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

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"Open Embrace" Partially Recanted

In this post, I shared my thoughts about the book "Open Embrace" by Sam and Bethany Torode. My main concern about their position (and where I thought they were being inconsistent) was their promotion of Natural Family Planning, i.e., abstaining during certain periods to avoid pregnancy. I questioned if this could really be right, according to 1 Corinthians 7:5, and agreed with the readers who brought up the unfairness of this practice to women.

Therefore, I find it interesting that after a few years of practicing what they preached, Sam and Bethany have recanted many of their previous positions. In fact, it appears they have done an almost complete about-face regarding some of their views on birth control, and now no longer discourage the use of barrier methods. Quoting:

Many Christians believe that the "self" is totally depraved or fundamentally evil (thank you, Augustine and John Calvin). Shades of this influenced our perspective in Open Embrace and our attraction to NFP. We now fully believe in the power of the Resurrection and we no longer live our lives constantly on the alert for "selfishness." Yes, we are marred by sin, but God has given us new hearts with his image strongly growing in them -- which means our deepest desires are true and good (see Waking the Dead by John Eldredge). One example: wanting to make love to your spouse often is a good thing, but NFP often lays an unfair burden of guilt on men for feeling this.

We still believe in the "language of the body"--which informs our rejection of some aspects of NFP. How is it that spouses are saying "yes" to the gift of each other when they end up abstaining for much of their married lives (from the aforementioned breastfeeding cycles, pregnancy exhaustion, or energy being diverted into raising kids)? We also see honest congruity with the language of the body by saying "no" to conception with our bodies (via barrier methods or sensual massage) when our minds and hearts are also saying "no" to conception. We don’t believe this angers God, nor that it leads to the slippery slope of relativism or divorce. We strongly disagree with the Catholic Church that this is a mortal sin.

Am I reading this right? It seems to me the Torodes are now saying it's perfectly fine to say "no" to conception through the use of birth control, because we Christians have new hearts and therefore unselfish motives. So, we cannot choose to disobey God?

Let me just say...I have been a Christian for twenty years. I DO still have a selfish nature. My heart has not been made perfect...the only perfection in my life is what God imputes to me. God in me is perfect. I am not. He has paid the price for all the sin I have or will ever commit, but that doesn't mean that I won't continue to sin.

I am glad that the Torodes now see the incongruity of their old position on NFP. However, their justification of their new position still bothers me. I'm not saying that I either agree or disagree with the use of barrier contraceptives. And honestly, it doesn't MATTER whether I agree or disagree. It matters what God thinks. Whatever we do, we should seek to honor the Lord, not decide what we want and then change our views on the Bible (or switch around to various denominations) to make us feel better. God's grace in our lives is not because WE are perfect and always make the right choices, but because HE is and does. It seems much wiser for us, as fallen beings saved only by HIS grace, to look solely to Him (through prayer and Bible Study) for His direction in our lives. Not to church denominational leaders, culture, or even tradition. Though these things can serve to reinforce God's direction, they should not replace it.


Blogger razorbackmama said...

You are the first person I thought of when I read this new position of theirs. I wondered if you knew.

I find their justification sad. :-(

5:26 PM, May 03, 2006  
Blogger zan said...

I really don't get why they changed. I will have to read it again later...babies crying and everything.

I did look into NFP awhile back and realized that you would have to obstain for about two weeks a month or more depending on you cycle. That seemed wrong.

5:51 PM, May 03, 2006  
Blogger Kimi Harris said...

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I found it very interesting that they have backed off of some of their views. Though, the reason they gave "which means our deepest desires are true and good" as at least misleading if not completely off. It is neat to see that they have the humility to admit a change of mind after publishing this book.

10:41 PM, May 03, 2006  
Blogger Becky Miller said...

The Quiverfull digest I get in my email mentioned this...very sad. I was looking forward to reading their book, because a Protestant couple rethinking contraception is so revolutionary! Sad that they've changed their minds due to life circumstances.

