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Prior to the 20th century, contraception was generally condemned by all the major branches of Christianity, including by major reformers like Luther and Calvin. This unified front no longer exists, however. Among Christian denominations today there are a large variety of positions towards contraception.

BackgroundEdit

The Roman Catholic Church has been morally opposed to contraception for as far back as one can historically trace. The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifies that all sex acts must be both unitive and open to the possibility of procreation. In addition to condemning use of artificial birth control, non-procreative sex acts are ruled out as ways to avoid pregnancy.

Current viewEdit

The current official position of the Catholic Church regarding birth control is expressed very clearly in Pope Pius XI's 1930 encyclical entitled Casti Connubii. It was written in response to the Anglican (then-recent) approval of artificial means of contraception when used in cases of grave necessity.

Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, ... in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, ... proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.

In 1951, Pope Pius XII gave two addresses (English translation entitled Moral Questions Affecting Married Life) which reaffirmed the Church's position that chemical and barrier methods were morally impermissible, but suggested the Rhythm Method might be considered in cases of necessity; this is a position some see implicit in Casti Connubii as well.

In Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI, the Catholic Church's position was further clarified: artificial contraception is considered a grave sin, but methods of natural family planning, including modern forms that are highly effective, are morally permissable in some circumstances. These methods are known as periodic abstinence and are argued to be morally different from positively modifying the couple's fertility, since the modus operandi is abstinence, albeit not all the time.

{{cquote|The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.

In further justification of this position, Pope Paul VI claimed,

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Couples seeking marriage in the Catholic Church are in most dioceses required to undergo counseling by a Catholic priest. In the past, priests led couples seeking to delay children to the Rhythm Method, while today they are instructed to point new couples toward the more effective methods of Natural Family Planning.

Pope John Paul II argued that contraception is contrary to the interpersonal union that sexual intercourse should cement. The most popular form of this argument asserts that sexual union should involve total mutual bodily self-giving if it is not to be a form of self-deceit.

DissentEdit

Catholics have voiced significant disagreement with the Church's stance on contraception. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued probably the most heavily dissenting document, the Winnipeg Statement. In it, the bishops argued that many Catholics found it very difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to obey Humanae Vitae. Additonally, they reasserted—too strongly, conservatives say —the Catholic principle of primacy of conscience. Theologians such as Charles Curran have also criticized the stance of Vitae on artificial birth control.

Catholics for a Free Choice claimed in 1998 that 96% of Catholic women had used contraceptives at some point in their lives and that 72% of Catholics believed that one could be a good Catholic without obeying the Church's teaching on birth control. According to a September 2005 nationwide poll of 2,242 U.S. adults surveyed online by Harris Interactive, 90% of Catholics supported the use of birth control/contraceptives.

Protestant ChristianityEdit

BackgroundEdit

Before the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church viewed the purpose of sexual intercourse as almost exclusively for purposes of procreation. As part of the Reformation, the unique joys and pleasures of marriage began to be emphasized more strongly.

As scientists advanced birth control methods during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the tradition of Protestant rejection of birth control continued alongside growing dissent from Protestant Nonconformists. As an example of the dissent, the editor of a Nonconformist weekly journal in the United States wrote in 1893,

There was a time when any idea of voluntary limitation was regarded by pious people as interfering with Providence. We are beyond that now and have become capable of recognizing that Providence works through the commonsense of individual brains. We limit population just as much by deferring marriage for prudential reasons as by any action that may be taken after it.

Protestant denominations were slow to go along with such a view. Then in 1930, the Church of England after considerable debate issued the first Protestant statement permitting birth control "when there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence." During the 30 years afterward, Protestant acceptance of birth control steadily increased. By 2005, a Harris Interactive poll conducted online among 2,242 U.S. adults found that 88% of non-Catholic Christians who identified as either "very religious" or Evangelical supported the use of birth control/contraceptives.

Current viewsEdit

Author and FamilyLife Today radio host Dennis Rainey suggests four categories as useful in understanding current Protestant views concerning birth control.

"Children in abundance" groupEdit

Main article: Quiverfull

The first is what Rainey calls the "children in abundance" group. Protestants within this group believe that birth control is a contravention of God’s purpose for marriage and that all children conceived during routine sexual intercourse (without regard to time of the month during the ovulation cycle or other matters) should be welcomed as blessings. The Quiverfull movement and its authors such as Mary Pride, Rick and Jan Hess, Charles D. Provan, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Rachel Giove Scott, and others, predominate this group. Based upon Bible verses that describe God acting to "open and close the womb" (see Genesis 20:18, 29:31, 30:22; 1 Samuel 1:5-6; Isaiah 66:9), Quiverfull adherents believe that Divine Providence alone should control how many and how often children are conceived and born.

