Friday, May 16, 2008

Birth Control and the QuiverFull movement

When I first got married, in college, I was under strict orders from my mother not to have a baby for a long time.

In the eighteen months of my marriage before I became pregnant with my first child, I often thought about the wicked state of the world, and wondered how a person could ever, in good conscience, go ahead and bring a tiny life into it.

Then we had three unplanned pregnancies in three years.

At some point I began to wonder about birth control and the sovereignty of God.

I remember that when I was a girl living at home with my parents, people with large families were always Catholic. The evangelical protestants I knew and loved seemed to consider it a legalistic mindset not to use birth control; it was a rule devout Catholics followed to please the pope. In those days, and perhaps still today, protestants, especially the Baptist type, saw Catholics as some sort of quasi-cult, and did not consider that a Catholic could ever be saved. The prevailing attitude about Catholics was that they were just bound up in legalistic rule following, dead rituals, and weird prayers to Mary and the saints.

Sometimes I wondered about that. I think the Catholics have it right on a certain level, at least where birth control and the pro-choice movement are concerned. It seems to me that the advent of birth control ushered in our age of sexual promiscuity. With birth control, sex is reduced to a form of pleasurable entertainment, a fun recreation. Before birth control, sex was much more serious business. It was an act of love and trust between two people who had covenanted to build a life and family together.

Shortly after being married, I learned that the pill was potentially an abortifacient, so I stopped using it. This is probably why we had three unplanned pregnancies.

After that, however, life became too much for me. I do not feel that it would be appropriate to go into all the details of the problems or the details of what we tried as solutions. But I will say that I prayed and prayed and prayed. I read through the Bible. I sought the face of God.

I had never heard of the Quiverfull movement. I think it was the Providence of God that I had not, because I was weak and desperate, and I probably would have thought that it was what I had to do. Even now, the Quiverfull movement can fill me will guilt and shame for... for what? For honoring my husband's desire that we limit the size of our family and, as a couple, taking medical measures to do so.

This is not to make my husband the bad guy. I was not against limiting the size of our family. There have been times when I have wanted another baby, but I have never wanted an unlimited number of more children.

However, it is to say that, had I discovered the Quiverfull movement at that time, it would have seriously tempted me to disrespect my husband and to question whether I ought to submit to his leadership. The Bible is very clear that wives are to respect their husbands and submit to them. The Bible is not clear at all that limiting family size is a sin. That is a position that can be deduced, but it is not clearly stated. Better, I think, to obey the clear directives than to pre-empt them because of someone's cobbled together position on a different issue.

I don't know if what we did was right or wrong. We prayed about it. We tried to do what made sense. We had no desire to sin in this. I was sinning every day in my inability to exercise self-control, to be patient, and otherwise to live out a display of the fruits of the Spirit. What I really wanted was to stop sinning and start enjoying the blessing of the children I had. Prayer and reading the Word had not fixed me. Maybe God wanted to work through medical technology. Is that beyond imagining?

I think about it, you know... how we live these days with all our medical technology. Babies hardly ever die any more. Back in colonial days, you had to have about twelve children to ensure that at least three or four would live to adulthood. These days the vast majority of our children survive. Women who would have died in childbirth in an earlier era survive by having cesarean sections these days, which produces a whole new crop of children who are genetically wired to require cesareans when they grow up. The same goes for heart conditions, blood conditions, lung conditions. It makes me wonder, "Were all these people meant to be? Should they have died and cleansed the gene pool? Are we thwarting the will of God with our medical technology?" And then I remember that we can never thwart the will of God. It is His will when a medical discovery is made, and it is His will when it is used to save a life that comes into being after its invention. If He wanted the baby with the hole in its heart not to live, He could have easily had it born in 1810 instead of 2008.

We can't thwart the will of God. We do not have that much power. In fact, I believe in a God who is so sovereign, so in control of the affairs of men, that if He wanted me to have a baby, it wouldn't matter what medical procedures had taken place. He can make a baby grow whenever and wherever He pleases. Remember the birth of Jesus?

I am not all for birth control. I think it is very murky water. I am not totally at peace with where I am in all this, except that I know God's promise in Romans 8:28--"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." God will use all things (even my mistakes) for good. So I don't have to worry, I just have to trust. The question isn't so much whether I am trying to stop the will of God, as that I am trying to do what makes sense. If God over-rides my actions with a miracle, my heart will be glad and welcome the child. What is more important, the action, or the heart? What is more pleasing to God, a woman who suffers dutifully but miserably in the Quiverfull movement and mourns at her tenth, eleventh and twelfth pregnancies, or a woman whose husband has a vasectomy, but she later finds herself expecting a baby and responds with thanksgiving and joy?

