Issues

Contraception

How do different Christians see birth control?

ISSUES-SEX&MARRIAGE-CONTRACEPTION

Having children has always been a central part of Christian marriage. The first commandment given to Adam and Eve was ‘Be fruitful and increase in number’ (Genesis 1:28) – in other words – ‘Go and have children’. For centuries all Christians believed that it was up to God how many children a couple had and contraception was thought to be wrong, or interfering in God’s plans.

There is no specific mention in the Bible of whether using contraception is wrong, simply because modern forms of contraception did not exist when it was written. Over time, most Christian denominations have changed their view from this earlier belief that birth control is ultimately and always wrong. One turning point was the Great Depression in the 1930s, when the connection between the number of children in a family and the levels of poverty became clear. Many Christians at this time began to think that some type of birth prevention was necessary and justified.

The Church of England teaches that contraception enables a couple to enjoy sex (which is seen to be an important part of the marriage relationship) and also take responsibility for the size of their family. In contrast, traditional Roman Catholic teaching objects to ‘unnatural’ forms of birth control because it believes the sexual act has two purposes – to unite the couple and also to create children. Contraception is seen as separating these two aims. In the document Humanae Vitae (1968), it states ‘condemned is any action, which either before, or at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse is specifically intended to prevent procreation – whether as an end or a means … It is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it …’

However, Pope Francis was recently asked whether the Roman Catholic Church should reconsider their view on birth control. He replied: “It all depends on how the text of Humanae Vitae is interpreted. Paul VI himself, towards the end, recommended that confessors show great kindness and attention to specific situations… The question is not that of changing doctrine, but to go into the depths, and ensuring that pastoral [efforts] take into account people’s situations, and that, which it is possible for people to do.”

Here the Pope appears to be saying that although the Catholic view of contraception should remain the same, there needs to be an element of grace. Where a person’s situation would be better without more children, then the use of contraception can be forgiven.

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