Should churches educate their singles on how to use contraception?

Jenell Paris thinks so. In an opinion piece at Christianity Today called “Both Chastity and Contraception: A Sacred Compromise” (responding to this article), she recommends that churches “uphold premarital chastity as the biblical ideal, and encourage and educate unmarried singles about the effective use of contraception.” In other words, we ought to “educate” unmarried singles about contraceptives without “affirming” their use.

Paris admits this sounds like a compromise, but apparently “abstinence absolutism” hasn’t worked out so well. To reduce abortion and unwanted pregnancies among young evangelicals, we ought to at least consider encouraging contraception. She writes:

Advocating contraception for unmarried churchgoers certainly is a compromise, but consider what that really means. Com- means with, and promise means to agree, or to make a pact. To compromise is to work toward agreement or commitment with another. Like compassion, community, or companion, com- is about being in relationship with others. Unipromise isn’t even a word; without compromise, you’re just alone, speaking your ideal into thin air. It’s fine to have ideals, and to proclaim them with perfect phrases in perfectly planned church services. Contemplating perfection is a holy exercise that lifts our aspirations. Lived experience, however, is far from perfect; when I consider ideal parenting, ideal marriage, or ideal teaching, my life pales in comparison. I count on my gracious children, husband, and students to make daily compromises—as I do for them—as part of healthy relationships in the real world.

So, it’s a compromise. But compromise isn’t that bad, is it?

Actually, this line of thinking is far worse. The idea of “both chastity and contraception” is not a “sacred compromise.” It is a scandalous capitulation to the unfettered sexual mores of 21st century American society.

This idea does not maintain the “ideal” of chastity in singleness alongside the “compromise” of contraception. Instead, it devalues the struggle to remain chaste while legitimizing sexual expression among Christian singles as something unavoidable. It trades the sumptuous feast of covenanted sexual expression for a mess of pragmatic pottage.

Let’s apply this line of reasoning to other illicit sexual activity. Imagine that survey results come in showing that one in four evangelical men admit to having extramarital flings. Young evangelicals perplexed by this state of affairs (no pun intended) gather to discuss an appropriate response:

Well, centuries of absolutism regarding marital fidelity sure haven’t stopped men from cheating on their wives! It’s a shame some of these affairs produce unwanted children. It’s also devastating when the wife and kids find out about dad’s indiscretion. We don’t want anyone plagued with guilt and shame, now do we?

Here’s an idea! Let’s maintain the ideal of marital faithfulness while offering some information to these husbands about how to do their side business a little more discreetly. Let’s educate these men (not affirm them, mind you) on using contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Let’s encourage them (not push them, of course!) to learn new ways to maximize the moments with their mistresses without causing pain and heartache for the family. 

The sense of revulsion you feel when reading this imaginary scenario is probably rooted in your God-given, biblically informed, gospel-sanctified idealism regarding the exclusive nature of the marriage bed. And as Christians who believe in the good gift of sexual expression within the beautiful confines of the marriage covenant, we ought to be repulsed by any proposal that cheapens, threatens, or denigrates that ideal.

Encouraging contraception among Christian singles is one such proposal. Surprisingly, Paris wants to ground her argument in the gospel:

After all, “just saying no” to premarital sex, important as it is, is not the heart of the gospel. The heart of the matter is saying yes to God. Maybe we often rely on shame and fear because it’s hard to believe that people would say no to something as tantalizing as sexual pleasure if they didn’t stand to lose something extremely valuable such as honor, the affection of family and church, or even eternal life. If people knew they were loved, no matter what, and that God and God’s people would have their backs even if their own sin is the cause of their troubles, wouldn’t they just sin freely because grace abounds? Perhaps some would, but even then, love can be a kindness that leads to repentance. Others may find the real reason to reject immorality: not for fear of shame, disgrace, or hell, but for love of the right and the good. Right loving—full of compromise, compassion, and companionship—is the best encouragement for right living.

But just change out the sin to see how gospel-denying this argument really is:

After all, “just saying no” to adultery, important as it is, is not the heart of the gospel. The heart of the matter is saying yes to God. Maybe we often rely on shame and fear because it’s hard to believe that people would say no to something as tantalizing as adultery if they didn’t stand to lose something extremely valuable such as honor, the affection of family and church, or even eternal life.

I am flabbergasted that evangelicalism has come to the place where such a scandalous capitulation to a sexualized culture could be considered a “sacred compromise.” Apparently, once you’ve winked at sin enough times, you can no longer see straight. Matthew Lee Anderson is right:

Contraception as a pragmatic concession actually contributes to the conditions where Christians can sin without consequences for themselves or their community… It is well known, or at least frequently stated, that evangelicalism’s public witness has been frequently undermined by our lack of integrity and our hypocrisy, especially on sexual issues. I fail to see how more contraception for our unmarrieds will do anything except deepen such a culture of hypocrisy by making it more comfortable and convenient to sin sexually while remaining in unbroken communion in our churches.

