An Anglican Pastoral Theology of Contraception

MY STORY WITH NFP

I read Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae three weeks before I got married. I was moved to tears by this solemn hymn to Holy Matrimony, and it solidified my growing conviction of the moral need to reject the use of artificial contraception. The logic was crystal clear and dazzling in its beauty and simplicity: Sex was made for Unity and Procreation. These two ends should not be separated. The end.

With a semester left in seminary, and with no income or savings, it did not seem wise to seek to have a child immediately after getting married, and so my wife and I relied on periodic abstinence during the fertile window of her fertility cycle (aka NFP). Contrary to the many jokes around this practice, we have only had kids when we wanted to have kids, and now eight years later, we have had three.

The practice of abstaining from the marital act for a 12-day window in the middle of every menstrual month has been profound.[1] It has of course been difficult, for my flesh, but this difficulty has been the root of much goodness: Ensuring that the Christian call to self-denial echoes into the bedroom; prompting the development of a repertoire of affection apart from what is sexual; rendering moot the acedic need to “keep things interesting” in the glut of appetite-satisfaction, etc.

In seeking to understand this life-altering practice, both when it felt edifying and when it felt like a too-heavy yoke, I have sought to deepen my own grip on the matter at the level of theory and theology, and alas, was only able to find Roman Catholic authors. Excellent authors to be sure (John Paul II, Christopher West, etc.), and edifying, but nevertheless, they weren’t Anglican. Not that I lamented this out of a mere tribalism. Rather, in seeking to be truly submissive to the Church that I actually serve, there is a sweeter harmony in reading pastoral directives that either are themselves authoritative for me (if they were written by an Anglican bishop), or from within the same framework of authority that I myself am under. Practically, when a cited source is papal pronouncement, there is a conundrum as to how much authority I should or shouldn’t give it.

I have been saddened by how few Anglicans practice NFP, but also wonder how it could be otherwise in light of the near total absence of contemporary, published Anglican writing on the topic that is thoughtful, theological, and Anglican. Like most Anglicans who practice NFP for theological reasons, I basically just punted to the Roman Church when it came to intellectually sourcing the conviction, or presenting it to others. Indeed, for many years I also have thought that our own Communion once upon a time got it wrong—at Lambeth 1930.

THE RECEPTION OF LAMBETH

Lambeth 1930 is commonly received as permitting the use of artificial contraception, and therefore establishing Anglican practice as contrary to Roman Catholic. Thus, when an Anglican teacher is teaching the truth of the principle behind NFP, it initially seems like there is no real authority to be leaned on.

But is this really the case? Upon re-examining and reflecting on the text of the resolutions from Lambeth 1930, I have become convinced that this is not so. That while the Anglican Church does not teach identically to the Roman Catholic Church, we do teach in a similar direction. This may come as news to many Anglicans, but it is news that we need to hear.

The gathering of all the Anglican Bishops from around the world in synod is a weighty thing. Surely, it is not error-free (Article XIX), nor can they alter doctrine or enjoin as necessary for salvation anything contrary to God’s Word (Article XX). But they do — as both bishops and a synod of bishops — have substantial and God-given authority at the level of discipline, which is the top-level category under which the use or prohibition of artificial contraception falls.

Unless it can be shown to be plainly contrary to Scripture, a disciplinary injunction from a Lambeth conference is a thing of weight to all Anglicans. Hear, then, what they inveighed in 1930:

LAMBETH 1930 RE-EXAMINED

Resolution 13: … the primary purpose for which marriage exists is the procreation of children, it believes that this purpose as well as the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control should be the governing considerations in that intercourse.

And on its heels Resolution 14:

The Conference affirms: the duty of parenthood as the glory of married life; the benefit of a family as a joy in itself, as a vital contribution to the nation’s welfare, and as a means of character-building for both parents and children; the privilege of discipline and sacrifice to this end.

