Choosing Your Children
Some Thoughts About Birth Control
by David Crank
(From Volume 2 Issue 1 of Unless the Lord ... Magazine)
Birth Control &
Birth Control in America. Birth control was first popularized in America by a few women's rights advocates in the early 1900s. Most prominent and influential was Margaret Sanger, founder of the "Birth Control Federation of America" which later became "Planned Parenthood" - a more pro-family sounding name which helped improve the acceptability of birth control. Of course Planned Parenthood was never about truly planning to be a parent - it was about planning how NOT to be a parent or to have as few children as possible.
Prior to this time, birth control was almost universally rejected by Christians in America. It was viewed as being sinful and interfering with God. Most Christians held to the same views as the great Protestant reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc.). These same views clearly dated back at least as far as the early church fathers.
But in Europe in the previous century, Malthus had argued the dangers of overpopulation. Others had joined him in concern that the lower classes were breeding too rapidly, damaging the genetic stock of their nations! Birth control was first advocated primarily for the poor, but it was the rich and the immoral who really saw its value. When Margaret Sanger began her association with these European free thinkers, much of the “right to choose” she was personally looking for was the right to choose infidelity and immorality without fear of resulting pregnancy. She made very full use of her new rights in spite of her marriage.
Are many "Pro-Life" Christians more "Pro-Choice" than they think? The "Pro-Choice" position is that every woman has the right to choose for herself whether or not to have a baby. The "Pro-Life" position is one of giving babies a chance for life outside the womb.
Though most Christians consider themselves "Pro-Life" and are clearly anti-abortion, many seem close to the "Pro-Choice" camp in what they believe and actually practice. Though generally denying a choice for an abortion, many will insist that every woman does have the right and the responsibility to choose for herself, if and when she will have a baby.
Most Christians today wholeheartedly endorse this right to choose, that is championed by the “Pro-Choice” groups. The difference is that most Christians believe the choice is already made, intentional or not, once conception has occurred. But the "Pro-Choice" groups maintain that the right to choose continues up to the point of birth. Focusing only on the woman’s rights, this seems a logical end for this viewpoint. If every woman has a fundamental right to choose whether she will have a child, what difference is there whether she prevents it's life from starting or if failing that she ends its life before it is born? Either way there is one less life and she has avoided the birth experience and any subsequent responsibility for the child. [Yes, in the one instance a life is destroyed - murdered. But from their point of view, what is the difference? In both instances the birth does not take place. They don’t see such a big difference between preventing the birth at the point of conception or doing so shortly thereafter.]
Though Christians are mostly opposed to abortion, some favor certain exceptions such as rape or incest. Others fail to realize the fact that certain forms of birth control are also producing early abortions. Increasingly Christians are becoming aware of how these forms of birth control actually work and avoiding them. But you can be very anti-abortion without being very pro-life. Few are pro-life in the sense of granting life in the first place, by encouraging as many children as God will provide or seeking to raise as many children for the Lord as possible.
Uncomfortable Similarity. Now I know some of this sounds really hard, comparing advocates of birth control with advocates of abortion. Of course there is a difference. With abortion an already living child is murdered. With birth control, the gift of life is mostly never given in the first place. The point is to get you to think about the uncomfortable similarity between the abortionists and many Christians who believe in birth control. Consider that the same people who finally convinced the churches to accept and even advocate birth control are those who also have championed abortion, immorality and a good many other things contrary to God's Word.
Consider the Fruit. So what was the fruit - the result of widespread acceptance of birth control in America? Within a period of about 40-50 years we had widespread promiscuity, more out of wedlock babies than ever before, rampant marriage infidelity and divorce, and the legalization of abortion with millions of babies being killed. Has it done wonderful things to benefit families? Well, it did result in smaller families for most people. Were the smaller families a good thing? They might seem so in terms of higher living standards and more space per person in homes. But I think you will also find generally weaker families, with less helping and caring for one another. Families in the 1800s weren't perfect, but it seems like there were a lot of large, close and caring families then.
Consider God's Commands. Twice in Genesis God gives the command for us to be fruitful and multiply. There is no record of His ever withdrawing or modifying this instruction. Some will argue that God only meant this to apply for a certain period, until there were lots of people living all around the globe. But without God ever saying "enough", there is no way for us to conclude when it is enough, or if there will ever be enough in God's judgment. Without further revelation, we disobey at our own peril.
But of course this command was given to the human race as a whole. From other Scriptures we know God does not require everyone to marry and that we are not to engage in relations outside of marriage. Also we know that God Himself does not choose to bless everyone with children. So, by God's own choice, not everyone can be fruitful and multiply. But if anything, that just puts the greater requirement of this command on those who do marry and whom God enables to have children. If those of us who are married and able to have children, refuse to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth, then just who will? As Christians we have the opportunity to further advance the kingdom of God simply by having children and leading as many of them as possible to the Lord. If any people should be having lots of babies, it is Christians.
