Birth Control and the Church how did we get here ?
A documentary film series produced in 2013, but one I have only recently viewed, maintains that the modern church’s stand in accepting birth control is contrary to centuries of early church teaching.
Birth Control The Movie was directed by Kevin Peeples based on his own personal journey to answer the question: As a Christian, is birth control up to us?
Little did he realize that his journey coincided with producers Scott Matthew Dix and Nathan Nicholson.
The series consists of two DVD’s: BIRTH CONTROL: How Did We Get Here?, which looks into why there is no fundamental difference between the Church of Jesus Christ, and the world, on the issue of child prevention.
And Birth Control is it up to us?
For the purpose of this blog, I will review BIRTH CONTROL: How Did We Get Here?
The film features interviews with authors, historians, theologians, radio talk show hosts and others, such as Dr. George Grant, Dr. Allan Carlson, Geoffrey Botkin, Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr., Lila Rose, Kevin Swanson, and Julie Roys.
“The Bible says that the serpent is more subtle than any of the beasts of the field. There are a million ways in which the serpent has gotten the church to think his thoughts after him. This is one of those places where we are fed in our selfishness of viewing children as a burden. But, we’ve got a calling to make manifest the reign of Jesus over all things. And that’s why now and always we have the obligation to raise up godly seed…” says Christian minister R.C. Sproul Jr.
Experts in the film maintain that today the Christian use of birth control is based in selfishness over money, materialism and convenience, but that this attitude is a new one that has not been upheld over the centuries of Biblical teaching. Basically saying that the church abandoned it’s historical positions on family and children and the command to procreate and has used the issues of the day to approach scripture rather than using scripture to define the issues of the day.
The film begins with a verse out of Genesis to be fruitful and multiply and makes the claim that from the beginning God ordained children for marriage.
“One of our weaknesses in the modern church is all we know about is the modern church,” the film begins.
“It has only been in the twentieth century with the influence if evolution and eugenics that Christians have publicly embraced the lifestyle of child prevention as Biblical theology. So how did we get here?” they ask.
What first caught my eye when I watched the trailer for the film was that author and teacher George Grant who wrote the book, “Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood” was featured in the film.
I have already done timelines for eugenics and also for how the church accepted abortion prior to it’s legalization so watching this compilation of the acceptance of birth control sparked my curiosity.
Birth control was coined by Margaret Sanger founder of Planned Parenthood the film points out but was never the mandate of God’s people who were commanded to be fruitful and multiply according to Genesis and continues into the New Testament of the Holy Bible where the family is elevated over and over again.
In historical terms, the film goes through several Biblical eras where the family or the “dominion mandate” is again upheld as commanded in Genesis.
As a student of eugenics I was aware of how the idea of limiting births came about- beginning with Thomas Malthus and leading to eugenics and abortion.
The concept of breeding the so-called superior over the inferior was imperative to Malthus as well as limiting the looming population time bomb, producers claim.
Next, the film lays out an interesting timeline of how the church went from complete opposition to contraception and the limitation of children by unnatural means to one of accepting it in just over forty years.
One of the main forces driving the decline of fertility in the United States was the rise of the industrial revolution, the timeline begins.
The timeline goes through the teachings of Thomas Malthus and Charles Darwin whose ideas of evolution laid a groundwork for the eugenics movement.
It then explains the Comstock laws which prohibited contraception, put in place by Anthony Comstock until they were eventually ruled unconstitutional.
The film describes Anthony Constock as a young Christian who saw contraception as “the devil’s attack on young people. He frames contraception as one that had to be tied to abortion and pornography.”
What makes the documentary unique is the way it details not only the views of so-called “birth control pioneer” Margaret Sanger who eventually locked into the views of eugenics but also the way it details how the church initially opposed the idea of fertility limitation before eventually accepting it.
In 1874, the average clergy person had 5.2 living children, the film points out.
Keep that stat in mind because the film will soon reveal how quickly it changes.
In the 1880’s, Nevada dramatically weakened their marriage laws by making divorce laws easy.
Around that same time, Sir Francis Galton coins the term “eugenics.”
In 1890, the Lutheran Church Missouri Senate pastors had 6.5 children in the US.
In 1896, the Comstock laws were challenged, but the Supreme Court upheld.
By 1901, there was a transition away from and agricultural based economy to a machine based one.
1908, at the Anglican Church’s 5th Lambeth Conference Bishops earnestly called upon all Christian people to, “discountenance the use of all artificial means of restriction as demoralizing to character and hostile to national welfare.”
But, by 1911, the birthrate of Anglican children falls 55% to only 2.3 children.
What this stat showed, according to the film, was that Bishops and clergymen were engaging in the practice of contraception, while calling it a sin at the same time.
By 1912, the first international congress on eugenics commences. It’s leaders strongly embraced evolution and Sanger meets eugenics influences.
By 1914, Sanger launched the “Woman Rebel” a newsletter which promoted contraception using the slogan “no gods no masters.”
Sanger wrote, “[Our objective] is unlimited sexual gratification without the burden of unwanted children.”
The film camps on Margaret Sanger for a while detailing her charges under the Comstock laws, her flight to England to avoid those charges, her various meetings with Malthusians, her introduction to eugenics and her return to the United States.
“If she could argue for birth control using the so-called scientifically verifiable threat of poverty, sickness, racial tension and over-population as it’s back drop. Then, she could have a much better chance at making her case,” Grant says.
But, the film states, it was eugenics that left a lasting impression on Margaret Sanger.
Sanger, the film says, cunningly used the divisions between Protestants and Catholics at the time to convince Protestants that birth control was a Catholic issue alone.
By 1916, Sanger illegally opened the first back ally birth control clinic which was shot down in less than two weeks.
