God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation – Part II “Contraception”
A few weeks ago I posted God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation – Part I – a review of Andreas Kostenberger’s book. If you remember, I reviewed the first part of the book which was basically a survey of how the Bible understands marriage and family. The second part of the book takes a more specific and delicate look at certain issues within marriage that are at the forefront of debates within and outside the Church. I wanted to look at just one this book deals because of the sensitivity of the subject – contraception.
Contraception is delicate topic to talk about so I will attempt to explain the book’s consideration and then a few comments of my own.
This section in the book was actually written by Mark Leiderbach, which he did an excellent job clarifying all views and forms of contraception. Leiderbach first responds to the Roman Catholic doctrine that all sexual intercourse should be procreational in nature from Genesis 38 – where Onan prevented Tamar from conceiving by withdrawing prior to ejaculation. He argues that God was not angry with Onan for the preventation of pregnancy but the sexual exploitation of Tamar. Therefore, arguing that there are acceptable forms of birth control.
Leiderbach, then, splits the proceeding section in three parts: acceptable forms of birth control, unacceptable forms of birth control, and methods requiring special mention and extra care.
Acceptable forms of birth control
Forms that are “contraceptive in nature” is the foundation by which Leiderbach evaluates the wide variety of forms. Acceptable forms obviously include abstinence or rhythm/calendar method (rhythm and calendar method is of course encouraged among married couples). Also, condemns, cervical cups, diaphragms, and spermicides.
Unacceptable forms of birth control
All forms of abortion are unacceptable for birth control, which includes IUD (intrauterine device), because when implanted it creates an unstable environment for the fertilized egg, thus making it impossible to support the life of the child. Also, the “after-morning” or “abortion” pill, which works to destroy any life that has conceived because of intercourse.
Methods requiring special mention and extra care
- Sterilization. Leiderbach separates this form of contraceptive from any acceptable forms because of its permanence. This goes against the command of God to “be fruitful and multiply.” While he doesn’t go so far as to make it an unacceptable form, the decision should be made prayerfully and desiring to find what is scripturally permitted.
- The pill. All types of birth controls (this up to date of this book 2005) uses three types of mechanism of action. First, prevent ovulation. Second, alter the cervical mucus buildup which increases the difficulty of fertilization. And third, to inhibit endometrium (uterine lining), in other words it terminates the conception – which works as a failsafe in case the first two fail in prevention. The chances, says Leiderbach, of the third option coming into effect is small, but he challenges his readers to consider what is at stake. He is not prepared to put the “pill” in the unacceptable category but gives three suggestions in what measures to take when considering the birth control pill. (1) Ask the OBGYN whether or not the method of birth control prevents fertilization of the egg 100% of time. (2) Ask whether or not there are products on the market that does prevent fertilization of the egg 100% of the time. (3) Ask whether or not there are any forms of contraceptives that do not change the endometrium (the lining on the uterine wall) so that it cannot sustain a fertilized egg (the third fail-safe mechanism). To the date of the publication of this book, the author has not been able to substantiate an affirmative answer to any of these questions.
Leiderbach concludes that scriptural principals would seem to lead away from using the contraception option of sterilization or “the pill.”
My thoughts – I thought Leiderbach’s consideration of contraception was an adequate one and he forced me to really think through every (that may be an overstatement) ethical angle concerning it. One angle that was not addressed, maybe because it is not an obvious ethical one, is the mentality that children and pregnancies are an inconvenience or imposition rather that gifts from God through the channel of marriage. Sex should certainly not be constrained to simply procreational acts but it should not be disassociated with it entirely, which is certainly a trend, even among evangelicals. I am reluctant to think that these trends have nothing to do with the presence of the birth control “pill.” I think Albert Mohler’s article Can Christians Use Birth Control? is a helpful one in articulating an evangelical stance on marriage, family, the question of contraception and “family planning.”