Monday, March 3, 2008

On Quiverfull

It’s fun learning new words, even new words that describe old concepts. Lately the subject of birth control seems to be coming up in a lot of blogs that my wife reads (which I then read). My new word is “Quiverfull” which, as all defenders of such an idea will often say, is more than just a word, but a “lifestyle of faith”. Faith that God, in His sovereignty, will give us the exact number of children He wants us to have and that using any form of birth control would be to oppose His will, given that He has proclaimed children to be a blessing and has commanded His followers to be fruitful and multiply.

Wow. So using birth control is essentially wrong. That’s quite a thing to say. The consequences of such a belief are numerous and daunting. However, with any such issue, a Christian should constantly evaluate their behavior against scripture. We should seek to honor God and His word. And we should seek out His word honestly, avoiding looking only at things that support our belief and merely building a case to feel good about our current opinion. I’m pretty sure there is a right and wrong answer to this decision. If birth control is in opposition to God’s word, then for the most part Christians shouldn’t use it. If it’s okay, then folk who think that it’s sin need to shut their traps and stop searing the consciences of those who seek to live in harmony with God’s word. I think this is a pretty big deal.

In thinking about this issue, beyond searching the scriptures, there have been a few helpful sources of opinion. First, there was this lengthy post over at Life in a Shoe, one of my wife’s favorite blogs. There are ton of reader comments and even more comments on this follow-up post on the same issue. The author writes clearly and frankly and isn’t afraid to offend with her convictions. I like that. At one point she discusses how she doesn’t think that her opinion is simply “right for her and her family” but rather is simply “right” in an absolute sense. If you take a look at her reasons, having this unflinching attitude about her opinion offers some rare consistency in the PC world. She has 8 children (so far) and is very much of the mind that birth control should not be used. She presents her case very well.

Next up is a recent sermon from Mark Driscoll of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church. He is very entertaining and great speaker. I’m very much in line with a lot of the Mars Hill theology. He is also one who speaks his mind and is not prone to pandering to nonbiblical sensitivities. As much as I enjoyed the experience of watching the sermon, I found his arguments unpersuasive. He is a pretty staunch defender of thoughtful birth control.

His primary arguments take 2 forms. One is a series of hypothetical (or actual) situations where it would seem inhuman and evil to recommend someone not take matters of birth control into their own hands, i.e. a lady has cancer or was recently raped. At one point he even brings up Andrea Yates (a Christian homeschool mom he called her) and that tragic situation. The other argument is essentially calling quiverfull-type folk “self-righteous, judgmental, and legalistic” over and over again. Finally, in a matter that seems uncharacteristic of him, he misses an opportunity to delve a bit deeper into the type of birth control folks should use. I have a feeling he leans a certain way there and he should have let fly. More on that later. Using rare hypothetical situation to create heuristics for practice is silly. Reducto ad absurdum is useful to testing philosophical positions, but you shouldn’t start there—Especially with something as important as this issue. Very few people have cancer and are wondering what to do about birth control; such people typically have far bigger issues on their minds. Yet this and others like it are the examples he uses to show how you shouldn’t tell people they shouldn’t use birth control. Not very compelling. You don’t define rules by their exceptions. Lifeboat morality is somewhat useful as a mental exercise, but I’m trying to determine if my wife and I should do anything to prevent childbirth. There are a LOT of folk in the same position as I am; why not speak to our issue rather then spend time talking about Andrea Yates?

As far as the “self-righteous, judgmental, and legalistic”, he seems to be falling into the same ad homonym patterns of attack which he accuses the QF folk. These days, when someone calls someone legalistic, I pay extra attention. I think our culture way to often confuses legalism with obedience and is too slow to recognize the value in maintaining consistency in a philosophical or theological position. To illustrate what I mean, how many people have you heard say that they think abortion is wrong (even murder) but “don’t want to impose their beliefs on others.” Ridiculous. If something is wrong, then it is wrong for everyone. If it’s just a matter of personal preference, then it’s not wrong. The QF folk believe that using birth control is wrong. It’s not a choice they’ve made personally. It’s a conviction they have regarding what the Bible teaches on a certain subject. It would be disingenuous for them not proclaim this conviction as they claim it—a mandate for all to heed.

That’s enough about Driscoll. I could mention more about his preaching style, but there’s simply too much material there to offer dutiful coverage within a post on another subject. Suffice it to say that I’ve watched several of his sermons and do have thoughts that I want to share. But that’ll have to wait.

Amy Scott, a similarly minded and far more articulate blogger also recently weighed in on the subject. I’m pretty sure this is the most comments she’s ever received on a post, but it would be too stalkerish of me to confirm that.

