Category Archives: Contraception

Protestants reflect on contraception 4


-God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Gen 1:31


-by Julie Roys, 8/1/18

(Julie Roys is an Evangelical Christian reporter. She graduated from Wheaton College and also attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Julie has published many articles at Christianity Today, World Magazine. Religion News Service, The Federalist, and The Christian Post. As a respected, conservative Christian voice, Julie also has been interviewed numerous times on National Public Radio, One America News, and Total Living Network. Julie hosted a live, call-in talk radio show on the Moody Radio Network that was called Up For Debate for six years. For calling out the issues at Moody she apparently lost her job. Julie and her husband live in the Chicago area and they have three children.)

““My parents had five kids and I was always embarrassed about it. All my friends came from families with 10 to 12 kids. They were always asking me, ‘What’s wrong with your mom and dad? Don’t they like each other?’”

That comment cracked up the entire newsroom at Fox 32 News Chicago where I used to work. It came from a reporter who grew up in a staunchly Catholic, Chicago neighborhood. Like most of my colleagues, I intended to have two, maybe three kids. And like them, I thought the Catholic view of sex and contraception was ridiculous.

That was about 25 years ago.

Since then, I’ve discovered Theology of the Body (TOB) — Pope John Paul II’s biblical analysis of what it means to be human. This radically transformed my view of the body, human sexuality — and in turn, birth control. And now, I don’t think the Catholic view is ridiculous. I think it’s biblical. And though I’m not dogmatic about it, I, like a growing number of evangelicals, no longer feel comfortable with contraception.

A New Paradigm

TOB presents a very different view of the body than the one I was taught. I was taught the body is in effect a tent for the soul. And though I believed marriage had spiritual significance, I never considered that sex might.

But John Paul taught that the body is much more than a tent. We are created in God’s image. And our body is a symbol revealing truths about God. As popular Catholic theologian, Christopher West, put it: “(T)he body … is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it.”

First, the body reveals God’s Trinitarian nature — how multiple persons can exist as one essence. This is profoundly reflected when husband and wife become “one flesh” as described in Genesis 2:24.

When I first encountered this idea, I was skeptical. I was older than 40 at the time. And in all my years in the church, I had never heard anyone articulate this idea.

Yet when I checked with a theology professor at the Moody Bible Institute where I used to work, he said this was accepted Trinitarian theology. Similarly, when Dr. John Jefferson Davis appeared on my radio show, he affirmed this understanding, as well. Davis is a leading evangelical ethicist, so his opinion carried a lot of weight.

But Trinitarian life and love isn’t the only mystery the one-flesh union reveals. John Paul also taught that it reveals the mystery of Christ’s relationship with the church.

The idea that sexual intimacy would reflect our relationship with Christ seemed somewhat scandalous to me. Yet, that’s precisely what Ephesians 5:31-32 says: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

TOB elevated the human body and sexuality to a whole new level for me. I realized the body is not merely a “tent”; it is a symbol with deep, spiritual meaning. And I realized that birth control not only prevents conception. It also alters a profoundly spiritual symbol.

Sex, Symbol, & Sterilization

In his 1966 article credited with shifting evangelical opinion on birth control, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery argued that Catholics view sex merely as a means of having children. But as TOB makes abundantly clear, that’s not so, though Montgomery can’t be faulted for not knowing that. His article predated TOB by 15-20 years.

Interestingly though, Montgomery’s view of marriage is actually quite similar to John Paul’s. Both see the marriage analogy in Ephesians 5 as the “focal center of scriptural teachings on marriage.” But for Montgomery, the analogy justifies contraception. For John Paul, it makes it unthinkable.

Montgomery argued that “Christ’s relation with His church is a love relation.” So if a couple is using birth control to “achieve a better human relationship,” it’s legitimate.

Montgomery also argued that God’s command in Genesis 1:28 to “subdue the earth” gives people license to control their fertility. He added that it’s “bizarre” that Catholics teach that man can control plants and animals, “yet cannot without sin control his own numbers.”

