How Protestants Learned to Love the Pill

Luther's family color

The Protestant Reformation was in significant part a protest against the perceived antinatalism of the late Medieval Christian Church. It was a celebration of procreation that also saw contraception and abortion as among the most wicked of human sins, as direct affronts to the ordinances of God. This background makes the Protestant “sellout” on contraception in the mid 20th Century all the more surprising, and disturbing.

As the Augustinian monk, theologian, and “first Protestant” Martin Luther viewed his world in the second decade of the 16th Century, he saw a Christianity in conflict with family life and fertility. Church tradition held that the taking of vows of chastity—as a priest, monk, or cloistered sister—was spiritually superior to the wedded life. In consequence, about one-third of adult European Christians were in Holy Orders.

Tied to this, Luther said, was widespread misogyny, or a hatred of women, as reflected in a saying attributed to St. Jerome: “If you find things going too well, take a wife.” Most certainly, the late Medieval Church saw marriage and children as “hindrances” to spiritual work. At the same time, Luther argued that spiritual discipline had broken down, with vows of chastity frequently not observed. His voice joined lay complaints about certain bishops who kept concubines, monks who caroused in the taverns, and priests who preyed sexually on their parishioners, without serious rebuke.

“Be fruitful and multiply”
In constructing his evangelical family ethic, Luther placed emphasis on Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply.” This was more than a command; he called it “a divine ordinance [werck] which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore.” Indeed, Luther saw procreation as the very essence of the human life in Eden before the Fall. As he explained in his Lectures on Genesis: “truly in all nature there was no activity more excellent and more admirable than procreation. After the proclamation of the name of God it is the most important activity Adam and Eve in the state of innocence could carry on—as free from sin in doing this as they were in praising God.” The Fall brought sin into this pure, exuberant fertility. Even so, Luther praised each conception of a new child as an act of “wonderment…wholly beyond our understanding,” a miracle bearing the “lovely music of nature,” a faint reminder of life before the Fall:

This living-together of husband and wife—that they occupy the same home, that they take care of the household, that together they produce and bring up children—is a kind of faint image and a remnant, as it were, of that blessed living together [in Eden].

And so, Luther elevated marriage to “the highest religious order on earth,” concluding that “we may be assured that man and woman should and must come together in order to multiply.” He stressed that it was “not a matter of free choice…but a natural and necessary thing, that whatever is a man must have a woman and whatever is a woman must have a man.” He urged that the convents be emptied, emphasizing that “a woman is not created to be a virgin, but to conceive and bear children.” Indeed, Luther’s marital pronatalism had no restraints: wives ought to be continually pregnant, he said, because “this is the purpose for which they exist.”

Just as important, he called men home to serve as “housefathers” dedicated to the rearing of Christian children. In a wonderful passage, Luther describes the father who confesses to God “that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother.” Luther then assures him that “when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child…God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling…because [the father] is doing so in Christian faith.”

The wickedness of contraception
Luther knew that the contraceptive mentality was alive and well in his own time. He noted that this “inhuman attitude, which is worse than barbarous,” was found chiefly among the well born, “the nobility and princes.” Elsewhere, he linked contraception to selfishness:

How great, therefore, the wickedness of [fallen] human nature is! How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation is the work of God! Indeed, some spouses who marry and live together…have various ends in mind, but rarely children.

In short, Luther’s fierce rejection of contraception and abortion lay at the very heart of his reforming zeal and his evangelical theology. His own marriage to Katherine von Bora and their brood of children set a model for the Protestant Christian home, one that would stand for nearly four hundred years.