Are you and your husband any closer to making up your minds about where you stand on the issue?

10:36 AM, May 04, 2006  
Blogger Erin said...

I think it's good, too, that they're being honest. And like I said...I agree with their change on NFP. But their change on other forms of contraception doesn't seem to be rooted in biblical ideas, but in their own feelings or their new church's doctrine. Or else I'm not fully understanding what they're saying:op

Becky- I would say closer:o) I'll email you.

11:40 AM, May 04, 2006  
Blogger Motte said...

We've been having an internal debate where I work about this very issue and were unaware of the Torode's change of heart. I appreciate too your thoughtful exposition of their book in your original blog "Open Embrace." My wife and I have concluded that the point of contention is really this: Either you believe we should surrender completely to God the make-up of our family or that God gave man understanding as well as the ability to enter in the decision along with him to control the make-up of our family.

5:17 PM, May 04, 2006  
Blogger Ted Slater said...

Great discussion. My wife and I have had many long discussions about the issues the Torodes (and others) brought up regarding NFP, and found so many inconsistencies in their logic. The *goal* and *heart* is the same whether it's NFP or barrier methods -- the couple doesn't want to conceive a child right now. But NFP is faulty (even more, some would say) in that it goes against 1 Corinthians 7:5 (as you write).

Ah, the gift of sex that the Lord has given us....

5:55 PM, May 04, 2006  
Blogger Erin said...

Motte and Ted, wow...I think you two are my first ever guy-commenters! But don't let that make you feel weird or husband will be glad to know that he's got some male company on this thing;o)

Motte, I think you're right about the point of contention. With the discussions that Micah and I have had about this topic, that's what it has essentially boiled down to for us. And that's where we find that we really have to question and examine our motives!

Ted, I completely agree that NFP is not any less a method of BC than anything else! It seems clear from 1 Corinthians 7:5 that it should only be used for "a season" of prayer and fasting by mutual decision. Not as an ongoing practice.

12:29 PM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger Mrs.B. said...

How interesting!

I was a part of the original discussion of this book. I know I'm a little late with my comment but I've just come off my 'blog fast'.

9:05 PM, May 08, 2006  
Blogger Ashleigh said...

Thanks for this post. The issue of NFP verses barrier methods has been a subject of conversation recently at my house (I'm Ted's wife). I really liked what you had to say as far as:

It matters what God thinks. Whatever we do, we should seek to honor the Lord, not decide what we want and then change our views on the Bible (or switch around to various denominations) to make us feel better. God's grace in our lives is not because WE are perfect and always make the right choices, but because HE is and does. It seems much wiser for us, as fallen beings saved only by HIS grace, to look solely to Him (through prayer and Bible Study) for His direction in our lives. Not to church denominational leaders, culture, or even tradition. Though these things can serve to reinforce God's direction, they should not replace it.

This is exactly what my husband and I've been talking about -- heart motivations and seeking the Lord, not necessarily what people -- tell us we should do. Thanks again for examining this issue on your blog!

2:33 PM, May 17, 2006  
Anonymous Kevin said...

I realize this blog is quite old and this may not get read as a result, but I came across it and really wanted to comment. My wife and I have been married (and practicing NFP) for two years. Due to some health problems after our wedding, we have been postponing pregnancy during these two years. As a man, I feel like I am living up to St. Paul's call to "love my wife as Christ loves the Church" by sacrificing some of my desires for our mutual benefit and instead trusting them to Christ. My wife and I were both sad to see they had recanted as we both read the book and thought it was great. To me it reminded me a little of the parable of the soils, how the cares and concerns of this world (caring for little ones, and rightfully so!) had choked out the seed they had received from the Lord (this special insight about sex and marriage). I also was sad to see you use 1 Cor. 7:5 as an argument against NFP. That is an excellent verse but if you read one verse further you would see "I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am." Paul says that husbands and wives shouldn't go to extremes in abstaining from their relations, but his motivation is to prevent them from giving in to temptation and sinning, not that abstaining itself is a sinful behavior. Paul himself chose to abstain from marriage as a whole in order to better serve Christ. I wouldn't say it is easy to trust God with this (very important) part of our marriage, but it is worth it in so many ways. I pray that you would also be encouraged to seek God's will, "His good, pleasing, and perfect will" (Rom 12:2). God bless you all.