However, John Paul argued that contraception profoundly distorts the marriage analogy. Christopher West explains:

“Christ did not sterilize His love. When we sterilize our love, we are changing what is happening in the sexual act itself to the point that we are no longer imaging Christ’s love for the church. We are no longer imaging the Trinity. In fact, it becomes a counter-image … of Christ and the church.”

West’s point is well-made. Clearly, Christ’s union with the Church is one that’s intended to be fruitful — to make disciples. So, too, is the Trinitarian union. It is always life-giving and never sterile.

If we accept the modern evangelical interpretation, we must accept this symbolic distortion. Similarly, we must accept that the marriage analogy negates, or trumps, God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.” We also must accept that subduing the earth can mean contracepting. This, despite the fact that God’s command to “be fruitful” directly precedes His command to “subdue the earth.”

But if we accept John Paul’s interpretation, we embrace a consistent message from Genesis to Revelation. Marriage is meant to be a joyful, fruitful expression of God’s life and love into which we, as His bride, are called to participate. There is no contradiction. There is only a powerful, compelling, and counter-cultural message of divine love.

Must Couples Have as Many Children as They Possibly Can?

Rejecting contraception does not mean couples must have as many children as possible. There are valid reasons to avoid pregnancy. And there is a way to do that without violating the spiritual significance of marital intimacy. It’s called natural family planning (NFP).

NFP works with our God-given body, rather than against it. It’s also 99-percent effective when used properly. Most importantly, it doesn’t distort the symbol of marital intimacy. It simply submits sex and fertility to the direction of a married couple.

There’s much more that could be written on this matter. I didn’t intend this series to provide the definitive answer on contraception, but simply to spur thoughtful, biblical reflection.

For too long, evangelicals have embraced contraception without truly thinking of its implications. We claim to be biblical. But we’re often just thinking like the world. That needs to change. We should not dismiss the theology embraced by Christians from the beginning just because Catholics have retained it. Perhaps it’s time we returned to it.”

Love,
Matthew

Protestants reflect on contraception 3


-God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Gen 1:31


-by Julie Roys, 8/6/18

(Julie Roys is an Evangelical Christian reporter. She graduated from Wheaton College and also attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Julie has published many articles at Christianity Today, World Magazine. Religion News Service, The Federalist, and The Christian Post. As a respected, conservative Christian voice, Julie also has been interviewed numerous times on National Public Radio, One America News, and Total Living Network. Julie hosted a live, call-in talk radio show on the Moody Radio Network that was called Up For Debate for six years. For calling out the issues at Moody she apparently lost her job. Julie and her husband live in the Chicago area and they have three children.)

“Almost all evangelicals support contraception. According to Pew Research, only 3-percent think it’s morally wrong. Most (55%) don’t even believe it’s a moral issue.

“If you go ask any . . . evangelical pastor, they’ll say if a married couple wants to use contraception . . . that’s fine.” So says David Talcott, a professor at The King’s College and an expert in sexual ethics. “It hasn’t really been a moral issue within evangelicalism,” he added. “(Evangelicals) are going to use the Pill and not think about it.”

This is stunning, given that Christians opposed birth control until the early 1900s. But as I wrote in part one of this series, Protestants soon gave way to cultural trends – first eugenics and then fears of overpopulation.

However, it wasn’t until 1966 that a thorough theological argument in favor of contraception was offered. The argument came in the form of an article published in Christianity Today by evangelical scholar John Warwick Montgomery. It proved extremely influential and swayed evangelical opinion on the matter. In fact, scholar Allan Carlson termed it a second “bombshell.” (The first was Billy Graham’s statement endorsing contraception seven years earlier.)

The article thrilled advocates of contraception and convinced more evangelicals to embrace birth control. But soon, many embraced abortion too. And they began thinking more pragmatically and less biblically.

A Birth Control Theology

In his landmark article, “How to Decide the Birth Control Question,” Dr. Montgomery presented a middle ground between two views – Catholic and liberal Protestant. Catholics opposed birth control based on “natural law” and the command in Genesis to “be fruitful.” This, Montgomery argued, reduced marriage to merely a means of producing offspring.

