Using Religion Against Contraception: Part 2

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.

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  • pjean

    I’ve always been what is known these days as a
    progressive christian. While a lot of other folks might not label themselves with such a dangerous tag as “progressive”, every woman I know has used
    contraception. After all, you don’t see too many 12-child families walking around, do you?
    Yet, because of a pack of loud-mouthed (but politically savvy) loonies, our right to use contraception as we wish is being trampled on.
    When will the rest of us stand up and make as much noise about OUR rights—when they have all been taken away?

  • tyler-lepard

    pjean, you make a great point. As progressives, we need to stand up for our rights too. Thanks for speaking up. I appreciate your comment.

  • corysold

    Tyler, your claim that the birth control pill does not cause abortion is simply wrong. In fact, studies have shown that the average user will have 1 abortion for every year they are on the pill. It works like this. The pill makes the lining of the uterus very unlikely to allow the embryo to implant. When the egg is fertilized, it will start to divide in 24 hours. Now, it is no longer a fertilized egg, but a developing embryo. Typically, the embryo will implant with 7-10 of fertilization. However, the pill makes this nearly impossible by not allowing the uterine lining to fully develop. So, you then have a developing embryo that is destroyed, which, by any definition, is an abortion. Your misuse of facts is very damaging to your argument. If this simple fact, that can be obtained by the smallest bit of research is wrong, what does that say for the remainder of your article? We all have opinions, and I appreciate that you, as I do, use your right to express your opinion. I simply ask that you make sure your opinion is backed by fact.

  • corysold

    I would be anxious to hear your definition of a progessive Christian. Christ laid out the truth 2000 years ago during His life. Now, if you do not agree with what He said, that is your decision. However, to call yourself Christian and then to avoid all of the teachings that you don’t believe is simply blasphemy. You don’t get to pick and choose which of His teachings you want to follow. Just because you and society has deemed contraception ok, does not mean that it is so. We do not get to decide what is good and what is evil, He does. We simply have a decision whether or not to follow Him. You are on the right path by understading that Christ is the truth. I encourage you to look deeper into His teachings and not dismiss the ones that you just don’t agree with. Nobody said it would be easy and there wouldn’t be sacrifices, but that is what being a true Christian is about. God Bless, I hope you rediscover the truth of Christ, not what you have been fed by people who think they know more than He does.

  • niv

    Speaking of fact backed up by opinion, what “studies” back up your claims? I would be very interested in reading the sources you claim back up your information. If your gonna dish it out, make sure your own information holds up. Here’s a report by a nonpartisan, nonprofit that says that contraception prevents ovulation but doesn’t cause abortion:

    Now where’s your proof it does?

  • corysold

    That study you site if discussing emergency contraception. That isn’t what I am talking about. The birth control pill works in two ways. One, the pill usually prevents ovulation in women, meaning they cannot get pregnant. However, there is occasional breakthrough ovualtion, especially when the pill isn’t taken 100% correctly. In this case, the pill also makes the lining of the uterus inhospitable for a human embryo, thereby not allowing it to implant. So, you have an embryo that is not allowed to implant and therefore dies. Again, by any definition, a destroyed embryo is called an abortion. This is how the pill works, this isn’t a study to see if it is how it works, those are the facts of the pill.

    This next section is directly from discussing birth control.

    What Is It?
    The birth control pill (also called “the Pill”) is a daily pill that contains the hormones estrogen and progesterone that prevent pregnancy. Hormones are chemical substances that control the functioning of the organs of the body. In this case, the hormones in the Pill control the ovaries and the uterus.

    How Does It Work?
    Most birth control pills are “combination pills” containing a combination of the hormones estrogen and progesterone to prevent ovulation (the release of an egg during the monthly cycle). A woman cannot get pregnant if she doesn’t ovulate because there is no egg to be fertilized. The Pill also works by thickening the mucus around the cervix, which makes it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus and reach any eggs that may have been released. The hormones in the Pill can also sometimes affect the lining of the uterus, making it difficult for an egg to attach to the wall of the uterus.

