Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Real Question is "Why"

I've already had one weighty post today over at Four and Twenty Blackbirds but, as I am in an introspective sort of mood, I figure I will do one more. I'll do it here partially because I know it's something that I'd bump heads with some of the Blackbirds over.

Birth Control is not evil.

There. I said it. Birth Control (provided it is a preventative and not a destructive method) is not evil. Now, if it violates your conscience to use BC, by all means, don't - and defy anyone who mocks you for following your conscience. However, I would like to make a defense of an appropriate, Christian use of birth control.

First, I will admit that there are negative social ramifications of birth control - people will point to that quite often as why it is bad. I don't buy it - BC is a tool, and in a sinful world every tool has negative ramifications. Guns protect our families, and guns make it much easier even for the unskilled to kill, murder, and maim as criminals. Antibiotics are a great healing tool, but we also end up promoting super-bugs from their misuse. The modern Supermarket provides us access to a wonderful assortment of tasty foods where we can have more delight in our daily bread than Solomon did, yet we also get fat on processed food. It's a sinful world, everything, every single blessing can be turned and twisted into something evil and wicked. That's the breaks in a sinful world.

We can't operate simply out of an approach of fear - an approach that something can be misused preventing its right use - that's the trap of legalism and Pietism. "People are misusing the Sacrament, better take it away". . . . That doesn't work. Blessings will be abused. I categorically reject the argument that abuse means all should avoid. Rather - there should be a focus on a right use.

"But then," my straw man might ask, "what of the verses in Scripture like Genesis 1:28 that tell man to be fruitful and multiply, what of the verses that speak of all the blessings that children are!" To that I would respond in two ways.

First, if I were being smarmy, I would respond, "But what of the verses where Virginity is praised, what of the verses where Paul says that he wishes all people were as he were - if we are Virgins we aren't having any kids (one notable exception - but I would argue that exception serves to prove the rule)." We do see places in Scripture where people are expressly encouraged and praised for behavior that doesn't lead to children (and of course, the quick counter to that is that this isn't shown in the context of marriage -- true, but if there are examples where people are shown to be God-pleasing where they aren't multiplying, we can discuss God pleasing non-multiplication). We cannot make children the end-all of the Christian life, anymore than we should make the obtaining of any blessing the end-all of Christian life.

However, if I were being less smarmy and combative and snide, I would probably point to the Genesis 1:28 as well - but the whole verse - "And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over the birds of the heaves and over every living thing that moves over the earth." Now no, I'm not going to fall into the overpopulation gambit (i.e. we have filled the earth type of arguing - sorry but there still is room here, that doesn't work well) - rather this. The second part of the verse deals with having dominion - deals with having control.

God has given us reason - and reason like all tools can be used to wrong ends. However, what is the proper use of reason - so that under the Word of God we might rightly exercise control over God's creation. This includes ourselves. This includes the making of tools to aid in that control over creation.

I myself, and my wife, are part of that creation. It is my duty to exercise dominion over my family, that aspect of creation that has been given expressly to me and no other by God to me to the best of my abilities. I will use the tools at my disposal so to do, so long as they are not clearly contrary to God's Word.

Now, I will not argue against the fact that birth control is misused - but here we get to the title of the post. The real question is "Why". With any action, with any decision, we have to ask why. Are we acting out of love or acting out of fear? Are we working for the gain of others or for selfish gain.

We are told we are not to kill. Yet, we do not condemn the soldier who in his duty kills. In fact, as Lutherans we say that it is good, right, and salutary for the soldier to go forth and in the exercise of his vocation to kill and destroy. The why of an action is important.

Likewise, with birth control, the "Why" needs to be discussed. Is birth control being used out of love or out of fear? Is it being used to show care and compassion to the family, or out of selfish desires? There are reasons when having kids might literally be a bad thing - and out of love for family and spouse, I believe I have the right to exercise dominion and say, "I will seek to prevent". If God wills otherwise - so be it - the Lord of Life can defeat latex. I act, but also in humility.

"But, but, but," stammers the straw man, who is so convenient for me today, "Scripture clear says that children are a blessing. How can you turn down God's blessings!" In this life we are always faced with choices between blessings. Material things are blessings - must the father work 80 hours a week to have more stuff - must both parts work to have more stuff - must the acquiring of blessings be the end all, be all of existence? Of course not - we have been given reason so that in subservience to God's Word so that we might attempt to act wisely. There may come a time when 80 hours a week is done out of love and should be done - there may come a time when it would merely be selfish and is to be avoided. There may come a time when mom taking a job is a blessing, and others when it is selfish. Why is important.