But Montgomery also rejected the liberal Protestant view. He said this view saw sex as “the fulfillment of human aspirations” and made it “an end in itself.” This turned sex into an idol and led to “permissive sex ethics.”

So, Montgomery argued for a third view. This view upheld the marriage analogy in Ephesians 5 as the “focal center of scriptural teachings on marriage.” It suggested that marriage was not simply “a means” of producing offspring as in “be fruitful and multiply.” Nor was it “unqualifiedly . . . an end” as in “They shall be one flesh.” Instead, it viewed marriage primarily as an analogy “of the relationship between Christ and his Church.”

This new understanding meant that marriage isn’t just for procreation. It also exists to foster a love relationship like Christ has with His church. So, Montgomery reasoned, birth control is okay if it helps a couple “achieve a better human relationship.”

Montgomery’s article drew from Scripture and made some valid points. Yet it also raised new questions. Was God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” no longer valid? Was achieving “a better relationship” enough to justify sterilizing something God clearly designed to be fertile? And do Catholics really believe that sex and marriage is merely a means to an end?

Also, the context of Montgomery’s article was clearly fear of overpopulation, suggesting that pragmatism may have driven this new doctrine, not merely Scripture. Several times, Montgomery cited population concerns. He suggested, for example, that couples consider “the population picture” when deciding family size. And, he said in places with “rapidly growing populations,” adoption may be better than having children.

Nevertheless, evangelical leaders were thrilled with Montgomery’s article and frequently cited it as the definitive commentary on the issue. In subsequent years, most evangelicals embraced birth control. But they also embraced abortion.

Abortion and a New Ethic

Two years after Montgomery’s article published, Christianity Today and the Christian Medical Society hosted a conference that produced “A Protestant Affirmation on the Control of Human Reproduction.” This stunning document affirmed abortion. It stated, “(A)s to whether or not . . . induced abortion is always sinful we are not agreed, but about the necessity and permissibility for (abortion) under certain circumstances we are in accord. . . . When principles conflict, the preservation of fetal life . . . may have to be abandoned to maintain full and secure family life.”

The Southern Baptist Convention acted similarly. It resolved in 1971 to support laws allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest, and “clear evidence of severe fetal deformity.” The convention also said abortion is okay when “damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother” was likely.

This was a shocking development. And one that Montgomery apparently did not foresee. Two years after his groundbreaking first article, he wrote another. This one argued that life begins at conception and condemned abortion.

Fortunately in the late 70s and early 80s, many evangelicals returned to their pro-life convictions. This was largely due to the influential book by Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop called, “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” This book revealed the shocking implications of degrading human life. And it “changed abortion from being a Catholic issue to a Christian line in the sand.”

Yet today there remains a significant number of evangelicals (33%) who think abortion should be legal. And 13% of women who get abortions are evangelical Protestants.

This shouldn’t surprise us. As scholar and author Allan Carlson notes, “Historically, there’s never been a culture that’s condoned birth control, but then somehow managed to keep abortion illegal. When you get one, you always get the other.”

Clearly, the mentality that drives abortion, drives contraception. And when evangelicals embraced contraception they began thinking like pragmatists. Children became liabilities, not blessings. Marriage became a means to personal fulfillment, not family and sacrifice. And birth control became essential to personal health, as though our natural design was somehow defective.

Evangelical Pragmatists

Posted to the website of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is a shocking quote by Pastor Joel Hunter. “Unmarried sex with contraception is not God’s plan,” he says. “(B)ut unmarried sex without contraception is not a plan at all. If holy living is not the choice of some in the near term, contraception can at least reduce some potentially devastating results (including abortion) for all in the long term.”

It’s hard to believe an evangelical pastor would make such an unbiblical argument. Scripture says we’re supposed to expel the immoral brother, not give him condoms! But this thinking has become common among Christians.

Similarly, Jenny Eaton Dyer of Hope Through Healing Hands argued that Christians need to promote birth control in Africa. This was not based on Scripture, but naked pragmatism. Spacing pregnancies promotes women’s health, Deyer said. So, “Condoms, oral contraception, injectables, implants, and natural family planning: these are necessities for the health and flourishing of . . . developing nations worldwide.”

