Jun 24, 2014

"So, What Form of Birth Control Do You Use?" (Part II of II)

Ruth Meyer


Read Part I of this two-part series HERE.

Just today I made a move in “Words With Friends” against my brother, and the inevitable ad popped up after my play. I’m used to these ads, but the one today almost made my heart stop. It was an ad for “Plan B One Step,” which “helps prevent pregnancy before it even happens.” Mind you, I just wrote “So, What Form of Birth Control Do You Use? (Part 1)” this morning, so to see this blatant ad invade the privacy of my home was almost too much for me. I listened in shock as the short ad flashed back and forth between various women. One said, “It’s about acting responsibly,” which really made me wonder, since this whole thing is set up as an “emergency” contraceptive. I can’t escape the irony of a woman who had careless sex “acting responsibly” by taking this emergency contraceptive. Right on the website itself a respondent is quoted as saying, “I like that it helps prevent pregnancy in an emergency. Accidents do happen.” Um, yeah. About that…

Most of you have probably read Part 1 of our discussion, so I won’t discuss hormonal birth control in depth here. Suffice it to say that it’s dangerous to dabble with anything that has the potential to be abortifacient. As in this “Plan B One-Step” option, hormonal methods of birth control work not only to suppress ovulation, but also to change the environment of the uterus to prevent implantation. The Plan B One-Step website is more upfront than most other sources. It says openly that the main hormone they use, levonorgestrel, “causes changes in your cervical mucus and uterine lining, making it harder for sperm to reach the uterus and harder for a fertilized egg to attach to the uterus” (bold print mine). This admission is less surprising when you consider that this is, after all, an emergency contraceptive (more accurately, an emergency abortifacient). Their website claims (boasts, really) that “about 7 out of every 8 women who would have gotten pregnant will not become pregnant [after taking One-Step].” Great, so they prevent fertilized eggs from attaching to the uterus 87.5% of the time. That, my friend, is abortion. Life has already begun, no matter how doctors or scientists try to redefine it. Many in the scientific community now “define” life as beginning at implantation. This is a cunning move to assuage the fears of pro-lifers who don’t want to take anything that could be abortifacient. If life doesn’t begin until implantation, doctors can say with a straight face, “No, the Pill is absolutely not abortive. You’re safe.” But you aren’t.


I cannot stress enough, ladies, that any form of hormonal birth control has this effect. Hormonal birth control is just plain dangerous. And before we move on to discussing other birth control methods, let’s just be clear that an IUD (intrauterine device) isn’t a good option either. Even those that are advertised as “non hormonal” use small amounts of copper that kills sperm but also makes the uterus hostile to implantation. Again, a possibly abortive choice, so please avoid it.

Okay, so are there any safe (that is, non-abortifacient) choices out there? I’m glad you asked. Yes, indeed there are. Living in the freedom of the Gospel, Lutherans do not all make the same choices in their vocations as spouses and parents. Some choose to use barrier methods of birth control like condoms, sponges, spermicide gells, etc. These work only to prohibit sperm from reaching the egg. They may be awkward or uncomfortable to some, but at least you have the peace of mind of knowing that you aren’t prohibiting a fertilized egg from implanting. Sterilization is also an option, once you decide you’re done for good. Knowing that a man can get a vasectomy reversed may make it seem less final. But if none of these seems like a great choice for you, maybe you should consider natural family planning.

Natural family planning (NFP) is a system that identifies “safe” times during a woman’s menstrual cycle when marital relations won’t result in pregnancy. It teaches a woman to identify when she is fertile by taking her basal temperature at the same time every morning (once ovulation occurs, that temperature spikes) and/or checking other bodily signs such as cervical mucus to determine when she is done ovulating. She and her husband can then abstain during fertile times (or, of course, they can use this information to conceive). Information on NFP can be overwhelming at first, but there are many helps out there. Pharmacists for Life International has compiled a list of websites on NFP methods. It’s worth checking out.

There are also Lutheran families who believe in complete openness to life.  Their consciences lead them to simply welcome each child as he or she comes and to trust that God will provide for the life He creates, whether He grants a family six children or only one. Whether or not you choose this (or any other) option, it is wise to remember that no matter what method you use, nothing is 100% effective except for total abstinence (and honestly, when you’re married, you shouldn’t be abstaining unless there are extenuating circumstances such as deployment or hospitalization or something). None of us are actually in ultimate control of the number of children we have. God is.

Ladies, be good stewards. God gave married couples the gift of sex as well as the blessing of children. Have an honest talk with your husband about your birth control method. If you’re using one that isn’t in keeping with your pro-life stance, it’s time to make a change for the better. If you find yourself faced with an unplanned pregnancy, thank God, because that pregnancy isn’t unplanned to Him. He, after all, is the Giver of life. There are many women who can tell you about unplanned pregnancies that turned out to be great blessings to them. If you’re married and find yourself faced with an unplanned pregnancy, remember this: you haven’t done anything wrong. Societally, people have unspoken etiquette rules about how long you should wait before having kids, how old you should be, how many kids you should have, etc. A good friend confided in me recently that if she and her husband were ever to have another child, their families’ reactions would not be positive. Dear ones, children are a gift from God. Rejoice with the sister who is pregnant with her first child as well as the sister who is pregnant with her ninth. Welcome each pregnancy as a gift from God. What greater privilege is there than to bring up another human being in the fear and knowledge of the Lord?

“Plan B” is not responsible behavior. What is? I can’t tell you what to do about birth control. That’s between you, your husband, and God. Do a bit of research into NFP, and see if that may not be a better option than what you’re using now. Search your motives behind your choice and use of birth control, pray with your husband about your options, and enjoy God’s gift of sex.


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Ruth Meyer is living out her vocation as a Lutheran woman in the roles of sister, daughter, mother, and wife.  Her greatest joy in life is living as a redeemed child of God, who has blessed her in her many vocations.  Besides her human relationships, Ruth's other interests include music and writing.  She is a church musician and has a special love for Lutheran hymnody.  She also loves to write, and has a children's book set to be published through CPH this fall.  Ruth keeps her own blog at truthnotes.net.  Her hope is that through her writing you are encouraged and perhaps even challenged in your God-given vocations.

