11.27.2005

My story

Somehow, for me the pill never seemed like an option. As far back as I am able to remember, contraception always seemed to contradict my notion of marriage's purpose.

It's possible that someone could write off my opinion as the product of parental indoctrination. I was homeschooled for most of my life, the oldest of seven children, and raised by parents who practiced NFP. But, at least until I was 16 or 17 and had already personally decided against contraception, I don't remember either of my parents even mentioning birth control. Somehow I came to the conclusion myself.

Perhaps it all boils down to the environment I was raised in. Whether my parents were intentional about it or not, they had created an atmosphere where children anywhere were welcomed with excitement. To me, all those young couples that were waiting to have kids seemed like they weren't quite married. In my teenage mind, why bother marrying if you didn't want to have kids?

Needless to say, the culture's voice on contraception and sexuality broke in eventually. Worse, it was aided by our church.

I remember our pastor cracking a joke during his sermon the Sunday following the birth of my first brother, the fifth child in our family. You know, the usual: "Bob and Mary welcomed another child this week. Thankfully, the doctor has filled them in on what they were doing wrong." Worse, this sort of thinking didn't bother anyone. It was perfectly in sync with the standard worldview of the fellow members of our church. While our family celebrated a new life, our congregation giggled and pointed at its weirdness.

My run-in with a poor theology of family didn't stop there. At church summer camp, rows and rows of attractive 20-something couples offered seminars on "avoiding sex until marriage--because that's when the sex is best!" All of these couples were childless, and planned to remain so for some time. I heard hours upon hours of teaching on sex, but not a word was mentioned about children, or even family.

To me, the disconnect was eerie. Sure, sex brought a man and woman together. But in my thinking, that togetherness served a greater purpose than just satiating the desires of the two of them. It made their relationship with one another stronger--and not just for themselves--for the sake of the family, the church, and the community. To put it bluntly, all those pretty couples seemed selfish.

In practice though, things are never so straight-forward as the ideal. Years later, facing my oncoming wedding day, I struggled with the magnitude of sex without contraceptives. I'd waited so long for this, I argued with myself, shouldn't I be allowed to just enjoy it without interruption?

The true crime of contraceptives has been their complete marring of our vision of sexuality. God created human life in His image. Truly it is the greatest gift we have received. Without life, all God's other gifts are meaningless. Where life is present, God's gifts strengthen it all the more. Instead of seeing sexuality as necessarily joined with life's creation, we have been trained to see it as optionally joined.

A common argument against NFP posits that if some contraceptives are improper because they allow sex without fertilization, than all methods of family planning must be improper--after all, even couples practicing NFP have sex on days when it would be impossible for a woman to conceive.

But contraceptives are not unhealthy only because they prevent fertilization. They are unhealthy because they modify the sexual act itself--essentially shattering the picture of life-giving communion that God has given us in sex. By design, contraceptives divorce sex from its intended connection to the human race as a whole.

A good friend of mine began practicing NFP with his wife after a year of using barrier-method contraceptives. After struggling with the arguments and deciding to make the change, he commented that while using a barrier, he always felt the message he was sending his wife was "I don't want all of this." The use of contraceptives had essentially divorced him from his wife--and divorced them both from sex's greater purpose.

My family celebrated the one-year birthday of our first daughter just one month ago. We've been practicing NFP since day one. It hasn't always been easy. Especially when faced with the seemingly care-free marriages of many of our peers, it can be easy to say "What the heck were we thinking? Were we thinking at all?" Practicing NFP has not always been easy. Sometimes, when looking at the alternatives, it can seem downright crazy.

But the thought of trying anything else seems like trading wine for Welch's, a cosmic mystery for a cheap paperback. For us, the question has become not so much what might we gain by using contraceptives--more time, money, sleep--but what might we lose? The alternatives pale in comparison.

11 comments:

Sarah said...

Beautiful :O) We went to NFP classes, but don't have a compelling reason to avoid having children- I am 28, he is 37. He has a job that can support a family and we own a home. The only thing- we've been married only 2 months. We used barriers during our fertile days the first month and totally abandoned them this month. What a difference!!

Yeah, everyone thinks we are mad.
Perhaps we are the only sane ones.;oP

Devona said...

I like to call barrier methods "Zwinglian Sex." hehe. It's really not the same, no matter how much they try to say it is.

I'm glad you two are enjoying being married. I know that God will further bless you in His time. :)

Christopher Gillespie said...

My wife and I discussed our potential response to Dave's query. Fortunately Rob has provided a near complete reasoning which we recalled from the early days of our marriage.

We too saw little point to sex much less marriage minus children. We saw no desire to separate the act from the miracle of conception.

Our backgrounds both with parents who have used various forms of contraception. In contrast, we have pursued more holistic approaches to pretty much every medical practice including overused medicinal drugs, invasive birthing procedures, obligatory vaccination, and the like. Unfortunately this places us in the 'liberal' mindset in most views. Perhaps many consider us "against the grain." We feel like we're working with the grain instead of trying to fight our bodies, their obvious purpose, and God's instruction in regards to their use and treatment.

