Reflections on life, marriage, and purpose...by a young woman who is constantly learning how much there will always be to learn!


Monday, February 20, 2006

Open Embrace

So - Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception by Sam and Bethany Torode arrived in my mailbox on Saturday, and I had it finished by bedtime that night! (Just so that doesn't seem overly impressive--or overly nutty, depending on your perspective--it is a rather short book. Slightly over one hundred not-quite-full-sized pages!) Micah and I read it together, but we stretched it over two-days time for his benefit. He doesn't devour books the way I do; he sensibly eats them in smaller bites. So I finished it alone on Saturday (because--alas--I cannot help myself), and I finished it again with him the next day:o).

I thought I'd give a little run-down of the book for the few of you who might be interested in our study of this topic...

The book is well-written and full of interesting research. It's short, but in no way fluffy! It includes such interesting tidbits as:
-Many cultures in both Old and New Testement times practiced contraception and abortion. This issue is not unique to our times!
-Church leaders throughout the past 2000 years, up until the early to mid-twentieth century, have been decidedly opposed to both contraception and abortion. Examples are given.
-Sam Torode makes a convincing argument linking cultural views about contraception to abortion. He shows how the same mentality leads to both.
-The Torodes gently suggest that perhaps we, as Christians, have been deceived or have simply ignored the physical, relational and spiritual implications of using contraception.

The Torodes state that chemical contraceptives are harmful (see my last post). As anyone who has read my other posts here and here on chemical contraceptives knows, I agree strongly with that position. It is not biblically right to knowingly pump chemicals into our bodies that can harm both ourselves and our potential children.

Mr. and Mrs. Torode also believe that barrier forms of birth control are not God's ideal (Please forgive the long quotes--I just don't know if I can do justice to their thoughts by paraphrasing:o):

We've read defenses of contraception from several Christian authors. All agree that when it comes to birth control, it's our intentions that matter, not necessarily our actions. Contraceptives, they say, are tools that can be used for good or ill. For example, one such author condemns the abuse of contraception to "facilitate promiscuity" but says that the use of contraception by married Christians "can be a great blessing" because "it permits them time to grow in greater love and commitment at the beginning of marriage." By severing the biological link between s*x and procreation, these authors assert, contraception can nurture the spiritual companionship of the spouses.

Underlying these arguments is the assumption that the "spiritual" aspects of s*x are more important than, and can be enjoyed apart from, the "merely physical," biological aspect of fertility. The Bible, however, speaks of man as a unity of matter and spirit, a "living soul"--not a holy soul trapped in an evil body, as the ancient heresy of Gnosticism taught. Because man is a unity of soul and body, one can't elevate the soul by subverting the body. [...]

Uniting the male and female bodies in love says something beautiful; it speaks of the union of Christ and the Church. Lovemaking should always be life-giving, even when it does not generate new life in the form of a child. The procreative partnership of a husband and wife goes far beyond the conception of children. Human s*xual desire is not limited to the times we are fertile--we were designed to express our love s*xually even when conception is impossible. But while s*x is not solely for conception, it is not our place to deliberately separate s*x from its procreative aspect. [...]

Christian proponents of contraception often assert that while a marriage on the whole should be open to children, each intimate act need not be. What if it was suggested that while a marriage on the whole should be monogamous, each intimate act need not reflect that? Because s*x is the consummation, the summing up, of marriage, each intimate act is a picture of the marriage as a whole. if marriage is about completely giving yourself to your spouse, then s*x should embody that truth. The issue is not whether each intimate act is able to result in conception. As we noted earlier, a woman is infertile for most of her cycle, and a couple may be infertile for extended periods of time or even indefinitely. This does not mean that intercourse during these times is closed to children in the way that contraception, by placing a barrier between s*x and procreation, is closed to children.

Open Embrace also includes some thought-provoking and heart-warming musings (especially a few of the portions written by Mrs. Torode) on the blessings and growth experienced by opening our lives and hearts to the ones God gives us to care for.
Christians should have an entirely different view of life's purpose than the surrounding culture. Ours is a life of sacrifice, to be molded after Christ's. [...] Our lives are to be poured out for others in love. [...] God does have a different plan for every person. Some marry young, some marry older, and some never marry at all...but whether single or married, barren or fertile, God wants us to spend our lives loving others. These include babies, children, friends, strangers, the sick, the elderly, family, and foreigners.
What else in life is worthy of our devotion besides the nurture and care of our families and others in our sphere of influence? How else will we truly know Christ, but that we love and serve others? Jesus said, "that which you did for the least of these, you did for me."

