Written by Victor Stanley Jr.
In an article titled “Protestants and Contraception,” Dr. Evan Lenow of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary explores the link between marriage and procreation, and how contraception has severed this connection. Dr. Lenow does this by looking at the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, written in 1968 by Pope Paul VI, and the implications it has for marriage and the family.
Dr. Lenow teaches Ethics at Southwestern, and so he starts out by detailing the experience some of his students have upon first delving into the course material concerning sexuality and reproductive technologies. He says that he often has a few students approach him in the semester following his class to tell him that their wives are expecting children. Lenow says that these students and their spouses, upon discussing birth control and its ethics, decided to stop using birth control and, naturally, ended up getting pregnant. Lenow makes the statement that “Most of [his] students have never been confronted with a view of birth control other than the typical Protestant position of acceptance.” From here Lenow jumps into a brief history of how Protestants, and specifically Southern Baptists, arrived at this position.
Lenow starts with the 1934 “Resolution on Birth Control,” pointing out that in this document Southern Baptists explicitly rejected pending legislation at the time concerning contraceptives and birth control. An excerpt from this document makes the following statement: “…we cannot but believe that such legislation would be vicious and seriously detrimental to the morals of our nation.” Lenow states that only forty years after this resolution was offered, the Southern Baptists softened their position “opposing only contraceptives distributed to minors at school without parental consent.” Lenows says that numerous other Protestant denominations followed suit and accepted the use of contraceptives.
From here Lenow begins to flesh out the real world implications contraceptives and birth control have in marriages. Lenow emphasizes the point Pope Paul VI makes in Humanae Vitae, that separating procreation and sex from each other sex for pleasure becomes elevated and primary. His statement regarding this is poignant:
Sex is now understood to be primarily about pleasure. Procreation is something else… Intercourse doesn’t need the context of marriage anymore. And marriage need no longer to be directed toward the rearing of the next generation. Are we surprised that a contraceptive culture is also one in which marriage declines?
Lenow points to other conclusions that can be reached by analyzing the acceptance of birth control and contraceptives. Same-sex marriage becomes less of an issue according to Lenow, because the argument that marriage is the setting in which childrearing best happens loses credence when so many Protestant marriages are not procreative. Women become objectified because a “man no longer thinks about the full implications sex has for a woman, he comes to view her as a means for satisfying his sexual impulses. Women become objects of desire in the eyes of men.” Infidelity increases, as well as cohabitation, because the main thing to be avoided, namely the conception of a child, is now achieved via contraceptives and birth control.
Lenow feels that Protestants ignorance of Humanae Vitae has “deprived us of a wealth of theological wisdom on some very important ethical challenges.” He implores Protestants to study that papal encyclical and take seriously its warnings. He does state that he is not in full agreement with all that is said in Humanae Vitae, but that it is a very important document to Christianity.
I relate this article to you, because it serves as somewhat of a jumping off point for the research I am planning to do. This article, and several others, along with numerous discussions I’ve had with Orthodox priests and my own Anglican and Catholic brothers and sisters has caused me to delve deeply into the biblical mandates and instruction concerning marriage and family. I believe that the advent of the sexual revolution coupled with the West’s wholesale acceptance of contraceptives and birth control are some of the most damaging socio-cultural issues to the family. The Church’s, specifically its Protestant branch, failed push against the sexual revolution and its agenda, while accepting society’s views on contraceptives and birth control, has changed our views on sex, marriage, children, and family. I will be exploring how these factors have contributed to a breakdown of the family, a devaluing of marriage, and a disdain for children. We cannot talk about “doing” family ministry if we are not going to first discuss the issues effecting the very creating of families. Hopefully I will be able to offer some valuable information as well as personal insights that show the crucial need for the Church to more openly and actively engage with these issues.
 Evan Lenow, “Protestants and Contraception,” First Things 28, no. 279 (January 2018): 15–17.
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 Qtd. in Lenow, 15.
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 Lenow, 16.
 Lenow, 16.
 Lenow, 17.
 Lenow, 16.
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