Should Churches Tell Singles to Use Contraceptives?
Reducing abortion is important, but Matthew Lee Anderson doesn't think this is the way to do it.

Earlier this month evangelical leaders from every sector of the culture gathered in Washington DC for the Q conference. One of the panels focused on the staggering number of abortions among single women within the church. Panelists discussed the problem and how churches could begin to turn the tide. At the close of the discussion the audience was asked to respond to an instant poll: "Do you believe churches should advocate contraception for their single twentysomethings?" 70 percent responded "Yes."

While affirming God's intent that sexual activity be confined to marriage, those attending Q recognized the greater evil presented by abortion. While still affirming the ideal of pre-marital chastity, pragmatism led 7 in 10 leaders at Q to embrace the wisdom of preventing abortions by those who don't reach the sexual standards of Scripture. Many were likely persuaded by the undeniable statistics showing the failure of "abstinence only" sexual eduction to prevent pregnancy and lower abortion rates.

But should the church be swayed by these practical arguments? And can we truly hold up the biblical sexual ethics and simultaneously encourage singles to "sin safely"? Matthew Lee Anderson says we cannot.

His thoughtful article for Christianity Today explores the debate more deeply, and he argues that pushing contraceptives undermines the church's higher calling. He writes:

There may be no easy answers to these problems. And the most convenient—advocating for contraception for sexually active single people in our churches—may temporarily reduce abortions. Yet whatever good consequences it might have do not mitigate the fact that such advocacy will inevitably further engrain into our communities the broken understanding of sex and community that is at the heart of our predicament.

To those who say contraception is a means of preventing evil not unlike installing filtering software on one's web browser, Anderson strongly disagrees. He says, "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... Those preparations are not morally neutral: they are an act which inclines the will in a particular direction."

Anderson recognizes that contraception may well reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions, but in the process the church will be abandoning its moral authority in matters of sexual abstinence. He calls for the church to maintain it's culturally unpopular position even if it results in more abortions or teen mothers. It is a tension between the practical and the ideal; between the highest good and a lesser evil.

Displaying 1–10 of 14 comments


June 04, 2012  3:24pm

How said that preaching about sin and calling things as they are is the same as punishing? And who says that calling sin sin is not showing mercy? Mercy is a gift of God to forgive our sin after it was committed, but it is NOT a license to sin more. Remember what Jesus said after he forgave sinners? "Go and sin no more."

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Mark Simpson

May 07, 2012  10:23am

7 out of 10 voted "pragmatic," which actually reveals how many supposed "evangelicals" today know zero about the keeping power of God, the power and experience of the Holy Spirit, God Himself come to baptize and fill us after we become saved, the power of godliness to keep us just like Joseph was kept, way back in Genesis. According to these "pragmatic evangelicals", apparently Joseph's stand was in vain, there is no power, all we have now is a polite Christian "ethic" of life. This only shows how backslidden and far from God's presence the American church has become. I weep when I see how far we have fallen from faith in a present, inhabiting, wonderful, keeping God who said "you shall receive power." These so-called "spokespersons" don't rely on it, so why would their kids? If the blind lead the blind . . . .

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May 03, 2012  10:23am

The way the church can prevent abortions in its midst is not by selling the idea of contraceptives but by showing grace and mercy to those who find themselves in an untenable situation rather than punishing them.

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April 30, 2012  9:17am

No. The Church of Jesus Christ, His Bride, should not tell anyone who is unmarried to use contraceptives. The Church's job is to preach Christ and Him crucified. The Church's job is to teach the Word of God faithfully. We are to represent Jesus and to flesh Him out to the World. Would He tell an unmarried person to have sex outside of marriage? No. When we urge the use of contraceptives there is an unspoken assent to sin–to have sex when single. The church should be urging singles to marry if they want to have sex. The church should be teaching how to marry not how to have sex and not bear the consequences. What the church has stopped doing is teaching young people the joys of marriage and that it is a GOOD thing. We should not stop teaching that marriage is good out of fear of divorce. WE should start and continue to teach how to be happily married. How to love your spouse and support your spouse. Marriage is a good thing. The act of marriage outside of God's intention and boundaries is not a good thing and the consequences are harsh. Teach this but ALSO teach marriage, teach our kids how to marry. That marriage is desirable and good. Independence breeds selfishness and self-centered narcissism. We DO need each and women. Male and female he created. Because it is a good plan and marriage is GOOD. TEACH this.

