Earlier today, Dr. Mohler published an article entitled “Can Christians Use Birth Control?” attempting to deal with the question of whether or not the use of artificial contraceptives was permissible. The good doctor rightly condemns the ‘contraceptive mentality,’ drawing on the Catholic arguments re-presented by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. However, he dismisses the absolute prohibition on artificial contraceptives, arguing that “The focus on “each and every act” of sexual intercourse within a faithful marriage that is open to the gift of children goes beyond the biblical demand.”
Unfortunately, this rather common evangelical argument is methodologically flawed. The proposition is that a couple can live a life which is on the whole open to life without leaving each and every conjugal act open to life. However, the broader sense of one’s life is composed of individual acts. If one generally remains chaste, but occasionally engages in fornication, one is not living a chaste life, even in this “broader sense.” Or similarly, one cannot be a pacifist in any sense if one kills people – even if one lives peaceably in a “broader sense.” Certainly Christians can fail and sin, and repent and try again, but we must recognize that actions that contradict a right moral attitude must be wrong, no matter how rarely they are undertaken. Fundamentally, the act of contraception is directly opposed to being “truly open to the gift of children.”
Furthermore, strict biblical exegesis should not be considered the exclusive guide to morality. While the pages of scripture hold much moral knowledge, the Bible is not meant to be a complete compendium of the moral law. For example, the New Testament never explicitly condemns slavery, but no Christian can pretend that (with the possible exception of penal servitude imposed by the State as a punishment for crimes) slavery can somehow be morally permissible. God has given us the gift of reason, and the gift of wise forbears, the Fathers of the Church (who opposed contraception, by the way). We would be foolish to discard these.
Nevertheless, Dr. Mohler’s article represents a larger and very positive moral development within Protestantism, a trend which we should pray reaches its logical and necessary conclusion.