By Rev. Roger Kovaciny
1. Permit me to play the devil’s advocate.
2. (When a Roman Catholic is being considered for sainthood, the pope appoints a “Devil’s Advocate.” “Advocate” means “lawyer” and the devil’s advocate is supposed to dig up all the dirt on the proposed saint. His job is to find reasons against the sainthood even though he may personally favor it.)
3. I’m not attacking February 29’s front-page article “The Bible’s View of Birth Control” but somewhere in this journal the questions this article raised should be answered.
4. Nor do I have a vested interest in birth control. Since we got married, my wife has had a baby every year or two. Our youngest died ten weeks ago, and the best news anyone could give us now is that the Lord is sending someone to fill the hole in our hearts. But somebody has to ask the questions that Charles Provan did not answer.
5. First, the command to “be fruitful and multiply” is only HALF the commandment. It is half of a BALANCED commandment. The other half is , “….to fill the earth AND SUBDUE IT.”
6. Most people and nations seem to get either one half or the other way out of proportion. Western nations are committing race suicide because they are so interested in bringing the earth into subjection – that is to say, having things the way they want them in their environment by the purchase of goods, services and machinery – that they refuse to have enough children to even replace themeselves, much less fill the earth.
7. In the Third World, however, some parents have children that have to be put out in the street to steal or starve at the age of three because the parents are so busy filling the earth that they can’t “subdue the earth” sufficiently to keep body and soul together.
8. Further, the article fails to answer the question of why people today don’t want children. A chief reason why people today do not regard children as a blessing is the radical restructuring of society that happened after the Industrial Revolution. Two hundred years ago, a young man asked Franklin what was the quickest way to get rich. Franklin said, “Marry a widow with nine children.” That was true then, when children as young as three were productive members of the family. Their labor may have been worth only a dime a day, but if their room and board only cost a nickel, they were productive, because a nickel was an important part of the family’s income.
9. But the same advice would bankrupt a man today, because today children are not able to be productive members of society. Jobs today pay a lot more but they are too complicated to learn until the teens or twenties. Meanwhile children are an unremitting expense.
10. What concerns me about Provan’s article is the failure to recognize these facts and the failure to see how the changing structure of society changes the applicability of various Scriptures. For instance, the blessing of a large family was immediately evident in the days when the family was your main form of old-age insurance. Now that we have Social Security, we depend on other people’s children instead of our own. The church has to consider such facts before making doctrinal pronouncements.
11. And the Scripture that must be considered when doing this is contained in Matthew 23: 4, where Jesus pronounced seven woes upon the Pharisees. One of their faults was that “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
12. We should recognize that every child is a burden, even though a very precious one – we would give our health, our comfort, and everything we own to have “little sister” back. But the church also has to deal with birth control evangelically, rather than legalistically. In other words, we have to make people want children by helping them raise them, instead of demanding that they shoulder the burden out of a sense of duty.
13. We cannot assume that shouldering these burdens will automatically bring about the blessings needed to bear the load. In the first place, we may be misunderstanding the Bible. In the second place, we have the experience of others to warn us. Look at Utah, where the Mormons frown on birth control and encourage early marriage and large families. Utah has one of the highest divorce rates in the country, at least partly because of the great strain put on a marriage by having many children. So if we load heavy burdens on backs, at the very least we have to lift a finger to help them.
14. This is what Lutherans do in our crisis-pregnancy counseling, isn’t it? Unlike the evangelicals and fundamentalists, whose approach started out as a legislative one and only lately has become one of helping the unwed mother with the burdens caused by an unplanned child, our approach from the very first was to offer help to the hurting so that unwilling mothers could cope with the various burdens a child brought about. We cannot deny that there is hardly a surer road to poverty in this country than being a single mother, and as we try to deal with that issue, we also must deal with the fact that the birth of each child usually brings a lot more stress into a family than there was before.
15. Now are we as a church “lifting a finger” to the strains of our brothers and sisters in Christ? For Instance, are those who choose to be DINC’s (DINC means “Double income, no children”) until their mid-thirties recognizing that they have so much more disposable income that they should consider double-tithing both salaries to take some of the burden of supporting the church off large families? Do they think of families with many children when they decide to discard something, like for instance an old car, that is still good but which they are tired of? Do they give heavily of their time to the church to take some of the burden off parents? This year someone we know only as “Santa’s Helper” gave each of our children a new pair of winter boots, and a toy. We still haven’t the faintest idea who “Santa’s Helper” is. I would like to think he, she or they are childless adults helping out the largest family in the parish, not just parishioners helping out the pastor’s family after a Christmastime death. Maybe they are both.
