Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Birth Control: Statement from True to the Faith

I had email today from a member who wasn't sure what the Church's position on birth control was. A handy source for a lot of basic questions on LDS beliefs is the 2004 LDS booklet, True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference. It has many short entries about various topics, arranged alphabetically. It's available at LDS.org (Gospel Library > Church Publications > Curriculum > Home and Family). Here is the short note on birth control, from page 26:
Birth Control

When married couples are physically able, they have the privilege of providing mortal bodies for Heavenly Father’s spirit children. They play a part in the great plan of happiness, which permits God’s children to receive physical bodies and experience mortality.

If you are married, you and your spouse should discuss your sacred responsibility to bring children into the world and nurture them in righteousness. As you do so, consider the sanctity and meaning of life. Ponder the joy that comes when children are in the home. Consider the eternal blessings that come from having a good posterity. With a testimony of these principles, you and your spouse will be prepared to prayerfully decide how many children to have and when to have them. Such decisions are between the two of you and the Lord.

As you discuss this sacred matter, remember that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved. While one purpose of these relations is to provide physical bodies for God’s children, another purpose is to express love for one another—to bind husband and wife together in loyalty, fidelity, consideration, and common purpose.

The introduction to the booklet has this statement from the First Presidency:
This book is designed as a companion to your study of the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets. We encourage you to refer to it as you study and apply gospel principles. Use it as a resource when you prepare talks, teach classes, and answer questions about the Church.

As you learn gospel truths, you will increase in your understanding of Heavenly Father’s eternal plan. With this understanding as a foundation for your life, you will be able to make wise choices, live in harmony with God’s will, and find joy in living. Your testimony will grow stronger. You will remain true to the faith.

We are especially mindful of youth, young single adults, and new converts. We promise you that through regular personal prayer and study of the scriptures and the doctrines of the gospel you will be prepared to withstand evil influences that would deceive you and harm you.

May this book strengthen you in your efforts to draw near to the Savior and follow His example.

The First Presidency

22 comments:

Stephen said...

Which puts the booklet in line with a specially requested Ensign essay on the similar topic, which emphasized the necessary corrallaries.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that the Church says very little these days about "spirits needing bodies" and Mormon families being the ones to house as many spirits as they can, etc., etc.

As late as the mid-90s, at least one Conference talk mentioned the use of birth control as being contrary to the sealing covenant.

farrah said...

Anon, I don't think I understand your comment. Care to elaborate?


I have a friend that sees a link between (seemingly) increasing infertility rates and the circumstances of the last days. In other words, they think perhaps we're running out of spirits...
Any thoughts?

Bob Birks said...

This is an example of Church doctrine as shifting policy. Just read the statements of earlier Church leaders on birth control. Up until the 1980s, the General Handbook of Instructions (for Church leaders) highlighted an earlier First Presidency quote making it clear that in their opinion members practiced birth control at the peril of their eternal welfare.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend--a woman in her 70s--who's furious at the Church because in her youth (i.e. when she was a young married) she was counseled to have as many children as she could because spirit children were waiting to be born, birth control was wrong, etc., etc. Having so many children (9) did a number on her emotional, mental and physical health, and she will never have her youth and vitatilty again. Her kids have also been the cause of MUCH pain. She and her husband still work because they cannot afford to retire.

Now it seems the Church not only doesn't teach the spirit doctrine anymore, but many younger members have never heard that. It seems that they are off the hook while older members have had to suffer.

Anonymous said...

But then again, I guess it depends on who you ask. This conference is 11 years old, but, according to Elder Washburn,

April 1995 General Conference

"Thus we see that in marriage, a husband and wife enter into an order of the priesthood called the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. This covenant includes a willingness to have children and to teach them the gospel. Many problems of the world today are brought about when parents do not accept the responsibilities of this covenant. It is contradictory to this covenant to prevent the birth of children if the parents are in good health.

Thirty-five years ago when I first started practicing medicine, it was a rare thing for a married woman to seek advice about how she could keep from having babies. When I finished practicing medicine, it was a rare thing, except for some faithful Latter-day Saint women, for a married woman to want to have more than one or two children, and some did not want any children. We in the Church must not be caught up in the false doctrines of the world that would cause us to break sacred temple covenants." (The Temple Is a Family Affair)

Mormanity said...

Thank goodness there are occasional shifts in policy. Things change, and need to change.

Gary said...

