A Dialogue about Birth Control

familyThe following is a conversation between two Christians who have different viewpoints on the issue of birth control. (I’ve made up the dialogue, but much of it comes out of discussions we’ve had in the Bible college ethics courses I’ve taught.) Think about the points they make. You will likely agree and disagree with both of them at different times. Hopefully this will help you develop and clarify your own position, which may combine elements of both or be very different from either.

I don’t think we as Christians should use birth control. What do you think?

God intends us to exercise wisdom and use our common sense, doesn’t he? If a man and woman are fertile, having sex in the fertile time of the month, there’s a one in four chance of pregnancy each time. Even with nursing, you could have ten or twelve or sixteen or even more children, unlimited children, just like people used to have. Is that really what you want?

It’s not about what we want. God is the giver and taker of human life. Let him do what he wants. Besides, children won’t be unlimited. We’ll have a certain number, a finite number God chooses.

Well, that may sound noble and spiritual, but think about what you’re saying. Why don’t you just let your nails grow and never shave? Why do you take a bath and not let nature take its course? God made us rational beings. He expects us to control our physical functions. We cut our hair—but since it’s natural to have long hair and long nails, doesn’t that mean we’re interfering with God’s natural order?

But isn’t there a difference between cutting hair and clipping nails, on the one hand, and preventing children on the other? Hair and nails aren’t people, children are. Hair and nails are never said to be blessings of God, but children are. Reproduction isn’t just a biological thing. We don’t make babies, God does.

Well, God created the reproductive process, yes, so he set in motion what leads to the conception of each child. But that doesn’t prove he superintends personally over each and every child who is conceived, does it? He’s their Maker, yes, but it doesn’t mean he intended for each and every child to be born. Think of children conceived outside marriage or by rape.

But they’re still children, and he’s still their Creator and Psalm 139 seems to show he has a plan for their lives. Besides, God created sex to have children. Isn’t that the purpose?

Bearing children isn’t the only God-given purpose for marital relations. God made man and woman to complete one another and to fulfill each other’s needs. Having sex also reduces the level of sexual temptation—read First Corinthians 7:2-5. Men and women are commanded to have regular sexual relations. If they don’t use birth control, married people will be afraid to have sex, knowing they couldn’t handle all those children. Marriages will suffer if contraceptives aren’t used. Besides, newly married couples have lots to adjust to already—the last thing they need is an early pregnancy too. 

Come on, where’s your faith? You need to trust God more! Who says having children harms a marriage? Sometimes it really helps the marriage by getting the focus off each other. Do you really think God will give you more children than you can handle? Besides, God didn’t just suggest we be fruitful and multiply, he commanded us.

You think you’ve taken the moral high ground, but be sure you look at the rest of Scripture too. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” was a command to Adam and Eve, Noah and Israel, but not to us today. There is no New Testament command to be fruitful and multiply. God told Noah to build an ark too—are you doing that? They stoned adulterers in the Old Testament, but that doesn’t mean we should do it today. Many Old Testament commands don’t apply to New Testament believers. Read Romans 7:6, Galatians 3:23-25 and Hebrews 9:15-17. See, I’ve studied Scripture too! Besides, the earth is already full. We’ve got too many people, not too few. I’m not even sure we should bring children into such an evil world.

The world is evil, but God is good, and he’s a lot bigger than the world too. A world like this needs righteous families with lots of righteous children. And many Old Testament commands do apply to us—no, we don’t stone adulterers, but we do live under the command to not commit adultery. God didn’t have to repeat the command to be fruitful in the New Testament. It’s obviously still in force until he specifically rescinds it, which he never has. Look at the principle, the timeless truth behind the command. He wanted his people to multiply in times of old. Doesn’t he want his people to multiply today? As for the earth being full, that’s just a population control myth. The entire population of the planet could fit into the state of Texas with less population density than many major cities in the world have now.

Well, who wants to live in Texas? Just kidding. I see your point, but what about quality of life, and giving each of your children the individual attention he deserves? Who can do that with eight or ten children?