And yet, by the 1960’s and 1970’s, virtually all Protestant churches—in America as in Europe—embraced contraception and (somewhat less frequently) abortion as compatible with Christian ethics. Pope Paul VI’s courageous opposition to these acts in the 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, won broad condemnation from Protestant leaders as an attempt to impose “Catholic views” on the world. Even leaders of “conservative” denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention would welcome as “a blow for Christian liberty” the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized abortion as a free choice during the first six months (and in practice for all nine months) of a pregnancy. Not a single significant Protestant voice raised opposition in the 1960’s and early 1970’s to the massive entry of the U.S. government into the promotion and distribution of contraceptives, nationally and worldwide.

The great reversal—in England
How had a central pillar of the evangelical Protestant ethic been reversed so completely?

Some recent historical investigations offer partial answers. For example, the first formal break came within the Anglican communion, or the Church of England, with the clergy themselves leading the way. In 1911, the neo-Malthusian advocates of population limitation celebrated the results of England’s new census, showing that Anglican clergymen had an average of only 2.3 children, well-below their 1874 figure of 5.2. The Malthusians saw this as clear evidence of deliberate family limitation.

The Census results also added fuel to the arguments of dissident clergymen that a solution to England’s poverty problems must include the birth of fewer children. These pressures culminated at the Anglican Church’s 1930 Lambeth Conference, where delegates heard an address by birth control advocate Helena Wrighton on the advantages of contraception for the poor. On a 193 to 67 vote, the Conference passed a resolution stating that “in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, …other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of Christian principles.”

In America
There was an immediate American Protestant echo. In 1931, the Committee on Home and Marriage of the Federal Council of Churches (an ecumenical body that embraced Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, and Church of the Brethren denominations) issued a statement defending family limitation and urging the repeal of laws prohibiting contraceptive education and sales.

Even a church body committed to a defense of pure Lutheran orthodoxy—the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS)—stumbled on this question. As late as 1923, the Synod’s official publication, The Witness, accused the Birth Control Federation of America of spattering “this country with slime,” and labelled birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger a “she devil.” A popular 1932 volume on pastoral theology directly paraphrased Luther in stating that “women with many children are in middle age much more beautiful than those who have few children.”

Yet a countercurrent was gaining force, with LCMS clergy and theologians in the dubious lead. Similar to the Anglican experience, the average number of children found in clerical families fell from 6.5 in 1890 to 3.7 by 1920. The overall LCMS baptism rate declined from 58 baptisms per 1,000 members in 1885, to 37 in 1913, and 24 in 1932. In the late 1940’s, a leading LCMS professor of theology, Alfred Rehwinckel, said that Luther had simply been wrong: the Genesis phrase, “Be fruitful and multiply,” was merely a blessing, not a command. Rehwinckel went on to defend Margaret Sanger with a sympathetic history of family planning. By 1964, the Synod officially held that problems of poverty and overpopulation should help guide thinking about family size.

The 1961 North American Conference on Church and Family
Such views spread at a still more rapid pace among the Protestant “mainline” churches. Held near the end of the post World War II “baby boom,” when American family life for a brief period again seemed somewhat healthy, the 1961 North American Conference on Church and Family of the National Council of Churches (successor to the FCC) can only be called extraordinary. Setting a radical theme, keynote speaker J.C. Wynn of Colgate Divinity School dismissed existing Protestant books and pronouncements on the family and sexuality as “depressingly platitudinous” and “comfortably dull,” a regrettable “works righteousness.” A second keynoter praised this conference for its intended merger of Christianity with new insights from the sciences, “a mighty symbol of the readiness of the churches to ground their policy formation in objective, solid data.”

Other speakers formed a veritable “Who’s Who” of sexual radicalism. Lester Kirkendall said that America had “entered a sexual economy of abundance,” where contraception would allow unrestrained sexual experimentation without the burden of children. Wardell Pomeroy of the [Kinsey] Institute of Sex Research explained how the new science of sexology required the abandonment of all old moral categories. Psychologist Evelyn Hooker [sic] praised the healthily sterile lives of homosexuals. Planned Parenthood’s Mary Calderone made the case for universal contraceptive use, while colleague Alan Guttmacher urged the reform of America’s “mean spirited” anti-abortion laws.

