Evangelicals Encouraging Contraception for Singles?

on May 2, 2012


Should Churches advocate contraception for their single members? This question, recently raised at the Q Ideas conference in April has launched an intense debate among Evangelicals. At the conference, I was one of only 34% who responded by text message “no,” whereas 66% answered “yes.” I was alarmed, quite honestly – this wasn’t the opinion of a fringe liberal group – those at the conference represented a fairly mainstream group from Evangelical churches across America.

The poll was conducted at the end of an “Abortion Reduction” panel, where startling statistics on Evangelicals’ extramarital sexual activity and abortion were discussed. According to recent statistics reported by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), 80% of unmarried Evangelicals between the ages of 18 – 29 have had sex. We are talking about not just a majority, but a large majority. Unsurprisingly, many are getting pregnant, and tragically, about 30% of those pregnancies end in abortion.

This is a huge problem that demands attention. But the issue goes much deeper than “abortion reduction.” The NAE’s campaign to reduce abortion states: “You may not know it, but abortion is in your church … and it’s time to start talking about it.” Yes, it certainly is time to talk. But shouldn’t we rewind a bit and talk about about why four out of five unmarried Evangelicals have had sex, not just what to do about the consequences?

Advocates of this “compromise,” such as Jenell Paris who was featured on the Q panel, blame the failure of the “abstinence only” message. Paris writes that churches should “[B]oth uphold premarital chastity as the biblical ideal, and encourage and educate unmarried singles about the effective use of contraception …This may sound like a compromise (it certainly does to me), but consider where years of abstinence absolutism have left us.” Clearly, with 80% of Evangelicals engaging in extramarital sex, the “just say no” approach has failed. But accommodating, and even enabling sin is no solution at all.

Teaching that extramarital sex is wrong, but then encouraging the use of contraception if one chooses to do it anyways is dangerously confusing. Such an approach essentially enables sinful actions by making them appear “consequence free.”

The “compromise” approach sets up a false dichotomy, portraying itself as the only alternative to the failed “abstinence only” approach. Evangelicals should move beyond the “just say no” approach, but not by abandoning traditional sexual teachings. Rather, the new approach should strive to portray, in positive terms, why sex is for marriage only. What is so great about the biblical plan for sex, marriage, and children?

At least a contributing factor to this issue that should be discussed, is the late marriage age. Avoiding sexual temptation and sin is a poor reason on its own for marriage, but if we truly believe marriage is God’s beautiful plan for the union of man and woman, shouldn’t it be a bit higher on our priority list? The average Evangelical couple today gets married in their mid to late twenties, after they have gone to graduate school, traveled, and established a successful career. Our priorities place education, career, and exploring the world above marriage and family. These things are not inherently bad, but emphasizing their importance over the marriage and family relationship seems problematic.

Many say it’s simply unrealistic to expect young people to tie the knot in their early twenties. A myriad of reasons for why younger marriage is impossible are offered, but the discussion is rarely pursued. I cannot launch into that discussion here, but I will suggest that our priorities may be out of line. Further, I’m skeptical that marriage and other life pursuits are as mutually exclusive as we tend to think. Speaking merely from my observations of friends and acquaintances, those who marry upon college graduation have some of the most successful and promising career prospects.

The marriage age issue is only part of a broader discussion that needs to happen among Evangelicals. Abortion within the Church is an absolute tragedy that must be dealt with. But the root issue, the 80% who are unmarried and having sex show a desperate need for Evangelical leaders to teach the true beauty and nature of sex within the marriage relationship, as procreative and unitive – not simply as something we should “just say no” to until the wedding night.

  1. Comment by Caleb Bohon on May 2, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    I really think that Christian singles need to be encouraged to think about getting married earlier.
    My wife and I decided to get married before I graduated college – I still have 3 semesters left. Granted my situation is not normal (we are both older and have no debt), but I think that others ought to consider marriage as an option before college graduation. There is often a perceived (or real) social stigma against marriage while either of the couple is still in school (especially if it is the man).
    Frankly, I was a little surprised when so many people had positive reactions to our plans to get married when I still had one year of school left.

