Years ago, while helping a couple of young newlywed friends from church move, I accidentally knocked open a drawer on a bedside table, dumping its contents onto the floor. The pile was mostly the knick-knacks one would expect — jewelry, watches, a box of Kleenex, and some phone chargers.
But resting atop the small pile of miscellanea was a large pile of condoms which had spilled from a well-worn family-sized (an ironic label if there ever were one) box. I shared a smirk with the guy helping me carry the furniture, without any surprise at all — the couple had been married only a year or two, after all — and put the contents back in the drawer without comment.
It wasn’t until later I thought about how scandalous this could have been had we been in a different denomination. My church sees no inherent harm in the use of contraceptives like condoms, rings, pills, and IUDs, provided of course they’re used within marriage. We believe there are times when it’s wise to reduce the risk of pregnancy for financial, emotional, spiritual, or other reasons, and one valid way of doing so is by the use of contraceptives.
Not everyone sees eye-to-eye with that stance. So far as I can tell, this not-uncommon proscription on contraceptives is rooted in the connection between the command to procreate (Genesis 1 and 9) and the natural, biological link between intercourse and procreation.
Informed by centuries of forefathers like Augustine whose pre-Christ Greco-Roman pagan background of decades of sexual sin influenced his post-Christ opinions on sexuality like whiplash (even going so far as to say man’s sin nature itself is transferred by intercourse, and so sex for any reason but conception is sin; he even indicated he regretted the fact God had ever invented sex in the first place), the church has long held as sinful any infringement on sex’s exclusive territory of procreation or procreation’s exclusive territory of sex.
They believe sex is for procreation only, which I believe ignores the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical benefits of sex in marriage.
Contraceptives, naturally, fit directly in this line of logic. In an encyclical from July 1968, Pope Paul VI stated, “Artificial conception is gravely immoral because it contravenes God’s will for the conjugal act, which unites the spouses in their love and must also be open to the creation of new life.” This, of course, is based on the Roman Catholic Church’s fixed stance that sex is for procreation only, which I believe ignores the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical benefits of sex in marriage, even sans any capacity for procreation. And I believe it’s not biblical.
So long as this linchpin holds, however, contraception is soundly condemned. If one holds the procreative aspect of sexuality is its exclusive God-ordained purpose, all manner of pregnancy avoidance is immoral, from having sex outside ovulation to “pulling out” to contraceptives.
Acceptable “Natural” Contraception
These churches hold abstinence is the only appropriate option for those looking to avoid pregnancy for the aforementioned financial, spiritual, emotional, or other reasons.
This option, though, has its flaws. Paul offers many instructions to married couples about their sexuality in his epistles. One of these, found in 1 Corinthians 7:5, says that they should “not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer” (NIV). This offers one way out, and it’s only temporary — he goes on to say that they should “then come together again” to avoid temptation. We’re to withhold our bodies from our spouses only when we both agree, and only when it’s to focus on God in prayer. Not because we can’t afford children.
Abstinence as a natural contraception is less scripturally sound than using artificial contraceptives, which is — so far as I can tell — not mentioned even indirectly by the Bible. Admittedly, there weren’t condoms sold on every street corner in Jerusalem in the days of Old and New Testaments, but surely there would be some sort of remote hint if God had an opinion on the subject at all.
Mighty God and Meek Man
Besides, as anyone could tell you, contraceptives don’t always counter conception. Even when medicine intervenes, it’s not always reliable. I know of one man with six children, three of which happened after a vasectomy, and one of those even happened after his wife’s fallopian tubes were similarly interrupted because the vasectomy (which had been double-checked) had failed twice.
Just ask Abraham and Sarah — if God wants to make pregnancy result from shenanigans, it’s not beyond His ability. For that matter, ask Mary — shenanigans aren’t even necessary if God is determined. Saying contraceptives “contravenes God’s will” puts a mighty God’s power in a mighty small box.
Originally posted 2015-08-21 08:00:39.