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44 comments:

  1. "Living in the freedom of the Gospel, Lutherans do not all make the same choices in their vocations as spouses and parents. Some choose to use barrier methods of birth control like condoms, sponges, spermicide gels, etc. These work only to prohibit sperm from reaching the egg. They may be awkward or uncomfortable to some, but at least you have the peace of mind of knowing that you aren’t prohibiting a fertilized egg from implanting. Sterilization is also an option, once you decide you’re done for good. Knowing that a man can get a vasectomy reversed may make it seem less final"

    What does the "freedom of the Gospel" have to do with birth control? Seems to me that if you don't want children, then you have all freedom of the Gospel not to marry and put more of your focus on the Lord. But if you don't have that gift of self control then marry accept what God designed according to His will (natural law) what happens when a sperm meets an egg. No, birth control isn't in the Bible, but why would it be? As I read our Lord and St. Paul is it just assumed that when you marry you accept children. Indeed, David and a host of others in the Bible and Church history wouldn't have been born if they accepted our understand of procreation that we do today. And it's not a Jewish thing to be open to more than 2.1 children. We share the same Scriptures (Ps 127, 128). Perhaps it is isn't a matter of Gospel freedom but of motive- feminist motives, corporate motives, pragmatic motives, selfish motives. Why wouldn't one want children? Because of spending money for fancy food, new cars, and big houses in nice locations? And yes, personal freedom (under the guise of doing the Lord's work of course). Christianity certainly is about forgiveness and that is soon learned in the home. Children test the limits. Parents get frustrated. Money gets tight. Spouses argue over personal time alone. But through it all we learn to see our old Adam's "turn in on itself" attitude and repent. We are humbled so as to ask and cling to our Lord's forgiveness on the cross and baptism, receive His mercy in the Lord's Supper. If anyone connects us to the need of our Lord to provide mercy and daily bread it is the worry of children. But learning that simple trust in the Lord we grow in maturity and show it to our children. And let me continue in saying that Christianity is not only about forgiveness, but about humility and sacrifice. Our Lord sacrificed Himself for us. Having more children means a personal sacrifice. And whether you have children or not, we are to be a living to sacrifice to our neighbor. I am afraid that when I hear modern Lutherans support birth control is it in essence the Gospel freedom to live a life all about me, but not about the Lord's design and will. If to be Lutheran means to have the Gospel freedom of selfishness then I have missed the point. Besides from what I understand stand the Church fathers, Martin Luther (6 kids), Chemnitz (8 kids I believe) would be against the modern Lutheran conception of Gospel freedom. By the way, who made up this is Gospel freedom? It's not from Luther! Yes, where is this stuff coming from? Names? Is this yet another American pragmatic reworking of theology to suit the "me gratification" generation? Or maybe this Gospel freedom is really (and understandably) a fear of picking up one's cross? Finally, a quick Google of sterilization reveals this risks: 1) increased risk of abdominal hysterectomy 2) vaginal hysterectomy 3) blessing complications 4) requiring laparotomy. + Rev. Philip T. Miller

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    1. I find that there are faithful congregational members in Confessional Lutheran churches who have never heard of the idea that any Lutherans oppose birth control, and other Confessional Lutherans who find it theologically incomprehensible that any Lutherans could accept and practice it. As Ruth said in her first article on this topic, it is a subject that needs to be talked about more openly as we grapple with how to live faithfully in a world that is increasingly hostile to the very existence of the Christian family. I am very glad that Ruth brought up the subject, and that you are continuing the discussion here. I don't cherish the illusion that everyone will be persuaded by each other into a position of complete agreement (this is not to say that the truth is muddy; but only that our understanding of it can be). However, I do know that such a conversation should spur us into prayer, thought, and study.

      As we do so, it is important to conduct the conversation as kindly and lovingly as if we were all sitting together around the same table. It is important to remember that we are all rotten sinners who find it easy to take even the correct position and live sinfully. For example, some of us may be in danger of acting from the materialistic selfishness you describe, and therefore of choosing to contracept from that sinful motive. Some of us may be in danger of acting from a vainglorious desire to appear holy in their own or certain people's eyes, and to choose to have as many children as physically possible because of THAT sinful motive (I am NOT speaking of any individual or accusing any individual other than the old Adam within all of us-- although, growing up, I did know some Fundamentalist families and groups who talked as if the families with the most kids were "winning" in some sort of holiness competition). As we simultaneously remember our sinful natures and yet put the best construction on others' words, we also need to remember that our brothers and sisters who disagree with us are probably genuinely struggling with real concerns.

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    2. Again, all of this is not to say that there is no objective truth, or that we ought not to clearly and vigorously teach truth.

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    3. Pastor Miller,
      I understand what you are saying and as hard as it might be (as part of our sinful nature), I know that ultimately trusting in the Lord brings blessings. I'm curious to know how you would respond to the following scenario. (This is not fictitious by the way. This is my sister's story.) What do you say to the loving parents who have many more children than the 2.1 you speak of. Dad and mom are loving and caring parents who have Christ as the center of their home. Dad lost his job and for the last three years has been going from part-time job to part-time job scraping up what he can to provide for his family and with each passing day realizes returning to his previous profession is less and less likely. Mom also holds a part-time job, while trying to juggle caring for her small children. The home they live in is not their own because they had to sell their house to make ends meet and paying for rent is a struggle. They have moved multiple times facing obstacles they never thought they would have to face. They have resorted to living on welfare and other forms of public assistance. Family and friends try to help as best they can, but they, after all, need to also think of the needs of their own personal family. Through this all, they have not lost their faith in God and continue to try and make their home happy and healthy in the Lord. What recommendation do you have for this couple who love each other and their children, and who up until the job loss did not struggle with each additional child? How would you recommend they proceed? Abstinence? Giving children up for adoption? Divorce, since they no longer can afford being parents to additional children? I understand that our reason is often flawed because of sin, but does that mean we shouldn't use it? How can we look a father and mother in the face who are struggling to provide for their children (through no fault of their own) and tell them that ALL forms of birth control (including NFP) are wrong? Can trusting in the Lord and using the reasoning He gave us coexist? Is not the marriage bed more than just for procreation? I am not trying to be argumentative but am truly curious. This may not be a good analogy, but it's all I can think of at the moment. I believe 100% that if it is God's will He will protect my earthly life. Does this mean that I can jump off a cliff and trust my earthly life will be spared? Or do I use the reasoning God has given me to take some responsibility for the care of my life and not jump? These parents believe 100% that their children are a gift from God (and would never resort to an abortion). However, using the reasoning God has given them, they know that in this moment in time, and without a doubt, they will not be able to care for another child without it harming the children who God has already entrusted to their care. Should they jump anyway? How should parents feel if they follow your advice, continue to have children, want to support them, and can't? Should they feel guilty for marrying at all? Through your point of view, I would. There are other "scenarios" I know to be true that are far different than this, but ultimately come to the conclusion that conceiving another child would be harmful in some way. Please help me to understand.

