February 4, 2014
With debates over contraception making headlines again, here are some questions about the topic that Protestants should be asking.
There's a lot of good food for thought in this short post. Thank you, Branson, for touching on this issue. Like you, I quite agree with you that this is a question Protestants can (and should) think about and "reason together" over <i>as Protestants</i>.
I don't want to put a whole blog-length reply in the comments (and I think I could, on this topic!), but I do think it's worth looking a little more closely at your statement <i>The question is whether we can completely divorce the unitive and procreative meanings without distorting what our bodies should say in intercourse.</i> I'm not sure I agree with it entirely. Sterile people (either from infertility or age) can have meaningful sex, and I'd say the sex is meaningful for much the same reason that a fertile married couple's sex is meaningful. This seems to be true even if they know there's an impossibility to having a child, and even if we're talking about a couple that only found each other in their twilight years - so it's not just a shadow of when the sex had that procreative role. I'd also wager you get bodies saying that same thing through sex when the sex act itself couldn't possibly lead to procreation. (I won't be explicit here, but I'm assuming someone who's sat through sex ed can think of intimate activities spouses might share that wouldn't lead to any possibility of sperm meeting egg.) The fact that you know your sexual act can't possibly lead to procreation doesn't seem to change the unifying role of sex without there being any possibility of procreation. Given all that, I'm not sure why the fact that it's an artificial method ruling out contraception changes things here.
But even if we accept your point here, I think there's a larger question worth asking. Say our sexual relationship with our spouse has to include unification and the possibility of fertility - that if you're only aiming for one, you're not getting the whole picture. Does that mean that every single instance of sex has to be open to both those roles? Because I can imagine a couple being open to fertility in general without that meaning every time they have sex, them desiring conception at that point in time. Maybe they have more children than they can afford to support well at that particular point in time. Maybe they are older (but not yet infertile), or there are health problems making it questionable whether both parents would survive another twenty years.
Another issue worth asking is whether we can support contraception in some circumstances <i>pragmatically</i> - I mean, the idea that sex should really be restricted to marriage but if you're not going to do that it should certainly be done with (non-abortifacient) contraception, to fight the spread of disease and limit the number of unwanted pregnancies that are more likely to end as abortions. I think we can recognize that that sex is immoral without losing fight of the fact that it's <i>even worse</i> to have sex that could lead to abortion or possibly serious STDs, including AIDS.
All of these concerns are <i>precisely why</i> we need to be having this conversation. Also, why a statement along the lines of "All contraception is permissible" or "All contraception is wrong" probably isn't recognizing the complexity of this issue and all the way it affects human life (and so all the ways in which our Christian ethics need to address it.) Thanks for the reminder of how important this question is for Protestants as well as Catholics.
We already have the ability to control the existence or non existence of our potential children. We do so by choosing whether or not to have sex at a given moment at all.
Marta is correct on how a procreative requirement for sex would leave non procreative methods of sexual intercourse as sinful. I have reason to believe there is not a procreative requirement at all.
Take oral sex for instance, this is not a procreative method of sexual intercourse. If it were a sin to have oral sex, we can conclude it would have been addressed in the bible considering the fact that the bible addresses quite a few types of sinful sexual activity and most are more obscure and uncommon than oral sex. I would bet my salvation that there was more oral sex going on in the Israelite camps than bestiality, yet for some reason God chose to address bestiality and not oral sex. Why did he do this? Probably because he didnt have any issues with oral sex. Im thoroughly convinced oral sex is acceptable, which leaves me thoroughly convinced that non procreative sex is acceptable, which leaves me thoroughly convinced that birth control is acceptable.
Now that doesnt mean we should avoid all procreation, the bible says that children are a blessing from God, and procreation is afterall a quality of natural sexual intercourse. But I think its safe to say there isnt a procreative requirement, and therefore birth control is likely acceptable under some circumstances. I dont know what the acceptable circumstances are though, id guess thats up to individual freedome and reasoning as well as God's input in their prayer lives.
Just my 2 cents :)
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