Not a single speaker spoke in the spirit of the old Protestant pronatalist ethic. Indeed, this ethic now stood as the chief enemy. The conference endorsed development of a new evangelical sexual ethic, one “relevant to our culture,” sensitive to the overpopulation crisis, and grounded in modern science.

Member denominations soon complied. In a 1970 Report, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) rejected the old “taboos and prohibitions” and gave its blessing to “mass contraceptive techniques,” homosexuality, and low-cost abortion on demand. The same year, the Lutheran Church in America fully embraced contraception and abortion as responsible choices. And in 1977, the United Church of Christ celebrated the terms “freedom,” “sensuousness,” and “androgyny,” and declared free access to contraception and abortion as matters of justice.

The weakness of natural reason confronting the spirit of the age
Yet these historical episodes still beg the question: why? The easiest answer might be to point to the multiple “revolutions” of the last two-hundred years—industrial, urban, scientific, and democratic—as creating an overwhelming pressure for accommodation and change, which no religious institution could stop.

And yet, the very existence of Humanae Vitae gives a counter example of a religious body that has mounted a fierce opposition to the spirit of the age. There is no small irony in the fact that it would be the Roman Pontiff who would lead (often painfully alone) the opposition to contraception at the end of the 20th Century. Perhaps the Catholic hierarchical model, reserving final decision on matters of faith and morals to the successor of Peter, has proved more resilient than the Protestant reliance on individual conscience and democratic church governance?

Or perhaps Luther would simply acknowledge that his old enemy, “that clever harlot, Natural Reason,” had come back in new guise at the Second Millennium’s end. By natural reason, he meant the wisdom of the world, unformed and unregulated by Divine witness in Holy Scripture. As he “quoted” this beast back in 1522:

Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this, and take care of that,…endure this and endure that…? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself?

In our time, these same sentiments might be found on the lips of “the Playboy philosopher,” the “female eunuch,” or the “sexologist” at an NCC Christian conference. Luther well understood the nature of human sin and the power of fallen “reason” to twist words and science to its ends. He would be disappointed by the near-collapse of his evangelical family and sexual ethic; but he probably would not be surprised.

Resistance and change
And yet there are alternate Protestant Christian models, even in our own troubled age. Scattered bands rooted in radical Anabaptism—including the Hutterites and the Amish—have kept “natural reason” and the modern world at bay by the cultivation and defense of separatist, rural identities. Ever open to the transmission of new life, their families are large and their marriages relatively strong. “Fundamentalist” Christians have also held more tightly to a positive view of fertility. A 1958 survey in the Southern Appalachians found that 81 percent of “fundamentalists” believed birth control to be “always” or “sometimes” wrong, compared to only 40 percent of “nonfundamentalists.” In 1980, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution raising serious questions about birth control. More recently, Protestant renewal movements count many couples that reject contraception and welcome the children that God sends, in His time.

It is these communities, I suggest, which remain faithful to the authentic evangelical family and sexual ethic, crafted in the 16th Century. The evidence suggesting their growth at the end of the 20th Century may be the sign of a better, more family-centric time ahead.

The above article was previously published in the journal Family Policy (June 1999) and is reprinted with permission of the author. The research for this article became the basis for his new book Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973 (2011).

Allan Carlson

By

Allan Carlson, Ph.D., is the founder and president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society and currently is Distinguished Visiting Professor of History at Hillsdale College. He is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Dr. Carlson is the author of numerous books including, most recently, Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973 (2011).

