Male circumcision rates in the

U.S. have dropped steeply over the last few decades, as an Associated Press article by Rachel Konrad highlighted this week:

According to data from the National Health and Social Life Survey, the

U.S. circumcision rate peaked at nearly 90 percent in the early 1960s but began dropping in the ’70s. By 2004, the most recent year for which government figures are available, about 57 percent of all male newborns delivered in hospitals were circumcised. In some states, the rate is well below 50 percent.

For Jews and Muslims, the question of whether or not to circumcise their infant boys often hinges around questions of faith, since male circumcision is a deeply rooted tradition in both religions.

But what significance does circumcision hold for American Protestants and Catholics?

According to the 2005 book, Circumcision: A History of the World’s Most Controversial Surgery, by public health analyst David Gollaher, the practice of “routine” infant circumcision was introduced in the U.S. in the late 19th century, carried by arguments that the surgery was a way to avoid disease. One doctor who advocated routine circumcision wrote in 1882 that American Christians would do well to borrow a leaf from the Jewish tradition:

Moses was a good sanitarian, and if circumcision was more generally practised at the present day, I believe that we would hear far less of the pollutions and indiscretions of youth; and that our daily papers would not be so profusely flooded with all kinds of cures for loss of manhood.

As Konrad notes in her AP article, a number of factors have led to the decline of routine circumcision in the U.S., including immigration from Asian and Latin American cultures where circumcision is not common and the popularity of “natural” childbirth and breastfeeding, beginning in the 1980s.

But evangelical Christians have also been considering the issue from a scriptural point of view. The question of circumcision raises the thorny and never-quite-answered question of how Protestants should relate to the Laws of Moses.

One evangelical mother, quoted in a 2000 Christian Parenting Today article, saw the issue this way:

I figured if God ordained circumcision for his people in the Old Testament, there probably were some good spiritual reasons as well as health reasons.

But other anti-circumcision Christian advocates point to passages in the letters of Paul, where the apostle writes:

I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.

Catholics have been joining the debate as well, as this discussion on conservative commentator Sean Hannity’s site demonstrates.

The question for now: Will opposition to routine circumcision in the

U.S. increasingly take on a scriptural, religious bent?

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