6.04.2008

LCMS World Relief Position on Contraception

LCMS World Relief and Human Care's Life Ministries has finally come out with the long anticipated position paper: Christ in Your Family: Thoughts on Christian Marriage and Contraception.

Read it and weep. And then come back here and comment.

Hat tip to the ladies over at CSPP

21 comments:

Reb. Mary said...

A nice little pop-up informed me that the dictionary.com word of the day is lachrymose. Seems appropriate.

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Fascinating that the risk of an abortion due to birth control pills is equivocated to the risk of driving a car (p. 10, paragraph 2).

Equally fascinating is the reliance of non-Scriptural evidence and organizations, or on lack of data, to deliver an opinion on morality.

Finally, if the committee declares that itself is not informed (p. 9, last paragraph), how does it advocate that parents be informed (p. 10, paragraph 4)? We fired the best and the brightest at this thing, and now we're left to conduct our own research?

It wouldn't have taken so long to write, "we decided not to decide."

Jon said...

I kind of expected the lack of resistance to barrier methods and nfp - but the Pill?

It is just pandering. If you aren't sure how something works, why in the world would you use it or think it ambigious - and I think that is a big cop out.

Quatsch.

Rebekah said...

I like the cherry picking at Luther to make it sound like he's on their team. Give me a break.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Jon,

I agree, but knowing that was the expected position on the pill, even more surprising to me is this sad commentary on the "morning after pill" (a.k.a. Emergency Contraceptive Pill, "ECP"):

"After a review of recent medical research [on ECPs] ... the LCMS Sanctity of Life Committee feels comfortable reporting that current studies find the contraceptive mechanism works independently of effects upon implantation. Charges that ECPs interfere with endometrial changes of the uterus and causes [sic] failure of the blastocyst to implant have been refuted..." [page 10-11]

Talk about lachrymose! :-(

And, of course, those of us who publicly profess the historic Scriptural position of the church are castigated as selfish and unloving Pharisees in the last two-sentence paragraph of the paper:

"In turn, we can then act in selfless love toward our neighbor. It is this fact that will prevent Christians from burdening the conscience of other married couples in these questions of adiaphora (where Scripture neither expressly prohibits nor requires the practice)."

Aaron D. Wolf said...

OK, I'm only halfway through the document, and I'm going to have to take a break. I'm really trying to watch my blood pressure these days.

Two things I've noticed so far that indicate tiny progress for our cause. First, they recognize (albeit in a footnote) that "be fruitful and multiply" is both command and blessing. (As Luther pointed out, it does not say "be multiply.") Second, they recognize the "Lactational Amenorrhea Method" as "highly effective."

Weise and Voss denied both of these points when I debated them on Issues, Etc. aeons ago. In fact, one of them said that the first was "non Lutheran" and the other openly mocked the second as some sort of old wives' tale. Of course, the point I was making with that was not so much that LAM is a "method" to be employed but rather that it is part of the natural order, whose author is God. This is an important counter to the "Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe" argument that they find so effective. Whereas, as I argued, children unhealthily "spaced" is more the product of modern culture and the Industrial Revolution.

This "study" saddens me more than the whole Issues, Etc. flap because Synodical politics (however Machiavellian) cannot be cited as a "best construction." This is leadership (including a representative of the Ft. Wayne seminary) taking a look at a crucial moral issue—and this is the fruit of their labors?! It is deliberate spin when it comes to history. And it makes the religion of modern science trump dogmatics.

There is a Facebook group called "Antinomians Anonymous," which includes at least one member of the "study" group. This is "just for fun," of course. Indeed, the joke's on us.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Thanks for the comment, Aaron. I hope to hear more of your analysis after your blood pressure stabilizes. I agree with you on the fact that there is some token positive progress to be found in this document. I noticed what you mentioned as well. Thanks for bringing those points up here.

As a side note wrt the antinomians, today I received my copy of Holger Sonntag's translation of Luther's Complete Antinomian Theses and Disputations from Lutheran Press. Check it out! I can't wait to dig in!

David said...

Dan @ necessary roughness, thank you for bringing up this revolting equivocation between the dangers of birth control pill use and the related danger of driving a car.

I am not sure who was the primary author of this document, but that analogy has Dr. Voss's fingerprints all over it. He used it back in Nov. of '05 at the Life Conference in St. Louis. This was in the wake of the '04 convention, and shortly after the committee was assembled - leading up to our present day and the document now in hand.

Dr. Voss publicly used that analogy then in a monitored debate. The Funny thing was that those assembled for the debate all held the same position.

I objected to this line of reasoning then and I object to it now. There is a fallacy of syllogism taking place here. I believe it is the 'Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle'.