    Check out the following link, it discusses human conception.

    This link will show you how human conception works, and that it is not an egg that attaches to the wall, but a zygote, which then becomes an embryo as soon as it attaches. Don’t let the name zygote confuse you, it is a developing person, that with time, would form into a person just like you and I. Not allowing this to happen, is called a abortion, ergo, the birth control pill can cause abortion.

  • tyler-lepard

    Corysold, perhaps you did not notice the links in my post that use evidence-based information to explain that contraception is not abortion. For multiple studies and resources on this, please see our Fact v. Fiction page:


    Implantation is the critical first step in pregnancy, and is recognized by scientific organizations like National Institutes of Health (NIH), American College of Gynecologist (ACOG), American Medical Association (AMA), British Medical Association (BMA) and others as the scientific definition for the beginning of a pregnancy. Therefore, the prevention of implantation comes before the start of a pregnancy and cannot be considered an abortion.

    It may also be helpful to note that emergency contraception is just a stronger dose of oral contraception – so studies that show EC is not an abortifacient are also applicable to birth control pills.


    I'm glad that you, Mernlar, and Niv are having a good discussion on these issues… though I think Niv & Mernlar are making excellent points that highlight your illogical approach as based on faith and not science.

  • ian

    Hi Cory,

    This website already features an answer to your claim here. Check it out:

    The general medical consensus on this issue is that a pregnancy does not begin until after implantation of the zygote. Your claims are theoretical, and any attempt to actually prove them would require destroying a zygote because its existence could only be determined by surgically searching for it and removing it. Estimations are made about the possibility of a zygote failing to implant because of hormonal contraception, but it is medically unknowable.

  • corysold

    Frankly, the fact that such a medical community would state that a pregancy does not begin until implantation is midguided. So, what exactly is happening as the fertilized egg begins to divide days prior to implanting. Does none of this matter for anything, it simply does it for fun? The facts are, if that zygote has an opportunity to implant, it will evetually form a human being, barring early termination. Because of that, a pregnancy begins at conception. While your use of medical research is indeed extensive, lets not put so much stock into what is being said and use some common sense. Remember, the scientific community once thought the world was flat and the medical community once advised on full lobotomies for pyschological issues. Use a little common sense instead of being force fed information. The truth is the truth, that can never be changed.

  • mernlar

    When you put it in those terms, you’re still wrong. If medical science derived from years of experimentation and observation aren’t enough to convince you, then we really just have to agree to disagree. The nice thing about science is that, unlike your world-is-flat dogmatism, it is adaptive to new information.

    Long, long ago, Copernicus hypothesized that earth may revolve around the sun. He was imprisoned by who? Oh, right, religious dogmatists who refused to accept science. Then Galileo proved the Copernican theory through observation–and what happened? Those dad-gummed religious dogmatists again! He was forced to renounce his discoveries in order to save his own life. It took an ambitious explorer and a few good boats to prove that the earth was round and show those–who was it again? oh yes–religious dogmatists the truth of the round-earth hypothesis.

    Because I believe in science, I believe that it’s possible that the ideas that I am arguing to support may someday be overturned by better research. I understand that because science represents a constantly evolving body of knowledge based on hypothesis-testing, observation, and replication of results, that the knowledge that I today possess may someday be proven incorrect. But I am not willing to fly in the face of the best available evidence because of a baseless assertion that “the truth is the truth”.

    This aligns very nicely with my faith, which values education, inquiry, and investigation above all else and which finds a faith that rests stagnantly in the knowledge that it is right to be no faith at all. The truth is as immutable as it is unknowable, and I would not have the temerity to assert that I have discerned it. Just the same, I would never try to say that I have stopped looking.

  • corysold

    This guy is a Dr. of Human Embryology. He agrees with me. Maybe I am not so crazy.