Or an example for Pastors. If you receive a call to another congregation, and they offer you $20,000 a year more in salary (and let's toss in better perks to boot) - MUST you accept the call? It's Divine - it's a God pleasing option for you - must you accept these additional blessings? Of course not - using your reason you may choose to decline - but let your decision be made out of love and hope, not fear.

Let us in all things ponder why we act - and let our actions be ones of love. Right now, my wife and I use birth control. She is in school - school is very important to her. That education is important to her, and I believe it is wise so that even if she never has to work, should something happen to me she would have a means of support. It is a sign of my love for her that I will do my best to see that she goes through school (even though it saps my material blessings. . . stinking fees). At this time, this includes the use of birth control so that she can focus on School. Is it wrong to do so? No - for we know that if a child comes (which we actually thought was a very present and real possibility for around 4 days around a year ago), we will give thanks to God to receive the child for the blessing it is. But my mind and conscience has me act this way - and it is not a way that is forbidden - and it is done out of love. Therefore, I will act, and I will let none bind my conscience.

Also, I would urge my fellow pastors to be moderate in binding peoples consciences on this matter. It is true, we live in a day and an age where life is not respected, where children are not viewed as a blessing but rather merely a burden, where people are selfish. But this is not just our day and age, and indeed this is not just a result of the advent of birth control - for so it has been in every day and age since the fall (why else do you think you had child sacrifice so popular among the wicked, why else do you think the Spartans exposed the weak who would be a "burden" - and why else do you think that Paul warns that being married itself is a burden as well). Fighting the tool will not defeat the problem that causes the tool's misuse, any more than gun control will prevent the scourge of crime - rather, it will only wrongly bind and burden the consciences of Christians acting within their Christian liberty.

I submit that you should chiefly encourage people to think about children and decisions regarding them not as the world does, but as Scripture does - that children (all children) are a blessing, that we should view them as such, that God has promised to provide us daily bread, however many of "us" there happen to be in our family. Then we will be prepared to make decisions with a proper why - a why based on love for neighbor and not fear springing from the thoughts and ways of the world. And then. . . let them act - even if it is not the precise way in which you would act. You might wish that they were as you are, but even Paul doesn't bind people to be as he is.

May God have mercy on us all, who so wantonly abuse the gifts of His creation!

20 comments:

Father Hollywood said...

In one sense, birth control is like abortion: it is not always evil.

Abortions done to save the life of the mother, for instance, are not evil, but actually serve to obey the fifth commandment.

And yet, these constitute a tiny minority. But that minority doesn't prevent pro-abortionists from using it to muddy the reality that 99% of the time, abortion is evil.

Having been on both sides of the fence, and being perfectly honest with myself and regarding the reasoning most people employ in defending birth control - it is evil 99% of the time - motivated by nothing more than selfishness and a lack of faith that God will provide.

99% of the time, people practice birth control because children would be an imposition upon their comfort, their lifestyle, and their sense of self-fulfillment. We live in an anti-family, feminist, and materialist culture of death - and birth control is indispensable to that culture.

Sadly, a lot of people "grow up" very late in the game, and learn too late. My wife and I almost missed the bus, but thanks be to God we weren't totally stupid and evil beyond redemption.

Low birth rates are destroying the LCMS, destroying the Christian Church, and destroying western civilization. And Lutheran antinomianism has been a big help.

Just my two cents...

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

99% of the time, people practice birth control because children would be an imposition upon their comfort, their lifestyle, and their sense of self-fulfillment. We live in an anti-family, feminist, and materialist culture of death - and birth control is indispensable to that culture.

It's not indispensable - it just makes that culture much more convenient. If people want to avoid children, they will find ways - condemning birth control won't do that. Rather, we need to attack the world-view.

Father Hollywood said...

I agree. And the same is true with abortion.

If people want to kill their children (in many cases, even after they have been born), they will. And if people want to have sexual relations with those of the same sex, they will. And if people want to practice euthanasia, they will. Always have, always will.

Nevertheless, I do think the Church has a responsibility to stand against abortion, same sex marriage, euthanasia, and contraception - as they are all symptomatic of the culture of death, all are examples of "playing God" in the name of freedom of choice (or "freedom of the gospel"), and in spite of how all of these things make individuals happy, are all contrary to God's Word and the doctrine of vocation - especially when it comes to the vocation of married life.