People who join a camp--quiverfullers, homeschoolers, what have you--tend to need to validate their decision. This can come across as pride and judgment toward those who have made a different choice. Although scripture can be used to support many decisions, this support is not always clear cut. That 's where 1 Corinthians 13 comes in. We need to love one another, and give each other credit for searching the heart of God. When people are clearly in sin, it is scriptural to lead them back to the living water. But is a judgmental quiverfull mother ready to be confronted for her pride and self-righteousness, or is she only willing to condemn someone who has chosen to take steps to limit her family size?

This is not to say that all quiverfull mothers are legalistic and judgmental. I have no doubt that some women are called to have huge families and equipped with the grace to manage. The problem comes when some of them start telling everybody else that, "God will give you exactly the same grace that He gave me if you'll go out on a limb and have a plethora of children. You only have to TRUST!"

If that were the meaning of trust, we would all have to be Christian Scientists, refusing to take antibiotics for our pneumonia and refusing chemotherapy for our cancer. If God can work through those avenues to make people healthy and whole, He might sometimes choose to work through birth control for the good of one of His children as well. You can trust God and still use medical interventions.

One of the Quiverfull's benchmark arguments is that children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5). They say that you wouldn't turn away any of God's other blessings, like a big house or more money, so why would you turn away the blessing of children? That dog don't hunt, as the saying goes. I know of a number of people who have turned down a bigger house, opting for a smaller one because it was all they needed and they didn't want the headache of a huge home to clean, maintain and pay taxes on, in a neighborhood where they felt a lot of pressure to "keep up with the Jones's." I know of people who have opted for a job that net less money because it was less stressful and required less travel than the truly "big bucks" job that was available. There are people who turn down incredibly lucrative job opportunities in order to stay closer to their extended families. It's all about lifestyle choices and sometimes less is more--in all areas.

If you have too big a house, you can invite people in to share it, to live with you and help with the chores and the bills. If you have too much money, you can give it away. If you have too many children, would you ever give them away? Would that ever be God's will? Should a fertile woman continue bearing children that she and her husband can't afford to support, and hand them out to her infertile Christian friends like we do when too many zucchini grow in our gardens?

The hard thing about the truly holy Christian life is that you can never find a position and go hog wild over it. Everything needs to be in balance. We need to read the Bible. We need to pray. We need to walk by faith, trusting God, and we need to wisely discern how to properly and sensibly use the resources He puts in our way. And, while we're doing all that, we need to be loving, covering everything over with a layer of Godly love.

3 comments:

Esther said...

Thank you for this:

One of the Quiverfull's benchmark arguments is that children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5). They say that you wouldn't turn away any of God's other blessings, like a big house or more money, so why would you turn away the blessing of children? That dog don't hunt, as the saying goes. I know of a number of people who have turned down a bigger house, opting for a smaller one because it was all they needed and they didn't want the headache of a huge home to clean, maintain and pay taxes on, in a neighborhood where they felt a lot of pressure to "keep up with the Jones's." I know of people who have opted for a job that net less money because it was less stressful and required less travel than the truly "big bucks" job that was available. There are people who turn down incredibly lucrative job opportunities in order to stay closer to their extended families. It's all about lifestyle choices and sometimes less is more--in all areas.

If you have too big a house, you can invite people in to share it, to live with you and help with the chores and the bills. If you have too much money, you can give it away. If you have too many children, would you ever give them away? Would that ever be God's will? Should a fertile woman continue bearing children that she and her husband can't afford to support, and hand them out to her infertile Christian friends like we do when too many zucchini grow in our gardens?


I have honestly never thought about the issue like that, and yet I knew in my heart that, while my children are blessings, there are extenuating circumstances that don't seem to jive AT ALL with the quiverfull philosophy. I've never been able to get a response other than, "YOu just need to realize that children are a blessing." when I spell out my situation. *shrugging*

Thanks again. Great post!

In Christ,

Esther

MacCárthaigh Family said...

Hi Ruth, I read this the other day and had typed out a large reply and then lost it... I thought it was very good.
However, I don't know how you feel about this.. but I got tagged today and in return tagged you!!

(hope this is ok?)

Ruth:)

Dawn said...

However, it is to say that, had I discovered the Quiverfull movement at that time, it would have seriously tempted me to disrespect my husband and to question whether I ought to submit to his leadership. The Bible is very clear that wives are to respect their husbands and submit to them. The Bible is not clear at all that limiting family size is a sin. That is a position that can be deduced, but it is not clearly stated. Better, I think, to obey the clear directives than to pre-empt them because of someones cobbled together position on a different issue.


WOW, Ruth! What a fabulous post. Yep, I stopped in for a visit. :) You put many of my convictions to words. Thank you for saying it all so well.