Her mini-treatise on the subject is written in her endearing “awe shucks” style reminiscent of the title of her blog. The first half of the post sets up her introductory thought of how humans like to be told what we can’t do so we can not feel guilty about doing everything up until that point. Agreed. Her conclusion lacks the punch I’ve come to expect of her. Rather than come down hard on where she stands, she more or less seems to track with Driscoll’s opinion. She makes an appeal for folk to consider carefully their choice to use birth control but maintains that it’s a matter of personal conviction. About 99% of her commenters loved the post. I wanted a little more punch—perhaps a little more legalism and judgmentalism . I guess I also like to be told exactly what I can and can’t do.

A couple other opinions worth reading are Doug Philips of Vision Forum and Doug Wilson of CRE. Both are very intelligent and articulate. And neither post is long enough to be burdensome (unlike this post). Different conclusions too.

While my wife and I have still more thought and prayer ahead of us on this matter, we’ve collectively reached a few conclusions.

1) The Pill is not consistent with a Biblical pro-life view. This is a very inconvenient conviction. Driscoll said that Focus on the Family hasn’t come down on either side of this issue and that some foundation of evangelical doctors hasn’t issued an opinion either. I think they’re stalling because they know how unpopular this opinion would be. Every honest description about how birth control pills work seems to indicate that the possibility of aborting an egg post-conception exists. The primary purpose of the pill is to prevent conception, but in the case of fertilization taking place, the uterus becomes an “inhospitable environment” for egg, preventing attachment and effectively ending life. I don’t thing that knowingly allowing that to happen is compatible with a Christian worldview. I won’t cross the street to tell someone this, but neither do I think this is a matter that should be left to personal conviction.

Of course, I’m not a scientist or doctor, so I’m more than willing to be proven wrong on this issue. In fact, at least on part of my life would be marginally improved by being able to jettison this belief. However, until I hear a convincing argument about a pill that does not create an inhospitable environment, I will hold this belief. If you know of any strong evidence of a 100% non-abortive pill option, please let me know.

2) QF arguments seem to be more often supported directly with scripture (or with fewer logical steps and leaps) than arguments for personal choice with birth control. The notion that birth control is a matter of personal conviction tends to rely more on logic and clever analogies than outright scripture. For example, God has given us brains to make choices or we live in a cause and effect world. Both of these things are true, but I think the majority of these arguments tends to elevate man’s thoughts. Few would agree that God will “personally convict” someone of something incongruent with His word. The great thing about following his word is that the consequences of obedience are not for us to worry about. It is truly one of the great freedoms of the Christian life. We don’t need to be concerned about what trials or blessing will come from obedience. We just need to see out the Lord and follow His word. Of course this is often easier said than done and I recognize that.

3) I am, at this point in my journey, comfortable with barrier methods of birth control and natural family planning. I won’t go into the specifics as Amy Scott explains most of it better than I can. I simply am not personally convicted that QF is a Biblical way of viewing our stewardship and dominion responsibilities as it relates to managing our families. I hold this view very tentatively and unlike many of the opinions I hold, am very open to the idea that I may be wrong. Just as I was once convinced of the dangers of Calvinistic theology, I realize that God reveals things according to His timing and schedule. Then again, perhaps I will know this freedom forever.

Tell you what though; I sure ain’t going under the knife for a “snip, snip” any time soon.


Helen said...

What a tome, dude!

Despite the fact that I am not entirely your intended audience with respect to this post, I feel compelled to comment. Since I did read the ENTIRE thing and you took the time to write it. And... no one else has made a comment yet. Here is my random and also quite lengthy response:

I am not keen on the Life-in-a-shoe Lady's taunting tone when she basically calls out any woman who may go against her doctor's orders/warning for risky pregnancies. Staying alive and preserving your health to be there to raise the children you already have should take priority over pressing on to produce a decent-sized quiverfull despite serious health risks.

Each woman's body reacts differently to pregnancy. Some bodies are more resillient than others. I don't think there should be any absolutes in terms of what we should expect womens' bodies to accomplish.

This topic makes me think of all the Guatemalan women I met who had bodies that were ravaged (prolapsed uterus, etc.) from having 16 or more pregnancies, one right after the other.

Being a mother and giving birth in Guatemala is an especially cherished experience for indigenous women. During the civil war, organizations would come into towns and tell Mayan women they were giving them medicine when they were actually sterilizing them. Nowadays, in developing countries, health officials advocate spacing out pregnancies to preserve the woman's health and to ease the financial strain of having a child each year.

