A Short & Surprising History of Protestantism & Contraception


This is a fascinating article. One of the most eggregious and misunderstood target of snyde comments about the Catholic Church is a misunderstanding of our ideals on contraception, and a lack of knowledge on how said view has held sway in historic Christendom.

Too long to clip and paste, take a look at the article - written by a Lutheran - and feel free to comment or add links to other insightful articles.


I remember how Scott Hahn said that it was his wife’s research on the history of the contraceptive issue within protestantism that kind of started the ball rolling for him on his inquiry into Catholicism.

In my moderate experience with evangelicals, few give the issue even a thought. None even seem aware that up until their grandparents, christendom had a unified stance against this sin.

In fairness, few of my catholic aquiantences know or care about Church teaching on contraception either.

This is also one issue that most serious Protestants will not ridicule Catholics about. Maybe they have a hunch. . . . . .
They’d much rather pick a fight about confession or Mary.

Strange how someone else’s ru486 is “sinful” but her own hit or miss abortificients are “nobody elses business”.

In fairness, few of my catholic aquiantences know or care about Church teaching on contraception either.

But many do have a vague idea, but willful ignorance probably won’t pass for invincable ingnorance. Been there, done that.

Some do . . . . and they avoid threads on this subject like the plague.

The better challenges come from Catholics who challenge the infallibility of these teachings.

excellent article, excellent review of the historical development of thinking on this issue. if you read to the end you will note that the influential speakers who promoted this changing ethic emphasized, as did Sanger in her work, primarily the necessity of limiting births among the poor. some organizations actively promoted BC for the poor, including sterilization of the “unfit” while at the same time encouraging marriage and procreation among the intelligentsia. this ethic is still at work, notably in the UN, as poorer nations are pressured into adopting “family planning” measures as social policy, regardless of their religious and cultural values, as a condition of receiving aid.

my personal objection to BC, in which I include the rabid promotion of abortion as a tax-payer supported solution to social problems, is and always has been that its advocates conceive it, celebrate it and promote it as de facto genocide against the poor, the illiterate, the ignorant, those with inherited physical and mental disabilities, and those of other races and cultures.

on a positive note, our Christian radio late night shows have had a series all week (I only hear the last half when I leave work, so I am not sure of the speaker, but it may be Chuck Swindoll) on divorce, with scripture citations and interpretation that sound so Catholic as to be downright scary. The last two nights were on the evils of ABC, and promotion of abstinence before marriage, and–wait for it–NFP after marriage. Persons interviewed included those preaching against divorce, those preaching against ABC, those advocating “Christian courtship”–no dating until ready for marriage, and no PDA until marriage, yup, first kiss after vows are exchanged. The obvious connection between the explosive growth of ABC in the culture, and the exploding divorce rates, was made very clear. So yes, some Evangelicals are certainly exploring this topic, and maybe the tide is turning.

No two ways about it - when considered to its logical conclusion, the “ZPGers” “Zero Population Growth advocates” and those who are so zealously promoting “family planning” in the third world are saying, in fairly whitewahsed (pun intended) language “Way too much of you, brown man, just enough of me.”

Funny how rosey pink babies are only burdens to s single unwed college students on her way to a rewarding career. “The poor” just plain “need” it because, well they are poor, and who wants more of them?

Calling All Converts - When you were Protestants, what was your general thinking on this matter? Was it not something worth exploring? Not even on the radar? Not something you wanted to delve into “just in case”? Other?

Please share insight.

I was Southern Baptist, and – at least in my local church, and any SBC literature I ever saw – contraception never came up. Not once. Not ever. Abortion as a sin, yes; chastity/abstinence for the unmarried, yes; marital fidelity, yes. Contraception in any form for any reason didn’t seem to be on the radar, presumed (I guess) to be a matter best kept between an individual and God because it sure wasn’t discussed anywhere else.

Personally, though … I was troubled by it in a vague sort of way, meaning that I knew something was out of whack but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was one of the MANY issues that, once I began learning what the Catholic Church teaches, was brought into clear focus for me – thanks especially to Dr. Janet Smith’s excellent talk on contraception.

As a former Methodist, it was considered a personal choice. I was married in the United Methodist church in my mid-30’s, and we decided beforehand that we didn’t want children. The pastor was aware of this and said that as long as we were both in agreement, no problem. The marriage didn’t last too long, and the pain of the divorce was part of what led me on my journey to the Catholic faith. At least I’ll have clear grounds for an annulment, should I choose to seek one.

The British Malthusian League—a strong advocate of contraception—had a field day exposing what it called the hypocrisy of the priests. As the league explained, the Church of England continued to view contraception as a sin, and yet its clerics and bishops were obviously engaging in the practice. Apparently only the poor and the ignorant had to obey the church.

another jem from the article.

Interesting article! I’m bookmarking it. I like the positive family life standard of early Protestantism as described in the article.

Rod Bennett’s blog had a good series of early 20c. Baptist writing against contraception as a grave evil. You’d think you were reading Catholic writers.

When folks say they want a married priesthood, I claim we can’t afford it. Now I have historical proof, with some illustrative context. Perhaps the same self-interest or economic pressures is what led the EO’s to endorse artificial contraception. I’m sure the move to endorse it didn’t come out of the (single celibate) monks or bishops. It’s strange that EO’s would have repeated, lengthy, severe fasts from food, but cannot refrain from a boink except on Sunday morning. (You have to refrain from sex on days you receive Holy Communion in the EO tradition–not a Catholic thing, just to clarify for our guests.)

