Nov 5, 2007

Children are a blessing

Edgar, Edymar and Mariel"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,the fruit of the womb a reward."Psalm 127:3

Edymar Mariangel Brito, the first child of Edgar and Mariel Brito was born October 16, 2007, and baptized at Corpus Christi Lutheran Church in Barinas, October 28, 2007.

It was my privilege to hold the basin of water while Edgar baptized his daughter. I wore a white alb and around my neck the pewter cross that the members of my home Bible study group at Michael's Lutheran Church gave me before I left for Venezuela. I did not do much but stand there, but I was dressed for the part.

The parents very much wanted this baby. Mariel had been pregnant twice before, but had suffered a miscarriage both times.

I thought of the rejoicing over Edymar's birth October 23 when a Reuters article appeared in the international press. It quoted Alberto Stella, a United Nations official, as blaming the Roman Catholic Church's stand on birth control for the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout Latin America.

According to the Reuters article, some 1.7 million people across Latin America are infected with the HIV virus. There were perhaps 410,000 new cases in 2006.

Stella told Reuters that condom use "has been demonized" (presumably by the Roman Catholic Church) and that "evidence shows" that abstinance-based sex education "isn't working".

Where to begin? First of all, to make generalizations about a Latin American country like Venezuela based on the assumption that "everyone there is Catholic" is profoundly misguided. As in most parts of the world, the "official" religion does not always play an important role in most people's day-to-day decisions.

Let me be blunt about this: You can walk into almost any pharmacy and many supermarkets in Venezuela and pick up condoms right off the rack. No questions are asked, and actually, it probably would not be that hard to slip out of the store without paying for the product. No one here is having "unprotected sex" because the Roman Catholic or any other church is preventing the distribution and sale of condoms.

Abortion still is illegal in Venezuela except in cases where birthing the baby definitely would endanger the life of the mother. Illegal abortions are performed, but the threat of a two-year prison term does appear to discourage the practice.

Luz Maria and Sunday school children

Luz MarĂ­a grew up with four brothers and two sisters (one brother died at 21 years of age, the rest survive). Back at that time it was not unusual for there to be as many as 10 children in a household. Now the norm is about four to six children per family, much as it was in the Midwestern United States when I was a boy.

In other words, the decline in the birth rate over the last two generations in Venezuela is consistent with the gradual adoption of non-abortifacient birth control without abortion as a backup plan, as was the case throughout the United States from the end of the post-World War II "baby boom" until 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand.

Which brings me to the second point, that opposition to abortion is not an exclusively Roman Catholic position. Actually, neither is opposition to birth control. Until the middle of the 20th Century, there was no difference between Catholic and Protestant teaching in regard to birth control. The great Anglican author and scholar, C.S. Lewis, considered birth control a sin and made that a plot point in his novel, "That Hideous Strength".

I have copy of "If God Be For Us", a collections of essays by Dr. Walter Maier, the original "Lutheran Hour" speaker. In one essay he inveighs against the evil of contraception. Also, there is an academic study by Alan Graebner, available for purchase on-line, using the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod as a case study of how and why one Protestant denomination changed its stand on birth control.

Sunday school childrenThere is much room for discussion here, but I want to move on to my next point: Today conservative Protestants and Roman Catholics differ on the extent to which "family planning" methods should be used by married couples. There is no disagreement on abortion and the immorality of sexual relations outside of marriage.

It is sexual promiscuity that kills, not abstinence. There is indeed an increase in the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, but this has more to do with the breakdown of family relationships and increased opportunities for casual sex due to rapid urbanization more than a shortage of condoms. Then there is the fact that world's two greatest multinational evangelistic organizations, the entertainment and advertising industries, are quite active in Venezuela, peddling dreams of sexual pleasure without responsibility.

The question is not whether solutions which emphasize abstinence from sex outside of marriage will work, but rather whether any other approach will. Why are allegedly educated people blind to this?

Well, as I learned many years ago in the bio-ethics course I took in college, there are three presuppositional models that tend to color people's thinking about world population growth, hunger and poverty. Let's examine them in light of these Scriptural principles:

  1. God ordained marriage for companionship, procreation and a safeguard against sexual temptation.
  2. Children are a blessing from God.
  3. God is the true Author of life.
  4. All human life has value in God's eyes.
Pro-natalism: This is the idea that a high level of population growth is necessary for a human society to survive and prosper. With birth rates below the level of replacement in the United States and Europe, this point of view is gaining more respect. The recent movie, "Children of Men", based on a bestselling novel of the same name, is set in a near-future world in which all women everywhere have become infertile with disastrous results. Pro-natalism would seem to be consistent with the Bible's positive attitude toward procreation, but pro-natalist policies can exist without the recognition of God as the creator of life and the inherent sanctity of human life. The Nazis, for example, were pro-natalists, but also favored sterilization and killing of the "unfit" and undesirable.

Marxism: This point of view need not be defined strictly in terms of adherence to the doctrines of Marx, but more broadly as the idea that hunger and poverty are mainly the result of an unjust distribution of the world's resources, goods and services. There is not so much a need to control birth rates in developing countries as there is to control consumption of material goods in industrialized nations. This philosophy has become more and more popular in Latin America, especially in light of failed attempts to implement free-market reforms. The development of "liberation theology" has given Marxists a quasi-Christian vocabulary. Although the Scriptures speak against injustice, including the economic kind, and the responsibility of those blessed with more material wealth to share with the less fortunate, this is seen as a voluntary movement resulting from the restoration of a right relationship with God. The Bible affirms the right of private property and the responsibility to work for a living, while the Old Testament history of Israel portrays a government's desire for higher and higher taxes as a cause for civil war.

Neo-Malthusianism: Neo-Malthusians base their thinking on writings of Thomas Malthus, an 18th-Century economist who was the first think about the big-picture effects of unrestrained population growth. However, the "neo" (Greek for "new") in neo-Malthusianism is due to the fact that neo-Malthusians are rather embarrassed to claim Thomas Malthus as their own. In addition to being an economics professor, Malthus was a quite conservative Anglican priest who considered birth control and homosexuality to be vices, and opposed most government welfare programs as encouraging the poor not to work and to bear children out of wedlock. His solution to the potential problem of population growth surpassing the available food supply was "moral restraint". By that he meant avoiding sexual activity outside of marriage and postponing marriage until one had acquired an education.

Malthus published his views on population and economics in 1798. Less than 30 years later, Sir Frances Place in 1822 published a book using some of Malthus' arguments to advocate birth control. This was the true beginning of neo-Malthusianism, a point of view that has become dominant in the United States and Europe. Neo-Malthusianist ideas have become internalized as the reflexive opinions that "there are too many people in the world" and "reproductive choice (prevention of pregnancy) is a health issue". Sometimes neo-Malthusians attempt a Biblical justification of their ideology in terms of an argument for stewardship of natural resources.

In confronting all these thought-systems which can blind people to the truths of God's creation and revelation, it is important to remember the Scriptural principles above, and that the light of Christ's Gospel is what can truly motivate people to love God and their neighbor as themselves.

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