All these things are symptoms insofar as they are all rooted in the same thing: selfishness over submission.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think putting contraception on a par with abortion and homosexuality is a strong moral stretch that we cannot safely claim on the clear basis of Scripture.

We don't oppose things because they are symptoms, we oppose things because Scripture says they are wrong. Where Scripture is silent, we must not go beyond Scripture. That's my take - I cannot safely bind where Scripture doesn't bind.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

It does give me pause that the Christian Church universally taught that the Scriptures spoke against contraception just as surely as it does abortion and homosexuality until very recently.

Are we more enlightened now? Or is it possible that our modern and postmodern hermeneutic is actually flawed?

In fact, there are a lot of advocates of homosexuality who truly don't see any clear testimony of Scripture against the practice. Ditto for the advocates of women's ordination.

I'm just wondering if Scripture is *really* silent on the matter, or if we're the ones silencing it.

I agree with you that contraception is not universally sinful - even as aborting a pregnancy is not universally wrong. But clearly we've seen a great cultural shift in thought on these matters, and the Church has followed the world's lead - which really makes me uneasy.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Here is the line I draw. If you are willing to say that Natural Family Planning is okay - that a husband and wife may of their own free will seek to avoid procreation for a time - then you can't make a distinction between that and preventative birth control. Both acts - either the abstinence or the preventative birth control are doing the same thing - involving the will of man in the timing of birth. Same thing - one just uses a tool.

Also, I can shy away from the statements of the Church in the past on birth control - and have no qualms doing so for I acknowledge that counsels and Popes can err. I must judge on the basis of Scripture - and the Scriptural arguments are not convincing because they (1) do not speak to preventative birth control between a husband and wife (Onan doesn't make it) and (2) the argument that X is a blessing doesn't mandate that you must pursue X, or (3) are based upon false assumptions.

As regards the first - Onan was bound by the law to provide a child. There the production of a child was the only, only reason sex was to be occurring. Thus, he violated the law. Now, on the basis of Onan it will be argued that contraception robs a woman of children. Here I will concede that birth control should not be used unless both husband and wife are in agreement that it should be used at the time. Trickery is not appropriate on either side.

Under the second, logical leaps are made which I don't feel safe with. Calvin likened contraception to the murder of future persons. Is not taking a job that pays more stealing from your wife and robbing her of her support? Is not accepting a call robbing the calling congregation of hearing the Word of God?

While we acknowledge God as the Author and Provider of all blessings, that does not mean that our lives are to be defined by the pursuit of any blessing. If it is, we have made that blessing an idol. Children, contrary to what the soccer moms who tell their pastors that they can't come to a study because Billy just HAS TO be in this league that plays on Wednesday, are not the end all, be all, blessing of life.

Otherwise - a man would be bound to add additional, younger wives once his wife hits menopause so that he can have more of this blessing. (I like this argument ad absurditum) Now, you and I can't tease our spouses with this (that whole man of one wife thing) - although Luther did - pointing out to Katie (in jest) that the time would come when husbands would have more than one wife, because a husband can have more children a year than just one wife can. Katie responded, "The Devil take that!"

Also - you asked are we more enlightened? To an extent - yes. (The 3rd objection) We do not have the classical understanding that sperm is "seed" that contains unique human life. If it did, any wastage of sperm (even if not done for mere gross selfish pleasure) would be tantamount to murder - not just in the sense of you are preventing the "possibility" of life, but that you actually murder, literally bring an existing child to death by wasting them upon the ground. However, this is not the case - as we know and understand more about reproduction, we can be more precise. No human life is ended (at least by what I would argue is acceptable birth control). As such, that does make more allowance for the use of a tool, for we see that its use is different than what was thought before.

Scripture and clear reason, my friend, Scripture and clear reason. I can see and argue against homosexuality and abortion

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

You are correct, of course, that popes and councils can err, but don't forget the rest of Blessed Martin's critique: "and have often contradicted each other."

What gives me pause is the unanimity of the Church across all lines for centuries - including Blessed Martin himself on this matter. Until very recently, the Church taught with unanimity and without division on this subject. I'm hard pressed to just brush that aside with a mere wave of the hand and an out-of-context Luther quote - especially given that the drive to brush it away originated with non-believers and those who place reason above scripture - motivated, of course, by an agenda of sexual "liberation," the desire to rebel against the created family order, and the pursuit of material things - all rooted in the doctrine that choice is sacrosanct and children are not really a blessing.

You're also right that blessings can (and often are) turned into idols. But it doesn't follow that if blessings do become idols we should pursue the opposing curse as a corrective.