Are evangelicals hypocritical when it comes to premarital sex? Absolutely. We’re hypocritical in all sorts of ways. Every one of us is guilty of sexual sin. But Christianity hinges on repentance. We agree with God about our sin, and we turn from it and turn toward Jesus.

Telling singles they ought to turn toward Jesus and contraception is an implicit denial that repentance is integral to the Christian life. It’s like Jesus telling the woman caught in adultery: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin some more.

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Comments:


16 thoughts on “Both Chastity and Contraception: A Scandalous Capitulation”

  1. Arthur Sido says:

    Not at all surprised by this. Since the church by and large raises its children with little to distinguish our methods from the world other than a couple of hours of religious ritualism, why would we expect anything different?

  2. Brian Roden says:

    Paris commits an etymological fallacy with her re-definition of compromise. While “compromise” has Latin roots that could be taken to mean what she proposes (the Spanish “compromiso” translates to “commitment” in English — something I have had to correct some bilingual young people on when they are interpreting at church, as their natural tendency is to use the English word that appears most like the Spanish word), the current usage in English doesn’t reflect commitment so much as giving in some on one’s principles while negotiating with someone else to achieve a common goal.

    The problem is, contraception only deals with the physical — and actually less costly — consequences of improper sexual activity. It does nothing about the emotional and spiritual consequences of participating in sexual union without having the commitmentcompromiso — of marriage. The loss of self-esteem, the feeling of being used for another’s temporal pleasure, the loss of part of one’s identity when the relationship ends (since you become one at an emotional/spiritual level, when the other person is gone, you feel like part of your being has been ripped out).

    We don’t need compromise — we need more commitment.

    1. Pamel Jamrozy-Muse says:

      Commitment is the key, but also conversation. I remember many frank and candid talks my mother had with me about dating, sex, and dating behaviors and strategies. She honestly shared her mistakes and regrets and gave the knowledge that the Lord then turned into wisdom. At age 13, I began praying for the Lords will in my future marriage, and sexual protection, that I would remain pure. At 16 I realized sex is progressive, so made a commitment/vow between me and the Lord, that the only man I would kiss would be my fiance. Wow, I was 39 when I got married, and my first kiss was AWFUL, but with practice my husband( who would not kiss me until we were married) and I have improved on the kissing.
      Was the waiting hard, YES!!! Was it worth it, oh YES!! Did we cheat? We “snuggled” on a couch after engaged, but we made a promise to each other and also the Lord, and He gave us the enabling to keep it. To have done less would have been a “slap in the Lord’s face”, after His goodness and mercy in bringing a 39 yr. old lady and 48 yr. old man, who were sweethearts in college back together after 20 years of waiting. Waiting is worth it, but it is a warfare on your will.

  3. I certainly agree with the concerns that Matt and this author have about encouraging use of contraception (see the Books and Culture piece linked from my name), BUT I think we also need to take seriously the inadvertent consequences of how we preach obedience. Something is wrong when people would rather get the abortion that may run counter to their conscience than bring an out-of-wedlock pregnancy to the church. If you don’t think we have a responsibility in that, consider the case recently reported in Texas, where a pregnant teacher was allegedly fired by a Christian school because she wasn’t yet married to the father. In light of the consequences, her choice to carry that baby is fairly courageous. Unfortunately, her courage is unlikely to prompt a similar course in the youths who saw what happened when she refused to hide her relationship with her fiance. They will see that and get the message sin and falling short is best kept hidden and secret. We have got to figure out how to both hold out for obedience to God AND grace for when we fall short. The “and” there is vital, yet it’s usually what’s missing in our responses to challenges like this.

  4. MarieP says:

    I posted this on the CT article:

    As an unmarried Christian woman, I find this not only morally offensive but highly insulting. It’s akin to a church including in their marriage counseling a lesson on how to divorce your spouse. Please do not think so lightly of the grace of God in my life that you assume I have to give in. Please do not fear my face, but tell me about fidelity to Christ, the necessity of repentance and faith, and that Christ is the One who completes me. True Christians listen to the Word of God. Yes, they sin. I sin. Sometimes I receive counsel I don’t particularly want to hear. But the church is never about you or me- it’s about Christ and His Kingdom and righteousness. The Gospel doesn’t say, “I’m forgiven so I can live however I want.” The Gospel says, “The blood of Jesus not only forgives and cleanses me, but by it Christ has bought me!” Do not insult our Savior by treating His bride like she’s not.

  5. Rick Lowhorn says:

    Wow. Sometimes i think people write just to use words instead of using words to write. Paris may be loosing on the later.

  6. Hank says:

    I remember my Sunday School teacher taking me to lunch to discuss Sex. She knew I was engaged and soon to be married. You can’t wait until your wedding night to think about contraception. Having knowledge isn’t the same as acting on the knowledge.

  7. Bella says:

    Hi.

