Recently I spent a week ‘sitting in’ for a pastor friend and had time to do some extra reading. In the library I came across a pamphlet entitled Birth Control and Christian Discipleship by John F. Kippley of the Couple to Couple League for Natural Family Planning in Cincinnati. It is really a history of contraception through the centuries, and I gleaned quite a lot of information about which I was either vague or ignorant. The remainder of this article is a summary of the contents of the pamphlet.
Contraception is by no means a modern phenomenon.
Ancient manuscripts, dating back to 1900 B.C., record the use of contraceptive materials. The Book of Genesis (38:6-26) tells the story of Onan, who was slain by God for the practice of what today is called coitus interruptus. For centuries this was the accepted and obvious interpretation of ‘Onanism’. Only recently, in an attempt to justify contraception, has it been claimed that the sin of Onan was only that of defrauding his brother of a son.
IN THE CHRISTIAN ERA
But what really interested me was the history of contraception in Christian times and particularly the firm opposition to it by all Christian churches in the last century and in this one until 1930.
In modern times- particularly since the publication of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI in 1968 – contraception is considered a ‘Catholic issue’ dictated, say the critics, by antediluvian popes and dinosaurian bishops, whose views have been rejected by a pragmatic and compassionate society. The story of how all this came about makes interesting and provocative reading.
What is contraception?
In his excellent book In My Mother’s Womb, Dr. Donald DeMarco defines it thus: “Contraception is the prevention by mechanical or chemical means of the possible natural and procreative consequences of sexual intercourse, namely, conception.”
It is significant that John Calvin and Martin Luther were both anti-contraception. Calvin noted that Onan had sinned both by defrauding his brother and by his act of coitus interruptus.
Martin Luther never countenanced contraception of any kind. He noted that the purposes of marriage were for husband and wife to “live together, to be faithful, to beget children, to nourish them and bring them up to the glory of God.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself!
The pamphlet outlines the positions taken by the Protestant Churches in this century and the last. For approximately seventy years, until the beginning of the contraceptive movement in the 1960s, the Christian Churches resisted.
In the U.S., Protestant concern was reflected in the passage of a federal law against the manufacture, sale or possession of contraceptives in the District of Columbia and federal territories. It also forbade the mailing of contraceptives or advertising them. Passed on March 3, 1873, the contraceptive prohibition was known as the Comstock Law after its chief backer, Anthony Comstock, a young Protestant reformer. There is no doubt that the Comstock Law was passed by Protestants for a largely Protestant America. It was also during this period that anti-abortion legislation was passed.
At the Lambeth Conference of 1908, the Bishops of the Church of England discussed the matter of contraception and repudiated it.
At Lambeth in 1920, in resolution 68, the bishops stated, “We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception.”
Such was the official stand of the Church of England until 1930. It was exactly the same as that of the Catholic Church. Needless to say many members of both churches ignored these teachings and practiced contraception in increasing numbers.
But the official teaching of the churches was firm.
Then came the Lambeth Conference of 1930 and a complete change of direction. A revolution occurred, probably owing to social pressure from Church members.
The Anglican Bishops broke with the previously unanimous Christian stand and allowed unnatural devices and practices:
“Where there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury or mere convenience,” reads their statement in Resolution 15.
This resolution was passed with a vote of 193 to 67, with 45 not voting. It was a complete contradiction to the 1920 statement.
The Anglican Conference referred to took place in August 1930. On December 31 in the same year, Pope Pius XI responded with his famous Encyclical Letter Casti Connubi:
“The Catholic Church proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.”
This teaching was firmly reiterated in 1968 by Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Humanae Vitae, and by the current Pope in his Encyclical Familiaris Consortio.
THE AMERICAN SEQUEL
Within a few months, the Anglican break with Christian tradition was echoed in the U.S.
In March of 1931, the committee of the General Council of Churches endorsed the “careful and restrained use of contraceptives by married people.” At the same time the Council admitted that “serious evils, such as extramarital sex relations may be increased by general knowledge of contraceptives.” This decision of the Council was immediately attacked by church leaders:
Dr. Walter Maier of he Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary wrote, “Birth control, as popularly understood today and involving the use of contraceptives, is one of the most repugnant of modern aberrations, representing a 20th century renewal of pagan bankruptcy.”
Bishop Warren Chandler of the Methodist Church wrote, “The whole disgusting movement rests on the assumption of man’s sameness with the brutes….”
The Presbyterian had this to say in an editorial: “Its recent pronouncement on birth control should be enough reason to withdraw from support of that body, which declares that it speaks for the Presbyterian and other Protestant churches in ex cathedra pronouncements.” (April 2, 1931)
Probably the most significant secular comment appeared in the Washington Post, March 22, 1931: “Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee’s report, if carried into effect, would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraceptives would be ‘careful and restrained’ is preposterous.”
IN THE NEWS…IN THE NEWS…IN THE NEWS…
Culture ‘evangelized’ youth
The prevailing hedonistic culture, not the Christian Church is creating the values of our children, says Derrick Mueller. The Baptist pastor in Chaplin, Saskatchewan bases his position on the results of a survey he conducted with a group of rural Saskatchewan high school teens between the ages of 12 and 18.
