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In 2007, LaDonna and Kent Davis from Layton Utah were called to serve as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Indonesia Jakarta Mission. They were assigned to help in the large university town of Bandung nestled among the hills of West Java. LaDonna was a retired teacher who taught family and consumer science classes in junior and senior high schools. Her teaching duties included teaching the sex education classes. Prior to departing, LaDonna read an article in Reader’s Digest about FGM/C (female genital mutilation/cutting also referred to as female circumcision) in Africa. It described young girls having their labia cut off and then being stitched up to prevent any male penetration.

Once in Indonesia, LaDonna came across an article in the Jakarta Post that focused on a WHO study about the high rate of FGM/C in Indonesia. A concurrent article from the same period was published in the New York Times. It described how young girls in Bandung, most under the age of five, were “circumcised” in mass in commemoration of the birth of the prophet Mohammad. The article referenced a 2003 Population Council survey in Indonesia which noted that “96 percent of the families surveyed reported that their daughters had undergone some form of circumcision by the time they reached 14.” The article then went on to describe how in Indonesia FGM/C was much less intrusive than FGM/C practices in other parts of the world. Instead of excision of the clitoris and the labia minora (Type I), most Indonesian girls underwent Type IV FGM/C in which the clitoris and/or labia are ceremonial pricked, pierced or cut. If cutting was done, and 82 percent of those surveyed indicated it was, then the amount of flesh removed was described by circumcisers as being “the size of a quarter-grain of rice, a guava seed, a bean, the tip of a leaf, the head of a needle.” [1]

Because of her background and previous readings, Davis began to wonder if Indonesian Mormons were involved in the practice. It seemed very likely given the high occurrence rate in Bandung. She asked two women she visit taught if they had been circumcised [2] and they both said no. Curiosity piqued, the two women then asked their mothers if they had had their daughters circumcised. They were both surprised to find out that they had been circumcised (ear piercing was also part of the ritual) while still very young. At least one of these women who had her daughter undergo the procedure was a Mormon at the time.

Davis has strong feelings that human intimacy is a divine gift and any type of cutting of female genitalia lessens the God-given “celestial feeling” associated with this gift. To tamper with this feeling, this gift, was not, in the view of Davis, in keeping with the gospel plan of eternal families and the divine gift of procreation.

Not knowing quite what to do about her discovery, Davis contacted the mission president in Jakarta for guidance. He was not a rookie. He had previous mission experience in Indonesia and was conversant in the language. He admitted knowing nothing about the issue and learned that there was no policy or direction from the LDS Church as to whether or not the practice was acceptable or not. Since it was not noted in any handbook or mission president training as being taboo, he decided to not pursue the matter any further. He was uncertain what to say or do about the practice. [3]

A few years later that mission president told me, as a side note to my research on the history of the LDS Church in Indonesia, about Sister Davis and this initial discovery of a questionable cultural practice among Mormons. I then decided to see if the practice was more widespread. In August 2012, I interviewed two active, long-time Latter-day Saint women from the Jakarta/Bogor area of West Java about the practice. Both of them openly admitted that within the past decade they had had their daughters (who were members of the Church) undergo a “ceremonial prick” in which sometimes blood was not even shed. This they did, just as boys in Indonesia (including many Mormon boys) are circumcised generally between ages 8-10, as a cultural practice associated with coming of age. They felt that this cultural act was not at odds with their religious beliefs.

One report from the 1970s indicate that this type of ceremonial practice also occurred during the early years of the LDS Church in Indonesia. Returned missionary Sanford Porter noted that while serving in the Central Java city of Solo (Surakarta) during that time period, he was invited “to a bersunat [circumcise] party for a 12 year old girl who was from an active family.” This event was troubling to the missionary and he remembers “going to a branch leader and asking what it was about.” That leader “explained that it was a small cut or clipping that did not impair function.” Porter learned that it was “meant to be a coming of age ceremony equivalent to circumcision for the young men” and that it could be “viewed as a way to show a young woman that her sexual maturity is as important as a young man's sexual maturity.” [4]

The first Relief Society President of the relatively new Surakarta Stake (which includes congregations in four cities of Central Java) noted in a recent (May 2016) e-mail correspondence that as far as she knew, “the practice of female circumcision is seldom practiced in Central Java” and if it is done then the girl is first “cleansed by rubbing turmeric in the area to be cut so that there is no bleeding.” She also noted that she “does not know of any members of the church who practice female circumcision.” Similar replies (April 2016) from the President of the Jakarta Stake and a former Mission President (Indonesian) reveled that they too were not aware of Mormon girls undergoing circumcision.

