Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Contraception second in a series

What really happened in 1930?

It is commonly touted that Anglicanism went wrong in 1930 when the Lambeth Conference approved the practice of contraception. This is one of those things that everybody knows, just as it was once true that everybody knew that the earth is flat. The things that everybody knows cannot be numbered, just as surely as the correction of such common knowledge often reverses public opinion.

In fact, the Lambeth Conference of 1930 was typically conservative, when conservatism was a trademark of Anglicanism. Much stress was laid on orthodoxy, indeed to the further strengthening of relations with, well, Orthodoxy. Theological statements about the sacrament of Holy Communion, for example, and other doctrinal matters, received excellent clarification. Nonetheless, what everybody "remembers" about 1930 is that thing that everybody knows.

The reason that a common perception of license for contraception exists at all, is due to very unfortunate wording in one resolution among many about sexuality and marriage. To give you that resolution (number 15) in its original context, I will here post all of the resolutions about the subject, and then comment more. Afterward, the next posting in this series will be an essay by Francis Hall written that same year, and his understanding of the Black Resolution (if I may give it a label) will show that I am not alone in resisting what everybody knows.

Resolution 9
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference believes that the conditions of modern life call for a fresh statement from the Christian Church on the subject of sex. It declares that the functions of sex as a God-given factor in human life are essentially noble and creative. Responsibility in regard to their right use needs the greater emphasis in view of widespread laxity of thought and conduct in all these matters.

Resolution 10
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference believes that in the exalted view of marriage taught by our Lord is to be found the solution of the problems with which we are faced. His teaching is reinforced by certain elements which have found a new emphasis in modern life, particularly the sacredness of personality, the more equal partnership of men and women, and the biological importance of monogamy.


Resolution 11
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference believes that it is with this ideal in view that the Church must deal with questions of divorce and with whatever threatens the security of women and the stability of the home. Mindful of our Lord's words, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder," it reaffirms "as our Lord's principle and standard of marriage a life-long and indissoluble union, for better or worse, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, and calls on all Christian people to maintain and bear witness to this standard."* In cases of divorce:

The Conference, while passing no judgement on the practice of regional or national Churches within our Communion, recommends that the marriage of one, whose former partner is still living, should not be celebrated according to the rites of the Church.

Where an innocent person has remarried under civil sanction and desires to receive the Holy Communion, it recommends that the case should be referred for consideration to the bishop, subject to provincial regulations.

Finally, it would call attention to the Church's unceasing responsibility for the spiritual welfare of all her members who have come short of her standard in this as in any other respect, and to the fact that the Church's aim, individually and socially, is reconciliation to God and redemption from sin. It therefore urges all bishops and clergy to keep this aim before them.

Resolution 12
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

In all questions of marriage and sex the Conference emphasises the need of education. It is important that before the child's emotional reaction to sex is awakened, definite information should be given in an atmosphere of simplicity and beauty. The persons directly responsible for this are the parents, who in the exercise of this responsibility will themselves need the best guidance that the Church can supply.

During childhood and youth the boy or the girl should thus be prepared for the responsibilities of adult life; but the Conference urges the need of some further preparation for those members of the Church who are about to marry.

To this end the Conference is convinced that steps ought to be taken:

to secure a better education for the clergy in moral theology;

to establish, where they do not exist, in the various branches of the Anglican Communion central councils which would study the problems of sex from the Christian standpoint and give advice to the responsible authorities in diocese or parish of theological college as to methods of approach and lines of instruction;

to review the available literature and to take steps for its improvement and its circulation.


Resolution 13
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference emphasises the truth that sexual instinct is a holy thing implanted by God in human nature. It acknowledges that intercourse between husband and wife as the consummation of marriage has a value of its own within that sacrament, and that thereby married love is enhanced and its character strengthened. Further, seeing that the primary purpose for which marriage exists is the procreation of children, it believes that this purpose as well as the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control should be the governing considerations in that intercourse.

