, and touches that are anything less than honorable and safe.
If I described a situation where a child was restrained, their genitals were touched, and then they experienced great pain while their genitals bled, what would that be called? Abuse, sexual assault, rape, or possibly all three.
If it were a real situation, police would be dialed and prosecution would begin. God’s people would rise up with righteous indignation toward the perpetrator who would dare violate a child in this way.
Yet the act of routine infant male circumcision involves all three of these factors. A newborn boy is strapped naked to a circumstraint board, a doctor uses a tool to penetrate between his foreskin and glans breaking the sealing membrane he was born with, the doctor applies the clamp or ring to the baby’s foreskin (depending on the chosen method), and finishes with either cutting, clamping, or tying. Regardless of the method used, the infant’s skin is cut, a wound is created, and part of his original, perfect body is thrown in the trash.
Some babies receive partial pain relief for this, some receive sugar water, and many receive nothing. They scream, pass out, and in some cases go into cardiac arrest. The overlap between these two situations is significant. Are the steps of circumcision justified because they are done by a doctor in a clinic instead of by a criminal in secret?
“If circumcisions were being performed in hallways instead of behind closed doors, they would stop tomorrow.” -Marilyn Milos
As I said with the idea of making the newborn’s penis sexually appealing, I do not believe that Christian parents are deliberately signing their sons up for a painful and abusive experience on their sex organ. But I do believe that they have failed to think critically about this practice, and they have refused to connect the dots between circumcision and sexual harm.
Dear church, please wake up. Please speak up. We stand together against trafficking, sexual abuse, and exploitation. A Christian does not say, “I understand that you are against sex trafficking, but I don’t really see it as a big deal. I might even participate, because it’s an individual choice.” No! It’s the bad guys who condone and participate in those crimes. Our consciences immediately condemn any form of those evils. Though not all Christians are anti-trafficking advocates, we all at least agree and oppose the practice, supporting those who do fight.
Why do Christians not yet oppose genital cutting with the same conviction?
Most Christians oppose all forms of female cutting, circumcision, and/or genital mutilation. Our American Christian culture does not circumcise girls, so we can all hold hands and declare our disgust for female genital mutilation, asking God to help us save girls from the razor. That is right! I believe God does want us to end female genital cutting.
But Christians here often choose circumcision for their boys. They do not make the connections and do not see the parallels between sexual harm and circumcision.
It’s time for the church to change this. Christian values do NOT include forcing someone to look a certain way, taking away someone’s choice, telling a person their body isn’t good enough, and inflicting harm and pain on the genitals of a child. It’s time to defend equal rights to bodily autonomy and genital integrity in Jesus’ name. Not all Christians will be intact-baby advocates, but we can all oppose the practice and share the message with people who need to be informed. Babies are made in the image of God, and He did not make a mistake with the genitals of boys.
We need to protect ALL people of ALL ages from ALL forms of harm done to their bodies.
Please speak up for God’s Little Images.
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- Dear Church, Protect them ALL. - July 19, 2019
- Faith, Hope, Love … and Intactivism - May 6, 2016
Actually, it DID catch on in England. Starting in the mid 1800s. By the 1900s, a majority of English men were circumcised. Older Brits (guys, of course 🙂 recall how it was as boys, say, in the woods, or out behind the shed: “roundheads vs. cavaliers.” (A reference to the English civil war, I believe.) But a landmark study was published in England (Gairdner, 1949) finding a rate of death due to circumcision in the study population roughly equal to 240 baby boys per year in a population the size of the U. S. at the time. (Would be a much larger number with the population of today.) After that, the circumcision rate in England and environs dropped to about 10% within about ten years.
But, alas, it had long since caught on in the rest of the English speaking world.
The three leading causes of death were 1) hemorrhage — not too surprising, given the abundant supply-and-return plumbing in question — and 2) infection — not too surprising, given that the wound is, a) never sutured so as to leave a smoother scar, but left to achieve hemostasis, which is to say “clotted closed,” and is therefore prone to separation, given the, ahh— highly variable dimensions?— of the anatomy in question, yes, even in drowsy, dreamy, newborn boys, it’s a frequent, purely physiological reaction, and b) promptly tucked in to a soon-to-be poopy-doopy diaper. (!!!) You’d THINK I was a-makin’ this stuff up! But alas, no. And 3) urinary obstruction due to a badly reactive healing process in the traumatized region involving excess scar tissue. Very ugly stuff.
Those are the “acute” complications. But Gairdner was working pre-antibiotics. So the death rate has come down— to about 117 per year here in the states. More’n 2/wk. Recent years! (By Dan Bollinger. Recent study. Can be found on the interwebz.)
Same big 3, however. Deadly. Were, and still are. It’s a DARN strange operation…
And we’ll all just pretend that we don’t know that there is no effective anesthetic for that level of the nervous system — the para-sympathetic nervous system — short of general anesthesia, which is too risky for use on newborns. We’ll just pretend that the newborn nervous system is too undeveloped to feel pain.