Is this really how God wants Christians to think? Does Scripture teach that sterilizing sex is key to human flourishing?

As Christians, we need to examine our assumptions in light of Scripture, not the wisdom of the world. We need to be driven by the Bible; not the spirit of the age.”

Love,
Matthew

Protestants reflect on contraception 2


-God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Gen 1:31


-by Julie Roys, 7/30/18

(Julie Roys is an Evangelical Christian reporter. She graduated from Wheaton College and also attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Julie has published many articles at Christianity Today, World Magazine. Religion News Service, The Federalist, and The Christian Post. As a respected, conservative Christian voice, Julie also has been interviewed numerous times on National Public Radio, One America News, and Total Living Network. Julie hosted a live, call-in talk radio show on the Moody Radio Network that was called Up For Debate for six years. For calling out the issues at Moody she apparently lost her job. Julie and her husband live in the Chicago area and they have three children.)

“I used to think like most evangelicals when it came to family planning. I strongly opposed abortion, but embraced contraception and thought Catholic objections to birth control were on par with praying to Mary.

Abortion, I reasoned, takes an innocent life and is clearly wrong. But contraception merely prevents conception. What could be wrong with that?

Sadly, I had never considered arguments on the other side. When I did, I discovered they aren’t flimsy or far-fetched. They’re solid and Scriptural. And they aren’t just Catholic either.

Every Protestant Reformer opposed contraception. In fact, before 1930, every church – Protestant and Catholic – did as well.

Yet today, most evangelicals embrace contraception. In fact, we’re so enthusiastic about it, we’re promoting it worldwide.

The Christian aid group World Vision now works with the pro-abortion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help women in poor countries “time and space their pregnancies.” So does Christian singer Amy Grant. There’s even a faith-based organization whose main purpose is to promote family planning. Not surprisingly, Bill & Melinda Gates are contributing to this group too.

Today, Western nations spend billions to control population in the developing world. Supporters say the impetus for this is concern for women and children. But critics say that’s not so. The only reason the West wants to reduce population elsewhere is because it wants more resources for itself.

So now the issue of birth control isn’t just personal; it’s global. And the stakes don’t just concern the size of one’s family, but the fate of people worldwide and the witness of the church.

Over the last 60 years, evangelicals have promoted a view that earlier Christians would have thought immoral. We didn’t do this because we studied Scripture and found prior interpretations lacking. Instead, we were swept along by culture.

Most evangelicals are blissfully unaware of this sad history. Our pastors told us birth control was fine and we gladly accepted what we were told. But the stakes are too high for us continue in ignorance. We need to study our past and Scripture, and seriously rethink if using birth control honors God.

In this article, I’ll help us do that by explaining what led evangelicals to embrace birth control. In part two, I’ll describe the theology developed to defend this embrace. And in part three, I’ll examine biblical arguments for and against contraception.

Anglicans Break With Tradition

Though Reformer Martin Luther had no problem with natural family planning, he strongly opposed contraception, calling it “intrinsically evil” and “a grave sin.” Fellow Reformer John Calvin felt similarly. Referring to Onan’s sin, he wrote, “It is a horrible thing to pour out seed.” This “quenches the hope” of one’s family and “kills the son . . . before he is born.”

In saying these things, Luther and Calvin were not expressing anything new. They were simply stating a position the church had held for more than a thousand years. Early Church Father St. Clement of Alexandria wrote, “(T)he seed is not to be . . . wasted. To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature.” Likewise, John Chrysostom lamented that some couples viewed children “as grievous and unwelcome” due to their greed.

Historically, opposing birth control has not been a Catholic thing. It’s been a Christian thing. As late as 1908, Anglican church leaders officially resolved that “the use of all artificial means” of birth control should be discouraged. They added that contraception corrupted character and was “hostile to national welfare.”
Yet in 1930, Anglicans reversed course and became the first church to condone birth control. As author and scholar Allan C. Carlson said in a 2015 interview, the impetus for this change was not spiritual, but pragmatic. Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger had recruited Anglican pastors and convinced many to embrace eugenics, or “controlled breeding.” The American Eugenics Society even sponsored a “Eugenics Sermon Contest” with cash prizes for the best sermons.