  • Objectivetruth

    The precedent was set however by Luther that it was OK to disagree (or rebel) with the authority of the Catholic Church on major doctrinal issues (sola scriptura, sola Fide, for example) and still claim to be a good Christian. Every man/woman becomes their own pope in this relativistic world. It should be no surprise that mainline Protestant communities would then feel free to disagree with their founders (John Wesley called contraception “an abomination that destroys men’s souls.”, but Methodists openly embrace artificial birth control.) A dangerous slippery slope cascading over the last 500 years where Catholic doctrine and teaching in these communities has come to the point where their own versions of the Nicene Creed are possibly only two sentences in length.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      I have always found the bibliolatry of the Reformers curious.  Absent the authority of the Church, can anyone provide a convincing reason why we should believe the Epistles of Paul to be inspired and the Epistle of Barnabas not?  In the early Church, some had doubts about the Epistle to the Hebrews and others about the Apocalypse.

      But, if we accept the canon and the inspiration of scripture on the sole authority of the Church, why suppose her wrong on transubstantiation or purgatory, on auricular confession or infant baptism?

    • ChrisPineo

       Yess!

      • ChrisPineo

         No.

    • Frances Edwards

      If Roman Catholics were obeying the authority of the church, then Italy and Spain would not have some of the lowest birth rates in the world.

      • Bob

        The Church has never “authorized” Catholics to the amount of children they should have. The Catholic Church is authoritative when it comes to the teachings of Christ  because it was started by Jesus Christ through Peter and who gave Peter the “keys to the Kingdom”, and the authority to “bind on earth what is bound in heaven.” (Matt 16:13-18) Protestent denominations were founded by men and not by Christ.  Therefore, if they go against doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church they are going against the Christ given guidance to teach in His name, and therefore teaching in error.

  • Clement_W

    I agree with the article about the Protestatnts. What I do not understand is, Why and How did Catholics end up in the same situation?

    • Screwtape

      heard about this thing called Relativism? It doesn’t mix well with man’s fallen nature. It’s Satan’s best investment vehicle…stealthy, adaptable, long-term, effective, compounding , high ROI…

      • Dan

        Funny thing is, nature is itself is relative, isn’t it?  And most moral theology is based on relativism.  Relativism isn’t a swear word.  It only becomes problematic when people use it incorrectly to justify a dubious moral position.

        • Micha_Elyi

          Funny thing is, nature is itself is relative, isn’t it?

          Nope.  You’re wrong.

          For example, the speed of light is an absolute – even in the misnamed theory called “relativity”.

    • Adam Baum

       They were born with original sin and its effects.

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  • hombre111

    I have never seen a anti-contraceptive person explain how the world will realistically resolve the following dilemma: Sooner or later the world’s population will outrun its limited supplies of water, minerals, and food. We are already approaching serious questions about water. The sooner will be a lot sooner if every family in America and Europe has the mandatory four, five, six kids.

    For the sake of the argument, and barring God coming down from heaven in a machine to solve it all, we will run out of resources. What then?  How do you realistically reign in the exploding population, especially if more and more third world countries are emulating American wealth and consumption? What do you do to avoid some kind of implosion that will cost the lives of billions?

    • Dan

      There are two answers to your question.  The first that must be clarified is that anti-contraceptive does not mean pro-birth.  The Church indicates that family planning is a moral obligation.  It simply cannot involve artificial contraceptives.  It is not immoral to limit family size by adjusting one’s lifestyle to adapt to the nature of sex.  It is, however, immoral to adjust the nature of sex to suit one’s lifestyle.

      Secondly, as our population has increased, so has our ability to produce and harness natural resources to service that population.  We have become more efficient and can do more with less.  There is no current evidence to suggest a cap on this trend.  It may end up being a false assumption, but right now the evidence runs counter to the population alarmists of the 70’s – we are actually better off now than we have been historically, and we have nothing to suggest that trend won’t continue.

      • hombre111

        Dan, with all due respect, we live in a dream world. Most people will not adjust their lifestyles for a number of reasons. NFP has some wonderful aspects and some good people who follow that way of life, but it is a sophisticated concept and they are in the minority. Doubt if the billions of Indians and Chinese are going to follow that path.

