Christianity and Contraception, Who’s in Control?

May 20th, 2007 / 11 Comments
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In my experience in the evangelical church it seems that most couples enter into pregnancy in the same way that they enter into a mortgage… patient, calculated, and objective. Yet for the most part (at least within the evangelical church) sex within a marriage relationship is assumed to be frequent, impulsive, and steamy. And Christians are free to integrate whatever medical technologies are available to ensure pleasure while controlling procreation.

Sam and Bethany Torode argue that the church needs to rethink the relationship between the pleasureable and procreative components of sex. They briefly explore the absence of instruction for how to understand intercourse within a Christian marriage and argue that sexual pleasure can only be properly understood in relationship to the primary role of procreation within marital intercourse.

Article: "Make Love and Babies"

Questions

  1. Do you agree with the author’s 3 purposes for marriage (procreation, remedy against sin, and mutual company)?
  2. As a couple, what factors influenced your decisions regarding contraception?
  3. What exactly is "pleasure?" in relation to sex and marriage?
  4. Do you agree that separating the link between sex and procreation is "a morally neutral act?"

Bonus: How significantly has our cultures treatment of sex informed the modern Church’s understanding of sex?

Comments (11)

  1. BMer / May 21, 2007 / http://www.bmerco.com

    Wow. i was actually hoping for a better-written article. I felt this one was slanted the entire way from “Children vaccination” to “chart making and recording temperatures everymorning” as fun.

    I don’t know if i disagree that birth control is wrong, but to say that they’ve never heard a couple regret having a 5th child or having children too early is naiive.

    Interesting points, i do think marriage is less about one’s happiness and relationships and more family orientated than secular america wants to admit. But to say that we shouldn’t “vaccinate” against children is a little harsh, do these people also not like tattoo’s, piercing’s, and other decisions less life changing than an appendectomy?

  2. Scott Lenger / May 24, 2007 / http://scottlenger.com

    Hey Bmer, thanks for you comment.

    I certainly agree that there are some problems with their argument, especially their attempt to create a distinction between "child spacing" and family planning through contraceptives. At the same time I commend them as one of the few Evangelicals (though their arguments are actually more representative of Catholicism) to point out the problems created by separating procreation and pleasure.

    As a participant of NFP I will say that it does force couples to wrestle with the procreative implications of intercourse, which can be easy to ignore with simpler methods of family planning.

    Has becoming a new pop changed your perspective on the role birth control plays in contemporary Christian marriages?

  3. 1. I think the foremost reason for marriage is to reflect God’s relationship with his children and the Church. To me, this means that the primary application of marriage is Unity with each other, and the building of each other up into people that are continually sanctified through holy living. Being married gives you a perspective that helps you understand the Love that God has for us and that he wants us to give to others. If procreation was the primary reason for marriage, why do many couples have fertility problems? Wouldn’t that sort of negate a reason for marraige? What if I knew I was unable to produce the goods before I was married? Should I just skip marraige then? No way, because being married has helped me to understand what sacrifice and Love are really about. Why would I choose to miss out on that simply because I couldn’t have children?
    2. Our decisions have been made primarily for health reasons. We have settled on a method and we are happy with it because it allows us to experience intimacy without distraction. Doing away with distractions has gone a long way towards giving us the freedom to experience a deep and lasting intimacy through sex. I believe that without this freedom (i.e., doing away with our method of contraception) we would not be experiencing this level of intimacy.
    3. Pleasure is a gift that God intended for married couples to experience together. To minimize this aspect of sex is to ignore the intense physiological phenomena that takes place during orgasm, as well as foreplay. If it was not intended for pleasure, why is it the single most intense physical activity we can experience. It is similar, in my opinion, to the emotions and even physical feelings that come from intense intimacy with God that has been described by several “heroes of the faith”, for instance David in the Psalms or by the author of Song Of Solomon. Taking pleasure from sex with your spouse is not hedonistic, nor is it selfish. Hedonism is pleasure for the sake of pleasure, lovemaking gives pleasure as a reward for selfless giving of your whole being. You are suppossed to give yourself fully to your spouse, selflessly. Who is supposed to receive that effort, the mattress? No, your spouse receives that effort.
    4. I believe that seperating the act of sex from procreation is not morally nuetral, it is a moral act. Sex without planning can lead to having more children than you can responsibly care for, which is harmful to the children in my opinion. This may be my weakest point, as anyone could say that God will only allow you to have the number of children that you can care for and that He will provide for your family. But in my mind, that sort of reasoning is like daring God to perform for you. God has commanded that people have children, He doesn’t say to have as many children as humanly possible. Being responsible parents includes responsible family planning. The rhythm method is not reliable, and even for those it is, it requires what most would consider unhealthy periods of abstinence, every month. If people want to use the rhythm method, that is their perogative. But for many women, their cycles are not regular enough to predict.

    My own Bonus answer - This couple is wasting their time on an issue that is not pressing Christians toward Christ and His mission on earth. This is a frivolous argument in my opinion, and the effort can be better spent arguing more pressing issues like what to do with the millions of orphaned children in this world.

  4. Scott Lenger / July 17, 2007 / http://scottlenger.com

    Thanks for the great response Isaac.