Figure 1


The practice of FGM/C in Indonesia may be wide spread, but it is relatively mild in terms of severity. The pricking and minimal cutting of Type IV FGM/C pales in comparison to the much more intrusive forms of cutting (and even sewing up) found in other parts of the world—primarily Africa and parts of the Middle East (figure 1). As the LDS Church expands its membership into other areas of the world where FGM/C is practiced, the question naturally arises: If some LDS girls have been cut in Indonesia, then is it likely that it might also be practiced by Mormons elsewhere, particularly in Africa where more severe cutting is practiced?

Initial inquiries about the practice of FGM/C among Mormons in Africa have revealed no clear cut answers to the proposed question. A February 2015 response from a Mission President in Ghana (where FGM/C is much less common that other countries in the region) noted that he was aware of the practice of FGM/C in Western Africa, but, like the Mission President in Indonesia, he had never ever considered whether or not it might also be practiced among LDS members. He then wisely noted: “I may need to look into it further to determine what is occurring.”

When a group of LDS women in Accra Ghana were asked about FGM/C (October 2015), they explained that they were not familiar with the practice. The one sister who knew about FGM/C was a nurse who had learned about it in school. Another sister who had served her mission in Nigeria said that she had not heard of its practice nor was it an issue there.

A young man from the United States who served a mission and then worked in Ethiopia explained (March 2016) that it is well known that all boys are circumcised in the country but that the practice for girls was “hush, hush.” He noted that young missionaries discussed many cultural issues related to missionary work in Ethiopia, but FGM/C was not one of them. In addition he explained that most members of the Church live in urban areas where FGM/C is practiced less.

When asked (October 2015) about whether or not FGM/C was practiced by Mormons in Africa, a female LDS African-American PhD with significant research and work experience in various parts of Africa replied: “I actually have never heard of FGM being performed by Mormons in Africa. That being said, I've never inquired.” She then went on to note that if there are incidences then “it would be important for local Church leaders to address it.”

The cutting of female genitalia is a cultural, not religious, tradition (most often associated with gaining social acceptance [5]) that has been practiced for centuries among the Muslims, Christians, Jews and Animists of Africa. While most often associated with Islam, the tradition actually pre-dates the founding of Islam. The prevalence of FGM/C among girls and women of Africa shows that as of 2013 the practice is not limited to just one religion (figure 2). For example, among Christians, 74% of Coptic Christians in Egypt, 77% of Roman Catholics and 69% other Christian in Ethiopia, and 29% of Roman Catholic and 24% other Christian in Kenya practice FGM/C. These percentages are all lower than that of Muslims in these countries, but are still significant. Interestingly in the case of Nigeria, FGM/C is actually more commonly practiced in the Christian south than the Muslim north, and there is a higher percentage of Christian women who are cut (34%) than Muslims women (19%).


Figure 2 FGM/C prevalence among girls and women, by selected background characteristics (%) for select countries in Africa. [6]

In recent years there has been growing condemnation against Female Genital Cutting from governments and NGOs in the region. Nigeria and Gambia are the two most recent (2015) countries to outlaw the practice. Condemnation of this practice also comes from religious leaders from within both Islam and Christianity. With encouragement from UNFPA–UNICEF's joint program to abolish the practice, 20,941 religious and traditional leaders made public declarations between 2008 and 2013 delinking their religions from the practice, and religious leaders issued 2,898 edicts against it.