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    4. I am sympathetic towards the hard cases. If I may ask, why in our sociecty are children always the reasons behind our problems. Could it lay elsewhere?

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    5. Anna's reply is excellent, and I find her comments about motive really get at the heart of the matter. First of all, please understand that I am not advocating remaining intentionally childless throughout a marriage. And I can't search anyone's motives but my own. Yes, I'm sure there are people who "can't afford" children because they aren't willing to give up their "toys." But there are also people who are living under poverty level and already have six people in the family, with very few extra "frills" in their lives, who truly can't afford more children. As in the situation "Anonymous" describes above, should they be guilted into abandoning Natural Family Planning because they aren't "trusting God" enough? God does want us to trust Him, yes, but He also gives us our reason to act as responsible caretakers and stewards of His gifts. We save money for retirement, for example, not because we don't trust God to provide for us when we retire, but because He gives us the wisdom and self-control not to spend it all in the here and now. I love a quote I found in a booklet titled "The Christian and Birth Control," put out by the WELS Lutherans for Life. Rev Robert Fleischmann says, "When a Christian considers using birth control, his faith compels him to ask not what is most convenient for himself but what glorifies God." Absolutely. Interestingly, he does go on to say that some forms of birth control do fall "within the realm of Christian freedom and stewardship. But as with all such issues, a careful exploration of the heart and motives is necessary in order to do what truly glorifies God." Are there motives that do not glorify God when it comes to birth control? Yes, as you describe above. But as Anna points out, it can swing the other way as well. Is it truly glorifying God if someone is so against any form of birth control that they look down upon those who do choose to use it? I'm not opposed to those who choose not to use any form of birth control. If a couple agrees on that course of action, that's wonderful. But good stewardship very seldom draws a black and white line. Is it good stewardship to risk ruining a marriage because the wife feels used by her husband? Perhaps that would be the opposite of the "feminist motives" you mention, for the wife ends up resenting her husband because he can have sex whenever he wants, but she's the one to face nine months of pregnancy, a year or two of nursing, and the majority of the care of the children. Or what about the woman who struggles with postpartum depression? Should she be made to feel guilty because she doesn't think she can handle more than three kids? Is it good stewardship for the family who has to be supported by the government to have as many children as they can? Is it responsible for a mother to be so burned out she cannot model for her 10 children what it means to be a godly wife and mother? There's just too much gray area for any one plan to be the only answer.

      You say, "when I hear modern Lutherans support birth control is it in essence the Gospel freedom to live a life all about me, but not about the Lord's design and will." I'm sorry if you think that's what I'm trying to communicate. I would be the last person to advocate living a life "all about me." I can't think of anything that would make me more unhappy. But as I state above, there are many many gray areas when it comes to birth control, and the "freedom of the Gospel" of which I speak simply means a couple should not be forced into their choices through means of the Law.

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  2. I can't believe this is being purported as "historical Lutheranism". Let's call it what it is- contemporary Lutheran ethics.

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    1. I don't think that Ruth is intentionally making a historical claim. Certainly you are right that the Lutheran church, like other Christian bodies, was historically opposed to the practice of birth control.

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    2. I never make any claims one way or the other that birth control has anything to do with historical Lutheranism. To be quite honest, much of what we discuss here is, in fact, "contemporary." The Pill was invented quite recently, and therefore never was an issue in historic Lutheranism. Even Natural Family Planning (NFP) wasn't understood scientifically throughout the ages. And let's be honest again, until quite recently, women cared for the house and the children, period. That was it. That was their entire vocation. That role has greatly expanded in our country, and even stay at home moms find themselves in volunteer roles, involved in activities at church, teaching Sunday school, etc. Working outside the home presents a whole new aspect as well. Additionally, many families no longer live near grandparents and other family who are able to help with the care of the children. Women find themselves often overwhelmed with the tasks expected of them outside the home in addition to caring for their own household. Is it irresponsible for them to space their children so they can emotionally handle the many demands placed upon them? I would argue not. Ultimately, one has to answer the question for themselves what their motive is.

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  3. Dear friend,

    Can you help me to understand how the intentional prevention of human life, which God has both commanded and blessed even to this day, is connected to the "freedom of the Gospel"?

    Thank you,

    Robert C. Baker
    bioethike.wordpress.com

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    1. By "freedom of the Gospel" I simply mean that we are not under the Law in regards to what we must do when it comes to bearing children. The Bible neither condemns nor endorses birth control. It does condemn murder, so abortion as a form of birth control is not under "freedom of the Gospel." Yes, God tells Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply," but the overarching context of that statement is a blessing to them, not "you must do this or else!" And the passage some refer to regarding Onan is not a birth control issue, either. Onan had been instructed to impregnate his dead brother's wife, and he refused to obey that divine command. That was the sin being condemned. God is indeed the author of human life, and we are given the job of stewards, caretakers, and guardians of that life. A caretaker of a garden can choose where to plant a seed, for example, but God makes it grow. Ultimately, if God wants to form a human life, He will, no matter what form of birth control the couple is using. Also please note that I am not advocating a couple remaining intentionally childless their entire marriage. But I would argue that responsible stewardship falls under the context of the freedom of the Gospel. It is a heavy burden indeed for most women to be told that they absolutely must abandon all forms of birth control and have as many children as they possibly can. Perhaps some women can handle that, and that's great. But most of the women I know would grow resentful at some point, and what good would it do to have many children but not be able to model for them what it means to be a godly wife and mother? Good stewardship is a God-given opportunity as well, and the answer may differ from one married couple to another. That's what I mean by "freedom of the Gospel."

