My Story, Chapter 2.3 – Not my body

[I haven’t written an installment of My Story in a long time. Here’s the first of a couple I’ve had in the pipeline but hadn’t had time to finish…]

***

A week or so after my emotional after Mass reaction to our visit to the Catholic Church Scott and I attended one of the We Believe classes taught by the associate pastor, Fr. Palka. In this class Fr. Palka taught directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph by paragraph.

 

Now I know what some of my Protestant friends who read this might be saying to themselves. It probably sounds something like this:“Well, there you have it. That’s the problem with those Catholics. If they’d just study the Bible then they’d know they’re wrong. But no, they go and study some book written by men.” 

 

Believe me, that thought even crossed my mind. But the time I spent examining the doctrine of Sola Scriptura taught me something. I knew that the Catholic who studies the CCC is in many ways no different than the non-demoninational church member who sits underneath the teaching of their pastor or the Presbyterian who studies the Westminster Confession. That person is learning how that pastor or leaders of their church interpret the Bible and what that church believes about salvation, baptism, communion etc. 

 

In a real sense all of the pastor’s sermons make up his own little catechism that he uses to teach his church members how to interpret the Bible and what to believe on matters of faith and morals.  The Catholic who studies the CCC is learning how the Church interprets the Bible on such matters. One big difference of course is that the Catholic Church unabashedly tells it’s members that this is the teaching of Christ’s church and it’s not up for debate or personal interpretation and what one may think is God’s special revelation to them. This of course is based on it’s belief that God never intended for each individual to study the Bible alone and come up with their own personal theology or truth but instead desired for His Church to be the “pillar and foundation of truth” (I Timothy 3:15).  

 

With this in mind I came to class ready to hear (not necessarily agree with) what the Catholic Church taught from a Catholic priest who was teaching not his own personal interpretation of scripture but instead the official teaching of the Church. I was both curious and cautious in my approach to this class. I was genuinely interested in hearing answers about the Catholic faith but I found myself carefully scrutinizing everything this priest said. I’m a somewhat expressive person (don’t laugh too hard at the understatement Dad!).  I’ve been told that sometimes what I’m thinking is written all over my face. I have no doubt that Fr. Palka could see the scrutiny in my expressions. Especially when it came time for the week devoted soley to questions and answers.

***

The first class was rather benign in it’s subject matter. Nothing was addressed that was controversial or really any different than what I believed as a Protestant. It was the second class that ruffled more than a few of my feathers. Scott couldn’t attend this class because of work so I went with my parents. At one point the subject of birth control came up. Because it was outside the scope of the subject matter for that class Fr. Palka really didn’t fully address the topic. I’m not sure I heard much of the teaching after that point. All I could think about was how some old celibate man who lives in Italy is not going to tell me what I should do with my body.

 

I had no problem expressing this opinion to my parents once we were in the car and headed home. In retrospect my thoughts sounded a lot like the thoughts of all those pro-choice women who claim no one should tell a pregnant woman what to do with her body. But at the time, I didn’t have the knowledge or understanding to even make that connection. I just remember feeling like “how dare this Church or anyone think they could control this area of my life.” My parents were wise enough not to say anything except something about going home and studying the subject. 

 

I knew I wasn’t alone on my views on birth control. I could have polled any one of my married Protestant girlfirends and I guarantee they had used or were using some kind of birth control. It just wasn’t a question or issue for us and our Protestant faith. Afterall, it was my Protestant pastor who sat down during pre-marital counseling and awkwardly asked about our “family planning” measures (in others words, were we planning to use birth control for a while?). There was no discussion on the morality of this decision. It was a given that artificial (unnatural) birth control was an acceptable practice.  

 

So there I was, at a place where I’m questioning many of the assumptions I’d made about my faith over the years. The morality of birth control was one assumption I would have been fine with leaving alone. But once again the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me just accept what I’d been taught. So, I reluctantly studied this subject.

 

***

One of the first things I read really surprised me. It might surprise you too:

 

Up until 1930 when the Church of England held it’s Lambeth Conference, no organized Christian church had every formally permitted the use of unnatural methods of birth of control. In other words, up until this time the universal teaching among Christians had been that unnatural birth control was immoral and against the will of God.

 

That fact alone made me stop and wonder…How does a behavior go from being immoral to moral overnight?

Does this mean that for all those centuries Christians had been misled by the teaching against unnatural birth control and denied some right to control their bodies? Or, could it be that in 1930 the relativistic nature of the doctrine of Scripture Alone had finally had its impact on this moral issue? I’d seen the ramifications of “Scripture Alone” on doctrinal “truth” as it’s taught in different denominations. Was this just the logical extension of that doctrine applied to a moral issue?

 

After the decision at the Lambeth Conference it was only a matter of time before the acceptance of artificial birth control (ABC) became the norm for most Protestant churches.  In most churches today it’s just not an issue that is discussed.  Artifical birth control methods, including sterialization methods like vasectomies and tubal ligations, are all pretty much accepted.  The one church to hold on to the belief that these methods are not the will of God for men and women was the Catholic Church. But why?

 

Or, as I wanted to know, why not? Why not permit artificial contraception? What’s so wrong with it? Afterall, isn’t it my right and my husband’s right to control our family planning? What right does the Church have to try to tell us what we can and cannot do with our sex life? And hasn’t modern medicine given us great advances through artificial birth control and sterilization procedures?

 

In many ways I was ignorant. I’d never heard anyone in the Protestant churches I attended talk about the morality of birth control. And, while I’d always known the Catholic Church was against artificial birth control, I never knew why. All that was about to change.

 Tomorrow…The “why” behind the “not”

 

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