Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why We're Contraception-Free, Part 6: No Regrets

I'm more in love with Krista than I was on our wedding day. We're not perfect, as individuals or in our marriage, and we're still trying to figure out what all of this means and how best to live it out. Yet, over the last few years, by God's grace, we've seen our lives more and more truly become one, coming together to form a new family.

Krista and I feel like we dodged a bullet. We were totally foolish; we got engaged and hadn't given serious thought to contraception or children at all. By God's merciful grace, we stumbled upon some 45 year old document of a long-dead pope, and it saved us not only from grave perversion in our marriage but also from missing out on our greatest joys.

I am more convinced every day that getting married and starting a family after becoming an adult should be normal. But instead, in our contracepted world in which pleasure is a right, chastity is unhealthy, adolescence is extended indefinitely, commitment is shunned, and service to others is a burden, something as simple as getting married soon into adulthood and allowing fruit to naturally come therefrom has become a revolutionary act.

Indeed, if the arguments of Humanae Vitae are right, contraception is an attack at the very foundation of human society: the marriage bed. And it has been an attack virtually global in scope and with almost universal acceptance, with billions of dollars spent in its promotion. In just a few decades in the 20th century, the world went from largely rejecting its use to considering it to be a form of necessary preventative medicine (the natural functioning of a healthy body is a disease?) and access to it to be a human right that trumps the right to conscience of anyone who thinks otherwise (and in some countries mandating its use). Of course, the world will go on, and so will the Church, but many souls can be lost in the process.

Our new convictions deeply shook Krista's and my confidence in Protestantism and played a significant role in our decision to join the Catholic Church. With small exceptions consisting mostly of individuals or small communities, virtually all Protestant denominations have been incapable of preserving this most basic moral truth.

The Catholic Church remains the only major organization on the planet that has held the historic Christian line, and it has done so despite enormous pressure to capitulate from without and from within. The successor of St Peter's promulgation of Humanae Vitae in the tumultuous year of 1968 stands as strong confirmation that Christ really did build his Church on Peter the Rock (Matthew 16.18-19).

Thankfully, it looks like some evangelicals are starting to take a second look. Lutheran pastor Russel Saltzman last year wrote in a piece for First Things:
I am rethinking Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical condemning artificial birth control. Well, actually not rethinking since I cannot remember ever thinking about it much at all, ever, except dismissively. So best to say, I am considering it seriously for the first time. I actually sat down to read it.
In an old piece re-posted in the last year on his website entitled "Can Christians Use Birth Control?" (to which I responded here), Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler, though he refrains from endorsing the full Catholic position, challenges his readers:
[W]e should look closely at the Catholic moral argument as found in Humanae Vitae. Evangelicals will find themselves in surprising agreement with much of the encyclical’s argument.
And just last summer, evangelicalism's flagship magazine Christianity Today published a review of Mary Eberstadt's recent book Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution entitled "The Consequences of Contraception: Evangelicals need to reckon with the empirical evidence of what the sexual revolution has wrought". The review encourages its readers:
In this day and age, such a suggestion will seem ridiculous to Christians and non-Christians alike, but the data is undeniable. If we want to think seriously and Christianly about sex, then we need to think seriously about contraception.
I am greatly encouraged that some evangelicals are beginning to rethink contraception. I hope my readers will as well.

This coming August will mark the beginning of our fifth year of marriage. Looking back, we wouldn't have done anything different, whether it was getting married when we did or having the children when we did. We don't feel like we've missed out on anything and none of the nightmare scenarios have come close to materializing. On the contrary, we've seen all the great joys and blessings we could have missed out on.

We have no regrets. I have written this with the hope that other couples won't either.

Keep Reading: Post Script
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This is Part 6 of a six-part series:

Part 1: Asking the Question
Part 2: Flipping the Switch
Part 3: No Longer Afraid
Part 4: Hey Baby
Part 5: Tested Twice
Part 6: No Regrets
Post Script

Resources:
Humanae Vitae
Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan
Children of the Reformation: A Short and Surprising History of Protestantism and Contraception
Sanger's Victory: How Planned Parenthood’s Founder Played the Christians—and Won
Birth control is moral (but not all methods)
Organic Sex, Organic Farming
The Vindication of Humanae Vitae
Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution
iUseNFP.com
Find an NFP class

30 comments:

  1. Beautiful series! Congrats on your family. If only couples truly knew the love/grace/blessings that can be attained through the use of NFP. I am glad you two found your way!