A large family doesn’t have those children all at once. The older ones can help you with the younger ones. And not everybody will have a large family either. Some people don’t use contraceptives and have only one or two children. Ironically, there are a lot of people who use birth control for eight years, decide to have a family and are never able to. If they hadn’t been using contraceptives for those eight years, maybe they would have had children.

That’s just speculation. Let’s talk about what we know. God always makes his moral will clear to us, doesn’t he? He tells us not to commit fornication or adultery or incest. He’s very specific in his commands, especially concerning sex. But he never says “don’t use contraceptives,” even though they were used in the ancient world. If he doesn’t want us to use birth control, why didn’t he just come right out and say so?

Sometimes he gives us commands, other times principles. No, there’s not a direct command not to use contraceptives, but there is a direct command to be fruitful and multiply. Doesn’t that assume that at best birth control would be the exception not the rule? For instance, in times when parents are in  bad health or it’s risky to the mother or there’s insufficient finances or probability of severe handicap. I mean exceptional situations.

But once you say it’s all right to use contraceptives for the sake of a woman’s health or for any other reason, you’re saying “God wants us to use wisdom and common sense when it comes to having children.” That’s exactly what I’ve been saying all along! It’s just that I think using wisdom is the rule, not the exception.

But so much of our so-called wisdom is just worldly thinking. Society used to view children as an asset. Now we view them as a liability. Even in the church people with large families tend to be looked at like they’re weird, because we’ve bought into the Planned Parenthood mentality that children are inconveniences that interfere with our lifestyles. Psalm 127 says children are a blessing from the Lord. Money is a blessing too—are you going out of your way to avoid God giving you money? Why not? How many other blessings are you trying to avoid to the extent that you’re trying to avoid having children?

Yes, children are a blessing, but we don’t always want or take an offered blessing right now, do we? If someone offers me a free vacation that’s a blessing. But if I have other responsibilities now, I might postpone that free vacation until three years from now, when I have time and money to enjoy it.

Won’t God provide you the time and money you need if he chooses to give you children now rather than later? Besides, God says it’s a blessing to have a quiver full of children. If you keep postponing having children, you won’t have a quiver full.

Having more children was desirable when medical care was primitive and infant mortality was high and people lived in an agricultural economy, but it’s a different world now. Plus, they had so many miscarriages and shorter lifespans, with fewer years of fertility, that these were natural limits on number of children. They might have fourteen children but only seven would live. Healthy  women in this society, with longer childbearing years, could have twenty children, with none dying as infants.

Using contraceptives puts us in control. Do you see any references to God’s people using contraceptives in Scripture?

Which supports my point, not yours. Like I said, contraceptives were used in ancient cultures, and if God had wanted to forbid them, he would have done so! There are direct commands against idols and child sacrifice and a hundred other pagan practices, but no commands against the use of contraceptives. I can only conclude they must not be forbidden.

That’s an argument from silence.

Right, and so is yours, isn’t it? Just because they didn’t have as reliable contraceptives as we do doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them, any more than we shouldn’t fly in airplanes just because our ancestors didn’t. Besides, God’s will isn’t the same for all of us-for one couple a full quiver might be twelve children. For another it might be one or two children.

Right. But shouldn’t we let God decide that? What if Susanna Wesley and her husband had exercised birth control? John Wesley was their fifteen child and Charles was their seventeenth. Jonathan Edwards was an eleventh child, Dietrich Bonhoeffer eighth, Charles Finney seventh, Dwight L. Moody sixth.  Aren’t you glad their parents didn’t practice birth control?

How do you know they didn’t? Maybe it didn’t work or maybe Moody’s parents started using it after the sixth child—who knows?

Didn’t you tell me once your dad was the tenth of thirteen children?

That’s right.

Okay, then let me ask you—are you glad your grandparents didn’t limit their family size? Because if they would have, you and I wouldn’t be having this discussion! We all should look at our own family histories and ask ourselves “what if they had chosen to limit their family size to what we have?” If they would have, lots of us wouldn’t be here. Doesn’t it disturb you that the church’s attitude about having children is much more like Margaret Sanger’s than Susanna Wesley’s? We can oppose Planned Parenthood’s involvement in abortion, but let’s face it, Christians today have been infected with the Planned Parenthood mentality. “I will choose on my own terms how many babies I will have and when.” Aren’t we just playing God when we do that? How can that please Him when we try to take control from the sovereign God?