    Two things you mentioned really jazzed my synapses so I’ll respond to those:

    1. "Sex without planning can lead to having more children than you can responsibly care for…"

    One of the things I really like about infant baptism is that it recognizes the role of the collective Church body in their responsibility for raising children to faithful adulthood. The modern Christian’s false notions of individualism and "personal responsibility" show just how far the American church has drifted from classical Church teaching.

    2. "This couple is wasting their time on an issue that is not pressing Christians toward Christ and His mission on earth."

    If you consider the abortion epidemic a pressing issue for Christians (and most Christians in America do), then procreation is a very important issue.

    In 1960 the FDA approved the oral contraceptive pill and many in the church (Catholics excluded) didn’t blink an eye.

    Then, in 1965, the Supreme Court ruled (7-2) in Griswold v. Connecticut that the Constitution protected a women’s right to privacy and therefore states could not prohibit the use of contraceptives. With the exception of the Catholic church, most Christians were in agreement with the decision as it allowed couples to explore God’s creation of intimacy without the nagging threat of the potential for something unplanned.

    Fast forward to 1973 where Roe v. Wade directly cited Griswold v. Connecticut in arguing that a abortion be protected in recognition of a woman’s right to privacy.

    Catholic Church: "Sure saw that one coming…"
    The rest of the Church: "I think I’ve made a big mistake"

  5. Scott, you never fail to impress with your scope of thinking. You have a good point on the first point, something that is proven by me being totally blindsided by your perspective. If the Church was the family that it set out as, perhaps family planning would be irrelevant, there would always be enough for everyone, regardless of the size of the family. Maybe I should be a Menonite (sp?). It is a frustrating world to live in to be able to look back at the way things were and realize just how far away we have drifted. I concede the point, if families were properly cared for within a church, what would stop us from having more children?

    As for the second point, I think that you have a point, yet I don’t think that abortion is chosen by Christians as alternative to a failed family plan. At least I would hope not. I think that the abortion debate is so far beyond the level that this couple is debating that there is not really a connection between the issues in this article and how we are going to get Roe v. Wade repealled. That is why I think this couple is wasting time and energy by focusing their attention on this topic.

    One more point I want to add. Jen and I are in the process of adopting. We are adopting because we feel strongly that there are children in this world who can’t be cared for without help. We want to be a part of the family of the orphaned of this world. I hope that doesn’t come off as like self righteous or anything, thats not my intent. I just want to convey how important this is to us. If we weren’t practicing family planning, this adoption would simply not be possible. How do we reconcile that in the context of this issue?

  6. Scott Lenger / July 21, 2007 / http://scottlenger.com

    It’s so great that you and Jen are adopting, and a perfect example of being a collective church body to that person. It might be a useful exercise to address your local church body and point out their role(s) and responsibilities in caring for and shaping this child.

    Also, did you know the early church was extremely active in adopting children?

    As for the 2nd point, what I was trying to illustrate is how freely and unknowingly Christians have accepted and integrated secular ideas without considering the implications of those ideas. Which is my overall problem with separating sex and procreation into the categories of privacy and technology.

    I’d also recommend the article:
    Sex in Public: How Adventurous Christians Are Doing It in The Hauerwas Reader

  7. Allison / February 2, 2008

    When the Torodes wrote their book, they were very young newlyweds. This is not to discount their thoughts on the issue, but now, six years later, they’ve rethought some of their positions in the book.
    http://www.openembrace.com/

  8. Scott Lenger / February 5, 2008 / http://scottlenger.com

    Thanks Allison, that is indeed very interesting, especially the point, “strict NFP reaches a point where it is more harmful for a marriage than good.”

    I plan on reading over their revised thoughts more closely in the near future.

    Since you seem to have a better grasp on both their previous and current work what ideas stand out to you as most important in a Christian approach to contraception?

  9. the proper qestuion is “what is a human?” All the other terminologies are based on arbitrary criteria. Only “human” is based on science. Science has answered the qestuion unequivocally as to when a unique human life starts. It is independent of the circumstances of the creation of that life. Does not matter it it happens in the test tube, as a result of a desperate or drunk act, as the result of a loving act, as the result of artificial insemination, as the result of an act that is a primordial response to sexual hormones or any other way. A human life starts when a cell capable of differentiation and division has a complete set of chromosomes. That is truth. The qestuion is do we choose to accord that life protection and rights or do we not? And if we do not, then we are rejecting the idea that each human has an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, We have made these “rights” arbitrary and we have make our rights subject to change. If we cannot find it within ourselves to justify protecting our own species how can we demand that we protect other species? If we decide that the manner of a human’s creation is reason to terminate life, why can’t folks terminate the life of a human born of rape at any point in that human’s life cycle? Why stop at birth if it is so heinous? Why do we have to give up taxes and wealth so that some classes of humans may have the resources to live, have freedom, or pursue happiness if that is not required for all humans? If we can discriminate against humans in the earliest stage of life, why not in latter stages? Why should any human be forced to support another? Why should the economic well-being of a woman with a human inside of her be so important that it is justification for killing that human but should that human be one minute or 1 year or 10 years outside of the womb, all of the sudden that woman and the father are forced to provide for the human. Indeed through taxes, medicare, social security and other wealth redistribution mechanisms, various classes of humans are forced to care for other humans. Why do they not have the same rights of the woman with a life inside of them to terminate the burden? What I am getting at, is that a society that denies rights from some humans will eventually deny them to more and more classes of humans.

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