Helpful Marriage: Birth Control, part 2

New Warhorn Media post by Lucas Weeks:

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Really really helpful discussion. Thank you to all who contributed for a very useful couple episodes. Well worth the three hours (???) of listening time. Appreciated it both pastorally and personally.

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I told @01mhoover that my real burning questions after listening to this have to do with what a cross country vacation for the Weeks family looks like😊. Our last real vacation was when I was almost too pregnant to travel with our third child and we had a 3 year old and a 15 month old. It wasn’t very relaxing for any of us😂. They’re all older now (4, 5, and almost 8), but we’ve also added a new one who is almost 2, but with a rare genetic condition and severe developmental delays. So we’ve been doing “staycations”, which are a nice break, but it would be nice to go somewhere again.

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My pastor has shared me with that one of the ironies of pastoral care is that the people who complain about you being a legalist are the same people always coming to you asking for a rule to follow on every issue. They don’t want to do the work of considering their own hearts, their motives, their affections – and they certainly won’t tolerate the pastor probing into those things. Just tell me what to do, and when I don’t like the answer, I’ll write blogs about it and/or go somewhere else.

I could see how such a person would hear this podcast and dismiss it as one big 90 minute exercise in equivocation. “Thanks for all the non-answers.” But to the contrary, I think you’ve demonstrated that having firm principles about this important topic is not mutually exclusive with the notion that there is a need to be nuanced as you love actual souls in your care.

Enjoyed listening. Thanks.

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9 posts were split to a new topic: Epic, or just weird? Naming our children

@Sarahehoover, Lucas forwarded me your comment and we had a laugh. Over the past several days we’ve slept a lot less than usual. But my main tip is to get help. We still do travel but we do so with a combination of having a helper along or sometimes leaving our Mary (who has disabilities and involved care and doesn’t actually like traveling at all) behind. This trip was with Mary and a helper. If we travel without help, we only go somewhere very familiar and expect to spend the time trading off between Mary and the other kids. Even with someone to help along, you have to be prepared for some of what I like to call “extreme sport parenting”. I’m not going to lie, there’s a point in most of our trips when I think, “Why are we doing this to ourselves??” If what you want is more sleep, a staycation is almost certainly your best bet😅

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Thanks, @hmweeks , that’s helpful. We have wondered before if taking my parents along might be something to consider. They’re always jumping in to help with the kids as it is, so they would probably be up for that.
We’re kind of at the point now where it’s hard to say if it will get easier or more challenging to travel since it’s hard to predict what William’s needs are going to be as he gets older. Right now it would be not too much different than taking a baby along. He’s almost 2, but just starting to creep, still taking a bottle and eating purees. None of our kids have traveled more than a 3 hour trip in several years, though, (between William and covid) so the travel itself would be interesting😂.

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I’m finally getting around to listening to this and am only a little way in, but I need to comment on the quote from Augustine.

As I understand Augustine’s personal history, he sired a child out of wedlock but never married his concubine because his sainted mother was hoping for a better match. She subsequently arranged for him to be married to an heiress and made Augustine, to his sadness, send away his concubine. But the heiress wasn’t old enough to marry, so in the meantime Augustine took up another concubine. This happened before Augustine was converted, but once he became he Christian he neither married the mother of his child nor the heiress but instead became a priest.

Were the actions of Augustine and his mother righteous? If an Austin and his mother Monica showed up at my church, I’d tell her to repent of her idolatry of wealth and status and I’d tell him that the Apostle Paul said it was better to marry than to burn and he should do right by the mother of his bastard and his love for her and not follow the sinful aspirations of his mother. And I don’t see why we shouldn’t hold Augustine and Monica to the same standard for any Christian today just because they have “Saint” before their names.

Now the truth of a matter doesn’t depend on the real or supposed sanctity of its proponents, and it is indeed the case that we are all grievous sinners, but shouldn’t a man have a credible testimony of walking the walk if he is going to talk the talk? There’s certainly been a lot of criticism on this forum of current evangelical celebrities who appear to love money and status too much or have unbiblical views on sex and marriage. So why not apply the same to past celebrities?

Now I will cheerfully admit that Augustine probably was, overall, a hundred times more wise and holy than I ever will be, but I will assert, by historical testimony, that he and his mother had some pretty screwed up ideas about marriage (Augustine in thinking celibacy was superior to being a father to his child and a husband to his child’s mother, and Monica in holding out for a high status match at the cost of her son’s chastity). So when you quote Augustine on contraception, I am not impressed that this great father of the church spoke against it and inclined to agree with him. Instead, I think that this man and his mother had some pretty screwed up views on sex and marriage so that makes him a less credible spokesman on contraception.

