Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Baptists and birth control

Have any of you read this article by Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary?

Even though it's actually six years old (but was reposted two days ago), it is receiving a fair amount of attention from Catholics, who have perhaps never seen it before.

The article is really quite timely--in spite of its original 2006 date stamp--because the Catholic Church is presently facing an awkward show-down of sorts with the federal government over this whole HHS mandate business.  It makes for an interesting scenario when, all of a sudden, Protestant leaders are talking about Catholic teachings and, gasp, pledging their support.

While I don't agree with Mohler's piece entirely (his characterization of Catholic belief as being rooted only in natural law, and not being "deeply Biblical"--as if they are mutually exclusive--is a completely tired and untrue stereotype, for example), I think the guy makes some excellent points. 

It's refreshing to see an Evangelical quoting Humanae Vitae and acknowledging what Catholics have quietly held to be true for the past two millenia.  His words are certainly reaching a demographic comprised of people unlikely to read a papal encyclical on their own, and who would not look to Catholic moral law for answers to their questions in a million years.

Which reminds me of my own story.  Because it was precisely this issue that led us to the Church.  We, though not Baptist, were some of the very people Al Mohler was talking about in 2006.  Who'd begun to question the widespread use of birth control, and the morality of a Christian culture that says there's no ethical problem with abortifacients, or with elective surgery to "fix" the bodies God gave us and called goodWho'd stumbled upon the concept of natural law and this idea that human sexuality, from God's perspective, must surely be about more than mere pleasure between spouses.

That's why I sat down at my computer one afternoon and punched in some search terms, in hopes of discovering what the Catholic Church taught in this area. 

I didn't want to be Catholic. 

I didn't know any Catholics.

I didn't think the Catholic Church had the answers. 

I honestly didn't care.  I was simply curious about why they were the only institution on the planet still morally opposed to contraception.

But thanks to Google, Blessed John Paul II, and Scott and Kimberly Hahn, I stepped on a virtual and highly inconvenient landmine.

And, now here we are.  Eucharist-receiving, Confession-going, Mary-loving, Rosary-praying, non-contracepting Catholics.

I couldn't be more grateful for Christ's Church, in part because of her teachings and guidance in areas of morality and truth.

And Mohler's words ring true, without a doubt.  Even as they also slightly miss the mark. 

When he decisively distances himself from Catholic thought by saying Evangelicals need to "think for themselves" and "reason from Scripture", he's lost the battle--because the Bible taken at face value does NOT overtly prohibit contraception. 

When he says Evangelicals must reject a "contraceptive mentality"--boldly calling it "an insidious attack upon God's glory in creation"--he is taking a page straight out of the Catholic moral theology handbook. But when he then also says that these principles need not apply to every sexual act, he sets the handbook down and parts company with the very Catholic tradition from which he was just borrowing. This arbitrary picking and choosing of which Catholic principles to accept--and which to reject--necessarily stakes his argument on a less-than-firm foundation.

But overall, he raises good questions, points out the important relationship between contraception and abortion, and explores a touchy subject in front of a potentially skeptical and/or hostile audience.  For that, I commend him.  This sort of honesty and reflection is not easy in a subculture for which contraception is the norm.  And I'm glad that, even if he cannot completely accept the Catholic position on marriage, he is willing to grant that we're right about a few things--and highlight them to his Evangelical readership.  

I actually really wish I'd read this article when it was originally published in 2006!  I have a feeling it would have accelerated our conversion process and clarified our thinking.  And it makes me excited because I'm hopeful that others, who are having second thoughts about the matter just like we did, might find themselves investigating the claims of Rome.  As the result of reading Al Mohler's words.  Or at the very least, embracing a fuller, more complete vision of the Sacrament of Marriage.  Ironic?  Yes.  But truth is truth, and for those sincerely seeking to understand God's heart on this issue--whether Protestant or Catholic or agnostic or anything else--this article will both spark some questions and offer some answers.  It may be unsettling, even repugnant to some, but it rings trueAnd you can be sure that when something has the ring of truth, it will find minds to captivate and hearts to change.

For this is what experience has taught me.  It was painfully humbling to acknowledge that I'd been missing something my entire church-going, Jesus-following life.  It wasn't easy swallowing my pride and going to confession, or admitting that I had some things wrong.  But it was worth it.  I am grateful for each and every apologist and Pope I read, for each and every online conversion account I pored over, and for all of the dear Catholic men, women and children--and the priest--who welcomed us into their lives when we "just showed up" to their parish last August.  God used all of these people to stir our hearts and bring us into the fullness of the faith. 

And, I suspect He's using Southern Baptist Albert Mohler too. 


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