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    1. Hello Beth, Yes, I very much agree. Thanks for the encouragement! God bless

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  2. Brantly - you are absolutely correct in seeing that a marriage truly open to children has become a "revolutionary act." I was married a little older than you (age 26), but our first child came 9 months and 2 days after our wedding. Eight more children and 22 years later, our own quiet revolution continues. Keep the faith!

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    1. Christophe, Yes, and thanks for your story. As I've said to several people here in the comment, I think people sharing their stories is so important because it shows people that another way is possible. God bless you and your family!

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  3. Brantly and Krista,

    Your testimony of faith, hope, and love ring loudly for your readers to read and those blessed enough to know in person see daily. Thank you for living your lives as proud witness of the Catholic faith and for being open to accepting the Truth through the Spirit. I wish you and your growing family all the best!

    My wife and I are now 7.5 years into our marriage with four beautiful children (two girls, two boys). Reading your story gives me faith that there is still much good in this world!

    Ray

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    1. RPK, That's very kind of you, thank you. Thank you for your witness as well. God bless!

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  4. Thank you for such a beautiful and uplifting story. It really made my day!

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  5. From Heroic Parenthood, by Christopher Gawley:
    The emphasis on NFP as a positive has created a creeping contraceptive mentality that is suspicious of grace and faith. NFP is ultimately distilled to the faithful as a natural way to obtain the same results as our contracepting neighbours - a couple of kids, jobs for mom and dad, two new cars, a vacation to Disneyland, and a white picket fence - albeit wrapped in a soft and cozy mantra of "prayerful consideration." (end of quote)

    The Church teaches that spouses should not try to limit births, even using NFP, unless they have serious reasons for doing so. If spouses use NFP simply as an alternative to the pill in order to avoid having a large family, they are avoiding the primary duty of marriage and committing a grave sin against the very nature of married life. In other words, the Church requires spouses to have large families unless they have a serious reason not to. In western nations, I doubt very much that "financial reasons" are sufficient. We are not dispensed from having children because we cannot give them everything other kids have, because they won't have their own bedrooms, or because it will be hard to travel, because we're tired, depressed, or whatever superficial reason most couples give to explain away their obligation to have children.

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  6. You wrote:
    "Some charge that natural family planning also engenders the contraceptive mentality since it is used to avoid children. The opposite is true: natural family planning maintains the connection between sex and procreation since the couple, if they wish to avoid a child, abstains from the procreative act. The connection is respected. Contraception, in contrast, disregards the connection and works against the human body to frustrate the natural purposes of the act."

    This is only partly true. It's not simply a question of maintaining the connection between sex and procreation, although that's an important point. Pope Pius XII writes:

    "The fundamental law of the conjugal act and conjugal relations: That every attempt of either husband or wife in the performance of the conjugal act or in the development of its natural consequences which aims at depriving it of its inherent force and hinders the procreation of new life is immoral."

    To limit sex to infertile periods is an attempt to deprive it of its inherent force and can only be justified for serious reasons.

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    1. Hello Daniel Arseneault,
      Yes, you are right that the default for any married couple should be to simply have sex and let children naturally come therefrom. Even NFP can only be used if the couple has a just cause. I thought I explained that, but perhaps not clearly enough.

      What I meant to show is that NFP is moral as a means (whereas contraception is always wrong as a means, regardless of intentions), but, of course, like all things, must be used with moral intentions. A couple using NFP could have moral or immoral intentions. How many kids they should have and when (discerning whether they have a just cause to limit children) is ultimately a judgement call between the couple, their pastor, and God.

      It seems to me that the passage from Pope Pius XII you quoted is only a teaching against contraception and abortion. He's against a couple hindering the procreative act in the "performance" of the act (the use of contraception) or "in the development of its natural consequences" (abortion). A couple engaging in NFP isn't doing anything to the act.

      God bless!

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    2. Thanks for the reply. Just to be clear, do you think it is licit for spouses to abstain from sex during fertile periods without serious reasons, simply because they don't want large families?

