Re-thinking Contraception

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, claims this one thing has had as great an impact on human beings as any development since the Fall.  Is he talking about the scientific revolution?  The printing press?  The fall of Rome?  No, he’s referring to a tiny object that fits in the palm of your hand:  he’s referring to the birth control pill.

With the pill, Mohler says, “the entire horizon of the sexual act changes. . . . There can be no question that the pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex – and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation.”

Mohler has a point.  Without the pill, there likely would have been no sexual revolution in the 60s; no subsequent disintegration of the family; and no rampant hookup culture now.  Since the introduction of the pill, marriage has declined by 33% and divorce has more than doubled.  STDs have exploded.  And, the number of children living in single-parent families has tripled.

Given these facts, how should we Christians think about birth control?  Until 1930, every Christian church – Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox – opposed contraception.  But then, Mainline Protestants bought the lie of eugenicists – that the world would be better if we simply weeded out undesirable populations.  This thinking eventually led to genocide.  Evangelicals swallowed the lie of population control advocates: either impede procreation or we’ll starve to death.  This has led to what’s called a “Demographic Winter” – populations where the birth rate is so low that rapid population decline and economic devastation is certain to come.

In addition to these consequences is a strong theological argument against contraception.  That is, that God created the union of male and female to reflect the life and love of the Trinity – as well as the love of Christ for His church.  When one sterilizes that union, he not only perverts this symbol:  he creates an anti-symbol that reflects selfishness, not love.

I used to support birth control, but I can’t anymore.  Scripture says we can know a tree by its fruit.  And, I can’t think of a more rancid fruit than the fruit of contraception.

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21 thoughts on “Re-thinking Contraception

  1. Julie, I’ve been listening to Catholic radio for months now (when I am driving) so your thoughts have been in my mind more than usual.

    Question: How does responsible, natural family planning answer the concerns raised in your last two paragraphs? Or does it?

  2. Hey Sheila…
    Christopher West actually addressed this in my program last Saturday. He said that natural family planning does nothing to render the marital union sterile. As a result, it doesn’t pervert the symbol.So there’s nothing inherently wrong with abstaining from sex when a woman is most fertile if a couple has a good reason not to conceive. Similarly, couples should continue to enjoy sexual union beyond a woman’s childbearing age. He said the difference between saving sex for times when a woman is infertile and actually sterilizing the act is similar to allowing grandma to die and actually killing grandma.

    • Anonymous

      This Comment you referenced from Mr. West about “the difference between saving sex for times when a woman is infertile and actually sterilizing the act is similar to allowing grandma to die vs. actually killing grandma.”

      I would say this analogy would be more appropriately compared to living with grandma vs. visiting grandma when you can fit it into the schedule at the nursing home. When you write about the license birth control has given I am reminded that God will allow you to follow after the desires of your own heart, even if it leads off the path he would have for you. I think at the heart of the issue raised here points to the wall that has been built and currently keeps God out of our day to day decisions. Comfort is king and we serve the bottom line. Unless we are willing to reign in a different kingdom the issue at hand is a surface issue, the results of deeper heart issue. This topic reminds me of the discussion a few weeks ago about the “Green Dragon”. Our farming industry is one that is based on unnatural chemical processes. We have become separated from our food. What have we replaced this connection with? Microwaves, preservatives, fast food. Convenience, sweet convenience. What do we do with the free time gained now that we no longer have to farm, cook or order our lives around nature and others? We spend that extra time working for the company that took over managing the petty tares that used to haunt us before Modern Society solved that problem. And what do we do with all that extra money made working all the extra hours? A flat screen TV. A giant projector of false reality, mounted on our wall which reinforces all our great modern achievements.

      While this is a great example of the lack of mindfulness of God or humanity in our choices, surely pointing out a symptom can lead to an awareness of the malady at hand, I wonder if projecting these ideals are not a bit like telling a man laboring as a slave that he is free and not bound by the chains that his master holds the key to.