Well, ultimately He’s still in control, of course. God’s will can’t be thwarted, so if he wants you to have more children you can’t stop him anyway. Birth control is no obstacle to God. He can still do whatever he wants. My little brother was unplanned by my parents, but he was planned by God.

Well, if He can do whatever he wants whether or not you use birth control, why would you use birth control in the first place? Our choices do make a difference—is it possible God had other brothers and sisters planned for you that didn’t slip by the contraceptives? Besides, think about the terminology: “birth control.” Who’s in control? We’re trying to be. And if God gives us free choice, that means he lets things happen that aren’t his perfect will. To do everything we can to not have children and then say God’s in control and can give us all the children He wants isn’t very genuine, is it? Using your logic, suicide and murder are okay because God’s still in control. Or if God wants you healthy, it doesn’t matter if you eat junk, don’t exercise, drive recklessly and don’t wear a seatbelt, since he’ll just accomplish his will and make you healthy anyway.

My point exactly, but in reverse—if you don’t use birth control, all things being equal, you’re going to get pregnant, and that’s just a biological reality, not a miracle. Some people are less fertile and might have just two or four or six kids, but my wife has gotten pregnant each and every time we’ve not used contraceptives. You can count on it. So why not use common sense and contraceptives to space out pregnancies? We all agree that we should eat right and take care of our bodies and prayerfully plan our lives. Why is birth control any different?

Well, I’m not sure, but I keep wondering if God might view it as different because it involves children created in his image. Seems like a pretty big difference.

The Bible says “If a man fails to provide for his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:7). The more kids we have the harder it is to provide for them and the greater danger we will disobey this command.

This is by far the most affluent society in human history—and with one of the lowest birth rates in history—and you really think that’s a danger? Or are we thinking that “providing” means lavishing on children material wealth that doesn’t just meet basic needs but provides for extravagant wants? Our children don’t have too little material things, they have way too much already. That’s one reason children from large families tend to be more responsible, harder-working, and less spoiled and selfish. They also know how to relate to small children because they’ve been around them and helped care for them.

Fine. I’m not arguing it’s wrong to have a large family. I’m just saying if I don’t want to have one, I don’t have to. It’s a question of Christian liberty. Read 1 Corinthians 8-10, on the issue of eating meat offered to idols. God’s will isn’t the same for all of us. It’s a mistake to try to impose your standards on others in gray areas. If you don’t want to use birth control, you don’t have to. But don’t act like it’s a clear-cut biblical issue when it’s not. 

But isn’t God repeatedly portrayed in Scripture as the one who opens and closes the womb? Then who are we to try to open and close the womb with contraceptives? Isn’t that playing God?

But those passages are the exception, not the rule. God miraculously opens and closes wombs in certain cases, yes, but that doesn’t mean having and not having children is always a miracle. God also miraculously heals and sends sickness, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to prevent sickness, does it?

There you go, buying into the Planned Parenthood mentality. Pregnancy isn’t a sickness, it’s a blessing!

That was just an analogy. Lighten up and stop accusing me of being unspiritual. I’m trying to do what’s right too. Once again, you’re avoiding my main point, which was that God’s opening and closing the womb is related in Scripture to certain exceptional cases where He decided to supernaturally intervene. Normally, he just leaves it up to biology. God created the reproductive system like he created gravity. When gravity takes effect, it’s not a miracle. When a woman gets pregnant it’s a remarkable thing in one sense, of course, and you can talk about “the miracle of life,” but it’s something God has set up to work that way. He’s built it into nature.

But, again, pregnancy is a blessing.

But that doesn’t mean anything that reduces the chances of pregnancy is a curse. For instance, breastfeeding affects hormones in such a way as to greatly reduce the chances of pregnancy. Surely you’re not opposed to breastfeeding for that reason, are you?

Of course not.