Serious! That was the position of the American Academy of whatever-it-was, specifically regarding circumcision, until the mid ’90s! Heard about it on the radio. Remember it vividly and lividly, if not verbatim. Almost drove off the road.
So then there are the “chronic” complications: the myriad deformities that can be caused by removing “too little” — yes, believe it or not, removing “too little” can complicate the situation immensely, for reasons too weirdly complex to get into here — by removing too much, and we needn’t get into details there, either — or by, ermm— removing?— wrong parts?— by accident? (sigh) Hey, it’s a trivial operation, right?— often left to the newest intern on the block, I kid you not. It’s ACTUALLY a far more complex operation than is commonly realized. It’s circumferential — which is why the fancy gadgets involved — and rather poorly understood for several other reasons.
The actual function of the foreskin wasn’t even fully researched and understood until Taylor, Lockwood, and Taylor, 1996.
And if we spend many millions a year performing the operation, then we spend several BILLION a year fixing up the mishaps, according to stats from pediatric urologists. In this country, alone!
So, yeah— then, a study was published in Canada (Patel,1966) which found a rate of complications, both acute and chronic, of 55%. (!!!) But the conscientious Dr. Patel counted every last little possible complication, before it might worsen, a practice for which he was much criticized by “the establishment.” And yet he got his message across. Ye might say that business fell off after that (terrible pun intended. Down to a rate of under 20%.) And then there was Australia (Leitch, 1970) finding complications of a certain severity at a rate of over 15%, a finding which turned the Aussie College of Pediatrics against the practice, and Aussies Williams and Kapila, 1993: “Although haemorrhage and sepsis are the main causes of morbidity, the variety of complications is enormous. The literature abounds with reports of morbidity and even death as a result of circumcision.”
You know, things nobody ever talks about. An enormous variety of such things. Circumcision declined, thereafter, thereabouts.
And yet — and here’s the BIG question: Why have these studies had so little effect here in the U. S.?
It’s interesting to note that the other major circumcising populations in the world are Muslims, among whose males it is universal, (roughly 70% of total, worldwide) and roughly 50% of males in Africa (roughly 17% of total, leaving roughly 13% of total here in the U. S.) But that leaves roughly 75% of the world’s males intact. All over Europe, throughout Asia (south and east, a large population!— excepting only S. Korea since the ’50s, ahem, ahem, what an export!) and around and about South America, where intact adult males experience NONE of the problems predicted for them by circumcision advocates. NONE! (Ironically, certain other notable circumcising populations are, statistically irrelevant. Statistically speaking, I repeat. Ironically.)
And, I’ve read enough comments after articles at anti-circ sites to know that individuals from non-circumcising cultures, upon finding that we here in the U. S. routinely circumcise, are shocked and appalled.
Incidentally, the ratio of genitally mutilated boys to genitally mutilated girls in this world is about 6.5 to 1. Very roughly. Just thought I’d throw that out there. Yes, every day, on this strange planet, roughly 41,000 youngsters get some severity of the cut, and of that 41,000, roughly fifty-five hundred are——————— girls! Every. single. day. (You do the rest of the math.)
Thanks for the heartfelt article. No one should ever have put up with the fine mess somebody once made o’me, and the doc accomplished the feat entirely without creating any obvious deviation from what is considered to be an “acceptable standard of care.” So I was spared any embarrassments in the locker room, but some complications are invisible, you see. Something to do with disconnected wiring: spotty perma-numbth, ye might say…
Another one o’those things from that “enormous variety” of things nobody ever talks about, and in this case, because, well?— who knew?— Not even me! An’ so I had some figurin’ to do. Well into adulthood. But now ye know why I’m so thoroughly well-versed in the subject. 😐
Hey!— If we can’t talk about it, how’ll we ever understand it?
Not to worry: my head is on straight. But young parents-to-be take heed. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze.
Don’t let anybody talk you into it. Leave it alone at the start. Leave it alone thereafter. Do not retract. Do not scrub. A little mild soap, and just rinse. Lather. Rinse. Do not repeat. And do not worry. No need. (Oh, and don’t let any busy-body nurse or GP mess with it, either. Premature forced retraction can have worse consequences than removing “too little,” given that you’ve just “removed” all of it, and then put it all right back! It’ll attempt to reattach. Spottily. And then it won’t un-attach, later in life. Spottily. Hey, I warned you about the details. “Skin bridges.” If you didn’t know about that, that’s because nobody ever talks about it.) And remember, the rate of “medically necessary” circumcision among males of ALL ages in Finland, just for example, is about 1 in 16,666 — I always liked that stat — and most o’those would probably be better treated by other, less destructive means. I’d say “Do your homework,” but that’s about all there is to it!
Go with the Apostle Paul, and rest yer foggy noggin thereupon. Cheers. 🙂
Yours in Earnest and in Good Humor,