Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Does contraception enable abortion?

We Lutherans have a strong sense of "evangelical freedom." If something is not specifically proscribed by Scripture, we are hesitant to condemn any practice for fear of turning Gospel into Law.

We should, however, be careful not to abuse our liberty in the Gospel, nor overlook the unintended consequences that stem from our actions - especially those actions motivated by self-centeredness. Contraception is one such example. A couple generations ago, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) held the position that contraception ("birth control") was a sin. A lot of people are shocked to learn this these days, and would chafe bitterly if their pastors were to teach this "Catholic" dogma today.

Beginning in the twentieth century, we Lutherans loosened the reins on "family planning" as long as no abortion of fertilized eggs are involved (and there is quite a bit of controversy regarding various methods of contraception that many argue are actually abortive - I am far from an expert on these matters, and invite those wiser than I to comment). In so doing, we have adopted a "pro-choice" position that the size of one's family is not for God to providentially decide based on His will and His kingdom, but is rather a matter of our personal "choice" - to be made in accordance with our own lifestyle considerations and desire for a certain target financial status.

But even if we concede the point that contraception is, in and of itself, a matter of "evangelical freedom", there has been a tragic unintended consequence that has enabled abortion to become not only socially acceptable, but the "law of the land" in the United States. Our own selfishness in limiting the size of our families has diminished the voice of Christians at the polls and attenuated the voice of the Church in the secular culture.

Please read Greg Laughlin's cogent remarks at the blog "Lutherans and Contraception."


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

And it should be noted that 100 years ago the idea of buying health insurance was viewed as demonstrating a lack of trust in God. Is health insurance an evil, wicked thing?

I think what we need to remember is that there are bounds to our freedoms - that there is a whole nice area in which we can safely act -- and we are not to go beyond those bounds. When we see people going beyond those bounds, the solution isn't to lessen freedom, but to teach and explain how to rightly use these freedoms and where they are not to go.

God given freedoms do not lead to wickedness - rather when we let people speak falsely without checking them. The language of the pro-abortion crowd and our acquiescence to it has done far more harm.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Sin is a transgression of the Law. I think we Lutherans are right to be cautious in calling something a sin that is not commanded or forbidden in the Law (meaning...the Ten Commandments). However, Father H., I think your point is well taken. An irresponsible, selfish use of birth-control surely transgresses some commandment, and the consequences of a cultural "closing of the eye" to birth control has surely contributed to a permissive, if not promiscuous attitude towards sex and marriage. It also has the consequence of reducing the Church's influence in the world because there are noticeably less Christians as a result.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

Of course, the difference between contraception and health insurance is one of catholic consensus.

The LCMS unilaterally declared insurance to be a sin (as well as membership in the Boy Scouts and prayers with other Christians) - but contraception, until recently, was roundly condemned by all of historic Christianity.

Your point about Christian freedom is certainly well-taken and articulated.

GL said...

Father Hollywood,

Thanks for the kind words and the link to my post.

Actually, the LCMS was the last major Protestant denomination to accept contraception as not being sinful, less than a decade before the Supreme Court struck down the remaining state laws against its use in Griswold v. Connecticut, the case in which the Court created the right to privacy used to support striking down state laws against abortion less than five years later and the state laws against sodomy earlier this decade. Luther condemned contraception in no uncertain terms and Walter A. Maier, Sr. strongly defended the traditional teaching against those who asserted that the Bible had nothing to say on the subject.

Of course, they were mere men, but they were defending the accepted view among all Christian pastors whom I have read up until the last century or so. In fact, I have not been able to find a single defense of the practice by a Christian pastor or scholar until the late 19th century, and then it was a Non-Comfortist. It was the early 20the century before any "respectable" pastor or Christian scholar can be found to defend it.

Having said that, I take the view of C.S. Lewis that I am not prepared to condemn its use in all cases, but I wouldn't want to defend its ordinary use against the nearly universal and unbroken Christian teaching until the last century. It is abundantly clear that Scripture teaches that children are the gift of God and that the man who has many is blessed. Hence, John Chrysostom called contraception "contemning the gift of God."

If we are free to reject what Scripture explicitly identifies as His blessings without sin, it is still difficult to explain how doing so shows anything but our lack of faith and trust in Him. On the other hand, Scripture is silent on insurance and says nothing about our not taking proper precautions against the dangers of life.

I do not accept the Roman teaching that the use of contraception is intrinsically evil and so is never permissible. It does seem to me that there are cases in which mercy justifies its use, just as mercy justified our Lord healing on the Sabbath. But as on Anglican bishop wrote after the bishops at the 1930 Lambeth Conference voted to accept its limited use, the situations which justify it are few. Luther, Maier, Sr. and most, if not all, Lutheran leaders in between, would likely deny that its use is a matter of Christian freedom.