Here is that fallacy at work in simple form:
Elephants have ears.
I have ears.
Therefore I am an elephant.

Or in the case of this paper:
Driving my family in a car has inherent danger
Using the Pill has some level of inherent danger
Therefore, driving your family in a car is no different than using The Pill.

Mr. Voss is correct that in a fallen world even a "healthy" pregnancy is filled with danger and risk to the child. But to equate that to driving our children in a car and to lump pill usage right on in there is poor logic - particularly for professor of philosphy.

He is right that driving my has inherent risk to my family, but he does injustance to that fact that there are cars in which I will not drive my family, roads and conditions which I will avoid, etc.

Somebody correct me here if I am wrong.

Also I continue to grieve and be bewildered that Dr. Lamb puts his name on this and that furthermore this paper points us to the LFL website. And what do we find there at the behest of Dr. Lamb?

"WHEREAS, “Birth control” pills, promoted as contraceptives, thin the uterine lining as a back-up mechanism and, therefore, can be abortifacient in nature; therefore be it
RESOLVED That Lutherans For Life opposes the use of abortifacients and urges its members to become educated on the nature and effects of all forms of contraception and abortifacients."

I'm a bit timid to even bring this up as the mere mention of this could lead to the change of the LFL site to mirror the position of this paper!

This position on the LFL site was put into its current form on the basis of my correspondence with Dr. Lamb while in Seminary. It used to read: Whereas SOME "Birth Control Pills"...

I wrote to him and asked him for a list of the other SOME that didn't act as abortifacients so that my wife and I could use some (tongue in cheek). He freely admitted that he wasn't aware of any, thanked me for the corrective, and promptly changed their statement.

Gauntlets said...

I mourn for all the women who have now been more thoroughly stripped of Synodical protection regarding issues of birth control and fertility. Do the writers really believe this is the loving position? To encourage otherwise healthy women to open their bodies to the abuses of the Pill? To encourage mothers to swallow their desire for more children because their husbands are Done Without Consequences? To . . . oh, heck, the list goes of forever.

For crying out loud.

Pr. Conner said...

"How beautiful are the Magnificats, the songs of birth! How desolate and ultimately disastrous and destructive is the pursuit of Eros for its own sake! The sterile orgasm; the bow passed across the strings and no music coming, the paddle dipped in the water and no movement following." (Malcom Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time: An Autobiography, “The Green Stick,” 157)

Obviously Voss and his committee disagree. Sad... very, very sad.

GL said...

I am not Lutheran, so this does not impact me the way it does many of you. I read this report over lunch . . . and it spoiled my meal.

On the good side, at least the LCMS recognized that the issue warranted consideration. Even if the report comes across as mealy mouthed and equivocal, and ultimately reaches to wrong conclusion, it did say:

"God’s word is clear that procreation is an important aspect of marriage (Genesis 1:28). In maintaining this aspect in balance with the unitive aspect of marriage, it is understood that a Christian marriage will include procreation when possible. . . . [T]he use of contraception should not be taken lightly. It is a very serious decision."

While I reject the reports conclusions, even the words I quoted would be a huge advance for many Protestant denominations. Would that my denomination even recognized that.

I could, of course, quote Luther, who as you know wrote extensively on this issue. Or I could quote Walter A. Maier, Sr., who also wrote on this issue, along with any number of great Lutheran preachers and scholars through the centuries. But, again, I'm not Lutheran and you undoubtedly know what those men had to say. Suffice it to say that the authors of this report ignored the history of their own tradition on this matter, adopting instead the simplistic cop out often used by the
modernizers: "Our fathers in the faith didn't really know what they were talking about." Maybe they should have quoted everything Luther wrote on the subject and then addressed each and every quote on its on own merits. That would have been a much more difficult task and they would have found many of his words less easily dismissed. Perhaps that is why they took the easy way out and simply dismissed what he and all the other great Christian teachers and preachers had to say on the topic with the simple cop out.

Even if one takes God's words to "be fruitful and multiply" as only a blessing and not also a command, what of St. Chrysostom's observation that the use of contraceptives reflects an attitude which "contemn[s] the gift of God"? Can any of you think of any blessing which God promised in His word other than children to which men and women so readily say, "No thank you"? Doesn't the answer to that question say it all. To say "be fruitful and multiply" is simply a blessing and not a command and, to conclude, therefrom, that we can ignore and reject the blessing is, in fact, to deny that to "be fruitful and multiply" is a blessing, which in turn is to call God a liar or, at a minimum, mistaken. Frankly, if that is what I thought of the God of the Bible, I would not worship Him.

Aaron D. Wolf said...

