Our friends at CCIH have requested we post a piece written by Dr Paul Robinson, a physician and public health expert. As a previously practicing OB/GYN I find Paul’s piece excellent and fully agree with his scriptural interpretations.
Family planning is not something the global Church should shy away from. And we must get past equating “Family Planning” with “Planned Parenthood” which is what many in the Church are guilty of. Thousands of women and children are dying each year because many in the Church are unwilling to openly and graciously talk about these issues.
What Does the Bible Say About Family Planning?
At the heart of the controversy among Christians about family planning are the interpretations of a few passages from the Bible. For some Christians, these passages are non-negotiable divine commands to have as many children as God gives, and at whatever interval a mother can conceive them. To these Christians, determining the number of children or the interval between their births through contraception is against God’s intentions.
The first reference in the Bible on human procreation is found in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
God has given human beings the power and command for increasing our number in the world. However, it does not imply that God intended for this to be done without considering the need for food, space and education. In the next verse, God gave the command for man to eat the fruits of the trees, but does not command to continually eat without considering the effects of our actions.
Another passage that is often misunderstood is Psalm 127, verses 3-5: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Some believe since God’s word says children are His gift, we should not prevent conception or plan birth intervals. But there are other gifts from God for which we do not follow this logic. God gives land that produces food, but much planning is involved to achieve the harvest.
Some argue that God will provide all the resources that children need. I believe God expects us to make decisions according to what He has given us, and not presume upon Him to provide for our needs when we make unreasonable choices.
Planning the number and interval of births allows couples to avoid having more children than they can support, and a mother’s health is protected when she avoids giving birth within short intervals. These considerations demonstrate care, respect and love for a wife and children. The Bible sternly warns Christians against neglecting the responsibility of taking care of family members: “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1Timothy 5:8)
Global health practitioners have long observed that increasing the interval between pregnancies and reducing the number of childbirths dramatically decreases the death rates of women, newborns and children. In many low- and middle-income countries these rates are unacceptably high. Contraception enables women to prevent unintended or high-risk pregnancies and reduces the rate of abortions, which account for 13 percent of maternal deaths globally.
Nowhere in the Bible is there explicit or implicit prohibition of contraception. Onan’s example is sometimes used to demonstrate God’s condemnation of contraception. The account of Er and Onan appears in Genesis Chapter 38. Er died leaving his wife without children. His brother Onan married Er’s wife, Tamar, in keeping with the law of that time. But Onan did not want to have children with Tamar because he knew by law the children born to Tamar would not be his, but would belong to his deceased brother. So when Onan had intercourse with Tamar, he practiced a form of contraception known as withdrawal. The passage ends with “What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.”
Onan did not want to split his inheritance with a child, but he used Tamar for his own sexual pleasure. It was not the use of contraception that was wrong, but it was Onan’s selfish motivation behind his action that God determined as sinful.
A misconception among some is that contraceptives routinely work by destroying the life of a living embryo. Although the mechanisms of action of various methods differ and are not always well understood, contraceptives work primarily by preventing the fertilization of the egg by the sperm. Contraception is not the same as abortion and studies show contraception actually lowers abortion rates.
Preparing to receive the gift of children and give them what they need is a loving and responsible act. By enabling couples to time and space pregnancies in a healthy way, contraception protects mothers and children and enables fathers to be prepared to accept the responsibility that comes with the gift of children.
Dr. Paul Robinson, MPH, MTS, MBBS is a physician and public health professional and member of Christian Connections for International Health, www.ccih.org a network of individuals and organizations committed to promoting global health from a Christian perspective. He currently serves as Public Health Advisor with International Medical Corps (IMC). The author’s views in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of IMC.
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