        As for the world’s resources. Water has already become a serious problem. Yes, we are better off than in the 70’s, but as the Third World countries try to emulate American consumption patterns, things get scary. I live a simple lifestyle. While attending a university class, we did some figuring and concluding that someone like me ( 1300 sq. ft. house and yard, two vehicles, no access to public transportation, etc.etc.) consumes at a rate that becomse alarming if evrybody tried it. If everybody tried it, we would need the resources of two more planets. What Americans consider “reasonable” is not. Takes a dozen or more people in Central America to consume and waste as much as we consider normal.  

        The non-Catholics in the class looked at me and the other Catholics present as if we were nuts. I was telling them, the population would expand and expand without artificial contraception, but don’t worry, we will get a handle on it one day. Nutso, they said. I felt a little defensive.

        • Dan

          Actually NFP was invented precisely for the poor in Africa who could not afford/did not have access to contraceptives.  It is by far the cheapest form of birth control and quite effective assuming you’re willing to practice it correctly, which admittedly most aren’t.

          When people look at things in isolation rather than context, of course things look really bad, especially if they are uninformed.

          Here’s a thought experiment – let’s assume that water became a scarce commodity.  Do you really think that people will sit idly by and do nothing about it, or will some entrepreneur with dreams of striking it rich would invent a way to desalinate ocean water because of the huge market opportunity?  

          Population creates opportunity.  Opportunity creates technology.  Technology creates prosperity.   

          Forget the alarmism and focus on data and history.  Things aren’t that bad.

          • hombre111

            Pretty good post, actually. But short-sighted. In capitalism, a “need” is something you have the money to pay for. If you don’t, you don’t have a need. You don’t exist. Now, water has already become scarce in the middle of desperately poor Third World countries. In Bolivia, for instance, an international corporation stepped in to “get” water to the poor people. But the cost of water went sky high, and the people got up in arms and ran the corporation out. Water from the sea. Sounds great. But if I live hundreds of miles inland and don’t have  the money to get it there?  Above, you make the classical capitalist statement, as in “market opportunity.” But if the people are despertely poor? Explain how they get water, for another thought experiment. This crisis is already taking  place.

        • Objectivetruth

          My wife and I are NFP practioner’s and it’s actually quite easy. Initially, does it take some thought and patience/personal discipline? Yes. But it didn’t take long to see the blessing of the self discipline (for example) from NFP. What we have found is a greater dignity and respect not only for the sexual act, but for each other. NFP puts “wonder and awe” into the sexual act and procreation and the greater awareness that you are cooperating with God, not fighting against him. After practicing NFP for nine years, contraception does seem selfish, turning your spouse in to a sex object.

          • hombre111

            Great post. Thanks.

            • Objectivetruth

              Yea….it’s interesting, actually….

              As we were spacing our children out discerning God’s will as best as we could, and would abstain (and of course, fighting those strong feelings of attraction!), we’d have fun with it, joke about it, and do something instead. We’d go for a walk, or go get ice cream, play with the kids in the yard, or take a drive in the country and just talk and laugh until the “feeling” left! But the beauty of it was what we “substituted” for sex was bonding and strengthening our marriage as much as the physical sexual act.

        • Adam Baum

          “I live a simple lifestyle. While attending a university class…”

          You really don’t see the irony in that statement do you? 

          • hombre111

            An anti-intellectual, are you?  That’s what keeps the conservatives going. But for me, it’s an endless search for new knowledge and new understanding.

            • Adam Baum

               No, I’ve attended two Universities and graduated from both of them. Your problem is you think that reinforcing prejudices is education.

              Now look up the word “irony”.

        • msmischief

           Is there any moral teaching of Christianity to which most people will adjust their lives?

          Nevertheless, the truth must be told.

      • David Casson

        Let’s not forget that actually, in the Western world at least, the trend is just the opposite of what hombre111 suggests: our populations are declining, not increasing. Our birth rate is not adequate to replenish the existing population.

