Family planning--a forbidden practice?

The claims of some that practicing birth control violates Bible principles do not hold up. In fact, family planning comprises a part of the Christian's relating responsibly to this world.

Luka Tambaya Daniel is the president of the Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

To highlight the importance of looking ahead and counting the cost of becoming His followers, Christ drew illustrations from everyday life (Luke 14:28-32). In doing so, He underscored the need for planning in all aspects of the Christian life. But some Christians are not sure of the morality of family planning, or planned parenthood. Let's look at several of the objections that are raised against this practice and consider whether it accords with biblical instructions regarding the Christian's life.

"Multiply and replenish the earth"

Twice during the early period of human history God specifically instructed human beings to "be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Gen. 1:28; see also Gen. 9:7). In the light of these commands, some ask how anyone can advocate population control. One wonders what would have happened if sin had not come and none of Adam and Eve's offspring had died. Would human beings today even have had a place to stand on this earth? Perhaps in those circumstances God would have limited the population either by sterilizing the men or "closing the wombs" of the women.

But in this less-than-ideal world, God has left us to do for ourselves what He may have otherwise done for us. When Judah was facing national destruction and long exile, God instructed Jeremiah not to marry and have children. Primarily God's instruction to Jeremiah involved a message He wished him to communicate to His people: their faithlessness was going to result in severe troubles. But secondarily, we can see that His instructions indicate that prospective parents should take circumstances into consideration when they are thinking about bringing children into the world.

In a similar vein to the message that came to Jeremiah, Jesus, foreseeing the misery that would befall the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, lamented, "Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!" (Matt. 24:19). In fact, Luke 23:29 records an even stronger statement: "Behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck."

We may not be directly facing the dire events that Jeremiah and Jesus spoke of, but the lesson that we should take circumstances into account in planning our families certainly applies. The economic situation in the world, especially in the so-called Third World, daily emphasizes that Earth cannot sustain its exploding population. On July 13, 1987, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) proclaimed baby Matej Caspar of the northern city of Zagreb, Yugoslavia, to be the 5 billionth citizen of this planet. Mate] was only one of the estimated 240 babies per minute or 340,000 a day that were born that year.1 Another source reveals that the 4 billionth child was born in 1975, and it says that if the present population growth rate were no more than maintained, the 6 billionth child will be born by the year 2000. 2

The size of the earth's population is alarming, since three quarters of the surface of the earth is water3 and humans share the rest with deserts, forests, mountains, plants, and animals- Com pounding the problem, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's world survey found that land degradation could reduce food production over the long haul by nearly 20 per cent if conservation measures are not taken some 544 million hectares (2.1 million-square miles) of essential rain-fed crop lands could be lost. 4 Thus this organization's ambition to provide food for all by the year 2000 seems a mere mirage.

When at the beginning of human history God instructed Adam and Noah to populate the earth, the problem of the time was lack of people. That instruction does not speak to our time when the problem is that of overpopulation.

"Children are a blessing from the Lord"

One of the texts grossly misused by opponents of family planning is Psalm 127:3-5: "Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate."

No one can refute the truism that children are a blessing from the Lord. Children like Isaac (Gen. 22:1-9), Moses (Heb. 11:23-39), Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5), Mary (Luke 1:26-35), and the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8, 9), to mention but a few, were a blessing to their homes and society.

But are all children a blessing or a reward from the Lord? The word blessing generally implies something that brings happiness to the recipient. What happiness does a rebellious child bring to its parents? According to Deuteronomy 21:18-21, a child that was a stubborn rebel, a glutton, and a drunkard, was to be stoned to death. I do not see that as a "blessing" or a "happy" affair.

Similarly, I wish every "fruit of the womb" were God's reward rather than simply a natural result of the operation of the law of cause and effect. But I do not see that the reason women like Sarah and Elizabeth were barren most of their lives was that they were such sinners that God would not "reward" them with "the fruit of the womb." Nor, on the other hand, can I regard the children of harlots, adulteresses, and fornicators (like Tamar, Gen. 38:24; Jephthah's mother, Judges 11:1-4; and Hosea's wife, Hosea 1:2) as rewards from God.

In other words, even today many a virtuous married woman has prayed for a child but has received none. And many prostitutes, single girls, and jilted lovers some of whom even pray that they do not become pregnant end up with unwanted children. Children may be, but are not necessarily, blessings from the Lord.

Nor does a "full quiver" necessarily make a happy family. Solomon, for whom it is believed Psalm 127 was writ ten, certainly knew by experience that having many children does not guarantee the happiness and security of the home. As a member of the large family of King David (1 Chron. 3:1-9), he saw how the happiness of the royal family was marred by Amnon's rape of his half sister Tamar and Absalom's consequent murder of the former (2 Sam. 13:1-13). Solomon also witnessed Absalom's attempt to steal the throne from his father (2 Sam. 15:1-13). It took a bitter civil war and the life of Absalom before David could be restored to his throne. So a home full of children does not guarantee happiness and security.

Is birth control murder or infanticide?

Some people say that birth control breaks the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." Birth control does not necessarily involve the loss of human life. It may simply attempt to prevent the formation of life and when life is not yet formed, there can be no death or murder. (Since abortion involves a life already begun, the Seventh-day Adventist Church generally opposes this practice except in certain instances. 5 It does not regard abortion as an acceptable method of birth control.)

Others suggest that God killed Onan for practicing one of the natural methods of birth control, "coitus interruptus" (Gen. 38:10). But verses 8 and 9 reveal that God punished Onan not because of the method he used but because of the purpose for which he used it to avoid having a child who would be legally his deceased brother's according to the law of the levirate (see Deut. 25:5, 6). God was not prohibiting birth control per se.

It is true that Margaret Sanger (1883-1966), the pioneer of modern family planning organizations, made statements that suggest that her motives were tainted with racism and elitism. She is quoted as saying, "More children from the fit; less from the unfit; that is the chief aim of birth control," and "birth control, to create a race of thoroughbreds."6 In the mind of this Irish American, the unfit members of society were the Blacks, Mexican-Americans, Jews, Indians, Spanish- and Italian-Americans, the poor, the illiterates, the handicapped, and the criminals. She advocated that all these should be eliminated by a massive sterilization program she herself described as "polite genocide" a dehumanizing program that Hitler's Nazi Germany later adopted. 7

The unpalatable early history of modern family planning has made many in the Third World suspect that the richer countries prefer promoting birth control to providing funds to combat hunger in the poorer nations.8 But whatever ulterior motives may have crept into family planning, the fact remains that prevailing social and economic realities world wide prove that the scheme is necessary.

"God will provide!"

Opponents of family planning usually attempt to close the discussion with the short but pious clause "God will provide." Some quote texts like Psalm 37:25, in which David states that he never saw "the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread," and Matthew 6:27, 31-34, where Christ rebukes-those who are "anxious about tomorrow" (RSV).

I agree with David. I too have never seen the "righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." This is because a righteous person takes the Bible seriously and works hard to earn a living (Prov. 31:27; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 4:11, 12). According to Proverbs 20:4, it is the sluggard who begs for a living.

But in Matthew 6:27-34 Jesus was not encouraging His followers to spend their time in idleness. He was rebuking those who make riches or food their objects of preoccupation or indeed their gods (see also 1 Tim. 6:9, 10 and Phil. 3:19). That is why Jesus concluded His rebuke by saying, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

So neither of the texts with which we started this section suggests that God is ready to do for us what we can do for ourselves. They do not, in any way, en courage people who know they cannot care for many children to go ahead and bring them into the world only to suffer. Ironically, some of the people who advocate the mass production of children turn around and blame God for not alleviating their suffering.

How many children?

I do not wish to legislate how many children a Christian couple should have. The choice is primarily the couple's, to be made on the basis of certain factors that each couple should consider before having children. I would say the first factor to consider is the health of the mother-to-be and of the unborn child, since child-bearing poses some hazards.

Too many women today become very sickly during their later years because of bearing many children. They often look older than their age. Some die too early to watch their children grow to maturity, while others meet their untimely death at childbirth.

Chief A. Fajobi, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN), said, "Medically, it is dangerous for the health of the mother and child if childbirth is too early (before the age of 18 years), when the body though matured is not strong enough to shoulder the physical burden of childbirth; too frequent (ideal gap is a two-to three-year interval); too many (two or three children are ideal); and too late (after the age of 35 years), when the body is too frail to bear the burden of childbirth." 9

Next the couple should consider whether they are able to provide the necessities of life for the offspring they bring into the world. These necessities include caring for their physical needs such as providing shelter, food, clothing, and health-care. Ellen G. White said that parents "have no right to bring children into the world to be a burden to others," adding that parents who do so "commit a crime in bringing children into the world to suffer for want of proper care, food, and clothing." 10

But the necessities of life involve more as well: education, training (Prov. 22:6), and the close personal attention children need. Each parent has only so much love to share. The fewer the children, the easier it is to distribute that love fairly. Remember the witty saying, "Small is beautiful, and the fewer, the merrier."

Finally, the couple should consider not only their own circumstances but also those of the society of which they are a part. The parents' choice of the number of children to be born is not only a personal matter; their choice affects society, too. An expert rightly stated that "when many couples decide to have large families, even wealthy countries like the United States cannot keep up with the rapidly increasing needs of public services."11

Ironically, it is usually the poor individuals in each country and the poor countries in the world that delight in mass production of children. It is rather unfortunate, since it is reported that these poor countries, found in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, make up 75 percent of the world's population, but produce only 50 percent of the world's food. 12 If these poorer families and poorer countries do not want to starve or beg for a living from the richer ones, then they should embrace family planning ideals. 13 Planned parenthood allows couples to choose the number of children they have without coercion either natural or official. (China's population of 1 billion has forced that nation to enact a law making it a crime for any Chinese couple to have more than two children.) 14

In conclusion, the proper training of and care for our children is a sacred obligation. It affects both our own souls and those of our children. Hence the need for proper planning. The seriousness of the matter is underscored in 1 Timothy 5:8 as follows: "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (NIV).

face of the earth is water and humans share the rest with deserts, forests, mountains, plants, and animals- Com pounding the problem, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's world survey found that land degradation could reduce food production over the long haul by nearly 20 per cent if conservation measures are not taken some 544 million hectares (2.1 million-square miles) of essential rain-fed crop lands could be lost. 4 Thus this organization's ambition to provide food for all by the year 2000 seems a mere mirage.

 

When at the beginning of human history God instructed Adam and Noah to populate the earth, the problem of the time was lack of people. That instruction does not speak to our time when the problem is that of overpopulation.

"Children are a blessing from the Lord" One of the texts grossly misused by opponents of family planning is Psalm 127:3-5: "Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.

Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate." No one can refute the truism that children are a blessing from the Lord. Children like Isaac (Gen. 22:1-9), Moses (Heb. 11:23-39), Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5), Mary (Luke 1:26-35), and the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8, 9), to mention but a few, were a blessing to their homes and society.

But are all children a blessing or a re ward from the Lord? The word blessing generally implies something that brings happiness to the recipient. What happiness does a rebellious child bring to its parents? According to Deuteronomy 21:18-21, a child that was a stubborn rebel, a glutton, and a drunkard, was to be stoned to death. I do not see that as a "blessing" or a "happy" affair.

Similarly, I wish every "fruit of the womb" were God's reward rather than simply a natural result of the operation of the law of cause and effect. But I do not see that the reason women like Sarah and Elizabeth were barren most of their lives was that they were such sinners that God would not "reward" them with "the fruit of the womb." Nor, on the other hand, can I regard the children of harlots, adulteresses, and fornicators (like Tamar, Gen. 38:24; Jephthah's mother, Judges 11:1-4; and Hosea's wife, Hosea 1:2) as rewards from God.

In other words, even today many a virtuous married woman has prayed for a child but has received none. And many prostitutes, single girls, and jilted lovers some of whom even pray that they do not become pregnant end up with un wanted children. Children may be, but are not necessarily, blessings from the Lord.

Nor does a "full quiver" necessarily make a happy family. Solomon, for whom it is believed Psalm 127 was writ ten, certainly knew by experience that having many children does not guarantee the happiness and security of the home. As a member of the large family of King David (1 Chron. 3:1-9), he saw how the happiness of the royal family was marred by Amnon's rape of his half sister Tamar and Absalom's consequent murder of the former (2 Sam. 13:1-13). Solomon also witnessed Absalom's attempt to steal the throne from his father (2 Sam. 15:1-13). It took a bitter civil war and the life of Absalom before David could be restored to his throne. So a home full of children does not guarantee happiness and security.

Is birth control murder or infanticide? Some people say that birth control breaks the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." Birth control does not necessarily involve the loss of human life. It may simply attempt to prevent the formation of life and when life is not yet formed, there can be no death or murder. (Since abortion involves a life already begun, the Seventh-day Adventist Church generally opposes this practice except in certain instances. 5 It does not regard abortion as an acceptable method of birth control.) Others suggest that God killed Onan for practicing one of the natural methods of birth control, "coitus interruptus" (Gen. 38:10). But verses 8 and 9 reveal that God punished Onan not because of the method he used but because of the purpose for which he used it to avoid having a child who would be legally his deceased brother's according to the law of the levirate (see Deut. 25:5, 6). God was not prohibiting birth control per se.

It is true that Margaret Sanger (1883- 1966), the pioneer of modern family planning organizations, made statements that suggest that her motives were tainted with racism and elitism. She is quoted as saying, "More children from the fit; less from the unfit; that is the chief aim of birth control," and "birth control, to create a race of thoroughbreds." In the mind of this Irish American, the unfit members of society were the Blacks, Mexican- Americans, Jews, Indians, Spanish- and Italian-Americans, the poor, the illiterates, the handicapped, and the criminals. She advocated that all these should be eliminated by a massive sterilization program she herself described as "polite genocide" a dehumanizing program that Hitler's Nazi Germany later adopted. 7 The unpalatable early history of modern family planning has made many in the Third World suspect that the richer countries prefer promoting birth control to providing funds to combat hunger in the poorer nations. But whatever ulterior motives may have crept into family planning, the fact remains that prevailing social and economic realities world wide prove that the scheme is necessary.

"God will provide!" Opponents of family planning usually attempt to close the discussion with the short but pious clause "God will provide." Some quote texts like Psalm 37:25, in which David states that he never saw "the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread," and Matthew 6:27, 31-34, where Christ rebukes-those who are "anxious about tomorrow" (RSV).

I agree with David. I too have never seen the "righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." This is because a righteous person takes the Bible seriously and works hard to earn a living (Prov. 31:27; ICor. 4:12; IThess. 4:11, 12). According to Proverbs 20:4, it is the sluggard who begs for a living.

But in Matthew 6:27-34 Jesus was not encouraging His followers to spend their time in idleness. He was rebuking those who make riches or food their objects of preoccupation or indeed their gods (see also 1 Tim. 6:9, 10 and Phil. 3:19). That is why Jesus concluded His rebuke by say ing, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." So neither of the texts with which we started this section suggests that God is ready to do for us what we can do for ourselves. They do not, in any way, en courage people who know they cannot

1. "World's 5 Billionth Baby Born in Zagreb," National Concord (Nigeria), July 13, 1987, p. 12.

2. Winthrop P. Carty, "Sustainable Development, " New African, January 1989, p. 39.

3. Mitchell Beazley, Anatomy of the Earth (London: Mitchell Beazley Encyclopaedia Limited, 1980), p. 90.

4. Carty, p. 29.

5. Myron Widmer, "The Church on Abortion: Current Suggested Guidelines," Adventist Review, Sept. 25, 1986, pp. 14, 15. See also J. David Newman's editorial in this issue of Ministry.

6. Michael Golden, All Kinds of Family Planning (Ibadan, Nigeria: African Universities Press, 1981), p. 79.

7. Ibid.,pp. 79, 80.

8. Ibid.,p. 125.

9. "Getting Babies by Choice," Times International (Nigeria), May 27, 1985, p. 9.

10. Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1952), pp. 164, 165.

11. "Planned Parenthood," Family Health Guide and Medical Encyclopaedia (Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1970), p. 776.

12. Adetayo Ogunkoya, "Nigeria Just Must Fight Down Population Pressure," Sunday Times (Nigeria), Mar. 23, 1986, p. 5.

13. For more information on family planning and on methods of birth control, interested readers can call at a family planning center.

14. Ogunkoya.

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Luka Tambaya Daniel is the president of the Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

July 1990

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