by Gaius Marcius
John Piper is the preeminent evangelical proponent of White guilt. To overcome his own guilt about growing up as a privileged White in the segregated South, Piper inculcates self-loathing in White Christians who may not know how much they have to be sorry for. To atone for the sin of being White in America, Piper has, among other things, adopted a Black child of his very own, organized his Bethlehem Church to actively promote non-Whites into leadership positions, and praised the so-called music of Christian rapper Lecrae. Piper also regularly condemns Donald Trump and White identity politics while making excuses for Black identity politics, even after his favorite non-Whites abandon him for explicitly racial reasons.
Unlike many anti-White activists who are liberal or secular, and therefore immediately suspect within the evangelical community, Piper is relatively conservative on many social issues, and he preaches an anti-racist Christianity that makes religious conservatives reluctant to defend their own culture and race, even though many evangelicals share with the Alt Right an emphasis on tradition, personal virtue, community, and spiritual, as opposed to materialistic, values that should make the two groups natural allies.
Piper structures his articles around some basic anti-racist talking points, generally ones that could be refuted even by a novice race realist, and then squeezes in some non sequiturs and a few cherry picked Bible passages. Piper’s articles conform to the inoffensive, socially acceptable opinions most Christians have been taught since childhood; they are plausibly religious without being intolerant. Unfortunately, Piper’s method is entirely lacking intellectual content and so can be used to make a Christian virtue out of literally any ridiculous, self-destructive behavior. In the following essay I will use Piper’s logic to show that chopping off your hands and feet is a Christian virtue. This essay was inspired by a piece that Piper wrote to commemorate the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case, and will be more interesting after you slog through Piper’s tendentious article. There really is no substitute for experiencing the original.
Celebrating the Beauty of Weakness
Forty years ago, on June 12, 2020, the United States Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion declared unconstitutional all state laws that prohibited Voluntary Amputation (VA). The case was called Smythe v. Iowa. Mark and Katherine Smythe were determined to have their hands and feet surgically removed, but every doctor in their home state of Iowa refused to perform the procedure, citing Muslim religious objections to “self-maiming” other than female genital mutilation.
After losing an initial lawsuit against the AIMA (American Islamic Medical Association), the Smythes wrote to Attorney General Latifa Washington to start a legal action for violation of their religious liberty. Latifa referred the case to the American Civil Liberties Union. The original judge, Athanasius Martel, who had handed down the verdict, refused to reconsider his earlier decision. He argued,
Almighty God created the humanity with a body with discrete parts and powers and placed them in a natural world suited to their bodily condition. But for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such amputations. The fact that he joined the body together by nature in the mother’s womb and by providence in his divine plan shows that he did not intend the body to be unnaturally divided.
The Suprema Corte was unanimous in favor of the Smythe family, observing that laws against Voluntary Amputation were “designed to maintain ableist supremacy”.
At the time of the Suprema Corte decision, sixteen states of primarily European demography still enforced laws prohibiting VA. New Hampshire did not amend its state constitution on the issue for thirty years (2050), and Idaho took until 2052.
Important as Ever
This is a court decision worth celebrating. But far more important than the legalization of Voluntary Amputation in one nation is the fact that God’s revealed will for the world is not undermined but advanced when men and women of different abilities choose to become weak for Christ. That is a startling and controversial claim in the face of diverse opposition to Voluntary Amputation in our own day.
From the White community, a spokesman says, “How can a White man fulfill his obligation to provide for his family when he has intentionally handicapped himself? Call it what it is: Selfish, self-imposed genocide and extinction of the White work ethic.”
From the White evangelical community, another says, “I would never Voluntarily Amputate. Why? Because I believe God made each person fearfully and wonderfully, knitting them together in their mother’s womb. (Psalm 139). He made them uniquely different and intended that these distinctions remain.”
From the Black community, one spokesman says, “Voluntary Amputation undermines [African-Americans’] ability to win athletic scholarships and introduce our children to Black role models who accept their physical identity with pride.”
