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Finding Common Ground With Catholics, Southern Baptist Leaders Question Contraception

An unofficial dialogue between conservative Catholics and evangelicals has issued a new paper outlining consensus on building a “culture of life.” In addition to the usual fare of opposing abortion, assisted suicide and stem-cell research that destroys human embryos it encourages evangelicals to rethink conventional wisdom regarding birth control.

“[W]hile we are not agreed on the moral permissibility of artificial contraception, we recognize the sad effects of a widespread ‘contraceptive mentality’ that divorces sexual love from procreation and views children as a burden to be avoided rather than as a gift to be cherished,” says That They May Have Life, the sixth statement by Evangelicals and Catholics Together since 1994.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
The Catholic Church teaches that all forms of artificial birth control, including sterilization, condoms and the pill, are sinful. The view is widely ignored in the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />United States, where more than 75 percent of Catholics in a Gallup Poll last year said the Church should allow use of contraception.
 
The Southern Baptist Convention is on record as opposing condom use and “safe sex” arguments in the battle against AIDS and against use of the so-called “morning after pill,” which it views as causing an early abortion instead of preventing a pregnancy, but beyond that tacitly approves of using artificial birth control in a marriage.
 
Recent discussion suggests that may be about to change, at least in theory.
 
Last month the Chicago Tribune ran a headline proclaiming contraception a “new rallying point” for the Christian right. “Of special interest is how closely evangelical Christians are willing to align themselves with traditional Catholics on the issue,” the article said.
 
“It is clear there is a major rethinking going on among evangelicals on this issue, especially among young people” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in the story. That is particularly true, he continued, with those disenchanted with the sexual revolution. “There is a real push back against the contraceptive culture now.”
 
Mohler recently devoted an episode of his daily radio program to “Considering the Contraceptive Culture.”
 
“I think Christians must not buy into the contraceptive mentality,” Mohler said. “We can’t buy into the idea that pregnancy is equivalent to a disease. We can’t buy into the idea that a child is a problem. We have to understand that indeed procreation is one of the goods of marriage, and the gift of children is an unmitigated good. It is a perfect good. God has intended that this act of marital intimacy should produce children.”
 
In August 2005 EthicsDaily.com carried feature a story profiling “full-quiver” Baptists, married couples who opt not to use artificial contraception because they believe the Bible teaches that children are a blessing from God.
 
A professor at Southern Seminary recently lamented a “pitifully low birthrate” in the Southern Baptist Convention when compared to more fruitful traditions like Mormons and Pentecostals.
 
Mohler wrote an article in 2003 describing married couples who choose not to have children as guilty of “moral rebellion” against God’s design.
 
The new document, signed by Southern Baptist leaders including Timothy George, David Dockery, David Gushee and Rick Warren, calls on evangelicals and Catholics “to consider anew the call to be open to new life, and the meaning of that call for the relationship between unitive and procreative sexual love within the bond of marriage.”
 
Evangelicals and Catholics Together is an informal group convened in 1992 by Roman Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus and Baptist prison evangelist Charles Colson. The newest paper is published in Neuhaus’ magazine, First Things.
 
The first Evangelicals and Catholics Together document, released in 1994, sparked controversy for Southern Baptists signers, who were accused of compromising too much on doctrine by affirming Catholics and evangelicals and fellow Christians and agreed to disagree on baptism and the role of works in salvation. Under pressure two agency heads of the Southern Baptist Convention withdrew their signatures, though they insisted they did so not because they disagreed with the document but because it was being misunderstood.
 
George, dean of SamfordUniversity’s BeesonDivinitySchool, helped write the recent statement. Colson is a member of FirstBaptistChurch in Naples, Fla.
 
Endorsers include Warren, best-selling author The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of SaddlebackChurch in Lake Forest, Calif.; Dockery, president, and David Gushee, an ethics professor, both at UnionUniversity in Jackson, Tenn.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.