An Evangelical Rethinks the Pill

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Those of us who are conservative, confessional evangelicals often use the term “Christianity Today evangelical.” By this we mean one who is a bit ambiguous on key issues of conviction and who seeks to get along with the regnant culture, by almost any means necessary. Summed up in that term are years of frustration about a magazine that once brimmed with conviction and theological gravitas.

Nonetheless, there are times when CT can surprise us. Today is one of those days.

CT correspondent Agnieszka Tennant writes a thoughtful, provocative piece on her broken love-affair with the birth control pill. Tennant reveals that her attitude about the Pill was at the start precisely the same as most other evangelicals, a viewpoint that only came into question when she wrote a piece on the anti-contraceptive position of Sam and Bethany Torode. She admired their idealism, but, still:

I had to wonder, though: Did no one tell them that newlyweds are supposed to secure some essentials before risking the intrusion of a baby? Didn’t they want to make love without visualizing cribs? Didn’t they need to get used to one another as husband and wife before succumbing to the asexual roles of sleep-deprived young parents? How would they find time to travel, to secure academic degrees, well-paying jobs, and a mortgage? And would they be able to afford Starbucks?

She goes on to say that she ended what she considered an intimacy with the birth control pill that surpassed in some ways the intimacy she had with her husband. When she stopped taking the contraceptive, it was almost as though she began to “cheat” on the Pill.

Tennant hasn’t exactly sorted out her position entirely, but she is thinking about what it means to be open to the gift of children. And she’s thinking about it in ways evangelicals aren’t accustomed to doing. For instance, the old Christianity Today, the one we conservatives reminisce about in its glory days under the editorship of my hero-theologian Carl F.H. Henry, endorsed the post-Griswold contraceptive culture without a wince, even to the point of giving a very uncertain sound about Roe v. Wade and the “Catholic” opposition to it.

Tennant though surveys her previous habit of regulating her hormones daily with the question of whether there’s another way to think about such things. She wonders whether being pro-life doesn’t encompass more than opposition to surgical abortion. Perhaps, she writes:

It’s about opening ourselves to the risk and mess and uncertainty that accompany any God-sent guest we allow into our lives. The least we can do is leave our doors unlocked. Like Rahab did for the spies. Like Mary did for Jesus.

Not all of us are going to agree with all of her conclusions. Some evangelicals will argue that Tennant’s conscience is more sensitive than Scripture’s demands. And some others of us will wonder whether Tennant goes far enough, given her generally egalitarian tacit acceptance of female careerism, and her openness to condoms, and so forth. Still, there’s something refreshing about Tennant pondering aloud what it means to apply a biblical worldview to her bedroom, and her medicine cabinet. It’s a welcome reminder, even from a Christianity Today evangelical.

We live in a fearful and cowardly time. The crisis we face is not a crisis of clarity but a crisis of courage.


About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Public Theologian at Christianity Today and Director of Christianity Today’s Public Theology Project.