Recently, when doing some research trying to find a book on mandatory sterilization schemes in SW VA, I found some related books on Amazon. One described the eugenics movement and how it used and was used by the churches in accepting and promoting artificial contraception. Given the very racist Jim Crow South, and the anti-Irish/Southern European North, I can see how an appeal to racism and eugenics got Christians to accept artificial contraception for racial hygiene purposes. The Touchstone article didn’t touch upon the racist motives at all.

So, to end on a light note, I have make fun of racist fears and quote Blazing Saddles:

Where all da white women at? :rotfl:

Also, I was thinking…conservative Christians who consume conservative political media have been exposed to dire predictions about Muslim fertility rates cf. non-Muslim, especially in Europe (“Eurabia”)–like the Mark Steyn book.

So, do you think the changing evangelical/conservative Christian thinking about ABC is somewhat informed by a demographic fear and a perception of a challenge…“You’re on!”

Or even as a response to Latino immigration? (Latino demographics are younger are more fertile as a whole.)

Or the fact that teenage girlhood is so degraded and ho-ey and we have Bratz and “prostitots?” Are we disgusted enough at the rot to see the damage that has been done?

Seeing the ruin of European culture and the downward spiral of the U.S. has caused a hindsight reaction.

I think it was Pope Paul VI who said “Society goes the way of the family.” His predictions for the culture of killing were true.

What I guess I was curious about - and getting at in the question - was what did you folks think when you would hear about the Catholic Church’s teaching on the matter as reported in the press or somewhere else… “Why on earth is that even an issue?” or…?

A friend of mine who formerly self-identified as gay, opted to lead a life of celibacy and converted to the Catholic Church. He found a certain logical continuity in the Cath Church that appealed to him - sex was for procreation and marriage, and all other sex, between married or unmarried, that was inherently anti-genitive - was problematic. He sums it up with a rather simple yet definative coclusion: “No matter who you are, the Church teaches unless you are about to engage in a pro-genitive act with the person to whom you are married before God, leave your pants on.”

It was never talked about in any way among my fundamentalist brothers and sisters, though I do remember meeting a fundamentalist family once, they had lots of children, and the subject came up, they said they didn’t believe in birth control.

After our 4th child was born I had a vasectomy, in 1979. It was such a routine thing, I never regretted it, until about 8 years later my wife suddenly thought she’d like another child. We investigated a reversal but the Army urologist refused to do it saying it had too small a chance of success. By that time we were Catholics, and I was having some regrets, but not as much as my wife was, so I took the urologist at his word and we let the matter drop.

I’ve had many debates with fundamentalists over the years. They generally are uncompromisingly pro-life, (except for the standard exceptions that Catholics don’t permit) and so I am fond of pointing out that abortion and birth control are flip sides of the same moral coin. I believe the fundamentalists/Protestants are inconsistent in thinking in this regard. The one sin leads to the other.

I was reading on a blog I rather like to follow today - Sacramentum Vitae - the venerable bloggers thoughts on the matter of invitro fertilization and stem cell research:

Almost as soon as it was issued nearly forty years ago, amid the upheavals associated with Vatican II, the majority of Catholics rejected Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae reaffirming the ancient and irreformable teaching about contraception. Never having been taken to task for that, the laity continue to act accordingly even though HV’s teaching is reiterated without compromise in the CCC. And once people accept the idea that procreation may be actively excluded from sexual intercourse, they start losing the ability to see why it’s wrong to procreate without sexual intercourse. It’s a matter of spiritual if not formal logic. Once Catholics get comfortable with the illusion that the constant and irreformable teaching of the Church can be ignored with spiritual impunity, things fall apart fast indeed.

(see: mliccione.blogspot.com)

Frankly I am inclined to agree and ask, if you can divorce sex and pro-creation, to make sex for pleasure, and pro-creation a lab procedure…

If you can divorce sexual relations from progentive familial perogatives…

Well why stop there? Why not have sex when not married? Why be bothered by the natural law if homogenital sex is found to be pleasurable to you, and undoubtedly same-sex attracted persons who act out on this consider it to be?

IT does not seem to be enough for the mainline Protestant or Evangelical to advance the notion that any sexual activity is allowed in the confines of marriage (remarriage invatiably as well) just don’t do these OTHER non-genitive/anti-genitive things…

An anthropologist with whom I am friends has noted that “Gay communities” in Catholic countries are more or less still in infantile but growing social acceptence. One wonders if part of the reason for that is that these cultures are still haunted by the notion that “Sex = marriage, marriage + sex = babies” and are still a generation or three behind the societies that much earlier proclaimed “sex = fun, babies when you want them…”

Of course more than a few pro-life Protestants would be retiscent to examine the abortifacient nature of some of the contraception they do not feel is problematic to accept. How pro-life can a Protestant married couple that have opted for chemical sterility truly be?

I was Episcopalian before and I don’t remember there being much discussion about it one way or the other. But there did seem to be a distinction made between abortion, which was killing a life already in progress, and contraception, which prevented that life from actually beginning. I suppose the thinking was that as long as you weren’t killing a life already begun, then contraception was OK.

Back when I was having babies, there was no RU486 to muddy the waters so that sort of question never came up.

Personally, I have mixed opinions in this area. On the one hand I totally agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church in every particular, but my natural feelings don’t cause me to object to artificial/chemical birth control.

I get to feeling a little guilty at times, because I got a vasectomy while I was still Protestant, at a time when I had to objection to birth control. When I became Catholic, I didn’t have to deal with the large family that would surely have resulted from my large sexual appetite. OTOH, my guilt leads me to regret having my sexuality so divorced from God’s plan. I can look back on a life of disordered sexuality that resulted from a lack of submission to God and his Church. The reality isn’t that I had my cake and ate it, too, but that my life was disordered and puny compared to what it could have been, if I’d been Catholic earlier, and followed the dictates of the Church to the letter.

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