Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Contraceptives" shouldn't be the Debate - Contraception Should Be

In his latest Youtube video, Rev. Jonathan Fisk makes reference to an issue that I end up often debating about - procreation. One of the things Fisk does is that over and over, when he describes children as blessings, he carefully points out that this isn't a "law" - just how God created us. God created us to be one man, one woman, and 1+1= a bunch. That's how things ought to be.

Sometimes we can tend up summing up larger problems into specific points or symbols - where we make a single point or issue the crux... when really it isn't. I think contraception is one of these points.

Now, are there some forms of contraception that are flat out wrong - sure, the ones that don't prevent conception, but rather end life. But forms that are contraceptive -- well, instead of talking about whether or not we can - let's talk about whether or not we ought to.

You see, I hold to Paul's teaching here - all things are permissible, but not all things are profitable. Don't try to forbid a tool, and contraceptives are just a tool. Tool accomplish a purpose. We aren't to kill, but if we do have to kill for some reason, well, hunting is fine (we don't need "natural fatality planning" to provide us our meat). Are we to divorce - not generally - but if that situation arises where it is allowable, hiring a Lawyer isn't violating the Scripture (no one says, "But Moses said YOU could write a certificate of divorce, he didn't say anything about hiring a lawyer to do it.")

I find the vehemence against contraceptives to be misguided - it's like people thinking gun control curbs crime -- well, people who want to do crime will still do it (and probably armed anyway) - it only criminalizes licit uses.

"But contraceptives are unnatural!" You know what? When it boils down to it, so is the falsely-called "natural family planning". Both contraceptive use and natural family planning seek as their goal to prevent conception -- and therefore they both go against the natural goal of sex. Both are fundamentally contraception - against conception.

Now, does the rampant availability of contraceptives lead to more and more people disdaining God's gift of children and promote a lack of respect for life? I don't know - what do you say about guns and violence? For some, the presence of guns will lead them more easily down paths of violence - for others, they can be fine tools for life in its goodness.

The questions that we should be pondering is when can Christians safely seek to prevent conception - not set a specific style of contraception up as being "natural" when it isn't.

As for when we can, well, I have a feeling that I might allow for it more often than many folks who I know and respect -- but then again, I tend to make more allowances in general. I don't want my thoughts on how to use freedom to come around and crush someone who is struggling or debating.

Of course, to a certain extent, I think we are short sighted when we look at the cure to abortion being legislation rather than promoting and teaching what a blessing children are (not that I think we shouldn't criminalize abortion on demand - it's just that we shouldn't think that if Roe v. Wade is overturned it means we've "won" -- it just means we'll be holding the legal side in the battle until culture is changed.)

You know, this is what it boils down to for me. It isn't laws we need, it isn't forbidding tools - we need cultural change. And so much stuff seems to think that if we sop up the spilled milk that we have somehow restored the broken bottle to its pristine state... when we haven't. Ah well.


Anonymous said...

To say that NFP is a form of contraception or has the same goals is correct. So why not just say both are wrong. That would seem to solve that problem.

I agree that contraceptives are a tool, but they aren't like a gun that can have good and bad uses, they only have one purpose - to stop conception. Since its only function is to go against what God has both naturally set up and said in His Word, the tool itself is wrong.

I also agree that they should not be the focus of our arguments, but at the same time they are a symptom of a culture that really doesn't see children as a blessing. That means that the symptom will have to be dealt with while at the same time we get to the core issues.

Just some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

You know what they call a man who uses natural family planning? Dad!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Anonymous - your position would be consistent if you would say no (un)NFP as well as no contraceptives. However, I think there can be times in which seeking to avoid pregnancy is allowable (almost everyone has some, I'd assume).

Also, I think you are slightly off when you speak about a gun having multiple functions. A Gun has one function - to kill (or at least to threaten with death). That is its purpose. Can that be put to a good use (hunting, self defense) or to poor (murder and mayhem) - yes. Likewise, contraceptives have one purpose - to prevent conception. I'd assert that there may be times when that is a laudable goal.

Phillip said...

A good post Pastor. Maybe I've been brainwashed by my RC law professor, but you treat things almost as though any Law must be binding to salvation to be binding. Why can't the law be binding on conscience without being binding to salvation? Even the injunction to love is not necessary to salvation, yet it is no less binding on our consciences for that. Why must the law be so limited in what it can bind to conscience?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Because anything that our conscience is bound to will end up impacting how we view salvation. This is something that hearkens back to the Diet of Worms - for to go against Conscience is neither right nor safe.

While something - let's call it X - may not be sinful in an absolute sense, if for some reason in my mind X is understood to be sinful, this has a drastic impact upon me. First, it can become a gateway to gross sin if I stumble and do X and it isn't really all that bad - maybe some of those other things aren't so bad (for once you break your conscience in one place, breaking it in other places becomes that much easier).

