Advice from Lutheran Pastors to People Contemplating Sterilization

When I was in my early 30s, my wife and I surpassed our state's average number of children (1.8 per woman's lifetime), and that's just when people started asking if we were calling it quits--at "1.8" children, when No. 2 was shortly to be born. I was rather surprised at how many of our fellow Lutherans asked if we "were done." Soon I realized that many men and women at that stage in life get surgically sterilized to confirm their membership in the "two and done club," as one Christian acquaintance called it. (I didn't even know her that well, but she volunteered that she and her husband had joined, and inquired whether or not my wife and I were going to have any more kids.)

Remaining open to God's blessing of children has proven to be a lonely road among our friends, though anything but lonely in our home, where God has blessed us beyond the count of two. We talked to some Lutheran pastors about it. They pointed us to "Christian freedom" and cautioned us against judging our peers who were choosing sterilization. To be clear, we have no objection to sterilization in the rare instances of medical necessity. What concerned us was the casual acceptance of permanently removing one's fertility. (Even when medically necessary it's a loss to be mourned. When not medically necessary, it certainly should not be a casual event to be euphemized, in the words of our friends, as a visit to "Dr. Snippy.") It wasn't until perusing the wonderful online essay file described here that we found several Lutheran pastors (Wisconsin Synod) who shed some good Scriptural light on the matter. Here are some sample statements:

Hans Kirsten, “Birth Control As an Ethical and Pastoral Problem,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly 65, no. 1 (Jan. 1968): 24-42, at 39:
It is therefore wrong and a sin to enter into marriage with the intention of not having any children by it. It is just as wrong at the outset arbitrarily to limit the number of children one will have. Finally, it is likewise wrong at any time during the course of a marriage to determine that one will not have any more children, and that entirely for the sake of convenience and out of lack of faith.
Herbert F. Muenkel, “Birth Control, Abortion, and Sterilization,” Red Wing Pastoral Conference, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bear Valley, MN, 18 Jan. 1972:
For a Christian it is not a matter of choice whether or not to have children. For us to arbitrarily limit the number of children we shall have, or to have no children, is defying God’s plan for the continuation of the race and hindering His plan for the salvation of mankind.
Gerhard H. Geiger, “Abortion in Light of Scripture,” Dakota-Montana District Pastoral Conference, Mobridge, SD, 3-4 April 1972:
It is termed vasectomy in the male and is as common a procedure with prostate surgery as removal of the appendix with any abdominal surgery without any questions asked. ... [But,] according to Dt. 23:1 an eunuch was excluded from the congregation of the Lord. Sterilization also excluded the sons of Levi from the priesthood whereas all other deformities, such as blindness, lameness, etc., did not. God looked upon sterilization with disfavor.
Wayne M. Borgwardt, “Methods of Birth Control in Light of Scripture,” Fox River Valley Pastoral Conference, 1977:
The main consideration in both cases [vasectomy and tubal ligation] is that the operation is irreversible. When such a procedure is not medically indicated, it assumes that future circumstances will not change. Most persons cannot claim such assurance for themselves. Consequently this approach is an assertion that procreation can never again be a sound possibility. Furthermore, such an operation which is not medically indicated is a mutilation of the body and unjustified when other methods are available.
Robert Otto, “Are All Methods of Birth Control Acceptable for the Christian?,” Southern Pastoral Conference, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bristol, WI, 14 Jan. 1986:
What about the Christian question? Here again, as with the vasectomy, we examine motivation. If the sterilization procedure is used try avoid responsibility, we ask, "Does God say to the Christian, ‘Go ahead, you aren’t responsible for your actions?’" We already pointed out, man is responsible, even for his words. In fact in the examination of the Lord Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount one discovers that Jesus holds man responsible for his very thoughts. Christian couples, Christian women can not choose sterilization because they wish to avoid responsibility. Christian women can not choose sterilization as a procedure that gives them sexual freedom or the ability to live as they please. Christian men and women ought not to act like animals. They aren’t animals. They are the creations of God, fashioned by a loving Lord. Man’s greatest purpose is to love and serve his Creator God with his whole being.
I realize the statements quoted above are considered outdated by some, since the most recent is already 23 years old. But Christians seek to discover God's timeless truths, and as I read Scripture and then read these quotations, it seems these pastors are at least close to the mark on the issue of sterilization.

To some, this may be a rude awakening. Fortunately, the same pastors know from the same Scripture that God is gracious. He not only desires to bless us with children, but more especially has blessed us with the Christ Child who forgives. We speak of those who commit the sin of premarital sexual relations and then repent as receiving a sort of "second virginity" from Christ, who has forgiven their sin and declared them pure again; perhaps also we should speak of those who wrongfully chose sterilization and then, in view of the pastors' admonitions given above, repent, as receiving a "second fertility"--being fruitful in attitude even if they no longer can in body, and learning to provide better encouragement to those around them.

1 comment:

Rob Olson said...

"I didn't even know her that well, but she volunteered that she and her husband had joined, and inquired whether or not my wife and I were going to have any more kids."

This makes me think of what some dentist fellow told me once about those who choose dentures: They want everyone to get dentures, too.

People want their own decisions confirmed by other folks joining in their particular clubs.