OPEN EMBRACE: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception
by Sam and Bethany Torode
(Freedom Publishing, 2002, 120pp, $22.00. Available from AD Books)
I was in a Protestant Christian bookshop recently and talking about Open Embrace with the store's manager. When he learned of the subject, he said, "I have never really given the issue very much thought". I said, "Neither have most other Protestants".
Well, it is perhaps time that Protestants started giving some consideration to the issue of contraception. After all, as I mentioned to the manager, all Protestants prior to 1930 shared the same view on the issue as Catholics. That is, for the first 19 centuries of the Christian Church, denominations of all stripes agreed that contraception was wrong.
It wasn't until the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930 that contraception was first given tacit approval by a Christian body. And even then it was only hesitantly welcomed. But since Lambeth, a quick succession of Protestant denominations has followed suit. As a result, today almost all Protestant denominations have embraced birth control in its various forms, arguing that Christians in good faith can make use of it.
However, one has to wonder why the Christian Church should have been so united for so long in denouncing the use of contraceptives. The truth is, there are many reasons why we should be suspicious of contraception.
For example, important theological issues are raised. The Bible obviously has a high view of both sexuality and children. And it certainly views fertility as a special blessing from the Creator.
Protestants have tended to forget, along with much of modern secular culture, that there is a very real link between human sexuality and procreation. True, each sex act does not need to entail procreation, but the psycho-social link has all but been lost in modern thinking. We tend to forget that the two very much go together. This is something the Catholic Church has long stressed. It has emphasised the twin pillars of sexuality: the unitive and procreative functions. While not every Catholic has accepted the Church's teaching in this regard, it remains a bedrock one.
And since most of the Patristic writers argued this same theme, it is perhaps incorrect to label this a "Catholic" teaching, for it was the accepted understanding of the early Church. Augustine, for example, saw three purposes for marriage: offspring, fidelity and sacrament or, as we would put it today, procreation, morality and relationship.
There are also some very real ethical concerns about contraception. The chief worry is that many contraceptives are actually abortifacients. That is, they actually kill a live unborn baby, albeit a very young one. For example, some forms of contraception prevent the fertilised egg from implanting itself on the uterine lining, thus making it not able to receive nourishment. It dies as a result.
The truth is, many contraceptives are wrongly called contraceptives. They do not prevent conception (that is, the union of sperm and egg). Instead they kill a tiny baby, the product of conception. For this reason, Christians of all persuasions should reject many forms of contraception just as they reject (or should reject) abortion.
And medically, there are a number of concerns about the health risks associated with contraception. The Pill, for example, is notorious for its many harmful side-effects. Yet the very real health risks associated with these birth control devices are seldom clearly spelled out, and as a result, an informed choice is often difficult to make. In this respect, the contraception industry is much like in the abortion industry, where the whole story is rarely given.
The social problems associated with birth control can also be mentioned. For example, the declining fertility rates experienced throughout the Western world. Even Australia's fertility rate of 1.7 babies per woman is below the replacement level of 1.8 and continues to decline.
As policy makers know, we are experiencing some major problems in this area. As the pool of the elderly increases, while the number of newborns decreases, political and economic problems loom - who will pay for the pensions and other welfare benefits of the elderly, as the young tax base continues to shrink?
Natural Family Planning
For these and other reasons, we need to take a much closer look at contraception. And this book is very good at forcing us to do just that. The authors, Protestants like myself, urge us to think more carefully about what we are doing and what we are in effect saying, when we adopt a contraceptive mentality.
They point out that natural family planning (NFP) does give couples options, since every sexual act may not result in children, as nature itself intended. Women are only able to conceive on several days a month. NFP, not to be confused with the unreliable rhythm method, has a proven track record. Also known as the Billings Method, it takes into account a woman's natural cycle, does not introduce harmful chemicals, is completely natural, and has a proven success rate.
In sum, contraception is usually viewed as a Catholic issue when, in truth, it is a Christian issue, and one that needs to be examined afresh.
Given all the bizarre new reproductive technologies currently available, and with even scarier prospects just around the corner, it is appropriate that Christians step back for a moment and reflect on what the Creator intended when He blessed us with the gift of sexuality. Open Embrace will go a long way in helping us think more clearly and soberly about the most unique and awesome gift with which we are endowed. It may not convince everyone, but if it helps us to refocus our attention on the splendour of marriage, the grandeur of procreation, and the blessing of children, then it will have done much good.
Bill Muehlenberg is National Vice President of the Australian Family Association.