Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On the Segment of the Protestant Christian Right that Opposes Contraception

Via Josh Tinley, a Chicago Tribune report indicates that some parts of the politically-active Christian Right outside of Catholicism oppose lawful contraception. And I'm not talking about the morning after pill, but methods that prevent fertilization, like condoms:

"It is clear there is a major rethinking going on among evangelicals on this issue, especially among young people'' disenchanted with the sexual revolution, said the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "There is a real push back against the contraceptive culture now.''

Mohler has written extensively on the subject on his blog. Here's one slice:

Second, we must affirm that God gave us the gift of sex for several specific purposes, and one of those purposes is procreation. Marriage represents a perfect network of divine gifts, including sexual pleasure, emotional bonding, mutual support, procreation, and parenthood. We are not to sever these "goods" of marriage and choose only those we may desire for ourselves. Every marriage must be open to the gift of children. Even where the ability to conceive and bear children may be absent, the will to receive children must be present. To demand sexual pleasure without openness to children is to violate a sacred trust.

Really? Why? How is this ethic exegeted? Mohler never explains. And despite his big pulpit, I might be inclined to dismiss this chilling perspective as a fringe movement, except that I have seen it before. In Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes:

One of the fundamental tenets of feminist ideology has always been the right of a woman to determine for herself if and when she will have children and how many children she will have. Shulamith Firestone, a feminist thinker and writer in the 1960s and 1970s, spoke for the movement when she insisted: "The heart of woman's oppression is her childbearing and childrearing roles."

The Christian world has been unwittingly influenced by this way of thinking, leading to the legitimization and promotion of such practices as contraception, sterilization, and "family planning." As a result, unwittingly, millions of Christian women and couples have helped to further Satan's attempts to limit human repoduction and thereby destroy life. (169)

This section is entitled Myth # 27 "It's Up To Us To Determine The Size Of Our Family." To her credit, DeMoss does at least try to make a Biblical argument, stating from John 10:10 that Satan wants to steal and destroy life. That's a proof-text that would make even Rick Warren cringe. Nor is it even applicable, as an unfertilized egg is not human life. If it were, women would be committing manslaughter every time they have a period. In fact, to carry DeMoss' argument to its logical conclusion, women are morally obligated to seek fertilization with each and every menstrual cycle -- whether or not they are married -- simply to prevent the death of this 'human being' within them.

This what I like to call a "retroactive argument" -- when a person predetermines an ethic and then seeks justification for it. The underlying motive is that some morally conservative Christians aren't just anti-abortion, they're anti-sex. This is a perspective with an ancient history, originating in Middle Eastern dualism that also gave rise to Christian and Jewish forms of Gnosticism during the Early Church period. The material world, especially the human body, is impure in this perspective (contra God, who declared his Creation 'good'). It eventually spawned the more extreme forms of monasticism and is still present in American conservative Protestantism. We've all heard fire-and-brimstone preachers order us to "Subdue the flesh!" Why? Because the human body, especially the of act sex, is inherently sinful (thank you so much, Augustine), even within marriage.

I just don't have the time today to create a clear argument for non-procreative marital sex being compliant with Christian ethics. But suffice it to say that my wife and I will continue to use birth control and I have yet another reason to vote Libertarian in the November election.


Michelle said...

These arguments also overlook the environmental concern of overpopulation. In Biblical times having many children was a path to more life. Now, perhaps, it is a dicier option. If we all have as many children as we can we will create an even more dire circumstance for our world and more competition for our resources. Is it possible for the "what is needed and right" to change according to circumstance?

John said...

To a limited extent, yes, Michelle.

Anonymous said...

Since my wife and I have practiced several methods of birth control in our 25 years of marriage, we obviously disagree with anti-birth control argument.

Still, we realize that birth control measures sometimes fail. Married couples must accept the fact that even protected sex sometimes produces children. One can never fully divorce sexual relations from procreation. That's one reason that sexual relations ALWAYS belong within a permanent marriage relationship that can appropriately nurture children. If that means adjusting our plans to accomodate unplanned pregnancies, so be it.

I'm not sure that the evangelical anti-birth-control crowd is really anti-sex. I think that it's more likely that they are really pro-big-family and possibly also pro-traditional-wife role.

Joel Thomas said...

Al Mohler and his wife have two children. I don't know their personal circumstances regarding fertility or avoiding sex during fertile times, but I would be interested in an explanation as to why someone who believes that the sexual relationship should always be open to children ends up with two children.

I am, however, reserving judgment precicely because I don't know those circumstances.

I think it is unfortunately true that some conservative Christians take a diminished view of sexual relations under virtually all circumstances.

Andy S. said...

This is good news for the evangelical Christian right. Most children learn the values of their parents and with lots of children, the church will grow. Maybe the Methodists should consider this form of church growth. It's been used successfully by the Roman Catholic church for years.

Kansas Bob said...

Churchianity gets stranger every day ... maybe we can begin to tell people what to eat - oh ... some already have. Is there some area of personal life the church hasn't butted in to?

John said...

Christ is supposed to butt into every area of our personal lives.

The state, on the other hand....

John B said...