Within Islam, a 2011 UN report notes that 61 Islamic scholars from 10 African countries have issued fatwas against FGM/C (including the highly respected Grand Imam of al-Azhar University in Cairo); more than 4,100 religious leaders have taught that FGM/C is not sanctioned by Islam; and nearly 1,000 religious edicts have called on Muslims to abandon the practice. [7]

Among Christians, formal opposition to FGM/C seems to have had a much earlier beginning than among Muslims. In 1906 in Kenya, Church of Scotland missionaries and colonial government officials made attempts to make female circumcision illegal. Then in the 1920s, missionaries campaigned among “native councils” (some Christian) to outlaw female circumcision. Among the Christian Gikuyu, separate churches were formed over whether or not the policy should be continued. [8] Then in 1929, missionaries in Kenya began referring to the practice as the sexual mutilation of women (instead of circumcision) following the lead of Marion Scott Stevenson, a missionary for the Church of Scotland. [9]

More recent religious statements against FGM/C come from some of Christianity’s highest leaders. Pope Shenouda II of the Coptic Orthodox Church stated: “There is not a single verse in the Bible or the Old or New Testaments, nor is there anything in Judaism or Christianity—not one single verse speaks of female circumcision.” [10]

Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation entitled Love in the Family (Amoris Laetitia) strongly condemns cultural practices of violence towards women, including FGM/C. He writes:

"...even though significant advances have been made in the recognition of women’s rights and their participation in public life, in some countries much remains to be done to promote these rights. Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union. I think of the reprehensible genital mutilation of women practiced in some cultures, but also of their lack of equal access to dignified work and roles of decision-making" (italics added). [11]

At a more grassroots level there is also strong opposition from Christians. In Uganda’s Sebei Region, an alliance of community health organizations and local churches formed in 2011 to eradicate FGM/C. With this alliance, a local community health leader noted: “So far we have wasted time trying to eradicate it, because we were not fully supported by the churches, but since the religious leaders have joined us, we can finally win.” [12]

In the Africa Bible Commentary, Sicily Mbura Muriithi adds a side-bar analysis in which she stresses that the Abrahamic command to circumcise males has no application to the modern day practice of circumcising women. She writes: “It is also clear that when God instituted circumcision as a sign of the covenant he limited it strictly to men (Genesis 17: 10-14).” She then goes on to extrapolate out of that command a need for Christians to combat the practice of female circumcision. She stresses that there “is an urgent need to break the silence surrounding FGM and to recognize that it, too, is a form of oppression.” She then notes that “members of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa (AEA) have already campaigned against it” and that “the church should begin by providing gender training for all church leaders. They need to recognize the problem before they can be in a position to lead others to the light.” She concludes by stressing: “It is time we received pastoral statements condemning harmful cultural practices.” [13]

Other Christian women of Africa are also speaking up. Mary E. Laiser, Head of the Women’s Department of the Arusha Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania explains: “There is no religion that requires this practice to be done. Neither the Holy Qur’an nor Holy Bible prescribes it. In fact in Tanzania, religious organizations are among the active actors campaigning to eliminate the practice.” But, she says: “The problem with culture and tradition is that they are stronger than the faith itself…. So it is not an easy thing to let go of traditions because, even if they are Christian, there is this clan whereby the clan leaders sit out there and decide for their families.”

Dr. Esther Kawira, who is the Medical Officer in Charge in the Shirati Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania (KMT) hospital teaches that Christian missionaries opposed the cultural practice of foot binding in China and that eventually this practice fell out of favor, perhaps in part because of religious influence and perhaps because when women “came into contact with the modern world, women realized that it wasn’t done in much of the rest of the world.” She hopes that through a combination of religious encouragement and a change in cultural attitudes that female genital cutting will likewise fall out of favor as did foot binding. [14]

Steve Clifford, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance UK, called upon Evangelicals in Africa to bring an end to FGM/C. “As evangelical Christians, we believe in the inherent dignity of every human being—whether male or female, and no matter where they are from. That’s why we have rallied our council members and leaders from across our member churches to lend their voice to ending this horrific, unjust practice. We hope and pray that through a clear, united voice we might be able to make FGM a thing of the past.” [15]

The fact that so many Christians organizations, missionaries and leaders are speaking out against FGM/C suggests that it is indeed still a problem in Africa. While, as noted earlier, preliminary research has not been able to verify that female genital cutting it practiced among Mormons, given the situation in Indonesia, it could be very likely that African converts to the Church have brought that custom with them to their new religion. With over 14,000 members in Sierra Leone (figure 3; n.d. means "no data") and with 90 percent of women having undergone FGM/C, there is a high likelihood that traditions learned when not a Mormon might continue to be practiced by at least some new Mormons. Similarly, in Ethiopia where over two-thirds of Christians practice FGM/C, there may very well be among the 1,800 converts some who still feel cultural urges/pressure to have their daughters cut.


