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Spiritual Issues Surrounding Contraception

with Bill Cutrer, Dr. Mark Povich | July 15, 2008

Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with Dr. Bill Cutrer, an OB-GYN and Professor of Christian Ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and Dr. Mark Povich, an advocate of Natural Family Planning who practices family medicine in Michigan, about the spiritual issues men and women need to consider when choosing a birth control method.

Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with Dr. Bill Cutrer, an OB-GYN and Professor of Christian Ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and Dr. Mark Povich, an advocate of Natural Family Planning who practices family medicine in Michigan, about the spiritual issues men and women need to consider when choosing a birth control method.

Spiritual Issues Surrounding Contraception

With Bill Cutrer, Dr. Mark Povich
|
July 15, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: Dr. Bill Cutrer spent a number of years practicing obstetrics and had the opportunity to tell many couples the good news that they were expecting a baby.  But some of those couples didn't see the good news as good news.

Bill: Unfortunately, we live in a culture that has made children more of a burden and interfering with what our normal plans would be as we view our lives.

Woman: Hey, baby.

Man: Hey, wazzup?

Woman: How ya doin'?

Man: Great.

Woman: I need to talk to you for a minute.

Man: What have you got to talk to me about?

Woman: Well, I went to the doctor today.

Man: Mm-hm.

Woman: And I didn't have good news.

Man: Oh, what are you talking about?

Woman: Well, we will be expecting a little one.

Bill: We see marriage as fulfilling us when, in fact, I'm not certain, at all, that's what God had intended in the covenant.  The relationship is one of sacrifice and other-seeking, and children are often, naturally, if I may use that term, the outpouring, or the fruit, of such a relationship.

Man: Are you serious?

Woman: I'm real serious.  I hope you're not upset.

Man: Oh! I'm so happy.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 15th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Before you think too long about the number of children you'd like to have, you need to make sure you're thinking correctly about the whole subject of children.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.  What we're talking about this week is – well, it's a little controversial, and you're sure you want to open this can of worms, right?

Dennis: Well, the Bible begins with this subject.

Bob: I guess that's true, yeah, it is.

Dennis: Let me just read it – Genesis, chapter 1, verse 28 – "And God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and rule over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'"  God gave man a command.  He commanded us to multiply and not just multiply children but multiply a godly legacy, and you know, you've read the e-mails.  One of the hot subjects that our listening audience wants us to deal with is the subject of our approach to babies, birth control, and contraception.

Bob: My wife said, before we came in here today, she said, "Please don't call it birth control.

Dennis: Okay, I'll stop.

Bob: That was quick.

Dennis: I'll stop.

Bob: She has this philosophical orientation, and I understand that only one person really controls birth.

Dennis: Yeah, really.

Bob: And that's God.

Dennis: That's a good point.  You know, Mary Ann, she's …

Bob: She can come up with them.

Dennis: I'm telling you, more often than not, too.  I've got some disclaimers, but before I get to the disclaimers, I've got to make just one solid statement that is not a disclaimer, it's just a reality.  We are unashamedly pro-life, period.  Our approach to this subject is going to be from the standpoint that life begins at that point of conception when the sperm and the egg meet, and as we approach this subject that truth, that reality, is going to impact what we share with our listening audience.

But we're going to challenge you – here is the point of these next few broadcasts.  I want to challenge you to prayerfully think through what you believe about the subject of contraception.

Bob: Mm-hm, there are certainly practical ramifications of the decisions that couples are going to wrestle with on any side of this, and that's why we want to look at what the Scriptures do say to help guide couples into the best decision-making process they can make.

Dennis: And to do that, today we are actually going to talk about the process of deciding what you believe about contraception – whether you believe in it or not and how you're going to live according to the assumptions and the beliefs that you embrace.  And, to do that, we've got a pair of doctors here with us in the studio – Dr. Bill Cutrer joins us.  Bill has been a guest on FamilyLife Today before.  He and his wife live in Louisville – did I pronounce that right, Bill?

Bill: Yes, you did.

Dennis: He is a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary there in Louisville, and he is a former OB doctor who is now an ordained minister teaching in seminary.

Bill: Correct.

Dennis: Now, that is a load.

Bill: Well, thank you for inviting me.

Bob: You must have liked school a lot, huh?

Bill: Loved school, couldn't get away from it.

Dennis: How many years have you been in school, Bill?

Bill: Well, it took seven through seminary, and it took a good bit through med school and OB-GYN training.  So longer than I'd like to admit.

Dennis: Add them all up, how many?

Bill: I don't know.

Dennis: Thirty?

Bill: A good part of my life has been spent in school, yes.