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    3. Hey Dan,
      Great question for clarification. My answer is: No, a couple should not being using NFP simply because they personally don't want a large family. Under normal circumstances, a couple should simply be having sex regularly and allow children to naturally come therefrom. A certain number of children isn't guaranteed and there's obviously no target number. Perhaps naturally they will only have 2 kids, or 10 kids, or 6 kids, or no kids at all, etc. They should only start to intentionally abstaining during fertile times if they have a just cause (economic, medical, psychological, etc). In other words, if a couple is not having children (and they are in their reproductive years), it always means that there's something bad going on (infertility, poverty, poor health, etc). I will also say that determining whether they have a just cause is ultimately a call for the couple to make, between themselves, their pastor, and God.

      God bless!

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  7. God bless you both. This world is parched for your faith and courage.

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    1. Giliana, That's kind of you to say, I'm glad you liked the series. God bless

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  8. I am about tired of people arguing that using contraceptives and using NFP are the same because they both avoid pregnancy. First John H now Daniel. According to that argument pushing grandma off a cliff when she gets to old to do much and letting her die naturally are the same thing. The result is the same. Grandma is dead

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  9. I graduated from Wheaton College in 2001 and joined the Catholic Church in July 2002. My husband and I had read Rome Sweet Home by the Hahns and were convinced by the Catholic Church's arguments about openness to life. Some other significant reading I did was actually regarding the Church's teaching on stewardship for the environment. It is much more thorough and in line with the whole of divine revelation than anything I ever encountered written by Protestants. Also, we had a lot of Catholic friends while at Wheaton, so that helped. :)
    I think it is interesting that so many professors were willing to speak to you about this. I remember feeling that there was quite a bit of fear of revealing that one might read Catholic sources or take them seriously because of one's allegiance (as an employee) to the Statement of Faith. I am glad that that appears not to be the case.
    Thanks for the series, and God bless your family.

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    1. Hey nayhee, Wow, always great to hear from other Wheaties who found the Catholic Church. Yes, it's amazing how many people *come* to the Catholic Church because of her teachings on sexuality. I graduated Wheaton in 2010 and so haven't been there for a few years, but yes, when I was, people seemed pretty open talking about Catholicism. God bless!

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  10. "I am more convinced every day that getting married and starting a family after becoming an adult should be normal. But instead, in our contracepted world in which pleasure is a right, chastity is unhealthy, adolescence is extended indefinitely, commitment is shunned, and service to others is a burden, something as simple as getting married soon into adulthood and allowing fruit to naturally come therefrom has become a revolutionary act."

    Since you're supposedly Catholic, don't forget that according to Paul marriage is only an allowance for the weak. If you can't control yourself and keep it in your pants, Paul says, then God allows you weaklings to get married, but the strong are able to live a celibate life and that is what Paul recommends, saying "I would that everyone were as I am." The problem is with those who are too weak to live a celibate life and also too immoral to get married.

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    1. Hey James, Thanks for your comment. While Paul certainly does recommend marriage for those unable to remain celibate, I'm not sure that marriage is "*only* an allowance for the weak". The celibate life is certainly the higher calling, though. God bless!

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    2. That, James, is a classic case of twisting the word of God to one's destruction.

      2 Peter 3:16
      As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

      There is a calling to the married life

      Matthew 19:5-6
      King James Version (KJV)
      5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

      6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

      and there is a calling to the celibate life.

      Matthew 19:12
      For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

      Both are legitimate and both are good. The call to the celibate priesthood being the best of all.

      Sincerely,

      De Maria

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  11. Great read, thanks for presenting this topic from the man's point of view. Finding a mentor can be one of the toughest things you do. God Bless you as you go forward.

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  12. Thank you for writing this series. My husband, a Lutheran, and I, a Catholic, have been married for six months. He agreed to practice NFP out of respect for me and my beliefs, though he doesn't fully understand why I am against artificial contraception. Lately, I've felt God calling me to reexamine the reasons we are using to avoid pregnancy, as I'm more and more unsure if those reasons are actually just. I appreciate your thorough posts with links for further reading as I work through this teaching with my husband.

    And, welcome to the Catholic church =)

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    1. That's great to hear Kristen that your husband is respecting your wishes on contraception. And thanks for the encouragement. God bless!

