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May 5, 2014

Why Aren’t Evangelicals Talking about Natural Family Planning?

Like it or not, contraception is a twenty-first century moral issue which evangelicals must face.

As many among the Christian Left champion birth control without regard for its harmful effects on women and stand ready to offer over religious liberty in exchange for tax-payer funded contraception, abortifacients, and at times, abortion, it’s time for our faith community to reevaluate alternatives. It’s time evangelicals start talking about Natural Family Planning (NFP).

If you’re like me and never heard NFP uttered in your evangelical circles, then here is an explanation offered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

NFP methods are based on the observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy.

Before you dismiss NFP as solely “Catholic,” consider what evangelicals have missed: a top-down effort by evangelical church leaders to openly discuss contraception’s physical, social, and spiritual effects as well as why couples have a moral obligation to do their research and avoid potentially abortifacent birth control methods, and mention NFP as a practical option.

Avoiding these tough discussions has left many evangelical men and women I know susceptible to the contraception mentality, which views children as a problem solved with chemical drugs. It also leaves women vulnerable in the hands of a medical community fervently pushing those risky drugs even when totally unnecessary.

I’ll never forget while in graduate school sitting around the dinner table with my evangelical girlfriends, all between the ages of 22-25, who confessed to taking chemical contraception, or more commonly called the Pill. Before you jump to conclusions, know that none of these women had boyfriends, much less were sexually active at the time. I know first-hand that the second a young woman walks into a gynecologist’s office, the doctor starts listing a whole host of reasons —including something as trivial as acne control— as to why we should inhale the Pill. Sexually active or not.

What was disturbing about my friends’ discussion was that it circled around their experiments with numerous birth control brands until finally landing on one that didn’t make their hair fall out, cause them deep depression or result in physical pain.

Within the church, contraception is all my generation knows as approved methods for planning family sizes, or in some cases, clearing teenage acne. But contraception’s so-called “perks” are not outweighing the tremendous risks involved.  That’s why evangelicals would do well to include NFP into our vernacular.

I won’t lie. The charting, temperature monitoring and class instruction required for NFP comes across as overwhelming. But with those challenges also come unique benefits.

A married guy friend of mine shared, “When a married Christian couple practices Natural Family Planning (NFP) and the husband shares responsibility for charting, it helps him to know and appreciate his wife’s body a lot more than he may have otherwise.”

The idea of a husband sharing in this responsibility struck me. With all the national talk about tax-payer funded contraception, there is no argument that sounds so sweet to a young woman who hopes one day, Lord willing, to be married and conceive than the idea of sharing in such intimate care.

Perhaps our Catholic neighbors are on to something. Researching a little more, I found that NFP requires a period of abstinence that can range from 5-8 day per month. Catholic married couples have explained to me that this time allows for a husband to re-woo his wife with simple actions, gestures and words of affirmation. Birth control can never come close to offering something so relationally intimate between husband and wife.

Evangelicals are still learning when it comes to contraception. We must continue learning by doing our research and start questioning the status quo. It’s time to start talking about Natural Family Planning.


 

11 Responses to Why Aren’t Evangelicals Talking about Natural Family Planning?

  1. Andrew Orlovsky says:

    My thoughts as a Conservative Evangelical:

    1. Birth Control is itself is not forbidden by scripture. Many evangeliclals who do have concerns with the potentially abortifacient efforts of the pill have no issue with barrier methods such as condoms.

    2. Natural Family Planning is ridiculed in the wider culture as extremely ineffective. While I have not done much research, most articles depending NFP do not address this.

    3. Many Evangelicals see opposition to birth control as products of the Quiverfull/Vision Forum legalism and do not want to be associated with that at all. Especially now in light of Doug Phillip’s disgrace.

    • Donnie says:

      Andrew,

      I’d need to do more research myself, but I wonder if NFP will ever get a fair hearing in the secular world.

      So much of scientific research is done with keeping the status quo. The current secular status quo is glorifying promiscuity, chemical birth control and abortion. NFP probably doesn’t stand a chance against that.

      If Christian scientists who are real Christians and not GBCS-type “Christians” want to take up the issue, I’d be more willing to listen to their conclusions.

      • CKG says:

        Donnie

        Forgive me, but I don’t know what ‘GBCS-type “Christians”‘ refers to. Could you explain?

        As you might imagine, many of the doctors involved in NFP-related research have been devout Catholics. Whether that passes your ‘filter’ or not, I’m unsure. . .

    • Oscar Ortiz Duarte @ themcguffeyreader.com says:

      Dear Andrew,

      Do you mean:

      a) … Birth control is not mentioned in scripture and therefore is not forbidden (?)

      b) … your human, i.e., fallible interpretation leads you to conclude birth control is not forbidden by scripture (?)

      or

      c) …You’re infallible and therefore you’re absolutely certain scripture does not discourage birth control (?)

      Andrew, my fallible interpretation of scripture has led me to conclude contraceptives are morally evil. It being the case that I am fallible, I cannot be certain of this position. Thus, I have opted to err on the side that a) regards children as a boon/blessing to life and b) regards blessed the man whose quiver is full of arrows.

    • CKG says:

      Andrew,

      Speaking as a Catholic (albeit one very familiar with Evangelical culture and mores), is it fair for me to say that there are more reasons than Scripture alone, to think that contraception might not be a good idea? The physical side effects of the pill, which Ms. Vicari mentions in her article, are just one such; why would I, as a husband who loves his wife, and holds her best interest more dear than my own, willingly subject her to elevated risk of heart disease, and all manner of other maladies?