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That’s the real issue. Augustine was pretty clear that he was trying to honour his mother in the attempted arrangement of his marriage. He was absolutely clear throughout his writings that celibacy was superior to marital sexuality in the Christian order. This is the philosophical basis for the Roman Catholic Church’s absolute prohibition on contraception of any kind (though as they pointed out in the podcast, technically/implicitly? allowing the use of the rhythm method).

Augustine and Aquinas (to quote two of the big ones) are both clear that bodily desire (what they call concupiscence) was a product of the Fall. Augustine claims that Adam would likely have had the ability to procreate if he hadn’t fallen, but that there wouldn’t have been bodily desire involved (good luck working that out physiologically!). While concupiscence is a broader category than just sexual desire - it really refers to any desire that’s linked between both the body and soul and can include other urges like hunger and thirst - concupiscence is an inescapable and inferior part of humanity post Fall. This means that all sexuality is, at the very least, tainted by sin, even when employed within the bounds of Christian marriage and for the purpose of procreation. I use the word ‘employed,’ because to ‘enjoy’ marital sexuality would be to submit to concupiscence. This is due, in some measure, to influences from Platonism creeping into the church, but there’s much more going on than that. Virginity and monasticism were replacing the older cult of the martyrs, thus perpetual chastity (ie virginity rather than marital sexual faithfulness) becomes the new category of super-Christian.

Though Augustine and Aquinas never, to my knowledge, go all the way and state that sex is inherently and absolutely sinful in any and every situation - they do allow the lawfulness of procreation within Christian marriage - the way they and the larger RCC frame the discussion on human sexuality is profoundly different to how the Protestants do. There are numerous examples from Augustine onwards of married couples voluntarily taking a vow of chastity (ie celibacy) and that being praised as the higher path for those in marriage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church even ends the first heading on the sacrament of marriage by extolling the virtues of virginity!

This is why it’s so important that the WCF/LBC include the three purposes of marriage as being mutual help, propagation of legitimate offspring, and prevention against uncleanness. Offspring is not the only lawful aim of marital sexuality.

I’ll admit I’ve gone back and forth on this issue in my own mind. The two podcasts were very helpful in pointing out that even the RCC is inconsistent with its own position and is less absolute than it seems. But it also pointed out (though indirectly I think) that we are Reformed Christians. That has a significant impact on how we think about marital sexuality, and, I think, how we interpret and perhaps even adjust even the best of early church and medieval theology.

By the way, I don’t think any of this undermines the conclusions the podcasts came to…in fact, I think it strengthens them. It solidifies the link between sexual pleasure and fruitfulness in marital intimacy as an inherent and God-created good. Get our understanding of sexuality right, and the rest should follow on naturally as a consequence. Our problem is that we have so separated all these things we won’t know what goes together.

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Before beginning this series, I thought what was needed on this issue was a thoroughly pastoral approach, so I am very encouraged now that I have come to the end of the series. In fact, to my surprise, I don’t think I have any disagreements with the views articulated by @tbbayly & Co.

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One more thing – you mentioned a book with info on how hormonal birth control can act as an abortifacient. When I first heard that mentioned here several years ago, I raised the question with a physician at my church and asked him to look into it since it was a technical medical question that I was less equipped to answer than he was. After looking into it, he told me that was true of earlier versions of hormonal birth control but not versions used today. I don’t think he had any deep source of information but was working off the conventional line. So if there is solid documented evidence that today’s hormonal birth control can act as an abortifacient, I’d like to get that in front of him.

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This is from an uptodate.com article. This is a commonly referenced website for physicians with a range of topics. This article is about combined oral contraceptives, the popular type of pill, which includes contraceptives such as Yaz.


The first bullet point on the third screenshot specifically addresses your question.

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Thanks, but it would be great to have a better resource than a screenshot, unless you think uptodate.com would be commonly known to all doctors. In particular, it would be useful to point directly to the source and know whether this mechanism is limited only to this particular drug or is general for all hormonal birth control methods.

Megan Best’s book is pretty comprehensive in its discussion on chemical contraception. She comes to a different (and ethically troubling) position on its legitimacy, but she helpfully explains the science well (though I remember her being much more solid on the other issues of medical ethics in the book).

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made Ethics and the Beginning of Human Life Fearfully and Wonderfully Made Ethics and the Beginning of Human Life: Dr. Megan Best: 9781921896613: Amazon.com: Books

Randy Alcorn’s work is also very good.

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This website is pretty commonly known. I would be surprised to meet a doctor in America who is unfamiliar with it.

And the are countless OCP formulations, but they broadly come in two different flavors:

  1. Progesterone only (mini-pill)
  2. Progesterone and estrogen.

The latter is more common these days and what the screenshots describe.

The former works in essentially the same way but is less likely to suppress ovulation and so the other mechanisms are at play more often.