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April 28, 2012  2:59pm

Lamb, I both agree and disagree with you at the same time. I agree that the consequences of unmarried pregnancy and childless marriage are heavier on women than on men, and so we need to hear more of their voices on the topic. So I agree that it is sad that we aren't hearing from more women here. On the other hand, I disagree that we are talking about women (or more accurately, women exclusively). Sexuality, sexual mores, and the consequences of sexual activity should be the concern of all for two reasons. Firstly, our shared humanity means that men should be allies of women, that "women's issues" be as great of a concern to men as they are to women, this is what "loving your neighbor as yourself" means. Secondly, sex is not consequence-free (for both good and bad) for men, and part of the problem is that we as a society tends to treat it that way. Thus the message we send is that boys will be boys, but girls need to be careful. That's a very problematic message.

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April 28, 2012  2:42pm

That first sentence should have read: " . . . whose sex ed. basically consisted of . . ." BTW, Lamb, I couldn't disagree more. The truth of the substance of what someone is saying isn't dependent upon their gender and is far more important than what their gender is. It is dependent upon its relationship to Christ. I speak as a person made in the image of God and a follower of Christ before I speak as a woman. In fact, unless I understand what it means to be a person created in the image and likeness of God, I don't understand the real meaning of being a man or a woman either. I disagree with making anything other than Christ the matrix through which we view anything in this world. That means both machismo and feminism will render us blind or partially blind to things as they truly are.

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April 28, 2012  2:25pm

As a mother who came of age during the 70s & 80s and whose sex ed. basically considered of reproductive biology (in school) and warnings against immorality (home), I and my husband wanted to do something better for our kids. (BTW, for Jag, one of us was a virgin when we married, and the other had been abstinent for several years!) We started at the point of reference suggested in this article: providing our kids from very early on with a vision of God's goodness in His intent for sexuality and marriage (using a Christian book series that starts with a book for 5-8 year olds). We had neighbors who became parents out of wedlock around the same time I gave birth to my second child. They have both provided our kids with an example of why you purpose to avoid sex before marriage and also a positive example of what good things can happen even if you fail in that purpose: They have had to battle the difficulties of parenthood without the support of a spouse, their children do not have the kind of relationship with both their parents that my kids enjoy with both of us a living together in our intact family, both parents have battled stigma and shame. But these were also raised in church, and had the moral courage not to abort (family support was a critical factor here–please parents and grandparents, if you consider yourselves Christians, take note!), they have both proved to be excellent parents to their kids, and their kids are growing up to be wonderful, considerate, well-adjusted kids. We are raising our kids to understand that all people have dignity and are worthy of kindness and respect, but that not all choices and actions are morally equivalent or are worthy of emulation. I wholeheartedly agree with the article. My kids know what God's desire for them is (the goodness and security of sex within marriage as a picture of God's relationship with us as our faithful Bridegroom). They also know that God provides grace and mercy, and so good can result even when you fail (in this and other areas). Their comfort with talking to us about their bodies and sexuality and their relative comfort in their own skins (compared to where my husband and I were at their ages) gives me hope that they will continue to feel they can draw on our support as they mature and be equipped to face all the temptations that maturation brings.

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April 28, 2012  1:52pm

The most troubling thing about this whole conversation is that it is BY men ABOUT women. Women, not men, bear the consequences of unplanned pregnancy, the risks of abortion, and the social stigma of being pregnant and not married (or married and not pregnant, while we're at it). I think the wrong people are talking.

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April 27, 2012  4:37pm

All things are wearisome, more than one can say. What has been will be again, What has been done will be done again, Nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, "Look here is something new!" It was here already long ago, it was here before our time. It's kind of sad to see that Grace and Mercy is a wearisome burden to those who have no need for either.

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April 27, 2012  4:06pm

I guess the new motto of the Modern Evangelical Movement is "If you can't beat sin, gleefully join in!"

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