But why not? If pregnancy is always good, and preventing pregnancy is always bad, then the choice to breastfeed must be wrong. And the choice to have sex in a nonfertile stage of the cycle rather than a fertile one must be wrong too. That’s just taking your position to its logical conclusion, isn’t it?

God has built the natural contraceptive/child spacing effect into breastfeeding, and that’s fine. But that’s very different than man-made contraceptive devices or chemicals. God has the right to space out children using his created means. But that doesn’t prove we have the right to do so using our created means. He’s God, we’re not. He’s the Creator of life, we’re not. He has the right to inhibit pregnancy, we don’t. Pregnancy is a blessing.

Of course, it usually is. But not always—you said so yourself. Having a baby can hurt a woman, hurt a marriage, and hurt other children whose parents don’t have the resources to care for another child.

If you look at it from a limited human point of view, sure, but not if you look at it from God’s point of view.

Are you so sure God’s point of view is the same as yours? You may sound spiritual, but it also sounds spiritual to say, “I’m not going to lock my car, and I’ll leave my keys in the ignition, because I trust God to protect it.” Then when your car gets stolen you can say, “it must have been God’s will.” But don’t you have a responsibility to make intelligent choices and then trust God as you make them rather than instead of making them?

I try to protect my car from theft because theft is a bad thing. That’s different than trying to protect myself from having kids. Children are a good thing.

We have friends who held your position. They didn’t use birth control and then within six years after marriage they had five kids and it was overwhelming. They felt like they were neglecting the children and each other. The wife was even afraid to have sex, and 1 Corinthians 7 shows that’s not a good situation. Anyway, after the fifth child and no longer having sex, finally they decided to start using birth control. And they felt guilty and defeated. But if they’d have had the same five kids spread out maybe over ten or twelve years, they could have handled it. Maybe they could have had more. And meanwhile it wouldn’t have hurt their marriage the way it did. It just calls for some common sense—and not all common sense is from Satan. Some of it’s from God, isn’t it?

But if God is sovereign, He knows all that. He can provide the resources.

And if God is sovereign, He can keep your car from getting stolen, and he can provide the resources if it does get stolen. But you still lock your car, don’t you? By the way, I thought it was Catholics who don’t believe in birth control. You’re a Protestant.

Am I now? Hey, thanks for letting me know that. What would I do without you? But why should it matter who else believes a position and who doesn’t? Besides, the fact is that all the church fathers and Protestant reformers opposed the use of birth control. No Christian group or denomination—Protestant or Catholic—ever supported the use of contraceptives until 1930.

So what? The church has been wrong on lots of other things, hasn’t it? Christians had slaves for centuries and interpreted Scripture to defend it. Maybe it took until 1930 to come out of the dark ages and figure out contraceptives were okay after all. Like you said, it doesn’t prove anything what someone else believes about this issue.

But isn’t it arrogant to think that since 1930 the church came up with the truth, and coincidentally it was right when the secular world was really pushing family planning? Did Christians really discover some new insight hidden in the Scriptures that no one in church history saw until then? Or is it that the church has just conformed to the drift of society, and adopted the ungodly anti-child pro-abortion philosophies of Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood?

I’m not talking about abortion—I’m completely opposed to that. I’m just talking about preventing conception, which is something entirely different. And I still say you already conceded that sometimes it’s right to try to avoid pregnancy. Didn’t you say that?

All right, yes, I think there’s a time to try to postpone or avoid pregnancy, it’s just that I don’t think we should be so quick to do it. It should be the exception, not the rule and a married couple should regularly come back to God in prayer and ask him if now is the time to stop avoiding pregnancy and call upon him to provide or withhold children as he wishes, not as we wish. And if we’re going to do family planning, let’s not use unnatural devices and chemicals. Have you heard of Natural Family Planning?

You mean the rhythm method? That’s really ineffective, isn’t it?

The rhythm method was based on the calendar and biological averages, so it didn’t work well for all those women with irregular cycles. But Natural Family Planning is extremely effective. It involves abstaining from sexual intercourse only for the window of days each month in which pregnancy is most likely. The Sympto-thermal Method of NFP is 99% effective, which is at least as good as the Pill and much better than the barrier methods.

