From the flowers to the birds and the bees, as it were. How poetic, I suppose. Still, I would prefer not to blog about this topic of contraception. For one thing, it should rather belong to pastoral care than public discourse, normally. Beyond that, I fear that stating my opinions and position on the topic will anger and alienate my friends on both sides of this great divide. It seems to have done so in the past, though it is difficult to tell for sure when people simply stop talking to me. Nevertheless, over the past few years a fair number of people have asked, and several of them have requested more than once, that I express my thoughts clearly and publicly. I have also been aware of increasing conversation and discussion of contraception, and, along with the sometimes fervent arguments and debate, I know there have also been distressed and troubled consciences. Since my family, friends, parishioners and colleagues do look to me for some kind of input and contribution to this ongoing conversation, and because it is true, for good or ill, that my family and my presumed position on contraception are sometimes included in the discussion, it seems appropriate and helpful, and perhaps even incumbent upon me, to offer my opinions.
Actually, I have blogged about these things before, but I have deliberately done so with specific reference to my own circumstances. Not as though my personal situations and decisions were in any sense normative for anyone else, but for the sake of addressing these concerns gently, with empathy and compassion, and hopefully to convey that my considerations and comments are not offered abstractly, generically or theoretically, but personally and practically. Certainly, no one should suppose that these matters are any easier or simpler for me than they are for anyone else. I would like to believe that my example, as much or more than my words, might serve as an encouragement for others who are struggling with difficult circumstances and decisions.
For all that, I am the husband of only one wife, and it is not my place to “consider contraception” for any other husbands and wives. What I offer here are simply my own opinions, which, of course, I believe to be in harmony with the Word of God, with faith and love, and with sound reason. It is my confident hope and prayer that, wherever I am found to be in error, my brothers and sisters in Christ will kindly correct me in gentleness, peace and love. (A condensed and simplified version of the following points is provided in a subsequent post.)
1. Created in the Image of God, the Man and the Woman are given to each other in love, and they are blessed by God to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and have dominion over it. In this they are given to share and to confess the life and love of the Holy Trinity. In their union of love, in heart and mind, body and soul, they signify the marriage of Christ and His Bride, the Church. In their fruitfulness is an image of (and a participation in) the Church’s fruitfulness in bearing the children of God by the Gospel of Christ. And in their dominion of the earth, they are given a stewardship of faith and love, in the name of the Lord, as the king and the queen of His creation.
2. Practically speaking, what this means — in view of the topic at hand — is that a husband and his wife will normally engage in marital relations as a matter of course in their life together, and they should not withhold themselves from each other except by mutual agreement for a time for the sake of prayer (1 Cor. 7:5). It is in this union of the two as one flesh, that the Lord our God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, who is alone the Author and Giver of life, conceives children where and when it pleases Him. Men and women do not make babies. God makes babies. Men and women are not able to create new life; nor is it within their power and prerogative to choose conception. Husbands and wives are called and given, rather, simply to cleave to each other in love, in faith before God and in faithfulness to one another. They do so in the confidence that God is the One who will bless them with fertility according to His grace and wisdom; who in mercy will multiply their love for each other with sons and daughters, whether by nature or adoption, and/or by faith and love within the household and family of His Church.
3. Though men and women cannot create new life, it is within their power and ability to destroy the temporal life that God has entrusted to their care, to hurt and kill the bodies of their children. But such destruction, harm and violence, even when it is done quietly and covertly in the secret place of the womb, is forbidden and prohibited by God. It is sinful.
4. Because the Creator and Preserver of all things has established an orderly creation, and He is most faithful in upholding His creation in its natural order, it is possible for men and women to avoid the likelihood of conception. Such avoidance does not involve the destruction or murder of any living being. It may at times belong to the godly exercise of dominion over the creation.
5. I am deliberately consistent and precise, therefore, in distinguishing between “contraception” and “birth control.” I recognize that these terms are typically used in a broad and comprehensive manner, and perhaps interchangeably, almost as synonyms. Yet, there needs to be some way of differentiating between the avoidance of conception, on the one hand, and the actual destruction of human life on the other hand. Despite their common usage, the terms at hand already do imply this fundamental distinction, which is why I define them more narrowly and precisely, and I use them consistently as follows: “Contraception” avoids the likelihood of conception by seeking to prevent the union of the man’s sperm with the woman’s egg. “Birth control” aims to prevent the actual birth of a child. It does so, whether in whole or in part, by hindering, inhibiting, and preventing the normal growth and development of an already-fertilized egg; which is to say, by doing harm and violence to a newly-conceived human life. By this definition and usage of the terminology, abortion is simply the most outwardly obvious form of “birth control.”