This is of course in perfect harmony with the teaching contained in the officiant’s “Dearly Beloved…” prologue in the liturgy of Holy Matrimony, but the strength of it — “self-control…discipline and sacrifice…” — still cuts against a 21st-century intuition, and challenges any self-sanctioned lusts.

RESOLUTION 15

The real meat and potatoes vis-a-vis NFP comes in Resolution 15:

Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless 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, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.

A few phrases are worth unpacking:

Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary). This sentence accomplishes three things. First, in the negative it shows that having kids is the ordinary course of marriage. There must be something that amounts to an obligation that causes a couple to steer away from the ordinary procreative course. Second, it establishes a category of reason to limit or avoid parenthood: “clearly felt moral obligation.” Simply “not wanting kids right now” is not a clearly felt moral obligation. Arguably not having any money to provide for kids as a seminarian is. Where exactly the line is, is not clear, and this is intentional: It is to be determined by each Christian, in prayer, in conversation with their spouse, and including (as needed) the counsel of their priest or deacon. Third, it established NFP as the primary method of avoiding kids. It is to be received in the first place, before all other options are even considered. The parenthetical statement “as far as may be necessary” simply indicates that there are days in the menstrual month when intercourse does not need to be avoided, while it can still be reasonably expected that a child will not be conceived.

This is a strong pastoral directive! Let every Anglican couple, married or approaching marriage, take it to heart. And it is certainly a labor of Christian discipleship. As the resolution recognizes — this can only be accomplished by a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot control or curb our (good) sexual desires or our (bad) lusts; we need God’s help, daily sought in prayer. As with every arena of discipleship: It is God’s work in us, not our own efforts, that are capable of fulfilling his gracious and sanctifying Will.

Having this as the central gravity of the pastoral direction, we are then given one caveat: Nevertheless 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, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles.

This twice-provisional limited permission of artificial contraception is worth additional attention: “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.” How many Anglican married couples presently utilizing artificial contraception can in good faith say they meet these conditions? I am sure some can (I know of at least two) but I am sure a far greater number cannot.[2] As well as repeating the condition for avoiding parenthood generally—as was named early alongside the decision to avoid intercourse when conception is possible—the new condition of a “morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence” is introduced as a condition of using “other methods.”

This is the only place in which our (Anglican) teaching differs from Roman Catholic. They teach definitively that this category is an empty set. That morally sound reasons for utilizing artificial contraception do not exist, and therefore, periodic abstinence is the only licit Christian method of avoiding conceiving a child.

There is one historical factor that reveals the difference to be not quite so great as it first appears, deriving from what is meant by “other methods.” Resolution 18 clearly names contraceptives as what is in view, but in 1930 the only real-world referent to “contraceptives” were condoms. Rubber condom production boomed in the first decades of the 20th century, and the automated production of latex condoms in the mid-1920s led to an enormous surge in their production, sale, and use. The “Pill” and IUDs (Intrauterine devices) were still thirty years away from being invented. By the time of Humanae Vitae, all of these contraceptives were on the market.

CONTRACEPTION THEN AND NOW

This means, as a point of clarity, that the Lambeth fathers only explicitly sanctioned condoms for Christian use, when the serious conditions were met. It did not — it does not — extend to all species of artificial contraception that have been developed since. Two further considerations render this distinction meaningful.

One, all versions of the Pill as well as both kinds of IUDs have the death of the newly-conceived child as a secondary mechanism to prevent pregnancy. That is, they can and do function as abortifacients, even if they do not do so in every instance (or even the majority of instances). That is, the other two most-popular means of artificial contraception (other than the condom) have as a secondary effect the creation of a uterine lining that is inhospitable to a fertilized ovum (aka a one-cell baby). So, should the first mechanism (the prevention of ovum release, in the case of the pill; the extermination of sperm, in the case of IUDs) fail its purpose, there is yet a “back-up” mechanism at play that further prevents pregnancy: the uterus rejecting the tiny child in a not-physically-noticeable discharge. In some medical literature, it has been rejected that this be called an “abortion,” but this is because “abortion” is a technical term in medicine for the termination of a baby that has already implanted in a thickened uterine wall. The Pill and IUDs prevent this implantation, thus causing the very tiny (blastocyst) child to die. The moral outcome, when participated in knowingly, is equivalent to an abortion.