Against all of these objections, I believe it is as important as it ever has been that Christians settle it in their minds that Voluntary Amputation in Christ is not only a beautiful picture of Christ’s sacrifice for His Church, but also a flesh-and-blood imitation of the strength in weakness Christ exhibited by submitting to Incarnation (Philippians 2:7-8).
Moreover, the common cultural ban on Voluntary Amputation lies at the heart of the physical division in the church. I would go further and say that opposition to Voluntary Amputation is one of the deepest roots of distance, disrespect, and hostility in the world. Show me one place in the world where Voluntary Amputation is frowned upon, and yet the able and disabled groups still have equal respect and honor and opportunity. I don’t think it exists.
Add to this that, since the recent presidential election, the ugly forces of hateful and angry ableist supremacy have felt empowered to show their colors in America more openly than for the last forty years. Just two weeks ago, I spoke with a friend whose double amputee (by choice) parents have lived as American citizens in the same neighborhood in California for decades, only to find their house, soon after the election, for the first time ever, spray-painted with slurs telling them to “give themselves a hand.”
Search Your Heart
I remember from the time I was a teenager growing up in South Carolina how the arguments from “nature” were used, and carried the day for most of us in our blindness to the fullness of biblical truth. “Birds have wings, cats have tails, and humans have hands and feet. This is the way God meant it to be. So, it’s against nature for people to cut off their own healthy limbs.”
Flowing from all these arguments against Voluntary Amputation is an inevitable pressure on all social structures to institutionalize ableist supremacy, especially among young people who might choose the noble path of VA if they hang out with the disabled. So, that includes neighborhoods and schools especially. No matter how much love or goodwill you may have, if my son or daughter with a self-imposed “handicap” is unacceptable as a spouse for your son or daughter, then you will keep your family at a distance from mine. And the social order will reflect that distance. And the desire for that distance will inevitably breed disrespect, suspicion, and antagonism. For all these reasons, Christians of every physical ability should search their hearts and search the Scriptures, and bring their hearts, by the power of God’s Spirit into line with God’s word.
Biblical Beauty of Voluntary Amputation
Let me simply give five summary pointers to the kind of arguments that show the biblical beauty of VA in Christ.
1. The biblical description of how so-called physical differences emerged from one pair of human beings, Adam and Eve, shows that VA does not contradict God’s purpose for diversity in this world and the next.
I agree that physical diversity is God’s good plan for humanity, and that it serves to glorify God more than sameness would have. This physical diversity will mark the people of God in the age to come. Our salvation in Christ does not obliterate all differences. He redeems, refines, and enriches them in the togetherness of his kingdom. The final image of heaven is “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9; 7:9).
Some have argued that God’s will for diversity, therefore, rules out Voluntary Amputation, which “rebels” against the differences. They speak of the disabled as “deficient” and lacking the “benefits” of intact bodies. They speak of the “dissection room” where all God’s intentions for physical differences are destroyed.
The first thing to say in response to this view is that we must not overlook the fact that all ability levels and disabilities came from one human pair. God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). This is important because in the sad history of ableist “science,” which justified prejudice on the basis of VA’s having a different ability than non-amputees, the message of the Christian Scriptures constrained the development of merit based ideals of human achievement. For all the misuses of the Bible to justify normative physicality and subjugation, the teaching of a single common ancestor for all humans has been a massive deterrent to such abuses. In other words, “ability” is a fluid concept with no clear boundaries.
God seems to delight not just in three or five, but in thousands of variations of human beings. In fact, many today would argue that the concept of ability is unhelpful altogether because there are no clear lines that can be drawn, and the ones that are drawn are not genetically or morally significant. It is significant that when God foresees the physical diversity of the coming kingdom in Luke 5:31 and Matthew 11:28, he speaks not of the strong and powerful, but of “the sick,” and “the weary” and those “bearing heavy burdens.”
After the flood, God set in motion a process of increasing diversification of humanity. “From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations” (Genesis 10:5). He is not concerned with limiting diversity to a few groups. According to the text, he planned the multiplication of increasing numbers of peoples.