      I would also hope that Pope Paul VI’s concerns about the effect of contraception on men’s attitudes toward women would get a serious hearing – when the risk of pregnancy is removed from sexual intercourse, it tempts men to view women as instrumental means to their own sexual pleasure, rather than as bearers of God’s Image and Likeness, and ‘co-heirs of the life of Christ’.

      Information on the effectiveness of NFP is easy to find in the literature from the Couple to Couple League. My own experience aligns with the claims of the CCL – if I follow the method, it is indeed very effective, on the order of 99%. And the ‘bonding’ benefits of ‘Phase 2’ and affection-not-leading-to-sex are real. But those 5-8 days (which can easily be more like 10-14 days, if the ‘data’ is ambiguous) can be challenging on a much, um, earthier level for some couples. Which doesn’t negate the benefits; but it is worthwhile to give an accurate accounting of the potential cost.

      Bear in mind also that the Catholic position doesn’t say that it is always illegitimate to regulate or space the births of children; only that such regulation needs to correspond to the kind of beings we are, and the kind of thing sex is.

    • CB says:

      My wife and I have been married for 2 years and 3 months. We practice NFP and we have no children.

      It does require a good deal.of self-control, because the safety valve built into the charting is “if there is a doubt, abstain.”

      We have friends who have practiced NFP, knowingly taken risks, and had children that they welcomed with great joy. We have others who have successfully delayed pregnancy as we have.

      We also have friends who had surprise pregnanciew while on the pill (due to antibiotics or missing pills). At least the ones doing NFP knew the risks they were taking.

      NFP is by no means easy, and it does not fit into a “once I get married, I get to have sex whenever I want” mentality that a lot of evangelicals have, but with communication, self control, and diligence, it “works” very well to avoid pregnancy when a couple wants to avoid it and to optimize chances for pregnancy when a couple is ready to conceive.

    • BobTrent says:

      The problem for Christians is not that the Bible does not contain “Thou Shalt Not Contracept” but that the Bible does not authorize contraception, “artificial” or natural.
      The only contraceptive method positively identified in the Bible is Onania, certainly not an artificial method.
      Paul strongly counseed total abstinence from sexual activity for unmarried persons, and regular and frequent sexual intercourse for the married. The only allowance was abstinence for a short time, by mutual agreement, or during times of “distress” (civil turmoil? Persecution?).

  2. Matt says:

    The New Testament condemns contraception which it calls pharmakeia. The Apostle Paul condemns contraception by the name of “pharmakeia,” the word from which we derive our term “pharmacy.”
    Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery {pharmakeia}, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).
    Surely, Paul does not mean to condemn those who prescribe herbs for those suffering from gout. Looking back to Saint Paul’s list, we see that the sin of pharamakeia follows sexual sins and the sin of idolatry. These ancient witchdoctors or pharmacists were especially popular in idolatrous cultures, since pagan fertility rites often involved sexual orgies. Obviously, the women involved in these depraved rituals would not wish to bear children to strangers, and so they sought to become sterile or sought to relieve themselves of the responsibility of a child through abortion. The ancient Greek pharmacists could provide drugs to meet these goals.

    The book of Revelation also condemns those who practice pharmakeia along with those who practice idolatry, murder, and sexual immorality (Rev 9:20-21). The grouping of pharmakeia with the three sins of idolatry, murder, and sexual immorality further confirms that pharmakeia is sin relating to killing and sexual impurity. The second-century physician Soranos of Ephesus, in his book Gynecology, uses the Greek term pharmakeia to refer to potions used for both contraception and abortion. In a similar manner, the third-century theologian Hippolytus condemned certain Christian women who employed “drugs {pharmakois} for producing sterility.”
    –Dr. Taylor Marshall http://cantuar.blogspot.com/2012/02/6-reasons-why-contraception-is-sinful.html

  3. Nick Porter says:

    Contraception should be left up to each married couple. NFP isn’t for everyone. It certainly isn’t for my family, but to each their own. As for Matt’s interpretation for contraception being sinful, then by his words ALL medicine and treatment for EVERYTHING is wrong. Yeah, no thanks,Matt.

  4. BMcM says:

    Two points, coming from a Catholic who has practiced various forms of NFP for 10 years and 5 kids, and who knows many other couples practicing NFP.

    1. I can tell you that 5-8 days of abstinence per cycle is extremely rare. NFP for the purpose of preventing/spacing pregnancies is an abstinence method, with occasional opportunities for intercourse. We get between 8 and 12 “green light” days per cycle, which runs on average 29 days. According to the Creighton Model research, this is only slightly below average for healthy women.

    2. This piece blurs the important distinction between non-procreative sex and pharmaceutical contraception. Successful NFP methods are designed to do two things: help couples get pregnant and help Catholics, who must not have non-procreative sex during fertile times, to avoid pregnancy. We know Protestants who “practice NFP,” but they also engage in non-procreative sexual activity during “abstinence” times. I don’t understand why they don’t just use condoms. You can have a “contraceptive attitude” even using NFP methods, just like you can when using condoms. Barrier methods are as real-world reliable as NFP (though not as reliable as rigorously practiced abstinence-based NFP).

  5. Britt Fisk says:

    That little boy in the picture is a blessing from the practice of Natural Family Planning, and what joy he’s brought to our lives!

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