    • Anonymous

      Wow! I believe that what you are saying total goes against the clear teaching of Scripture. ICorinthians 7:1-5 is very clear that married couples should not abstain from sex except for prayer and fasting. Further the text stresses that sexual needs are to be met and not denied. Natural Family planning requires couples to abstain from sex during the specific time that a woman’s monthoy cycle causes her sexual desire to peak. For a husband to deny his wife or for her to denial her desires (except for prayer & fasting-NOT pragnancy prevention)would clearly be disobeying Scripture….read the passage; its very clear.

  3. Anonymous

    This Comment you referenced from Mr. West about “the difference between saving sex for times when a woman is infertile and actually sterilizing the act is similar to allowing grandma to die vs. actually killing grandma.”

    I would say this analogy would be more appropriately compared to living with grandma vs. visiting grandma when you can fit it into the schedule at the nursing home. When you write about the license birth control has given I am reminded that God will allow you to follow after the desires of your own heart, even if it leads off the path he would have for you. I think at the heart of the issue raised here points to the wall that has been built and currently keeps God out of our day to day decisions. Comfort is king and we serve the bottom line. Unless we are willing to reign in a different kingdom the issue at hand is a surface issue, the results of deeper heart issue. This topic reminds me of the discussion a few weeks ago about the “Green Dragon”. Our farming industry is one that is based on unnatural chemical processes. We have become separated from our food. What have we replaced this connection with? Microwaves, preservatives, fast food. Convenience, sweet convenience. What do we do with the free time gained now that we no longer have to farm, cook or order our lives around nature and others? We spend that extra time working for the company that took over managing the petty tares that used to haunt us before Modern Society solved that problem. And what do we do with all that extra money made working all the extra hours? A flat screen TV. A giant projector of false reality, mounted on our wall which reinforces all our great modern achievements.

    While this is a great example of the lack of mindfulness of God or humanity in our choices, surely pointing out a symptom can lead to an awareness of the malady at hand, I wonder if projecting these ideals are not a bit like telling a man laboring as a slave that he is free and not bound by the chains that his master holds the key to.

  4. Agreed, we are free. Yet, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:

    I Cor. 6:12: “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial.

    Or in Galations 5:13: You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature[a]; rather, serve one another in love.

    Certainly, our selfishness and comfort-seeking extend far beyond this topic. But, as we aim to bring everything under the Lordship of Christ, we certainly need to consider how we handle this area of our life.

  5. Thanks for bringing up I Cor. 7:5. Let’s look at the verse:
    “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

    I’m not a Greek scholar, but it seems to me that this verse supports natural family planning. It says times of abstinence are okay if one, they’re by mutual consent (A couple should never engage in family planning without agreement from both spouses.); two, it’s only for a designated time,not some indefinite period; and three, the two come together again so that they’re not subjecting themselves to undue temptation. Isn’t that essentially natural family planning?

    Now, I suppose you could argue that the verse mentions doing this only for the purpose of prayer. But, that’s an argument from silence — not really very convincing.

    Also, I think it should be noted that most of those who advocate natural family planning recommend it only if a couple has a good reason to avoid pregnancy. I haven’t examined what constitutes a “good reason” yet. I’d like to do that at some point. I am convinced, though, that wanting to avoid having children altogether is a wrong desire for a married couple.

    • Anonymous

      “I am convinced, though, that wanting to avoid having children altogether is a wrong desire for a married couple.”

      God places different desires in people’s hearts–married or single. Perhpas God brought two people into a covenant marriage to fulfill a purpose GREATER than childbearing. It’s a shame that many professing Christians consider this the highest calling of marriage–not obedience to God and fulfilling the purpose HE has revealed to you.

    • Anonymous

      I think we should be very, very careful about discerning whether a desire has been “placed on my heart” by God–especially if it goes *against* what is a natural gift given by Him. Keep in mind that being open to life does not necessarily mean trying to bear as many children as you can “fit in” before menopause!

      Being open to life and obedient is not an “either/or,” but a “both/and.” I would even go so far as to say that we must be open to life in marriage IN ORDER TO be obedient to God–even if we feel that pregnancy is not possible or not ideal at this particular time in our lives (and we may abstain from sex during fertile times when that is the case, and yet still be open to life).