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    2. Thanks for your reply, Ruth.

      You make a number of statements I believe need addressing.

      1. You write: “By ‘freedom of the Gospel’ I simply mean that we are not under the Law in regards to what we must do when it comes to bearing children.”

      I respond: This is a curious statement. Do you mean to suggest that no Law corresponds with bearing children, that is, that there is no express command to bear children? That seems to go against God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply,” which He issued in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:28) and immediately after the Flood (Genesis 9:7). How do you reconcile this statement with those passages? Or do you believe that "be fruitful and multiply" is not a command, but something more on the lines of a blessing, or perhaps a suggestion?

      2. You write: “The Bible neither condemns nor endorses birth control.”

      I respond: This likewise is a curious statement. Until the 20th century, Lutherans, following Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, Gerhard, indeed most Christians in the Western Tradition, pointed to God taking Onan’s life as sure proof that God disproves of contraception (in this instance, coitus interruptus).

      You continue: “And the passage some refer to regarding Onan is not a birth control issue, either. Onan had been instructed to impregnate his dead brother's wife, and he refused to obey that divine command. That was the sin being condemned.”

      I respond: Coitus interruptus is a form of birth control, quite possibly the most prevalent method used by the ancients (although vaginal pessaries were also used). You allege that the death penalty, that of God slaying a human being, is the appropriate penalty for failing to obey the levirate law. But Scripture is very clear that the only penalty for failing to live up to this duty is public humilitation, not death (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10). That God killed Er because he was “wicked,” and that God slew Onan because he committed a “wicked” act, coupled with the Scriptural evidence that public shaming, not death, was the penalty for failure to produce an heir for a deceased brother, leads one safely to conclude that your interpretation of this passage is incorrect.

      3. You write: “[The Bible] does condemn murder, so abortion as a form of birth control is not under "freedom of the Gospel."

      I respond: Were you aware that the consistent, historical Lutheran position is that contraception violates the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth commandments? The Western Tradition, of which Orthodox Lutheranism is a part, sees contraception as a species of murder, because it is a direct, intentional action taken against a potential human life. Violations of the Fifth Commandment include much, much more than merely hacking a person to death with pick axe, as Jesus makes abundantly clear in His Sermon on the Mount. Everything that goes against life (thoughts, words, and deeds) is a species of murder.

      3. You write: “Ultimately, if God wants to form a human life, He will, no matter what form of birth control the couple is using.”

      I respond: Your statement seems to assert a very dangerous theological position when it comes to human life: That God chooses to create here; He chooses not to create there. The Scriptures and the Confessions are very clear that He has imprinted His will into creation, so that it does what He wishes it to do. God doesn't wave a magic wand around and--poof!--someone's pregnant. No, God has made us so that our bodies can and do procreate. This they do by God's command in nature. That we still procreate is proof positive that God's Word still resides in nature and accomplishes that which He sends it out to do.

      Thanks for our continuing conversation!

      God bless,

      Robert
      bioethike.wordpress.com



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    3. Thank you as well for your reply. You have given me much to think about. I do not have the time to respond completely to your points, but let me clarify what I meant by the point you raise above in number 1. I mean to say only that God doesn't say, "You must have 7 children, because that is the number of completion." Nor are we under the Old Testament laws anymore, where women were unclean and had to abstain after their periods for a certain amount of time. Yes, God tells us to be fruitful and multiply, but I have always seen that more as a blessing than a command- "Go have as many kids as you can, or else..."

      I would refer you to my general comments below, because I don't want this to become an ongoing debate. I wrote the article more as a way to bring to light the dangers of hormonal birth control. I personally know more Christians who are apt to use the Pill than no form of birth control whatsoever, and it was more to that audience I was writing. I wanted to show how far-reaching the effects of the Pill can be, and to show there are better options. As I say below, the comment section alone here is very overwhelming for someone who has just learned that the Pill is not as "safe" as they thought it was, and I don't want to scare them away or overburden anyone's conscience.

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  4. Why have we decided to not trust God in this part of our life? As Lutherans, we claim to put our trust in God for all our other First Article blessings- food, drink, house, home, wife...but not children?

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    1. I'm afraid you misunderstand me. I in no way intend to imply that we are not trusting God. Nor am I saying we should try not to have any children at all. Yes, we do trust God for our First Article blessings, but do we take advantage of that? If your husband loses his job, would you not take steps to ensure you have enough money to last? Perhaps you would cancel your cable, switch to a cheaper phone plan, stop going to the gym, stop eating out, etc. Is that implying that you don't trust God to provide money for you, or are you acting as a responsible steward? It's much the same with the issue of birth control. A Christian's decision to use birth control is often a stewardship issue. There are limits to what a woman can handle physically and emotionally, there are limits to what a couple can handle financially, and yes, there are even limits to how many children a marriage can handle. Is it responsible stewardship to risk ruining a marriage because one spouse feels used by the other and ends up resenting their spouse? A lot depends upon your motive when using birth control, and those areas can be blurred. Not everything is black and white.

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  5. Beth,

    Thank you for writing so openly about birth control. Do you think you'll discuss more about barrier and sterilization methods sometime? It seems to me that is where the controversy about birth control lies with many Lutherans (or at least the Lutherans I'm currently around).

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    1. Beth, I don't claim to be an expert, but I believe the use of barrier methods and sterilization fall under the category of the sin of Onan because “he spilled semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother.”

