Is There Anything Wrong With Using Birth Control?

Title: Is There Anything Wrong With Using Birth Control?

Text: Romans 14:1, 5; Genesis 38:8-10

Time: February 12th, 2012

 

A couple of stories in the news lately deal with the issue of birth control. The first is that President Obama recently enacted a policy that would force religious institutions to provide birth control coverage even if these religious institutions oppose it on moral grounds. Because of the hue and cry Obama reversed himself, although not completely. Now he says the religious institutions that oppose birth control don’t have to provide health coverage for it, but their insurance companies must provide it free of cost to anyone seeking it. The obvious problem is that this still doesn’t solve the problem, because the insurance companies will probably pass the cost of the birth control coverage back to the religious institution through higher costs. So the solution may not really be a true solution. We’ll have to see. Also, another news story related to birth control is that presidential candidate Rick Santorum is a member of the Roman Catholic Church, which is strongly against birth control. How would this affect his policy-making if he’s elected president? So we see the issue of birth control is once again the topic of discussion among Americans today. This raises a more general question for Christians living in the modern world – is there anything wrong with using birth control? But really, for committed Christians, the question is more specific – is there anything wrong with married couples using birth control? That question is more relevant for serious Christians, rather than the more general question of birth control use, because there are instances where birth control is clearly wrong to use. For example, for singles participating in pre-marital sex, it is a sin, it’s wrong. The Bible is clear about that. So then, using birth control to prevent pregnancy while engaging in premarital sex would be wrong. There should be no need for singles to use birth control, because there should be no pre-marital sex taking place, because it’s sin. By providing birth control to singles you’re encouraging them to have sex, something that is sinful.  So for Christians, we should never be tempting singles – usually teenagers and young adults – to sin by making birth control available to them. Like Jesus said, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin!” Matthew 18:6-7. Also, for Christians, any form of birth control that uses abortion as a means is clearly wrong and sinful. “Thou shall not murder,” says the sixth of Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20:13. And that command against murder applies also to children, even the smallest, preborns. So abortion as a form of birth control is wrong. But what about the typical and most common form of birth control, the pill; is that wrong? Let’s examine this question from a biblical standpoint.

 

First, some Christians feel all forms of artificial birth control are wrong. Romans 14:1, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” The large Roman Catholic Church is perhaps the biggest organization that opposes artificial birth control. I mean artificial, because something interrupts the natural process of reproduction. That something could be a birth control pill, condom or some other means. For most of Christian history birth control wasn’t really an issue because it wasn’t available; but in modern times with the rise of medical science, it is now widely available. President Obama through his latest policy wants to make it now more widely available, even forcing the Catholic Church to pay for it in one way or another. The Pope during the late 60s in the aftermath of Vatican II ruled that birth control wasn’t permitted for Catholics – which was one of the most controversial papal rulings ever given. The result has been that most Catholics ignore church teachings on the subject and do whatever they want to do in respect to birth control anyway. But it’s still the official position of the Catholic Church to oppose all artificial forms of birth control. Now why is the Catholic hierarchy against the use of birth control? The reason is that it interrupts the natural process of sex and reproduction; it separates sex and reproduction. With birth control it’s possible to have sex without reproduction, which under natural circumstances isn’t possible. Sure, every act of sex doesn’t result in reproduction, but there’s always the possibility. But with artificial birth control people are making the decision to interrupt the natural, God-given process of sex leading to reproduction. This, the Catholic Church teaches, is wrong. It’s playing God. If a married couple engages in sex they are opening themselves up for reproduction, or so it should be. The only way to deliberately stop reproduction is to abstain from sex. There are other natural and moral arguments the Church uses to oppose artificial birth control. Now the Catholic Church also opposes abortion, that is, the taking of an already distinct yet tiny human life in the womb. But it doesn’t teach that birth control is the same as abortion, because it recognizes that while abortion is taking human life; birth control isn’t taking human life, just preventing the possibility of it forming through artificial means, whether blocking the male sperm or restricting the female egg. Now while I respect the right of Roman Catholic Church to teach its members that artificial birth control is wrong, I don’t think the arguments it uses prove the point. Yet I respect Catholics who follow their church teaching in opposing all forms of artificial birth control. I think it’s important, just as the Apostle Paul teaches, that we not pass judgment on disputable matters, such as birth control. While I can’t see how preventing fertilization of sperm with egg is wrong, I can understand how someone who sees the whole sexual reproduction process as sacred could come to oppose all birth control. I’m with the Catholic Church in opposing abortion – the taking of an already existing life in the womb – but I’m not with it in opposing all means of preventing the formation of a human life in the womb. But again, we must not pass judgment on disputable things, as Paul teaches.