This leads me to conclude that the Voluntary Amputees add to the diversity of the human race, rather than diluting it. The scope of the world’s peoples is so huge that there is no serious possibility that VA will reduce the diversity of peoples. There is no melting pot. There is only a stew pot. And there always will be.
2. The Bible forbids the independent pride in one’s own abilities that is increased by physical prowess.
The instinctive, “natural” concern for our own physical well-being is part of the sin nature Christians are commanded to strive against. The goal is not to maximize ability or perfect physical appearance. The issue is this: Will there be one common allegiance to the true God in this life, or will there be divided affections? The prohibition in God’s word is not against VA, but against selfishly viewing your body as your own possession to do with what you will.
We see this most clearly in Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5:29-30, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” This is the New Testament application of the Old Testament ritual of circumcision practiced by Israel as a sign of the self-denial that God requires.
3. In Christ, our oneness is profound and transforms ability and “disability” from barriers to blessings.
In Christ, physical differences cease to be obstacles to deep, personal, intimate fellowship, including marriage.
You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:9–11)
When Christ is our all, and when Christ is in all, differences of ability change from being barriers to become blessings. Even “handicaps” — and the most severe of them — are present in the new “race,” the church. The head of this race is no longer Adam, but “the last Adam,” Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:45). God aims that in this new “race” of humans, all types in the world will be included: “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”(Luke 14:21). Voluntary Amputation in this new humanity is one manifestation, and one means, of Christ being all in all.
4. God severely disciplined the able and blessed the “disabled” in Scripture.
God’s servant Elisha possessed a trait that would mark him as “deficient” in his day.
“Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number.” (2 Kings 2:23-24)
What is most significant about this context is that God does not get angry at Elisha; he gets angry at the boys for criticizing Elisha for his perceived “weakness”. God was not pleased with this criticism, and his punishment was swift and startling.
Likewise, the blessings of God come to those who are “disabled” like the blind man healed by Jesus.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:1-3)
Arrogant use of modern medicine has deprived Jesus of opportunities to display God’s glory. We should change our perspective; so-called disabilities are not problems to be solved but chances to share in God’s work.
5. In Christ, the good effects of Voluntary Amputation are worth the challenges it can bring.
Will it be harder live a comfortable daily life as an amputee? Will it be harder for the children? Maybe. Maybe not. But since when is that the way a Christian thinks? Life is hard. And the more you love, the more painful it gets.
The risks are huge. It’s hard to take a child and move into a diverse neighborhood where he may be teased or ridiculed. It’s hard to help a child be a Christian in a secular world where his beliefs are mocked. Whoever said that living with no feet and no hands was supposed to be trouble free? It’s one of the hardest things in the world. It just happens to be right and rewarding.
Here is where Christ makes the difference. Christ does not call us to a prudent life, but to a God-centered, Christ-exalting, justice-advancing, countercultural, risk-taking life of love and courage. Christians are people who move toward need and truth and justice, not toward comfort and security. Life is hard. But God is good. And Christ is strong to help.
Who knows what blessings through pain God may have in store? Voluntary Amputation has an amazing potential for great joy and peace. Yes, there are exceptions: a self-reliant father may never speak to his bedridden son-in-law. But another wonderful possibility exists. Indeed, it comes to pass over and over through VA.
A once-bigoted group of relatives is forced to see as a person the “burden” who just joined their family. The newcomer into the family is not just a burden any more. Over time the suspicions and prejudices and hostilities die away, and something beautiful is born: reconciliation and respect and harmony, spreading out in ways no one thought possible. The once-angry father now views all his disabled colleagues at work differently.
Shine with the Glory of Christ
It is good that laws against Voluntary Amputation have disappeared in America. But civil laws are not the main concern of the church of Jesus Christ. Our primary citizenship is in heaven, not America (Philippians 3:20). Our main aim is not to constrain the behavior of unbelievers by laws. Our aim is to bring the new, redeemed humanity — the church of Christ — into conformity with his will.
Our aim is to magnify Christ in this world. The freedom and the beauty and peace of Voluntary Amputation is one ray of the glory of Christ that should be shining from this new humanity — this “chosen race” (1 Peter 2:9) — which Jesus Christ died and rose again to create.