Citing a desire to let their faith in God guide their sex lives and to trust Him in every aspect of their existence, some Protestants have become practitioners of Natural Family Planning (NFP). Eschewing contraceptives, some are now joining Catholics in fertility classes and returning to traditional Christian teaching.
The Austin American-Statesman reports that the number of NFP practitioners who are Protestants is difficult to quantify. However, Rev. Amy Laura Hall, a Methodist minister and associate professor at Duke Divinity School, says there appears to be growing interest.
She said that, as a Protestant scholar writing about reproductive issues, she frequently fields questions about family planning. Hall explained that some ask how to avoid preoccupation with finances and social advancement and instead welcome children as gifts from God even if children disrupt the parents’ life plans.
Historically, some Protestant perspectives grew from an antipathy towards Catholic and fundamentalist families, she claimed. The Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in the U.S., in 1930 changed its teachings which formerly forbade contraception, while Methodist literature after World War II advocated limiting the number of children to an ideally two-child, sex-balanced family.
This history has not prevented all Protestants from considering using NFP.
Phaedra Taylor, 28, told the Austin American-Statesman that she ruled out taking birth control pills after reading claims that the pill can cause abortions by rendering the womb hostile to a newly conceived human life.
"I just wasn't willing to risk it," she said, explaining she wanted her faith to guide her sexual and reproductive decisions after her marriage, before which she had been abstinent. She added that her avoidance of artificial contraception is consistent with her efforts to eat seasonal, locally grown foods and to be a good steward for the Earth.
Her husband David Taylor, 36, who was arts minister at their nondenominational church Hope Chapel, said family planning reveals “a fascinating examination of God's sovereignty and human free will.”
“What does it mean to submit your physical bodies to God's sovereign care? ... God has given us power and freedom to exercise that decision. We can say, 'God, we're going to respect the rhythms you have given us.'”
Both spouses said the NFP method draws them closer, stating they want to wait a few months before trying to conceive.
Megan Tietz, a 31-year-old Oklahoman Baptist and a mother of two, told the Austin American-Statesman “…for me, using hormonal birth control indicates that I don't really trust God with every area of my life.”
“It is an effort on my part to control something that I really believe God can be trusted with," she continued.
However, some Protestants have backed away from their previous support for NFP. Sam and Bethany Torode, authors of “Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception,” said the five years passed since writing their book have “shown that we had a lot to learn about NFP, and that there is a dark side we weren't aware of."
Others see NFP as beneficial.
Katie Fox, 31, is a member of Hope Chapel along with the Taylors. "I feel like it really works in harmony with the way that God designed our bodies to work," she commented. "In contrast with the pill, which works by altering and suppressing our natural systems, NFP works by supporting those systems in harmony with their functions. It goes with the flow, so to speak. There is a wisdom and a rightness to that which I really appreciate."
Fox has a 1-year-old daughter, explaining that NFP worked until she and her husband “got lazy” one month and had marital relations during her fertile period. She said the pregnancy helped remind them that God was ultimately in charge.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, experts say that, when used to avoid a pregnancy, NFP can fail at rates as low as one percent, though that rate rises to 25 percent when the method is not followed perfectly.
Hall said that some Protestant couples face difficulties when talking to their pastors about the spiritual issues of human reproduction with some, in Hall’s words, being told that they’re “crazy or irresponsible to consider not being on the pill.”
David Taylor agreed that pastors have difficulty addressing the issue, saying “My guess is that most churches are not talking about sexuality.”