  2. Comment by Rico on May 4, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Agree 100% With the average age of marriage moving swiftly upward, we can’t in good conscience tell our children on one hand to not have sex ’til your married, but on the other hand tell them they can’t get married too young. Asking youth/young adults in their peak years of sexual desire to put sex off until their late 20s early 30s is torture.

    If you had told me at 13 that I wouldn’t get married (and therefore have sex) until I was 32, I would have rejected waiting for marriage completely, morality be damned.

    Not to mention the whole infertility issue. One of the reasons fertility clinics are doing booming business these days is that women have bought into the lie that getting pregnant is easy in your 30s, and still possible in your early 40s. Unless you’re a freak of nature, that simply isn’t the case.

    But they look at 40-something celebrities carrying around a newborn (that was most likely conceived with a donated egg/embryo and tens of thousands of dollars) and assume they don’t have to worry about it and spend their peak fertile years “finding themselves” (read: have sex with lots of men not suitable for marriage)

  3. Comment by Rico on May 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Just to clarify my first two paragraphs, I am not in favor of premarital sex… just agreeing with the previous poster’s suggestion that we encourage young people to get married sooner rather than later.

  4. Comment by Mike Murphy on May 2, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    I’m in complete agreement. As an unmarried, older Christian (who has never had sex, but has had the opportunity), I have great sympathy for those who have given in and gotten in trouble over this one. However, I can’t condone it. Our animal instinct tells us to go ahead. But the humanity that God has given us allows us to deny those baser instincts and follow Him. Sadly, most choose not to. That doesn’t mean that it should be OK – just because the majority wants it. Jesus always preached about the narrow door to the Kingdom of God.

    At the same time, He preached about loving your neighbor. So the big question is, how do we love our neighbor, and yet help them deal with the bigger issue of their own sin (without dealing with our own sin first)? Answer: we can’t. We must deal with our own sin first. That doesn’t mean we can’t point others’ sin out to them; we just can’t condemn them for it (or we also condemn ourselves).

    I understand the mixed message that is being sent. I think it spawns from the idea that the bigger problem is pregnancy, and not sinning. Once we get our own priorities straight, we will not worry about the pregnancy and try to deal with the issue at its core – sin and willful disobedience against God.

    The Abstinence message hasn’t failed – the failure has been ours, completely. Messages cannot fail, only people can fail. We need to be about loving those who have fallen on this issue, reaffirming that God still loves them, and find a way to help them “sin no more”, as the Bible instructs. Oh, and we need to continue to love them, no matter how we feel about their actions.

  5. Pingback by I Hate the Culture War Too « Juicy Ecumenism on May 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    […] Is it really the lines that are driving young people from church or is it something else?  Perhaps these younger evangelicals who are abandoning church are simply unwilling to accept the limitations that Jesus, the Bible, and the Church all put on sexual gratification.  As my colleague, Kristin Rudolph noted in a recent blog, […]

  6. Pingback by I Hate the Culture War too | on May 14, 2012 at 11:57 am

    […] Is it really the lines that are driving young people from church or is it something else?  Perhaps these younger evangelicals who are abandoning church are simply unwilling to accept the limitations that Jesus, the Bible, and the Church all put on sexual gratification.  As my colleague, Kristin Rudolph noted in a recent blog, […]

  7. Comment by cynthia curran on July 17, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Part of it is married is delayed, I agree that teens mostly should not marry but adults in their 20’s particularly there late 20’s is the issue. Most out of wedlock births and abortions are done by women in their 20’s not teens.

  8. Comment by cynthia curran on July 17, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    Most people don’t go to graduate school. Most still have less than a BA or BS, we are thinking as Charles Murray would say the upper middle class. A lot of poor folk tend to be the ones more likely to not use the birth control and have children out of wedlock or abortions that is why Blacks and HIspanics poorer than whites have these things happen to them higher.

  9. Comment by Matt on July 19, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Preaching and teaching entire sanctification or scriptural holiness is missing in the church. Today we have a watered down gospel in many places not all.

  10. Comment by Larry Kettlewell on November 3, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    Fertility clinic are high in demands nowadays because most coupls marries at an older age. ‘

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