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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

01 September 2005

Questions on Working Women and Birth Control

Q: My husband and I both work and do not have any children. After much thought and discussion (and several years of marriage) he had a vasectomy. We were basically told that our church is not the place for us: Women should be in the home, not in the workplace; any type of contraception is forbidden. This was very upsetting to us. What is your church’s [ed., The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod] stance on 1) women in the workplace and 2) voluntary contraception?

Christian Family RainbowA: Your letter underscores some of the differences churches have in understanding marriage, sex, and religion. Some are ardent supporters of the notion that anything one does with his or her body is none of that church’s business. Others have rules (or at least strong suggestions) about much that your body is capable of doing.

The whole of the marriage relationship — a large topic, indeed — is involved with your questions. Since you ask specifically about us Lutherans, I’ll try to stay with our teaching, without comparing to others

We have no official teaching as to a woman’s exact place in the work force. While we take seriously God’s Word and teach that men and women have divinely ordered roles in church, family, and society — including male headship — we do not teach that a woman cannot or should not work outside the home.

Actually, the idea of the “stay-at-home-mom” is a somewhat recent invention. While in the Bible most women did spend much or most of their time in and around their houses, they did not always spend the whole day watching over and teaching the children. In fact, God commanded much of the formal teaching to be the fathers’ work (see Psalm 78:5-8, for example).

Activities varied by living area, economic standing, the season of the year, and other factors. As these changed, women might have been involved in strictly domestic activities or they could have been working in the family business.

Consider, for example, the “excellent wife” praised in Proverbs 31:10-31. This is not the picture of someone who’s been “forced” to stay at home and is now grudgingly enduring the “hardship.” She takes the talents and wisdom God gave her and applies them to business as well as to home economics and family concerns.

Both ardent feminists and staunch traditionalists can identify with at least part of this Scripture passage. This strong, intelligent woman boldly pursues her business ventures. She also works hard to support, maintain, and build up her husband and family. She is a true “homemaker” whose every effort goes to nurturing, supporting, and strengthening her family.

Regarding your question on birth control, some will say, “That’s none of my church’s business!” Others believe that their church has both the right and the duty to speak to such matters. We Lutherans take somewhat a middle ground.

Children are a blessing from the Lord; bearing and raising them is an honor. Solomon said in Psalm 127:3-5, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

However, we don’t teach that having children is the sole reason to marry or to have sex. In Ephesians 5:21-33, Paul tells of the witness that a Christian marriage gives to the world. It provides an example of the way Christ (the husband) and his bride the Church (the wife) interact. This reminds us that our primary relationship is with our Savior; then, if married, our next most important relationship is that with our spouses.

Sometimes we realize that having children would not be a good thing. I’m not saying that it would be an economically uncomfortable thing, nor a difficult thing which would demand much of our time and attention for years upon end. Refraining from having children for such reasons is self-centered and greedy. It often happens because people don’t seriously trust God’s promises to provide all we need.

However, there are some who are not good parents or who seriously doubt their abilities, their emotional strength, or their mental stability. Others are strongly inclined to devote much of their time, talent, and treasure to service in areas other than child-rearing. Still others want to have children, but want to make sure that they are a bit more ready. There are also some who might desire children but who have legitimate and serious concerns about passing on severe hereditary defects. Each of these may find legitimate reason to avoid or defer bearing and raising children.

We Lutherans haven’t set a strict formula in place because a) we cannot find one in Scripture and b) each situation is individual and needs to be decided based upon that couple’s relationship with each other and with God. Thus, we generally have decided that what might be fine for one couple may be wrong for another because their reasons for practicing birth control are often quite different.

If people decide that they’ve been selfish in resisting the opportunity to have children, I urge them to receive the fullness of God’s forgiveness and ask Him then to change their hearts. No Scripture tells us that even permanent sterilization for egocentric reasons is an “unforgivable sin”; thus even those who’ve despised God’s gift of children in the most self-centered fashion may receive full and free remission of sins.

Forgiveness also belongs to those who do not submit “to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph 5:21)” Husbands who abuse their headship by tyranny, lovelessness, or abrogation of duty are called to repent and receive the fulness of God’s grace. Likewise, God calls wives who usurp headship — who refuse to submit to the Lord by refusing to submit to their husbands — to the same repentance and forgiveness.

I also would remind those who’ve decided to use birth control to avoid passing on abusive behavior or physical deformities, or who’ve dedicated themselves to lives of service in other areas not to dwell on what they’ve given up. Instead, I thank God for what they’re able to do in service to Him and to other people and pray that they will do likewise.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


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