Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ministers are asked to do some interesting things...

and today I am facing one of those challenges. Actually, it's a reasonable conversation to have with someone, but it was unexpected. Let me give you some background.

Years ago in a congregation far far away, a sweet little old lady who was (I realized) struggling with issues of too-high intelligence, too-advanced dementia, and very few social skills asked me outright on one of my visits to her little home if I would please give her an enema. She was having some problems in that area, couldn't manage it herself and it didn't feel right to ask her middle-aged son, who lived with her, if he would do it. I said no as gently as I could and suggested she needed a medically-oriented person to do that kind of thing for her. I don't remember the outcome of the situation, but I escaped with my composure intact, mostly.

This afternoon I am having a conversation with a gentleman who asked, at our recent Peace Vigil with the Interfaith Amigos (a local group of three clergy---a Sufi Muslim, a Christian pastor, and a Rabbi), what their position is on the justice of circumcision. Needless to say, the Rabbi had no problem with it, but the other two had to admit that they had not ever discussed it. Perhaps it will become a topic for their consideration at some point, but I'll bet the most immediate thing that happened was that the planners of the Vigil decided never to have a Q & A period again.

Anyhow, a week or so ago, the same fellow called me up and asked if I had a position on circumcision and would I please meet with him to discuss how my congregation might get involved in his campaign to outlaw it. I was feeling benevolent at the moment and agreed to meet----in a public place, this afternoon, for a little chat. Now I'm wishing the snow were more of an obstacle, but it's not, and so I will do what I said I'd do.

He's a nice older guy, but, like my former parishioner, with rusty (or few) social skills and earnest about his convictions. And I think it's a worthwhile conversation to have, but I really don't want to ask my congregation to get involved in this matter. And I probably will tell him that, at half-time, I don't have the energy or time to do it myself but will refer it to our Social Responsibility Council. They might well want to consider the issue, but I'm sure it will initially raise everyone's eyebrows.

Circumcision is a growing concern among folks who now wish they were not circumcised or who wish they'd never circumcised their sons or who are trying to make the decision about a newborn or a future son. And, one has to admit, there are creepy similarities between even the most hygienic and carefully-performed circumcisions and the genital mutilation of little girls. They aren't done for the same reasons, but why should they be done at all?

I may have an addendum to this post later today. Maybe I will get more interested in it than I think.

UPDATE: Well, I am far better informed and full of information. I had not thought much about the ethical issues involved and now I have. And all he wanted (and he was very much NOT some wingnut) was to give me info to share with congregants who might ask about the issue. I am glad I went.


Steve Caldwell said...

Ms. Kitty,

You may want to see the recently produced DVD replacement for the slide set that is used with the Our Whole Lives and Sexuality and Our Faith for Grades 7-9.

The materials presented in the curriculum present the circumcision question as an open-ended one and suggests that parents should consult with their doctors when making a decision regarding the procedure. It's not pro-circ or anti-circ.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Steve, I will do that.

David Pyle said...

I once had an amazing conversation with a ministerial colleague who was having a son about the justice issues of circumcision. She wanted to know what my personal status was and how it had affected my life.

I don't know what her final decision was regarding her son... but it was an amazing conversation, and one I don't know if I could have had with anyone other than a colleague that I love dearly.

Thank you for reminding me of it...

Yours in faith,


ms. kitty said...

There is something very moving about these kinds of conversations, isn't there? Thanks, David.

Joel said...

She wanted to know what my personal status was and how it had affected my life.

Hee hee! That would be an awkward one to answer with a straight face, let alone without wincing.

I find it hard to believe that those clergymen think they can have any success getting the procedure outlawed. Not only would it trigger the mother of all first amendment battles, but even if they won that, there wouldn't be a hope in [eternal perdition] of it being obeyed.

ms. kitty said...

You're jumping to a conclusion about "clergymen", Joel. The gentleman is a layman and he only wants parents to have an informed choice, not to outlaw this traditional practice.

Still, after thinking about the pain a newborn boy experiences when, without anesthesia, his foreskin is removed, it's hard to justify, IMHO.

Joel said...

My mistake about the clergymen. I misread that and also the part about outlawing it. I could have sworn you had said something about that, but it looks like it was from a comment on your Facebook post instead.

I'm not trying to justify it. Really, I don't have any particular opinion on the subject. It does seem barbaric, but it doesn't seem usually to cause permanent trauma.

Steve Caldwell said...

Ms. Kitty wrote:
"Still, after thinking about the pain a newborn boy experiences when, without anesthesia, his foreskin is removed, it's hard to justify, IMHO."

Ms. Kitty,

I'm not a doctor (and I didn't stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night either) so this is not professional expert medical opinion.

15 or 20 years ago and earlier, newborn circumcision was done without any anesthetic.

This isn't the case today for all infant circumcisions.

I've been told by a friend who is a retired RN with an MD daughter that many doctors now use anesthetic for infant circumcisions today (topical cream, subcutaneous ring block, or injected at the base of the penis).

In some countries (e.g. Sweden), anesthetic is mandatory and the mohels work with medical providers to comply with this requirement. There is no prohibition in Talmudic writings for the use of anesthetic.

ms. kitty said...

That's a very good piece of information, Steve, thanks.