Interestingly, I had a young father speak to me about this very issue last week. He & his wife have 2 young children. Recently, they learned that both children have a genetic birth defect which will likely shorten their lives and make that life very difficult.

He asked me what I thought about birth control. He had heard this anti-birth control message from others and was questioning whether he & his wife should be using any. In the back of his mind was the fact that if they didn't there was a good possibility that any other children born to them would have the same genetic problem.

The ideas that the anti-birth control people articulate are not just theoretical, but have real life consequences.

By the way, I told him I thought that was a decision that was totally up to he & his wife, since I knew of no Biblical prohibition.

Keith Taylor said...

Well, I am pretty conservative.

I believe that two of God's greatest creations are (1) faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and (2) married sex.

And he was in a pretty nifty mood when he created both.

It has been instilled in me as a United Methodist from a very young age that what a husband and wife choose do in the bedroom is between them and God. (and I do emphasize between husband and wife) That includes using birth control. I look at it like this, if they use it and still get pregnant, it is God's will. If we don't, then it is God's will as well.

Comtemplating Christianity said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Comtemplating Christianity said...

Mohler and other evanegelicals that oppose contracpetion, seem to have an interest in keeping the Christian family stressed and overwhelmed. Perhaps they fear that if Christian birth rates fall, they may sell fewer books on child rearing, or sell fewer tickets to seminars addressing how to overcome marital discord.

Jay Bob said...

Why is anyone surprised about this/ After all, this was the orthodox view of the church ever since Augustine first posited sex as the transmitter of original sin. This view is still held within Roman Catholicism and the mover toward sexuality as a gift from God is a fairly recent invention of Protestantism.

Trust me that I don't hold to the Augustinian view (frankly, I think Gus had too much baggage to deal with this issue in a responsible way) but understand that the weight of tradition is behind Mohler.

Eight Iron said...

John Pollock's book, JOHN WESLEY, paints an interesting picture of the parsonage at Epworth. Samuel and Susanna lost 5 children prior to 1702. They had five living children when John was born. Charles came after John.

If contraception had been practiced then in the same way that it is today, it's doubtful that either John or Charles Wesley would have been born. And if they hadn't? There'd be no Methodist Church today, for whose ministry many who visit this blog are studying.

Interesting to think about...

- Greg

P.S. -- I have the politically correct two children, and yes, I regret not having more.

Olive Morgan said...

Surely it depends on circumstances! After our second baby had to have all her blood changed because she was a Rhesus baby and our third baby was stillborn for the same reason, we used contraception for obvious reasons. That was in the 1940s and of course modern medicine is more advanced today in regard to the Rhesus factor, but there are still circumstances today where contraception is advisable.

Oloryn said...

I think it is unfortunately true that some conservative Christians take a diminished view of sexual relations under virtually all circumstances.

I tend to regard this as a replay of the Garden of Eden finger pointing. Instead of "It's not my fault, it's the woman you gave me", it's "It's not my fault, it's that ACT!". Laying the blame on the physical act shifts the attention from where the real problem is: us.

Michael said...

The Catholic opposition to birth control, which I happen to agree with, seems to say that artificial birth control denies the reality of the responsibility that comes with sex, that sex is not simply a means of self-gratification or a competitive sport.

I would not condemn those who choose to use it, but I would challenge to ask themselves specifically how birth control fits into the Kingdom's plan.

Overpopulation? An environmental responsibility not to have children? I fail to see the Kingdom relevance. It is not that there are not enough resources to go around. It is that we don't share well.

Sally said...

wow what a mix of views- I'm not sure what the argument is here, it seems it is partly about womens liberation and partly about contraception.
I have 5 children ( the last one was twins)-, and had one still born babybut over the 25 years of marriage we have used birth control- and feel it would have been irresponsible not to... I have never had a problem falling pregnant and belive we would probably have 17-20 children by now!!! that is obviously a grazy unsustainable and irresponsible situation... I would a gree with John that Christ should "butt" into everyarea of our lives, in this instance it is up to the couple concerned before God to decide on the best course of action.
Too many families and especially women ( the mothers) are impacted seriously financially and in standard of living by an irresponsible approach to birth control advocated by in this case the church.
Mitch made the point that there is a need for sexual relationships to be practiced within a committed/ married relationship- for contraception can indeed fail, hetrosexual sex always carries with it the possibility of procreation- we need to rejoice in this fact, but also biblical ( go read song of songs) is the fact that we were created to enjoy one another- for myself, most of my married life this has not been for procreation!

Christine said...

My mouth hung open at the church dinner last Sunday night as I listened to one mother explain what her daughter had been learning at her (conservative) Christian middle school.

The topic was, "Is it sinful for women to accept epidurals or other drugs to ease the pain during childbirth, since God told us we were to bear children in pain?"

After much discussion, the teacher revealed that she personally had concluded the answer was yes, it is a sin. The Bible said so.

I am still stunned. To be teaching something like this to girls in the beginnings of puberty... another example of some very bad theology out there that could have major guilt consequences for people in the future.

Sally said...

Christine- that is terrible- there is no precedent for that in the Bible... that teacher is badly misguided, and as you say the theology is terrible!