      • JP

        But, how will we  deal with  not only an older population, but an ever decreasing one? For 200+ years the  basic assumption is one of increasing populations; I don’t think there is an economist, sociologist, priest, and certainly no politician who has dared to  consider a world filled with more geriatrics than children.

    • Clement_W

      In the United States, Canada, Western Europe and and Russia, the population is decreasing and has been for at least the last 5 decades. You mention waternd food. Are we going to be able to physically transfer fresh water from any of the countries I have enumerated? As to the Third world countries  emulating the Western life-style, please remember that all humans who have lived under Socialist regimes which came to an end just 22 years ago, watched their own politicians’ and power brokers’ life styles. I can tell you from experience because I have lived for some little time in some of these countries during my childhood and teenage years. As to food and minerals, each of these commodities is being hoarded by individuals and by governments. There have been food shortages repeatedly but agricultural research has always risen to meet the demand.

    • Adam Baum

       Lets assume, for the sake of argument that averting global calamity makes contraceptive use acceptable and moral through the lens of utilitarianism.

      Then we must examine the foundational claim you make (actually repeat, since it was most famously asserted by Thomas Malthus, and more recently by a lesser mind, Paul Erlich).

      Will we “run out of resources” because of “an exploding” population-and will it occur dramatically enough to be called an implosion?

      The answer to both questions is no. Human beings are not animals grazing until all the grass is gone, but are thinking beings made in the image of God. Long before your Malthusian nightmare occurs, scarcity will escalate prices, encouraging production, conservation and substitution.

      Far from being a mere abstraction, the late great Julian Simon put the theory to a test, challenging doom peddler Erlich to a bet that prices of five exhaustible metals (copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten) would decrease in price and Erlich bet they would increase-over the period 1990. Simon rejected an offer to bet on the end of England as ridiculous.

      Simon won the bet. You would do well to acquaint yourself with Simon’s work, particularly his book “The Ultimate Resource” and its later re-release “The Ultimate Resource 2″.

      • hombre111

        I spent several years in Colombia, in a place where half the children were dead before they reached the age of five. Saw what happens when scarcity occurs and the market forces take over. What is an inconvenience in the U.S. becomes life or death for the poor.

        As for an implosion, yes. We are witnessing it now in China, with its one child policy.  And in parts of Europe.

        The whole thing is so full of paradoxes and ironies. I’m too old to believe in simple answers any more.

        • Adam Baum

           Interesting observations, but they have nothing to do with your original assertion. You, see to make an argument your observations need to support your assertions.  You really don’t know what you are talking about.

    • JP

      Hombre11,

      Not sure where your  getting your  info. Four decades ago, the world was at risk of depleting its supply of  oil, corn, soybeans, copper, iron ore, timber, and wheat. Two decades ago, the world was running out of ozone. And now, we are to believe we are running out of water. Must keep the crisis going, no matter what.

      And if you’re worried about over-population have no fear. Europe in general will lose about 20% of its population by 2050 (with Germany leading the way and Italy not too far behind).Russia and Japan are already in population decline. China, with birthrates well below replacement for decades, will begin losing population in 25 years; Mexico, Central, and South America are approaching birthrates that cannot sustain thier populations; Brazil is already there. And don’t count on Muslim nations to pick up the  slack. From Algeria to Indonesia, birthrates fell below replacement levels over a decade ago. Even the evil USofA still relies on immigration to grow its population. By the end of this centruy, the world’s population will have on the downside for 20  years. The rate of increase of global populations peaked a decade ago. The global population will begin falling after 2050, if not sooner.

      • hombre111

        I am not worried so much about a shrinking world population as much as I am about growing U.S. style consumption. This is where the pressure is now, with India and China looking to become economic powers and consumers, just like us.

        • JP

          I’m not sure you will have much to worry about. Shrinking populations lead to lower economic growth, which in turn lead to  lower standards of living. You may get what you wish for. But, I don’t know if you will like i t.

