8.10.2009

When did Christians Begin Accepting Birth Control?



It is very common to read that no orthodox Christian denomination condoned the use of contraception until the Anglican Communion accepted its use at its 1930 Lambeth Conference. That is true, as far as I have been able to discover. However, the Anglican Communion did not simply one day make a 180 degree turn without anyone within their denomination or the broader Christian world advocating for this. For several years, I have researched on this subject, trying to discover examples of pastors, theologians or smaller denominations which condoned the practice before 1930.

To date, the earliest example I can find of a nominally orthodox Christian (Gnostics and other widely acknowledged heretical groups don't count) condoning the use of contraceptives is "the prominent American radical clergyman, Moncure Conway," who in 1878 preached a sermon in London on the subject. Flann Campbell, Birth Control and the Christian Churches, Population Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Nov. 1960), p. 131, 133. "Seven years later the Christian Socialist parson, Stewart Headlam, condoned the practice. . . . It was among the Nonconformist Churches that a more broadly-based movement developed in favour of birth control." Ibid.

I would welcome any information (citation preferred, but not required) of earlier examples of an orthodox (at least nominally) pastor, theologian or denomination which condoned the use of contraception. Please post any suggestions as replies to this post. Thanks.

2 comments:

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Greg,

I don't think you'll have much luck tracking down any official statements prior to 1930. But, indeed, evidence shows the acceptance of family planning by pastors and theologians earlier. Check out these two posts I wrote in 2007:

Issues Etc. Does Contraception

Clergy Family Size from 1890-1920

Rachel Gray said...

Have you seen this Touchstone article?

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=20-04-020-f

It says, "As late as 1874, the average Anglican clergyman in England still had 5.2 living children. In 1911, however, just three years after the bishops had condemned contraception, the new census of England showed that the average family size of Anglican clergy had fallen to only 2.3 children, a stunning decline of 55 percent. The British Malthusian League—a strong advocate of contraception—had a field day exposing what it called the hypocrisy of the priests."