Resolution 14
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference affirms:

the duty of parenthood as the glory of married life;

the benefit of a family as a joy in itself, as a vital contribution to the nation's welfare, and as a means of character-building for both parents and children;

the privilege of discipline and sacrifice to this end.

Resolution 15

The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.

Voting: For 193; Against 67.

Resolution 16
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference further records its abhorrence of the sinful practice of abortion.

Resolution 17
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

While the Conference admits that economic conditions are a serious factor in the situation, it condemns the propaganda which treats conception control as a way of meeting those unsatisfactory social and economic conditions which ought to be changed by the influence of Christian public opinion.

Resolution 18
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

Sexual intercourse between persons who are not legally married is a grievous sin. The use of contraceptives does not remove the sin. In view of the widespread and increasing use of contraceptives among the unmarried and the extention of irregular unions owing to the diminution of any fear of consequences, the Conference presses for legislation forbidding the exposure for sale and the unrestricted advertisement of contraceptives, and placing definite restrictions upon their purchase.

Resolution 19
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

Fear of consequences can never, for the Christian, be the ultimately effective motive for the maintenance of chastity before marriage. This can only be found in the love of God and reverence for his laws. The Conference emphasises the need of strong and wise teaching to make clear the Christian standpoint in this matter. That standpoint is that all illicit and irregular unions are wrong in that they offend against the true nature of love, they compromise the future happiness of married life, they are antagonistic to the welfare of the community, and, above all, they are contrary to the revealed will of God.

Resolution 20
The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference desires to express the debt which the Church owes to the devotion of those who in constantly changing conditions and in the face of increasing difficulties have maintained and carried forward the preventive and rescue work of the Church. Such devotion calls for greatly increased interest and support from all the members of the Church.
The removal of the causes which lead to the necessity for such work must first and foremost be sought in the creation of that healthier atmosphere and in the more thorough giving of sex instruction which are recommended in the preceding Resolutions. And this is recognised to the full by the leaders in the work. There is, however, at the present time urgent need for:

much greater financial support, so that the workers may be adequately trained and adequately paid,

more regular interest on the part of church people generally in them and in their work,

the help which men of the Church can give in technical and legal matters, as also in personal service.

The Conference further desires in this connection to place on record its appreciation of the work done by women police in Great Britain, in the British dominions and in the United States of America, and by those many social workers, in different parts of the world, who give themselves to the same difficult task.

In the context of these resolutions, it is quite apparent that the words "other methods" in Resolution 15 was not intended to place a stamp of approval on the use of contraception. All of the bishops present were men born and raised in the nineteenth century, men who no doubt embraced the "women and children first" morality that came with an appreciation of man's responsibility. They were not creatures of the 20th century; perhaps creators of it in some ways, but not people whose emotional and intellectual reflexes worked as carelessly as those of our own contemporaries.

The words "other methods" in the resolution are placed against the phrase "complete abstinence." To men well-educated, the contrast was obvious: Partial abstinence. They were permitting partial abstinence for this purpose, or to this end (the purpose being of issue), not contraception. No doubt, partial abstinence was, in the minds of the learned sons of the 19th century, the "safe period." Concerning this, for once I find it useful to quote the outspoken apologist for the Roman Magisterium, Diane, with whom I am often in disagreement. Nonetheless, in a recent comment she explained well the thinking that prevails now, and that prevailed then, on the moral distinction to be made between artificial methods that violate human nature, and the one method that respects the nature God has given to the woman's body.

Diane wrote: "Women can only conceive one day out of every 28 days. That fact alone has to show that God didn't intend for us to have an unmanageable number of children. Avoiding pregnancy while engaging in the marital embrace is acceptable...and the proof is that God gave us a built-in way to achieve this end...women are both fertile and infertile over the course of 28 days."

This is useful for understanding what most Christians have thought for decades, even if some may wish to criticize the idea. It may be argued that this is simply disguising birth control under another name; but, the consensus of Christians in earlier generations to properly interpret the resolution is our concern for the moment.