Despite their cautions against other methods of birth control, Mr. and Mrs. Torode endorse natural family planning, because "God's timing is different for every couple, and some have legitimate reasons for postponing children immediately after marriage." They also believe that NFP is a legitimate means of spacing children. They do not think of NFP ("informed abstinence") as birth control, because it "respects the female fertility cycle and preserves the integrity and wholeness of each s*x act. The one-flesh union is neither diminished nor compromised."

The Torodes don't prescribe that couples completely take the reigns off the number of children they conceive, they simply caution against "always abstaining during the fertile times and avoiding children for selfish reasons."
We don't make any recommendations about family size. How many children a particular family can support is a matter between each couple and God. Circumstances vary widely; some couples will be called to larger families, others to smaller. That said, we should try to remain open and generous, careful to discern between God's voice and what our culture tells us about the "ideal" family size.
I was disappointed that this book does not adequately discuss NFP in light of 1 Corinthians 7:5, which cautions couples to only abstain "by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer." The Torodes simply mention this verse in passing as "Paul's admonition to those who take abstinence within marriage to an extreme." They do not address whether NFP itself might be in violation of this verse.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this book and pondering the thoughts shared by the Torodes. I cannot discuss all of them here, because this post is already way too long! But I would encourage others who are interested in studying birth control from a biblical perspective to consider this book as one interpretation of God's Word on this topic.

8 Comments:

Blogger razorbackmama said...

I heard them speak about their book on FamilyLife Today when it first came out. I haven't read it yet, but based on what they shared on the program, I came away with the same impression that you did. SO REFRESHING to hear it even being discussed, yet not quite "it." It seemed that their viewpoint was one that the couple is still who is responsible for the creation of children. But at least it was a start? I had the same concerns that you did, yet I did still enjoy hearing what they had to say.

2:08 AM, February 21, 2006  
Blogger Erin said...

Yes, razorbackmama! Much of what the Torodes write is so heartfelt and full of so much wisdom! I am just bothered by a few incongruities in a few of their lines of thinking. I guess we're ALL in this learning process together, though! I'm just glad that they're talking about this subject, like you said. Most people and churches just seem to ignore it.

11:26 AM, February 21, 2006  
Blogger zan said...

One fact I learned about NFP is that couples who use it, the divorce rate is only 2%. They attribute this to the fact that the husbands are in tune with their wives body so closely. It was a study done by Roman Catholics. I thought that was pretty interesting.

I couldn't just rely on NFP for the same reasons you do. My husband and I are also planning to use the barrier method after I give birth to give my body a break. I was very sick with both pregnancies and need the time to adjust. I also get pregnant very easily. My husband and I don't think we are sinning in this. Taking care of a little one while you are nauseous and vomiting all day is very difficult.

4:37 PM, February 21, 2006  
Blogger Erin said...

Zan, I heard about that study and thought it was interesting as well! Whether or not a couple uses NFP for family planning, I think it would be very helpful and informative for them to chart and learn to read the woman's cycle. It would help both of them to have a concrete idea of what the woman is experiencing hormonally at any given point during the month.

I've always been horrible about that. You know how we as women are supposed to chart our periods? Never do it. I just go along from month to month "blindly" so to speak! I think it would be a great thing to become more intune with how my body is working, and for Micah to better understand these things as well!

1:54 AM, February 22, 2006  
Blogger zan said...

I never chart my periods either. I really should but it seems like such a hassle. I just go around with panty liners just in case...

Maybe if I kept in touch with my cycle I would have an accurate due date for this baby. It could come anytime from nest week to the end of March.

9:42 AM, February 22, 2006  
Blogger Kristen said...

"I was disappointed that this book does not adequately discuss NFP in light of 1 Corinthians 7:5, which cautions couples to only abstain 'by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.'"

That would be a concern for me, too. Sounds like they were trying to find an area of compromise, maybe?

I hate the idea of NFP (though I can see how, if one is looking for the least objectionable form of birth control, it could seem appealing.) Erin, I don't want to be too "graphic" on your blog, but...the, um, nicest time of the month for a lady is ovulation time. NFP deprives her of pleasure that I believe God intended women to have. *blush!*

I hope I am making sense to someone.

11:19 AM, February 22, 2006  
Blogger Erin said...

Very good point, Kristen! And very true!

2:20 PM, February 22, 2006  
Blogger zan said...

Well that explains alot, Kristen. :)

9:45 PM, February 22, 2006  

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