Saturday, March 22, 2008

Amy's Humble Musings: Thoughts on contraception and the quiverfull movement

I don't intend to post here much any more, but I came across a link I thought was worth adding here. Amy Scott is a Christian mom has six kids age nine and under. She suffers hyperemesis gravidarum, and yet she and her husband have apparently chosen not to use birth control to delay pregnancy. In this post, she expresses appreciation for the quiverfull (QF) movement -- the mutual support of other families who have chosen not to use artificial or natural means of birth control -- but she thinks QFers go off the rails when they judge Christians who have come to different conclusions:

The issue of contraception use among Christians is the same. We know that God thinks children are a blessing and a reward. We know that it is normative for married couples to produce children. We know that the world is anti-child and that God calls His people to a different standard. We know that abortificant means of avoiding children are wrong....

But as folks with straying, scraggly toenails, we also want to know where the line is. What is forbidden, what is required, and what is permissible due to our freedom in Christ? We know that we’re responsible to train our children up in the way they should go. We know that men ought to live with their wives in an understanding way, doing all they can to make sure that the one he is called to cherish isn’t crushed underneath a load that is too heavy for her to bear. We know that God’s commands—while difficult sometimes—are always freeing. We know that a man who doesn’t provide for his family is worse than an infidel. We know that our righteousness is because of Christ and not because of what we do. These things are also true.

The quiverfull movement (QF for short) is good for the support of its members.... Where it strays course is when it assigns motives to those outside of it. “Selfish” and “not trusting God” are the catch phrases. I’m not willing to go there. There is not a Bible verse that allows us to do this to one another.

The Bible tells us, “Owe no man anything.” (Should we start an ONMA movement?) This command leaves us less wiggle room and also finds itself in the New Testament. The Bible talks about money a whole lot more than babies. Am I allowed to accuse a person of “not trusting God” if she owed a debt to someone? What about the person who is debt-free and funds the Great Commission because of it?

“Be fruitful” isn’t the trump verse of the Bible. If we were looking for the trump verse, it would have to be Jesus’ words to love God and love our neighbor. He already told us the main thing. (Question to myself: How well am I doing that?) How can we avoid one verse becoming the measuring stick of the condition of our hearts and the vehicle in which churches and groups are built upon?

The woman who has trusted God for the timing and spacing of her children does well. She ought to be praised. Where she fails is when she tells others exactly how they ought to do the same: all birth control is a sin.... The Bible doesn’t bind our consciences in this way, and so we shouldn’t do it to one another. We live with this tension all the time in Scripture. Circumstances don’t dictate theology, but yet we all make judgments and decisions based upon them. Women in China—where they forcefully abort your second child– have to decide in wisdom how to apply Scripture’s words....

We could play “Battle of the Verses” and sling it out. Or we could humble ourselves, asking God for wisdom in how to live out His Word. We could reason together without condescending. We could love one another, knowing that there really is a trump verse after all.

The comment thread went to nearly 300 before Amy shut it down because it devolved into disagreeing over disagreeing. In the comments, Christian women (I'm guessing these are mainly evangelicals) tell their stories -- what decisions they've made about childbearing and why. Some also tell how they've dealt with the judgments of others about the choices they made. Here are a few that stood out:

Tamara has five children, four of them premature but healthy, the last three by c-section. She also has hypertension and gets kidney stones during pregnancy:

The world, and many of my Christian friends and family, tells me I am nuts because I haven’t had a tubal ligation or sent my dh [dear husband] “to the vet”. But I sincerely desire more children and believe that children are indeed a blessing to be desired, not avoided.

But my QF friends tell me that it is sinful to even think of using bc [birth control] for a season. That if I truly trusted God I would be okay with facing major surgery every year and a half. That my uterus is indeed a ziplock bag that can be opened over and over without consequence. I am thrilled to be going to an Above Rubies retreat next month, yet am somewhat apprehensive. What if they find out we are using bc right now? Will I be chastised?

Cindy writes:

My husband and I decided not use BC without any sort of teaching on the subject. We had been married 4 years and that was 23 years ago. We ended up having 16 pregnancies and 9 children. 10 years ago my Dr who was also an elder in our pro-family church felt that I shouldn’t have any more children for health reasons and for my husband to obey the commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill. We went ahead and had 2 more children and a couple more miscarriages before complying with him. Neither my husband or myself felt that we had too many children, or couldn’t handle them at the time. We were tired, yes, but the children had really turned out to be blessings and God had provided for all our needs.

A few years before this point I felt a crack in the QF argument in my heart when for the first time I met several families of whom I wondered if they really should have so many children. This is about the time I realized that there were rabid QF people out there. I was a longtime Momys member but I finally had to get off the list after my husband’s vas. I just couldn’t take the condemnation. My husband said we were not going to spend the rest of our lives looking back and mourning. It was wise of him. He took full responsibility and this saved me from going down a destructive path of doublemindedness, but the Momys list was not helping....

So I agree that the QF movement sort of left its moorings, forgot the first things. Perhaps, because it takes a certain strength of character to have a large family and not use BC, this was inevitable. I truly believe that God has used the teaching to give families courage in the face of a resistant culture. I just think it would be wise not to put the teaching ahead of the 2 great commandments.

In a comment I can't really summarize, Ruth explains the health concerns that led her husband to get a vasectomy and her to go on hormonal birth control.

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