Planning a family naturally

fertility chartFor how sex-obsessed our culture is, it's surprising how little we talk about the spiritual side effects of procreation and contraception. The way we view our bodies and the manner in which we approach sex are some of the most profound theological questions we face in our daily lives, and yet it doesn't seem to make it into mainstream media much. There are exceptions of course. Last week, Ruth Gledhill at the Times (U.K.) wrote about Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' view that gay relationships can be comparable to marriage. Part of his reasoning was the ubiquity and official acceptance of contraception:

In his 1989 essay The Body's Grace, Dr Williams argued that the Church's acceptance of contraception meant that it acknowledged the validity of nonprocreative sex. This could be taken as a green light for gay sex.

Yesterday, the Austin American-Statesman ran a provocative story on Protestants who use Natural Family Planning. The no-holds-barred account by Eileen Flynn provides a really interesting look at the spiritual appeal of avoiding artificial contraception:

Phaedra Taylor abstained from sex until marriage. But she began researching birth control methods before she was even engaged, and by the time she married David Taylor, she was already charting her fertility.

Taylor, a fresh-faced 28-year-old who would blend in easily with South Austin bohemians, ruled out taking birth control pills after reading a book that claimed the pill could, in some cases, make the uterus uninhabitable after conception occurred. She viewed that as abortion, which she opposes.

"I just wasn't willing to risk it," she said.

Taylor wanted her faith to guide her sexual and reproductive decisions after marriage. Natural family planning felt like the best way to honor God, she said.

The Taylors are one of several couples at Hope Chapel -- a nondenominational church where David Taylor, 36, was the arts minister for 12 years -- who practice natural family planning. Christian scholars say they may reflect a growing trend among non-Catholic Christians who are increasingly seeking out natural alternatives to artificial contraception.

Flynn speaks with a variety of people about NFP on the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae. She nicely characterizes the document's views on moral and natural laws and explains what NFP is. One of the things I liked is that she mentioned that NFP isn't just used by couples who are trying to space out pregnancy but also by couples who want to get pregnant. pill

The natural family planning movement among Protestants is difficult to quantify, but there appears to be growing interest, said the Rev. Amy Laura Hall, a Methodist minister and associate professor at Duke Divinity School. Because she's one of the few Protestant scholars writing about reproductive issues -- her latest book is called "Conceiving Parenthood" -- Hall frequently fields questions from Christians about family planning at conferences and by e-mail.

She said they ask questions like whether it's truly Christian to be preoccupied with finances and getting children into the right schools rather than welcoming children as gifts on loan from God -- even if they don't fit into the parents' ideal life plan.

The article explains precisely what spiritual objections people have to artificial birth control. It also includes criticism from Protestants who have moved away from NFP. Flynn also highlights some of the historic Protestant and Anglican antipathy toward NFP.

Usually NFP practitioners are mocked or marginalized. The American-Statesman account, however, is solid and interesting and treats its subjects as thoughtful individuals seeking to obey God and honor their spouses. Good work.

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