Dennis: Also joining us is Dr. Mark Povich.  Dr. Povich is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where he practices family medicine and lives, along with his wife and nine – nine children.  What are the ages?  Don't give us every age, but the span.

Mark: I couldn't give you the birth dates if you asked me.  My oldest is 22, and my youngest is 3.

Bob: That's a good span, yes.

Dennis: That is a good span.  Well, we're thrilled that you could join us as well.  Dr. Cutrer, I want to ask you the first question.  Where do we start when we come to this subject of what we're going to believe and the convictions we are going to hold about contraception?

Bill: Well, I think you already started by reading from the Book of Genesis, but let me tell you where I started in counseling practice.  I'd often have the engaged couple come and sit – I'd make them face back-to-back, and then ask them to raise the number of fingers for the number of children they thought they wanted to have.

Dennis: So neither one can see what the other …

Bill: They couldn't see what the other was doing, and they never had the same one.  So this gave us an opportunity to recognize that here they were planning to marry, and they hadn't even discussed a very important part – it is part of marriage, and I think we need to begin by understanding what marriage is, what it's for, and then sexuality – what its purpose is.

And you read from Genesis 1:28, that command, as you said, and you have to begin there.  Is that a moral imperative?  Is it a duty to procreate?  Or, as some hold, is it more of a blessing that couples do have some decision-making ability?

Bob: I guess that's a first, kind of, fundamental decision that couples have to make.  I have some friends who have, through their marriage, chosen to be childless – not because of any fertility issues but because that's been their choice.  And we've gone back and forth on this issue as to whether the Scriptures allow them that option.

You read Genesis 1:28, and it doesn't sound like God is making space in there for couples to say, "You know, if you decide you don't want to have kids, that's okay with me."  It sounds like He's saying, "This is a responsibility, this is a part of what marriage is supposed to be."

Bill: Perhaps.  I certainly think that Scripture would indicate a couple needs to be open to the possibility of children.  But you'll find two verses before that one that the same moral imperative is given to the fish and the fowls to be fruitful and multiply, and it isn't until Chapter 2 when we get the more details parts of men and women and living together, and childbearing isn't even mentioned there.

So is it a moral imperative, or is it a blessing?  Is it an area of life where couples have some choice as whether they choose to marry, when they choose whether to have sex, can they choose to space their family?  Can they choose, as much as one can choose, because God is the Author of life, and in my infertility practice, just because someone chooses to have children doesn't necessarily mean that they will have children.

Dennis: Dr. Povich, you have nine children.

Mark: That's correct.

Dennis: You came to your own conclusion, both as a man but also as a physician.  What was the process that you went through?

Mark: When we first got married, my desire as to have two, maybe three, children.  I thought that was a nice family size.

Dennis: Was your wife holding up five fingers on one hand and four on the other?

Mark: I don't remember that she was doing that.  I think she was probably a little more spiritual in all this than I was as far as wanting God to have some say in how many children we had.  Over time, we had our two children, then three children, and as time went on, and we were able to think about what does God want with our lives?  Are we open to more children?  Children kind of grew on us one at a time.  It wasn't – we certainly never started out with nine children.  I would have fallen over had that been expressed to me that I would have nine children.

Dennis: Bob, I don't know about you, but when we got married, I didn't even like kids. 

Bob: And I think the starting place for most of us tends not to be what does God want for me and my marriage?  It tends to be what do I want for me and my marriage?  So that whether it's a choice to be childless or a choice to be parents of as many children as God would grant, a lot of folks are starting with the wrong question, I think, Bill, where they are saying, "What do we want here?" rather than saying, "What does God want?"

I go back to my childless friends, and as we've dialoged on this subject, and I've asked them about their choices, we've had to keep coming back to is that what the Lord wants for you or is that what you want for yourself?  The whole issue of self – it's hard to know when we've gotten past that to really get to the mind and heart of God, don't you think?

Bill: Oh, I think you're right.  We tend to be selfish individuals and, unfortunately, we live in a culture that has made children more of a burden and interfering with what our normal plans would be as we view our lives.  We see marriage as fulfilling us when, in fact, I'm not certain, at all, that's what God had intended in the covenant.  The relationship is one of sacrifice and other-seeking.  A relationship with God first and then a beautiful covenant, intimate relationship, husband and wife, where you grow to know one another in very deep sorts of ways, over time.  And children are often, and I think naturally, if I may use that term, the outpouring, or the fruit, of such a relationship.

For some, that means quite a number of children.  For others, because of genetic or medical problems, they may not be able to have children at all.

Dennis: I think the first thing that we need to clarify then is we've got to push back and evaluate what's God up to when He gives us children?  I believe He is whacking away at our selfishness.  I believe He wants to redeem us from our self-absorption and wants to call us to deny ourselves and outlive ourselves by investing in future generations.

But I fear there is a generation of young married couples growing up and getting married today who don't view children like that.  They view children as more of a limited commodity, or something that they are going to control, and it's not going to encroach upon my lifestyle all that much, and at the point where it does, well, now, we can't have too many of these.

And I'm not – by the way, I'm not advocating that everybody have nine children or six children, as Barbara and I do.  Bob, you have five – Bill?

Bill: I have three.

Bob: I want to throw this out for all of you to offer your opinion on.  I read an article not too long ago from a couple who had decided that they were going to not have children in their marriage.  That decision, they felt, would enhance their opportunity for ministry.  They were both active in outreach through their church and into their community, and they really saw children as something that would inhibit that opportunity for ministry.

So they said, "We've decided that the thing that we can do that will bring glory to God is to not have children so that we can be more active in ministry."  Bill, what would you say to them?

Bill: Well, I think the norm for marriage is children, but I would never superimpose my understanding on someone's feeling of God's calling, because as we read in Scripture, children are a great blessing, indeed, but we are also called – you'll find in the New Testament – called to love one another, to love God, and then to make disciples.  So there is a spiritual calling that, for many of us, is experienced through childbearing but, for others, it comes through other kinds of ministry and other kinds of calls.

In Matthew 19, Jesus speaks about those that are eunuchs born, those that are made eunuchs by men, and then those who choose.  But I think that would more likely be the person who has the gift of celibacy and not necessarily in a marriage relationship.  So my inclination – I would be very reluctant to marry a couple who had decided up front not to have children.

Bob: Mark, how about you?

Mark: I would see – at least in my experience, children are a huge ministry.  I think they're the primary ministry that a wife and a husband have together – is to raise godly children.  And I think other ministries come secondary to that, and I agree with Bill that if a Christian couple is not wanting children, I would question whether they really ought to be getting married, understanding that God's purpose for marriage is to raise children, if He so blesses them.

Dennis: Mark, you're a family physician.  If a young couple walked into your office, and they were thinking through what they were going to embrace in terms of the subject of contraception as a Christian couple, how would you begin to advise them?

Mark: Before you can discuss contraception, I think you need to have an understanding of what a woman's cycle is, how things are functioning in her body in regard to her fertility, and then what impacts any method would have on those particular cycles.

Bob: So you're saying you'd start from some basic biology, not assuming that a woman who has maybe been experiencing a cycle for five or six years, understands what's going on in the midst of that?

Mark: I think most women don't have a good understanding at all of how their cycles work and what's happening in the course of their cycle.

Dennis: And why would you start there and not more – maybe more anchored from a biblical standpoint of this subject and discussion?

Mark: Because an understanding of the mechanisms of the cycles is crucial in choosing what type of method they might want to use to plan their family; because there are the potential for moral implications in different methods of family planning.

Dennis: So you're going to explain, then, some of the aspect of the ovulation and how, at that point, if it meets a sperm, it becomes a living person at that point, right?

Mark: That's a very critical thing to know.  There's – you may know that in our society there is a movement that's been around for a while to define pregnancy as the time an egg, a fertilized egg, would implant into the uterus. 

As a Christian, I believe our understanding is that life begins at the time that egg and sperm meet; that that is the critical moment that this new life begins.  There's a new creation, there's a new soul there that has an eternal basis to it, and it starts then.  And how we choose a method needs to take into account that particular time format.

Bob: We're at a point in this discussion, Dennis, where there's a collision point between what we know from biology and what we know from the pages of Scripture.  The issue of the beginning of life is not simply a biological issue.  We can know when cells have a life of their own.  The question is, when does a soul join the cell, and that's part of what Dr. Povich is talking about here.

Really, Christians have to wrestle with some of these significant questions because life and truth are about to meet headon.

Dennis: Bob, you're right, and the Psalmist declared that he was known by God while he was in his mother's womb, and God understood how he had been fashioned at that point.

So you really do have to wrestle through – when does life begin?  It can't be left to the politicians or just to your pastor.  This is a personal conclusion that every believer has got to come to.

Bill: Yes, and the psalm says that the days were known; that they were ordained for him before there was yet one of them, and I think it's interesting, precisely as Dr. Povich has said, that when the sperm penetrates the egg, until that moment when the chromosomes align and the new individual begins, takes between 12 and 24 hours.  So within that first day of that moment, it's beyond our comprehension.  The complexity is a beautiful revelation of who God is.  You become you, and I totally agree with him that while the Bible doesn't say when the soul enters, I see no other point that we can take it, and I think  we should join to recognize life and its value at that moment.

Dennis: And, Bill, as a Christian grapples with this, he can't help but push back and go, "It is God who does create life.  He is the One who does bring it into being, and yet He has also given us the responsibility of being a part of that process."

And I'm going to come back to you, Dr. Povich, as a young couple would be sitting in your office, and you then explain the biology of the cycle, where would you go from there?

Mark: The next step would be to describe how different methods work interfering with that natural process, which would result in a pregnancy, and helping them to see that some methods may cause them to violate their conscience in their determination of when life might begin.

Dennis: I just, again, can't help but wonder if we'd been sitting here 150 years ago, back in the mid-1800s, I can't help but wonder what kind of discussion we would be having at this point?  If we were talking to a couple of doctors …

Bob: … back before ultrasound.

Dennis: Yeah, and the pictures that we've seen and all that technology has revealed and the knowledge that we have, I can't help but wonder how we'd be thinking about this as a group of Christians.

Bob: Well, and, certainly, over the last 40 years culturally, there has been what you could describe as a mega-shift in this area.  Beyond the Christian community, the culture has embraced the issue of contraception as a healthy norm, and Christians have not necessarily wrestled to say, "Now, wait, is that on the heart of God, and how does that interact with the heart of God?"

Dennis: Bob, I think that is really the key point that I want to challenge today is that we, as believers, I fear, many times, are a lot like cattle or sheep.  We get kind of herded into a direction, and we just kind of follow along, not mindlessly, but close to it.  I would have to say that was how we got married.  We really didn't think through a lot of these issues.

Now, back when we got married, technologically speaking, we didn't have as many discoveries as we have today, but there was enough thinking and enough spiritual thought that had occurred to that point that there's really no excuse.  Barbara and I should have had more profound discussion around these issues and have hammered out what we believe about the subject of contraception.

Bob: Well, that's what we're trying to help couples do as we unpack this issue this week, and I know it's what you tried to do, Dr. Cutrer, when you and Sandra Glahn wrote "The Contraception Guidebook."  It looks at options, risks, and provides help and answers for Christian couples on this subject so that couples can think and pray and consider and decide what is right for them in this area.

We've got copies of your book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if couples are looking for something that will help them have deeper conversations like you talked about, Dennis, they can go to our website, FamilyLife.com.  On the right side of the screen, they'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click the button in there that says "Learn More," it will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about the book, "The Contraception Guidebook."  There is a link to a list of things that Christians ought to consider as they are making these choices, things that we've already talked about this week, Dennis.

And then there is a link to an article by our friend, Randy Alcorn, on the subject of the birth control pill and not all of our listeners are going to necessarily agree with where Randy lands on that subject, perhaps, but it does give them an opportunity to wrestle through together, how do we want to do this as husband and wife?  What choices do we want to make?

Again, our website is FamilyLife.com.  On the right side of the home page, you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast."  Click where it says "Learn More," and that will take you to the area of the site where you can get more information about these resources or order a copy of Dr. Cutrer's book.  You can also order the book by calling us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  When you do get in touch with us, someone will get you the information about how you can have a copy of the book sent to you.

We have had a number of our listeners this month who have gotten in touch with us requesting a copy of a CD that we have been making available.  This is a conversation that we had not long ago with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about a book she's written called "Choosing Forgiveness," and because that subject is such a vital subject for us, as followers of Jesus, we wanted to make the CD available this month to listeners who contact us and make a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  And many of you have already done that.  We appreciate hearing from you.

Your donations actually make it possible for us to be on the air on this station and on other stations all across the country and especially here in the summer months, it is very helpful to hear from our listeners because this is a time of year when traditionally that giving is a little lower than normal.  So we want to say thanks to those of you who have already gotten in touch with us, and if you can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount this month, we would love to send you a copy of this helpful CD featuring Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

You can request a copy when you make your donation of any amount online at FamilyLife.com.  There is a keycode box on the donation form.  Just type in the word "forgive," and we'll know to send you a copy of this CD.  Or call and make a donation over the phone – 1-800-FLTODAY is the number.  1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, request a copy of the CD from Nancy Leigh DeMoss when you make your donation and let me just say in advance we appreciate your partnership with us and your financial support of this ministry.

Well, tomorrow we're going to continue to look at what the Bible has to say about family planning, birth control, contraception, with our guests Dr. Bill Cutrer and Dr. Mark Povich.  I hope you can be back with us as we have that discussion tomorrow.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 

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