Continuing our look at Valerie Turico’s piece, “9 Sinister Things that the Christian Right Does in the Name of God”, we move to point number 4 in her article which is an accusation:
4. Obstructing humanity’s transition to more thoughtful, intentional childbearing is evil.“If a woman dies in [child]bearing, let her die; she is there to do it.” So spoke Martin Luther. But beyond the horrors of women dying after days of labor or bleeding out after unwanted childbirth, lies the incontrovertible evidence that children, families and whole communities do better when parents can plan their families. As one medical student put it, “The failure of any sect to support the benefits to humanity that could be obtained through the use of contraceptive technology is blasphemy.”
If evidence-based compassion—the intersection of truth and love—was at the top of Christian priorities, hunger and destitution would be vastly diminished because millions of mothers would be able to plan and prepare for their babies. But for two generations, Christian patriarchs have been fighting against public health advocates every step of the way. In June alone, Christians in the U.S. congress voted to slash family planning aid by 25 percent, and the five Catholic men on the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the “religious freedom” of corporations is more important than the right of working women to care for their health and their families.
First, we need to deal with the misquotation that she has presented regarding Martin Luther. Quotes are easy to come by, and quote that paint historic figures in a particular light are terribly easy to find. People whose only interest is to make their position look good have no reason to contextualize statements or even get them correct, because, if it furthers your goal, then where’s the harm in being dishonest? I can’t necessarily fault Valerie on this quotation because it was probably taken from a source that is 3 or four removed form the original. So let’s place the statement in context.
Historically, Luther is writing into a context where papal authority had made marriage a difficult thing to get into, in fact, one source lists as many as 18 impediments to marriage. As a result, culturally, marriage was rare. However, with the Reformation taking hold, Luther was addressing questions that were being raised. So, in commenting on sacramental aspects that Romanists held, Luther, reflecting on Scripture makes this argument,
It is certainly a fact that he who refuses to marry must fall into immorality. How could it be otherwise, since God has created man and woman to produce seed and to multiply? Why should one not forestall immorality by means of marriage? For if special grace does not exempt a person, his nature must and will compel him to produce seed and to multiply. If this does not occur within marriage, how else can it occur except in fornication or secret sins?…For God’s word does not admit of restraint; neither does it lie when it says, “Be fruitful and multiply” [Gen. 1:28]. You can neither escape nor restrain yourself from being fruitful and multiplying; it is God’s ordinance and takes its course.
Physicians are not amiss when they say: If this natural function is forcibly restrained it necessarily strikes into the flesh and blood and becomes a poison, whence the body becomes unhealthy, enervated, sweaty, and foul-smelling. That which should have issued in fruitfulness and propagation has to be absorbed within the body itself. Unless there is terrific hunger or immense labor or the supreme grace, the body cannot take it; it necessarily becomes unhealthy and sickly. Hence, we see how weak and sickly barren women are. Those who are fruitful, however, are healthier, cleanlier, and happier. And even if they bear themselves weary—or ultimately bear themselves out—that does not hurt. Let them bear themselves out. This is the purpose for which they exist. It is better to have a brief life with good health than a long life in ill health.
But the greatest good in married life, that which makes all suffering and labor worth while, is that God grants offspring and commands that they be brought up to worship and serve him. In all the world this is the noblest and most precious work, because to God there can be nothing dearer than the salvation of souls…. (LW 45:44-45, emphasis added)
Now, while we can dismiss the archaic view of health, it is clear that the context gives a completely different presentation of the quote that has been credited to Luther.
But I notice that Valerie’s focus is on contraception as opposed to responsible conception that can be maintained through marriage. It is only in a marriage that a family can exist, and more importantly can it be planned. If the plan isn’t marriage there are numerous issues, among them crime, that come from stressing, not contraception, but irresponsible use of one’s sexuality in contradiction to what it was designed for.
What’s interesting, is that she links to document that deals with offering “family planning services” in Africa and the Middle East. In the document is a quote that I find interesting, and somewhat unreflective,
As a society modernizes, economic and social changes such as industrialization, urbanization, new occupational structure, and increased education first lead to a decline in mortality, and subsequently also to a decline in fertility. The rising costs of children (e.g., for education) and their declining economic value (e.g., for labor and old-age security) were the central forces believed to be driving the decline in desired family size. (Family Planning for the 21st Century, p.21)
I would agree that as a society modernizes there is generally a overall decline in birthrates because the economy changes. Labor demand changes, however, did people suddenly stop getting older. I would admit that if we’re honest, we wonder just who is going to take care of us when we’re old? Hmmmm…
The biggest issue is the very point that she is pushing is what Christians are for: planning families. But Valerie seems to forget that families are made up of more than mothers and children, they have to have fathers as well. Christians are concerned about mothers, which is why we push for abstinence until marriage, where a woman can get the support that she needs and her children need from a husband and a father. The biggest problem is that her links are not to groups that advocate for sexual sensibility, but for groups that push population control through abortion, which can place women in greater danger, physically, emotionally, and psychologically, than they would be in if they would learn to control their urges and focus them on the task that they have been given from creation: to be joined to a husband and, together with him, work toward bringing this world under control.
But just to put this whole argument in perspective by focusing on the issue that she’s primarily misrepresenting, which is contraception. Contraception is used to prevent conception. What she is focused on is not preventing an unwanted pregnancy, something that can be done through abstinence before marriage and careful planning after, but on terminating the life that has been conceived outright, through abortion.