Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Background

I have started this blog as a place to think through the issue of contraception in the context of Christian marriage.

This blog is not here for dialogue with atheists, deists, agnostics, or gnostics. If you don't believe that there is a God to whom we owe worship and obedience and that what we do with our bodies matters to him, this whole topic will seem silly and pointless to you. Your comments to the effect that this whole topic seems silly and pointless to you will seem silly and pointless to me. You may as well hit the "next blog" button at the top of the page.

I am interested in the thoughts of those who seek to worship God in spirit and in truth. I invite you to post your comments or to e-mail me (you can find the address via my "profile").

One more stipulation: We are not discussing the use of contraception to facilitate sex outside of marriage. Extra-marital sex is sinful per se, whether or not contraceptives are used. You could have a good argument about whether using contraceptives or not using contraceptives aggravates the sin of extra-marital sex; you just can't have that argument here. It's beside the point.

Where am I coming from on this issue? I am in my early 40s, a married father of three children, and an evangelical Christian. My wife and I were both virgins on our wedding night and have remained faithful to each other.

Like most of my age cohort, I grew up in an era of much smaller families than those of our parents. My mother-in-law grew up on a farm, one of nine children. My parents, townspeople though they were, had five and four siblings respectively. But my wife and I have one sibling each. Two parents, two children (preferably one of each) became the norm. As we considered plans for marriage and family, both my wife and I assumed this default family configuration.

Part of our planning included choosing a contraceptive method to use until we were ready to start having children. My wife took the birth control pill for five years. We chose it because, in the late '80s, it was not widely believed to be abortifacient, unlike some other methods, it seemed to be the most reliable method, and it didn't place a barrier between our bodies or prevent us from being spontaneous in our lovemaking. We would be able to make love without fear that we would be rushed into parenthood sooner than we were ready. (Of course, you are never really ready for parenthood.) Had my wife become pregnant earlier than planned, we would of course have welcomed and loved the child as a gift from God. We are both staunch opponents of abortion.

Many evangelicals are making different choices. If you were to glance through the directory of our church without noticing the front page, you'd be excused for thinking it belonged to a traditionalist Catholic parish, not a conservative evangelical congregation. Four and five children in a family is common, seven is not unusual, and one family has nine children. I couldn't tell you if these couples are "quiverfull" or just rhythm method practitioners who can't keep a beat, because these couples aren't preaching about their choices, and they aren't shaming couples who have a small number of children. Their own lives testify that it's possible to have a healthy and happy large family in a modern, urban environment. I'm sure some young couples in the church are more open to having a large family because they know older couples who can mentor them through the special challenges of feeding, housing, transporting and loving more kids than the parents have hands.

My wife has a friend from college who made a point of asking prospective girlfriends how many children they wanted. When one of them answered "a quiverful," he knew he'd found the girl for him.

Then there's the world-famous Jim Bob Duggar family from Springdale, Arkansas. The former state rep and U. S. Senate candidate and his wife Michelle have 15 children, including two sets of twins. They are Baptists. They've been featured in a reality TV series as well as a parody of a motivational poster. They used the birth control pill early in their marriage, but quit all forms of family planning after Michelle miscarried while on the pill, and as they considered the implications of Psalm 127.

While everyone knows that the Roman Catholic Church regards the use of artifical methods of birth control as a mortal sin, even within the context of Christian marriage, I know of no Protestant confession, catechism, or statement of faith that takes up the issue of contraception. That may be because when the major Protestant confessions were written in the 16th and 17th centuries, only one method of contraception existed (coitus interruptus) and the practice was universally condemned in the societies which were the context for those statements of doctrine. Confessions of faith typically focus on a group's distinctive beliefs; if an ethical principal was universally held, there would be no reason to raise the issue.

And conservative Protestants are very reluctant to make any changes to their core doctrinal declarations, because of the abuses by liberal mainliners. It is a simpler process to amend the U. S. Constitution than it is to modify, for example, the Presbyterian Church in America's confession of faith, even if the change is only to add a section dealing with a new ethical issue.

While there is near-universal agreement among evangelical Christians that abortion is evil, the evangelical consensus about contraception within marriage has been that it's a matter of Christian freedom: The question of how many children a couple has and when they come along is a decision to be made prayerfully by a Christian couple, just as they prayerfully make other important decisions about their life together.

That consensus is no longer as monolithic as it once was. Through the Catholic and evangelical alliance in opposition to abortion, evangelicals are being exposed to Catholic theology about sex, birth control, and "Natural Family Planning." The "quiverfull" movement, which has developed in the evangelical subculture in the last 20 years, believes that Christians should not use any form of family planning -- as every child is a blessing from the Lord, and we're commanded to be fruitful and multiply, we shouldn't take steps -- not even selective absitinence -- to block those blessings or frustrate our natural fruitfulness.

A growing number of evangelical pastors and laypeople are no longer making the issue a matter of personal conscience. They believe it is a matter of obedience to God's clear commands in Scripture.

The Roman Catholic ban on artificial birth control has been more often honored in the breach than the observance by American Catholics, and many that have obeyed have done so grudgingly. No longer content to shrug and say simply, "The Pope says so," anti-contraception Catholics (no, that is not redundant) are arguing to their co-religionists that contraception is not only a sin, but it damages the relationship between a husband and a wife and treats children as an inconvenience, not a blessing.

In the next few entries, we'll look at several different Christian perspectives on contraception.

3 comments:

Equus Pallidus said...

Glad to you here, a brother in Christ and a Roman Catholic. Just book marked your page.

Jess said...

We've discussed this over on my blog, too... and there are no easy answers.

I have found that for my husband and I, opening ourselves up to children in our attitudes makes it so that we aren't scared of sex. We do it whenever we please. Having the added benefit of not ever having done NFP, we have no idea if I'm "fertile" or not at any particular time, and yet, we have had only 1 child in the 3 years we've been without contraception.

Oh, and by the way- I'm that "fertile myrtle" they always talk about-- we got pregnant with our first two- each with only ONE time without protection... but here we are, three years and rolling... I'm so grateful God has opened us up to full trust in Him.

I'm sure you have- but have you considered quietly praying for your wife, for her conviction, for her heart to be changed in this area?

And hang in there- I only noticed your blog because of all the negative attention you've gotten- but of course, all of that is just due to you being male- if you were a female, no one would give a rip. Because it's "her body, her choice"... but when it's a man trying to "LORD" over his wife (or rather, lead her in the ways of God)... look out!

All that to day- hang in there. And I pray that it will all come to a fruitful end. :)

Jess said...

Wanted to encourage you to check out Tim Bayly's full-on examination of birth control here:

CLICK HERE