09 September 2009

Marriage Counseling and Contraception

Some lively debate below between a couple of the Blackbirds regarding contraception. It's no secret that I'm a defender of the historic Lutheran teaching on that topic. One thing I'm often asked is, "how do you bring this up in marriage counseling?" If you want the whole answer, drop me an email (pastorcurtis AT gmail DOT com)and I'd be happy to send you my whole pre-marital packet (largely the work of my classmate, Pr. Jonathon Conner).

But the Cliffnotes answer is short and sweet: look to the rite of the Church to help you.

"In marriage we see a picture of the communion between Christ and His bride, the Church. . . . The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for the mutual companionship, help, and support that each person ought to receive from the other, both in prosperity and in adversity. Marriage was also ordained so that man and woman may find delight in one another. Therefore, all persons who marry shall take a spouse in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust, for God has not called us to impurity but in holiness. God also established marriage for the procreation of children who are to be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord so that they may offer Him their praise." (LSB p. 275)

So what I tell a couple is: God instituted marriage to be a picture of Christ and the Church, to provide mutual companionship and support, for delighting in one another, and for children. If you are not ready for those things, then don't get married. If you don't want to provide companionship for one another from day one - don't get married. You can't say, "I want to be a companion to my wife, but just not yet." If you're not ready to stand by each other in prosperity and adversity from day one - don't get married. You can't say, "I want to stand by my husband in adversity, but not yet." If you are not ready to accept children from the Lord as he would give them from day one - don't get married. You can't say, "I want kids, but not yet - we'll wait a few years." These things are what marriage is for - to enter into marriage without intending to accept these things from the Lord is playing with fire.

I have also been wont to say that Christ does not wear a rubber when he becomes one flesh with the Church, and that the Church does not withhold access to her womb from her Husband. But usually I save that for the brothers over a beer.



Pr. H. R. said...

And I should add - we also discuss the hard cases that arise because of sin and disease and the falleness of the world.

That's a big distinction that needs to be made here. Some couples - due to the falleness of creation - literally can't be open to life. In his Providence the Lord allows wombs to be closed.

Folks facing that cross are redeemed by the Lord of the Church and have marriages blessed to continue to be a reflection of his Love even in a fallen world.

But those hard cases are the exceptions that prove the rule of the historic Christian stance against contraception.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

As apparently the locus of the opposition here (eep!), I would say that I agree with your approach -- I like the phrasing of "If you are not ready for those things, then don't get married."

Indeed, in the vows we admonish people to be prepared for many things - for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, for better, for worse. If you are not prepared for poorer or sickness (or indeed, for better or for richer - for maturity is required to handle these things), I would agree that one is not ready for marriage.

The qualm is you make the assumption that if one does not actively seek children now that they are fundamentally not ready for it -- that's where I, in my opinion, would say you push too far in general - but with your description here, no, I think that image.

It's very close to what I say (my nuance would be that I say "when it comes to children, it doesn't matter what you think or plan, what measures you take - they may come, so you need to be ready for that, and if not, don't be married").

Pr. H. R. said...

Rev. Brown,

To actively avoid and seek to prevent conception is not the same thing as "not actively seeking."

A couple who simply lives their lives without worrying about whether or not they conceive is not actively seeking pregnancy.

A couple who contracepts is not "not actively seeking" but actively seeking to prevent pregnancy.

Unless there is some extreme, non-normal health issue or other such cross: Toss the pills in the toilet, throw away the condoms, and don't worry about it. The Lord will give or he won't.

That, I submit, is the proper, godly Christian attitude. To contracept is the exact opposite of it.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

For one who says not to worry about it, you seem to worry about it an awful lot >=o)

There is a nuance of difference there, you are right. However, I think you neglect the right and duty of planning. We have been given minds to use - and while we are not to worry about what will happen, that doesn't mean we have to cease thinking or planning. We make our plans and say, "If God wills, _________."

You end up focused on what is permissible, what is lawful (and I would contend end up adding to the Law the regulations of men). I, like Paul, prefer to consider what is helpful, profitable, and what builds up. You're so negative and fearful - sin boldly, but believe more boldly still!

Greg said...

From the rite of HOly Matrimony:

"What God has joined together, let no one put asunder."

To separate the possibility of procreation from the gift of sexual intimacy is to put asunder what God has joined together. That's not my call to make.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Perhaps our biggest problem today is that we know too much. People in the days of Abraham would not have known if it would have been too risky for the life of a mother to get pregnant. Sometimes, they probably died because of ectopic pregnancies or some other such thing. Medical advances have given us the ability to predict difficulties in the case of pregnancy, but this has also made the "hard cases" harder, since we now take into account the health of the mother.

Ordinarily, I think that pastors should counsel couples who are otherwise healthy to allow God to give or not give children as it pleases him. However, I think that one thing the Church should do is make sure it is equipped to nurture large families, and that there is a support group of women to help mothers out. I think this is part of what is so daunting to people (fathers included) about leaving themselves open to having as many children as God will give them--we have to do it ALL ALONE!!! We live in a time without maidservants and most families live far from their parents and aunts and grandparents and other siblings. I wonder how many times Abraham had to get up in the middle of the night to change a diaper.

That's why I say, we need to hold forth the ideal, but also have mercy on those who out of human weakness cannot fulfill it or live up to it.

Pr. H. R. said...

Well said, Fr. Beisel.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I will echo Rev. Curtis here - well said Rev. Beisel.