We can't seem to understand how repurposing the above mentioned medical gifts as last resort and not default or worse yet, mandatory practices defines us as 'liberal.' We only wish to respect the temple that is our bodies and use those gifts when necessary. For example, fevers aren't just signs that drugs should be taken; they may only suggest bed rest, fluid consumption, or other means to aid the body in fighting infection.

Similarly, many see the whole process of conception to birth to even child raising as a disease to be treated. Rather we see the whole process as a gift and our vocation as husband and wife to be father and mother. Natural Family Planning, midwifery, home-schooling, etc. all are conducive and help us fulfill our callings.

(We have had all three of our children at home, physician assisted. We are expecting our fourth in February via midwife assistance.)

Caspar said...

I am 41, married for 16 years, with six children, and I have always been against birth control. My parents were not, and I was one of three children. Though our home was filled with love and caring, I missed out on the blessings of a large family as a child.

I knew in my heart that birth control was against God's will before I knew any of the biblical arguments. Natural law (Romans 1:19-32 and 2:12-16) tells us all that birth control is against God's will. Did you ever notice that virtually everyone who uses birth control has an excuse to offer? If there is nothing wrong with birth control, why does anyone need a reason (finances, stress, Dr's recommendations, etc.) to use it?

Whenever people hear or see how many children I have, they virtually always offer their excuse as to why they have fewer (in other words, why they have prevented further children). "We stopped at three, because..." Why do people do this? I believe it is clearly the subconscious guilt that the law written on their hearts (a.k.a. natural law) makes them feel.

Let me be clear, however. I am not condemning those people any more than I condemn myself. While saying that birth control is against God's law, I am not saying that it is possible for anyone to fulfill God's will perfectly in this area. Christ's atonement was necessary to forgive all the sin that still remains in my contraceptive heart.

Sure, I have six kids, I currently use no overt methods of contraception. However, does this mean that I am without sin in this area of my life? Absolutely not! The more you know God's law, the more you realize how totally incapable of keeping it you are.

Are my wife and I cheerful about not using birth control? Rarely. While we believe children are always a blessing from God, we also dread the difficulties each additional blessing adds to our lives. One annoying comment we get from many people when they see the size of our family is, "gee, you must love kids." Sorry, but that's not always true for us any more than it is for others.

Do we enter into marital relations trusting God with our whole heart, with no concern whatsoever in our minds regarding the fact that a pregnancy may result? No. We are SINFUL to the core. Does this cause us to have a desire for marital relations less often (thus naturally contracepting in a sense) due to sinful fear? Sometimes. Try as we may, we are contraceptive at heart, even if we do our best at trying to rid ourselves of this terrible offense against God. Therefore we all the more treasure absolution, the Lord's Supper, the preached Word of the gospel, and constantly repent of our sins. Without a merciful God, we would be lost.

As for "exceptions," some might say, arguing for the "greater good," that it is not wrong to use birth control if the mother's health/life lies in the balance. On the contrary, it is wrong (i.e. sin), but it may be the "lesser evil." Seeking the "greater good" is the Reformed principle as opposed to the Lutheran principle (choosing the "lesser evil"). The difference is that many Reformed believe it is possible to get out of every moral dilemma without sinning - i.e. that there is always a choice which is not sinful (i.e. "good"), even though it violates one of God's absolutes. The violation is "excused" because of the circumstances.

Lutherans know that no matter what we do, we end up sinning in the end. There are no excuses. But grace abounds! What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? [Romans 5:20-6:2]

Even if she is the most robust and healthy woman in the world a mother's health/life lies in the balance with every pregnancy. Like many things in life, pregnancy is never a risk-free adventure. However, remember that modern advances in health care have dramatically reduced the risks. For the majority of history, women have been at tremendous risk of death in every pregnancy, much higher numerical risk than most people have who think they have risky pregnancies today. Yet Luther urged these people, as God does, to be fruitful and multiply.

I believe there are only extremely rare instances in which contraception, including NFP, is called for.

Caspar

Caspar said...

By the way, thank you Mr. Gillespie for pointing out the book "The American Religious Debate over Birth Control 1907-1937 on your blog, Outer Rim Territories. I have about 10 books on the subject of Christianity and birth control in my library, but this is one I have somehow missed! I ordered it today.

Thanks!

Caspar

Lauren said...

Caspar,
Could you please explain how the Romans passages you cited condemn birth control, and what your definition of birth control is? Thanks!

Caspar said...

Lauren,

The Romans passages were given for reference to natural law and do not refer specifically to birth control. I'm sorry if you thought I meant a direct condemnation of birth control was contained in them. In context I hope you can now see that what I was saying is that natural law condemns birth control, and natural law is biblical because of the passages I cited.

My definition of birth control includes all methods which prevent the live birth of a child. These include all forms of contraception (yes, NFP too!) and all forms of abortion. Sometimes I use the term "birth control" loosely in the same way our culture does, referring to what people commonly consider to be "contraceptives" even though many of them are more or less abortifacient. The culturally accepted meaning of the term "birth control" is "contraception" because the culture generally teaches that conception occurs at implantation.

Lauren said...