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  13. Contraception is classed as preventive care- initially, by the Institute of Medicine http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2011/Clinical-Preventive-Services-for-Women-Closing-the-Gaps.aspx and then as part of the HHS Mandate, following the lead of this highly respected non-partisan institute. The reasoning is basically that contraception lowers unintended pregnancy, STDs, and abortion rates while allowing women to more effectively space out their pregnancies in such a way that is more conducive to their health- feminine health which, by the way, is generally not attainable by throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks then calling that "the will of God." You do sometimes have to be a bit more intentional in order to have ideal health.

    Where was I? Ah, preventive care. While this is not without controversy, this did not happen without much thought and consideration. The result of this conclusion provoked a response from you- "(the natural functioning of a healthy body is a disease?)" The conclusion you strongly imply is that classing contraception as preventive care means the non-partisan medical experts have somehow concluded that pregnancy is a disease. This is rather far from the truth, and perhaps it would be a good idea for you to put some research into a blog post that specifically addresses why contraception is Really classed as preventive care. It's not because pregnancy is a disease, you won't even be able to quote-mine anything to that effect if you are able to obtain and read the actual report. Rather, the conclusion is that contraception is a tool that serves feminine health in a positive way, with much research and evidence to support that conclusion. Again, by way of review, evidence and facts lead to the conclusion that contraception is good for the health of females. It is not founded on the belief that pregnancy is a disease.

    As I was making my way to the link in this post, I happened across a related article involving Pres. Obama and measures he's taking against rape. What is this man doing, you may ask? Sex is a good thing. It is a, what do you call it, natural functioning of the body. Is the President of the United States suggesting that we must fight against sex? If so, what an unpopular thing that would be. But no, this is not that. Yes, rape involves sex, but the key point in that example is that it's UNWANTED sex. There is a bit of overlap with the contraception thing- contraception prevents UNWANTED pregnancy, which is not to say pregnancy is bad or a disease any more than rape being wrong equates with sex being bad- but there's more to it than that, as a matter of fact. You see, if the Only good thing about contraception was that it prevents Unwanted pregnancy, that probably wouldn't be good enough for it to be classed as Preventive Care. You see, not only does it prevent Unwanted Pregnancy, there's also this little detail- sometimes, pregnancy is Unwanted for very good reasons related to health and medicine....while at the very same time, sex is Wanted and, within the bounds of marriage, quite healthy and good. So, because we're talking about Unwanted Pregnancy and most especially because those pregnancies are so frequently unwanted for Reasons That Are Not At All Neutral To Female Health and Wellness, But As a Matter of Fact (check the research) Preventing Those Pregnancies Is Conducive to Better Female Health, this is why contraception is classed as preventive care.

    Again, not because pregnancy is a disease, but for the preceding reasons which are based on research, evidence, and fact.

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    1. Hey Anon,

      Thanks for your comment. A few quick thoughts:

      1) Ordinarily when the Pill is used as contraception, hormones are being given to healthy women in order to make her body not function properly (and carries with it other side effects). This is the opposite of medicine.

      2) Any of the medical benefits to avoiding pregnancy via contraception (if the woman has a health reason to not be pregnant, etc), can be gained by avoiding pregnancy via nfp or complete abstinence from sex - neither or which disrupts the natural functioning of the woman's body or distort the sexual act.

      3) The vast majority of the time that contraception is used to avoid pregnancy, it's not for any medical reasons but for practical reasons (the woman and/or her male partner simply do not want a child, but still want to be able to have sex whenever they want).

      4) Given how contraception has dramatically changed our culture's view of sex, relationships, etc, the net effect of contraception has been greatly negative for both men and women (the dissolving of healthy, stable, fruitful male-female sexual relationships, shallow relationships, broken relationships, childlessness, etc).

      God bless!
      Brantly

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    2. 1) The Pill is just one form of contraception, to my knowledge the greater sticking point in the current contraception debate has to do with condoms, particularly in developing nations where HIV is a serious problem. To your point about the body not functioning properly- the Pill alters hormonal levels in such a way that, hormonally speaking, pregnancy is simulated. But you weren't really suggesting that a woman's body is not functioning properly when she is pregnant- that would be a blatant and intentional misinterpretation of what you actually said. Not unlike your own blatant and intentional misinterpretation within your original post. It is actually true that some women have adverse effects to the Pill, and to some extent, teenage girls in particular have been misinformed about how universal its use should really be. But there are viable alternatives available to those who are better informed, and while NFP is one of those options, it's certainly not the only one that's readily available to any given woman under any given set of circumstances.

