Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eunuchs and Birth Control

When studying the week's readings in preparation for my sermon on Sunday, I generally pull up the commentary from St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Picayune, MS. On their site they provide very good commentary for the week's readings when the Catholic and Revised Common Lectionaries match up.  I also recommend them for the layperson who wants to prepare for Sunday by reading the lessons before worship.

The Old Testament reading for this week is from Isaiah 56, and it focuses on the care of God for those who are excluded from Israel because of the law, which meshes well with the Gospel reading about the Caananite woman.  Among those who were excluded were eunuchs, and the writer of the commentary explains: 

"Eunuchs were refused admission into the assembly of the Lord (Leviticus 22:24; Deuteronomy 23:1) because it seemed improper for a person, deprived of the power of transmitting life to associate with the God of life."

This is very interesting commentary explaining why God would be exclude someone from His presence for a simple bodily deficiency (somehow, that word seems too benign!); restrictions on eunuchs had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with reflecting God's nature and character in one's body.  

Recently we passed the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the much-maligned Catholic encyclical published by Pope Paul VI in 1968, which is most famous for its strong condemnation of birth control.  For a full treatment on the subject, Mary Eberstadt's article in First Things is a must-read.  In the opening statement of the encyclical, Paul VI writes,

"The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator."

The operating principle in the encyclical is that sex necessarily entails a responsibility to create; since God creates, and we are made in the image of the Creator, we are called to c0-create with the Creator.  Furthermore, the Bible is unmistakable that God created out of love - Psalm 136 explains that everything exists because "His love endures for ever."  Love and creation cannot be separated because to do so cuts right across the grain of who God is.  Therefore, the act of intercourse cannot be limited to an expression of love; to make it a non-creative act is to do violence to the design of God.

It seems that the same principle that excluded eunuchs from the sacred assembly is in play when discussing birth control.  Consider:  if God would exclude a eunuch from the sacred assembly for a bodily deficiency that deprives someone the ability to create life, why would God permit someone into His assembly who willingly deprived themselves of the possibility of procreation?  Is there a difference here?

Catholics have been rankling over this logic for 40 years, but Protestants are relative newcomers to the game.  Protestants have taken their positions on abortion on both sides, but we've remained largely silent on the next logical step of birth control.  And if there is any truth to Ms. Eberstadt's article, then it is imperative that we start speaking out on this issue, because contrary to popular opinion, birth control is not a private issue for couples, but a moral issue affecting all of us.  In the 40 years since Humanae Vitae, have we seen a significant drop in abortions, in children born or raised out of wedlock, in sexual irresponsibility?  Of course not; and as Ms. Eberstadt points out with remarkable clarity, much of that can be traced to the increase use of birth control, and, I would add, the stunning silence of churches.  "Free love" has been shown to be a filthy lie from Satan himself; the only answer is the responsible, creative love of God expressed in marriage.

Of course, the good news of the reading from Isaiah is that God has mercy on those who "keep justice and do righteousness."  For those who may have fallen, who have put themselves outside of the people of God, there is good news - we can choose God's way again.  Isaiah writes,

"To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off."

Thanks be to God.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

Nice post in a provacative blog. Found your site from Fr. Z's comment.

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