"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."

Birth Control

by W. John Walsh

"Children are one of the greatest blessings in life, and their birth into loving and nurturing families is central to God's purposes for humanity. When husband and wife are physically able, they have the privilege and responsibility to bring children into the world and to nurture them. The decision of how many children to have and when to have them is a private matter for the husband and wife." (statement from the church on the use of birth control)

Latter-day Saints declare that God’s commandment for his children to "multiply and replenish the earth" remains in force. (See The Family: A Proclamation to the World)  As will be shown by the statements presented on this page, "where husband and wife enjoy health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity, it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children." (See below statement from First Presidency) 

Despite the clear and uncontradicted teachings of LDS Church leaders on this subject, I occasionally receive letters from Church members espousing the idea that the Church has recently changed its position on birth control and the teachings found on this page are no longer valid.  These letters commonly reference either the counsel of some local Church leader (e.g., Bishop, Stake President) or the text on Birth Control found in The General Handbook of Instructions (GHI).  In reality, the teachings of Church leaders on this subject are just as valid today as when they were first issued.  While many statements exist condemning birth control, there is no public statement from any apostle positively recommending its use.  This is not an issue of a divided opinion among Church leaders. All public statements by Church leaders teach the same thing -- the use of birth control by Latter-day Saints is contrary to the will of God.

As to the supposed counsel of local leaders, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, through revelation from God, set the doctrine of the Church -- not one of the 25,000+ Bishops or Branch Presidents in the world.  If any local Church leader teaches something that is at variance with the instructions from the prophets and apostles, then that local leader is wrong. As far as the statement on Birth Control found in the GHI, those who believe it encourages the use of contraceptives have misinterpreted the text, which states:

"Husbands must be considerate of their wives, who have a great responsibility not only for bearing children but also for caring for them through childhood…. Married couples should seek inspiration from the Lord in meeting their marital challenges and rearing their children according to the teachings of the gospel"

Please note that the use of birth control is not specifically encouraged or positively allowed.  In other words, the statement does not explicitly say "It's OK for Latter-day Saints to use Birth Control, if they so desire."   Instead, the text leaves it to the married couple as to what they will do on this issue.  Why?  The GHI is not a guidebook for members.   Instead, the GHI is a handbook for lower-level Church leaders designed to help them officiate in their callings.  The Church has decided that it does not want Bishops and other local leaders to interfere in this aspect of members' lives.  The prophets and apostles have taught the truth and it is between the couple and God if they will obey.  It should be noted that this pattern is repeated for any number of issues including, but not limited to: 

Shopping on Sundays, working mothers, dating non-members, rated R movies, caffeinated cola drinks, birth control, etc.

In each teaching noted above, Church leaders have made the Lord's position perfectly clear.  However, a Bishop is not required to check up on a member to see if he has been obeying the counsel.  Therefore, there is nothing in the handbook on this particular matter.   Again, since the Bishop isn't requested to confirm whether a couple is following any of the above counsel, there is no need for specific information about these matters in his handbook.  If a couple desires to know the Church's teachings on these issues, they are encouraged to study the words of Church leaders. 

Finally, let me say that anyone should easily see the foolishness of trying to use the GHI to ignore the public teachings of Church leaders.   Members are encouraged to study the words of the prophets and apostles as they make important decisions in their lives.  The GHI isn't even issued to Church members and members are not encouraged to study it.  Yet, these people would try and use the following logic, "I realize that the Church encourages me to follow the counsel given in public statements of Church leaders.  And the Church has told me there is nothing in the GHI that I need to know about (unless I am called as a Bishop or something).   However, I choose to turn this around and follow the GHI, as I interpret it, and ignore anything said by a Church leader that is not found in the GHI or that contradicts my interpretation of the GHI. If the First Presidency says anything more specific than is found in the GHI, I'll just ignore it."  This false logic assumes that the GHI sets the standard for Church doctrine when in fact it does not. 

Let me use an example to illustrate the point.  I remember back in April 1995, when I was a graduate student at Brigham Young University, I had a discussion with one of my roommates.  We were discussing some gospel issue and the subject of birth control entered the conversation.  As part of the point I was making, I made reference to the Church's opposition to birth control.  My roommate was flabbergasted.  He said he had never heard that the Church took any issue on the matter.  I should mention that my roommate was an active Latter-day Saint who had faithfully returned from serving a mission the previous year. 

At that point, hearing my roommate's rejection of the principle, it was my turn to be surprised.  Church leaders teachings on birth control are widely disseminated.  You can examine just about any major compilation of apostolic writings and find a reference to them.  (For example:  Mormon Doctrine (Bruce R. McConkie), Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson,  Gospel Doctrine (Joseph F. Smith), Doctrines of Salvation (Joseph Fielding Smith), Discourses of Brigham Young, Gospel Ideals (David O. McKay), Evidences and Reconciliations (John A. Widstoe), etc.)  For that matter, Church leaders even included a subject for it in the topical guide in the back of the LDS version of the Bible.  

It was very surprising to me that an active member of the Church could be totally and completely unaware that the prophets of God had indeed spoken on the matter. At this point, my roommate used the "well, if it's not in the GHI, then the Church must have changed its position on the matter" stance as explained above.  While space constraints prevent me from elaborating in detail, let me simply state that "the principles of the Gospel do not change." (President Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, p.2)

We ended the conversation at that point.  Neither one of us really wanted to argue about it.  By coincidence, several days later, we watched general conference together on television.  During the session, Elder Washburn made the statement: "It is contradictory to [the temple marriage] covenant to prevent the birth of children if the parents are in good health." (see below).  My roommate turned and looked at me with an astonished expression.  I shrugged and didn't say anything.  As I had told him several days ago, the Church did have a position on the matter, regardless of the lack of any detailed information in the GHI.

In closing, the Church publishes a manual entitled Achieving a Celestial Marriage, which can be ordered from the Church Distribution Center at 1-800-537-5950 (U.S.).  The cost is $3.00.  If you are a married Latter-day Saint or a Latter-day Saint contemplating marriage, I encourage you to purchase this manual.  It contains invaluable information on the LDS standards of courtship and marriage.  Chapter 16 of the manual is entitled The Significance of Bringing Children to the World and contains important information regarding birth control and abortion.   The information found in this Church manual duplicates much of the information on this page.

If birth control is an issue with which you are struggling, I exhort you to call the Church and order the manual they publish on this subject (as well as other marital issues).  It contains not only the clear instructions from Church leaders, but also the doctrinal reasons behind them.



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