It was striking that in the oral arguments in the Proposition 8 case before the Supreme Court so little credence was given to the connection between marriage and procreation.
Striking, but not surprising. Their disconnection has become one of our culture’s default settings. How this came to be is the subject of a must-see film entitled “Birth Control: How Did We Get Here?” The film is the first in a two-part series, and nearly all of the people appearing in it are evangelical leaders.
As the film notes, for more than 19 centuries of Christian history there was a unanimous conviction that the primary purpose of marriage was the raising of godly children, and that the use of “unnatural means for the avoidance of conception,” as Anglican bishops once put it, was a grave sin.
The key word here is “once.” As the film documents, the broken link between marriage and procreation on display at the Supreme Court came about, at least in part, because of the acquiescence of Christians. As the film notes, today among both Christians and non-believers, birth control is almost universally accepted as necessary and good.
Given the sordid history of birth control in America and what one speaker calls the “rancid fruit” of the contraceptive culture, our unthinking acquiescence should cause us to rethink.
For example, as the film points out, without the legalization of contraception in the Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, abortion would never have been legalized in Roe v. Wade. That alone should give us pause.
Allan Carlson of Hillsdale College and the Howard Center has documented the shift in thinking among Christians that began in the 1930s. While some theologians insisted that limiting family size must be a matter of “prayerful agreement and self-control,” others increasingly argued that “the question of contraceptives is simply one expedient within the creative possibilities of love.”
Some cited overpopulation; others even argued wrongly that “God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed.”
In spite of extremes, the consensus that has emerged holds birth control as a matter “of the liberty of a good conscience before God.” But unless Christians maintain the boundaries of how a good conscience should be informed by and coincide with God’s design for marriage, this quickly becomes “birth control for any reason we want.” And it has, effectively completing the divorce of human sexuality — even married sexuality, from how Christians long understood it to be.
In a follow up film, “Birth Control: Is It Up to Us?”, the producers ask the kinds of questions that need to be answered. For example, does the “Creation Mandate” found in Genesis 1-2 still apply today? Well, many Christians would say yes, and that it clarifies our call to be culturally engaged. But what about that “be fruitful and multiply” part of the mandate? If it doesn’t apply, why not? And can we just ignore other parts of Scripture that seem culturally out of touch?
Another question concerns the marriage bed. For Christians, sex within marriage serves two purposes: a procreative one and a unitive one. For 19 centuries, Christians regarded the two as inextricably connected. The potential for creating new life gave the physical expression of marital love meaning beyond the satisfaction of physical desires.
Severing that link, as my colleague Jim Tonkowich recently wrote, turns marriage into “nothing more than mutual love, commitment and companionship.” While that may sound like “quite a lot,” as Jim points out, that’s “precisely what same-sex marriage advocates are seeking in their necessarily non-procreative marriages.”
My point is not to urge evangelicals to abandon birth control — which I think is morally defensible within a Christian framework — but to raise the very important questions of how we have chosen to embrace it on the same terms of our hyper-sexualized culture. In light of the rush to completely divorce sex from marriage, hard thinking about contraception is long overdue. Let’s get started.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Publication date: May 24, 2013