Mr. Mueller found, for example, that 85 per cent believe sex before marriage is okay and that 87 per cent approve of living together before marriage. Sexual education has to be given a biblical foundation and understanding, if these statistics are going to be reversed, he stated.
Vernon calls for action
Campaign Life Coalition/British Columbia (CLC/BC) has called upon pro-lifers to help preserve the democratically elected hospital board of Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
Doctors at the Okanagan-area hospital will ask Health Minister Bruce Strachan to replace the hospital board with a public trustee, and will be seeking support from Tom Perry, NDP health critic, said Dr. Bob Henderson, chief of the medical staff.
This action comes as a result of board decision June 19 to halt all abortions at the hospital except where the mother’s life is in danger. At the time, Dr. Henderson immediately asked all Vernon Jubilee doctors to quit hospital committees.
“Our democratic rights and our efforts to protect unborn children are once again in jeopardy,” warned CLC/BC Newsletter editor Walter Szetela, reminding readers of previous moves of the provincial government to replace pro-life hospital boards with a pro-abortion trustee.
In a related move, the North Okanagan Regional Hospital District also indicated it wants to dump the board. It threatens to cut off all funding for new hospital projects and equipment unless the government steps in.
Say No to Sunday shopping
Toronto: Big retailers such as Hudson Bay and the large grocery chains continue to clamour for Sunday shopping in Ontario as a way of making more money at the expense of small retailers, employees, families and society at large. The latest to join them is Toronto’s outgoing mayor Art Eggleton who has suggested a referendum for Toronto at the coming municipal elections. Please vote No and send letters of support to Ontario’s (new) solicitor-general, Allan Pilkey. (Solicitor General’s Office, 25 Grosvenor St., Toronto, Ontario, M7A 1Y6). Pilkey, on behalf of the Ontario government, has declared that “the principle of a common pause day is not up for negotiation.”
Federal Women’s Report
In August 1991 issue The Interim reported on continued Conservative support for feminism (see page 3, “PC’s hard anti-life stand). We forgot to mention the names of the four PC MP’s who rejected The War Against Women report. They were: Edna Anderson (Simcoe Centre); Jean-Luc Joncas (Matopedia-Matane); Barbara Sparrow (Calgary Southeast); and Stan Wilbee (Delta, BC).
The report’s two most out-spoken defenders were pro-abortion feminists Barbara Greene (PC, Don Valley North) and Mary Clancy (Lib., Halifax).
Family Coalition Party
Toronto: The FCP of Ontario is contesting the coming by-election in Brant-Haldimand. Mr. Bob Nixon resigned at the end of June and an election must be called within six months. The nomination meeting will be held in Caledonia on September 4, at the Legion hall, 7:30 p.m.
Victoria: The FCP of British Columbia will hold a fund-raising dinner on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds, Cloverdale (10 miles S.E. of Surrey) on September 3, at 7 p.m.)
Guest speaker will be former Premier Bill Vander Zalm. Entrée is $30.99 single; $50.00 per couple.
Washington, D.C.: On July 18, 1991, in a vote of 81-18, the U.S. Senate voted stiff 10 year prison penalties for doctors and dentists infected with the AIDS virus who do not tell patients of their condition.
In a vote of 99-00 the Senate also endorsed guidelines put out by the Center for Communicable Diseases urging health care workers to get tested for the AIDS virus if they perform “invasive procedures.” (Source: Intern. Healthwatch Report, August, 1991).
From April 4 to 7 the Vatican held a special meeting of all the world’s Cardinals on two subjects of major concern to the Catholic Church: the threat of life to the proliferation of sects.
In his opening address on the subject of abortion Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, said the Church was losing ground in its efforts to protect the unborn, the handicapped, the sick and the weak.
There was a war of the powerful against the weak, “a war that aims at the elimination of the handicapped, of those who are bothersome and even those who are simply poor and useless.”
While praising the pro-life movement, Cardinal Ratzinger said the church must recognize that the opposite movement had up to now been stronger, especially in pushing through pro-abortion legislation. Part of the reason for the legislative victory of forces supporting abortion and other practices threatening the weak, the cardinal said, was the divorce between ethics and politics, and a mentality which saw total freedom of choice for each individual as the only value deserving of respect. Given that the political voice of the powerful was stronger than that of the weak, modern states should ensure that certain “objective fundamental rights” were protected above and beyond social conventions.
Cardinal Ratzinger suggested that a new document would be of assistance, introducing two new elements: first, “it would not only develop individual moral considerations, but also considerations of social and political morality; second, it would not simply denounce modern tendencies, but proclaim the immense value of every individual, no matter how poor, weak or suffering.
On birth control, Ratzinger said it was not an answer to abortion. Experience showed that where both practices were legal both appeared to increase. Birth control, he said, did not aim at responsible procreation: “contraception necessarily leads to abortion as a reserve solution” in attempts to acquire “complete domination over procreation,” he said. (From The Tablet, April 13).
The full text of this important address may be found in the English edition of the weekly Osservatore Romano, April 1991.