Second, it burdens where there needn't be burdens. If I bind your conscience to avoid something that you could freely use otherwise, I have placed an undue burden upon you. If I convince you that you cannot do X - what if you reach a point where X would be a fine thing to do in Christian freedom? It burdens you, it brings angst and guilt. As an example - one of my members was raised 7th Adventist, and he to this day can't eat pork - he knows he can, but it weirds him out a bit. Now, generally that doesn't have that large of an impact, for its easy enough to avoid pork (although he does dig bacon - behold the mercy of God), but this impacts him, pains him a bit, even now when he knows he should be free here but because his conscience was unduly bound he isn't. If this happens for something that is easily avoided - what happens when the conscience is bound on something that is emotionally charged and important?

Finally - why should I seek to modify your conscience if it is not in error? If X weirds me out - I should avoid it, but if it is not forbidden, why should I forbid it to you? For example, if drinking were to go against ones conscience, by all means, abstain! But would it be proper to then try to teach that no one should drink, that it is vile and leads to all sort of bad things because it can be abused so let's prohibit anyone from using it? I would hope you don't find that to be a good idea.

That sort of activity is dangerous for the one seeking to enact the prohibition. Several things happen? First, their thoughts concerning their neighbor have shifted - for rather than loving and serving, they really are seeking to control. Oh, sure, they want to control because they "love" them - but if you are not given authority over another (or authority in a specific matter) it is dangerous to assume it unto yourself. That's sin.

But even more dangerous than that is this - that person has supplanted the Word of God with their own thoughts and desires. If I command what God has not commanded, if I forbid what God has not forbidden, even if I say that it isn't about salvation, I am still ignoring the Word of God and rather giving heed to my own thoughts and desires.

That is the root of every great and vile heresy. Heresies don't start (generally) because some guy sits in a room cackling about how he wants to be evil. It starts by people wanting to help guide others but on their own private terms rather than the Word of God.

For freedom you have been made free in Christ - let no one put you under a yoke of slavery again.

Mike Baker said...

I personally know of two women who have no choice but NFP. A pregnancy for one always results in miscarriage because of a repoductive organ defect and lands her in the emergency room. Are you really going to tell her and her husband to not engate in the marriage act when neither have the gift of celebacy... or tell her to just deal with it when her children die in the womb?

For the other, a pregnancy would be a death sentence for both her and her baby. For her, NPF is more like a KEEPING of Thou Shall not Kill.

Tell me how NPF is "wrong" in these situations... cases that are much more common than anyone who does not have these problems realizes.

This is just like when single people try to tell people with kids how to be parents or when laymen try to tell pastors how to do their job. If you have no personal experience in a given topic and you have no stake in the matter then I suggest that you keep your theoretical opinions to yourself. Our consciences are bound enough and we suffern enough grief without your "help".

This topic falls into the case of pastoral care and case-by-case ethics. Painting with a broad brush ALWAYS damages hurting people. Me being one of them.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

@Mike - for the two women you mention, I would include other forms of contraceptives as a proper option for them as well - if doing so didn't violate their conscience. This is part of the reason why I dislike the whole focus on contraceptives as "evil". They could very easily be a tool which would help relieve much burden and stress.

Mike Baker said...

That's precisely my point. Whenever this topic comes up, people who think contraceptives are "evil" like say that we shouldn't argue from the point of view of the exceptions.

...but I'm telling you that the exceptions are the only ones who care enough about this topic to listen to you. You'd better take their situation into account.

Yes, contraceptives are often used for evil purposes... but they have positive and even life-saving purposes as well. The last thing America needs is more reactionary attitudes from people who have not done enough research to have an informed opinion on a given topic.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

"...but I'm telling you that the exceptions are the only ones who care enough about this topic to listen to you. You'd better take their situation into account."

This may be the most brilliant things you've said, and precisely what people forget. We don't live in some rosy, idealized world. We live in a world of exceptions, where even the Law of Moses is centered and wrapped around exceptions.

There are cities of refuge.
For the hardness of your heart - divorce.
If you can't afford the Sacrifice, two doves.

Over and over and over the Law of Moses made exceptions for people in various situations. It seems quite foolhardy and unbiblical to not do so in our discussions.

Weslie O said...

Mike Baker said:

"If you have no personal experience in a given topic and you have no stake in the matter then I suggest that you keep your theoretical opinions to yourself."

I wonder how possible or beneficial this is. Take your case of the pastor. There are a fairly good number of young, single men coming out of seminary. Do these single men offer pre-marital pastoral care? I suppose you could say that they do have a "stake" in the matter, so maybe that is the better argument to make instead of the "no personal experience" argument.

By the way, Commander Baker, you have a grrreeeaatt blog, as does Rev. Brown. I have appreciated the comments, especially over the last four months or so.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Weslie O.

The Pastor's stake is to be the stake of the individual(s) to whom he is talking - a pastor must always be concerned with loving the person he is dealing with.

If you suffer - I suffer with you, and am concerned with your suffering.

If I know no one who suffers - I'm not prepared to deal with suffering - then I really can't show care. Again, a pastor has to admit humbly that he doesn't know all things about how to fix everything. Humility is needed.

Weslie O said...