      And what was our Lord's response to Onan? He killed him. Here is a quote from Luther's regarding the sin of Onan.

      “This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime to produce semen and excite the woman, and to frustrate her at that very moment. (LW 7.20-21)

      Luther compares the sin of Onan to that of sodomy because both of these acts break God's natural order and attempt to sexually gratify while intentionally avoiding what God has attached to sexual pleasure- the blessing of children, if He so wills. + Monique Miller

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  6. Hello. I am glad that this topic is being brought up, and that we are being encouraged to think outside the mainstream mentality of attempting to control our own conception. I know that learning about the church's historic stance against birth control, until the 1930s, was helpful to me (After the 1930s, churches started to move towards the modern mentality of accepting birth control). I really had to pay attention when I realized that ALL church groups were against it until then, and that, even in Luther's time, people used various methods (even abortifacient ones) to avoid having children. We just have more sophisticated methods that are easy to access. When I look at what our modern mentality about birth control has done to families, and our society as a whole, I can not see how it has been a change for the better. Before I was Lutheran, but was a Christian (you could have described me as a non-denominational type), I always felt guilty or unsure about the use of birth control. Yet everything I read seemed to be primarily law-focused ("YOU have to decide to trust God and be open to life"), or to have too much license ("trust God and do what YOU think is best"--yet I was never convinced this was right if I might be refusing God's blessings). When we became Lutheran I found the courage to face the issue head on, with the comfort of assurance that no matter what, my sins were forgiven. After reading a lot about the historic position, especially things that Luther had written, I realized that the church had been right, and that we could receive the blessings God had for us without trying to be in control. It didn't seem like a law-focused burden anymore, it seems like something wonderful that God would bless us and care for us and our families (including the crosses that would certainly come). My biggest regret is not realizing it sooner. That's the problem with the modern mentality of controlling contraception. We also tend to think that we CAN have children when we would like to. It doesn't always work that way. I thank God that, in His mercy in Jesus Christ, He has given my husband and I the dear children that we have.

    I found these Issues, Etc. episodes to be helpful in my understanding of this issue:

    http://issuesetc.org/2009/02/18/christians-contraception/

    http://issuesetc.org/guest/allan-carlson/

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    1. I hesitate to get into discussions such as these, because I want to speak in a compassionate manner to those who are hard cases. Those need special care and consideration, and churches and pastors would have many opportunities to help those in these situations where they exist. Usually the hard cases come up when people who are against all or most birth control speak. However, I always think about what one of the pastors in the Issues, Etc. discussion I posted above (Christians and contraception) said-everyone thinks they are hard cases. He pointed out that in our country, the wealthiest in the world with unprecedented luxuries, it is a sad thing that so many people avoid having children. I think in these types of discussions on the internet it is important for all sides not to polarize the other and assume that they know the nuances of their positions. It is very difficult to do so when people are not face to face. It should not be assumed that the people who are against birth control think that a woman should die in childbirth or allow her family to starve or be destitute. It is also not fair to assume the motives of those who are accepting of some or all birth control. It is good to discuss it, though, in Christian love, because it is so important and has far-reaching consequences.

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  7. Ha ha ha, here come the anti-BC crazies! :D Mea maxima culpa, of course. Hi, Ruth; we lived downstairs from you on Hoover Ave. :)

    WRT "You can also have lots of kids for the WRONG reason which is bad." True. Let us imagine an argument in favor of traditional marriage which purports to balance its supposedly extreme position by saying, "On the other hand, it's just as bad to marry more than one person." True again, and yet not the prevailing problem. Just a minor point on perspective. :)

    Interesting also that the original post demonstrates the contemporary Christian aversion to intramarital abstinence. Although/because separating marriage from intercourse does pose risks for a marriage, Scripture gives an explicit set of guidelines for doing so (which mention neither military service nor fertility cycles). Scripture NEVER offers guidelines for separating intercourse from children.

    Respectfully submitted! :) Rebekah C.

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  8. Ruth, one of the major problems with your post is that both the Bible and church fathers don't agree. Church history isn't on your side. St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Epiphanuius of Salamis, Chemnitz and Luther all spoke against the use of BC. In fact, all of Christendom was in agreement for nearly 2,000 yrs. What changed? We can thank the Anglicans at The Lambeth conference in the 1930's.

    Anna, Pr. Miller never mentions having as many children possible to appear holy. His argument is simply that using BC is not within our “Christian freedom”. The only christian freedom we have in this regard is to never marry and remain chaste. Having children is a natural component of marriage, as the Lord wills. Consider Luther in his, “Estate of Marriage”.

    “For this word which God speaks, “Be fruitful and multiply,” is not a command. It is more than a command, namely, a divine ordinance [werck] which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore. Rather, it is just as necessary as the fact that I am a man, and more necessary than sleeping and waking, eating and drinking, and emptying the bowels and bladder. It is a nature and disposition just as innate as the organs involved in it Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but creates them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. And wherever men try to resist this, it remains irresistible nonetheless and goes its way through fornication, adultery, and secret sins, for this is a matter of nature and not of choice.”

    + Monique Miller

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    1. Monique, I didn't mean to imply that he had (sorry if that was unclear).

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  9. I am sympathetic of these hard cases and forces me to mull over possible solutions. I do ask the question though, "why do we seem to see children as the reason for our problems?

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  10. Ruth, thank you for this thought-provoking post and to all for the comments submitted. This is an excellent forum for Lutheran women together to discuss such matters. I personally believe the understanding of the role of vocation is helpful here. In the book "Family Vocation ", by Gene Edward Veith and Mary J. Moerbe, the authors summarize their position with "In general, parenthood follows marriage naturally. Sex in marriage should indeed lead to engendering children. The one-flesh union that is the vocation of marriage leads to the new vocation of parenthood. And yet at some stages in marriage, use of contraception is preferable to restricting sex in such a way that the unity of marriage is harmed or that either partner becomes subject to sexual temptations."

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    1. Thanks for mentioning the Veith and Moerbe book, Kaethe.