Did you see Dr. Heidenreich's recent post quoting the Large Catechism? Here is what Dr. Luther had to say in a statement to which we are conscience-bound:

"Thus experience also teaches, that where there are honorable, old families who fare well and have many children, they owe their origin to the fact, to be sure, that some of them were brought up well and were regardful of their parents. On the other hand, it is written of the wicked, Ps. 109:13: Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. Therefore heed well how great a thing in God's sight obedience is, since He so highly esteems it, is so highly pleased with it, and rewards it so richly, and besides enforces punishment so rigorously on those who act contrariwise."

It isn't for me to say this act of contraception or that one is sinful. I'm not addressing your situation - only you are in a position to evaluate your motives. There are certainly situations where unbridled reproduction can actually be irresponsible (I'm thinking of Octomom).

But there has definitely been a swift and radical change in church doctrine on this matter, one that sets us apart from the rest of the historic branches of Christendom - which flies in the face of the Augsburg Confession's assertion that we have introduced no new articles of faith.

The present LCMS understanding of contraception is identical to liberal Protestantism, that children are a choice, that becoming parents within marriage (or not) is no different than deciding to have vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Moreover, in the real world, the deciding factor governing these choices is almost always the almighty dollar, with a close second being a woman's right to choose (reproductive sovereignty) especially in deference to her decision to seek fulfillment in a job - which typically means everything else has to take a back seat - especially serving her husband as a helpmeet and serving her children as their mother. But service is considered beneath the dignity of everyone these days - especially women.

Being a parent is a commitment of love and sacrifice - which flies in the face of our "me first" culture.

Your point about reason and Scripture is well-taken. But I find most apologies for contraception to be heavy on reason, light on Scripture, and more rooted in the "but I want to..." argument that is axiomatic of our times than any real theological context.

As pastors, I think we need to be careful about giving people the impression that selfishness is a Christian virtue, and that "choice" somehow trumps submission and love. It is wrong to bind consciences where it is unwarranted, but Lutherans are more prone to loosen consciences where it is equally unwarranted. I'm concerned that we may be giving people a green light for radical selfishness and a sense of personal ownership rather than teaching them that true freedom is to be a slave of Christ.

When it comes to matters like divorce and the number of children, our families look no different than those of unbelievers.

And again, I do believe the dwindling numbers in the Church and the crumbling of the economy (at least insofar as supporting the elderly and retired go) are curses (or at very least, negative unintended consequences) of the culture of contraception.

Another indirect consequence is that in a desperate bid to replace our dwindling numbers in our churches, there is increasing pressure to adopt destructive marketing models. There was no such pressure before the contraception culture caused generational numbers to go into a tailspin. All of that began when we, as a culture, decided that "be unfruitful and divide" was an equally appealing and God-pleasing option to "be fruitful and multiply." Somewhere along the line, the Lutheran doctrine of vocation got reduced to "if it feels good, do it."

If we do have any great-grandchildren, they may well be marrying Muslims, and that will be a result of our own generation's selfishness.

But hey, maybe we should look at the bright side. We have some great TVs and lots of extra money lying around (especially when our wives are also working) that isn't being gobbled up by the little "blessings" that we don't want imposing on our lives. That's gotta count for something!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

We are very close on this issue, I would contend. I agree that many of the social issues which you address are dire (indeed, just with those aborted, what might our economy look like with an extra 48-60 million consumers!?) and as a result of a misguided idealization of selfishness.

However - this is the question. Where does the burden of proof lie. If I wish to do something, do I have to justify it from scripture and see where scripture says that I may, or do I look at Scripture and say what Scripture does not forbid is not forbidden to me (although it may not be profitable). The bane of the Church, Old Testament and New, has been adding "useful" traditions and rules above and beyond Scripture, so that in vain we follow the traditions of men.

Yes, we see in society many problems that relate to reproduction. However - what becomes the corrective to that problem? Is the solution to make rule and give it a divine mandate, or is it to teach about the richness of the blessings that God provides to us - and how those blessings ought to be viewed.

When we see problems, we too quickly run to the law - we think that with some legislation and telling people they can't do behavior X that things will be better. Instead, all that happens is that gifts that can be rightly used are prohibited. (If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns. . . same idea. . . corrective law only prevents the lawful from right use of a thing)

We can too easily operate on the basis of fear ourselves - if we don't villanize birth control people will abuse it! Rather this - we should discuss and talk and teach about these things - we should emphasize what Scripture does say about the blessing of children - we should have our folks think about this -- and what does it say about you if you think of children and think "burden"? Then, repentance is in order - but simply saying, "Birth Control is bad" doesn't bring repentance - rather it simply binds.

