The Telegraph reported on June 27th that a German court had banned circumcision of infants. Religious freedom was not contravened, the court decided, because a child could decide later in life whether it wanted the rite. Until a child was of age to decide, it was seen as an offence to contravene the child's fundamental right to bodily integrity.
I tweeted about this at the time, and received a bit of grief for it. One doctor saw unnecessary surgery on a child as criminal.
Giles Fraser posted about the case this weekend in the Guardian. He's had a lot of comments. Mostly, from my brief perusal, fairly negative. His argument is that religion, faith, isn't simply personal because identity isn't personal. We believe because we are. Or, to put that another way, communities exist. They exist with standards and cultures and ways of seeing the world. Modern liberalism, which reduces everything to a place where there are no values until you choose your values, is a lazy middle class fiction. (He doesn't call it lazy; I can think of worse words.) There are always values.
No man is an island.
I want to go far further. For me, Christians need to hear what happened here and understand what our job is. Our job is to defend the fatherless, protect the widows, champion the dispossessed. Where there are weak, there we are - on their side, being strong. We sing for the lost. We protest for the powerless. We are for those who feel that the world is against them.
Even when we don't always believe in the cause.
Because we love what God loves, and God loves people.
But Marcus, comes the liberal rejoinder, what about the child who has no power to say, "Stop!" as the knife approaches, as the cut comes near, as the blood flows. "What about being on his side?"
For a Christian, identity comes in many shapes and sizes. George Carey is winning his war on the wearing of crosses at work; the Prime Minister has promised the law will be changed to allow this, if it needs to be changed. Little silver crucifixes are not terribly New Testament, even if they are en vogue for Bishops and politicians and nurses and airline attendants. The badge of Christian faith is in fact something altogether invisible. St Paul, at least in good Protestant tradition, is clear: baptism is our marker. Faith is what makes us Christians, but baptism is the badge of belonging.
And it can come when an infant or later in life. A child can decide. A parent can lead the way. We vary.
Oh, how ignorant of the Scriptures we are.
The same liberal minded Guardian readers who condemn Giles Fraser march in hundreds of thousands to condemn the US for cultural vandalism, enforcing 'western' standards on Iraq or Afghanistan. But then they engage in exactly the same kind of cultural vandalism on Judaism, bidding it become just a bit more like the Church of England. So much easier to ignore, except at Christmas. Or whatever.
Circumcision is not a choice. It's not optional. It's not now or later. It is at the very core of Jewish identity. It comes on the eighth day. It is cultural, religious, personal, social, it is at the heart of a people and has been for thousands of years. It's older than Moses. It's from the beginning.
As Christians we opt in, we opt out. We have so much choice. We lose so much. Jewish identity does not work like this, and we make a mistake if we judge another aspect of humanity on the poverty-stricken standards of our own.
A court says a child suffers loss; it must have the right to self-determination and freedom of belief.
It must lose community. Identity. Belonging. Tradition. Culture. Because these things do not match what we see as right. And we know so much better.
No, we don't.
Never mind the secular liberals whom I am parodying here (and it is a parody, I accept, though like all good parodies, it carries a very great deal of truth) as Christians, when we disagree with others, we are called to love them. This involves understanding them. We may still disagree. That's OK. But part of loving is understanding so well that when our neighbour is threatened we fight for them. For their right to exist. This German ruling threatens our neighbour. We should stand as one and fight for them.
Personally, I find circumcision abhorent. People are sometimes surprised by this - and again this carries cultural overtones: 55% of American males do it for reasons of hygiene. I don't care. I just don't like it. I'm not Jewish. I'm not Moslem. It's not for me. But that a court thinks it can stop a community from existing - that I will stand up against & do my best to stop.
We stop things that are wrong by standing with our neighbours and supporting them 100%.
And tomorrow they will stand with us.
Now of course, the German Chancellor herself stood up to the court and its ridiculous decision. Quite right. So I write about this not because it's ongoing and has an unfinished or unhappy ending, but because the issue behind the story is vital. Christians must love people. Must understand people. Must allow people to be different. Must value people and their myriad values. We are only 'right' when we do this. This is the only standard we may ever set and hope to have emulated everywhere we go. Our morality is not simply about making people conform to our idea of what it means to 'be moral'. And that's a huge thing for us to grasp. Love is complex.
In the end, we are called to do unto others...
Because God loves others.
Because others are people too.
Because others will do likewise unto us.
Because this kind of doing is the closest thing to living out love we can manage, and that has to be our aim.