      I could see a couple needing to avoid pregnancy throughout their marriage–for medical reasons, for example. Yet even then, the reasoning and intent is not that they would desire to avoid having children for its own sake, but that they desire something else–such as the wife’s health–and avoiding pregnancy is a consequence or “side effect” of that. Then the couple avoids childbearing out of necessity and obedience to God. In fact, a couple who lives together as “brother and sister” is not necessarily sinning–and they can still be open to life and obedient to God without having sexual relations.

      When we are not open to life, and actually desire not to have children for the sake of not having children, and yet still have sex, we are effectively saying that God’s Will is NOT important to us! God is the one who *creates life* and He knows best–so if we are truly obedient, then we are willing to accept that He may create a life, even if we think that this is not a good time for us to have a child!
      –Amy

  6. steve

    I invite anyone who has interest in this topic to read this. It is the encyclical letter from Pope Paul VI “Humanae Vitae”. Written in 1968 it mentions many of the things the “Rethinking Contraception” article states and implies. This is a relatively short encyclical and whether you accept, or reject the Catholic Church this letter has been nothing short of an accurate prediction of the effect of contraception. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html

    The difference between contraception and natural family planning that has everything to do with faith as a Christian is that at no time does the practice of natural family planning rule out the possibility of life. It still requires that the couple be willing to give entirely to the other. Contraception by nature introduces the element of divorce into the relationship since it divorces the pro-creative from the unitive, thus making it ultimately non-unitve, but selfish and non-marital. The very nature of Christianity is that we give of ourselves completely trusting in God to provide for us what we need, and the nature of contraception is: “this is my body not given for you”.

    Even beyond the immediate effects we see, I believe that contraception has led us down the road of the devaluing of life, creating a “contraceptive mentality” in many other aspects of life; to live a life without pain, or consequence. The lying, cheating and violence that seems to be relatively acceptable in many parts of society these days can be traced to this mentality even to the point of faith when we allow ourselves to create our own determination of what Christian teching is (how many different denominations and teachings are there? If we don’t like what “this church” is teaching do we go find another that more agrees with our theology?).

    • steve

      Going further, the specific Bible reference to contraception would be in Gen. 38 where Onan was struck dead for his contraception. Being that to contracept is a conscious choice, that choice necessarily includes the recognition of the possible child as a consequence of the act, to visualize that child and say, “No! I will not accept you; I do not want the opportunity to love you”.
      Contraception has not liberated women, or relationships, but has bound women to the status of an object, or possession and cheapened relationships by denying the total gift of self, building a wall between the two. It has allowed for the neglect of children by creating a class of children who were intended to be avoided, and in fact paved the way for the “normalization” of same sex relationships.

    • Anonymous

      Interestingly enough God allowed polygamy. Would He then allow for contriception in day where having large families is not required for survival?

      And Julie thanks for the forum to discuss such topics. This is very helpful.

    • Steve

      Large families are not required for our survival. So long as we have an even reproduction rate of about three children per family we will survive fine.
      AS far as what was allowed, God also not only allowed, but required circumcision and animal sacrifice as part of belonging to his “family of faith”. Those obviously are no longer required, and polygamy is no longer practiced because that extra-ordinary measure is not necessary. It was allowed to help build the covenant nation. Afterwards the requirment was that you were to marry within the community of faith.
      The reason God will never allow contraception is that it is against his nature. If He chose, he could prevent pregnancy. Consider the children born out of wedlock, children born in impoverished nations, and children born with disabilities and disease (some who die soon after birth). He allows them to live; why? To give us the opportunity to love. To contracept denies that opportunity to love as God calls us to, and in a good number of cases contraception actually causes abortion. Along with this are a series of results from a contraceptive society that damage and destroy the nature of relationships which is what religion is all about since the very word religion comes from the Latin word “relegare” which we also get the word relationship from; the pinnacle of faith is of course relationship with God.

    • Steve

      Addressing the word “allowed” from annonnymous, it is differrent from the wod “approved”. While God may have allowed polygamy, he did not approve of it. It is also possible that he may have allowed inter-familial relations to initiate growth (particularly Noah’s family after the flood; his children’s cousins), suspending the normal rules just as the miracles that occurred in such abundance in the early days of the Church and from Jesus himself suspended the normal rules to help build the community of believers. We don’t see miracles occur in any amount or magnitude as they occurred then. He also did not consider miracles the norm then too; remember how Jesus chastised those who were looking for signs, so while he allowed them, he didn’t endorse them as a necessary tenet of the faith.
      As far as allowing, He allows us to sin, but because he doesn’t stop us doesn’t mean that He approves.