Figure 3: LDS Church Membership in African Countries with FGM/C

Confronting local cultural practices that are not in agreement with the cultural of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been a focus of church leaders in Africa over the past few years. In a regional stake and district conference broadcast to Latter-day Saints in Africa on November 21, 2010, which was later published in the March 2012 Ensign, Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk entitled “The Gospel Culture.” [16] In his remarks he started out by noting cultural practices that are in keeping with what he calls the “gospel culture.” He stated: “Many African traditions are consistent with the gospel culture and help our members keep the commandments of God. The strong African family culture is superior to that of many Western countries, where family values are disintegrating.”

Elder Oaks then turned to “cultural traditions in parts of Africa” that “are negative when measured against gospel culture and values.” He noted that “[s]everal of these concern family relationships—what is done at birth, at marriage, and upon death.” Oaks then used specific examples to illustrate his point: 1. “[S]ome African husbands have the false idea that the husband rests while the wife does most of the work at home or that the wife and children are just servants of the husband.” 2. “Another negative cultural tradition is the practice of lobola, or bride price, which seriously interferes with young men and women keeping the commandments of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. When a young returned missionary must purchase his bride from her father by a payment so large that it takes many years to accumulate, he is unable to marry or cannot do so until he is middle-aged.” 3. “Some other cultural practices or traditions that may conflict with gospel culture are weddings and funerals. I ask you not to make plans in connection with weddings and funerals that would cause you to go deeply into debt. Avoid extensive travel and expensive feasts.” 4. “I reaffirm the counsel Church leaders have given that husbands and wives should not separate for long periods, such as for foreign or other distant employment.”

In December 2015, cultural practices in Africa were again discussed, this time in a Video Conversation entitled: “Doctrine and Principles of Marriage for Members and their Families in Africa” with a subtitle of “A Special Message on Marriage, Family and Gospel Culture.” Elder Oaks participated along with six members of the Seventy, all from Africa, and the Relief Society President from the Soweto Stake. Elder Oaks introduced the discussion by emphasizing that there is a “gospel culture” that “is a distinctive way of life, a set of values and expectations and practices common to all members” of the Church. He then taught that in “order to help its members all over the world, the Church teaches its members to give up any personal or family traditions or practices that are contrary to the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ and to this gospel culture.” His thoughts were then echoed by Elder Akinbo (a university lecturer from Nigeria) of the Seventy who called on members in Africa to “abandon our old ways that conflict with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and uphold and sustain those practices that testify of Christ.”

After noting that many “African traditions are consistent with the gospel culture” Elder Oaks and several other leaders turned their remarks to lobola, or bride price. Elder Oaks stressed that lobola “is a cultural tradition that seriously interferes with young men and women keeping the commandments of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Priesthood leaders should teach parents to discontinue this practice.” Sister Seleka, Soweto Stake Relief Society President, then stated: “I know that there is a reason why Heavenly Father wants us to stop the lobola processes. He knows what is best for us and He always prepares a way for us to achieve that which He wants us to do.” [17]

A recent reference to African cultural practices comes from a June 2016 Ensign article entitled “Experiencing a Change of Heart” by Elder Edward Dube of the Seventy. Elder Dube relates that soon after the birth of their first child in Zimbabwe, his mother brought a gift--a cloth necklace that enclosed a protective amulet. It had been used for generations to protect newborn children. The young couple politely turned down the gift knowing that it was not something a branch president and his wife should use. The grandmother retorted with a warning that if the baby did not wear the protective necklace she would die. A few weeks later the baby girl did get sick. The father initially regretted not using the gift, but then he was prompted to give the baby a blessing which brought healing. While not a message specifically about FGM/C and the gospel, the story does illustrate that Church leaders and members from Africa, including a young branch president and his wife, are turning from practices that are not in keeping with their Mormon faith. [18]

