Again, I have been pondering the shift against Contraceptives that I am seeing in Lutheranism... and I have just had a bad feeling about it -- the argumentation, the approach, the tact that has been taken just hasn't sat well with me. I don't like how Scripture isn't cited directly - how there are moves that just don't quite logically have to follow.
I can be all in favor of people having large families without saying, "You can't use birth control ever" -- just as someone can be opposed to violence and murder while still supporting the right to gun ownership. It seems to me that the focus has always been upon the tool - that if we can just eliminate a tool we will eliminate its abuse.
I was pointed to a sermon that Pastor Esget wrote for the Right to Life march in Washington, and I was in particular directed to the following section:
Have you been unwittingly part of that war, on the wrong side? It’s taken me a long time to figure out that while our church says all the right things about abortion, little is done to address all the scaffolding of the abortion culture. Where are the Lutheran crisis pregnancy centers? Where are the Lutheran adoption agencies? Birthrates among Lutherans have drastically declined along with the general population. For the pro-choice mindset has already been adopted when contraception is embraced. The use of contraception says, “We will decide when to have children, and what number is convenient for us.” Thus we make ourselves out to be God, and children are viewed as the result of our choice, decision, and will, instead of received as a gift from God. Until we as a church become a community that welcomes the unwed mother, the unexpected child, the unwanted child, how can we expect others to welcome the children growing in their wombs? (Emphasis Mine)
I love Pastor Esget dearly - he's one of the major reasons I am a pastor today... but there is something about this that I think is off (and this isn't an attack or anything, just something I have noticed). Abortion is the great issue of the day - for many "Planned Parenthood" is the great enemy -- and so anything associated with this must be tarred. Okay, I can understand that - however, is this how the Scriptures speak.
Oh, I know that the Scriptures speak of children being a blessing. Oh, I know that they speak of children being a gift of God, of God opening the womb. Without a doubt this is true. But... does that mean that there is no place or part of man's will involved. The verse that I keep thinking on is this: But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
The contrast is the birth of faith, the creation of faith as opposed to human birth. We get that we cannot by our own reason or strength come to Christ Jesus -- so what's the other side, physical birth. "not of blood or of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man..." Man's will is placed right there in with procreation.
Man's will being involved in childbirth is not wrong. Are we going to condemn the couple who wishes to have more children - who takes temperatures and looks at calendars and the like to make conception more likely? That's an exercise of will and choice... no one would say to them blanketly "just accept what God gives you and worry not about trying." Of course, there might be times when you say, "Okay, your desire for children is going too far in your attempts to have 10 frozen embryos made"... but the basic question of will or desire isn't in and of itself bad.
Back to what was meant to be my main point.
See - I think we see fewer and fewer kids being born, even in Lutheran Circles, and we want to find a villain, a terrible cause for this that we can correct. And I think many have set their eyes upon Contraceptives and their availability. And thus the assumption is that if we just get people to not have or use these, then everything will be better.
But that's just eliminating a tool... that's not the cause, the source of the problem.
We have pictures of some of the founding families of my congregation, and 100 years ago you see these farm families with 8, 9 kids. I thought of my home church in the Chicago Suburbs... and even 100 years ago, the families weren't that big. In the city, you had 3, 4, 5. On the farm, you more often had 5, 6, 8, 10.... And it made sense -- you had more help with the farm. But in the city (even well before the advent of Birth Control) you didn't see that nearly as often.
I posit this: Wealth. As you have an increase in wealth, you see less kids. As you move from an Agricultural set up to an urban one, you see less kids. As your agriculture gets industrialized, you see less kids. As you get more wealth and luxuries and less chores that need to be done... kids become more and more of a financial cost and less of an economic benefit to the family.
And so folks have had less. And it's been that way for a long, long time.
Why are Lutherans having fewer and fewer kids -- money. Greed.
So, we see that money and greed thing popping up anywhere else in the Church? Do we see tithing and good donations to the Church like we used to?
I don't think we can pin birth rates on contraceptives. I don't think vilifying them would change this pattern (it's an issue in Ireland too, where stuff is illegal). I think much, much more this driving to a simple truth:
We are rich in this country, and we are selfish, and we tend to think of how things will impact our pocket books, and spoiling your kids today is expensive.
We aren't going to fix things by saying, "Contraception is evil!" All we will do is put a terrible burden on people who have good and proper reasons for seeking to hold off or delay or even avoid pregnancy. (And these happen. If you think they don't, you are just wrong, and you don't talk to enough people in strange and hard situations -- learn some compassion.) And for what? Outlawing a tool won't fix the problem.
You want to see more kids? Delight in children. Delight in your own. Encourage folks, support them. Help out new parents. Argue against the overpopulation nutcases (this is probably the big one - there is social pressure against big families... support the families you see, whether they are big or small -- don't berate the small families and don't berate the big). Delight in the blessing that your own kids are and the blessing that your neighbor's kids are (even the difficult ones... both neighbors and kids).
And then... let people grow. The Law doesn't give growth. Beating people with a stick will not make them rejoice in the gift of children. Attacking a symptom will not effect a cure. It will only produce an artificial litmus standard that goes beyond the Scriptures, a crutch by which we might fall into a false and arrogant pride in our own self-made self-righteous decrees.
And yes, I still think Pastor Stuckwisch's approach is by far the most eloquent that I've seen on this issue as it is faithful to Scripture, considerate of the neighbor, and preserves Christian Liberty and Humility. Good stuff.