Beyond the troubling biology of contraceptives that are not a physical barrier, there is also a troubling phenomenology worth thinking through. In the case of a condom (or other barrier method), the choice and the mechanism remain readily apparent. The couple knows—and knows why—an act of intercourse was rendered sterile: The semen is caught by the barrier. While there is a painful separation of what God has joined together in the marital act: Unity and Procreation, the rift is nevertheless seen and felt. There is an integral honesty to the violation of Nature. It is a grave choice done for grave reasons, and it is manifestly “less” than the ideal. With the pill and IUDs this is not the case. There are no visible or sensible phenomena accompanying intercourse that reveal the case: that the act has been chemically sterilized. In this way, there is a fundamental dishonesty: the real nature of things is hidden from husband and wife.

Resolution 15 urges the use of contraception to be scrutinized in the light of the same Christian principles, and Resolution 16 succinctly adds, the Conference further records its abhorrence of the sinful practice of abortion. In light of these injunctions, it is safe to say that our Fathers in the Lord who convened in 1930 would not have believed there to be a licit use of the pill or IUDs, since they have the potential of being abortifacient (when the primary mechanism fails), and because they do not stand up to Christian moral scrutiny in that they bear false witness, phenomenologically.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LAMBETH 1930 AND ROMAN CATHOLICISM

Despite the historical-contextual data concerning what means of contraception were available at the time, there yet remains a real difference in the pastoral teaching of our two communions. Indeed, responding to Lambeth 1930 Pope Pius XI issued his encyclical Casti connubii to clarify the contrary Roman Catholic position of total opposition to all contraception.

But this difference has gains as well as losses. As to losses, it has—as Bishop Gore predicted the moment Lambeth 1930 concluded—opened the door to a laxist morality on behalf of many Anglican teachers and those who sit under their teaching. This has — it must be reckoned with — been an enormous moral loss, and has certainly weakened our witness to the world about God’s design and ordering of sexuality.

Nevertheless, there are some pastoral situations in which the use of a condom on occasion may be sufficiently warranted on morally serious grounds, and not for mere selfish luxury. The husband who has a bona fide sex addiction and who travels a lot; or the wife who is on a medication that would fatally malform a child in utero are two situations that might satisfy the criteria of Resolution 15. The Roman Catholic Church makes no exceptions in such cases, and in this way may be doing moral harm.

But there is a higher level at which there is some gain in the Anglican position: It rightly locates the rejection (or use) of contraception as a matter of Christian discipleship. As a response to God and the Gospel, rather than out of slavish obedience to the precepts of men, however Godly. The facts on the ground, of course, are that souls are not won by man-made law. Only 3% of Roman Catholics practice NFP, which means 97% are, by their own rules, living in mortal sin. There is something broken in this picture.

CONCLUSION

True, as Anglican priests, we cannot “throw the book” at every married couple: We have neither the book (a no-exceptions doctrine), nor the authority to throw it. But we do have what we need to encourage all married Anglicans to shine the light of Christ into their bedrooms: To urge them to consider if their practice of using contraception is rooted in “selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience” (Res. 15) and to repent of such, and seek to honor God more earnestly in their marriage, by ordering their intercourse more definitely toward procreation.

In conclusion, then, a summary of the pastoral directive of Lambeth 1930, which all priests can, on their [the conference’s] authority present to the people of God to be followed in good faith is:

  1. The procreation of children is the ordinary course of marriage. It should only be deviated from for serious reasons.
  2. If there are serious reasons for limiting (or delaying) having children, the only method that is ordinarily Godly and lawful is periodic abstaining from intercourse during the fertility window of the wife’s monthly menstrual cycle.
  3. In very rare exceptions, condoms may be utilized, but this should be chosen as an option of last resort, with prayer, mutual agreement, and perhaps in pastoral conversation with one’s parish priest or spiritual director.