This story, along with the two Africa focused teaching events, all indicate a growing awareness of specific cultural traditions practiced in Africa that can run counter to gospel teachings. [19] But, noticeably absent from the broadly-focused talk by Elder Oaks and from the panel discussion dealing with marriage and family is any mention of female cutting. Arguably, FGM/C may not be considered by some to be a topic related directly to marriage and family, but the fact that it is most often practiced within family units with the consent and help of mothers and grandmothers certainly makes it a family issue. More importantly, it alters and even removes a women’s God-given gift of feeling the “celestial feeling” connected with procreation. The practice of FGM/C is so widespread in Africa and is harmful in so many ways to its victims that it certainly deserves condemnation (as many other Christian denominations are doing) as something that is not a part of the Gospel culture and something that is not acceptable within any culture or religion.

As was the case in Indonesia, the omission of any known mention about this practice from church leaders may be because they just are not aware of it being practiced. This lack of awareness may stem from the fact that FGM/C in a very intimate procedure that is not outwardly visible or publicized like dowries and weddings. In the case of Africa it may also stem from the general perception that FGM/C is only practiced by Muslims. It may also stem from the fact that local members (as was the case in Indonesia) may perceive cutting to be an acceptable cultural practice even after conversion. Members may have never considered whether or not it might be in conflict with the gospel culture or church teachings and policies. [20]

In an interview about the Church in Africa, Elder Joseph Sitati, a member of the Seventy from Kenya, had this to say: “Now is a time of great transition across Africa. Cultural traditions are breaking down; people are migrating to the cities. In a new and unfamiliar environment with very little to hold on to, they become more responsive to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are, overall, a religious people, very receptive to the Spirit, and they find a sure hope in the teachings of the Church. They join the gospel culture.” [21]

As The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to spread throughout the world, there will always be a need to make sure that members understand what “gospel culture” means. It is not an easy task. It does not mean consuming funeral potatoes or green Jell-O, only listening to Mormon Tabernacle Choir music or not having white shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbow when going to the temple (as my 15 year old son was recently told by a vigilant ward leader). It means aligning culture (whatever it may be) with the teachings of God and with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In his April 1998 General Conference address, Elder Richard G. Scott summed up his message about removing barriers to happiness with this statement: “Where family or national traditions or customs conflict with the teachings of God, set them aside. Where traditions and customs are in harmony with His teachings, they should be cherished and followed to preserve your culture and heritage.” [22] Interestingly, right after Elder Scott’s remarks, President Hinckley stood at the podium of the Salt Lake Tabernacle and in a diversion from his prepared sermon, started out by offering a special welcome to some members of the Church visiting from Otavalo Ecuador. The camera then panned-down to one of the front rows where a patriarch, stake president and bishop sat dressed in blue woolen ponchos, white shirts (without ties) and pony tails trailing down their backs. While not planned, this moment was a beautiful object lesson to Elder Scott’s message. [23] The unspoken message of the greeting was that these faithful pony-tailed, poncho-wearing brethren were part of the fold and that no other person at conference should be questioning their appearance. Similarly, assigning sisters to give opening prayers in General Conference now overrides past culture-based policies where ward and stake leaders were counselled not to invite women to give opening prayers in sacrament meetings.

Teaching the Gospel culture can be as easy as showing what is appropriate by giving a conference welcome or assigning a conference prayer. In other cases it may require much more effort and more direct teaching. The efforts mentioned above, in which messages were given directly to members of the Church in Africa encouraging them to curtail the debilitating expenses of bride prices, represent an excellent example of teaching what is and is not part of Gospel culture.