But, all this talk of contraception was taking a toll on the church, as the film points out:
BY 1918, just after World War 1, the birth rate of Lutheran Church Missouri Senate Pastors fell 40% to 3.7 children.
In 1920, the Lambeth Conference gave this warning, “We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception.”
But, by 1921, Margaret Sanger and her cronies lobby Anglican Bishops throughout the decade and Sanger’s American Birth Control League is formed.
“In starting the American Birth Control League,” Live Action founder Lila Rose says.
“Margaret Sanger wanted to make birth control something that was socially acceptable. Because at he time it was seen as very taboo. It was seen as something that was antithetical to loving marriages that were open to children and very open to life. So, she wanted to popularize it especially to limit children and families that she thought shouldn’t be procreating and should be having no children or only a few,” Rose adds.
By 1921, the second international eugenics congress was held in New York City.
In 1923, the Lutheran Church, Missouri City’s official magazine, The Witness, accused the Birth Control Federation of America of “spattering the country with slime,” and labeled Margaret Sanger a “she devil.“
In 1926, Sanger establishes the “Clinical Research Bureau,” she also meets with the Klu Klux Klan.
By 1929, Sanger had founded the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control in an attempt to overturn restrictions on contraception under the Comstock laws.
A major turning point for the church was the 1930 Lambeth conference, for the first time, Anglicans allowed the use of contraception by stating, “In those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, other methods may be used provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles.”
Around this same time, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod dropped its campaign against the BCFA. But, the film points out that while some Protestants were liberalizing the use of contraception, the Catholic Church was holding fast to its prohibition.
In 1936, the Comstock Act was struck down by a test case set up by Margaret Sanger. It held the Act could not ban shipments originating from a doctor and held a distinction between moral and immoral uses of contraception.
The next year the American Medical Society upheld the use of contraception.
In 1939, World War 11 begins and Sanger enacts her Negro Project.
By 1945, the public is becoming aware of the horrors of the Nazi eugenic program. Sanger has connections to some of those who helped Hitler’s regime, such as Ernst Rudin.
Despite her connections to Hitler and eugenics, Grant points out that Margaret Sanger has been reinvented as a heroine.
“No one in his right mind would want to rehabilitate the reputations of Stalin, Mussolini or Hitler,” Grant states.
“Their barbarism, treachery, and debauchery will make their names forever live in infamy. Amazingly though, Sanger has somehow escaped this wretched fate. In spite of her crimes against humanity were no less heinous than theirs, her place in history has effectively been sanitized and sanctified. In spite of the fact that she openly identified herself in one way or the other with the intentions, theologies, and movements of the other three. Sanger’s faithful minions have managed to manufacture an independent reputation for the perpetuation of her memory,” he states.
During the time the Nazi crimes were becoming a reality to America, Sanger’s organization was renamed, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
“If you look at Planned Parenthood’s advertisements what you quickly see is their disdain for the church and it’s teachings, for it’s traditions and it’s influence, ” Grant points out.
“Over the course of the years, Planned Parenthood has specifically targeted lingering doubts about the authority of the church to speak with any sort of moral authority,” he adds.
In 1951, Sanger was able to obtain a grant from Biologist Gregory Pincus to begin hormonal contraception research. And, by 1953 she garnered the support of her wealthy friend Katherine McCormick who expanded funding by up to 5000% with clinical trials using human subjects.
In 1958, the 9th Lambeth congress openly accepts contraception as a “choice before God” calling it “responsible parenthood.”
In 1961, The National Council of Churches allowed birth control and even embraced abortion, emphasizing motives and essentially turning it into a “privacy matter.”
In 1965, the Supreme Court declared the Comstock law totally unconstitutional. Griswold v. Connecticut pointed to emanations from the Bill of Rights which pointed to the so-called “right of privacy.”
The film claims that by the 1950’s and 60’s the evangelical church began changing the scriptures regarding the issue of birth control, claiming that the commands in Genesis were not commands.
By the middle of 1966, Margaret Sanger had died.
The timeline continues – showing examples of modern evangelicals, who the film claims compromised on the message of contraception.
“One of the great tragedies of the twentieth century was how willingly Christians were being pulled along and manipulated along to go along with the entire agenda that was anti-baby, anti-family, pro-contraception, pro-eugenics agenda. And, they felt almost like they had a duty to embrace it because it was “scientific” and they wanted to be modern, they wanted to be with it, they wanted to be cultural. And so in embracing it they rejected the very doctrines of Christianity,” says Geoffrey Botkin.
Grant summarizes that abortion continues in America because the church by and large still holds to the idea that contraception and unnatural family limitation is acceptable, going as far as implying it is pragmatic disobedience to God.
“In the modern evangelical church there is almost unanimity against the sinfulness of abortion, ” Grant says.
“The bottom line is that while we decry abortion, and the abortion clinic. We decry Planned Parenthood, we decry pro-abortion candidates, when our own circumstances get difficult, when our own economy seems to be constricted. When our own finances are compromised, we’re willing to act on pragmatism rather than principle time after time after time.”
“As a result, abortion in America remains at the forefront of the injustices perpetrated by all of us precisely because the church has not stood on principle and obeyed our God,” Grant concludes.
The film lays a compelling argument that contraception was never acceptable in early church teaching. It documents step by step the influence birth control gained in Protestant church teaching and beliefs.
One of the most interesting facts that I see is how the same ideas that helped usher in the concept of birth control also helped lay the framework for abortion on demand. Yet, many within the church are fine with it.
The debate over whether acceptance of birth control among married couples appears to be settled in modern Protestant church teaching or lack of it.
The question remains, is it settled in God’s mind? That is the question all Bible believing Christians must wrestle with as they seek obedience to our Lord.
If you would like to get the film or find out more about it you can check out the film’s website here.