8:08 PM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger Teresa said...

Like Kevin, I just stumbled across this post. Maybe no one will read my comment, but I feel I should leave one. My husband and I have been using NFP for 4 years (we have 1 child and another on the way). It seems everyone here is assuming that there is no difference between NFP and BC, and I think a few distinctions need to be made.

First of all, you are right that it can be sinful for a couple to use NFP if they use it for selfish reasons. It should only be used if the couple has discerned that they have a legitimate and serious reason to avoid pregnancy for the time being.

Secondly, some mentioned that there is no difference between NFP and BC because the "goal" is the same - no children. It is important to realize that the ends do not always justify the means. For example, if 2 men want to provide for their families and one does so by working at the grocery store while the other sells illegal drugs, few would say that there is no difference between their actions because the "goal" (providing for their families) is the same.

In that respect, where BC rejects God's design and intent for the body, NFP embraces and accepts God's design. When using NFP, a couple works within God's design for their bodies, recognizing the goodness of God's plan. God created them male and female and said "it was good." NFP affirms this. BC looks at God's creation and says, "it is bad (or inconvenient)...but here's how we can fix it."

Also, some mentioned that you would have to abstain at least 2 weeks a month when using NFP. This is simply not true (for most couples in most cycles). We personally averaged about 9 days of abstinence a month - sometimes less. And most NFP users actually report a more satisfying and frequent sex life than their contracepting counterparts due to an increased appreciation of their time together. I know in the months where we abstained (which have made up about half of our 4 years of marriage), we actually had intercourse more often than the months in which we did not abstain. The abstinence ironically spices up your sex life!

Lastly, some stated that abstaining as an "ongoing practice" is wrong and a violation of 1 Cor 7:5. If it is wrong to regularly abstain, that would mean God was wrong when he inspired the author of Leviticus to instruct the Israelite women to abstain for the first 2 weeks of every cycle (Lev 15). If that's not an ongoing practice of abstinance, I don't know what is.

I think that about sums up my thoughts! God bless.

4:36 PM, June 20, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When they wrote this book they had one child and afterward quickly added more, they couldn't live what they had preache dto others, when I first read the book I though it odd that someone who had been married such a short time thought they should write this type of book, it take a lot more work to stand by your convictions.

8:42 PM, January 24, 2009  
Blogger Ginger said...

I just heard that the Torodes recanted. I loved their little book, and I thought it presented the barebones of the argument against contraceptives. I want you to know that my husband and I have been married for 23 years and have used NFP and have been blessed with eight living children (now ages 5 to 21). Periodic abstinence--we were one of the couples who had about 2 weeks of abstinence every month (plus we also had two times when we had to abstain for more that 3 months! Once for 8 months, after my last child was born. But we also had 8 enjoyable preganancies...). This has made our marriage so strong! I can trust my husband on his many business trips. Our celebrations when we can come together again are unspeakably fantastic! Compare this with couples who are my age (47) and who have been sterilized--there's a deadness there. One woman told me that sex with her husband is just one more thing on her to do list! It was heartbreaking, but even worse was the fact that she told me that she had told her 14 year old daughter the same! Our abstinence now is a powerful witness to our older children. It's really a small sacrifice offered up as a prayer for their continued chastity. We are having no children right now, but we are still open and would joyfully welcome a new life--the way you life your life will determine how things are when your are older. Look at the way a goal is reached: in wanting to lose weight, is it the same to be bulimic or to go on a diet?
Here's a great audio: especially at 42:30 and following. God Bless You and your walk with Christ! contact me at

10:41 AM, April 06, 2010  

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