Since FGM/C has been practiced among Mormons in Indonesia and might be practiced in Africa, it makes sense to consider ways to make sure that Latter-day Saints in every continent understand that this is not part of the gospel culture. [24] Possible actions to be taken might include: 1) seeking out information from local Relief Society and Young Women leaders (in Africa, Indonesia and in any country where there are immigrant communities who come from areas where FGM/C is practiced) as to whether or not FGM/C is practiced by women and girls in their ward/branch; 2) determining the severity of this cutting and then deciding if all forms of FGM/C are not in keeping with the Gospel cultures or if the ceremonial prick of Stage IV as practiced in Indonesia is acceptable: 3) suggesting other coming of age activities/ceremonies that are in concert with the Gospel culture, if current FGM/C practices are considered unacceptable. Additionally, even if FGM/C is found not to be practiced among Mormons, it is important that the LDS Church join the chorus of other Christian churches in openly condemning this harmful practice. [25]


NOTES:

[1] Sara Corbett, “A Cutting Tradition,” The New York Times, January 20, 2008. [Back to manuscript].


[2] While FGM/C is the more common term, the Indonesians mentioned in this section all referred to the practice as sunat which is Indonesian for circumcision. [Back to manuscript].


[3] LaDonna Davis interviews, (August 11, 2014, June 9, 2016). [Back to manuscript].


[4] Sanford Porter, September 17, 2015 correspondence. [Back to manuscript].


[5] Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change. UNICEF. 2013. [Back to manuscript].


[6] Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change. UNICEF. 2013.[Back to manuscript].


[7] UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Accelerating Change, 2008-2013. UNFPA &UNICEF Evaluation Offices, 2013. [Back to manuscript].


[8] Ellen Gruenbaum, The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective. (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2001) [Back to manuscript].


[9] James Karanja, The Missionary Movement in Colonial Kenya: The Foundation of Africa Inland Church, (Göttingen: Cuvillier Verlag, 2009) p. 93, n. 631. [Back to manuscript].


[10] Denice C. McAllister. “Genital Mutilation: The Real War on Women.” The Federalist. July 30, 2014. http://thefederalist.com/2014/07/30/genital-mutilation-the-real-war-on-women/ [Back to manuscript].


[11] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia. Vatican Press 2016. p. 43. [Back to manuscript].


[12] “Religious leaders unite in the fight against female genital mutilation,” Fides News Agency, July 11, 2011. http://www.news.va/en/news/africauganda-religious-leaders-unite-in-the-fight. [Back to manuscript].


[13] Sicily Mbura Muriithi, “Female Genital Mutilation,” in Africa Bible Commentary Tokunboh Adeyemo ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Zondervan Corporation, 2006, p. 37. [Back to manuscript].


[14] Romarie Skaine, Female Genital Mutilation: Legal, Cultural and Medical Issues. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. 2005. [Back to manuscript].


[15] “UK & African evangelical churches appeal to David Cameron over FGM,” Press release, Evangelical Alliance, July 20, 2014. [Back to manuscript].


[16] https://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/03/the-gospel-culture?lang=eng [Back to manuscript].


[17] http://www.mormonnewsroom.com.gh/articles/church-leaders-speak-about-dowry- [Back to manuscript].


[18] https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/06/experiencing-a-change-of-heart?lang=eng [Back to manuscript].


[19] One female member of the Church with strong ties to Africa noted that lobola is not necessarily all bad. She explained that the bride price may be something as small as “a tie or painting” and that the symbolism of that gesture is an act of “bridge-building” and a “merging of families.” [Back to manuscript].


[20] The Church Handbook of Instruction makes no mention of circumcision, for males or females. There is much debate in the New Testament about whether or not male converts were required to practice circumcision. The one straight forward comment about the practice comes from the Book of Mormon, Moroni 8:8: “…and the law of circumcision is done away in me.” While referring specifically to the Law of Moses practice for males, this command would certainly apply to female circumcision as well. [Back to manuscript].


[21] Mormons in Africa: A Bright Land of Hope. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormons-africa-bright-land-hope [Back to manuscript].


[22] https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1998/04/removing-barriers-to-happiness?lang=eng [Back to manuscript].


[23] A former student of mine, Ryan Schill, served his mission in Ecuador and was helping to host these visitors to conference. After the morning session he passed a note to someone in charge who then alerted President Hinckley of their attendance. President Hinckley then added his welcoming greeting. [Back to manuscript].