The ability of people to abuse something should not require us to create rules and bind consciences where Scripture doesn't clearly bind. Otherwise we fall into the trap of legalism.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

Selfishness is sinful. I think the approach of saying unless there is a specific "Thou shalt not" then I can do whatever I want to with no fear of sinning is a dangerous way to read the Bible. That leads to legalism.

But if you look at it through the lens of vocation, we see that we are not necessarily called to what makes us happy or what satisfies our momentary urges, we are called according to a station. Married people are called to procreate. There are exceptions, of course. But the exceptions aren't determined by things like greed, convenience, selfishness, lack of faith in God's providence, or a desire to change the vocations defined by scripture into something the secular world finds more acceptable.

We live in a culture that is hostile to families and children, and that is hostile to the traditional (and biblical) vocations that married women hold: keeper at home, mother, and helpmeet. Most women shun the vocation of housewife more out of rebellion than anything else.

Most young couples would rather travel, buy cool things, and have the freedom to do things at the spur of the moment than deal with wailing babies with dirty diapers demanding to be fed again.

To be part of the human family is a cross. And while there are exceptions, for married people to make a "choice" to eschew children is really just a form of fleeing one's cross.

The Table of Duties are indeed not only part of the norma normata, they are also part of the norma normans - being that they all come directly from Scripture.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Selfishness is sinful. I think the approach of saying unless there is a specific "Thou shalt not" then I can do whatever I want to with no fear of sinning is a dangerous way to read the Bible. That leads to legalism.

Do you mean to say that this leads to antinomianism? That it leads to a disdain of the law? That I might buy - but to legalism - no. Legalism comes from a focus on law, and making laws. The legalism of the Pharisees was not based on their allowance of things not prohibited, but their additional prohibitions which they added. Legalism comes from adding to Scripture, antinomianism comes from detracting.

And my point is this. All you say about the culture is true. Fine. But only Scripture can bind the conscience - on what Scriptural grounds can you BIND a person to say "birth control should not be used." You can show that one forgoes blessings, but you cannot bind.

I would counter with another part of the Catechism - the 3rd Petition. In any action, we are to pray "Thy Will Be Done". Any decision, any choice I make is to be subject to God's Will - and if God is determined that a couple have a child, ain't no birth control that will stop it. But to say that one MUST crave _____ children is wrong - you cannot bind the individual like that.

But even in John 1, children are described as coming about by the will of flesh or the will of man. There is will, there is thought involved, and that isn't a bad thing. Children are a gift from God, but they are not something that happens without human involvement (One notable exception proving the rule).

Our fear of the culture of the world should not preclude us from enjoying Christian Liberty - that is the way of legalism.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

It can lead to antinomianism (and often does), but it can also lead to legalism (through "loophole-ism"). Jesus pointed this out to the Pharisees who wanted to skirt the fourth commandment. The Pharisees were not antinomians, but they were also sinners in search of escape from the law. So what did they do? They came up with this law of "corban" (Mark 7:11) that got them out of God's clear command and word. They made a new law.

I'm afraid Lutherans (in the name of Christian liberty and/or not being a pietist) will often play the same card. Whereas Robert Preus suggested that a Lutheran might want to drink a beer in front of a Baptist to assert Christian liberty, a Lutheran Pharisee would turn that into a law, and in fact, since my selfish sinful flesh really wants to get drunk, I'm now going to twist this expression of Christian liberty into getting plastered, making a public fool of myself, and vomiting on my shoes in order to demonstrate Christian liberty - and I will appeal to Scripture and the confessions to justify such behavior. I might even cite Luther's "sin boldly" as well.

Making a virtue out of a vice, turning a curse into a blessing, and elevating the pursuit of selfish wants above submission to the vocations the Lord has placed us into, according to His will and plan, is a form of "loophole-ism."

A similar situation might be what do we do ethically with folks who want to have sex change operations? There is no "Thou shalt not" to work with. But there is the doctrine of vocation and our obligation to submit to God's will through creation. God made us male and female (Gen 1:27). And the person who wants to change his sex cannot simply brush Gen 1:27 off and say that doesn't apply to him because it is not in accordance with what he wants.

Nor do I think we can just brush aside the Lord's command one verse later (Gen 1:28) which follows from the vocation of sex: "be fruitful and multiply," in accordance with our own wants, or just so our wives don't have to be humiliated to be "only" a housewife or "only" a mother, or so that I can have an F-150 and a plasma TV. (I'm not saying this applies to you, but it sure does to a lot of people. The typical motivation for contraception is greed, plain and simple).

