National Catholic Register

Books

Growing Protestant Opposition To Contraception

BY Ellen Wilson Fielding

July 12, 1998 Issue | Posted 7/12/98 at 1:00 PM

 

The summer 1998 issue of Sursum Corda magazine carries an article by Elizabeth Altham on Protestants who reject birth control because “God is the best population planner.”

“Children are God's blessing,’ says [father of five] Scott Wiest. ‘Why would anyone want to stop God from blessing him? When I become a full-time pastor,’ Wiest says, ‘I plan to talk about birth control to all my premarital counselees. I will encourage them to trust God in all areas of their lives, including family planning. God creates life, and he chooses who will have children. Thwarting his blessing is a failure to trust his sovereignty and his love.’”

The Rev. Mr. Benjamin Sheldon, a Presbyterian pastor who has seven grown children, explained the connection he sees between pro-life and anti-contraceptive convictions: “‘Those who are pro-life, and in many instances are also opposed to contraception, are the conservatives who held to the inerrancy of scripture. They also take scriptural prohibitions on divorce and remarriage seriously. I personally will not officiate at the remarriage of divorced persons.’”

Though a large majority of Protestants still contracept without a second thought, author Altham uncovers a growing boomlet in opposition. Pastor Matt Trewhella of Mercy Seat Christian Church in Milwaukee, for example, is “founder of Missionaries to the Preborn, an organization which alerts Protestants to the errors and dangers of the contraceptive mentality, as well as to its links to abortion…. ‘We must understand the Church, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox, spoke consistently for 1900 years against birth control.’”

Rob Sheldon, one of Pastor Sheldon's adult children, tells Altham: “‘I spent three years in Switzerland, and experienced the emotionally starved grandparents, the end-of-the-millennium feeling…. I find it hard to explain to 95% of my colleagues and friends that my children are my pride and joy, my hope and consolation—even that I need not worry about 401(k) and Keogh plans because I am depending on my children to provide for me if necessary.’”

Allan Carlson, a Lutheran who is “president of the Howard Center, a new policy research organization that has taken over from the Rockford Institute,” traces “the collapse of Protestant resistance to birth control” in Europe to the aftermath of World War II. “‘Traditional views of marriage were inextricably linked to conservative social and political views—to the old order. When the old order collapsed, it took those views down with it. That war shattered orthodoxy of every kind.’”

Lutheran graduate student Christopher Brown expands on this history by telling Altham, “‘The churches that had grown used to occupying culturally prestigious positions tended to try to retain those positions even as secular culture developed in amoral and anti-Christian directions.'”

In a backlash against contraception, some people have fallen into what Altham describes as “a numbers game … wherein 12 children indicate more holiness than eight.” Christopher Brown's view is that “‘To treat the number of children as a sign of our own moral accomplishment is to deny that they are in fact God's gift to give or to withhold as it seems good to him. Unfortunately, I think the very opposition of our culture to the begetting of children has created a terrible temptation to self-righteousness on the part of those who reject that position.’”

Altham asks Methodist obstetrician-gynecolo-gist James Long, who does not prescribe birth control or perform sterilizations (or abortions), “What [do you] tell patients who are frightened at the prospect of many children?…. ‘Imagine that you come down Christmas morning, and you have 12 presents for your children. They open up seven and say, “Gosh, Mom and Dad, we've had a wonderful Christmas and we appreciate the gifts that you've given us … but these seven are enough. Why don't you take the other five back?…” We do that to God about children—probably about a lot of other things, too.’”

Ellen Wilson Fielding writes from Davidson, Maryland.

The Definite Article samples the Register's choice from the nation's top journals.