This is a good rule to govern Anglican practice. It is our rule, whether we receive it or not. We do not have to only rely on the teachings of a Communion not our own; our own fathers have given us good direction.

NOTES

  1. This is the “Standard Days” method of discerning the window of fertility. It is the least fussy and most fool-proof. We have found the CycleBeads bracelet, kept on my wife’s night-stand, to be incredibly helpful in this regard. www.cyclebeads.com
  2. It is worth noting that the presently popular idea that refusing to have children is somehow more responsible in the face of global climate change is specifically rejected by Lambeth 1930. Resolution 17: While the Conference admits that economic conditions are a serious factor in the situation, it condemns the propaganda which treats conception control as a way of meeting those unsatisfactory social and economic conditions which ought to be changed by the influence of Christian public opinion.


The Rev. Ben Jefferies is a sinner, grateful to the Lord for his mercy. He grew up in England, and emigrated to the United States in 1999. He went to Wheaton College, and several years later discerned a call to ministry and went to seminary at Nashotah House Theological Seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Duncan in 2014. He currently serves The Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Opelika, Alabama. He served on the Liturgy Task Force of the ACNA from 2015-2019, and was the lead designer for the production of the printed prayer book. He continues as the Assistant to the Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer (2019), and serves on the board of directors of Anglican House Media Ministries. He is married with three daughters.


'An Anglican Pastoral Theology of Contraception' have 17 comments

  1. January 3, 2022 @ 4:23 pm Josiah Spencer

    A hearty “Amen!”

    What do you think of the method commonly known as Onanism (or, more crudely, the ol’ pull and pray)? As I see it, it’s essentially the same as NFP. I have seen many people discount it in favor of NFP, but I’ve never really seen a good explanation of how it is qualitatively different than NFP.

    Reply

    • January 5, 2022 @ 7:50 am Ben jefferies

      So, as well as being condemned under its biblical namesake: Onan. The “withdrawal” method fails on multiple counts: 1. There is trace semen in pre-ejaculate, so it cannot be said to confidently prevent conception, and 2. (To my mind the larger problem) — it is a withholding and a wasting of “self-gift” to one’s wife (to use the phenomenological language of JPII). Thus betraying the essence of the marital act.

      Reply

      • January 5, 2022 @ 8:59 am John

        I had a similar question to Mr. Spencer’s. Relatedly, if one issue with the “coitus interruptus” method is that it is “a withholding and a wasting of self-gift to one’s wife,” then couldn’t the same thing be said of the use of a condom? How is one substantially different from the other?

        Thank you for your thought-provoking essay, Fr. Jefferies.

        Reply

        • January 5, 2022 @ 2:45 pm Ben Jefferies

          I would agree that a condom participates in the same relationally-malforming quality as coitus interruptus. But I believe to a lesser degree. It doesn’t require interrupting the unitive quality of the act. It doesn’t require self-stimulation, etc. I suppose, if the conditions outlined in Lambeth 1930 (grave moral necessity, and abstinence not morally possible) are genuinely met, it could be used with the same, “this is not ideal, this is in itself problematic, but it is permissible in this rare case”. But I believe it should certainly not characterize the marital act ordinarily. In such extreme cases where a prophylactic action is genuinely and honestly needed (which, at a rougb estimate, would be perhaps 5% of married couples), it would also not be my first recommendation to any couple.

          Reply

      • January 6, 2022 @ 9:02 am Josiah Spencer

        To clarify, I think Onanism is a misnomer. Exegetically speaking, the sin of Onan was refusing to sire an heir for his brother, not withdrawing.

        I would think that the fact that you can still get pregnant using the withdrawal method actually works in its favor. Many people argue that NFP leaves you “open to pregnancy,” and the same could be said of the withdrawal method.

        I guess I need to do more study on the issue, but how does one Biblically define “the essence of the marital act”? How does one Biblically determine that such has been betrayed?