"Children in managed abundance" groupEdit

The second is what Rainey terms the "children in managed abundance" group. According to Rainey, Protestants within this group are open to however many children they may conceive during their fertile years yet believe that only Natural Family Planning is acceptable and may use it. Sam and Bethany Torode advocated for this view in their 2002 book, although they later accepted barrier contraception such as diaphragms and condoms. Some Mennonites such as Denny Kenaston also advocate for this position.

"Children in moderation" groupEdit

The third group which Rainey delineates is the "children in moderation" group. In Rainey’s view, these Protestants are very pro-child but may make use of artificial birth control methods to prudently plan their families. Those within this group see Divine Providence and Biblically required responsibility as working complimentarily. They thus may feel freedom to use non-"natural" birth control in making personal choices in consultation with God about the number and spacing of children.

"No children" groupEdit

The fourth group Rainey calls the "no children" group. Rainey sees couples in this group as believing they are within their Biblical rights to define their lives around non-natal concerns. While not their main emphasis on the subject, Protestant authors such as Methodist Samuel Owen, Presbyterian James B. Jordan, and Southern Baptist R. Albert Mohler, Jr., support this as an acceptable option, but only when a higher ethical principle intervenes to make child bearing imprudent, such as health concerns or a calling to serve orphans or as missionaries in a dangerous location, etc. Jordan also maintains that modern birth control methods, as well as Natural Family Planning, are acceptable tools of prudent family planning. Jordan also strongly supports the option for couples to have very large families, while Owen and Mohler believe that non-use of birth control in any form should be normative. Rainey sees infertile couples as falling into this group apart from their choice in the matter. Sterilized couples may as well.

Individual conscience or commandmentEdit

The majority of Protestants, irrespective of denomination, maintain that use or non-use of birth control in its various methods is a matter of conscience for individual Christians before God (see Romans 14). In this view, God has a personal relationship with individual Christians and, because he has given no explicit Biblical commandment against birth control and uses and has even caused and overseen modern technological advancements (see Daniel 12:4), he guides couples' birth control practices in accordance with his particular will for their lives. Although most Protestants adhere to this view, they may nontheless advocate for one of Rainey’s categories, depending upon which Christian values they deem most important. Examples of adherents of this view include James Dobson, Jordan, Mohler, and Rainey himself.

Some Protestants, particularly Quiverfull adherents, may argue that the Bible commands their position for all Christians. For example, Charles D. Provan argues,

"Be fruitful and multiply" ... is a command of God, indeed the first command to a married couple. Birth control obviously involves disobedience to this command, for birth control attempts to prevent being fruitful and multiplying. Therefore birth control is wrong, because it involves disobedience to the Word of God. Nowhere is this command done away with in the entire Bible; therefore it still remains valid for us today.

Official statementsEdit

Some Protestant denominations and movements have made official statements about modern contraceptives. For examaple, the Church of England has stated it "does not regard contraception as a sin or a contravention of God's purpose".

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has stated,

{{cquote|When a woman and man join their bodies sexually, both should be prepared to provide for a child, should conception occur. When that is not their intention, the responsible use of safe, effective contraceptives is expected of the male and the female. Respect and sensitivity should also be shown toward couples who do not feel called to conceive and/or rear children, or who are unable to do so.

Along with these general acceptances, many Protestant movements view contraception use outside of marriage as encouragement to promiscuity. For example, Focus on the Family states,

Sex is a powerful drive, and for most of human history it was firmly linked to marriage and childbearing. Only relatively recently has the act of sex commonly been divorced from marriage and procreation. Modern contraceptive inventions have given many an exaggerated sense of safety and prompted more people than ever before to move sexual expression outside the marriage boundary.

Other major Lutheran and Presbyterian associations, as well as other Protestant groups in general, may take other positions.

AnabaptistsEdit

MennonitesEdit

The Mennonite Church USA, the General Conference Mennonite Church, and the Conservative Mennonite Conference have adopted statements indicating approval of modern methods of contraception. For example, while also teaching and encouraging love and acceptance of children, the Conservative Mennonite Conference maintains, "The prevention of pregnancy when feasible by birth control with pre-fertilization methods is acceptable. A study published in 1975 found that only 11% of Mennonites believed use of birth control was "always wrong". Old Colony Mennonites, like the Amish, do not officially allow birth control practices.

AmishEdit

All types of birth control, including forms of natural family planning such as the Rhythm Method, are forbidden in Old Order Amish communities. However, especially in recent years, more Amish women have begun using contraception. This trend is more pronounced in communities where few of the men earn their living through farming.

HutteritesEdit

The Hutterite Brethren use contraception only if it is recommended by a physician.

External linksEdit

Roman CatholicEdit

ProtestantEdit

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