6. “Birth control,” thus defined, is sinful and immoral because it violates the fifth commandment.
7. I do not approve or condone the use of “birth control pills,” because they intentionally cause the woman’s body to be inhospitable to any children who are conceived; and because they also do short term and long term violence to the woman’s body in the process. Yes, I am aware and do understand that there are different kinds of birth control pills, some of which are more or less harmful and egregious than others. I also perceive that it is extraordinarily difficult to research, test or verify the actual consequences and effects of birth control pills, because of the politicized agenda, the ideology, and the economics that both undergird and depend upon their sale and their use. In the meantime, given the available evidence and every indication, I do not believe that it is acceptable, permissible or tolerable to play what amounts to “Russian roulette” with the unborn. Nor do I consider it a legitimate or acceptable risk to the woman’s bodily health and well-being.
8. I do not regard the act of “contraception” per se to be sinful or immoral, but neutral and free.
9. The practical decision to use contraception, however, is subject to the moral considerations of faith and love in accordance with the Word of God.
10. Contraception is not the rule, but the exception. It should not be regarded as the norm or the standard. The true norm, the starting point, the baseline and default position — where faith and love reside to begin with — is that a husband and wife will be open and receptive to children.
11. Deliberately refraining from marital relations on a particular occasion, or at any given time, for the purpose of avoiding conception, is itself a method of “contraception,” which I do not regard as morally superior or inferior to other methods of “contraception.” Of course, “barrier methods” are self-evidently more intrusive, and in that respect are less “natural.” They may also involve a more active volition in the avoidance of conception, which may at times be a violation of faith before God. However, withholding and abstaining from the natural affections and intimacy of marriage is another sort of intrusion, which is also unnatural, and which may at times be a greater violation of love than the use of “barrier methods” (or not using contraception at all).
12. The morality of contraception (in contrast to “birth control”) is not measured in the external action, nor by the particular method that is used vis-à-vis other methods of contraception, but is measured in the heart according to the standards of faith and love.
13. When decisions to avoid the likelihood of conception are driven by fear, doubt and despair, laziness, selfishness and greed, personal ambition, etc., those decisions and actions are sinful violations of faith and/or love, irrespective of the method of contraception that is used.
14. Faith is called upon, first of all, to receive and trust the forgiveness of sins, the free and clear redemption of the Gospel, and the life and salvation that are established and given in Christ.
15. Faith also trusts and confesses (in thought, word and deed) that the Lord will surely provide all that is needed for each and every child that He conceives. For He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, will freely give us all things in and with Christ Jesus. He does not accuse or condemn us, nor count our trespasses against us, but with His forgiveness of all our sins He also gives us daily bread for body and soul. He opens His hand to provide all that we need for this temporal life, and by the Gospel He grants to us the kingdom of heaven forever.
16. The Lord’s gracious provision, in this fallen world, is granted in, with, and under the Cross, finally to be realized and fully received in the resurrection of the body. Thus, the certainty of His providence does not negate, nor is it contradicted by, the present frailty of our mortal flesh. Nor is it thwarted or undone by our sin: not by our doubts and fears and weaknesses; not by our greed and selfishness; not by our laziness and lust; not by depression or despair. Not even abortion, nor any other birth control; neither contraception, nor infertility, nor miscarriage; nor the brokenness of heart, mind or body, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. For He was crucified for our transgressions, and God the Father raised this same Jesus from the dead for our justification. He is our righteousness, who ever lives to intercede for us. For His sake, our Father in heaven does not cast us away from His presence, nor does He withdraw His gracious hand from us. He continues to love us, to care for us and provide for all our needs, even as He calls us daily to repentance by the Cross and Resurrection of His Son, until by His grace He shall call us also from the grave to the life everlasting.
17. Now the Lord’s gracious providence is granted through various masks and means, such as the medical care of doctors, and the loving care of a husband and father for his family. These means should not be despised or ignored in preference for some “miraculous divine intervention,” but they should rather be recognized and received in confidence as the Lord’s ordinary divine work.
18. Living by faith in the Lord’s divine providence does not mean that we ignore, dismiss or reject His mediated gifts and guidance. Nor does faith put the Lord God to the test by proceeding recklessly or foolishly into harm’s way without cause, that is, where love does not require it. But faith in God surely does proceed in loving care for the neighbor, exercising the knowledge and wisdom of experience, and giving thoughtful consideration to the neighbor’s burdens, finitude and frailties of the flesh, mortality, and any other weaknesses of heart, mind, body and soul.