Remember, this resolution came on the heels of Resolution 13, and 14 ("Further, seeing that the primary purpose for which marriage exists is the procreation of children, it believes that this purpose as well as the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control should be the governing considerations in that intercourse...the duty of parenthood as the glory of married life..."), and the bishops were thinking to make room for married couples to come together even if for other purposes. For example, the purpose once stated by St. Paul:

"The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency." I Corinthians 7:4,5

Here the Apostle himself encouraged the married couple to come together again in order to avoid temptation to sin by unnecessary abstinence that creates both emotional and physical deprivation. The purpose, in such a case, is not to conceive a child, even though the possibility of conception is present. Indeed, at a certain age these desires continue to exist when conception is unlikely or impossible. However, recalling Abraham and Sarah, and Zecharias and Elizabeth, even then a couple is not ruling out the possibility of procreation if God wills to perform a miracle. In fact, the "safe period" method, called today Natural Family Planning, does allow God to work if he intends to make a child. Still, we may debate whether or not this is a difference without a distinction; but it was commonly accepted as a difference with a distinction in 1930, as indeed the majority considers it today.

Furthermore, Resolution 15 condemns the use of contraception "from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience." Contrasting "complete abstinence" against partial abstinence, and then following it with Resolutions 16 and 17, it is likely that most of the bishops believed they had made a very strong case against both abortion and contraception.

Nonetheless, this is the only resolution that records a vote, as if to say that several of the bishops (67) were better able to see the danger of how this resolution would be perceived. The contraception movement of Margaret Sanger was a noisy influence for evil in that period, and the movement was gaining ground all the time. The crusade of the movement had as its adversary all of the mainstream churches, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestants of all stripes and the Orthodox. The consensus of Christians in all of the various denominations was the same: Contraception is sinful in and of itself.

Whether with genuine outrage, or as a subterfuge to further the Birth Control movement, it was The Washington Post, in a critical editorial, that "informed" the world that Anglican bishops had given the green light to contraception. Thus the myth was born, and from then on everybody knew.

14 comments:

Shaughn said...

Fr. Hart,

As a mid-20s seminarian, I am confronted with this issue regularly, if not daily. I vividly remember the first week of training I had as a Resident Advisor in my undergraduate studies, when a fellow from the Health Center explained to us the methods of free contraception it offered to students.

One line of argument I've heard is mostly pragmatic: we are meant, for better or worse, to eat, to sleep, to pray, to work, and to beget children. God gave us reason to regulate most of these natural functions - I may want terribly to eat, but I can choose not to do so. I may want terribly to eat in excess, but choose to regulate my diet. In extreme reasons, I might even use an artificially enhanced means to avoid eating or eating improperly. The same goes for sleeping. Many a night have we all swigged caffeine to avoid sleep in the wee hours of the morning, or relied on it to sleep less.

That is to say, we have reason and will to eat less or sleep less than we are naturally inclined to eat or sleep. Is my alarm clock--an artificial means, to be sure-- thwarting God's will by waking me up before I would rise naturally? asks the pragmatist. The answer is a resounding "No."

Sex and marriage, of course, are trickier. It's the one natural function that necessarily involves another person. (By natural, I mean both biological and the normative state of humanity after the Fall.)

The pragmatist might even grant that sex is "for married people," and for them alone. But what is it for? Two things, they'll argue: 1) the strengthening of the bonds of marriage, and 2) the begetting of children. It's clear that either taken in extreme isolation will in fact cause pain in a marriage. If anyone doubts, consider the stress involved in "trying to have a baby."

We see both involved in the Old Testament, both implicitly and explicitly. Sarah and Abraham, for example, were operatingfor many years, for better or worse, solely in the first reason for procreation. Even when separated in Egypt, the Lord brought them back together. It was their natural state to be together, children or no children.

