OPEN EMBRACE: APROTESTANT COUPLE RETHINKS CONTRACEPTION
by Sam and Bethany Torode William B. Eerdmans, 2002 144 pages, $12
One of the most destructive errors of our time is the belief that the pro-creative, unitive and sacramental dimensions of marriage can be torn from one another with no harm done to the state of marital unions. Sam and Bethany Torode make a compelling case for doing all we can do to keep the three together.
Catholics practicing natural family planning will find nothing new here, but then they don't comprise the book's intended audience. Rather, the Torodes have written a book for Protestant couples who were never taught to oppose contraception — like themselves not so long ago.
Like Kimberly Hahn and others who have traveled the same road before them, Sam explains that he once incorrectly assumed that the Catholic Church's prohibition on contraception was a superstition, an unnecessary holdover from the Middle Ages. After a friend explained that the Church actually had good reasons for its teaching, he decided to research the subject himself. This book is the result.
Beginning with what it means to be created in the image of God, the Torodes reason that our sexuality reflects God's likeness. It is from this “theology of the body” that the Torodes flesh out their embrace of a one-flesh union that cannot be diminished or compromised by contraception.
Their logic is clear, simple and easy to follow. Desiring to conform their desires and actions to the natural cycle of the woman's body, they lead the reader to natural family planning. Here they encounter a profound, biblical perspective on the meaning of sex — namely, that love cannot be contained in just two bodies: Marital union reflects the Holy Trinity.
One minor weakness of the book is that it makes no attempt to examine contraception from a moral standpoint. Rather than suggesting that contraception is evil or sinful, the Torodes are content to say that it is not “ideal.” Again, one must remember their audience.
While they do not address the theological implications of the factors that led to their decision, the authors do present a convincing argument. They are particularly effective at refuting the defenses of contraception that rest on the intention of the couple using it.
The book stands as a challenging critique to a culture where the contraceptive mentality treats fertility as a sickness and children as inconveniences. The Torodes lay to rest the long-held myth that NFP is synonymous with the “rhythm method"; they also address the many marital and child-spacing benefits of modern, scientific NFP. Finally, they demonstrate how the contraceptive mentality leads to abortion-on-demand.
In the book's final section, Bethany writes a touching affirmation of what it means to be a mother. Her chapter “Be Not Afraid,” reflecting both Scripture and the favorite words of Pope John Paul II, will warm the heart of any mother.
The book's great strength is that it packages a very Catholic message in decidedly Protestant gift wrap. Many Protestants refuse to hear the Catholic perspective on contraception simply because they discount the authority of the source. The Torodes, however, quote from a variety of Catholics — Mother Teresa, various popes, G.K. Chesterton and Fulton Sheen among them. For example, in the book's second section, Sam provides a historical perspective on contraception. He effectively draws from the early Church fathers to demonstrate the Church's condemnation of contraception and abortion from the very beginnings of the Christian faith.
I heartily recommend this book not only for Protestants, but also for the Catholics who ignore the Church's teaching on contraception. It would make a wonderful engagement or wedding gift for a young couple. Judging from their words in this book, the Torodes are Catholic. They just don't know it yet.
Tim Drake edits the Register's Culture of Life section.