Magazine article The Christian Century

Going Catholic? Evangelicals and Birth Control

Magazine article The Christian Century

Going Catholic? Evangelicals and Birth Control

Article excerpt

AMID THE various responses to the White House mandate requiring insurance plans to cover birth control for employees--including those working at Catholic institutions--one statistic caught my eye. A Pew survey found that 56 percent of white evangelicals disagreed with the government mandate, but only 47 percent of white mainline Protestants and only 37 percent of Catholics did. Evangelicals, some suggested, appeared to be more in tune with Catholic teaching than Catholics are.

Though these figures may simply reflect evangelicals' long-standing defense of religious liberty against government intrusion, some observers, such as Mark Oppenheimer of the New York Times, have suggested that a shift is under way in evangelical views on birth control. Oppenheimer points to the evangelical Quiverfull movement, which opposes birth control and celebrates large families; the popular reality television show 19 Kids and Counting; and figures like theologian Russell Moore at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who assails America's "contraceptive culture." Taken together, Oppenheimer argues, we can see evangelicals gradually adopting a more Catholic view of birth control.

There are two questions to consider here: whether or not a shift is taking place among evangelicals and, if it is, whether it is bringing evangelicals closer to Catholic thinking. On both issues, the answer appears to be no.

The arguments of evangelicals who reject birth control do not mirror Catholic arguments. Catholic objections to birth control are usually framed in terms of a natural law argument, which declares that it's wrong to detach sex from the possibility of procreation. Evangelicals are more likely to frame their argument in personal terms and emphasize the importance of an individual's trust in God. In that context, birth control is portrayed as a sign of desiring to control one's destiny rather than turning one's life over to God.

That's the approach taken by Agnieszka Tennant in a 2005 piece in Christianity Today. She writes of her growing concern that use of birth control was creating a "hostile uterine environment" and signaled a selfish life. A few years into her marriage, she decided to abandon birth control. It should be noted here that whatever her uneasiness with birth control, her sequence of decisions--choosing to stop using birth control a few years into marriage in order potentially to conceive a child--is utterly conventional and would be similar to that of many women from an array of religious backgrounds. …

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