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The Christian and Birth Control (Part 2)
February 05, 2007
Last week I wrote an article about the Christian and birth control. Before I continue this short series, I feel it is important to point out that I do not approach the topic from the viewpoint of a professional doctor or a professional theologian. Rather, I merely offer my reflections based on reading books, discussions with other believers, and study of the Bible. My purpose is primarily to stimulate thought and discussion. Because of this I will not answer every question that could arise, nor will I consider every possible angle. I’ll simply provide the perspective of one believer (me!) who has tried to think this one through.
I closed the first article with the question of whether or not using birth control falls within the realm of Christian freedom. In other words, does God give us the privilege and responsibility of choosing whether we would like to limit the size of our families, or does He expect that we will avoid using birth control and allow Him to set the limits?
It is my conviction that we have freedom in this area. I say this based on what I understand to be the lack of any command to the contrary. The Bible contains no explicit guidance on birth control and I am not convicted that what the Bible does say about sexuality and children is sufficient to point us in a direction other than Christian freedom. I acknowledge, though, that this is a difficult issue and people on one side of the divide often have a great deal of trouble understanding how those on the opposite side could possibly reach their conclusions. It is an issue that must be approached with care.
While the Bible states clearly that children are a blessing and that we are to be fruitful and multiply, I simply do not think we can prove from Scripture that this means we are all to be as fruitful as we possibly could be and that we are to all have as many children as we possibly could. I believe that God has created each of us differently; he has gifted us all differently. I don’t find that there is a one-size fits all answer. We need to exercise wisdom in the issue of family planning just as in every other area in life (This article, compiled by the Desiring God staff, does a great job of addressing several common concerns).
I do believe that Christians must be very careful with their reasoning about why they decide to limit family size and they must be very careful about how they limit their family size. Like everything in life, the issue of birth control has a theological dimension and it is worth thinking about. But, unless I read into Scripture what I do not find there, I am unable to see in the Bible that we must not use birth control. Nor do I see that we must use birth control. And so I have concluded that this is one of those areas where we can choose. Those who decide to avoid birth control and pursue large families can be assured of God’s blessing. Similarly, those who decide to limit the size of their families and who do so for legitimate reasons can also expect God’s favor.
I do believe there are both legitimate and illegitimate reasons to use birth control. This begs the question of what constitutes a bad reason to avoid having children. Here are a few:
Bad Reason #1: Fear of Provision - The Bible tells us repeatedly that God will provide for us. Thus we have little reason to fear that we will end up destitute and unable to provide for our children even if we choose to have a large family.
Bad Reason #2: Dislike of children - The Bible is clear that children are a blessing and are to be regarded as a blessing. People who just don’t like children ought to examine their hearts and look for the reasons that they would regard God’s blessings as anything but a privilege.
Bad Reason #3: Selfishness - There are any number of reasons that could fall under this one. Some people simply do not wish to allow children to interfere with their lives. Some do not wish to have their careers disrupted or disturbed by a family. No matter the specific reason, selfishness is not a valid reason to avoid having children.
Bad Reason #4: Fear of Overpopulation - There is very little evidence that human overpopulation is an imminent problem or that it will ever be a problem. God created this world to house and sustain us and He gave us no cause to worry about overpopulating it.
I could go on. We would not have trouble writing up a long list of really bad reasons to avoid having children. Any reason that contradicts a commandment of Scripture or denies the ability of God to provide and sustain would be a bad reason.
Just as there are bad reasons to use birth control, there are bad methods of birth control. I outlined these in the previous article, but it won’t hurt to go over them again.
Bad Method #1: Abortion - The Bible makes it clear that human life begins in the womb and that it begins at the moment of conception. It is also clear that we have no right to terminate human right on a whim. Therefore abortion as a method of birth control is never an option for the Christian.
Bad Method #2: Abstinence - The Bible makes it clear that spouses are to have sexual relations regularly and are never to abstain for long periods of time. A refusal to have sex based on the fear of pregnancy is not a valid method of birth control. Many couples use brief periods of abstinence as part of the “rhythm method” of birth control. Depending on the length of abstinence this may or may not be a valid method. I would suggest that if one or both members continually struggle with lust during these times, this may not be a valid method for them.
Bad Method #3: Certain contraceptives - Certain contraceptive devices, rather than blocking or preventing conception, instead destroy or disrupt pregnancy. If we believe that life begins at conception, we must also believe that these methods of birth control cause abortions and the death of a human being. Therefore they must be avoided.
