The NAE is supposed to be the voice of evangelicals. Has it also become an unbiblical voice to evangelicals?
So asks Marvin Olasky. In the latest edition of his prominent conservative news magazine, Olasky excoriates the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) for their connections to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. What is the issue at hand? Contraception use among singles.
It has often been argued that if evangelicals really are against abortion because they want to “save babies,” they should be in favor of contraceptive use, as it decreases abortion. This issue of World offers two insights: first, an excellent explanation of why leading evangelicals like Olasky oppose encouraging the use of contraception, and second, the revelation that some evangelicals, such as the current head of the NAE, are starting to rock the boat.
Here are the facts: The NAE took $1 million dollars from the National Campaign, a group that heavily supports contraceptive use. The NAE then heavily pressured the Q Gathering, an evangelical conference, to bring in Sarah Brown, the CEO of the National Campaign, to take part in a panel on sexuality, and in that panel Brown argued vehemently that churches should encourage their singles to use contraception.
Are Evangelicals in Favor of Contraception?
After discussing the Q Gathering panel, which, largely because of Brown, appeared to lean toward encouraging singles to use contraception, Olasky says the following:
News reports noted that result as evidence that the debate over contraceptive use by the unmarried is over, since even evangelicals favor it. This was the second time the Campaigns grant to the NAE had paid off propagandistically. In 2010 the NAE used some of the grant to commission a Gallup poll with a key question worded to make it seem that 90 percent of evangelical favor contraception generally – and the Campaign trumpeted that finding.
The Campaign’s “Facts About Contraception” policy brief states, “A Gallup poll of evangelicals found that 90% supported contraception.” The Campaign, unsurprisingly, did not distinguish between married and unmarried use of contraception – but neither did the NAE when it used the Campaign’s grant to pay for the poll.
Olasky thus accuses the NAE of allowing itself to be used for propaganda by the National Campaign, creating a situation in which the Campaign can argue that evangelicals support contraceptive use among the unmarried when in fact they don’t. At issue here is an important distinction, that between married and unmarried sexual activity. Contraceptive use among married couples? That’s just fine and dandy! Contraceptive use among unmarried couples? Wait. Unmarried couples are having sex??? You get the idea.
The NAE Rocks the Boat: Contraception to Prevent Abortion
Evangelicals oppose premarital sex. But they are also against abortion, arguing that it is the same as murder. For progressives, it seems obvious that the best way to decrease abortion rates is to encourage contraception use, including the use of contraception among those who are not married. It seems that some, such as Leith Anderson, the current president of the NAE, are starting to agree (which helps explain the connections between the NAE and the National Campaign):
The Church is understandably reluctant to recommend contraception for unmarried sexual partners, given that it cannot condone extramarital sex. However, it is even more tragic when unmarried individuals compound one sin by conceiving and then destroying the precious gift of life.
The goal, according to Anderson, is not to encourage or condone premarital sex but rather to prevent unplanned pregnancies and thus prevent the deaths of unborn babies (i.e. abortion).
Olasky: Encouraging Contraception Condones Premarital Sex
Olasky argues that Anderson’s position – condemning sex outside of marriage but supporting contraceptive use in an effort to prevent abortion – is untenable and even hypocritical.
Immediately prior to the panel summaried in our page 9 news story, some 400 Q participants were asked what they thought of a local Christian church taking this position: “The Bible teaches that sex outside of marriage is wrong. But if you are going to be sexually active otuside of marriage, we encourage you to use contraceptives to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.”
Two-thirds agreed with the statement, “This would make it seem like the church was telling people it’s OK to have sex with people outside of marriage.” Most said, “This would be hypocritical – they can’t say that sex outside marriage is wrong, then tell them to do it safely.” Almost half said, “This would just encourage more unmarried people to be sexually active.”
In other words, Olasky argues that encouraging the use of contraception among singles in an effort to bring down the abortion rate condones premarital sex. And it appears that most evangelicals agree with him. But there’s more.
Olasky: Does Contraception REALLY Decrease Abortion Rates?
In addition to arguing that encouraging contraceptive use condones premarital sex, Olasky suggests that contraceptive use actually increases abortion rather than decreasing it:
Evangelicals disagree on whether contraceptive use, since it enables more extramarital sexual activity, leads to more abortions. Birth control pills have an 8 percent failure rate during their first year of use, and many women who use them for years become pregnant, sooner or later. (Half of the women unhappily surprised by pregnancy used contraception durign the month in whcih they concieved.)
And Olasky makes another argument: contraception has created “a new slavery” for women:
Contraception among the unmarried, sold as liberating, has created a new slavery: Many young women feel pushed into sexual activity because guys want them to do what “everyone else” is doing, purportedly risk-free.
In other words, Olasky argues that contraception may increase abortion rates by leading people to have premarital sex who wouldn’t otherwise, and also argues that contraception is far less reliable than it is often thought, and that its failure then also increases the abortion rate. And, he argues, contraception actually creates a new slavery for women (somehow I’m not sure I can think of a more upside down argument!).
Olasky: Condoning one sin to prevent another?
But even with all of this, Olasky does take a moment to ask whether, if it were proven that contraception decreases abortion rates, the church should encourage contraception:
Most evangelicals understand that abortion breaks God’s command regarding murder – so what if we were to find that contraceptive use among the unmarried reduces the number of abortions? Should evangelical leaders then urge this use of contraceptives, or should they focus on other otpions? Does God put us in a box where the only way to avoid one sin is to commit or condone another?
That’s not what the Bible teaches.
In other words, it is wrong to condone one sin (premarital sex) in an effort to prevent another (abortion).
And Olasky goes on, pointing out that many evangelicals see other approaches – “biblical” approaches – as more effective in reducing abortions than contraception:
And even the Q pre-panel poll showed only 15 percent of respondents stating that “free contraception” is “the most effective way of reducing hte number of abortions.” Two biblical approaches – “crisis pregnancy counseling” and “abstinence based education” – recieved the most support. Many churches could also do a better job of showing the beauty of marriage – not in a scolding way, but in a way that rejoices in God’s loving provision for us.
Thus Olasky is clearly arguing directly against trying to bring down abortion rates by encouraging contraception in any way. Instead of encouraging contraception – a tactic he says may actually increase abortion rates – Olasky argues that the solution to the abortion problem should be to teach people not to have sex, to urge people to get married, and to encourage women with unplanned pregnancies to carry them to term.
After laying all this out, Olasky finishes by slamming the NAE:
The NAE states that its mission “to honor God by connecting and representing evangelical Christians,” but how does it honor God to promote the anti-biblical doctrines of the National Campaign?
I have to admit, these articles surprised me. I didn’t realize that the NAE was toying with encouraging contraception in an effort to bring down abortion rates, but I’m glad to learn that they are. And I also didn’t expect to see World Magazine argue so strongly against using contraception to bring down abortion rates. This split among evangelicals is interesting, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the future.
Marvin Olasky, “Strange Bedfellows,” 9-11, and “Turned,” 88, World Magazine, July 14, 2012.