Roman Baptist Convention, Part Five…

I had originally intended to post the full and final conclusion to my multi-part series on the eery similarities between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman Catholic Church. Upon returning home this evening, however, I realized that the post was far too lengthy. So I am breaking the final points up into three posts, scheduled for tonight, tomorrow, and tomorrow evening. For starters, please read

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

And now for the next installation:

7. Eccentric and perhaps repressive views on birth control and “family planning.”

When it comes to birth control, Southern Baptists have yet to find our center. On the one hand, we are a convention frustrated by the diminishing returns of our attempts to reach the under-40 generation. Most in this generation have grown up, gone to college, entered the workforce, and delayed the bonds of holy matrimony until later in life.

The majority from that demographic who still identify as Southern Baptists are from two-income families with rarely more than two children. They are Sunday-morning only Baptists, and their children are more likely to be involved in many more extra-curriculars than the Baptist youth group. Their parents have lived the hard reality of college preparation: competitive admissions have driven college-bound students to market themselves with every possible social, athletic, and community service activity possible.

Their parents have used birth control without hesitance. Southern Baptist youth who grew up in the 1980s are unashamedly pro-life, but they don’t think of contraception as a pro-life issue. Of course, like the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist laity are not necessarily a good indicator of what the “official position” is on any issue. If you want to know what Southern Baptists believe, ask the laymen. If you want to know what Southern Baptists are supposed to believe, ask the clergy.

While the greater likelihood is that Southern Baptists — for the most part — use birth control and “plan their families,” some in the denominational magisterium have escalated their ideological war against contraception.

First, you have the president of Southern Seminary, Al Mohler, arguing for the moral repugnance of contraception. In an article for the New York Times Magazine, Mohler is quoted as saying:

“I cannot imagine any development in human history, after the Fall, that has had a greater impact on human beings than the pill.” And later: “I think there could be no question that the pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation.”

Second, you have Dorothy Patterson, who in a recent article on contraception had this to say:

“…Replacing the natural with the artificial has a history of consequences that are anything but beneficial–monstrosities, deformities, deficiencies, modern medicine and science—[and] the world shows an unwillingness to learn from the past.”

And then:

“To refuse to accept life in the womb is to violate God’s very purpose for the womb, i.e., receiving, nourishing, and protecting fetal life.”

Southern Seminary Dean Russell Moore believes that Southern Baptists’ lower baptism numbers might be explained by our openness to contraception. Liberal theology, Moore argues, goes hand-in-hand with declining birthrates.

While I was a student at Southeastern Seminary, a professor and seminary administrator caused a buzz across campus every semester when he would launch into his rants and tirades about birth control. At one point, he even explained his own “repentance” of his wife having used “artificial means” to conceive their only child. Fortunately, this professor found his exit from seminary employ soon after Paige Patterson’s departure.

I’m not trying to suggest that Southern Baptists should use birth control, though I must admit a certain cynical side that could wish that some of the brethren’s parents had. Neither am I suggesting that Southern Baptists should not use birth control, because that same cynical side could wish that some of the brethren will.

All I’m suggesting is that Southern Baptists must come to terms with the fact that narrowing views on these areas are consistent with narrowing trends nurtured in other areas of convention life. Beliefs and practices once regarded as beyond our confessional and cooperative concern are increasingly brought to the center of our Baptist identity. We should not be surprised, therefore, if our convention is asked very soon to turn our prophetic witness against condoms, sponges, diaphragms, vasectomies, and tubal ligations. And nevermind the fact that there’s more rubber in the married housing of a Southern Baptist seminary than there is in a Michelin plant.

And while I’m on the subject, it bothers me that few people seem willing to admit that Southern Baptist women aren’t the only ones taking pills to exercise a little more “control” over their bodies and their sex lives. Viagra and Cialis – I’m willing to bet – have made quite a profit off of the Southern Baptist Convention. Whether or not we’ll get an encyclical from Dorothy Patterson assessing the ethical questions raised by those pills has yet to be seen.