        I’m a real bottom line kind of guy. I want to assure you that I believe that it is important to have a Biblical view of sex, marriage, and the family. I absolutely believe that sex and children are designed to be a packaged deal. However, there are times when avoiding pregnancy is necessary or wise, say, due to the health of the wife. Is it acceptable to enjoy sexual intimacy in those situations? I would argue, yes. How one achieves that goal must abide by Christian principles, so abortifacients are off the table, but other methods, whether NFP, condoms, withdrawal, etc., all accomplish that goal with different levels of success. At the end of the day, the goal is to enjoy one’s spouse sexually without incurring pregnancy. I see all those methods as qualitatively the same.

        Reply

        • January 6, 2022 @ 12:25 pm Ben Jefferies

          Dear Josiah —

          I take two issues with your view:

          First, the phrase “enjoy one’s spouse sexually” — implies a view of sex inherently divorced from procreation. Such a concept only came into existence on this side of mass-produced contraceptives. It never occurs prior to the twentieth century among Christians.

          Moreover — and related — the bible nowhere speaks of the pleasurable element (“enjoy”) of sexual intercourse as being created by God. The becoming-one-ness is his creation (“the two shall become one flesh”). The capacity to bring forth children is from him (“be fruitful”). But the pleasure associated with arousal and orgasm, these are an alloy. It is not clear how much of it / what part of it existed prior to the Fall. All of the Church Fathers agreed that in pre-Lapsarian marital intercourse between Adam and Eve, there was none of the passion (epithumia) of the flesh. Our best way of describing it, with the fallen existence we now know, was like the pleasure of the intellectual meeting of two minds. The physical pleasure experienced within Christian marriage today is like a fire. If kept well bounded in the fire-place, it can warm the house. If it leaks out even a little, into the thousand masks that Lust presents itself in, it can do damage to the house.
          Practicing NFP, with its requisite period of abstinence each month, is the best way I am aware of to keep the fire in the fireplace; to allow sexual desire to become purified through self-denial, and for marital intercourse to participate less in fallen passion.
          Anything other than NFP: Condoms, withdrawal, etc — create a situation where sex is possible on any given day (outside of menses). This gives too loose a rein to passion and lust. In this way I perceive it to be qualitatively different, and not interchangeable with the other “methods”.
          The point of my piece is that anything other than NFP should only — according to Lambeth 1930 — be considered in the most extreme of circumstances.

          It’s hard. Impossible without the Holy Spirit’s help. It causes great pain to flesh and mind at first. But it is good medicine in the end, in my experience.

          Reply

          • January 7, 2022 @ 8:14 am Josiah Spencer

            Thank you for that response. It helps me to understand your view better. I will say, I worry that it is more Ascetic than Biblical. This is one critique I have of some of the Church Fathers (Augustine, for example). Their understanding of the physical world is sometimes more Greek/Gnostic than Hebrew. I would argue that sexual pleasure is absolutely a part of the Creation design. I’m sure others have written books explaining it, but the ecstasy of sex is actually a reflection of the mutual love of the Trinity. Sexual pleasure is an integral part of what binds the marriage relationship. Mutual pleasure, childrearing, and controlling “the fire” are all valid purposes for sex. All three interact with each other, but sometimes all three are not possible.

          • January 7, 2022 @ 9:04 am Ben Jefferies

            But it’s not just *some* of the Fathers. It’s *all* of the Fathers. We have a ‘consensus patrum’ which to Anglicans is a deciding judge on interpretive ambiguities in the Bible: They all (St. Basil, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Theologian, Gregory Nyssen, St. Maximos, etc) agree that there was no physical pleasure (qua orgasm, qua passion, etc) in sex prior to the Fall. So it’s a gamble: Is it more likely that they ALL were wrong, or that we, with our 21st century instincts, on this side of the disastrous sexual “revolution” are wrong?