    • Anonymous

      Steve, I think your assessment does not take into account power that is given us by the creator to exorcize authority over and participate in the way God’s story unfolds. God allows polygamy, God allows Israel to install a human king and God allows a number of pretty shocking practices Israel.

      It seems to me that God gives us allot of room to interact with things. We have free will. I do agree that the lack of discernment in child birth is a problem. I believe that the focusing on the minute interaction that occur in common birth control practices takes the attention away from the issue which is the lack of thought that goes into our decisions.

  7. Isn’t the point to discover God’s perfect will and conform to it — not find out how far we can go without incurring God’s wrath? Yes, we are under grace and free to do anything:
    “‘Everything is permissible’–but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’–but not everything is constructive.” 1 Cor. 10:23

    I think we should note, too, that polygamy was a result of the Fall — a distortion of the two becoming one flesh. The Church Fathers held that when Jesus appeared first to a woman after the resurrection, He was signalling a lifting of the curse on women. Polygamy was part of this curse. After the resurrection, it was never practiced in the church again — and the entire NT reasserts that marriage is one man and one woman.

    • Steve

      “Freedom is not the ability to do what we want to do, but the ability to do what we ought to do”. This explains the verse from 1 Cor. 10:23. Freedom does not equal liscense. st. Augustine said: “Love, and do what you will”. This does not mean that we can do whatever we feel like doing so long as we have offered some act of love with, or preceeding. First we must seek love (to discover God’s will), and then we do what we will, which is now that love.
      again, Christian life is a life in which we are called to give completely to others regardless of the cost. The original state of marriage in the bible is that union between man nad woman in which they are called to be “one flesh”. The way this takes place is not because of the unitive act alone, but only when combined with the pro-creative aspect of it. Children are the living example of that union. WE see that in every child there are aspects, or charectaristics of both the mother and the father. That oneness is lost when we contracept and say “no’ I do not want you to have this part of me; I do not want that oneness with you that will be exampled by our child”, thus causing us to violatet the nature of marriage.

    • Anonymous

      I am under the impression that the whole thing is under the fall. Bringing control and dominion to the world is part of God’s mandate and there is much grace here.

      And I speak of grace because I don’t see any exact direction on this in the Bible. As we look at this issue I think of the ones I know with children and who fundamentally lack the willingness and ability for the results of such a mandate. If an theology of this kind were adopted we would need to think about become a closer more self sufficient community first. Until we are ready for this I believe birth control is the part of or results of an individualized society such as polygamy.

    • Steve

      Anonymous,
      It seems as though you have already determined your position on this issue, and were hoping for some wiggle room to allow it.
      This is the problem with Sola Scriptura teaching; you are the determiner of what infallible teaching is. There is no difinitive CHristian authority; no infallible interpreter of the infallible Scripture with this teaching. This is the reason I mentioned what I did in my first remarks about the contraceptive mentality of no pain and no consequence creeping into Christianity.
      There is no definitive teching in the bible about contraception, abortion, euthanasia, the state of children who die before birth, etc., yet there is a true teaching concerning each of these and many of the other things the bible isn’t explicit on. You can find them in the teaching of the apostles as the bible says is what the people dedicated themselves to in Acts 2:42. Oddly enough also, nowhere in the bible does the bible say that the bible alone is the source for teaching; that is an extra-biblical teaching.
      It took me a while to begin to understand this teaching on contraception too, but first I had to trust that it was true and slowly let the understanding unfold just as Mary did when Gabriel came to her. She knew quite well the Scriptures and traditions, yet she said, “How can this happen to me?”. She did not suggest it shouldn’t, but instead humbled herself to trust God saying,”Be it done to me according to your word”.

  8. Julie, are you a “Closet Catholic?!” :)

  9. Ha! No, I hold evangelical views when it comes to soteriology. However, I greatly respect and appreciate my Catholic brothers and sisters. And, I acknowledge that in some areas, like human sexuality, they’ve unswervingly held to orthodoxy — while evangelicals have strayed.

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