But your goal is the same, to not have children, right? So what’s the difference?

It’s a way of achieving or avoiding pregnancies according to an informed awareness of a woman’s fertility. It’s medically safe, healthy, highly effective and it encourages communication between marriage partners. Couples who use it say it draws them closer together.

But isn’t it unnatural to have to abstain from sex for a certain time each month?

You don’t have to abstain. It’s your choice. You can have sex in the fertility window, but in doing so you say to God, “we’re open to a child if you choose to give us one.” But exercising self-control and postponing sex for a few days is no big deal. It can increase intimacy by anticipation, making it all the better when you come together. Besides, sexual self-control is important anyway, to be sensitive to your partner’s needs and in cases where business and other things result in physical separation.

I still say it’s not good for married people to abstain from sex. Remember First Corinthians 7?

If you think you can’t go several days without sex, you’re wrong—and your marriage is in trouble! Sex is a beautiful and wonderful gift of God, but society has lied to us when it acts like sex is an emergency. It isn’t. Of course, like First Corinthians 7 says, you should only abstain from sex by mutual agreement, and it shouldn’t be for too long, but couples using NFP find it isn’t too long. They say it increases their intimacy and builds their character. Couples practicing NFP have extremely low divorce rates.

Well, it still sounds weird to me. Personally I’d rather just use the Pill or something easy.

It may not be absolutely clear whether or not we should use contraceptives, but it’s certainly clear we should never use abortifacient contraceptives. So that eliminates the IUD and the chemical contraceptives, including the Pill, Depo-Provera and Norplant, because they all thin the endometrium and make it inhospitable to the newly-conceived child. They can prevent implantation.

You’re kidding me.

No, I’m not. When an already conceived child can’t implant in the endometrium because of the effects of a chemical or device, then it’s an early abortion. And the birth control pill manufacturers all list this function as one of the things that makes the Pill work. Remember, the child conceived six days ago is just as human as the child conceived six weeks or six months or six years ago. So, if you’re going to use contraceptives, choose something that runs no risk of abortion, such as condoms, diaphragms, the sponge or spermicides.

But the Pill is so much more convenient and effective than barrier methods!

Convenience and effectiveness aren’t the issue-unnecessarily creating a risk of abortion is morally wrong. Besides, don’t forget about Natural Family Planning, which is both effective and natural. It’s not always convenient, but it has a lot of other advantages. 

Well, I don’t know about that. But I have to say that while I believe in Family Planning, I can’t support planning family size by running the risk of killing a family member, no matter how young or how small.

Well, we sure agree on that.

I guess I better think this through. I don’t want to assume something just because society assumes it. I memorized Acts 17:11 about searching the Scriptures daily to evaluate what’s true and what isn’t. Maybe I’ll start by reading what the Bible says about children and having children and exercising wisdom. Maybe I’ll ask God to open my eyes to his perspectives, and show me if the way I think comes from my culture and upbringing or if it comes from his Word. I want to please the Lord. If I need to adjust my thinking—and my actions—I’m open. And I hope you are too.

Good point. Just because I’m taking a position that’s different from my culture, it doesn’t mean I’m right. Sometimes the culture is right, even if it’s just by accident. It’s not about rejecting whatever society says, it’s about embracing whatever God says. I need to take a closer look at some of the Scriptures you mentioned. Let’s both do all we can to listen to our Lord, and to follow him as best we know how.

And not to condemn other Christians just because they believe using contraceptives is okay.

Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?Yes. And also not to look at a large family and make demeaning comments such as “they reproduce like animals” or “don’t they know about birth control?” or “you’re not going to have another child are you?”

Yeah. I have to confess to that one myself. I’ve been dead wrong, and probably defensive too. That reminds me of a passage in Romans 14...okay, here it is. I’ll read it: “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.”

Good word. We need to stop judging each other, leave that to the Lord, and start having open dialogue in which we can share Scripture and insight and experience.

Right. I’ve got to run, but how about we pray together as we seek God’s will on this?

For more information on this subject, see Randy Alcorn's book Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries