Excerpted from Ralph Winter's Essay "Group Self Deception"
In the case of what is called euphemistically “female circumcision” missions have made little progress. To this day it is a practice which includes 140 million women in Africa. Drastically more mutilating than male circumcision, missionary hospitals, some of them, need to devote a great deal of time to sewing up the bladders of women who have undergone what is officially called “Female genital mutilation” the reason being that sewing the vagina nearly closed anticipates bladder rupture during the birth of the first child. Without repair surgery a leaking bladder produces a constant 24/7 stench which forces hundreds of thousands of women completely out of their villages.
The minimal progress missions have made against the practice of female genital mutilation — many do not even address the subject for fear of losing converts — is mute testimony to the awesome power of what we could call “Group Self Deception,” a type of culturally reinforced delusion. Missionaries are legitimately fearful of destructive cultural practices entering into the Christian movement, and of the puzzling power of “Group Self Deception.”
However, we deceive ourselves if we think our own cultural tradition is devoid of “Group Self Deception.” Thus, this same legitimate fear of straying from Biblical insight has also led returned missionaries to look with foreign eyes upon some of the customs of their countries of origin. Even less likely, but nevertheless possible, is for returning missionaries to look critically upon the nature of the very religious tradition in which they were reared. This latter, very rare and difficult kind of reflection, could be called reverse contextualization or decontextualization.
I realize that I have used a lot of my time already tiptoeing up to this subject, it is as difficult to raise issues of this kind in our culture as it is for missionaries to do so in an African society. I want to address certain major killers in the United States and much of the Westernized world which our society does little about. These are cultural traditions that are very deep and strong in the Western world, that both pervade and complicate secular society, and in so doing, also the cultural tradition of Christianity from which most of us spring.