  • pastor-kate

    Corysold, I find it interesting that you accuse others of being selective in following the teachings of Jesus while you are doing so yourself. It’s obvious from the written records we have that Jesus addressed issues of sexuality and procreation very seldom. But many, many times he talked about treatment of the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, the sick, the imprisoned. There seems to be a glaring lack, in all this discussion of contraception, of concern for those most impacted by the lack of it: the poor. The nutrition and health issues that are a result of over-population are appalling. Those of us who came of age in the 60s and 70s were instilled with a sense of responsibility to be good stewards of all God’s gifts. Besides caring for the environment, that includes trying to help alleviate the terrible burden of individuals and families who could not adequately care for a multitude of children. The old ideal of Zero Population Growth fits very well with Jesus’ primary command to love our neighbors. Contraception can be seen as one of God’s gifts when used responsibly for the good of families and communities.

  • corysold

    I don’t understand all of this talk about overpopulation. The US has a population ratio of 31 people per square kilometer, well below the World ratio of 48. In addition, many of the world issues of hunger and disease have nothing to do with overpopulation. They have to do politics. There are plenty of resources to go around if we allowed that to happen, unfortunately we don’t and that is a problem. Overpopulation is not the issue. Further, as I am sure you know, no where in scripture does it state that a family must have as many children as possible. Many churches, the Catholic Church included, allow for spacing of births and to limit children as long as there are just reasons to do so. This would include financial burden, psychological burden, etc. So anyone who is blaming a church or a church teacing for there large family they can’t support needs to learn what the church really teaches.

    Further, where in my comments do I say that I am against caring for the poor? I am against contraception in any form. I do not suggest that everyone must have children, however, to kill them while in the womb even worse. There are natural forms of family planning and control that are just as, and in some cases, more effective than contraception. In fact, in India, Mother Theresa taught these methods to the poorest of the poor who couldn’t afford contraception and had a success rate of over 98% in preventing pregnancy, again, equivalent to any form of contraception. As I said, this was done amongst the poorest of the poor in India who face many issues beyond contraception. If anything, if you wanted to help the poor so bad, you would teach them these free methods of family planning that work so well, not force them to continue to purchase contraception they can’t afford.

    Also, if you wanted to be such a great steward of God’s gift, you would number one, not allow for the destruction of growing children in utereo and you would not advise pumping hormones into every woman in order to control her fertility. I am sure you are well aware of the many side effects of some forms of contraception. Why these are promoted when there is a side effect free, free of cost and enlightening method of birth control available is beyond me.
    So before you accuse me of being against the poor, the orphaned, the widowed and the sick, maybe you should take a deep look at what you are promoting and see if maybe you aren’t the one that is off base.

  • pjean

    Corysold, I have studied many versions of scriptures, including in original languages. I do not believe that every word is the word of
    God. Men who write things down are just too fallible. I haven’t been “fed” anything by anybody. I study and make up my own mind (the one that the Creator was kind enough to bless me with).
    Why don’t you point out to me what Christ said about abortion or contraception? These things existed in those times just as they do now. He certainly could have spoken on those issues if He believed they were important.
    Furthermore, this is the USA. I’m free to NOT believe what you believe, and that is one thing you fundies just don’t seem to understand.

  • corysold

    There are plenty of teaching in the bible regarding abortion. Alhtough the word is not used, the ideas are the same. The Bible teaches us to protect the innocent, to spare innocent lives, to spread love, to protect those and cherish those who can’t protect themselves. It further discusses the connection that God has to every child created in the womb. To me, this all speaks of abortion and the killing of unborn children, but you are free to view it as you like. Take a look here to see them. Also, I have never once said that you must believe what I believe. I am simply trying to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and His teachings. You are free to accept them or not. Nowhere have I said you must, that is not in my power, nor would I want to force you to believe something you do not. However, I feel the need to speak my beliefs just as you do. The day of judgement will come from all and only then will we all learn the truth. I am not God, I do not make the judgements, but it is my duty to spread His word, and that is what I am doing.