A Brief Look at a Changing Culture
The book ‘Bible and Birth Control’ by Charles D Provan should be read by all Christians of all denominations. As with most pro-life, pro-family literature it is American in origin. However the arguments speak for themselves, no matter what the nationality of the reader.
For Christians to be united in promoting moral sex education there is a need for agreement in the fundamental area of contraception. To do this we need to know some of our history and to see how the following issues link together.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century (1900) all Christians stood firmly against any and all forms of artificial contraception. The following link shows that the Church of England has no policy on the use of contraception, which is a complete change from before the 1950s when its use was seen as a sin and was not approved of at all, until the 1950s when contraception was gradually seen as acceptable only for married women. As you can see from this search page on The Church of England’s Website, the Church of England, despite generations of tradition, have sadly declared by its silence on the subject that contraception is not a sin and its use is probably encouraged.
“Issues in Human Sexuality”
The Gospels provide little evidence that Jesus said much about sexuality in his teaching. Nevertheless Christians have tended to be identified as people who have a great deal to say about sex – much of it very negative. There is no doubt that the Church’s understanding of the place of sex in God’s created order has developed significantly, particularly in the last 75 years.
Church and CONTRACEPTION
In 1908 the Bishops of the Anglican Communion meeting at the Lambeth Conference declared that:- ‘the Conference records with alarm the growing practice of the artificial restriction of the family and earnestly calls upon all Christian people to discountenance the use of all artificial means of restriction as demoralising to character and hostile to national welfare’.
Some of the Church opposition at this time reflected a national concern about falling birth rates. By the 1920’s, certain sections of the Church were beginning to develop a richer understanding of sexuality. Sexual love came to be seen as good not just because it enabled the human race to reproduce itself. Sexual love was good in itself, and it provided an essential way for a husband and wife to express and strengthen their love for each other. In the Garden of Eden God had said, ‘It is not good that the man (Adam) should be alone’ (Genesis 2:18). It was also argued that people were limiting their families in order to give children a better chance of success. The debate makes fascinating reading and went on through the 1920’s until the Lambeth Conference of 1930. The 1930 resolution was greeted with mixed reactions and reads as follows: ‘Where there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, complete abstinence is the primary and obvious method.’ but if there was morally sound reasoning for avoiding abstinence ‘the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of Christian principles’.
In 1968, the Conference considered the Papal Encyclical Humanae Vitae and while recording their appreciation of the Pope’s deep concern for the institution of marriage and family life, the Bishops disagreed with his idea that methods of contraception other than abstinence and the rhythm method are contrary to the will of God.
The contrast between the Anglican position and the official Roman Catholic position (reiterated on many occasions by Pope John Paul II in the years following Humanae Vitae) illustrates, in part, different ways of approaching questions of Moral Theology. Roman Catholics have tended to look to the ‘Magisterium’, the official teaching of the Church, typically articulated by the Pope, as the source of authority on moral, as in doctrinal, questions. Anglicans have tended to call on ‘Scripture, Tradition, and Reason’. Increasingly these approaches are being supplemented by appeals to ‘human experience’. It is clear, for example, that the experience of Christian married people in relation to contraception explains some of the change in Anglican thinking between 1930 and 1958.”
It would seem that the vast majority of Christians today are not aware of the above decisions by the Church of England. We have also seen the emergence of hundreds (and possibly even thousands) of different denominations who, in all probability, have not even considered these issues and have just gone along with the status quo, thus accepting contraception without question. Contraception is therefore seen as the normal thing to use to prevent pregnancy. But what of the actual methods of contraception and how they came about?