[24] Given that there is no official statement from the church about male circumcision, and given the fact that in some cultures female and male circumcision are both considered as rites of passage, it might also be appropriate to provide some context and guidance to parents about male circumcision. Since it is no longer a sign of a covenant, might it still be acceptable for hygiene purposes or for cosmetic purposes (to look the same as other males--father, brothers, friends) or, as in the case of female cutting, does it lessen the “celestial feeling” and is therefore at odds with the gift of procreation? [Back to manuscript].


[25] In 2014, Natasha Helfer Parker spoke out against FGM/C on her blog The Mormon Therapist and made this suggestion: “I would like to call upon our leadership and members to draw attention and focus on this issue – supporting monies, research, service projects, education, missionary efforts, etc. to stopping this barbaric, harmful and antiquated practice.” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mormontherapist/2014/11/the-practice-of-female-circumcision.html#disqus_thread [Back to manuscript].



Full Citation for this Article: Emmett, Chad F. (2016) "Female Genital Cutting and Mormons," SquareTwo, Vol. 9 No. 2 (Summer 2016), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleEmmettLDSFGM.html, accessed <give access date>.

Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 100 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.

COMMENTS: 4 Comments

I. UPDATE from the author, Chad Emmett

Two positive updates about Mormons and FGM.

In a September 11, 2016 address (minute 3:41) at Windsor Castle, Elder Jeffery R. Holland spoke out against FGM as one of many forms of violence against women. He said:

“Unfortunately violence toward women is not limited to times of war. Instances of female genital mutilation, removable of bodily appendages, and honor killings persist during times of peace….Surely God knows of their suffering and weeps with them. As Isaiah [22:4] lamented: Therefore said I, Look away from me; I will weep bitterly, labour not to comfort me, because of the spoiling of the daughter of my people.”
http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/windsor-conference-religious-persecution-holland?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+LDSNewsRoomTop15+%28RSS%3A+LDS+Newsroom%29

Additionally, US Senator Harry Reid (a Mormon) from Nevada has long combated FGM. He first learned of FGM in 1994 and was the author of the 1996 law banning FGM in the US for girls under 18. He also sponsored the Girls’ Protection Act, which banned vacation cutting. This law passed as part of the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.  He also initiated two broad and comprehensive reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which were just released, looking into how the US is addressing FGM. http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/676833.pdf. http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/678098.pdf.

Chad Emmett

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II. UPDATE from the editorial board of SquareTwo.

We were overjoyed to see that in the new Church Handbook that came out in later 2019 and early 2020, the issue of female genital mutilation is explicitly mentioned for the first time ever! And the practice is not just “strongly discouraged,” but outright “condemned”! See section 38.6.7 at the following link: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/general- handbook/38-church-policies-and-guidelines?lang=eng

The actual wording is

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III. B. Kent Harrison

What about boys? Boys are routinely circumcised in modern nations for cleanliness, I suppose. But doesn't that reduce their sexual enjoyment?

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IV. Anonymous

You wonder if FGM is done by LDS people in Africa? Yes it i,s we were witnesses to the fact. We served as senior missionaries to Sierra Leone 2010–2011. We taught a part member family with four vivacious girls and one strong son. We arrived at our teaching appointment with them only to find that two of the older girls and their parents were gone to a nearby village. We were informed that this procedure was going to be performed on the two girls. We were heartsick. It is so ingrained in their culture that it will be many years before it disappears. Even though there are laws against it, this still goes on in the remote villages in Africa. I am relieved that Elder Holland has spoken against this. And that you write so well against this dangerous assault on children.

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V. Braden Fuller

I served a mission in Ethiopia where FGM is, unfortunately, still practiced in many in the rural areas. As a missionary, we faced many different cultural challenges surrounding sexuality and marraige, but FGM was not one of the topics that we traditionally covered during the lessons. Undoubtedly many of the women we taught in Ethiopia were victims of FGM, and I learned about it when an investigator asked whether it was allowed or not. As I have come to understand, traditional practices like FGM are disappearing from Ethiopian society especially in the inner city areas where most of the mission work is being done, but in areas outside of the city they still exist. I would expect that as the church expands into more rural areas of the country that FGM prevention will become a part of the lessons given to new members.