It is indeed "Thy" will be done, not "My" will be done. We are to submit to God's will, and I believe the vast majority of contraception is more "me-ology" (to use Stacy McDonald's term) than theology.

There is no law against contraception. But there is a law against rebellion against our duties within our vocation. I do think we Lutherans have pushed Christian liberty to the point where it "trumps" vocational submission.

Nor do I believe we must "crave" children (a strange way of putting it, indeed). But mangling the sex act with chemicals and latex to deliberately thwart the miracle of procreation (when motivated by a selfish desire) is more "My" will than "Thy" will. We live in a culture that despises children - and we're foolish to think the world doesn't rub off on us.

Our fear of being parents should not preclude us from enjoying the fruits of our Christian vocation - that is the way of making the self into a false God to the detriment of the first commandment.

Look at the terms: birth "control." To take "control" is by definition to play God. Family "planning" - to plan is also to play God. "Contraception" - contra is "against" conception. Even the terms emphasize "My" will over "Thy" will. Just who is in charge, who is calling the shots, anyway?

Again, I think there are legitimate uses for contraception - and there is no way for me to evaluate each person's motivation - other than to call people to repentance for selfishness.

And if that selfishness manifests itself in birth control, people need to repent of it; if birth control is not selfishness in a particular case, than it isn't.

But I'm afraid it typically is.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I will concur that it "typically" is - but we do not say, "Thou shall not" on the basis on typically. I agree completely if a couple can have horrid reason to use birth control - but the problem isn't the the birth control, but rather their reasoning. Pinning the blame on BC doesn't fix the problem, nor does warning against BC. You must attack selfishness, false ideas of motherhood, and the like.

However, there is nothing wrong with a family making plans although we both know Family Planning in modern culture is just a euphemism for aborting "unwanted" pregnancies. I would argue the heart of even that is not the abortion but the "unwanted" part - that's the hardness of heart. You may not have planned, but when God has given, you ought to cherish and love. Thy will be done.

But we are creatures blessed with reason and given the task of controlling. I know neither you nor I have adopted multiple children. Why not? Would not adopted children be a blessing - and indeed, what is more Christlike, for we Spiritually are now sons by adoption in Christ! The reason why not is that you and I have been given reason to act in our duties as heads of our families to make decisions regarding that family. It is not a sin not to adopt another child, although it can be a very good thing. We make plans, and that is a fine thing. If God throws a kink into our plans - so be it, but that doesn't mean that we cease making plans - we simply say, "If the Lord Wills. . . ."

Selfishness and a lack of Humility are the problem, not the tools. Attacking the tool doesn't thwart selfishness nor does it teach Humility. Our focus must be on these things, rather than simply speaking against the tools - lest we bind people's consciences when they have not erred.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

One other thing to consider. Historically the Church opposed all forms of birth control. Historically the Church also opposed life insurance and medical insurance. And this is a recent idea as well - for conscientious objection to Social Security is allowed.

The reasoning against life insurance were:
(1) life insurance “turned death, the Biblical wages of sin, into a matter for profitable speculation”; (2) the insurance business “was founded wholly on selfish principles, not on genuine charity,” because “it advocated doing good only for the healthy rather than those most in need of aid”; and (3) life insurance was based on usurious practices.

(See here for more details)

Again, a concern familiar to this discussion is given, that it is simply a matter of selfish planning and plotting for financial gain. Isn't that the same objecting given to birth control? Is then life insurance then a wicked thing to be opposed? Or can it be rightly used?

Or what of medical insurance? It was at one time thought to be a great mark of unbelief to hold health insurance. . . as though God would not provide for you if something should happen! For shame! Yet today, do we consider it a lack of faith (and hence a gross sin) to have insurance, or rather it is proper planning for contingencies and a (potentially) right use of the resources at hand?

If birth control is wrong and to be avoided, why isn't life and medical insurance to be avoided either?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

To use that reasoning, however, we have to say that we cannot be against abortion. For abortion is only a tool. Don't blame the tool. Abortion can even be a good thing. So let's not say we're opposed to it.

But the problem is that this is only so much sophistry. We're in the midst of a holocaust. So yes, we are against abortion - with some exceptions. But we should still stand against infanticide.

I'm against contraception - with some exceptions. Which has been the church's position for centuries.

