by the Most Rev. Craig Bates, Patriarch
The recent debate about President Obama’s mandate to force religious institutions to provide insurance that covers contraception, surgical sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs has led many to discuss once again the whole area of human sexuality, marriage, reproduction, contraception and family planning. It is certainly not something that one could cover briefly, whether in a short piece like this or even in a sermon. The topic is vast, but, as vast as it is, something that every Christian should seriously consider.
It wasn’t long ago that the issue of family planning wasn’t even an issue for most couples. In the late 1950’s we began to see reports on the increase in worldwide population and those reports predicted mass starvation, economic collapse, and rampant disease pandemics all because there were too many children being born. Around the same time Planned Parenthood and its founder, Margaret Sanger — a known friend of the Klu Klux Klan and an advocate of the sterilization of people of color — became widely known and acceptable to the American Public. Planned Parenthood, riding on the fear of overpopulation, began pushing, along with politicians of both political parties, for smaller families. They insisted that smaller families would mean a better economic climate and indeed would increase the upward mobility of millions of people. The political climate was such that the government gave financial support to agencies like Planned Parenthood to help women in family planning. Since then, Planned Parenthood has not only dealt with family planning but, in providing free contraception, has become a number one provider of sex education for minors and is the largest abortion provider in America.
By and far, however, family planning, whether in regards to the size of the family or the spacing of children, became common practice with the development of the birth control pill. There was a great deal of controversy around the sale and use of the pill until, by a vote of 7 to 2 in 1965, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Connecticut law prohibiting the use of birth control in Griswold v. Connecticut. The Court held that the law was a violation of a married couple’s right to privacy. It was the precedent of a right to privacy set by Griswold v. Connecticut that laid the foundation for the ruling in 1973 (Roe v. Wade) that legalized abortion. It should be noted that nowhere in the Constitution, Declaration of Independence or any other founding document is the phrase “right to privacy” ever used.
Prior to the twentieth century, every major branch of Christianity — Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicanism, Lutherans, Reformed, and Evangelical — condemned contraception. In recent times, the position of some Christian denominations has changed, particularly those within the Reformed, Lutheran, and Anglican Churches.
The Roman Catholic Church continues to oppose any form of artificial birth control and instead advocates for Natural Family Planning. The Orthodox Church has universally opposed any form of abortifacient method of birth control while, in most cases, allowing for the use of artificial means of birth control after the couple has sought spiritual counsel to insure that the grounds are “non-egotistical.” It should be noted that among many Orthodox leaders this position is being re-examined and many in the hierarchy are lining themselves up with the Roman Catholic position.
Protestant denominations, including Anglicanism and Lutherans, along with Presbyterians, have allowed for the use of “birth control” and leave the decision as a matter of conscience. There are many more conservative Protestant denominations, including many Lutheran groups, that still oppose artificial means of birth control, particularly abortifacient methods.
The Charismatic Episcopal Church is a Pro-Life Church and is clear that abortion in all circumstances is sinful and contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Holy Tradition. Therefore, the Church is opposed to all abortifacient methods of birth control. To this date, the Bishops have been silent on other means of contraception and family planning, and have left the decision to the conscience of the married couple. Since the Church believes that the sexual act is for pro-creation and the intimate spiritual bonding of a couple in a marriage of a man and a woman, the Church opposes the use of contraception outside of marriage as it opposes sex outside the marriage of a man and a woman. The only acceptable Christian form of contraception outside the marriage of a man and a woman is abstinence.
Whatever our present position on the use of non-abortive forms of birth control may be, I believe that it would be wise for us to be in serious prayer, thought, and conversation about this most important matter.
There is no question, at least in my mind, that the introduction of the birth control pill and other forms of artificial birth control has had a profound impact on sexual purity and marital fidelity in our culture. We live in a time that “consequence-free” sex is widely accepted and pregnancy is seen as an unfortunate consequence, punishment, and often regarded as an “illness” (health issue) that can be treated by surgical abortion. The “morning after pill,” which is seen as an alternative to surgical abortion, is a clear example of this “consequence-free” mentality.