      When Joanna and Mary (nee Veith) both lived in St. Louis, I had them over to my home several times for dinner. I also attended Joanna's wedding in Oklahoma, but unfortunately couldn't make Mary's.

      That being said, what Veith and Moerbe suggest in this quotation is wrong.

      Their argument that "contraception is preferable to restricting sex" has no biblical or confessional basis. In fact, Paul quite specifically supplies what believing couples have when it comes to "restricting sex": abstinence. Paul writes, "Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." (1 Corinthians 7:5).

      I would strongly encourage all readers of this blog NOT to rely on secondary literature when it comes to this topic, but first to look to the Scriptures, second to look at the Confessions, and third look to Orthodox Lutheran literature.

      Simply because one claims to be "Confessional" does not mean that one is "Orthodox," that is, in line with the consistent, evangelical Lutheran teaching from the Reformation.

      Robert C. Baker
      bioethike.wordpress.com

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    2. First Corinthians 7:5 indeed decides the matter. Marital abstinence is to be limited. However, those purportedly against contraception, I now see, simply use abstinence as contraception, whether for large periods of time (for the health of the mother) or for the allowed short times. They can restrict sex as much or as little as they want, and they can try to carve out rules built upon history. But we are not to deprive our spouse except PERHAPS by mutual consent and for a time ... then come back together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

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    3. Mary Jack, you write: "those purportedly against contraception, I now see, simply use abstinence as contraception".

      This is utter nonsense. If complete abstinence is contraception, then our unmarried children are contracepting. Contraception is, by definition, the willful separation of procreation from intercourse.

      There are obvious times when people must abstain from intercourse - even when it comes to married people. Examples when such abstinence is required simply by circumstances include healing after birth, hospitalization, incarceration, and military deployment. Examples of when love may demand total abstinence for an extended period include when a wife is gravely ill, or would be if she became pregnant.

      As an illustration, consider the example of a wife who has uterine cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Love and simple common sense would indicate the need to abstain. Doing so is not a violation of Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 7:5. Contraceptive intercourse would not only be against God's Word, it would not be loving. Contraception is never 100% efficacious at preventing conception.

      That said, employing abstinence (complete or periodic "NFP") for the purpose of spacing children or limiting their number would certainly be akin to contraception. Those of us who are against contraception would also be against using abstinence for the "family planning" purposes for which contraception is employed.

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    4. Dear Mary,

      Paul wants husbands and wives to have sex with each other. This is God's design, his will, imprinted into human nature. Paul's concern is that excessive abstinence, for those who cannot practice chastity within marriage, may lead to other sins. This would violate the Sixth Commandment and God's purpose and design for marriage. After the Fall, marriage also serves as a prophylactic (an aid against sexual sin), so marriage has this third purpose in addition to procreation and mutual aid.

      As far as definitions go, and they are important, Dr. Heidenreich is correct. All cases of not being engaged is sexual activity are not all cases of contraception. All Christians are called to chastity, either within or without marriage. Choosing by God's grace in Jesus Christ and with the Spirit's power not to engage in sexual activity, so long as one abides by what Paul mentions here in this passage and in others, is never wrong.

      Married Christians really need to step away from the modern myth that they have a right to sex at any time and any way that they want it, and justify the same because they're married. Contraception, pornography, unnatural acts, all of these are to be avoided. The writer to the Hebrews says, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." (Hebrews 13:4)

      Robert C. Baker
      bioethike.wordpress.com

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  11. In addition, I think the Church would be well-served for families to together bear one another's burdens, recognizing the suffering that brothers and sisters in Christ may be facing which may lead them to feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped to bring more children into the world. Are there families in your church that could benefit from childcare help from a caring friend on occasion? Women that need assistance recovering from post-partum depression? Heads of households fearful of how to pay next month's mortgage? For many families, it is not simply a matter of money being a "little tight" of parents hoping for a few more hours of free time. Instead there are significant struggles that send some into despair. It is for these reasons that many choose to use NFP or barriier methods to prevent the likelihood of pregnancy. These situations we need to not only fervently pray for, but also seek to serve our neighbor in their practical needs.

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    1. Kaethe, that is an excellent point. Childbearing is easier today (certainly safer) than previous eras, but _raising_ children can be harder in other ways, in part because so many families are essentially alone and on their own with their kids, without a community to help and receive help from. It is important to intentionally build Christian community and to support each other. In some ways, doing so is "follow up" to embracing children and marriage.

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  12. It seems to me that people can react on different levels to the topic of contraception. Birth control, and the related presumptions of choice, has truly been catastrophic for family in general. But medical reasons to avoid conception are common enough that I have yet to meet anyone who imposes the law "no attempts toward contraception" carte blanche.

    I know enough people who fight vehemently on the topic, but I wish I knew more mothers like me: for lack of a better phrase, rapid procreators. I have four children aged five and under. Each pregnancy is getting a bit harder, and there are starting to be lingering problems for me physically.

    Weighing medical concerns with potential family growth is an intimate and very tricky thing. Who am I to say my body is reaching a point to wait? Yet how can I help but try to discern? In general I'm pro-large-family, but I'll admit that attempts toward spacing, even through Natural Family Planning, are truly contraceptive--attempts to avoid conception.

    So, if I wait even a few "extra" months, I'm to be condemned by the anti-contraception folk? Fine. But I hate how my conscience gets burdened, even when I'm currently pregnant!

    I consider family growth a vocational issue and trust my husband to help keep me from selfishness or fear on either sides of the debate. But where are the perspectives for those entering medical complications from rapid childbearing? Admittedly I'm looking for a perspective besides Luther applauding women who give their lives in childbirth. Guess I'm sub-par to look beyond Luther and his time.

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    1. Hi, Mary--FWIW, our fourth baby was born a month after our first turned five. It was rough. However, I find it interesting that my doctor never tagged my quick turnovers or high multiparity as inherent risks. I've got my set of problems, but they have not necessarily escalated on a per-pregnancy basis (and I've also had new ones pop up to keep things exciting). We received our seventh baby from the Lord three months ago after a miserable pregnancy; our oldest is 11. Also interesting that never in human history has it been safer to have a baby, and never have women more actively avoided having a baby because it's so unsafe.