President Boyd K. Packer (May 5, 2006):

-------------------- quote --------------------
The Lord has spoken to His servants, and they have framed "The Family: A Proclamation to the World":

"The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force."...

The First Presidency has written, "Marriage is ordained of God, and the paramount purpose of this sacred principle is to bring into the world immortal spirits to be reared in health and nobility of character, to fill the measure of their mortal existence."
------------------ end quote ------------------

It would be foolish to suggest that President Packer was contradicting True to the Faith. He claims to be doing the opposite:

-------------------- quote --------------------
The Twelve Apostles are called to "set in order" (D&C 107:58) and "regulate all the affairs of the [Church] in all nations" (D&C 107:33) under the direction of the First Presidency. That is not always easy to do.

I feel much as King Benjamin must have felt when he saw dangers among the people and said, "[I came not] to trifle with ... words" (Mosiah 2:9). It can be very uncomfortable when we see thickening clouds and feel responsible to protect our families.
------------------ end quote ------------------

Jennifer J. said...

We love kids. We want to have a large family. Husband and I talk often about the declining LDS birthrate, and there are many reasons for that decline--increasing infertility, people getting married when they're older, rising divorce rates, the huge increase in c-sections, Church members who talk about not wanting more than two kids infringing on their freedom, other health reasons, etc. We talk about how we'll probably be known as "the family with all those kids" in whatever ward we're in. I don't know how things are in the intermountain west, but outside the intermountain west, if you have more than 3 kids, chances are, you're likely to be referred to as "the family in our ward with all those kids" when they can't think of your name right off the top of their heads. We seem to average about 1 or 2 big families per ward, "big" being upwards of 4 children.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I do worry about anti-children philosophies of the world becoming embedded in the Church. I think the policy shift has more to do with giving comfort to the exceptions while trying not to give license to everyone else. But that's just my opinion, which is easy for me because I have no trouble cranking out the kids, and not much desire/reason to stop.

Mike Parker said...

There are some useful quotes, links, and references on the FAIR wiki article on birth control.

T.O. said...

One has to wonder that the reason we not have heard much on the spirits needing to come to earth doctrine because of the rapid increase in infertility options.

Creating life in a petri dish goes against HF's natural laws - but the advancement forwards HF's plan.

bill said...

This "change" in doctrine is actually just a business optimization equation...

...how to optimize the numbers of born-in-the-church children (and future tithe-payers) without turning off young couples who want some degrees of freedom inherent in modern society.

Teach "multiply and replenish" but don't hammer it too hard so that young couples leave...

...result: a max point on the tithing revenue curve...

Walker said...

Of course, bill.

And (I'm dropping to a whisper) that's why the Lord told Malachi to collect tithes. Christians are money-grubbers! That's why President Hinckley wallows in lucre! No one ever told that every temple actually has rooms of the finest delicacies from all over the world. No wonder President HInckley has made the church a world-wide church--it's so he can enjoy the luxuries built for him too (all built, of course, by the blood and sweat of construction workers--decently paid ones at that--everywhere).

That whole bit of Benjamin saying, "it is not requisite that ye run faster than ye have strength"? Bosh. Just appeasement to the "weakling" faction of the church.

IN all seriousness, we need to be loving towards those who do practice birth control. Unless we are in a position of stewardship (which, even then, must be handled with tremendous care), ours is NEVER the place to comment, let alone counsel.

Birth control has been one of those less-than-clear doctrine over the ages. Complex doctrines are bound do have some level of disagreement, even among the Lord's anointed, who, with all do respect, have great but limited knowledge on the subject.

Also, keep in mind that the world was a different in those days. Wives were expected to stay at home so living standards followed this economic trend. With the requirement for wives to work more and more, the commandment has not changed. The prophetic interpretation has.

The question becomes: what is the desire of the couple's heart? Are they trying to inhibit birth so they just have grand time in their marriage for a while? I believe that's what Joseph F. Smith refers to when he states:I think it is a crying evil, that there should exist a sentiment or a feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children.

Even President McKay and the First Presidency stated in 1969, full of mitigations:
"Where husband and wife enjoy health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity"

They continue:

"However, we feel that men must be considerate of their wives who bear the greater responsibility not only of bearing children, but of caring for them through childhood."

"It is our further feeling that married couples should seek inspiration and wisdom from the Lord that they may exercise discretion in solving their marital problem."

IASTATEFAN said...

