Monday, January 22, 2007

Anglicans in 1930 for and against contraception

According to many sources, this is the first official statement from any Christian body stating the permissibility of contraception under any circumstances. It was approved at the 1930 Lambeth Conference, the quadrennial meeting of the worldwide Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church USA:

Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, in those cases where there is such clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the conference agrees that other methods may be used provided this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The conference records strong condemnation of the use of any methods of birth control from selfishness, luxury or mere convenience.

Charles Gore, Bishop of Oxford, published a pamphlet expressing his dissent:

Now it is true that the sexual intercourse of married people has other recognized ends than the production of offspring. The Church has always declined to say that this is the only end. And it has never prohibited such intercourse when the laws of nature make generation improbable or impossible. But it has said steadily or constantly that this is the primary end of marriage, and it has condemned as unnatural and as a sin the attempt by any devices to separate absolutely the satisfaction of the physical desire from its chief end. The methods provided by Birth Prevention are not wrong because they are mechanical. But legitimate mechanism should tend to promote the ends of nature not to obstruct and defeat them. The Church has regarded Birth Prevention as sinful because, like other sensual practices commonly called unnatural, it is a deliberate enterprise taken in hand to separate absolutely the enjoyment of the sexual act from its natural issue. It is thus to be reckoned among the 'unfruitful works of darkness.' I must add that the Church has always and rightly bidden us have regard in our individual conduct to the general effect of what we are proposing to do. We are not allowed in judging of any matter to isolate our private interest from the general interests of the kingdom of God.

And further on, Gore writes:

But what I wish to say emphatically is that for one who is living a life surrendered to Christ and in the power of His risen life, I am absolutely convinced that no question of using contraceptives will ever arise. He gives one the power of abstinence and self-control, and other methods do indeed appear as a deadly sin and a hateful offence to His purity and that of His Mother; and I cannot believe that a life guided by the Holy Spirit will ever be led to find a 'grave moral reason' for using appliances.

Not quite to the point of this blog, but Gore also says some interesting things about private confession in the Anglican Church and preaching on sex:

But the result is this, that most of our members do not seek the judgement of the Church upon their lives, but are content to trust their own consciences; and we must leave them to the judgement of God. But this is only tolerable if we are doing our best to instruct their consciences and let them know what the mind of the Church is, as on other matters, so on the sexual relation. It is both foolish and sinful, now that sexual mysteries are matters of common conversation in all classes, to avoid plain speaking in religious instruction. We must strive to see that those who are married in church have received a letter of instruction, when notice of the marriage is given—a letter which should be sympathetic as well as firm, but not familiar or sentimental: and the questions for self-examination, which all Churchmen should use occasionally before Communion, should be quite explicit; and sermons and instructions should be in great part ethical and should not shrink from topics which every one outside the Church is discussing.

I've been attending evangelical churches all my life, and I don't believe I've ever heard a sermon about contraception.