Tue September 18th, 2018
Circumcision is something Christian’s refer to regularly and yet we rarely talk about it as a lone issue. As a child in church I heard about it as being a cutting of the foreskin which, knowing no better, I assumed was a mark made on the skin of your forehead.
Circumcision involves the surgical removal of the loose skin that covers the head of the penis (the foreskin) and even discussing it is enough to make most men cross their legs.
Is it cruel?
Most circumcision is performed for cultural or religious reasons. As Christians we tend to think about the Abrahamic covenant with what would become the Jewish people, but Jews aren’t the only people who are circumcised and in the western world we did go through a period of time where it was quite trendy to have your son circumcised.
Normally circumcision takes place in the first couple of days after birth or for a Jew on the eighth day after birth. There is not a lot of data about this because you can’t interview babies very well, but it is widely believed that the pain caused is minimal compared to having the operation when you are older. For babies a circumcision takes about 5 minutes compared to almost an hour for adults. Healing takes about 5 to 7 days.
I think that it is therefore not likely that we could give a reasoned view that a properly carried out male circumcision is cruel.
In fact it sometimes has to be carried out later when it is found that a child’s foreskin cannot be drawn back (a condition called phimosis).
Scientific research proves that Circumcision reduces the risk of developing urinary infections and cancer of the penis and that circumcised men have less chance of getting sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, herpes and syphilis.
The World Health Organisation recommends male circumcision - alongside condom usage and fewer sexual partners - as a prevention of heterosexually-acquired HIV. You can watch promotional films on YouTube about this, especially in Africa where the WHO assert this is a weapon in the war against HIV/Aids.
In 2002, scientists found that women who have sex with a circumcised man were at a lower risk of developing cervical cancer.
Medical research in 2009 also showed that male circumcision reduced the risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause genital warts in both sexes, as well as cervical cancer in women.
Evidence that the foreskin has a large proportion of sensitive nerve endings has led critics to say that circumcised men experience less pleasure during sex, although there is no conclusive proof for this.
Opponents also argue that potential post-operative complications, such as excessive bleeding and infections, overshadow any possible benefits.
They say that circumcision is an unnecessary procedure, and that no unnecessary procedure should ever be conducted.
Another criticism is that the procedure tends to happens when a boy is too young to make an informed decision about whether he should be circumcised.
In the last century circumcision was often carried out on babies who were not Jewish to make masturbation more difficult when older. This was seen as a benefit to them, but it was also done to make keeping oneself clean easier, which is perhaps why we now see health benefits amongst the circumcised.
Abraham came from a long line of moon and idol worshippers. These ancient peoples often cut themselves as an act of worship or were tattooed in the name of their god. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to assume there were a lot of deaths due to infection in those days before anti-biotics. Our God brought a change in thinking to Abraham in that he introduced a simple and relatively safe cut to replace those many risky cuts. A number of religious groups have historically cut themselves in different ways, with tattooing or body modification to demonstrate their devotion to their god, but God was introducing a better way.
Of all of these circumcision is perhaps the least problematic and the only one that can actually be said to offer health benefits.
What’s it all about Abraham?
The Jewish covenant of circumcision deserves a little investigation at this point. Covenant means ‘cutting’ and when God came up with this idea it was to mark the cutting of a covenant between him and Abraham and his descendants. Has previously cut a covenant between Abraham and himself that only he was a party to and Abraham faced no cost. This one was different. We first read of Abram in Genesis 12, and read a lot more of him before Genesis 17 when at the age of 99 he is circumcised in response to a covenant that God cuts with him, and renamed Abraham.
His son Ishmael was 13 and the servants in his household were a range of ages.
Cutting the covenant of circumcision was designed to indicate that the children of Abraham were God’s covenant people, but rather than visible tattoos a discrete circumcision which was not on public view indicated that this covenant was between you and God and not something that was for public display.
This cutting identified the promise of many children to Abraham and the promise of the Fatherhood of God to each child that lived according to this covenant.
Al though God is eternal and never fails to keep his promises, it is clear that for the Jews this covenant has come to mean nothing more than a religious act of observance. In Christ all the cutting that God could ever demand has taken place and it hasn’t been as without complication as circumcision was. But circumcision has never been demanded of Christians because we are children of another covenant – one rooted in the blood of Christ – in fact we now have the covenant of ‘breaking bread’ or the ‘Eucharist’ rather than circumcision.
That isn’t to say that some religious Jews didn’t try to force it on the early church – Paul called them Judaisers and wished that rather than just circumcising each other that they would go the whole hog!
Now brothers, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated! Gal 5:11-12 HCSB
Before you over-literalise this statement remember that Paul often uses hyperbole in his teachings!
Don’t let yourself be drawn into ‘religion’ but instead let everything be done by the Spirit of God.
Watch out for "dogs," watch out for evil workers, watch out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh— Phil 3:2-3 HCSB
Whereas on one missionary journey, for the sake of the gospel, Paul had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3), this was to remove any impediment to the message and I imagine that Timothy agreed! The rest of the time Paul strongly teaches against those who want to lay the heavy burden of Old Testament practice on new believers in Christ! They were circumcised but we are baptised!
In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah. 12 Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. 14 He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him. Col 2:11-15 HCSB
In fact Paul tells us that circumcision is now meaningless, compared to the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ!
For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation. Gal 6:15 HCSB
It doesn’t matter what your nationality your social status, or whether you are or are not circumcised:
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all. Col 3:11 HCSB
In reality our sanitised culture that idolises a pain free existence struggles to understand why God would ever set up a covenant of circumcision. Monty Python might refer to circumcision as ‘just a flesh wound’ but in reality we have to say it was probably a healthier and safer way of being marked as ‘special’ than other methods used at the time.
Today, have no fear, God isn’t suggesting that any of us should undergo it, it’s not G O D promoting circumcision but the W H O.
On a very different note, there is a procedure common in many African and some Asian cultures that young women should have their genitals mutilated sometime between birth and puberty - Female Genital Mutilation.
Often called female circumcision, this is a barbaric practice that offers no health benefits but generally removes all hope of sexual pleasure and often results in lifelong pain. It is simply a method of subjugating women and a barbaric cruel one at that. It was never a Christian or Jewish practice and all thinking people deplore it. This is cruelty beyond belief and besides taking a stand against it, all Christians should be aware that in a multi-cultural society we may have women come into church who are still suffering the results of this practice. Christians should be ready to show understanding and comfort to these victims and our women folk should be ready to offer support.
Three studies published in 2009 in the
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews revealed that
circumcised men were 54 percent less likely to get HIV than
uncircumcised men. The trials included more than 11,000 men in South Africa, Uganda and Kenya between 2002 and 2006.
The practice may also protect women from contracting the virus that causes AIDS. A review of past medical files of more than 300 Uganda couples, in which the man was HIV positive and the woman wasn't, showed circumcision reduced the likelihood that the female partner would become infected by 30 percent. That study was presented in 2006 at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections