IF BIRTH CONTROL per se is a moral problem, Satan, at this point, must be about as exuberant as he was when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. What would the world, especially the Christian world, talk about if we solved the birth control problem? Protestants may sneer at Rome's dilemma, but most recently over thrown, seldom enforced, United States State laws against birth control are traceable to Protestant legislation.
Discussions on birth control and related issues range from possible immorality in creases among married and unmarried to imponderable questions such as When does a fertilized egg become a human being? Modern science has now presented the human race with two rather extreme biological and spiritual questions.
1. At what point from fertilized egg to infant does microscopic murder take place in the event of abortion?
2. At what point does death take place in the case of those whose hearts or other vital organs are used for transplant purposes?
We could mini-word these two problems by simply asking, What is the definition for life and death? How fortunate our forefathers were in escaping many a head ache during a time when such issues were nonexistent.
The magnitude of these and related questions for twentieth-century man was impressed upon my mind through a book let given me by a good Catholic neighbor. This forty-page booklet, prepared by the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., contains thirty-eight questions and answers related to Pope Paul's historic seven-thousand-word encyclical Humenae Vitae ("Of Human Life"). Some of the questions read like this: Why can't a Catholic form his own conscience on the subject of contraception?
Won't the next pope, or the one after him, reverse what Pope Paul has done?
But suppose the condemnation of contraception isn't infallible. Then it's fallible, isn't it? And if it's fallible, couldn't it be mistaken?
How can a bachelor pope and bachelor bishops presume to tell married people what to do?
Contraception and rhythm both aim at the same objective. What difference does it make which you use?
Answers to these and equally interesting queries constitute a masterpiece of combined logic and pettifoggery. The least that can be said for it is that it helps us understand why the Pope's ruling, which resulted in a theological atomic explosion, has caused so much debate fallout!
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has made no pronouncement on this subject. Although it is generally understood that the use of contraceptives is a personal matter to be settled by the individual member, yet we have never formally adopted this attitude.
Whether we realize it or not, we have had practical guidelines on this topic for some time. This fact was made more clear to me in a recent discussion with the Reverend Charles R. Ausherman, director of the Church World Service Planned Parent hood Program. Their stated goal is to combat famine and poverty, to assist the world community toward social and economic development and toward world peace. Their planned parenthood program seeks to serve the developing areas of the world to achieve social and economic independence and human dignity through family planning. They claim that responsible parenthood in our time is an urgent priority in combating hunger and poverty, and in assisting humans in world development. The yearly total budget for their forty-eight-country program has reached $1 million.
Mr. Ausherman, a world traveler, is acquainted with our medical work in various parts of the world. Before Ella May Stoneburner, director of health education for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, brought him to my office, I began to search for some answers to the questions I knew he would pose. He wanted to know what the Adventist stand is on birth control.
Spirit of Prophecy Policy
Since our church policy books are silent on the subject, my thoughts turned toward the Spirit of Prophecy writings. Ellen G. White's clear, forthright statements on parental responsibility constituted the strongest evidence Adventists have in favor of family planning.
I briefly described to Mr. Ausherman the place and authority of the Spirit of Prophecy in the Adventist Church. Then I proceeded to read to him the following statement:
There are parents who, without consideration as to whether or not they can do justice to a large family, fill their houses with these helpless little beings, who are wholly dependent upon their parents for care and instruction. . . . This is a grievous wrong, not only to the mother, but to her children and to society. --The Adventist Home, p. 162.
Before increasing their family, they should take into consideration whether God would be glorified or dishonored by their bringing children into the world. They should seek to glorify God by their union from the first, and during every year of their married life. They should calmly consider what provision can be made for their children. They have no right to bring children into the world to be a burden to others. Have they a business that they can rely upon to sustain a family, so that they need not become a burden to others? If they have not, they commit a crime in bringing children into the world to suffer for want of proper care, food, and clothing. --Messages to Young People, p. 462.
Those who are seriously deficient in business tact, and who are the least qualified to get along in the world, generally fill their houses with children; while men who have ability to acquire property generally have no more children than they can well provide for. Those who are not qualified to take care of themselves should not have children. --The Adventist Home, p. 165. (Italics supplied.)
As I read these and other statements I carefully observed Mr. Ausherman's face for signs of approval or disapproval. His intense interest in these quotations was made evident by his forward-leaning position in the chair. The first response he made was in the form of a question. "How long ago was that written?" he asked. The answer of seventy to eighty years ago visibly startled him. He then declared, "This is almost unbelievable that Mrs. White wrote so clearly and pointedly on a subject that the world knew little or nothing about at that time." He continued, "The concept of children being a burden on society, unless properly planned and cared for, was virtually unknown in those days." Fie continued to explain that their own Planned Parenthood Program seeks to bring a Christian emphasis that endorses responsible parenthood from a Biblical-theological perspective. They further claim that the love of God in Jesus Christ reveals supreme concern for the individual. Christian responsible parenthood is a basic expression of God's love for each person.
The presentation of the Spirit of Prophecy emphasis on these same points came as a definite and pleasant surprise to Mr. Ausherman. He asked for copies of this material, and for permission to use portions of it in their own publications.
"Never Ceases to Amaze"
In a later telephone conversation with him he re-emphasized his astonishment over our advanced knowledge on the subject of family planning. He said, "It never ceases to amaze me that Mrs. White had such clear concepts of parental responsibility. You folks had in your possession information far ahead of its time."
In this particular conversation I asked him if there really was general ignorance on this subject in her day. He replied, "There certainly was, and even now there is much ignorance among Christians as to their responsibility in family planning."
Naturally, his response to Ellen White's advanced knowledge was most gratifying. It was a rather enchanting experience to hear an unbiased leader in a particular field of endeavor make such positive, favorable declarations about certain concepts our church has had which were and are far in advance of the world in general.
This ought to reaffirm our conviction of the relevancy and validity of the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. On the other hand, there was a certain touch of humility in this experience. In the first place, Adventists who study the Spirit of Prophecy writings were acquainted with this particular concept. But probably most of us, like myself, simply took it for granted and didn't realize there was anything unique, advanced, and special about it.
In the second place I wonder how many other advanced concepts we are blessed with and never give a thought to thanking God for these progressive, modern truths.
"Where Would We Be Today If . . . ?"
But there is something even more dis concerting than all this. How many for ward-looking, up-to-date principles and concepts are there in the Spirit of Prophecy that we either don't know about or refuse to follow for one reason or another.
Where would the church be today if it submitted its will totally to the special revelations? Or should we ask, Where would we be today if we had refused to follow any part of the divine blueprint? Is there any among us who could possibly give an optimistic answer to this latter question? I hope not!
(To be continued)