Controlling Births - The Presuppositions
If we are to wholeheartedly embrace birth control as God's will for married couples, then what must we first assume or take for granted? What are the underlying presuppositions? Are they not something like the following?
1) If we don't use birth control, we will have lots of children.
2) Lots of children is generally a bad thing.
3) It is our responsibility to decide when to have children and how many to have.
4) God does not take responsibility for human conception - we are entirely responsible.
Let's now think carefully about each of these and compare them to what the Scriptures teach.
#1. If we don't use birth control, we will have lots of children.
This assumes that having regular relations over many years in marriage will generally result in very large families (perhaps 20-30 pregnancies if marry by age 20). Think about this one. Does the evidence really validate this? There are lots of cases today of folks using no birth control for many years and having relatively few children (0-5). There are also many such families ending up with 6-10 children, but hardly ever does the count approach 20, unless several sets of twins or triplets are involved (very rare). Look at how many Biblical examples there are also of families with far less than 12 children. When a man had as many as 10-12 children, even with several wives, it was noteworthy and he was considered very blessed.
#2. Lots of children is a bad thing.
Does the Bible anywhere say that he is cursed who has 12 or more children? Are more children ever discussed as being a bad thing? Look at all the examples of Old Testament saints wanting as many children as possible. Look at how having many children and large families are repeatedly praised. Psalm 127 says children are blessings and gifts from God and we are blessed when our quiver is full of them. Now we could argue about how big a quiver is and whether you can ever have too many arrows to go to war with. But I don't think you find hardly any Old Testament saint who would not have regarded 12 or even 15 children as a blessing. The Bible seems to very thoroughly teach a "pro-life" and "pro-children" position. If we have a different viewpoint, where did we get it from?
#3. It is our responsibility to decide when to have children and how many to have.
Does the Bible anywhere ascribe this responsibility to us? Look at all the instances where we are told that God opened or closed a woman's womb. Who was making the decisions here? And just how good are we at making these decisions?
As finite humans who can't see the future, our ability to predict when it is best to have a child is pretty poor. Sometimes we think a certain time is a terrible time to have a child, but we have one anyway - not of our choosing - and latter see that it was God's best. He knew that child was desperately needed at that very time! We also try to judge how long we should wait between babies for the sake of the mother's health and for making things easier. When women fully nurse their babies, it has been observed that for most, their cycles do not start back up for some time. Yet there are plenty of exceptions and plenty of nursing practices used by some that encourage a quicker return to fertility. But when we try to ensure a certain gap between babies, we assume continued fertility, which is far from certain. Our opportunity to have more children may be suddenly taken away by a medical problem and accompanying surgery. Even after conceiving every nine months for years, it can all come to a sudden halt unexpectedly.
Some will argue that though God clearly knows what is best, He expects us to take the action to make it happen. So the solution offered is to pray about when we should start and stop birth control in order to time our children perfectly. But is this really God's intent? Is there any Scriptural evidence to support this? Praying for direction is always advisable, but we must remember our own inclinations to hear the answers we want to hear. Where we have strong biases and opinions of our own, we are notoriously prone to interpret God's will as being our own. Instead of honestly saying, "Not my will but Thine", we think surely God's will must be the same as ours.
#4.God does not take responsibility for human conception - we are entirely responsible.
Does the Bible anywhere support this presupposition? (John 1:13 "born, not of … nor of the will of man" is a very long stretch, at best). On the other hand look at the many verses where God's role in conception is referred to. These do not appear to be just special cases where God worked a miracle. The people involved seem to attribute all births to God's action (in addition to man's). The more Biblical view seems to be that unless the Lord causes conception to take place, all the efforts to time relations with days of fertility will be useless! And do you anywhere in the Bible, with all the instructions given over such a long period, find an exhortation or instruction to limit our family's size or for married couples to try and prevent children? I don't find any.
Presuppositions Taken Together
Taken together, does it make sense? If we hold to these presuppositions, then we are saying that: 1) God made our bodies to naturally and reliably produce babies whenever a man and a woman have intercourse at the right time of the month; and 2) God expects us to find ways to either time our relations or develop other techniques and technologies to control when conception will occur so as to limit our number of children.
Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians 7, for husbands and wives not to deprive one another, seem to run counter to the idea of avoiding relations at a certain time of the month in an effort to prevent conception. The one reason Paul cites as acceptable is a spiritual reason, and then only for a limited time and by pre-agreement. Trying to consistently avoid relations on likely fertile days will invariably run into conflict with the command to not deprive one another and to meet one another’s needs.