BP still has not stabilized.

This phrase, I think, is the key, as it reflects the "hilarious" antinomianism I referred to earlier:

"Of course, we should not sin willingly, but we can’t help sinning unknowingly."

This turn of phrase is used to justify doing something that, by their own willfully ignorant "findings," MAY be a sin (murder). Oh, hey, we sin all the time, so big deal. We only must refrain from deliberate sin. And doing something that may in itself be a sin isn't deliberate.

This is categorically not the same as confessing that, thanks to the presence of the Old Adam, one might be sinning even while doing good. Indeed, this is an antinomian spin on semper iustus et peccator.

Anonymous said...

kind of sad that they only said that abortive methods should be "avoided."

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

The LCMS Life Ministries committee states on page 10:

"While living on this earth, we must make the best choices possible by taking into account the risks and benefits inherent in any medication."

I agree with this statement, but I most certainly do NOT agree with their application of this truth.

It is one thing to take a drug whose safety is questionable if the drug is needed to treat a medical condition. When considering medical treatment, including drugs, we weigh the risks of treatment against the risks associated with non-treatment of our given condition.

It is quite another matter to take a drug whose safety is questionable when the drug is taken even though there's nothing wrong with the person. Pregnancy is NOT a disease.

It would, however, be appropriate to weigh the risks of various methods of birth control if it has been determined that pregnancy would cause unusual danger to the life of the mother.

It is notable that the resolution that called for this document did NOT ask for an opinion on the morality of family planning. It simply asked for a clear evaluation of the abortifacient potential of various methods. Sadly, the latter was NOT provided.

For a comprehensive scientific review of what is, in fact, known and not known about the abortifacient risks of hormonal birth control, read this review of the scientific literature published in the Archives of Family Medicine eight years ago. I am not aware of any new studies since then which would refute what is provided there, footnoted with 94 sources.

Stay tuned. Lutherans & Procreation will be providing a collaborative response for your consideration. We will then seek your support of this response, which will be sent on to the Synod.

Be patient, because we want to be very careful and measured in our response.

Kelly said...

Dr. Heidenreich, I think you bring up a very important point. Pregnancy is NOT a disease. Unfortunately, most OB's and medical doctors are trained to treat it as one, which I believe parlays into exactly the sort of rhetoric used in constructing this paper. Not to excuse or justify the poor reasoning of the medical professionals involved, but if they've been swimming around in that vat of medical kool-aid then it really cannot come as a surprise that their positions are what they are. Thanks for the insight!

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

The committee states:

"In fact, many health care providers believe that the Pill works solely by preventing ovulation. Several scientific studies of the Pill or of emergency contraception (essentially a high dose of the Pill) support those views."


This is true, but the converse is also true.

In fact, many health care providers believe that the Pill DOES NOT work solely by preventing ovulation. Even more scientific studies of the Pill or of emergency contraception support those views. (see the linked study above)

Why did the committee choose to assert the former statement but refuse to admit the latter?

The committee's approach to this matter shows a deep ignorance of medical research and pharmacology. The committee repeatedly makes mention of what science is not able to "prove" about these birth control methods.

Medical science is not able to "prove" or accurately quantify many actions of drugs. We don't even understand why some drugs work! We often simply must take the known properties and actions of the drug into account and draw logical conclusions regarding mechanisms of action.

So, what do we know about hormonal contraceptives? We know that they do not always prevent ovulation. We also know that hormonal contraceptives significantly thin the endometrial lining of the uterus. And we also know that the thickness of the endometrial lining DOES have an effect on the likelihood of implantation.

It is therefore logical to conclude that spontaneous abortion comes into play at least some of the time in the use of hormonal contraceptives. Because of the difficulty of observing this action, it is virtually impossible to accurately quantify (or "prove") the frequency of this mode of action. But that does not change the fact that we can logically conclude that hormonal contraceptives rely on the abortive mode of action to one degree or another.

Again, read the comprehensive review of the scientific literature linked above to see why this conclusion is logical.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

The endometrial lining of the uterus is the bed in which the fertilized egg must implant in order to survive.

The thickness of this lining typically required to maintain a pregnancy in women undergoing in vitro fertilization has been reported ranging from 5mm to as much as 13mm. Magnetic resonance imaging scans reveal that the endometrial linings of hormonal contraceptive users are consistently thinner than the endometrial linings of nonusers.

In fact, it is found that the average thickness of the uterine lining in women taking hormonal contraceptives is only 1mm, well below that typically necessary for implantation to occur. This factor is significant enough that fertility doctors would NEVER attempt implanting an in vitro fertilized egg in a woman taking hormonal contraceptives.