      I think those who live by the church's catholic teaching on this matter end up feeling very frustrated by being continually dragged down Casuistry Lane. The obsession with "hard cases" which must be ruled by situational ethics only exists because the question is always approached from a situational ethic. The real point of contention is that situational ethics is the wrong way of doing it (contra the Veith book mentioned above). There isn't one of us who couldn't make a hard case out of our own personal story, and some wouldn't even have to work very hard (present company of commenters on this post not excepted AT ALL). I don't know one mother of a large family who just popped them out like puppies. Sheesh. :P

      This is a hard teaching. No wonder we're always making phony arguments about vocation and stewardship to get out of it. :P (I ask again, why is it so dangerous to cut intercourse out of marriage, but totally fine to cut babies out of intercourse?)

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    2. Well, I guess you haven't read the Veith book if you think vocational perspective is situation ethics. Ha, but if a barrage of people want to undermine my pastor's and my husband's influence on me on this topic because I'm a blog-reader, I'd call that both a vocational issue & a situational ethic, the situation being I happen to be checking this page for content so I get to be preached to and perhaps persuaded to fight against those in authority over me.

      I would respond to your question, it is dangerous to cut intercourse out of marriage because Scriptures command no long periods of married abstinence, whereas Scripture doesn't talk about women knowing their cycles and thereby having limited choice regarding fertility. Though a history of Jewish practice based on the Talmud is interesting, describing women changing the monthly days of abstinence from seven during the flow of blood to twelve with an additional seven days of abstinence following that! No wonder the twelve sons of ancient Israel had to come from four different mothers!

      One can be against contraception as a norm without burdening consciences about it, and I daresay we'd have more large families if we pursued that simpler course. I'm more pro-children than anti-contraception.

      I grant you that I'm sure I sin with every cycle, whether I'm aiming for pregnancy or not. But babies are not so tied with intercourse that babies always result, yet intercourse remains commanded within marriage. If I can wait a few extra months between children--say I get pregnant after a child turns one year instead of 9 months--I'm not convinced that's even a failure to have as many children as possible. Or is every fertile month mandated for a child? That's so unheard of as to be considered medically impossible. Marriage would have to precede puberty.

      Though we are so seeped in sin, perhaps in perfection each egg, each sperm could have become a child. Perhaps that too is within the command, "Be fruitful." Or maybe some branches (months) can be pruned in pursuit of the fruit already growing, without withering the tree (one flesh) with unbiblical abstinence.

      Well. Guess my righteousness needs to come from Jesus and not my marriage bed and birthing chambers.

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    3. Mary J, your question asking why your conscience must be burdened is incredibly poignant. I refer you to my most recent general comment below, where I address that more fully. Thank you for your honesty, because I feel you really make a critical point.

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    4. Mary, I grok muchly, but I also think you know as well as I do that most of your arguments are caricatures (eg chick verson of "every sperm is sacred"), which brings me to a joke. What to Lutheran Quiverfillers use for birth control?




      You know it, girl: their personalities.




      I don't much care for running with this crowd; their PR is lousy for an argument that is bound to be poorly received even if it didn't always sound like a solid wall of arguments and quotations with all the human sympathy we've come to expect from walls. And you and Ruth are right that consciences are bound. That's how the Law works, and there's a lot of good, wise Law in this. No wonder I hate it. :P

      So no one has to hang out with the anti-BCers online or invite them to the barbecue on the 4th, but it is disingenuous to distort their real arguments, and even yuckier to impugn their personal piety. Wowsers.

      (Also: none of them are really walls. As I've said elsewhere, there are reasons people use birth control, and no one understands those reasons better than people who don't.)

      Rebekah C.

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  13. If I may, please allow me to clarify something. I did not write this article with the intention of convincing those who do not believe in any form of birth control otherwise. That anti birth control stance is openly acknowledged in the article without being attacked. But personally, I know far more Christians who are likely to be using hormonal birth control rather than no birth control whatsoever. In any given congregation, I would wager that to be true as well, based solely on the number of children in most families. I wrote this article more for those using hormonal birth control, to show that there are better options that are not, in fact, abortifacient. I don't think people who use hormonal birth control do so with bad intentions, but many truly don't know all the functions of the Pill and other options like it. The medical community is very cunningly redefining life as beginning at implantation now, so if the Pill prevents a fertilized egg from implanting, they don't consider that abortive in any way. Years ago I asked my doctor if the NuvaRing, which was fairly new at the time, was abortive at all, and she looked me straight in the eye and told me it was not. She also claimed to be pro-life. So if a "pro-life" doctor can tell her patients hormonal birth control is not abortive (due to crafty redefining of terms), how many other doctors out there are telling their patients the same thing? My article was not in any way an attack against those who don't believe in birth control. I wrote it to expose the true nature of hormonal birth control and show there are better ways out there.

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    1. Thank you for writing. My doctor told me the same thing about an IUD -- thankfully, my husband and I researched on our own and came to our own conclusions.

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  14. "That anti birth control stance is openly acknowledged in the article without being attacked." ~Ruth Meyer

    You have, in fact, "attacked" the historic biblical position of the church, though not as viciously as some do. You certainly make it clear that you don't agree with it. Though you do not use any rhetorical "attack" techniques, any false teaching must always be considered at its heart an attack on the pure doctrine of the church. Your mention of "that anti-birth control stance" is, thus, simply patronizing. Your approval of birth control is an attack on the historic biblical position of the church.

    If your intent was simply to expose the post-fertilization effects of the most common methods of birth control, you could have easily done so without contradicting the historic biblical position of the church. Those of us who have commented here do so regularly. The LCMS Sanctity of Human Life Committee also did so in their report on contraceptive methods.

    You don't have to even mention, let alone approve of NFP, barrier, and sterilization methods in order to inform people that the other methods have potential post-fertilization effects.