Caspar,
I appreciate you including NFP when you condemn all birth control. I have always thought it inconsistent that hormonal contraceptions as well as barrier methods are condemned, but abstaining during a woman's fertile times was acceptable. It seems a double standard. Thank you for clarifying.

Pr. David Rufner said...

Caspar,

You commented today on another post within this blog the following: "I'll go along with the outline since I am not the originator of this blog, but I believe it is entirely inadvisable to ever look to our experiences and logical machinations first, and God's Word last, when examining sin."

I gather from this that you are frustrated with the current line of discussion. I believe I understand your frustration (even as I very well may be the instigator of it). Therefore I thank you for your patience and Christian charity that you are demonstrating.

The attempt, my attempt, is not to bow to a post-modern world and its way of normative individual experiences used as the guiding hermeneutic of Biblical/spiritual interpretation.

My aim is quite different. In your comment above that details your personal history on the topic you write, "I knew in my heart that birth control was against God's will before I knew any of the biblical arguments. Natural law..."

I believe (and I don't mean to misrepresent you so please correct me if I am wrong) that by that statement you demonstrated what I am attempting to do. I am attempting to start at that point where the Natural Law tells us that birth control is against God's will. But even here I/we have a problem. We live in a world, a nation, even amongst a Christian people that have been so given over to their own desires in this crucial area of their lives that they no longer recognize the Natural Law. Furthermore, they live within a church body whose official unofficial statements on the matter declare that the Bible speaks not a single revealed word on contraceptives (contra the historic, orthodox teachings of the church through two millennia).

Until we are convicted by the Natural Law (that which is common to all men) I am not certain that we have the humility, the contrite hearts to hear the Lord's word on the topic.

"You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull..."

As for Megan and me... Our hearts had been so dulled on the matter that we were marching right along with the wisdom of the age during our engagement. The plan for our marriage was for Megan to use 'The Pill'. Kids wouldn't "happen" for x many years until we were ready (financially, emotionally, interpersonally - take your pick). Then we found out the dirty little secret about 'The Pill'. We went looking for other contraceptives and it was only then that the Law spoke against me. I realized the degree to which contraceptives divide the two-become-one. I should have realized this even with ‘The Pill’, but I didn't. I believe that is because 'The Pill' doesn't manifest itself like the obvious physical barrier that other contraceptives are. Furthermore, I hadn't considered the implications of 'The Pill' because it wasn't a burden that I would have to bear like many other contraceptives. 'The Pill' was a burden that my wife would dutifully bear for the both of us.

All of this is to say that we were thus convicted by the Natural Law in such a way as to cause us to be repentant - thus preparing us to hear the full counsel of God on the issue as found in His Word and confessed by the Church historic. The proposed progression of this blog is an attempt to follow that same path.

I hope that this better clarifies what is being attempted here. I look forward to your continued comments, thoughts, and scrutiny on the subject.

Pr. David Rufner said...

Caspar,

I am also having joy of doing some backtracking on Beggars All. There you point us to a quote from Pr. Rolf Preus. He Writes:

"When questions of birth control arise, they must always be considered in light of this fundamental and undeniable truth: children are blessings from God. Do we believe this or do we not? And don't be so quick to say that you do if you don't. If your concern is about the health and wellbeing of the mother, that is one thing. If it is about how much money you will have to spend on all the stuff that will be destroyed with this world, that is another thing. There can be no question that the prevailing attitude about planned parenthood and the tolerance of abortion on demand go together. The legal opinions of the Supreme Court followed a social trend that found support as well in the liberal Protestant churches of America. Those of us who call ourselves confessional Lutherans should take the time to study this issue not just by means of an exegetical debate, but by looking at how attitudes and habits in our culture have changed over the past couple of generations. How has a sanctity of life ethic been replaced by a "quality" of life ethic? What does God in Genesis 1:28 say to us about this?"

I find his comments helpful, and hopefully clarifying to all in further explaining what are my hopes for this blog.

Caspar said...

I truly have the same hopes. In that discussion Pr. Rolf Preus (father of 12) and I (father of 6) were involved in, he rightly critiqued my less than pastoral methods of persuasion as follows:

"Erich [Caspar] is younger than I and has far fewer children than I. When he is my age, has twelve or more children, and has been a pastor for 25 years then I will be interested to know if he continues to approach this issue as he approaches it today."

My approach has always been raw and theological, which is not usually the best way to open people's ears and reach people's hearts. I guess that's why I'm not a pastor, and why I said in my initial post on this blog:

"I have been rather coarse in my treatment of this subject overall, because I rarely found any Lutherans who did not totally reject the historic biblical teaching on birth control. Now that there seems to be more Lutherans addressing this topic, I think it's time for me to tone down the rhetoric. I am thrilled that you have started this blog and I like the tone you are taking and the systematic approach you are seeking to lead the discussion."

So, I am more than happy to continue to try to temper my sinful frustration with any bit of that virtue called patience I may have been granted by God. I appreciate greatly what you are trying to do. It is both charitable and prudent, two virtues I could certainly use a much larger helping of.

Blessings,

Caspar