We might consider the curious account of Tamar and Onan (Gen 38). Some argue Onan was struck dead for the isolated incident of "spilling his seed on the ground," that is, for the physical act of refusing to impregnate Tamar. The Early Church, especially St. Jerome, took that view, while others have argued that Onan was struck dead mainly for failing to accomplish his duty. Tamar was his brother's wife and childless, and it was Onan's responsibility to provide them--an origin story, perhaps, for levirate marriages. His death was due to his failure to follow the Law.

And so the Pragmatists, wanting to do good, might have every intention of having children--just not now, at this exact moment, and view this as no different than any other biological self-discipline. They might even have the very best of intentions, too -- wanting to finish school or secure a stable job so as to adequately provide for children. The pragmatist asks, "Why is it different than eating or sleeping?"

For my part, I'm not sure how to answer. I realize that in earlier generations, the gap in age between a husband and wife was largely due to this notion of economic security. When faced with the realization that they do not want children yet, they did not marry, for that is what marriage was designed for.

Right now we have this bizarre notion that marriage is so that I can "be with the one I love." That's the rhetoric, for example, that many use in support of civil unions and so forth. "You're denying them the ability to marry someone they love!" Marriage has shifted, I think, from an understanding of husband and wife to an understanding of Lover and Beloved.

To such a modern, pragmatic mindset, we seem to be asking too much. We ask of them, "Don't have sex before marriage. Don't cohabitate before marriage. But once you're married, don't use contraception at first until your marriage is strong enough to handle children. And when it's deemed not strong enough, don't divorce, either." And they'll point to any number of older married couples who either weren't married and did so due to a pregnancy, or had a child early on, and now that the children are gone, realize they have no relationship outside of the child.

So, I suppose I can distill this embarassingly long thought exercise to two points.

First, a question: How do I persuade the pragmatist with the best of intentions (let alone those with worse ones) that contraception, in of itself, is sinful? "Because of Ruling X," unfortunately, won't do, as I'm surrounded by liberal protestants who are skeptical of both scripture and The Church in any organized sense.

Second, it seems like addressing this issue requires a total rethinking in our culture of the purpose of sex and marriage. How can I (we?) instruct others with charity and respect? We've spoken of preaching vs. debating, but I'm not at all sure where to go. My peers have been instructed via experience and instruction to dismiss morals preached from the pulpit. (Heck, my instructor for preaching even exhorted us to avoid the word "should" in sermons...)

It's fine and well to teach folks who are past child-rearing years about proper sexual mores, but what about the younger married couples trying to balance school, low pay, and so forth?

Many thanks for this extremely relevant discussion of a complicated issue.

BillyHW said...

Whether with genuine outrage, or as a subterfuge to further the Birth Control movement, it was The Washington Post, in a critical editorial, that "informed" the world that Anglican bishops had given the green light to contraception. Thus the myth was born, and from then on everybody knew.

Apparently even the Anglican bishops.

Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

Thank you for this posting. It clears up this erroneous belief that even I had about Anglicanism.
Would you compare ( on a different scale) this to what happened to the Liturgy (not just in the Roman but also the Anglican and Lutheran Churches) after Vatican II?

Bruce said...

Father Hart,

Thanks for this post. I “knew” Lambeth led to the attitudes on BC in our churches but I knew (no quotes) that the language it used was far more careful and restrictive than what would come out of the mouths of contemporary Church leaders. The mini-Pope who ran a friend’s mega-Church convinced him over an email that it was ok to get himself emasculated at age 26.

Your use of quotes around "partial abstinence" in the third to last paragraph seems (unintentionally) misleading since the direct quote placed against "complete abstinence" is "other methods."

Regarding the bishops present at Lambeth, if we can't actually SAY something, then do we really mean it? I understand they may not have wanted to use language like “safe period” but as you say they were educated men and surely they could have come up with less ambiguous language. How can most of them have believed they had made a very strong case against contraception other than to condemn its encouragement by socialist propagandists.

Also, phrases like “the sacredness of personality” (although I don’t know what that means, maybe you could explain) and, especially, “the more equal partnership of men and women” make me suspect they were rapidly becoming creatures of the 20th century.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Billy HW:

Perhaps you might give us a bishop by bishop breakdown of who thought what. You seem so well-informed.

