Editor's note: Some of the links in this post are audio clips; click on them to listen to Allan Carlson in a new window.
Welcome back to RH Reality Check's series about the emerging war on contraception. In this episode, I will analyze Allan Carlson's presentation on "The Emptied Quiver: The Protestant Embrace of Contraception." As the daughter of two Lutheran ministers, I found Carlson's narrow take on Christianity, Martin Luther and the burden of families on clergy particularly interesting. His anti-feminist lecture examined Protestant roots against contraception and celibacy and their departure from that position, ending with an appeal for Protestants to return to their original opinion.
Similar to Rev. Euteneuer, Carlson used religion as his main argument against contraception. But instead of a focus on Catholicism, he addressed Protestant ideals and dilemmas. Carlson was born Lutheran and wants to open debate about contraception between Catholics and Protestants. According to him, Martin Luther was wrong to think life-long celibacy was not possible – just look at priests (well, not all priests, but he didn't mention that). Apparently, Luther also opposed contraception (including withdrawal) because marriage and procreation are divinely ordained. People like Luther are who Monty Python lampooned with their song "Every Sperm is Sacred." However, the Protestant stance on contraception changed over time.
The Achilles Heel of Protestantism, according to Carlson, is "the informal institution of the pastor's family" because it places a great burden on clergymen to serve as examples of model and fruitful homes. Speaking from experience, I have to acknowledge that my mom's job as a pastor keeps her extremely busy tending to her flock and spreading the Word. But she always made time for my brother and me, creating a healthy balance between work and home. I also know that she would never give up her family. If Protestant ministers were forced to choose between their jobs and having families, I think there would be a lot of "Wanted" signs hanging in church windows, just as the Catholic Church often laments a shortage of men going into the priesthood.
Carlson also calls the ordination of women (which he blames on feminist power) "a nearly fatal blow to that informal Protestant institution of the pastor's wife." His reasoning? The change in gender roles added the stress of being model mothers "with full quivers of children" to being a good spiritual leader. To me, it doesn't seem like such a stretch. Don't some people consider mothers saints anyway? Caring for a congregation seems like an extension of family – mothers would be perfect for that job. Mine is, anyway. I've always been proud of my mom for being a strong leader in the community, as well as a great parent.
Let's step back and examine the goal of Catholics reaching out to Protestants to encourage them to return to their roots of opposing contraception and embracing procreation. I pointed out in my previous post that the majority of Catholics don't oppose contraception in the first place. In addition, Carlson uses misinformation that contraception is abortion, which is untrue. But moving past that, Protestants are a large and diverse group with varying beliefs and cultural practices. My mother gets upset when "Christians" are all lumped together in the same category and are assumed to push a conservative agenda. "Christians" include Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, and many more – all of whom have different values and traditions. Not to mention the huge variation within each of those denominations.
Some Christian groups tend to be more conservative on certain issues than others, but there is also a thriving social justice movement in many denominations. Look at the movement to shut down the School of the Americas; many of the people who get arrested during peaceful protests at Fort Benning are priests and nuns. Other examples are the efforts by religious groups to end poverty, rebuild communities struck by disasters, and improve global health. Even on the largely divisive issues, such as abortion and homosexuality, there are groups on both sides within most religious communities.
Christians are not against contraception (or abortion). That label encompasses too much variety and too many different people to take a definite position on one issue or another. This small extremist group of Christians may be against contraception, but they do not speak for the rest of us.