That is the purpose of my response to the quoted section from Mr. Baker's comment, namely, even those who do not fit into the category of a "hard case" (as those certainly are whom Mr. Baker mentions) do have a place in the discussion of NFP, contraception, etc. That is the point I was attempted to back by the reference to seminarians/pastors.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with someone saying that in those extreme cases there can be exceptions.

The problem is that in today's church everyone wants an exception for everything.

Luther makes it clear in his comments on Psalm 127 and in many other places that living by faith means we trust in God especially in the face of cross bearing.

Chuck Awesome

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I wanted to add one more thing. I think what the church should focus on is the beauties and blessings of marriage, children, a woman's vocation as mother, etc.

Without this the discussion on contraceptives is pretty pointless.

Chuck Awesome

Anonymous said...

Chuck makes a good point. What is the role of women? I think we have made it an issue where women are only allowed to have a couple of children.

Also many making the argument against contraceptives do not say NFP is acceptable. I would say it is a contraceptive albeit a "natural one". I think this is painting those against contraception with some broad strokes.

Chuck Awesome's Awesome Friend

Anonymous said...

Another thing. While certainly a special exception I fail to see how using NFP could be a keeping of Thou Shalt not Kill. The medical community is not always working on hard science. This is why we have things called medical miracles. They defy the logic of our medical reason.

Chuck Awesome's Awesome Friend

Phillip said...


You seem to take much issue with non-pastors telling pastors how to do their job. I'm not a pastor, so I have no claim to tell you how to do your job, nor do I know how they think you should do your job. However, as a brother, I would say just because they haven't experienced being a pastor does not mean they're wrong in what they say. They may well be wrong, that is for you to judge. But, if you dismiss their advice out of hand you could do yourself much harm if they are right. Someone with experience in any matter is certainly more likely to give good advice than someone who is not, but the inexperienced person could still be right. In accord with the 8th Commandment, I assume the people you mention intend there advise for your good, so while your conscience must decide if you should follow it, I'd recommend appreciating their concern and contemplating their advice to see if though they are unlearned in pastoring, they happen to be right.

Mike Baker said...


So you are telling people to just trust God and hope for a miracle in spite of the best medical advice available and a personal medical history of medical complications?

That's not a life of faith. That's just being irresponsible with God's gifts. A bad steward takes what is given to him and squanders it on long shot miracles.


I'm not a pastor and I don't pretend to know anything about being one. I am not against non-pastors giving pastors advice. I am against non-pastors acting like they have the pastoral office all figured out and procede to lecture qualified pastors about what they should be doing better.

I was only using the above example to illustrate that many people love to be busy-bodies and patronizingly instruct people about subjects that they 1) do not understand with any depth, and 2) do not have any practical experience in. a layman telling a pastor about how he should be handling the office of the keys

...or a single guy in his 20s wih no kids telling a mother of four how she should raise her kids.

.. or in my own personal vocation: civilians who tell soldiers how we should be fighting the Global War on Terrorism.

That was the only point I was making: "Stick to what you know and be humble in the many areas where you lack training and/or personal experience."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

CAAF - IF you trust God, and know that He will care for you - then throw yourself off the top of the temple, for He has said that He will protect you.

Well, you obviously know why that is wrong - thou shall not put the Lord thy God to the test.

If, to the best of your knowledge, a course of action will endanger you, following through with the dangerous action while saying, "I trust in God" is utterly foolish and sinful. It's the temptation that Satan gives to Christ - to place the focus upon your own trust in God.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Chuck and CAAF -

Again - you make a good point here about the role of women. Modern Feminism is horrible because of the burden and artificial roles it demands upon women. I know plenty of women who almost feel like traitors to their sex if they are "merely" stay at home moms. The denigrading of the wonder of child birth is indeed a horrible, horrible issue.

However - does attacking "contraception" restore womanhood to its proper status? Now, if we rightly teach about the wonders of being of being a woman and mother then a lot of the egregious uses of contraception will go away.

This really comes down to this. There is a tool that people abuse. Do we remove the tool to fix the abuse, or do we teaching what is right and proper.

I don't think gun control is how you stem murder. I don't think prohibition is how you stem drug and alcohol abuse. And simply outlawing or vilifying contraceptive devices will not return women to the proper value they should have.

Anonymous said...

Mike really what I was getting at is there is not always a guarantee with medicine. We are always making our best guess even in a "sure" case. Take children who doctor's are positive are going to be born with a handicap and then are not.

I am willing to say that in some cases there needs to be pastoral discretion. I think the problem is whether you are arguing the hard cases or not. This still does not validate the tool as being good. The advantage is even when the tool while undesirable is used there is still forgiveness in the cross.

I'm not sure that some discussions are overly helpful in an internet forum with people who do not know each other. There are also so many points being argued that somewhere they are going to get mixed up.

I do think that the tool is wrong just like divorce is still wrong though used at times.

You do point out something important though. Birth control is like the third branch on the tree of misunderstanding. The real issue is vocation. This is just the issue that has begun to erode closer to our lifetime.

Anonymous said...

The above is CAAF. If you didn't guess that.