Monday, September 2, 2013

Birth Control: A Christian Perspective in Sexual Ethics

A young woman uses a birth control pill and seeks to know if her act was sinful or not. A newly married couple desire temporary birth control to avoid early pregnancy. They believe the Bible’s teaching that children are a gift from God, so they seek advice about the validity of birth control from a biblical standpoint. Likewise, couples who believe their family is just the right size, may seek permanent birth control. Being in their forties and done with having children, they believe their family is just the right size. These real life questions seek not blind dogmatism, but reasonable answers to quench our soul’s thirst to please God by remaining on the godly side of ethics.

To gain better understanding, two questions should be answered: Is birth control acceptable, and if so, which methods are within the biblical framework?

In general, culture and religious adherents desire birth control for they deem it acceptable. However, the Roman Catholic teaching forbids birth control. Aquinas in his work Summa Contra Gentiles candidly rejected the practice of contraception, for it was ‘unnatural’ and a grave sin. Aquinas firmly believed that procreation is the natural physical outcome of a sexual intercourse.1 Thus, any moral disputes regarding birth control is more from a religious standpoint, since nonbelievers take birth control for granted. However, since 1951, the Roman Catholic Church has provided official backing for the ‘rhythm’ method (sexual intercourse during the infertile phases of a woman’s reproductive cycle). The unreliability of the rhythm method, however, is a valid concern.

Does the Bible prohibit birth control? Scott Rae emphatically denies any form of biblical prohibition against birth control. He states that Onan’s crude form of employing birth control (Genesis 38: 9-10) was not to fulfill the duty and the responsibilities associated with raising a child.2

Some religiously mandate procreation to be the duty of man, thereby imposing religious shackles on birth control. However, marriage was primarily designed by God as a union of two individuals into one flesh. Procreation was the secondary aspect of marriage. Sexual intercourse has a twin purpose, ‘generative’ (to produce life) and ‘relational’ (enriching a marriage relationship). The generative purpose cannot always be attained because of various reasons such as, medical conditions, age of the wife etc. Thus, “married couples can have sex without procreation without violating any moral norm,” states Scott Rae.3

Some religious adherents could contend that God’s purpose for marriage was to ‘fill the earth’ (cf. Genesis 1: 28). A mere glance at the recent population statistics and its future predictions is concrete enough to present a persuasive case for the earth being ‘houseful’ now! Thereby the mandate to ‘fill the earth and subdue’ is already realized. This entails that the married couples who choose not to have children for all the right reasons need not be morally guilty for violating this biblical mandate.

The Bible is silent about the size of a family. When or how many children a couple should have is not stated in the Bible. One can argue either for a generous or a tight spacing between children. But stewardship is the key essence in spacing between children. If a couple decide to employ birth control techniques to avoid bearing children in tight spacing, one can argue that this couple is doing good to their own home (to pave way for proper parenting) and their society (not taxing the world’s resources). We can also justify this from the perspective of the family’s economical situation. If a family cannot provide for two children in a tight space of two years, then they need only to bear one. Having many children in an unaffordable situation damages the family’s financial situation, and thereby the peace and the health of the family. Thus birth control to space out or stop having children in a family is a profitable act of stewardship.

There is another delicate divine side to birth control. A couple can decide to use birth control to be good stewards of their God given resources. However, the sovereign God can overrule birth control procedures and gift this couple with a child. The birth of an unplanned or unwanted child does not offer the couple any incentive to abandon or neglect the child. They should trust in God to provide for the holistic wellness of this child.

The sovereign God who overrules birth control enforces birth control through HIS creational intent - the menopause of a woman, where she stops releasing eggs monthly. Thus the same God who mandated procreation also terminates procreation in HIS creation. Or we could infer that there is a God-ordained time limit for a couple to bear children.

If temporary birth control is ordained by God, there should be no valid reason against permanent birth control for the right reasons. There could be medical reasons prohibiting a woman from bearing children or a couple may even decide against having more children. In such instances, women or men may rightly employ permanent birth control. But what method of birth control can be employed?

Any ‘contraceptive’ method (preventing conception) is morally acceptable. But ‘abortifacient’ (causing abortion) methods are morally problematic. “IUDs prevent implantation, and RU-486 causes an implanted embryo to evacuate the uterus. Both are problematic from the view that embryos have full moral status” writes Scott Rae.4 (My previous blog “The Dilemma of Abortion” offers an insight into the moral problems in abortion.)

What about birth control pill or the morning-after pill? Many women use a birth control pill to avoid pregnancy. There is a contraceptive aspect to these pills which is not problematic (suppressing ovulation and thickening the cervical mucous to prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg in the case of birth control pill, and a very high dose of oestrogen & progesterone in the case of morning-after pill). Some medical professionals argue that there is an abortifacient aspect to these pills, which if proven, presents a valid moral problem. But the presence of an abortifacient aspect still remains inconclusive. If one considers usage of these pills, it is wise to consult a morally credible physician and be honest with him/her about your moral values and concerns about birth control. It is not a matter of one’s personal preference, but it is a matter of one’s conscience, which is consumed by God, until medical science proves the nature of these pills.

Thus, one can employ contraceptive methods for birth control, since sexual intercourse between married couples has a primary creational intent which is to enrich a marriage relationship.

In today’s world we see, read, and hear of unmarried youngsters gulping birth control pills to satisfy their sexual lusts. This reality has to be dealt with by considering the ‘premarital’ aspect of the sexual intercourse, and not the ‘birth control’ aspect. I will communicate my comprehension about premarital sex in my next blog.

The good Lord will always bless and keep you and yours. Amen.

1 Richard Higginson, Dilemmas: A Christian Approach to Moral Decision-Making, p87-89, 1988.

2 Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics, 3rd Ed, p287-288, 2009.

3 Ibid., 288.

4 Ibid., 289.

5 Ibid.

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