      2) Condoms allow you to avoid pregnancy and STDs, the latter point being of particular significance in several parts of the world where Protestants and Catholics are currently seeing rapid growth in membership right alongside a tremendous problem with HIV. Additionally, while you may be young right now, there will come a point when you and Krista are somewhere between your mid-30's and mid-40's. Those are the years in Krista's life when pregnancy is still possible, but with each passing year the chances of a high-risk pregnancy become exponentially more likely. Are you planning on taking your chances with NFP over the course of that decade or so? Or will you choose to abstain completely from sex until she's no longer fertile? Or- there's another option- maybe you could do the smart thing and explore contraceptive options. Rubber up, or explore some of your other choices.

      3) It is true that irreligious people use contraception for personal gratification, often outside of marriage. But those same irreligious people also use cars in order to get from A to B to C. For them, A could be home, B could be a strip club, and C could be some hookup spot where sexual relations happen between people who barely know each other. What allows all this to happen, you ask? Well, partly, it helps that the man in this situation owns a car. So what- you're not going to own a car? Remember Brantly, you're not that guy. You can use your car for other things that don't involve casual extramarital sex. And you don't have to use a condom for every type of thing that Other People use them for. If you want to use them during once certain time of life when high-risk pregnancy is an imminent danger, you can use it for just that. That won't lead to strip clubs and extramarital affairs, it really won't.

      4) Contraception is not solely responsible for changing our culture's view of sex. It played its role, but there were a lot of other things that went into the sexual revolution. Getting back to cars- that was at least as helpful as contraception. Prior to the 50s and 60s, teenage kids did not own cars. Cars existed, of course, but the phenomenon of the teenage driver took some time to develop. When teenagers were able to drive themselves (and a date) to wherever they wanted, that had a much larger individual effect on premarital sexuality than condoms did on their own. But again, I come back to this point- when your son reaches the age of 16, are you going to deny him the opportunity to have a driver's license just because so many of his friends are going to abuse the privilege and use their parents' car to hook up? I somehow doubt it. There were a number of other factors that moved the needle on the sexual revolution more so than condoms did- that's one example though.

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    3. 1) Did you read all 6 parts of what Brantly posted where he addressed the fundamental problems with all forms of contraception? Contraception divorces the sex that God created for us, both for our enjoyment and for our God given mission as husbands & wives, from procreation, thus perverting his gift for our use. All of this is tied to the fact that the human family is supposed to be an image of the family of love that is the Trinity.

      2) Condoms are not needed since monogamous relationships don't result in the spread of diseases. There was even a Harvard professor who backed Benedict on this issue.

      3) Cars can be used for illicit purposes, but they usually are not, and if you tell somebody you are buying a car, they don't assume that it's primary purpose is to go around doing illicit activities with it.

      4) Contraception was billed as a game changer in family life, freeing women from the bonds of being a housewife, and from having men controlling them through sexuality. But every other ill we see in marriage, family, sexuality, the battle of the sexes, advertising, music videos, pornography etc. are indirectly if not directly traceable to changes in how men and women interact because of contraception. Specifically as Brantly mentioned in part

      "[A] man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection."

      So, in breaking the natural order of sex for both expressing selfless love and creating children, women have seized economic power and relationship power at the expense of many men not stepping up to do what real men should do, thus making life worse for women in hundreds of different ways.

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  14. Are high-quality systematic evidence reviews available which indicate that the service is
    effective in women?

    Are quality peer-reviewed studies available demonstrating effectiveness of the service in
    women?

    Has the measure been identified as a federal priority to address in women’s preventive
    services?

    Are there existing federal, state, or international practices, professional guidelines, or federal
    reimbursement policies that support the use of the measure?

    These were the main questions that were studied and considered en route to contraception being classed as preventive care that ought to be covered as part of an HHS madate which technically qualifies as a tax (according to the Supreme Court) so that there will be no deterrent to women using it. The questions and issues most central to Humana Vitae were not particularly involved in this consideration- but then again, no Catholic to date has forwarded a systematic argument against contraception as preventive care based on real research into medical science that yields a fact-based conclusion. Instead, we have fans of HV that misrepresent the Actual Research as an assertion of All Pregnancy Is a Disease. That's ridiculous. Just because your side hasn't done any real work on this, don't assume that the other side has failed in a similar way.

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