There has developed in our culture the idea that pregnancy, rather than being the blessing of God which is the fruit of our creative design (“be fruitful and multiply”) and the result of a healthy, loving, and intimate relationship between a man and woman in marriage, is now perceived as somehow disconnected from the sex act and its intended purpose. This is clearly evidenced in the increased sexual activity among young adults and the general acceptance of couples living together and engaging in sexual activity prior to marriage. It was certainly a puritanical error of the Church to disregard the notion of “mutual joy” and “pleasure” as well as the spiritual and emotional bonding of the sexual act. But it is also an error of modern humanism and selfish egotism to disregard sex of its intended purpose — the participation in the divine act of creation and the establishment of family.
It is distressing that we even have phrases like “unwanted pregnancy” or refer to a pregnancy as a mistake, an error, a problem, a punishment, or worse, an illness. All of this degrades human life and keeps us from obtaining the human dignity given by our Creator.
Like with abortion, the conversation on the whole has failed to recognize the consequence of using artificial means of birth control. We need only listen to the “possible side effects” that are listed when birth control is advertised in the media. Everything from early heart attacks, increased risk of breast cancer, infertility, blood clots, strokes, and the list goes on and on. It has yet to be seen if there is a connection between miscarriages and artificial birth control. And, what about the consequences of women waiting too late in life to have children and possible correlations between infertility and severe health problems in their preborn and newly born children? There is a study that suggests that multiple sexual partners leads to an increase in cervical cancer. And, it is clear that the increase in Sexually Transmitted Disease is directly related not only to unprotected sex, but also to the increase in sexual promiscuity and the desire to have sex without consequences.
Sexual immorality has always been an issue and a part of the sinful human condition. Yet, in the Western world during the 20th century, and now into the 21st century, we see the “normalization” and widespread acceptance of hedonism and sexual immorality. We no longer expect virginity from couples walking down the aisle. We are ready to dispense “birth control to minors” assuming that they will have sexual intercourse and that they are unable to live a sexually abstinent lifestyle. We snicker at couples who decide to have large families as if they are somehow irresponsible. Western culture, we are told, particularly in Europe, faces extinction because of low birth rates. And, much of the crisis in Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement programs can be correlated to low birth rates and abortion (over 50,000,000 children killed since 1973.) Have we, by ignoring a serious discussion of birth control and family planning, abandoned the sacredness of marriage and family and handed over the Church’s moral leadership to celebrities, scientists, and secular humanists? Now our government mandates that all insurance programs must provide birth control; including birth control that causes abortions. The mandate also forces insurance companies to offer sterilization procedures for women.
Once again, children are blamed for economic problems and seen as hindrances to economic success and personal fulfillment. What God has called a blessing our culture is calling a curse. Perhaps we need to reconsider our all too ready embracing of artificial birth control. As a communion, we embrace that all life is sacred from fertilization to natural death. We cannot divorce these issues, as they seem clearly connected. We cannot be anti-abortion while at the same time remaining silent about single mothers, domestic violence, child sexual exploitation, poverty, lack of education and medical care, children’s armies, rape, fatherless children, and care of our elderly. They are all connected because it is our Lord Jesus who saw in all life the very image of God. It is our Lord Jesus who models for us a sacrificial love that is to be made visible in the relationships one with another, particularly as that is expressed in Holy Matrimony and family.
Before people respond to this very brief reflection on the use of contraceptives and our “contraceptive consequence-free culture,” let me make it clear that I am not suggesting that the use of non-abortive contraceptives and means of birth control is immoral. I am not arguing against family planning or the spacing of children. Even our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, who are the most conservative on this issue, advocate Natural Family Planning.
As the Patriarch of the Charismatic Episcopal Church, I can certainly live with our present position knowing that persons of goodwill, Godly insight, Biblical and theological knowledge might disagree. I believe that no matter what position a communion takes the members of that communion will make decisions based on their conscience. I would only argue that we help our people make an informed decision that is in keeping with Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. Positions that would help our members rise up and declare all life as sacred. Positions that would advocate principles and teachings that enhance the dignity of the person and the holiness of marriage and the sexual act.
Under His mercy,
The Most Rev. Craig W. Bates,