We are lucky and endlessly privileged in the U.S. to even be able to contemplate family planning to this degree.

I didn't like Doug Philip's take, especially the phrase "planned barren-hood". People who don't want many kids, or don't want to have kids at all, shouldn't.

As Doug Wilson, whose perspective I could support more than the others, said, "children are a blessing, and if they are individually loved, nourished, read to, fed, and educated, they remain a blessing". Too many people today suck at being a parent. I experience the effects of that every single day at work.

As Wilson put it, "when it is not done right, the results are correspondingly disastrous".

His interpretation seemed more grounded, more applicable to the real world.

Either way, even if you guys want to go beyond the estimated 5 or 6 you have expressed the intention of having, I don't think I would have too much to say about it.

I kinda sorta like the short people in your family.

Kristen said...

Hey Mike,
This is Kristen Kill... its been a long time! I just wanted to say thanks for writing this post. Josh and I have wrestled with this issue too, and interestingly enough have reached the same conclusions thus far as you and Amy... but we are still open and prayerful and want to learn more to be fully obedient to God's word. Would it be okay for me to direct some ladies to what you wrote? It has lots of great links to other resources and I think it would help them research and talk to their men about where they are headed with this stuff. Thanks again for sharing your heart... I appreciate you!

Cutzi said...

I love Helen.

KimC said...

Thanks for linking to my post in your thoughtful article. I'm flattered to find myself among the likes of Doug Phillips, Doug Wilson, and Humble Amy - though I felt the same way about her post as you did.
Incidentally, the package insert for the pill will affirm abortion as a secondary mechanism for "preventing" pregnancy. Don't just ask a doctor because they often deny it; just have a look yourself. I did in a gyn office.

I think I was unclear in my attitude toward dangerous pregnancies because a lot of people took it the way you did. My point was simply that as Christians, *every* decision needs to be evaluated in the light of God's will and our duty to obey Him - even, or esp. the hard decisions.
I think I know what I would do in such a situation; I strongly encourage others to be prepared to follow their convictions rather than their doctor's if they find the two to be in conflict.

Morlan family said...

Just something for you to consider. This is how the LORD began our journey into "quiverfulness". The account of Onan in the Older Testament... and his desire to NOT produce offspring for his dead brother (weird to us, I know) but his actions were considered wicked in the LORD's sight. (Chapter 38 of Genesis.) God killed the guy because he wanted to enjoy the pleasure of sex (within marriage) but didn't want the possibility of procreation.

Also, you might think about that the "pill" and other such drugs are made to disrupt normal function of our bodies. And is, as far as I am aware, the only drugs out there that do such. All others are made to help and encourage normal function.

We are expecting our 9th blessing and are quite "afraid yet filled with joy". We didn't start out our marriage with this conviction but are so thankful to God for his mercy and grace to us in this area. Having a larger family makes you less and less selfish in a multitude of ways. We are learning more and more every day that "IT is not about us"!!!!

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog and have a strong opinion about birth control. But I won't bore you with the details. I did want to make a comment to the previous poster about drugs affects on our bodies.

BC drugs are not the only ones that disrupt the natural responses of our bodies. Granted they stop what normally would be a benefit of natural body functions.
However, Benadryl stops the bodies 'Natural' release of histimines to a preceived danger. Steriods are used to control your bodies release of toxins to poisons. Tylenol controls fevers that are the body's natural and helpful response to infections. Antibiotics may kill infectious bacteria but they also kills lots of necessary bacteria your body needs.

When used properly these drugs are important when the body doesn't know what is good for it (my son's allergies to dairy and peanuts),(105 degree fever that is causing seizures) or (staph infections).

In case you can't tell, I am not a big proponent of doctors or drugs the be-and-end-all the some people believe them to be.

Joanna said...

Very well thought out. My husband and I are basically at the same place as you are, but we won't use barrier methods. For myself, the "quiverfull" journey has been more about genuinely seeing children as a blessing and not a burden and has been slowly working toward trusting him with the timing of more children. Our first "quiverfull baby" is 8 months old, although we can't really and don't describe ourselves as quiverfull.

Two books that have convicted us/me with our perspecitve on children as a blessing are The Way Home by Mary Pride (hard to get but well worth the read, check your library), and Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp. I feel like The Way Home is sort of the "why" and Mr. Tripp's book is the "how."

Morlans said...

Dear Anonymous,
Yes, you are correct; thank you for jogging the brain cells.

TAMI said...

Thanks for processing and thinking out loud. I'm painfully suspicious of those who proclaim it's "black & white." I find that the Lord is not confined by the lines we conveniently draw for Him!!