Earlier this month United States attorneys charged a Detroit doctor with female genital mutilation (FGM), the first prosecution of this crime since the U.S. outlawed the practice in 1996. Authorities accused Jumana Nagarwala, an emergency room doctor, of performing the procedure on 7-year-old girls whose parents transported them from Minnesota to Michigan for the controversial operation.
According to the World Health Organization FGM “comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external genitalia” for non-medical reasons. The WHO estimates that over 200 million girls and women worldwide have been cut in over 30 countries, most commonly in central Africa. The practice has roots in ancient customs and is recognized as an expression of local religion and culture though not explicitly tied to any formal religion. The United Nations considers FGM a human rights violation.
We should state at the beginning that we hold FGM to be a wicked practice that abuses young girls and should be illegal. We are glad that both the United Nations and the United States government are in agreement. But the nagging question is why they believe FGM to be wrong. No discernible standard within secularism exists to explain denying a parent this religious or cultural expression. In fact, we see gross inconsistencies in what our current cultural gatekeepers consider worthy of celebration and for what they require condemnation.
For years we have seen “COEXIST” bumper stickers on cars cruising around this great country of ours, windows down, radio blaring tolerance’s sweet siren song. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus—can’t we all just get along? Don’t judge, bigot! But then, for religious and cultural reasons, a few Minnesotans take their daughters in for surgery, and the doctor ends up in the pokey. So much for coexisting and all paths leading to the same mountaintop. According to which exact standard are we saying that FGM is an abominable practice that violates human rights and is worthy of prosecution? Yes, the procedure inflicts physical harm on a young girl and achieves no medical benefit. But didn’t we just have a Women’s March to celebrate inflicting physical harm on young children?
Of course, I am referring to abortion. Why is it a human right for a mother to have a doctor cut up her unborn child, but it violates human rights and is a federal offense for the same mother to give birth to the same child and take her to the same doctor to cut the child’s genitalia? I grant that both practices are awful, but in one instance the child is brutally killed and in the other she is cruelly injured, but alive. Our culture has celebrated, funded, and enshrined as a constitutional right the practice that results in a dead baby, but somehow draws from a deep well of indignation to decry FGM. The gaping inconsistency is astonishing.
But, lo, there are still more floats in this inconsistency parade. What if Dr. Nagarwala, instead of cutting the girl’s genitalia for cultural or animistic religious reasons, had performed gender reassignment surgery on her? She would still have cut and mutilated a girl’s genitalia, but I doubt she would have been charged with a crime. More likely, the doctor, child, and mother would get a glowing feature story in a national magazine. They would be brave and daring heroes, pioneers in gender equality and transgender compassion. But as the doctor was engaged in an animistic ritual, her actions met our society’s true criterion for denunciation: being backward and old. Long live progressivism! We categorically reject mutilating little girls’ body parts…but maintain as a fundamental right the choice to chop up unborn baby girls and sell their parts. Or to perform gender reassignment surgery and give them male parts.
Now, it’s quite easy for conservative Christians to point out the inconsistencies of secularism, lit up in flashing neon as they are. We can legitimately ask them why they draw the line there. However, we still have to do the hard work of explaining why we draw the line here. That is, when it comes to religious liberty and political theology, why do we say this is ok, but not that? We must develop answers that do not make peace with religious pluralism. We must reject any attempt to simply earn Christianity a seat at the cultural table, a hearing in the council of contemporary gods. No, the risen and enthroned Christ owns the table, and all who come must sit down on His terms: in repentance and faith.
As we draw lines we must learn to lift up our drooping heads, strengthen our weak knees, and tell the world, “because the Bible says so.” We must accustom ourselves to invoking the Bible as authoritative over all people, or else we may soon hear the prophetic whispers from the Winsome Wing of evangelicalism: “At the end of the day, taking all things into consideration, we can say, with love and compassion, that female genital mutilation is not, perhaps, best for human flourishing. And if I may be so bold to say, it seems, from my own limited perspective—white and male as it is—that FGM is seemingly incongruent with God’s intended design for sexuality and childrearing, I think.” Cue the Twitter applause.
The Bible calls all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), and we must speak the Word of God with courage and authority to our nation, teaching it to obey all that Christ commands. Of course, more needs to be said here about faithful line-drawing, particularly with respect to religious liberty. If the good editor is willing and the creek don’t rise, I intend to say more soon.