I think the major tone of this discussion has found a kernel of truth. Decisions of this nature are to be made between a man, his wife and the Lord. While the brethren often remind us of the serious nature of the decisions, none have taken that responsibility away from the couple. They have taught true doctrine, and now we are free to govern ourselves (a paraphrase from Joseph Smith).

The struggle in all of this is to find that answer for ourselves. As Latter Day Saints we often face this same struggle in many areas of our lives. Some may be questions like: Where to go to school, who to marry, which of the job offers to accept, where to live. While these may pale in comparison to the question of family planning, we often turn the Lord and must wrestle with him, somewhat like Enos may have done, to find our answers.

From my experience I learned one thing. No other man can walk in my shoes... except for the one who already has. Trust not in the arm of flesh, but get your answer from the Lord. Only that answer will carry you through the storms of life. Only that answer provides comfort in dark hours. The arguments of men wither and fail. But the Lord's answer remains.

Anonymous said...

As I have gotten older, my posterity has given me untold joy. When my young granddaughter throws her arms around me, gives me a kiss, and says "bampa", I cannot express the love that I feel for her. I am so grateful that my wife and I chose not to suppress the birth of any of our children. Future tithe payers? Ludicrous.

Anonymous said...

It's a personal choice between you and the Lord. Consider the commandments. Consider your family situation. We have been married for four years and we hadn't felt the inspiration to start a family until a couple of weeks ago at the temple. I had a distinct impression that we needed to start a family... NOW. After our visit, I just had to tell my husband about my experience. He had the same feelings. Although a little scared and confused at this impression as we aren't in the best situation right now, how could we ignore this? We fasted and prayed to make sure this is what He would have us do. The Lord will not lead you astray. Ask Him and he will let you know when he thinks you are ready. It's a decision that you, your spouse and the Lord make together. If you're NOT doing that and keeping it as a decision between you and your companion, then that's the mistake.

The prophets haven't made this clear because it's up to us to use our free agency and counsel with the Lord in all our doings, including this one.

Stephen said...

If you think of the Church as a collection of barges being sailed to a destination, it makes a lot more sense than if you think of it as a bus being driven down a straight road.

Both have a goal, but the bus drives straight at it, to sail to a goal is harder and not as direct sometimes.

Helaman said...

In response to: IASTATEFAN

I couldn't have said better myself, people seem to forget the first part of it - "Between a man, his wife and the Lord". I think that is the key! Not the policy of men.

Bookslinger said...

Not all the prophets, apostles, and other general authorities of the past 100 years had large families.

If they were infertile they could have adopted. So it seems there are legitimate reasons why a couple would not have children.

I think adoption and foster-case has to be kept in the discussion. If a couple is infertile, there is always the adoption option.

Yes, it is hard to adopt healthy white babies. But if you're willing to adopt multi-racial, foreign-born, or special needs children, you basically go to the head of the line. And if you provide foster-care to special needs children, most states in the United States will pay you for the extra care and expenses they need.

I know families who love children so much, that even after their oldest children move out, and the mother is well into her 40's and past her child-bearing years, they keep on adopting. God bless 'em. I think that's great.

Anonymous said...

What about people like me...my husband and I have 5 young children. We are also still somewhat young ourselves (32 and 31). If we decide that 5 is enough children for our family, then is it a sin to stop having children when we are still young and healthy and COULD have more? When we DO stop having children, how do we prevent pregnancy long term until we are no longer fertile?

I see so many quotes from the church about the use of birth control from couples who don't want to have any children or those who want to limit their children to only 1 or 2. But what about if you already have a large family? Is it wrong to stop having children even though I'm young and could have more? What about the health risks that increase when the woman reaches age 35? What about the increased healths risks to babies born to older mothers? There's just so much gray area.

Mormanity said...

Thank you for the insights!

Judge not said...

This decision as to when and how many is between the couple and the Lord as stated on lds.org- gospel topics-birth control.
A interesting fact is the BYU clinic in Provo does provide birth control services. Why would a clinic run the by the church be allowed to provide it if birth control was not allowed?
There are many things to consider in regards to how many children and when.
We do not know the financial status, if the couple can afford health benefits, health-mental or physical, fertility problems if any or any other concerns the couple might have. In the present econonmy jobs are hard to come by, prices are rising. Wages, benefits and hours are being cut.
Each couple can receive guidance as to when and how many children to have from the Lord.
We should not judge others in these personal matters. Many members hear such judgements and become very offended to the point of leaving the church.