By Trevin Wax
Should churches educate their singles on how to use contraception?Jenell Paris thinks so. In an opinion piece at Christianity Today called "Both Chastity and Contraception: A Sacred Compromise" (responding to this article), she recommends that churches “uphold premarital chastity as the biblical ideal, and encourage and educate unmarried singles about the effective use of contraception.” In other words, we ought to “educate” unmarried singles about contraceptives without “affirming” their use.
Paris admits this sounds like a compromise, but apparently “abstinence absolutism” hasn’t worked out so well. To reduce abortion and unwanted pregnancies among young evangelicals, we ought to at least consider encouraging contraception. She writes:
Advocating contraception for unmarried churchgoers certainly is a compromise, but consider what that really means. Com- means with, and promise means to agree, or to make a pact. To compromise is to work toward agreement or commitment with another. Like compassion, community, or companion, com- is about being in relationship with others. Unipromise isn’t even a word; without compromise, you’re just alone, speaking your ideal into thin air. It’s fine to have ideals, and to proclaim them with perfect phrases in perfectly planned church services. Contemplating perfection is a holy exercise that lifts our aspirations. Lived experience, however, is far from perfect; when I consider ideal parenting, ideal marriage, or ideal teaching, my life pales in comparison. I count on my gracious children, husband, and students to make daily compromises—as I do for them—as part of healthy relationships in the real world.
So, it’s a compromise. But compromise isn’t that bad, is it?
Actually, this line of thinking is far worse. The idea of “both chastity and contraception” is not a “sacred compromise.” It is a scandalous capitulation to the unfettered sexual mores of 21st century American society.
This idea does not maintain the “ideal” of chastity in singleness alongside the “compromise” of contraception. Instead, it devalues the struggle to remain chaste while legitimizing sexual expression among Christian singles as something unavoidable. It trades the sumptuous feast of covenanted sexual expression for a mess of pragmatic pottage.
Let’s apply this line of reasoning to other illicit sexual activity. Imagine that survey results come in showing that one in four evangelical men admit to having extramarital flings. Young evangelicals perplexed by this state of affairs (no pun intended) gather to discuss an appropriate response:
Well, centuries of absolutism regarding marital fidelity sure haven’t stopped men from cheating on their wives! It’s a shame some of these affairs produce unwanted children. It’s also devastating when the wife and kids find out about dad’s indiscretion. We don’t want anyone plagued with guilt and shame, now do we?
Here’s an idea! Let’s maintain the ideal of marital faithfulness while offering some information to these husbands about how to do their side business a little more discreetly. Let’s educate these men (not affirm them, mind you) on using contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Let’s encourage them (not push them, of course!) to learn new ways to maximize the moments with their mistresses without causing pain and heartache for the family.
The sense of revulsion you feel when reading this imaginary scenario is probably rooted in your God-given, biblically informed, gospel-sanctified idealism regarding the exclusive nature of the marriage bed. And as Christians who believe in the good gift of sexual expression within the beautiful confines of the marriage covenant, we ought to be repulsed by any proposal that cheapens, threatens, or denigrates that ideal.
Encouraging contraception among Christian singles is one such proposal. Surprisingly, Paris wants to ground her argument in the gospel:
After all, “just saying no” to premarital sex, important as it is, is not the heart of the gospel. The heart of the matter is saying yes to God. Maybe we often rely on shame and fear because it’s hard to believe that people would say no to something as tantalizing as sexual pleasure if they didn’t stand to lose something extremely valuable such as honor, the affection of family and church, or even eternal life. If people knew they were loved, no matter what, and that God and God’s people would have their backs even if their own sin is the cause of their troubles, wouldn’t they just sin freely because grace abounds? Perhaps some would, but even then, love can be a kindness that leads to repentance. Others may find the real reason to reject immorality: not for fear of shame, disgrace, or hell, but for love of the right and the good. Right loving—full of compromise, compassion, and companionship—is the best encouragement for right living.
But just change out the sin to see how gospel-denying this argument really is:
After all, “just saying no” to adultery, important as it is, is not the heart of the gospel. The heart of the matter is saying yes to God. Maybe we often rely on shame and fear because it’s hard to believe that people would say no to something as tantalizing as adultery if they didn’t stand to lose something extremely valuable such as honor, the affection of family and church, or even eternal life.
I am flabbergasted that evangelicalism has come to the place where such a scandalous capitulation to a sexualized culture could be considered a “sacred compromise.” Apparently, once you’ve winked at sin enough times, you can no longer see straight. Matthew Lee Anderson is right:
Contraception as a pragmatic concession actually contributes to the conditions where Christians can sin without consequences for themselves or their community… It is well known, or at least frequently stated, that evangelicalism’s public witness has been frequently undermined by our lack of integrity and our hypocrisy, especially on sexual issues. I fail to see how more contraception for our unmarrieds will do anything except deepen such a culture of hypocrisy by making it more comfortable and convenient to sin sexually while remaining in unbroken communion in our churches.
Are evangelicals hypocritical when it comes to premarital sex? Absolutely. We’re hypocritical in all sorts of ways. Every one of us is guilty of sexual sin. But Christianity hinges on repentance. We agree with God about our sin, and we turn from it and turn toward Jesus.
Telling singles they ought to turn toward Jesus and contraception is an implicit denial that repentance is integral to the Christian life. It’s like Jesus telling the woman caught in adultery: "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin some more."
Trevin Wax is Managing Editor of The Gospel Project for LifeWay Christian Resources and the author of Counterfeit Gospels and Holy Subversion. Follow him on Twitter or read his daily blog, TrevinWax.com (where this article first appeared).