  2. January 3, 2022 @ 9:51 pm Larry Clarence Lewis

    +
    JMJ

    Dear Father Jefferies,
    Thank you very much for this thoughtful and well-thought-out essay on contraception from within the Anglican world view. You revisited Lambeth 1930 very well, but you did not revisit Lambeth 1958 on contraception. The latter supersedes 1930 in some very important ways. At the very least, Lambeth 1930 needs to be discussed in light of Lambeth 1958. Were you aware of Lambeth 1958? I discovered Lambeth 1958 within the last couple of years while doing some work on the decline in the fertility rate which has been much below the level of replacement in The Episcopal Church/The Anglican Church of Canada since the mid-1960s. The decline in The Episcopal Church/The Anglican Church of Canada is regularly levelled at people leaving these Churches, whereas, even if not a single person left them, they would have steadily declined, because, for nearly three generations, these Anglicans have not been replacing themselves. This fact of demography is seldom acknowledged in Anglican ecclesial circles. The opposite of the Anglican dearth of births is found among the Old Order Amish/Old Order Mennonites, who are doubling every 20 years. By 2050 the Old Order people will exceed the number of Episcopalians in The United States of America. Enough said. Do have a look at Lambeth 1958.

    Sincerely In Christ Jesus,
    Larry Clarence Lewis
    Ontario, Canada.

    Reply

    • January 5, 2022 @ 8:05 am Ben jefferies

      Dear Mr Lewis —

      I am embarrassed to admit that until just now, following your comment, I had never read the resolutions of Lambeth 1958!
      However, having just read them, I do not see that it affects my thesis here drawn out of Lambeth 1930. The only resolution I can see from 1958 (am I missing something?) that relates to the case is resolution #115 — and this doesn’t prescribe or condone any method of avoiding pregnancy — it only says that parents should be judicious in deciding when they have children. While this manifests a regrettable children-are-optional spirit and diminishes the procreative telos of sex, it isn’t wrong in se, as advice.
      Presumably, since each Lambeth builds on prior conferences, we can assume that the only sanctioned means of avoiding pregnancy is that which is outlined in Lambeth 1930, as extrapolated in my essays.
      Do you think this is a fair reading?

      Reply

  3. January 4, 2022 @ 10:46 am Daniel Crawford

    Thank you for your thoughtful essay. When one studies the moral pronouncements of the US Episcopal Church, one soon discovers the underlying moral principle governing statements on contraception, abortion, and most other ethicl issues confronting Christians is “majority vote wins”. I don’t believe that can be derived from the Gospels.

    Reply

  4. January 5, 2022 @ 8:40 am Sage

    Hello fr. Jeffries. I’ve been a fan of your work including your podcasts. I think this article is not only important but necessary for the young people of our world including me and my wife in our mid twenties. We have planned to follow NFP when our schooling is down this summer and our careers take off. We have been using a copper IUD. I believe in the more recent research has found that IUDs cant kill any fetus if they fail. More research has been unable to replicate a scenario where the egg is fertilized and killed. Either the technology has gotten better or they have been wrong for 30 years. I’m saying this not to correct you but perhaps let you know. Maybe its still up for debate. We went with a copper IUD because we couldn’t agree with any chemical birth control.

    As we will be on NFP would you have any general advice?

    Thank you for all your work.

    Reply

    • January 5, 2022 @ 2:38 pm Ben Jefferies

      Dear Sage —

      Thanks for the kind words. I am glad you have been convinced of the uprightness of practicing NFP!

      I would be curious if you could link to any journal articles (not funded by a pharm. company that creates IUDs) that definitively show that an IUD doesn’t create a chemically inhospitable uterine lining for a pre-implanted zygote. I am not presently aware of any, but have only a layman’s access to the literature.

      As for general advice: Keep Love as the goal. Love of God — seeking purity and self-control. Love of wife. Love of Children.

      Here also is a little tract I wrote for a family in my parish, that might be of interest to you, that gets into some more of the particulars: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YJ-bIf83wl9ffCCFoO-K76rlKXwemePs/view

      Reply

  5. January 6, 2022 @ 1:49 pm Hunter Van Wagenen

    Always enjoy your thoughts, Fr. Ben, and am especially thankful for this essay as it is an issue near and dear to our (my wife’s and my) hearts. It’s good to know about this statement from our own tradition that addresses this issue, as someone who is suspicious of Rome for whatever reason might be more inclined to dismiss arguments for NFP.