16. Since the structure of society provides a great many of the reasons why people, even Christians, sometimes consider sterility a good thing, the Christian citizen can be doing what he thinks best to change the structure of society.
17. For instance, in my opinion the replacement of Social Security with compulsory private insurance would do a lot toward bringing child-bearing back into fashion. Wage-earners should still have old-age taxes taken out of their checks, but those funds should be used to buy I.R.A.’s from private agencies. The government should have nothing to do with it. In this way, at least, people wouldn’t be depending on everybody else’s children to support them. And since they would own the proceeds, instead of it disappearing on their deaths, the IRA’s would become part of their estate – they might want to have somebody to leave it to.
18. In Provan’s account of Onan, which was very thoughtfully done, we must still answer this question: whether there is a further reason explaining the bare words of Scripture. “Because he wasted his seed” is the stated reason. But by practicing coitus interruptus, Onan was doing more. He did what Ananias and Sapphire did in the sixth chapter of Acts: taking what he wanted, having the appearance of respectability and the pleasure of intercourse, while fraudulently depriving his dead brother’s wife of what she wanted, the completion of intercourse and the blessing of children to support her in her old age and to carry on the name of her dead husband.
19. Next, Provan quotes Calvin, but doesn’t fully understand him.
20. When Calvin said, “Onan, as it were by a violent abortion, no less cruelly than filthily cast upon the ground the offspring of his brother,” we have to understand that Calvin believed in the medieval Garden Theory of Reproduction. Human conception was not properly understood in the Middle Ages.
21. The theory in vogue in Calvin’s time was that (to put things in modern terms) the man did not provide merely the sperm. He provided the zygote, in other words the whole baby – not just half its genes. Thus Calvin thought that the baby was not “conceived” but “implanted.” The baby therefore got nothing from its mother except a “garden” to grow in – one medieval medical book taught that the baby was already fully formed, although microscopic, from the instant when it left its father’s loins. This is why Calvin regarded coitus interruptus as tantamount to abortion. Moses, however, did not teach this. Moses wrote by inspiration and therefore did not make scientific mistakes.
22. There is one further scientific misunderstanding in the article. On page 13, column 3 first paragraph, it is contended that menstruous intercourse cannot produce children. There’s a word for people who believe that. They’re called, “Parents.” And the fact does change the conclusions of the section “Reason No. 5.”
23. The author does not prove his point about the neutering of animals. The passage he quotes only speaks of animals that were to be used as offerings. Good thing, too; if we could not neuter dogs and cats, the world would be overrun with them and the only alternatives we would be left with would be the constant vigilance of sexual segregation and the annual destruction of enormous numbers of our pets. Kill a puppy sometime and see if you think that is more humane than minor surgery.
24. And yet another medical and theological overstatement: in column 4 on page 13, it says “Tubal ligation, which is merely female castration, is by implication forbidden also.” Tubal ligation is merely female vasectomy. Female castration is rather ovariectomy. Nor can we make doctrines “by implication”; otherwise “by implication” we would conclude what the author denies, that lesbians were to be executed as well as queer men.
25. And I wouldn’t be as positive as he is, that they weren’t. It’s just that lesbianism would be much less common then, and less mentioned. Why? We have to take into account the tremendous value placed upon having children in ancient times. In fact, the main religions of the Holy Land were fertility cults, intended to improve the fertility of men’s flocks, their fields, and their wives. Remember that to primitive people, the major sources of wealth are fields, flocks, and the children needed to work them. It should also be remembered that among the ancient Greeks, who practiced recreational sex, homosexuality was almost preferred but the homos still put up with having wives for the purpose of bearing children. Children were that highly valued.
26. Once again, I write merely as the devil’s advocate. I am not now disagreeing or agreeing with the author’s thesis, just pointing out as a friendly critic the questions that have to be answered before this issue is represented as a dead certainty to the church. The writer did a good job of presenting his case. Perhaps he is as well qualified as anyone to answer these questions and finish the job.