 

Second, some Christians think that artificial birth control is permissible as long as it’s not abortion. Romans 14:5, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” The key phrase in the above Bible passage is, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” This also goes along with Paul’s first bit of advice – “Don’t pass judgment on disputable matters.” The Bible doesn’t directly address the issue of birth control, so we all have to make inferences and deductions from other biblical teachings. We saw in the case of abortion that the Bible is clear – abortion is murder. Therefore if to murder is a sin, then to murder a child is a sin, then to murder a small child is a sin, then to murder the smallest of the smallest child is a sin. That’s what abortion does; it murders the smallest of the smallest child. Once the male sperm fertilizes the female egg a child begins to develop in the womb. To end that life is to commit murder. Now most Protestants agree with Catholics on abortion. But where most Protestants differ from Catholics is on birth control. Most Protestants believe that artificial birth control is permissible, that it’s not wrong, it’s not a sin. Why not? Because it only interrupts the natural reproductive process, it doesn’t take a human life. Now there are some forms of birth control that do take human life. For example, the kind of birth control that destroys an already fertilized egg in the womb. These forms of birth control are really abortion. But the most popular and typical forms of artificial birth control prevent fertilization. Let’s consider the argument in favor of birth control used by most Protestant Christians. The male sperm is not a human life, neither is the female egg human life. To destroy male sperm isn’t murder; to destroy a female egg isn’t murder either. So if some form of artificial birth controls destroys male sperm or blocks the female egg – or in some way prevents the fertilization of the egg by the sperm, that isn’t considered wrong. It would only be wrong if God said somewhere in the Bible that it was wrong, but there’s no such teaching. The Catholic Church, by the way, does permit a form of birth control they call natural family planning. This is simply a method that takes into consideration a woman’s natural reproductive cycle each month. By charting when a woman ovulates or produces an egg for fertilization, couples can abstain from sex during that time-period and prevent pregnancy. Now is this really “natural” in the strict sense? Or is this actually “artificial” in the sense that humans are deliberately abstaining from sex during a certain time each month in order to avoid pregnancy? Wouldn’t strictly natural mean no planning or calculating at all? Nevertheless, this form of birth control is permitted by the Catholic Church, while the other is not. Good Christians will differ on this disputable point.

 

Third, some final considerations on the issue of artificial birth control. Genesis 38:8-10, “Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so he put him to death also.” Some Christians have argued that the example of Onan in the Old Testament shows God’s opposition to birth control. Without getting into the details, the account in Genesis describes an ancient custom whereby the brother of a deceased man fulfills the responsibility of providing children for the widow by having sex with her for reproductive purposes. Onan was supposed to reproduce with his sister-in-law for the purpose of children, but he thwarted the process by “spilling his seed” during sex, thus making reproduction and offspring impossible. God punished him with death. Now this is a description of a man failing to fulfill the ancient responsibility of fathering children through the husbandless sister-in-law – actually taking advantage of the situation to get sex with a woman besides his wife. God was not pleased and struck him dead. Now the punishment was not necessarily a punishment for introducing birth control into the situation, it was for not fulfilling his family responsibility. The example could, by some stretch of the imagination, be used as an argument against birth control, but as the account stands, it’s not about birth control, it’s about irresponsibility. The custom was for the brother-in-law to produce children for his deceased brother’s family through the widow; that’s the purpose of the whole process. But Onan was defeating the purpose of the process and taking advantage of the situation to gratify his own lustful desires, it seems. The widow was not getting pregnant, yet the brother-in-law was taking advantage of the custom to have sex with a woman other than his wife. God saw what was happening and took the life of the wicked brother-in-law. Personally, I think the custom sounds pretty stupid and I’m glad we don’t have anything like it today in the modern world, because it raises all kinds of moral as well as practical problems itself. But of course we aren’t back in ancient times in the ancient world; our world is a lot different today. Under the circumstances I’m sure there were good reasons why God permitted such a custom to take place. I really can’t make judgment on it because I don’t know whole context completely. But I’m pretty sure this passage doesn’t prohibit birth control, even though it might appear to on the surface. Upon closer examination it’s dealing with a different issue altogether.

 

So where does that leave us as Christians with the issue of birth control? Is it wrong to use birth control or isn’t it? Again, we’re talking about a married couple in the context of raising a family. We are not talking about supplying condoms and birth control pills to teenagers in so-called school-based health clinics. Every Christian should be opposed to that because it sends kids a mixed message. Christian parents are telling their teenagers to follow the Lord in abstaining from sex before marriage, yet when they go to school the health worker is giving them condoms and birth control pills and telling them that if they have sex to use these. There’s a contradiction. We shouldn’t be encouraging teenagers to engage in premarital sex by giving them the means by which to avoid pregnancy. But this isn’t the question I’m asking today in regards to birth control. We’ve been talking about birth control within the context of marriage. Is it all right for married couples to use birth control? Has God given a married couple the right to determine how many children to have in their family? Or must that decision be left up to God through circumstances? Does God give a couple the responsibility of deciding when and how many children to have? Now remember, for most of recorded history, humans haven’t had the choice of determining the timing and number of children in their families. But today, through medical science, this is now possible. Is this a legitimate choice, or is this taking upon oneself a choice that is for God alone to decide? Christians struggle with these issues because, again, the Bible doesn’t outline a clear list of instructions concerning these recent developments. So we have to go to the Bible and reflect on the truths that apply and also the circumstances of the modern world in which we live. We have to return again and again to what the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 14:1 and 5, where he says that we shouldn’t “pass judgment on disputable things,” and “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” As far as I can tell from the Bible, from God’s Word, couples are free to use birth control or not use birth control. It’s no sin to use birth control; it’s not sin not to use birth control. Believe it or not, there is pressure today from some groups and organizations for couples to use birth control. I’ve heard of couples with a large families being criticized for raising so many kids. I’ve heard of couples being criticized for not using birth control. That’s wrong. But I think it’s also wrong to criticize a couple for using birth control. Unfortunately, this is one of those issues that the Bible really doesn’t address directly and therefore it’s hard to make dogmatic pronouncements about. The bottom line is this – Christians should follow their own convictions and consciences on this question, and not criticize those who differ.

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