19. When considering contraception, in particular, the key to living in faith and love is for the husband and his wife to live within their respective vocations in relation to each other.
20. In love for his wife, the husband considers her welfare, listens carefully to her, and finally exercises his headship and authority to care for her, to bear her burdens, to strengthen and support her in every weakness, to shelter and protect her from the assaults and accusations of the devil, and to cover all her sins and shame with his own honor. He takes into account, not only her bodily health and well-being, but also her heart and mind, her soul and spirit. He does not address her frailties, faults and failures with the crushing condemnation of the Law, but with the life-giving balm and free forgiveness of the Gospel. He does not try to make her righteous by compulsion, by demands or expectations, but he justifies her in this life by loving her and giving himself for her in the faith and love of Christ. Surely he will also catechize and encourage her by the Word of God, and teach her the way of faith and love, which is the good and acceptable will of God. He will admonish and correct, as needs may be, in opposition to the temptations of the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh (as Adam should have done for Eve), but even this he will do in the gentleness and tenderness of love for his bride. And, not only as a husband to his wife, but as a father to his family, he will take into account the needs (including the special needs) of those children the Lord has already entrusted to his care.
21. In faith before God, the wife speaks to her husband in love — freely opening her heart and mind to him, in order to share her hopes and fears, her burdens and desires with him — and advocating on behalf of those children the Lord has already entrusted to her care, in keeping with her vocation as their mother — and then she submits to her husband’s headship and authority, as unto Christ her Lord. For she is confident that the God and Father who gave her to this man in holy marriage, will also continue to love and serve and care for her through this man.
22. Sometimes for the husband, and sometimes for the wife, faith and love will remain open and receptive to the likelihood of conception, in spite of personal fears and trepidations. And at other times — whether for the husband or the wife — faith and love will agree to avoid the likelihood of conception, in spite of personal desires or “ambitions” for more children.
23. For me, personally, I have recognized that a decision to avoid the likelihood of conception would not be governed or guided by loving care for my wife, but by my own doubts and fears, by my own laziness and selfishness and greed. Therefore, I have disciplined my choices, decisions and actions in accordance with my confession of faith, and have deliberately remained open and receptive to whatever children the Lord may entrust to my wife and me in this temporal life. If, under different circumstances, our doctor would convey that further pregnancies or childbearing are very likely to harm my wife’s body and health, I would not hesitate to use contraception; nor would I have any qualms of conscience about it, because I would be acting in both faith and love. The same principles would prevail if my wife were to fall under the cross and burden of clinical depression or some other mental illness, or if our family were already handling the extraordinary demands and special needs of a child crippled by illness or injury.
24. Yet, I do not justify myself. The comfort, confidence and courage of my conscience before God in all things, at all times, is not found in myself, nor in my choices, decisions and actions, nor even in my faithfulness and love, but solely in Christ Jesus, my Savior and my God. At the end of every day, at the end of my life, and at my last hour, I am an unworthy servant. At best, I have only done my duty. But Christ my Lord enters in, seats me at His Table, and girds Himself to serve me by His divine grace. For He has redeemed me from death and the grave, atoned for all my sins, justified me with His righteousness, and reconciled me to His God and Father. So, too, He grants me life and health and strength by His Holy Spirit, and He sanctifies me with His own divine holiness, with His pure and perfect innocence, and with His eternal blessedness.
25. For Christ Jesus is the Incarnate Son, the Image of God in the flesh, who is alone the perfect Man, the perfect Bridegroom, the perfect Husband. He has given Himself for His own Bride, the Church, in order to cleanse her and sanctify her by the washing of water with His Word, to clothe her with Himself in all His glory, to feed her with Himself and cleave to her in love, and to unite her to Himself as one flesh and blood with Him. Only in this Holy Matrimony of Christ and His Bride is there, at last, finally and forever, the perfect marriage of the Man and the Woman, which no man nor even death shall be able to sever or put asunder. In this Marriage, alone above all others, there is no doubt or fear, no greed or selfishness or lust; there is no frailty or weakness; there is no sickness or death; there is no contraception, no birth control, no miscarriage or stillbirth; no heartbreak or despair. In this Marriage, by the Cross and in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord, there is and remains forever the fruitfulness of His perfect faith and the dominion of His perfect love. So do we live, as dear members of His Holy Bride, by His grace.