Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Conscientious Guide to Contraception

I think it is fitting to write a conscientious guide to Contraception - a series of things to consider when confronting the issue of using Contraception in marriage. This is not a post for discussion (although if you have any questions feel free to e-mail me) or debate – but rather things that I would counsel to the married couple about contraception (or to the couple who are engaged and wish to determine how they ought to handle such things).

Note – this will not be a checklist of things to mark off and then decide that the use of contraceptives is okay. That runs dangerously close to the man who asks of Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” We are not seeking minimums here, or seeking excuses or justifications, but rather how might we approach this issue rightly. There are things that should give you pause before setting up a plan for the use of contraception. So, let us begin.

First, any approach to contraception has to be undertaken knowing and accepting one thing – God may still give a pregnancy. Humility is called for – and if a child is given, rejoice and give thanks, trusting that God knows what He is doing. I mean this with all seriousness. If you are completely and totally not prepared for the possibility of a child then abstinence is the only solid solution.

Reasons For Use

Now, there are two main reasons for which contraception might be used – for reasons of health and for voluntary reasons. These two are quire different.

Health Reasons. If there are serious health ramifications for pregnancy, one may choose to seek to avoid pregnancy. What is the limit, what is the seriousness of expected complication – I don't know. I do not think we can set a specific limit, because what one woman can handle another cannot. Thus, ask yourself what can you bear? I will not judge either way saying, “Oh, she could have kids, she's just a wimp” or saying, “What was she thinking letting herself get pregnant.” But I would have you seriously consider if the health burdens are truly beyond what you can bear.

Remember that children are a good thing, not to be despised. If unfortunate health circumstances , physical or mental, prevent you or give you pause from becoming pregnant – see and hope they your issues might someday go away or be corrected. However, I would have you think about whether pregnancy is truly a danger to you or whether it is just an inconvenience. If it is the first, you have my prayers. If it is the second, then I would read the next section.

Voluntary Reasons. Some would limit the proper use of any means of contraception (including natural family planning) to direct health related issues. I think that is too harsh and does not account for other troubling matters in life. I would say that there can be proper voluntary usages of contraceptives, but I would have anyone considering bear several things in mind.

First – Voluntary, non-health related use contraception should be a temporary thing. Part of the reason for marriage is procreation. Children are a good thing. If you are viewing them as a continual bad thing, this really isn't a good or scriptural approach, so you ought to reconsider how you think of them. One way to check if your attitude isn't off is to think whether your use is meant to be temporary There should be a specific time, a specific reason for why contraceptives are used rather than using contraceptives as a status quo. Again – what, how long of a time is temporary? I don't know – but approach this humbly, and make sure that you aren't just making excuses, but that you have a specific, concrete time table for your use and that you aren't just trying to perpetually avoid children.

Second – Voluntary use of contraception shouldn't be for trivial things, but rather for the sake of the good of the family. If a couple decides to try to avoid pregnancy, it shouldn't be for light reasons. Wanting to have a small dress size at a friends wedding isn't a serious reason, nor is the desire to have money to go traveling. Rather – would attempting to postpone pregnancy at this time be for the legitimate good of the whole family? And deal with this seriously – do not simply assume. If you are given pause for economic reasons, are these serious economic issues or simply a matter of having to forgo some luxury? If you are given pause for a business or professional reason, is this a serious issue that is temporary, or is it an excuse that will perpetually be there? If it is the later, again, you should reconsider your own approach to children, for it seems to be off.

Third – The voluntary use of contraception should not be used out of fear. Consider why you might want to use contraception. Is it because you are afraid of the burdens of parenthood or the consequences of parenthood? Outside of health reasons that isn't reason enough – and there are other issues that you should face up to. Children are a blessing, and if you are given them, be good parents, trusting in God to give you the strength that you need. If you are using contraception, it should be out of a hope – a hope for improving a temporary situation, of preparing your household for children in someway – of establishing things so that they are in good order for your next child. This is important because should God decide to throw your time table to the wind, you are still prepared to humbly receive the blessing He gives you – His wisdom is better than your wisdom. Using contraception out of fear hinders this.

Again, with all these things, I urge you to give careful thought to them It is easy to rationalize away a simple disdaining of children under many guises. You are not to disdain children – they are a good thing and a blessing. If you find that you are disdaining children, then repentance is in order. Do not do this lightly, but with due consideration. This is not a check list where you can "whew, we can" but rather things to consider before willy-nilly using birth control.

Methods. As a closing note - that there are means of birth control that Christians should avoid. These are any methods which end up destroying life. The day after pill – wrong, and should not be used. Anything that allows for conception but only prevents the child from implanting or otherwise developing – avoid these. These methods are mainly chemical and come about as the result of a prescription. Consult with your doctor so you know what is happening.

As for barrier methods, these are appropriate means, as they are indeed intended simply to prevent conception. However, remember that they are not always effective, even if used properly. Hence, humility is called for.

Finally, if you wish to not use any aids and simply engage in “Natural Family Planning” or things like that – that too is a fine thing. Whatever the method, make sure it is something that both you and husband agree on and do not have doubts concerning. If one of you has concerns about a particular method, for the sake of your spouse, avoid it.

Again - humility is the order of the day, as is thought, consideration of the needs and emotions of your spouse. And do not view these as simple checklists so that you can say, "We are good to go", but rather a set of ideas which you continually check yourself against, to see whether or not you are wantonly despising God's gift of children.

Also, do not hesitate to seek your pastor's advice or council on this. In fact, in the East they mandate that you seek the guidance of your spiritual father first. As I hold that the Father is the head of the household, I can't mandate it, but it is generally good advice to bounce your reasoning off of your pastor. If your reasoning is frivolous, he should be able to point this out, and if there are other issues that present themselves, he should be able to give you good guidance on them.