Your adoption article is a grabbing at straws. I'm not eligible to adopt any children. But I am physically able to produce children and am living in God's estate of marriage. If the Lord gives me more children, who am I to get in the way? Especially if my motivation is the shallow, selfish desire to focus on myself and my wants.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

1) But here is where the rubber hits the road. Can I find an exception where abortion is allowable - yes - but even then it is still killing. A life is taken. There are times when killing is justified, but still, a life is taken.

The preventative birth control is not taking a life. Now, many of the cultural issues impacting both topics are the same - but one actively ends life - the other does not. That is a vast distinction, and hence the manner in which we treat it - our language in treating it must be different.

2) Also, as a question - why aren't you eligible to adopt? What hinders you? You are married, in a stable family environment - there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to adopt or at least take in foster children.

3) The idea of passivity in the face of family issues befuddles me - yes the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, but still, He uses means, means that we recognize and utilize conscientiously. We are people who recognize that God doesn't just act haphazardly - we are not physical enthusiasts who say "the stork acts wherever he wishes apart from means".

If we are to be passive on issues involving the creation of life, are we also to be passive on issues dealing with it's end? If I get cancer, *must* I simply say, "Eh, what the Lord wills" or am I allowed to seek medical aid (I know that I am - and I would also argue that one can justify declining aid for one's own self). Our God is a God of means, means that are knowable. We are allowed to make decisions on this.

4) Also, as a question - in your opinion, is Natural Family Planning allowable, or is that a sin as well? Your arguments seem to suggest that any attempt to avoid the creation of life, even abstinence, would be sinful. Is that so, or if not, what is the distinction that would make preventative birth control wrong but not NFP?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

1) Is "rubber hits the road" a Freudian slip? ;-) It seems to me that the bar has gotten pretty low when questions of sin and ethics boil down to: "Did I kill anyone?" The vocation of Christian married life involves more than simply not murdering anyone.

2) As far as why I'm not eligible to adopt, it seems a little odd to be asked such a question in a public forum. But, if you must know (though I'm not so sure what it has to do with the discussion), my house is too small and I don't make enough money.

3) It isn't a matter of being passive vs. active. As you called this thread to begin with: "Why?" If people opt not to have children because children would interfere in their fun or cost too much money, those are pretty selfish excuses to prevent the natural order of creation and to claim an exception from the usual vocational duties of married life. And, of course, that's why most married people do it. It's simple greed. Part of me thinks that maybe it would be better for children not to be born where they aren't wanted - but on the other hand, what a terribly shameful attitude for Christians to have.

I could never imagine thinking of my son as an "accident," as the result of faulty quality control on an assembly line, a child who was not wanted, and whose parents took active measures to make sure he never had a chance to be born in the first place.

I guess "be fruitful and multiply" is only applicable to us sexually-active married people if that's what *we* want, if we can make room for it in *our* preferred lifestyle (thus giving us a convenient veto over the Word of God). Of course, God generally doesn't command things that people want anyway: "Thou shalt eat chocolate" and "Thou shalt buy sports cars."

4) I think all forms of birth control are sinful if they are done out of greed or rebellion against one's vocation. And I also think that no form of birth control is sinful if that isn't the motivation. But having said that, I can see the Roman Catholic argument that there is a distinction - given that using drugs that affect hormones (not to mention cause sometimes dangerous side effects) or chemicals or gadgets placed here or inserted there seems to rob the sex act of its dignity. And there is the idea that using technology to avoid one's duty smacks of Babel. But again, I think the big issue is the violence birth control typically does to the doctrine of vocation and God's idea of what marriage is all about. It's quite often a refusal to submit motivated by greed.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Dear Larry,

1) Perhaps this shows why we are talking past each other - there is a difference between "law" and "ethics". For the individual it may be unethical to do an act, but that doesn't mean it should be illegal or forbidden.

It becomes a distinction between permissible (legality) and profitable (which comes closer to ethics). Making a law statement, or even making something illegal won't change the ethical approach. Too often I hear "birth control = bad, bad, bad". I will agree that it can be used unwisely - but that is akin (pun intended, this time) to saying "Money is the root of all evil." No, it's the Love of Money.

2. It was actually a question of what hinders - but remember that I am in Oklahoma, where the standards are a pulse and a roof over your head. But I can change the question. Say you suddenly were gifted with an inheritance of an extra $100K a year established in a trust and a larger house. You would then be eligible. Would you be ethically compelled to adopt?

3. Are you ready for TMI theatere? I was unplanned and an accident. My mother jokes that I was a result of her poor math skills - she couldn't count right. This is no way diminished their love for me. It demonstrated that God's plans were bigger than their and accomplished through means.