    Erich Heidenreich

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  15. "But there are also people who are living under poverty level and already have six people in the family, with very few extra "frills" in their lives, who truly can't afford more children. As in the situation "Anonymous" describes above, should they be guilted into abandoning Natural Family Planning because they aren't "trusting God" enough?" ~Ruth Meyer

    I'll let Luther answer:

    “Although it is very easy to marry a wife, it is very difficult to support her along with the children and the household. Accordingly, no one notices this faith of Jacob. Indeed, many hate fertility in a wife for the sole reason that the offspring must be supported and brought up. For this is what they commonly say: ‘Why should I marry a wife when I am a pauper and a beggar? I would rather bear the burden of poverty alone and not load myself with misery and want.’ But this blame is unjustly fastened on marriage and fruitfulness. Indeed, you are indicting your unbelief by distrusting God’s goodness, and you are bringing greater misery upon yourself by disparaging God’s blessing. For if you had trust in God’s grace and promises, you would undoubtedly be supported. But because you do not hope in the Lord, you will never prosper.” [Luther's Works, vol. 5, page 332]

    The Lord provides for all those He brings into the world. Today's American notion of "poverty" is such utterly impoverished materialistic silliness.

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  16. Mary J, you ask, "But where are the perspectives for those entering medical complications from rapid childbearing?"

    If there are grave reasons one should avoid pregnancy at any time, one should not be having sexual intercourse at that time. No method other than complete abstinence is adequate protection. Complete abstinence (not periodic NFP) was the only answer sanctioned by the church until the Lambeth Conference of 1930.

    Before anyone thinks this is too much to ask of anyone, remember that we expect the unmarried to pray for the gift of continence, as well as widows and widowers, those with spouses deployed overseas in the military, those with gravely ill spouses, etc.

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  17. It all began at the Lambeth Conference of 1930:

    Resolution 15

    The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

    "Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience."

    Voting: For 193; Against 67.

    Sociological forces around the time of WWI led to this Lambeth Conference decision of 1930, approving the use of birth control in hard cases. This is acknowledged by everyone as the decision which reversed the unanimous testimony of the previous two millennia that Scripture strictly prohibits ALL intentionally contraceptive sex. All other churches, including Missouri Synod Lutherans, attacked the Lambeth decision as flatly contrary to Scripture and the unanimous teaching of the church.

    However, it only took a matter of a few short decades for the continuing social and political forces to cause all of Christendom to capitulate. In 1959, the unofficial change in teaching in the LCMS was marked by the publication by CPH of Alfred M. Rehwinkel's book Planned Parenthood, praising Margaret Sanger. The "hard case" arguments were very much a part of this.

    Even the Roman Catholic Church finally gave in to the primary argument of the Lambeth decision of 1930. Paul VI's Humanae Vitae accepted the false dichotomy of the "hard case exception", but nuanced the RC solution by forbidding "artificial" means while officially allowing the most effective "natural" means of family planning, NFP.

    The problems with the Lambeth decision are many, but one proved particularly insidious. That is, if contraception is okay in some hard case scenarios, then who gets to decide when it is okay to contracept? Where is the line and who is the one drawing it? How are couples to be counseled? Here is where the rubber hit the road. Children became a choice and people needed a framework to make that choice in.

    A supposed "right to privacy" came to the rescue. This "right to privacy" is the very argument that was used to abolish the Comstock laws, legalizing birth control. Ultimately, everyone became subject to his own devices.

    The belief that having children is a choice, and that people have a right to privacy, then led quickly and inevitably to the legalization of abortion. This entire series of change took only 43 years from the Lambeth decision until the legalization of abortion in 1973.

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  18. Friends, I don't want to draw everyone into an ongoing debate. As I stated above, that was never the intention of this article. I wanted to make people aware of the dangers of hormonal birth control and show them better options. The comments alone on this half of the article are enough to strike fear into the hearts of those who are currently using hormonal birth control, giving them quite a burden on their conscience. I will quote part of Mary J's comment from above:

    "So, if I wait even a few "extra" months, I'm to be condemned by the anti-contraception folk? Fine. But I hate how my conscience gets burdened, even when I'm currently pregnant!"

    Folks, THIS is what we are doing to fellow Christians. Is it fair, loving, etc, to burden other people's consciences even when they are trying to live in a God-pleasing way? Ultimately, we are all sinners who fail at some point under the impossible demands of the Law. We do the best we can, but that's not good enough. Thank the Lord that His grace covers the multitude of our sins in every possible area. I beg you to heed the words of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, and deal gently with those who do not wholeheartedly agree with you. The comments here have given me much to consider, and I thank you for that, but at this point I don't want the discussion here to overtake the article. Besides, I'm far too busy with my own four blessings to be responding fully to every comment. :-) Thank you for your understanding.

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  19. Ruth, you ask, "Is it fair, loving, etc, to burden other people's consciences even when they are trying to live in a God-pleasing way?"

    This is the same thing those who approve of homosexuality say to us today.

    Yet, for the entire history of the world - until just the last few decades - contraceptive sex was considered just as much a sin condemned by God's Word.

    YES! It is loving to rebuke sin. The cure for a burdened conscience is forgiveness in Christ.

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  20. I would like to make an crucial point that we who hold to the historic teaching of the church that contraception is prohibited by clear Scripture know all too well. Though we do not use any overt methods of family planning, we cannot follow this teaching perfectly any more than we can follow any aspect of God's law. The old Adam is nothing but contraceptive, hateful, and selfish.

    “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire."

    We are all poor miserable sinners. God's law is not such that any of us find ourselves off the hook if we understand it rightly. Every jot and tittle leaves each of us with a burdened conscience in need of forgiveness. Yet we also are admonished as follows:

    "Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

    And again:

    "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."

    We do not tell fornicators it is OK to continue living in sin with someone. Likewise, we do not tell contraceptors it is OK to continue in sin.

    So, what do we do with this concern about having a burdened conscience because of the historic Biblical teaching of the Church about contraception?

    Every one of us: REPENT!

    "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

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