Doctors also routinely recommended that women taking hormonal contraceptives wait three months after discontinuing use before attempting to become pregnant. Why? Patients are told due to the risk of spontaneous abortion from the lasting effects of these hormones on the lining of the uterus.

Admitting that postfertilization effects exist, it is also important to mention the higher risks associated with progestin-only pills (POPs). POPs are sadly not even mentioned by the LCMS committee. Studies indicate that POPs demonstrate higher break-through ovulation rates ranging from 33% to 65%, leading to increased opportunity for postfertilization effects from these pills.

It is also agreed among professionals that mothers and their babies are at higher risk for ectopic pregnancy with the use of POPs. This is an abortifacient risk of a particular hormonal contraceptive that is beyond debate. Yet it is not even mentioned by the committee. In ectopic pregnancy the baby has no hope of survival. The mother is also at high risk in ectopic pregnancy.

As with many, if not most, medical opinions, there can be honest disagreements about what is supported by the scientific literature. But what I have just provided should be enough to show that ours is not simply the ignorant opinion of a fringe group of pietists, which is basically how this report characterizes those who hold our position.

In the final analysis, speaking of hormonal contraceptives, the committee states:

“Science has not yet determined whether or not these methods work totally by preventing conception or by causing an abortion.”

That should be enough to keep Christians from using them, except in rare instances in which they might be considered the lesser evil. Yet here is the committee’s final conclusion on hormonal contraceptives:

“The LCMS Sanctity of Life Committee believes the use of these ‘gray-area’ contraceptives must be left up to properly informed Christian consciences.”

It is truly sad that the report of this committee doesn’t properly inform Christian consciences, shedding light of the very real potential for the loss of life.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Here is a link to a more recent article that objectively covers virtually all the arguments that people try to make to justify the position the World Relief committee has taken. It is well worth the read.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Aaron wrote above:

This phrase, I think, is the key, as it reflects the "hilarious" antinomianism I referred to earlier:

"Of course, we should not sin willingly, but we can’t help sinning unknowingly."

This turn of phrase is used to justify doing something that, by their own willfully ignorant "findings," MAY be a sin (murder).
Oh, hey, we sin all the time, so big deal. We only must refrain from deliberate sin. And doing something that may in itself be a sin isn't deliberate.

This is categorically not the same as confessing that, thanks to the presence of the Old Adam, one might be sinning even while doing good. Indeed, this is an antinomian spin on
semper iustus et peccator.

I agree. I'm reading Luther's Complete Antinomian Theses and just came across this, where he makes the same basic point:

Eleventh Argument II

Against thesis 15. ["Original or post-baptismal sin they did not even consider to be sin, especially in the First Table."]

Every sin is voluntary. Original sin is not voluntary. Therefore it is not sin. The major is true, since God is not the author of sin.

Response: Concupiscence is inborn in us and is not involuntary, but lust and very great desire to sin are also in original sin. One cannot sin unwillingly.

Anonymous said...

As a former LCMS Lutheran (now Roman Catholic) who began my exodus out of the Lutheran body at the tender age of 12, thanks to an instintive revulsion to birth control which I discovered to be at least not discouraged, I was, with great anticipation, awaiting the release of this document. (Note: my RCatholicism is rooted and fixed and does not depend on the BC issue; that was simply the beggining) As were all of you, I too was sorely dissapointed, but perhaps not surprised by the conclusions of the Committee. After reading the document, I stumbled across this piece: Birth Control and the Lutherans: The Missouri Synod as a Case Study
Alan Graebner
Journal of Social History, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Summer, 1969), pp. 303-332
Published by: Peter N. Stearns.

I would LOVE to hear your opinions on the findings of this article. I felt it addressed the issue spot-on, though I haven't done any of the research on my own, so I couldn't say for sure... hence I desire your more historically accurate opinions!

Lastly, I just want to say "thank you" to all of you for your honest and frank discussion of fertility and the gift of life. I find it incredibly refreshing and, as a heretofore silent reader, this blog has served a bit as a balm to the wound which yet festers in regard to birth control and Christian marriage. God bless you all!

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I'm sorry I missed your comment until now. We are quite aware of the Graebner article and have posted on it here before. His is, as of today, the only scholarly treatment of this subject after the overt change in attitude occurred in the 50s and 60s. I have reason to believe that will soon change.

You're welcome for providing this blog. However, I would be remiss if I didn't voice my sorrow over your having abandoned the pure doctrine of salvation by grace by converting to Roman Catholicism.


Here
is a recent comment that explains how I feel about the temptations to leave Lutheranism. Read Fr. Weedon's first comment after the post.