Also it is not so easy to know with certainty when the fertile days will be. Many women's cycles have just enough irregularity to keep you guessing. Even with the use of special thermometers and temperature charting, efforts to either conceive or avoid conception often fail. In fact, a great many pregnancies result from relations at times when the charts say there should be no fertility!
Isn't it interesting how differently God made many animals? There is no problem knowing when a female dog or goat is fertile. The female knows, as does all the males around. When the female is in heat, she is receptive and conception seems to almost always occur. But the animals don't use this knowledge to try and prevent births, but rather for the opposite reason. All mating occurs when conception is almost assured.
So why would God make birth control so easy for the animals but so hard for humans? Perhaps because the animals would instinctively follow His commands to be fruitful and multiply while the humans would tend to resist and rebel - desiring to control every aspect of their lives themselves? Does God really desire us to control the number and timing of our children in accordance with what we think is best, while also commanding husbands and wives to meet each others needs regularly? If so, why didn't He give us a "fertility off" switch? Think about it!
If God desired every husband and wife to regularly have relations and, if this would naturally result in pregnancies every 9-12 months, but He only wanted them to have just a few children spaced apart at their own choice, then what was He thinking?? Look at how difficult He made it to prevent and time births while having regular marital relations! Even with all of our modern science and medicines we have a hard time doing this with a high degree of reliability and without inflicting other harm to our bodies through surgery or hormonal tampering.
Think about the different forms of birth control man has been able to invent after these many thousands of years. Consider the ones that have very serious side effects for some or sometimes result in abortions. Consider the other devices and how unnatural they seem, what they take away from the experience and yet how they occasionally fail also. Consider even "natural family planning" and its dependence on very regular cycles, monitoring, the requirement of sometimes refraining from relations when they may be most needed by one of the partners. And look at the frequency at which pregnancy still results in spite of these attempts. Does birth control really look like a part of God's wonderful design for us?
Is this really the way God designed us? And is this really what He expects us to do with His design? If anything, the evidence is that God favors a sort of birth control than maximizes conception rather than restrains it. For the Jews under the Law, God prescribed certain times during and just following the woman's menstruation when relations were forbidden. The point when relations were again permitted coincides closely with the approximate time of a woman's greatest fertility. Doesn't this sound more like a plan to encourage large families rather than small ones?
Is use of birth control like use of medicine? I know some compare birth control to modern medicine. If we think we should make use of modern medicine to help us when we are sick, and not just trust God alone, how is that any different from using birth control? Well, for most of us, birth control has nothing to do with something going wrong in our body. Our bodies were designed to produce babies. Becoming pregnant is not a sickness from a bacteriological or viral attack, nor is it a breakdown in our body systems. Modern birth control medicines and devices are uses of modern science to thwart rather than aid God's design.
Where else will this viewpoint lead? Much as Darwinism had an impact on people's worldview far beyond the scientific theory itself, even so the worldview that accepts birth control as both a right and a responsibility has far reaching impact. Without this acceptance of birth control and its philosophical justification, we would not have legalized abortions today. Without its widespread availability we would probably not have nearly the incidence of immorality and infidelity that we have today. Even one of the very things birth control was supposed to help - out of wedlock births - has in fact become much worse! Faith in birth control has encouraged many more to be immoral with less fear of consequences. Yet neither the birth control methods, nor their personal application of them, are perfect, resulting in more rather than less out of wedlock births.
Where next? A great deal of research is being devoted to genetics today. Ostensibly the results are to help prevent and repair genetic problems prior to birth. But when the accepted philosophy is one of planning and choosing your children and "no unwanted children", the use may be something altogether different. Would not many want to choose everything about their child? Will it be a boy or a girl? With what eye and hair color and shade of skin? What facial features, height and build, or personality type would you like?
Will the scientists ever achieve this? I don't know, but I am sure many would jump at the chance to use it if it were available! If you believe life is all a matter of biology and chance without God, just how far will you go to try and control life? Have we perhaps already gone too far with our efforts to control things that God did not intend us to control?
I know this is a hard issue for many. There are many different arguments, concerns, emotions, even fears. There are also some hard situations that can make the whole issue more cloudy. Though this article has been strongly worded at points, there is no intent to condemn anyone for the decision they have made on this issue. The purpose of this article was to encourage careful thinking about this issue and the seeking of God's truth. Birth control has become so totally accepted that few Christians will even seriously consider whether it is God's will or His plan for His children. I certainly do not have all the answers. My understanding is assuredly imperfect and may be significantly mistaken on some points. I simply urge you to pray and think through these things. Don't choose your convictions simply on the basis of what your friends or family or acquaintances believe. Nor should you readily accept the "common" wisdom of our society at large or any subgroup thereof. Search these things out for yourself and then be fully convinced in your own mind. It is not our place to judge you, it is to your own Master that you will stand or fall.