Evangelicals Succumb to Fear

Evangelicals, however, opposed birth control for several more decades. But in 1959, Billy Graham made a stunning statement. He told reporters that he found “nothing in the Bible which would forbid birth control.”

Like the Anglicans, Graham didn’t appear to be motivated by Scripture. Instead, having recently visited Africa, he cited concerns of overpopulation. “I do believe that some form of birth control is necessary in Asia, Japan, Africa, and other nations where population explosions are threatened,” he said.

Many in Graham’s generation shared his concern. In 1952, the Population Council had warned that overpopulation was going to deplete the world’s resources. And in 1958, the Draper Committee reported that the “population problem” was the greatest obstacle to world progress.
A month before Graham’s statement, Christianity Today ran an article on the Draper Report. It suggested that the time had come for a “re-examination” of sex apart from procreation. Apparently, Graham agreed.

Over the next decade, fears of overpopulation continued to grow and exploded when Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb. This best-selling book predicted that overpopulation would lead to mass starvation in the 1970s and 80s. Though Ehrlich’s predictions never came true, the fears he raised remained and impacted Christians and non-Christians alike.

Yet evangelicals couldn’t fully embrace contraception without a strong biblical rationale. That came seven years after Graham’s statement. And it led to major changes in Christian thought and action.

Many evangelicals began accepting and using contraception. And as I explain in my next article, some began to condone abortion, as well.”

Love,
Matthew

Protestants reflect on contraception


-God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Gen 1:31


-by Julie Roys, 1/5/12

(Julie Roys is an Evangelical Christian reporter. She graduated from Wheaton College and also attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Julie has published many articles at Christianity Today, World Magazine. Religion News Service, The Federalist, and The Christian Post. As a respected, conservative Christian voice, Julie also has been interviewed numerous times on National Public Radio, One America News, and Total Living Network. Julie hosted a live, call-in talk radio show on the Moody Radio Network that was called Up For Debate for six years. For calling out the issues at Moody she apparently lost her job. Julie and her husband live in the Chicago area and they have three children.)

“(I was raised in an evangelical home and taught that contraception and reproductive technologies are okay, as long as they don’t destroy live embryos. But lately, I’ve been re-thinking this position. Some of this is due to the strength of Catholic arguments I’ve read that stress the deeply spiritual symbolic meaning of sex and reproduction. Also influencing me has been considering the disastrous fruit of contraception and Artificial Reproductive Technologies. Below are my recent thoughts concerning on the latter.)

She’s the “child of a stranger” – the product of an anonymous sperm donor at Baylor University in the early 1980s. For years, Kathleen LaBounty has searched for her “missing family” – for her biological father and potential half-siblings. She’s contacted some 600 men who attended the school her father reportedly attended and received 250 responses. But to date, Kathleen LaBounty still doesn’t know her father’s identity.

LaBounty’s situation highlights a problem associated with a booming industry that’s gradually redefining the family. Professionals call the industry Artificial Reproductive Technology, or ART. But, Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family calls sperm donation and artificial insemination “disembodied procreation.” And, he asserts that the growth of this industry is spawning one of the most significant social and cultural trends of 2012.

Stanton is right. In the past decade, the use of ART has doubled, creating family situations God never intended. Many so-called “test-tube babies” never know their fathers. Those from especially prolific donors have dozens or even hundreds of half-siblings. And some, in violation of God’s design, are raised in homes with same-sex parents.

ART has made it possible to mix and match children and parents in any combination imaginable. In truth, it’s taken contraception, the separation of sex from procreation, to the next level – the separation of children from their biological parents. And, like contraception spawned the hook-up culture, now ART is spawning alternative families.

For decades, evangelicals have dismissed as too Catholic the theology that God intended sex – or the act of marriage – to be inseparable from procreation and vice-versa. Yet, maybe we evangelicals need to re-think this one. Maybe we need to adopt a theology that submits to the natural order, instead of defying it – one that makes Kathleen LaBounty’s situation more rare, not increasingly common.”

Love,
Matthews