Did you know that if the current rate of population growth continues, the world’s population will double in the next 40 years? Did you also know that if all available food resources on Earth were used to feed people, it would only be able to support 15 billion of us?
A new term has entered the language to describe today’s social demographic phenomena: carrying capacity. This concept defines the total number of people who can live on the planet at the same time—15 billion.
An exercise in imagination
Imagine you are living in the 2nd century AD. Soranus of Ephesus has recently opened a family planning clinic in an upscale neighbourhood of Rome. You are given a prescription for a highly acidic mixture of fruits and nuts on a woollen fabric with a dual mechanism of action: a physical and chemical barrier. Pretty simple, isn’t it?
Today, however, the threat of a population explosion is greater than that of the atomic bomb. Still, the offer of contraceptives is in line with the need: hormonal methods, mechanical barriers, chemical barriers, oral or injectable, endovaginal, cutaneous or subcutaneous, preventative or emergency, reversible or irreversible, in the form of a drug or a vaccine, and so on.
In all this, however, there is a “small” problem: conscience.
Some say that “God is against all forms of contraception,” or at least some of them. But what does the Bible say about contraception?
What is God’s view of life? Does God have any knowledge of the problems of a couple in a developing country? Does God care about children? What about parents?
Two commandments, and two reasons
The first commandment given to mankind was: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). This command is the first basis for sexuality.
Also before the Fall, God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). This gives rise to the social dimension of sexuality, which is the basis of the family. On this sexuality rests the superstructure of a lasting, fulfilling, and multidimensional relationship. It is this relational value that is the second basis for sexuality, a reason that sets us apart from the animal kingdom and reminds us of our divine origin.
After the Fall, this relationship became not only a support for family life, but also a shield against immorality. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5: “But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband… Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again…” In other words, one of the reasons for sexual relations is to fulfil natural, biological needs. Paul does not use the word “need.” He uses the expression “duty,” but it is obvious that behind a duty there is a need. Sexuality in marriage is meant to bring joy, pleasure, and fulfilment (Ecclesiastes 9:9; Proverbs 5:18-19; Song of Solomon 4:16-5:1). Who doesn’t need these?
Assuming that “it is a sin to go against nature” and that we should have “as many children as the Lord gives”, a couple would have an average of 25 children. The same Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:8: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Logic tells us that for many, planning the size of a family is the only thing they can do for the welfare of their family.
Adventist author Ellen White wrote in the nineteenth century: “There are parents who, without consideration as to whether or not they can do justice to a large family, fill their houses… Before increasing their family, they should take into consideration whether God would be glorified or dishonoured by their bringing children into the world.”
Abortion and contraception
All Christian denominations consider abortion to be a sin (“You shall not murder.”) However, abortion is not a method of contraception, but one of the consequences of failure to use contraception. Some Christians have a problem with the mechanism of action of some hormonal contraceptives, particularly emergency contraceptives, which they claim prevent implantation in the uterus. However, according to an FDA spokeswoman, “The emerging data on Plan B suggest that it does not inhibit implantation.”
In fact, the crux of the controversy between the two parties, “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” remains the question of when we can consider the product of conception to be a person.
Some argue that even the zygote (the first cell with 46 chromosomes) should be considered a person, and therefore preventing implantation is abortion. The counter-argument holds that even without contraception, many fertilised eggs fail to attach to the uterine wall or are lost after implantation. Furthermore, a pregnant woman is one in whom an egg has been implanted. Without implantation, there is no pregnancy and no possibility of abortion.
Others believe that it is only after the formation of the organs in which God can impart the Breath of Life that we can speak of a person. They quote Ecclesiastes 11:5: “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”
The third category believes that the foetus does not become a person until it could survive if it were born prematurely. As long as the foetus depends on the mother’s body to survive, the mother has a right to her organs and therefore a right to terminate the pregnancy. Since the famous US Supreme Court case, Roe v Wade, it is the issue of foetal viability outside the mother’s body at 28 weeks that settles the issue of abortion. However, mothers who resort to the termination of pregnancy before this legal deadline often have a guilty conscience.
While the Catholic Church and some conservative evangelicals officially oppose contraception, several Christian churches accept it under certain conditions designed to maintain a moral framework. In principle, these churches consider non-abortion methods to be morally acceptable, while abortion or abortifacients (such as mifepristone) can only be used in selected cases: a threat to the life of the mother, a foetus with severe birth defects, and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.
Two commandments, and two reasons
If God were against contraception, then wars, natural disasters or deadly diseases would have a justification to which He would not be completely oblivious; and the earth would be like a cancerous organism suffering from uncontrolled population growth. Interestingly, the same commandment that says “fill the earth” also says “subdue it.” Yet to subdue it does not mean to plunder it, but to use its resources for your own benefit.
The most interesting argument in favour of contraception comes from John Jefferson Davis: “Just as God himself created the human race and recreated a fallen humanity according to a conscious plan, so it would follow that man, as God’s vice regent on earth, should imitate God by exercising his procreative gifts according to a conscious plan.”
Now, doesn’t it seem to you that, in this context, the synonym for responsibility is contraception?