    Thank you for a MOST EXCELLENT article! While I am deeply saddened to read that many believers have strayed so far from the truth, I particularly appreciated the approach employed in using these simple words,Let’s apply this line of reasoning…

    Lately some of the rational from Christian circles being put forth is so puzzling as to boggle the mind!

    As for your original question, Should churches educate their singles on how to use contraception?

    I think not and for a number of reasons.

    1. I know of no government funded schools where the use of contraception is NOT being taught.

    2. In cases where that may be true, it is the responsibility of parents (be the conversation ever so uncomfortable) to provide the information.

    3. Absent the two, there is simply too much information available (in all forms) for there to be the need for yet someone else (besides the single) to take on the responsibility!

    My belief is not that Christian singles should be kept in ignorance but that there are NO GROUNDS for ignorance when the information is so readily obtained!

    In closing, the truth is that for some

    but apparently “abstinence absolutism” hasn’t worked out so well

    this has not been the case… And not by any power of their own but by believing that the very One who has called us (all) to a life of uncompromise is able to empower us to live it!

    Until love of God (as lived out through our obedience) is allowed to take root in our hearts, many will continue to navigate the slippery slope and miss out on the peace of being santified (set apart).

    And how sad that will be. :’(

  8. Stan Engeles says:

    It is sad that we are even having this discussion within the Christian church.

  9. Kim says:

    Public education in North America has been teaching students about contraception for years. Some schools even provide it. As far as I am aware, the knowledge about contraception has not prevented teenage pregnancy or abortions. Information does not necessarily foster obedience. I am probably not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but isn’t the “abstinence absolutism” a biblical mandate? Is the Scripture silent on how God feels about sex outside of marriage? I’d be curious to know what age segment the education about birth control education is directed. If it is singles over 18, I’m pretty certain most of them know about it already. Something that makes preventing sex before marriage more of an issue is the relatively late age of marriage. When couples are in their late twenties before they get married, it’s a long wait.

  10. Bill says:

    Some churches are drifting toward a similar way of thinking when it comes to practicing homosexuality. They would say that we can simultaneously hold up heterosexual monogamy as the ideal, but face up to the fact that many people find fulfillment in practicing a homosexual lifestyle. As the thinking goes we should accept homosexual practice as a fact, figure out how to help those who experience same sex attraction understand that God loves them anyway, and teach about being faithful to their significant other.

  11. Chris says:

    It’s difficult stuff to read. Why is it that this lady felt it appropriate to look to pragmatism to ground arguments in relation to the practice of the church? Isn’t what God has said enough? ‘Abstinence absolutism’ is the method prescribed by the Creator.

    If teaching plainly in the churches that any form of extra-marital sex is wrong sounds extreme to some, then we need only look to the cross to see how ‘extreme’ God is when it comes to sin.

  12. Dona says:

    How about we teach Christians what the Bible says and hold them accountable instead of teaching them how to sin? For shame!!!! Many in the Church are taking the Lord’s name in vain by professing to be Christians.

  13. Marie says:

    There is more than one sin at issue here: one is the sexual sin, and another is putting another person at risk – of pregnancy, of STDs, etc. And while it’s true that chastity would address both sins, it’s not true that they are the same thing. I live in a country with such a high Aids rate (and unfaithfulness rate – go figure) that condoms are presented by government as a normal part of sex, even between married couples. So in my country, someone in an adulterous relationship could be sinning BOTH by not being faithful AND by risking the lives of themselves, their spouse and their adulterous partner. Likewise with premarital sex. I see nothing wrong with the church being willing to talk about both issues. “Talk about” does not equal “condone”.

  14. brian says:

    “It trades the sumptuous feast of covenanted sexual expression for a mess of pragmatic pottage.”

    As a Catholic, I don’t get too many openings to share about the problem with contraception, EVEN in marriage. And you’ve given me an opening by mentioning “covenanted sexual expression,” so I’ll try to keep this to a snippet so as not to ramble on. Here goes…

    Jesus and his bride, the Church, is the model for marriage. What’s the greatest gift one spouse can give another? A ring? A happy home? No, the greatest gift one spouse can give another is their very self, wholly, completely, reserving nothing. Jesus gives ALL of himself to his Church. His love is ALWAYS life-giving. My wife and I become one in marriage, not figuratively, but in reality. The love between us is life-giving, and allows us to join in the procreative nature of God. All of this is quite covenantal. Contraception is a withholding of something of one’s self. It’s saying to your spouse, you can have all of me, except…

    A contract is an exchange of goods and property, but a covenant is an exchange of persons. By definition covenanted sexual expression cannot be contracepted, because contraception impedes, and prevents, from its being covenantal.

    Lastly, we also see in this the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. What’s the best gift Jesus can give us? A symbol of himself (communion)? Or, perhaps, his very self; his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.

  15. Sam says:

    Well said, and thank you for writing. I think this HHS mandate will wake two sleeping giants – Catholicism and evangelicalism. Glad to see more and more writers tackling it.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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