It's a great piece that says a lot with which I can agree, and I'm glad to see evangelicals taking another look at the question of contraception. I do, however, have a few comments:
First: in the fourth paragraph, Mohler writes:
When Pope Paul VI released his famous encyclical outlawing artificial birth control, Humanae Vitae, most evangelicals responded with disregard — perhaps thankful that evangelicals had no pope who could hand down a similar edict.In saying that Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae outlawed contraception, Mohler seems to be implying that Humanae Vitae was the Church's first word on the subject. In actuality, Humane Vitae simply reaffirmed what the Church had taught for centuries. Most recently before Humanae Vitae, Pope Pius XI's 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii had also reaffirmed the Church's teaching against the use of contraception.
And it wasn't just Catholics who were against the use of contraception. All Protestant denominations had also rejected the use of contraception for centuries until the mid-20th century, just before the advent of the Pill. The first Christian denomination in the whole history of the Church to approve the use of contraception under any circumstances was the Anglican Church in 1930 at its Lambeth Conference of that year (Pope Pius XI's encyclical Casti Connubii was written in response to this). For a history of Protestant teaching on contraception, I recommend the article "Children of the Reformation" by the Lutheran scholar Allan Carlson.
Second: later in the article, he writes:
To demand sexual pleasure without openness to children is to violate a sacred trust.And soon after that:
Once the sex act was severed from the likelihood of childbearing, the traditional structure of sexual morality collapsed.But then in the next paragraph he writes:
For most evangelicals, the major break with Catholic teaching comes at the insistence that “it is necessary that each conjugal act remain ordained in itself to the procreating of human life.” That is, that every act of marital intercourse must be fully and equally open to the gift of children. This claims too much, and places inordinate importance on individual acts of sexual intercourse, rather than the larger integrity of the conjugal bond.So he affirms the need for sex to remain linked to procreation, but then says that this doesn't have to be true every time? This is problematic because each sex act is its own act. A sex act cannot be reduced to only part a couple's "sex life", so to speak, as though a "sex life" is an item. If it is a perversion to separate sex from procreation, then it doesn't make sense to say that a sex act can sometimes be perverted but other times not perverted. One does not make-up for the perversion in one sex act by doing other sex acts properly. E.g. Lying is not occasionally permissible as long as one is usually honest, etc.
Third: soon after that he writes:
The focus on “each and every act” of sexual intercourse within a faithful marriage that is open to the gift of children goes beyond the biblical demand.Christians have always read the story of Onan in Genesis 38.8-10 as teaching that Onan's perversion of the sex act was why he was punished (see John Calvin's commentary on Genesis 38.9-10; the most commonly used English edition omits some of what he says, with a footnote that says that they are omitting it without saying why, so you'll need to find a commentary that doesn't omit everything he said there). In fact, the focus on each and every act is based on the fact that each and every sex act is its own moral act. You could have sex once, you could have sex a hundred times - contraception is always a perversion of the sex act.
Lastly: he writes:
Since the encyclical does not reject all family planning, this focus requires the distinction between “natural” and “artificial” methods of birth control. To the evangelical mind, this is a rather strange and fabricated distinction. Looking at the Catholic position helps, but evangelicals must also think for themselves, reasoning from the Scriptures in a careful consideration.It's not clear to me what is strange or fabricated in the distinction there. In the natural order, a woman is not fertile every single day of the month. Since a couple is certainly not morally required to have sex on any given day, to intentionally have sex only when the woman is infertile is to work within the natural order of our bodies - or, with nature. Contraception, on the other hand, works only by impeding the natural order - or, against nature (cf. Romans 1.26-27). Thus, the Catholic position of simply abstaining from sex if one has a just cause for avoiding conceiving a child is clearly and qualitatively distinct from actively engaging in an intentionally contracepted sex act.
In any case, I'm glad to see the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary thinking through this most important issue of our times. This post was based on a response I emailed Albert Mohler privately. I'll give an update if he responds to me in an email.