  • givelifeachance2

    Let’s be clear that Martin Luther was misperceiving antinatalism in the Church – he was reacting against clerical celibacy (some would say for his own selfish interest), but this is the practice that frees up our priests to devote themselves to the Church, without conflict of interest.

    While Dr Carlson recognizes the value in the “pronatalist” stance of the Church, he should realize her equal opposition to the practice of IVF, another artificial practice embraced by Protestants.  Rather than “pronatalism”, the important principle the Church espouses is the essential link between the marital act and procreation.

  • 4k9

    The issue of woman’s access to contraception is only an issue to subsets of conservative Christians who are free to do what they want. Why we non believers even know that contraception is even an issue is because of the right winger campaigns of recent. Do any of you really think that this will even be an issue come November 8th? It will evaporate the moment the GOP no longer needs a pointless issue to run on. People are going to go on using contraception and could care less about what anyone thinks.

  • Adam Baum

    Of all the articles that have appeared here, I find this one the most disturbing editorial failure. Even in the most generous interpretation of ecumenism, there is no place on a website otherwise faithful to the Magisterium to provide a forum which affords Martin Luther a place of nobility and asserts St. Jerome to be a misogynist, especially when  evidence to the contrary is clear.
     
    The quote attributed to St. Jerome “If you find things going too well, take a wife.”, could just as easily be interpreted to be an injunction to young men assume the mature duties of matrimony when the good fortune that would allow it, could lead easily lead a young man to delayed maturity and indolence. 

    It is not at all the clear indication of misogyny that one could reasonably infer from Luther’s myriad of statements, including this particular gem: “Men have broad chests and narrow hips; therefore they have wisdom. Women have narrow chests and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house and bear and bring up children”.  Then again, given Luther’s contempt for Jerome, perhaps its not an unanticipable slight.

    Meanwhile, the author asserts,  “…his marriage to Katherine von Bora and their brood of children set a model for the Protestant Christian home”. How so? Before marrying both Luther and his wife took vows of chastity to God, which they unilaterally abrogated, prior to professing vows of marriage, with self-serving reasoning invented ex nihilo. The only model they set was contempt for the Church.  

    Luther also strenuously asserted that marriage was not a sacrament, rather a contractual affair to be regulated by the state. Ideas have consequences,  and now we see the effects of state conservatorship over the institution-it is now so infused with fragility- that it is routinely disregarded as a necessity. Those sincere couples that enter it-do so knowing their promises are impaired by an embedded derivative-the put option of divorce-even as the state is extending this franchise to same sex arrangements. (As an aside, I strongly suspect this push comes mostly from the Bar-which sees a brand new revenue stream in “gay marriage”)

    Nor is it particularly surprising that branches of Anglicanism would accept contraception for the limitation of children for practical, temporal purposes. Anglicanism was born of a king who wanted to subordinate the terms of marriage to his needs of procreation (until he subordinated it to his whim)
    and now commoners subordinate its terms to their desire to avoid procreation. 

    Meanwhile, the author’s hopes for a family friendly future should be tempered by the fact such faiths as Islam and Mormonism have largely rejected artificial birth control and their numbers are growing faster than most, if not all but a few denominations of Christianity. The family of the future is more likely to observe Ramadan than Christmas, if the present trends continue unabated.

    The present state of marriage, along with the continuous fracturing of Christendom, is among in fact the most damning evidence in rather copious amount of such evidence against the theological and ecclesial novelties asserted by Luther.

    I  simply fail to understand why some Protestants mythologize Luther as infallible and impeccable.   His principal legacy is the right of the individual to reinvent and reinterpret doctrines as he saw fit, unbounded by any precedent. His followers have emulated him in that regard.

