Why Churches Shouldn't Push Contraceptives to Their Singles
For one, holding up an ideal of chastity while encouraging our single people who are sexually active to use contraception divides our practices from our proclamation. And whenever that division is introduced, it is the mentality and commitments buried in our practices that will shape our communities, reducing our proclamation to be little more than a sounding gong. The word proclaimed and the practices that are lived must be mutually reinforcing. Yet if we enshrine Augustine's famous prayer—"Give me chastity and continence, but not yet!"— as part of our pastoral recommendations to those who are sexually active, we mute the transformative power of the call to holiness.
What's more, in calling people to repent, the church calls us not merely to the confession of sin and the acknowledgment of grace, but to the changing of the material circumstances that our rebellion has led us into. In encouraging our single people who are sexually active to pursue contraception, we offer them a technological remedy to what is functionally a discipleship and community shortcoming. At its heart, this is little more than a tacit rejection of the power of the gospel to transform lives and bring people to a repentance that is genuine and genuinely holistic. Rather than building them up to maturity in Christ, the decision to pursue contraception so as to continue to be sexually active only reinforces their infantile faith.
In Romans 3:8, Paul establishes a standard that we ought not do evil in order to bring about good. Sin must be taken out at their root, and part of the reason why we fail in our sexual lives is that we have not yet seen that because of the indwelling Spirit resistance is no longer futile. The fellow who buys a condom or the woman who takes the pill does so for a specific reason: they do not trust themselves to remain chaste when presented with the opportunity. They presumably have good reason for their doubt, if they have failed in the past. But the purchase of contraception reinforces their self-perception of their own captivity to their sexual desires and their own inability to remain continent. Rather than fleeing temptations, the purchase of contraception engenders the conditions where such temptations can be enjoyed without the distinct and difficult (though always welcome, and potentially redemptive) effect of procreation. Contraceptives, in other words, among the sexually active can tend to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To see how this works, contrast the person who buys a contraceptive with the fellow who needs an internet filter. In the latter case, the technological remedy sets up a barrier between him and his addiction. It is not sufficient for repentance, but it might give him a bit more time to think things through. The man who buys a condom, on the other hand, is making certain preparations, just as is the woman who faithfully swallows the pill. Those preparations are not morally neutral: they are an act which inclines the will in a particular direction, that reinforces our self-perception in particular ways, and that prods our imaginations to walk down certain paths.
Beneath the issue of contraception is a question about the role ideals and norms play in our communal lives. Yes, they restrict our behavior in ways that are sometimes inconvenient. Yet in doing so, they intrinsically call us and our communities toward a life that we might not otherwise choose on our own. What's more, they amplify the need for repentance and reconciliation, rather than watering down such a need through the "pragmatic" concession to the fallenness of the world. We may occasionally fail to meet them. But confronting our failures can be heroic and acknowledging our sins a moment of beauty. The only thing to be gained from lowering the expectations is greater secrecy about our sexual lives within our communities. And that, somewhat ironically, only stigmatizes unplanned pregnancies within our midst all the more by making them all the more rare.