Faith and Contraception

Larry Greenfield, Theologian in Residence for Protestants for the Common Good, shared the following words at a rally called “Speak Out for Birth Control” at the Chicago Temple on February 24, 2012.

Have you seen the commercial?—the one by an insurance company, no less—that ends with: “Responsibility. What’s your policy?”

That’s the question isn’t it?

The creators of the ad acknowledge that a large part of creating it had to do opinion research. Here’s what they said: “As we discovered in research, this is one very hot subject in America.” “[It is a] concept that demonstrates the infectious nature of doing the right thing.”

Responsibility. What’s your policy?

That’s what the American people are being asked today. And that’s what religious communities and people of faith are again asking, especially on issues like sexuality, and reproductive health, and, yes, contraception.

At the core of most of our many and varied religious traditions is that imperative: responsibility.

Oh yes, most of our religious traditions also have that concept of “be fruitful and multiply” in our sacred books. But very, very few treat that command as a justification for being irresponsible with the sacred gift of our sexuality.

No, no, the command to be fruitful and multiply doesn’t mean to have so many children that you can support and nurture them. No, no, the command doesn’t mean exploit your fertility so that women are harmed, or put in peril, or die. No, no, the command doesn’t mean that you ignore the spread of disease caused by unsafe sex. No, no the command doesn’t mean you don’t give a damn about the impact of unlimited population growth on society or on nature.

In fact, the command to be fruitful and multiply in virtually every religious tradition —even those that teach against contraception—acknowledge that sex isn’t just about procreation. Sex also has what is called, within the Roman Catholic tradition, a “unitive” function of bringing two people together for their full (not just sexual) human flourishing.

If all of that is the case, then “responsibility” must be built into how we think about sex, about all kinds of intimate relationships, and certainly about family-planning and child bearing.

And how could you possibly be responsible in all these areas without giving people —both women and men—the opportunity (not the requirement but, in their freedom —in their religious freedom, the opportunity) to make use of modern contraception?

Or put it negatively: is it responsible to oppose contraception, knowing that there will be thereby more abortions? More women who will suffer, be permanently impaired, more women who will die? More women who won’t be able to determine whether, and when to have children and how many? More family instability and family hardship? More vulnerable children? More sexual diseases and more deaths?

Most religious traditions today, and even more of their adherents, know that contraception is the responsible thing to do. They know that it is not just good personal and family morality and an informed social ethic to live by, they know that providing access to contraception at no cost for all women is essential for good personal and public health and, yes, that providing access to contraception is good public policy.

So if you consider yourself a person of faith, be responsible in your faith. Don’t keep quiet: speak out within your religious community, speak to your religious leaders, and speak with your political representatives.

And let me say a final word to my male colleagues: man up! Don’t let women, still, again wage this battle by themselves. Take responsibility. Make it your policy as a person of faith and as a citizen of our democracy.

Responsibility. What’s your, what’s our, policy.

Let’s all do the right thing.

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