DALLAS, Texas—Something about the Protestant ritual bothered Rachel Keen: As various friends announced their wedding engagements, the congratulations were followed immediately by advice to go to the doctor for birth control.
“I think that's a pretty sad commentary that the first response (to marriage plans) is the birth control pill,” she said.
So Keen, a member of a community Bible church in Portland, Ore., and a staff member of Northwest Family Services, which promotes and educates people in natural family planning, took a “whirlwind” course in Natural Family Planning (NFP) prior to her own wedding in July.
“I had thought for a long time I did not want to do any artificial birth control. I didn't like the idea of putting garbage into (my) body to keep it from doing something it's designed to do. They interrupt the value of sex,” said Keen, 27. “But all my life I felt I had no choices.”
The Keens are among a growing number of Protestants who for health or religious reasons are rejecting contraception and, in effect, accepting the arguments of the landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae, which 30 years ago condemned contraception.
The Ohio-based Couple to Couple League, worldwide promoter of the sympto-thermal method of NFP, keeps no ongoing statistics on the denominations of the couples it trains to teach the method, but at one time did a survey that showed 15% are non-Catholic, said director John Kippley.
“Just yesterday I got two letters from Protestants in Africa,” he said. One was from a minister of a 600-member congregation who wanted “the works” — books, charts, and pamphlets — and the other, a couple who, tired of the birth control being “pushed on them,” had come across Kippley's book The Art of Natural Family Planning and had begun using the method on their own.
“(Protestants) are disillusioned with the pill because of the abortifacient properties,” said Kippley. The birth control pill acts to prevent conception, but also to alter the lining of the uterus; if conception does occur, the newly conceived life is unable to implant on the wall of the uterus, and thus ends in an early abortion.
Indeed, the link between abortion and contraception opened the eyes of pro-life crisis pregnancy director Angie Hammond four years ago.
Hammond, who directs a staff of 48 volunteers at Crisis Pregnancy Center Southwest in the Dallas suburb of Duncanville, said Catholic couple Wayne and Kay Nacy brought materials from the Couple to Couple League and other sources to the center, and “we began to educate ourselves.” The materials, now kept in stock at the center, included such books as The Bible and Birth Control by Protestant theologian Charles Provan, who documents anticontraceptive teaching by such noted reformers as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley.
“The more we learned, the more we were just astounded with the information” — both the Biblical and historic foundations opposing artificial birth control and the negative side effects of the various methods, said Hammond. Meanwhile, she and her staff were noting that client after client reported problems from their birth control, from headaches and bloating to bleeding and depression.
Hammond now trains all her volunteer counselors — mostly young mothers — in the concepts behind natural family planning, and she refers married clients to NFP classes given by a local couple or those offered at St. Paul Hospital in Dallas. The volunteers and clients often know little about how contraceptives work and have never heard of NFP, she said.
“Once people are really aware of God's real view on the pro-life issue, they begin to see that contraception is not a good thing,” said Hammond, a member of First Church of God, a Christian congregation in Dallas. “God is the author of life, and he decides when to open and close the womb.”
Hammond, whose newly married son practices NFP with his wife, credits “the Catholic community” for keeping alive the Christian tradition of children as a blessing and the Goddesigned link between mutual love and procreation. That teaching was universal until the landmark Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 1930, after which all Protestant denominations began accepting contraception.
“We (Protestants) have bought into a lie and we don't even know it. I had definitely bought into it. I was raised in the Church and I had never, ever heard a sermon about contraception,” she said. “We remind them that we used to teach against contraception. I say this every time I go out and give a speech. You've got Biblical authority and Church tradition (to prove it).”
Most congregations are “appalled” to learn about the abortion-causing properties of contraceptives, she said. But Hammond's efforts on behalf of natural family planning are not initially welcomed by some Protestants, who see it as a Catholic thing, she said.
“We've had a couple of Protestant churches that just recently have called us and asked why we are against contraception,” she said. “I took the opportunity to educate them.”
Rose Fuller, executive director of Northwest Family Services in Portland, said her organization has presented lectures on NFP at evangelical seminaries and recently a married couples group at a four-square Bible church.
“Definitely there's a change, an openness from the standpoint of not only Scripture but of pro-life issues. It's not millions of people, but there's a definite change,” said Fuller, whose service trains 500 to 600 couples a year in the sympto-thermal method developed by Dr. Josef Roetzer. “I've seen some of the seminarians write papers on the Scriptural basis (for natural family planning).”
While the number of couples using NFP is reported at only 2% to 3%, Fuller said she has noticed more interest among both Catholics and Protestants than compared to 10 or 15 years ago.
“The truth comes out eventually,” she said. “I think (also) sometimes people look at the (pro-choice) opposition and say, ‘We don't want to be like them.’”
Kippley of the Couple to Couple League said some Protestants have trouble finding the “middle ground” of child spacing allowed for in Humanae Vitae and made possible through the modern, effective methods of NFP. Either they endorse contraception, or they believe in a kind of “providentialism” — being completely open to new life in all circumstances and rejecting even NFP as an obstacle to God's will, he said.
“What they keep omitting is, if you're just going to leave it up to God, then you better be darn sure that you're engaging in ecological breastfeeding,” he said, referring to a type of breastfeeding characterized by mother-baby closeness, nighttime nursing, and frequent suckling that can delay a woman's return to fertility for a year or more.
“God built that spacing in,” he said. “Until recent times, people didn't have babies every year. They breastfed their babies and they were spaced two to three years apart.”
For Rachel Keen, the benefits of NFP include more than child spacing, but also the increased communication that necessarily goes along with the charting of fertility signs and periodic abstinence.
“The thing that is a real bonus for me is the relationship I have with my husband,” she said. “I really enjoy telling people about NFP.”
Ellen Rossini writes from Dallas, Texas.