I think sometimes we today have lost Luther's sense of "Sin boldly, but believe even more boldly." Make your decision, and if it is wrong, confess it. Make your plan, but if God turns it upon its head, rejoice and give thanks to him.

We have a duty to act decisively, to make our decisions as best we can - and then trust in God to rectify things according to His Will. Not that we are to seek to sin, but make your decision as best you can without hand wringing.

4. I will agree that all forms are sinful if done out of greed - but again, where is the locus of sin - the greed or the tool being used? The focus should be upon the attitude.

5. You skipped responding to the post about life insurance and medical insurance. . . what do you think of them?

6. (And now a question that would be much better in person). I remember an article written by a certain person praising the art of pipe smoking as being the creation of a pleasing smell God - yet one could argue that smoking is wrong. It harms the body, it is destructive, and is done mainly out of a desire simply for pleasure instead of a benefit. I wonder if the author has retracted that article (and if so, I need to drive down to NO and slap the legalism out of him. . . there are some places where we can go back and forth and have disagreement, but by gum, not there!)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

An additional thought.

What allowance are we making for human weakness? How many parents do you know who apart from matters of wealth struggle raising children today in terms of discipline, in terms of struggle simply with handling and raising a child? If they seek to have no more, is this a matter of greed (caveat: greed impacts ever act, we are sinful, but is the primary motivation greed)? Rather, might this even be a decision based upon love - love of spouse, love of child?

I think perhaps your idea of when greed kicks in may be doing quite a disservice to people who simply are recognizing their own weaknesses - who do not wish to be pushed beyond what they can bear. Now, is it true that God can stop them from having any more kids - sure. But that doesn't mean they should go play in the road cause God can make the traffic swerve, or hop around on one foot on the temple's ledge, because they know that God's got them covered.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

I think you're right that we're talking past one another. And I think we've about exhausted any useful discussion. But I will address some of your points before I drop out.

As far as insurance goes, the *Church* hasn't condemned these things, rather the *synod* has. There is a difference between a tiny segment of German American congregations agreeing to something versus the entire church catholic over centuries. Buying insurance of any kind is a new phenomenon.

In fact, if you want to make sure your wife is in a good financial position if something happens to you, you can take care of that with life insurance. Rather than have your wife sacrifice her fertile years pursuing a degree and making her vocation to be a keeper of home very difficult, you could buy a lot of coverage for very little money. My own TMI: I don't have cable TV - for the price of what a lot of folks pay for that, I have a $650,000 policy to take care of my wife and son if something happens to me - which will pay off the house and still leave hundreds of thousands of dollars to make up for lost income.

Pipe smoking can indeed be sinful. So can eating chocolate - if done to excess. But telling God "I don't want to be fruitful and multiply because, well, I just don't wanna" - especially when the reasons involve our all-too common cultural problem of perpetual adolescence - that's quite a different story.

Like I said, Eric, your specific situation is for you to iron out. You don't owe me any explanations. I'm sure you have genuine reasons for not wanting children, and you have a right to keep that private. My concern is that people will interpret your comments as "if it feels good, do it" - which is more American youth culture than Christian ethics.

"Sin boldly" had different ramifications in the 16th century than it does today.

Married life is a vocation. Not everyone is suited to it. If a man can't work with his hands, can't work with tools, and has no patience for getting dirty, well, "mechanic" is probably not his vocation. If a person doesn't want children (or doesn't want to be faithful to his spouse, or doesn't want to give up the single life, etc.), maybe marriage is the wrong vocation - at least for the time being.

Anonymous said...

The young couple before me asks questions that are easy to answer for the most part. But then their posture changes and I know what’s next. Pastor, what about birth control? And now I am on the spot. We have traditionally said no, no, no, and it was never questioned.It was just wrong. How I wish at times that I had been born then. But the time has changed and we are more “free” then before.

Now my question; why? And I find that they cannot respond. They are looking for my permission and when I put it to them they are fearful to give the reason because they know it is because of selfishness. That’s what the problem is. That is what the subject comes down to. Sure there are exceptions like the friend who called me and said that his wife would be in grave danger if she were to give birth again. I asked him if he wanted to save his wife and he said YES I DO! So that reason was clear but when you look deep into the greater number of reasons it will have a different basis.

Thank you for the posts. They have been good to consider.

A father of nine who when asked how I feed them just respond like I heard once, God feeds them and I just sit down and eat with them.