Bruce wrote:

How can most of them have believed they had made a very strong case against contraception other than to condemn its encouragement by socialist propagandists.

One has to read the resolutions as a whole, beginning with #9, in the context of the times, to understand the point they were making. The Washington Post and the public at large have never done that to this day.

“the more equal partnership of men and women” make me suspect they were rapidly becoming creatures of the 20th century.

Women had only just gotten the vote a few years earlier. The times, they were a'changin' whether the Church would notice these things or not.

Bruce said...

To Shaughn the seminarian from a new and very inexperienced layman:

On your first question, I suspect you'll never persuade "liberal protestants who are skeptical of both scripture and The Church in any organized sense."

BillyHW said...

http://anglicanhistory.org/gore/contra1930.html

Fr. Robert Hart said...

It seems that one person out there, namely Billy HW, is not understanding what I have written. The result of Resolution 15 was a disaster, and almost immediately it was presumed to be an open door to license. My point is that this was not the intent, neither is it what the resolution actually says. Bp. Gore's essays are on the list, and always were. this fellow is getting ahead of me.

Shaughn said...

Bruce,

I figure it's worth chipping away at them by and by while I'm here, but I suspect you're right. I'm one of those rude people who "leaves the table," which is, anymore, the only unpardonable sin with many Whiskepalians.

Anonymous said...

Okay.
So...what about the Christian man who has had a vasectomy years ago who then reads this and sees that he was wrong....should he then go have a reversal, knowing that in his late 40's he and his wife do not want any more children??

Is a vasectomy sinful as his seed is "dead on arrival"? I think it is better than a abortofacient (if I'm spelling that correctly).

How do we handle this?

Bruce said...

Shaughn,

At least the Episcopals have good doughnuts :-)

Maybe I'm getting ahead but it would be interesting to see Onan's sin addressed by the Frs in this discussion.
The idea that Onan was stricken dead for not fullfilling his responsibility always struck me as a bit like the argument that the sin of Sodom & Gomorrah was inhospitality. God's wrathful action seemed to indicate a particular offense in both cases. I can't read the Hebrew and that's just my (very) layman's opinion.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Is a vasectomy sinful as his seed is "dead on arrival"?

What's done is done. I think the Abraham/Sarah, Zecharias/Elizabeth concept is of issue, and could provide such couples reason for maintaining a good conscience.

GL said...

Have you ever read T.S. Eliot's pamphlet, Thoughts After Lambeth (published a few months after that fateful conference), in which he approves of what the bishops did regarding contraception at the 1930 Lambeth Conference, but criticizes them for not giving more guidance to the priest so that they could counsel couples and for leaving too much in the discretion of the couples themselves.

As to the latter point, Eliot wrote that he regretted that the bishops had

"placed so much reliance upon the Individual Conscience. . . . Certainly, anyone who is wholly sincere and pure in heart may seek guidance from the Holy Spirit; but who of us is always wholly sincere, especially where the most imperative of instincts may be strong enough to simulate to perfection the voice of the Holy Spirit?"

He also observed that the bishops had not given adequate instruction, leaving “unanswered the questions: When is it right to limit the family and right to limit it only by continence? and: When is it right to limit the family by contraception?”

He added:

"It is exactly this matter of ‘spiritual advice’ which should have been examined and analysed. [H]ere, if anywhere, is definitely a matter upon which the Individual Conscience is no reliable guide; spiritual guidance should be imperative; and it should be clearly placed above medical advice."

If the bishops had used more care in crafting those resolution, perhaps we would be living in a substantial different world today. On the other hand, the forces which took advantage of the poorly considered wording were so powerful and so committed to their cause, it is unlikely that a more carefully crafted resolution would have long delayed their victory.

Diane said...

Fr. Hart,

I got a good laugh reading your description of me as 'the' outspoken apologist...etc.! All of the disclaimers ('for once I find it useful','with whom I am often in disagreement...") made it even funnier.

Glad I could finally be of assitance to you.