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!