Friday, May 04, 2007

Lutheran Historian Makes Link Between Contraception And Abortion

Allan Carlson, Lutheran, magna cum laude historian, author and expert witness, tackled a very delicate subject in this month’s edition of Touchstone magazine.

This is the delicate issue, in Carlson’s words, from his introductory paragraph:
I would simply like to explore why the Protestant churches maintained unity with the Catholic Church on the contraception question for four centuries, only to abandon this unity during the first half of the twentieth century.

Carlson has entitled his article, Children of the Reformation: A Short & Surprising History of Protestantism & Contraception. There’s a thoughtful twist to the title if you think about it for a moment.

Doubtless the reader will have guessed by now, given the title of this blog posting, that Carlson offers a case for a link between contraception and abortion. Considering the mission and focus of Vote Life, Canada! any matter that touches the subject of killing the Unborn is fair game.

I think all Christians will agree that there are many contributing causes to our current abortion crisis in Canada which results in the killing of over 100,000 Unborns yearly. There are no simple, easy answers as to how we got to where we are, except to say that Christians have failed for far too long to set a high moral and righteous standard for our society. If anyone doubts that claim, it might be time for a sermon on the matter.

Carlson’s article is fairly lengthy but proves to be extremely interesting as he weaves the colourful story of 400 years of Reformers’ views on procreation, marriage, family and celibacy. Here are some of the highlights if you are really pressed for time:

Luther called procreation “a most outstanding gift” and “the greatest work of God.”

Accordingly, Luther sharply condemned the contraceptive mentality that was alive and well in his own time. He noted that this “inhuman attitude, which is worse than barbarous,” was found chiefly among the wellborn, “the nobility and princes.”

Elsewhere, he linked both contraception and abortion to selfishness:How great, therefore, the wickedness of [fallen] human nature is! How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation is the work of God! Indeed, some spouses who marry and live together . . . have various ends in mind, but rarely children.

Regarding the sin of Onan, as recorded in Genesis and involving the form of contraception now known as “withdrawal,” Luther wrote: “Onan must have been a most malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery.


On this matter, Luther was again joined by Calvin. In his Commentary on Genesis, he wrote that “the voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between man and woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the [human] race and to kill before he is born the hoped-for offspring.”


Writing in the late eighteenth century, for example, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, also condemned the sin of Onan, adding, “The thing which he did displeased the Lord.”

The nineteenth-century Reformed Pastor Johann Peter Lange, in his Christian Dogmatics, described contraception as “a most unnatural wickedness, and a grievous wrong. This sin . . . is [as] destructive as a pestilence that walketh in darkness, destroying directly the body and the soul of the young.”


At their 1908 Lambeth Conference, the world’s Anglican bishops recorded “with alarm the growing practice of artificial restriction of the family.” They “earnestly call[ed] upon all Christian people to discountenance the use of all artificial means of restriction as demoralizing to character and hostile to national welfare.”


As late as 1923, the Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod’s official magazine The Witness accused the Birth Control Federation of America of spattering “this
country with slime” and labeled birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger a “she devil.”

The Anglicans were the first to cave in at their 1930 Lambeth Conference.

This was the first official statement by a major church body in favor of contraception. Thus was Christian unity on the question broken.


From his home in L’Abri, Switzerland, the neo-Calvinist Francis Schaeffer mobilized Evangelicals against abortion with books such as How Should We Then Live?


At first, this pro-life Evangelicalism avoided the issue of contraception. However, over time, it has become ever more difficult for many to draw an absolute line between contraception and abortion, because—whatever theological distinctions they made between the two—the “contraceptive mentality” embraces both, and some forms of “contraception” are in practice abortifacients.

Fortunately in recent years, having seen the fruits of supporting “limited cases” of abortion and the increasing evidence for the link to the contraceptive mentality, many Evangelicals are doing some major rethinking, particularly the Southern Baptists.

“It is clear that there is a major rethinking going on among Evangelicals on this issue, especially among young people,” R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently told the Chicago Tribune. “There is a real push back against the contraceptive culture now.”
Carlson ends his account with a solid emphasis on Christians returning to a consistent, and traditional, ethic of life [and one which is sure to provide one more key to valuing and protecting the Unborn].
Importantly, they are also rebuilding a common Christian front on the issue of contraception, one lost in the dark days of the first half of the twentieth century.