    I found myself wrestling with resolution’s allowance. On the one hand, your point about Rome’s hard stance creating a situation of hypocrisy among the majority of their people is good. On the other hand, so many of the people in our churches are so catechized by the culture of death that they often want or assume they can afford fewer children than they actually can. And if they are seeking to avoid a pregnancy for a valid reason, the last person most Christians would think to consult with is their pastor; most will jump straight to the “loophole” without a second thought. How do we teach on this without either stirring up hypocrisy (and possibly hurting someone who is in an extreme situation) or letting selfishness off the hook if people aren’t coming to us to talk about this issue in the first place?

    Reply

    • January 7, 2022 @ 8:45 am Ben Jefferies

      Dear Fr. Hunter —

      Bishop Charles Gore had the same thoughts you have: that the proviso to 1930’s pastoral direction will be read as a permanent “loophole.”
      Indeed, he was right — that is how it has de facto been received.
      If we were living within a Church discipline that was already solid and integrous on this issue, a la pre-20th century, then I would agree, the danger of Lambeth 1930 outweighs it carefulness and utility.
      But since that is not the lay of our land, I think it now actually has the opposite effect.
      Since everyone today comes to the question tacitly assuming that all manner of contraceptive “birth control” is licit and good, to hear that any prevention of pregnancy is condemned that is “from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.” and that avoiding pregnancy must in all ordinary cases be only accomplished by periodic abstinence (NFP) — this is a strong thing to consider!
      Sure, it doesn’t have the force of a “law” as it does in the RC church. But this is not such a bad thing.
      On the one hand, the Bible doesn’t definitively legislate, and as protestant Christians this should be a check to us.
      On the other hand, the wielding of it as “law” in the RC church has not accomplished it’s desired effects: less than 3% of RC couples utilize NFP. The rest use artificial contraception.
      What we have as Anglicans is, I think, better: A call to higher standard; not a law that mandates it.
      A challenge and an invitation, that only the Holy Spirit within a believer will make good in response thereto.
      In this way, when an Anglican follows the wisdom of NFP/Lambeth 1930, it is a part of their discipleship, not a mere rule-keeping.

      Will many over-claim on the proviso? Sure. But I trust the Holy Spirit to shine light on their self-delusion as to the moral-gravity of their claim to it. In time, of course. I think Resolution 15 — held up clearly to all Anglican couples — will hold up a standard that will have its inspiring effects, and it has the real value of being an actual authority to us, rather than a borrowed authority. There is a danger of pharisaism in taking up disciplines from authorities not our own, and zero ground from which we can urge it on others.

      Reply

  6. February 13, 2022 @ 8:43 pm Lindsey

    Thank you for the article Ben! I am a Roman Catholic and a Marquette Method of NFP instructor for the diocese of Austin, TX. I found the history of Lambeth 1930 very interesting. One point I make in my presentation to engaged couples is that condoms are only 70% effective (and these studies are done the entire menstrual cycle and not just the fertile time) . My question is, if a couple is avoiding pregnancy for serious reasons such as being on a medication that will harm a baby, wouldn’t abstinence be the better way to go since it is 100% effective? There is a great chance the condom could break and this could lead the couple into the greater temptation of using Plan B or having an abortion. I am curious your thoughts on this!

    In Christ,

    Lindsey

    Reply

    • February 15, 2022 @ 11:55 am Ben Jefferies

      Dear Lindsey —

      I 100% agree that abstinence is a better way to go than artificial contraception.
      It was my intention to drive this thesis home throughout my article.
      All that I (and Lambeth) conceded was that in those rare, hard cases — the use of a condom is not morally forbidden.
      But it is of course, not the first choice, and as you say, brings with it its own risks and derivative moral considerations.

      Ben+

      Reply


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