    • MarkM

      I understand your take on this article although with an exception or two felt it was well researched and addressed the issue the author sought. And that is to understand (and this is in my words now) why Protestants undermined the importance of marriage and reproduction and to reawaken their faith, which Catholics have held fast to, and realize their error. That birth control and devaluing marriage is having detrimental effects on culture. Not that Catholics are perfect, but the teachings of the Church are and they sacrament of marriage and sacred nature of life we have not wavered on. And maybe I’m mixing to much personal opinion into how I read the article, but I feel many Protestants are finally waking up and seeing the errors. I hope we Catholics do as well.

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  • MM

    The one, unshakeable tenet of Protestantism is “I can believe whatever I want about any theological issue, and no one has authority to correct me.” Anything that contradicts that basic mindset is eventually rejected–hence the thousands of denominations that are the squabbling result of the reformation. That Martin Luther was against contraception makes absolutely no difference to anyone, especially his followers: his value to the Protestant psyche had nothing to do with any positive teachings or remnants of Catholic moral thought. Instead, it was his claim of the self-governance of the individual conscience that was the great attraction and temptation–a theory which implicitely included the right to ignore Luther himself on any issue that might be deemed uncomfortable.

    The bad news: this has done great damage.

    The good news: Luther and the other major heretics of the Reformation are now intellectually obsolete, and the true attraction to their false teaching is now laid bare.   
      
     

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  • Terrygeorge

    interesting to see the use of ‘science’ as an alternate authority to (or in) chrisitanity, as well as overpopulation myth.  still seems to be some gaps in story between 1st acceptance of contraception by 1 denomination to its wide acceptance in 1961 conference.  someone did some angling to stack that conference…  and once again proof that the holy spirit leads the magisterium of the catholic church because despite so many mistakes made since v2 have remained true on matters of faith and morals.

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  • Edward Ray

    I am not sure your premise regarding Luther at the beginning of the article is correct.  First of all, the term is antinomianism not “antinatalism”  From my understanding of Church history, While the charge of antinomianism can and often does apply to those who reject the keeping of any codfied moral laws, antinomian theology does not necessarily imply the embrace of ethical permissiveness; rather it usually implies emphasis on the inner working of the Holy Spirit as the primary source of ethical guidance.

    Your premise “Luther’s fierce rejection of contraception and abortion lay at the very heart of his reforming zeal and his evangelical theology” appears quite dubious at best.  Abortion and contraception were not the battle cry of the Reformation.  It would be helpful if the author provided references to his many assertions about the Reformation as well as other historical facts.

    • Rebecca

      I think you misunderstand what the writer is saying.  Antinatalism means in opposition to birth.  He is arguing that Luther perceived the Catholic Church as being anti-marriage, anti-family, and anti-child by being pro-celibacy.  Luther, in reaction to this, saw marriage and family as replacing the monastery as the religiously prized state of Christians.  

  • Fr. W. M. Gardner

    I think it’s logical to assume that Dr. Carlson, a Lutheran, would tend to write in defense of Martin Luther.  However, despite the fact that Luther rejected celibacy, Dr. Carlson notes that it was in fact a celibate who was practically the lone defender in the modern world of the procreative essence of sexual relations; namely, Pope Paul VI.  In other words, authentic celibacy serves to preserve the correct understanding of marriage. Yet, conversely celibacy is not possible without strong, faithful, child-rich families.
    Also, the observation that Protestant decline began with the clergy (married) reinforces the notion that celibacy aids in the preservation of Christian culture and doctrine.
    Lastly, the fact that Dr. Carlson is a “pronatalist” Christian living in a contraceptive age is an additional sign too that he is not far from the kingdom.

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  • Tout

    Jesus Himself gave leadership of his Church to Peter. Survived good and bad times. How can a person suddenly declare that he is now the leader of the real Church. Could it be that people suddenly found a way out of all their obligations ? It looks that way, for just look at the very great number of persons that now have their own ‘preferred church’. And they can(often do) switch. So I’ll stick to the original Church, founded by Jesus Christ, in good and in bad days.

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