Greg said...

Any ideas about how to start up such a support group for mothers? My wife and I were talking about this very thing last night. She suggested having a sort of round table discussion with experienced mothers to share their wisdom.

Please share any thoughts...

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


Such a support group already exists. Last December I started a private social network for Confessional Lutherans who reject the contraceptive mindset of our culture.

There are presently over 75 members, and the list continues to grow. Many of these are pastors, seminarians, and/or their wives (more wives than husbands). I think most members would tell you this is a source of great moral support and encouragement, not to mention practical discussions of issues we all share in common.

We have mature parents, young parents, and even singles; and we have large families (the biggest is 13, I think), small families, and families just starting. There are also those who cannot have any more children.

Any Confessional Lutheran who rejects the contraception-on-demand mindset of the modern culture is welcome, and hereby encouraged to join.

There is also a variety of opinions regarding the details of if, when, and why contraception might be necessary in hard cases. There are also a few who believe NFP is fine for moderate spacing of children. I believe many would describe themselves as on a path toward the historic Christian doctrine on procreation. Don't think that you have to be as dogmatic and decisive as I am about this issue to join this support network. Few are.

It is, however, a secure private social network due to the personal nature of many of the discussions and the personal information shared about our families. We screen for impostors, spies, and trolls before ever inviting anyone. Most members have been invited by myself or have been recommended by other members who know them. This is for people who don't typically have anything to argue about. It is also not a very busy site, as most members are too busy to spend much time posting there.

So, if anyone is interested in joining this social networking site, just send me a brief introduction of yourself with real names and your email.

My email address is ehtoothdoctor at gmail dot com.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

P.S. You don't have to be LCMS to join. We have ELS members too. The common beliefs are simply a quia subscription to the BoC and basic agreement on the issue of procreation.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Erich, that's not exactly what I was talking about. I'm not talking about a trans-parochial support group. I'm talking about having people within the local congregation who are willing and able to help a mother and father who are committed to commending their procreation into the hands of God. This might include people who can help the family make trips to the store for groceries so that a mother doesn't have to drag four other kids to the store with her; Or, perhaps, having someone to come in and help clean house--anything to provide some relief to a mother with children.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Sorry for the misunderstanding, Rev. Beisel. I somehow missed your comment and neglected to connect the short question from Rev. "Greg". I also just figured out that "Greg" is a pastor. Sorry for that too. I do not believe in calling fathers in the faith by their first names.

However, I will say that this private social network goes a long way toward providing much-needed support, though not usually of the physical type you are talking about. This group also would be the best place I can think of to find practical answers about how to provide (and obtain) the physical help you are talking about. Some of these people have actually done it!

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rev. Truwe,

You wrote: "...She suggested having a sort of round table discussion with experienced mothers to share their wisdom. Please share any thoughts..."

My thought is that your you and your wife would find no better round table than the 75+ members of the social network I recommended above.

Greg said...

Sorry about the confusion, Erich. I started my blogger acount before I became a pastor, and just haven't changed the name on the account.

I'll ask my wife if she is interested in your social network. She has participated in similar groups; I think she's thinking of something with the women from the congregation.

Here's one example where having the support of the women in a congregation would be very helpful. There is a couple in our congregation, both public school teachers, that began fostering with the hopes of adopting. They were given a two-day-old infant, then shortly thereafter, they were given brothers, both under a year old. She was no longer teaching and only three weeks into fostering, they were given three beautiful children in diapers to care for. Well over a year later, those three are adopted, and the brother's mother had another child...so they are fostering him now too.

Because there was no pregnancy; because many in the congregation weren't aware of their circumstances, there was no shower to give them needed baby stuff.

Jamie (my wife) started a "Dinner and Diapers" campaign. She sent letters to the LWML members, and other mothers asking them to call the family to schedule an evening on which they could bring over dinner and a package of diapers.

Another individual was generous enough to make a $500 anonymous donation with which we were able to purchase bunk beds and other baby furniture.

These are great examples of the sort of care a congregation is able to provide.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Greg--Splendid! This is precisely the kind of congregational support system I am talking about. We can't very well tell people, "God wants you to be open to as many blessings as he desires to give you," and then expect them to handle things all by themselves. That's like saying to a carpenter, "Well, here are the plans for the house. Build it," and then not giving him any tools or extra workers.

My wife and I, as most other parents with small children, have felt completely overwhelmed at times. There is no escaping that. But both our parents live many hundreds of miles away; all of our siblings the same; no aunts and uncles to call up and say, "Please! Could you lend us a hand? We're really desperate here!"

I find it amusing that Fritz (Pastoral Theology) talks about women suffering from hysteria who have few or no children; sometimes I think it is quite the opposite. :)

Greg said...

Pr. Beisel,
Jamie and I are in San Antonio. Our oldest turns 3 Oct. 1; she's a spitfire, which is good, most of the time. Our youngest is 17 months. Just starting to talk.

Paternal grandparents in Indianapolis. Maternal grandparents in Milwaukee.

There are many who want to help the pastor's wife, and take care of the pastor's children.

My fear is that the rest of the mothers (actually, families) aren't shown that same support.

Sharon said...

My name is Sharon Vergis and I am the assistant editor of counselor.org. I am contacting you today in hopes of developing a relationship with your website; we have seen your site and think your content is great. Counselor.org is a purely informational site dedicated to the general Public.

I hope you show some interest in building relationship, please contact me at sharon.counselor.org@gmail.com.