While there is a huge variety of contraceptive methods available, most fall into one of two camps: those that prevent pregnancy by blocking contraception (condoms and other blockade devices) and those that prevent ovulation (pills, patches, and so on). If you agree with me that Christians have freedom to choose whether or not they will use birth control, you will likely agree that the first group, the blockade devices, are acceptable choices for the Christian. The second group introduces a little bit of difficulty. I will spend a bit of time on this issue because I know it is of great concern to many Christians. And again, do realize that my medical knowledge extends no further than preventing nosebleeds (“Son, get your finger out of there!”) so what I present here is simply the fruits of my research. I rely on the expertise of others.
The pill is an attractive method of birth control for several reasons:
- Ease of use - No muss, no fuss. A woman need only take a pill once a day to have near perfect protection against pregnancy.
- Effectiveness - The pill is highly effective. When used perfectly, the changes of becoming pregnant are miniscule.
- Convenience - Any couple who has fumbled with condoms or other similar methods of contraception can testify to their inconvenience. The pill also increases spontaneity (which those same couples will admit is a good thing!).
Compared to other forms of birth control, the pill is highly desirable. It offers greater ease, effectiveness and convenience than other methods. It is easy to understand why it has come into such widespread use, even among Christians.
The pill prevents pregnancy by essentially fooling a woman’s body into thinking it is pregnant. There are two main types of birth control pills. The first is a combined oral contraceptive that contains two hormones: estrogen and progestin. Estrogen helps prevent ovulation by suppressing the hormones that would cause the ovary to release an egg. Progestin thickens the cervical mucus which hinders the ability of the sperm to travel through the fallopian tubes. It may also prevent the lining of the uterus from developing normally which means that if an egg were fertilized, it would be unable to implant. The second type of pill is known as the minipill and contains no estrogen, so while it does not prevent ovulation, it does inhibit the ability of the sperm to fertilize the egg (both my thickening mucus and by suppressing its ability to unite with the egg) and should fertilization take place, the likelihood of implantation.
It is interesting to note that the “morning-after pill,” a pill which can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex to reduce the risk of pregnancy is actually simply a combined oral contraceptive pill that contains both estrogen and progestin. The morning after pill, designed to prevent or terminate a pregnancy is simply a larger does of the birth control pill designed to prevent pregnancy.
A search of resources geared mainly towards women’s health, shows that most doctors affirm that birth control does not cause abortions. However, many of these people would not affirm the biblical understanding of when life begins. If life begins at conception, and we believe it does, then preventing implantation is already causing an abortion. The pill will not, apparently, cause an implanted fetus to be aborted. However, having read the warnings that come with the pill, the companies will not guarantee that the pill will not adversely affect a fetus. It is possible that birth defects and other health problems may be linked to the pill.
Recently some qualified Christians have tackled this issue. These are people who have medical knowledge and who affirm that life is inherently precious from the moment of conception. Such people have a credibility in my eyes that exceeds that of doctors who write prescriptions for birth control on Monday and abort children at a clinic on Tuesday. Interestingly, many of these experts seem to be backing the claims of their colleagues, saying that there is no hard evidence that the birth control pill can cause abortions. A friend forwarded me a couple of interesting statements, one from Focus on the Family (link) and one from Dr. Michael Frields (link), a medical expert at John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church. Dr. Frields feels that the birth control pill is in no way an abortive method of birth control. The majority of the experts James Dobson spoke to “feel that the pill does not have an abortifacient effect. A minority of the doctors feel that when conception occurs on the pill, there is enough of a possibility for an abortifacient effect, however remote, to warrant informing women about it.” So while it seems that the evidence increasingly indicates there is little likelihood of causing an abortion by taking the pill, the jury is still out. I suppose this leaves Christians having to weigh the evidence on their own and attempting to sort out the facts. On a personal note, my wife and I have decided we will not use the pill. Until we can be convinced that there is absolutely no chance of the pill causing abortions, we just cannot, in good conscience, use the pill. And to be honest (and completely open), I have trouble understanding how Christians can arrive at a position that the pill is absolutely, 100% safe.
There is much more that could be said. I do not wish to drag this series into a third day, so will stop here. In the end, it seems wise to point out that the issue of birth control is important because it is a heart issue. Our attitude on this point will reveal a lot about what is inside of us. It will reveal our attitude towards children, our attitude towards God’s providence, and our ability to trust in God and obey Him. I am convinced that men and women on both sides of this debate can love and value children, can live in full assurance of God’s providence and can trust and obey God. I am convinced that God gives us freedom to use birth control or to decide not to use birth control. I am convinced that what matters most is motives and a desire to live for His glory.