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Yesterday I lunched with my friend Dawn Eden, author of the 2006 book The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On.  Her new book, about which she is traveling around the country to speak, is My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. Dawn is a former New York journalist who converted from agnosticism to Roman Catholicism, and with it, a strong commitment to chastity.  Check out her blog:  http://dawneden.blogspot.com/.

Some of us think Dawn is on the road to, if not formal sainthood, then at least sanctification.  As a Methodist, of course I wish her a safe and successful journey.  She is a devout Roman Catholic and especially influenced by Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” which comprehensively explains the church’s teachings regarding God’s redemptive purposes through marriage and chastity. I told her about a new column by renowned Southern Baptist seminary president Al Mohler urging Protestants to reconsider their too often cavalier stance towards contraception: http://www.albertmohler.com/2006/05/08/can-christians-use-birth-control/.

Mohler notes that a “growing number of evangelicals are rethinking the issue of birth control,” partly in reaction to the “abortion revolution.”  He recalls that Pope Paul VI’s 1968 warning through Humane Vitae that an unquestioning contraception culture would fuel sexual permissiveness has been fully vindicated.  Mohler commends much of the Catholic teaching without endorsing its every aspect, warning Christians “must never buy into the contraceptive mentality. We can never see children as problems to be avoided, but always as gifts to be welcomed and received.”

Up through the early 20th century, most Protestants agreed with Catholic teaching about contraception, fueling the Comstock Laws of the 1870’s, which banned contraception from public mails.  Anthony Comstock, a devout Congregationalist layman and U.S. postal inspector, was a zealous anti-obscenity crusader.  In his final days he was targeting Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. He also reputedly inspired a young J. Edgar Hoover.

As recounted in my new book, METHODISM & POLITICS IN THE 20TH CENTURY, President Teddy Roosevelt implicitly denounced contraception when addressing the 1908 northern Methodist General Conference.

Some liberal northern Methodist clergy began advocating contraception in the 1920’s.  The 1936 northern Methodist General Conference considered endorsing contraception but backed away after a firestorm of controversy.   Methodism did not formally endorse contraception until the 1956 General Conference.  Prominent Bishop Bromley Oxnam often lambasted Catholicism for hindering the contraception revolution.

But as late as 1966 Philadelphia Methodist Bishop Fred Corson warned against government distribution of contraceptives and suggested contraception was only appropriate for married couples after they had consulted with their religious advisors.  He warned:  “Making it easy to secure an over-the-counter product will create an evil brood of moral deterioration as well as economic and social problems.”

But mostly, official United Methodism, heeding the most apocalyptic warnings about global population, touted dropping contraceptives in bulk from helicopters, metaphorically speaking.  Or perhaps the better comparison is to WWII GI’s tossing candy to the waving children of liberated European cities. Long-term moral consequences were largely ignored by Methodists and other liberal Mainline denominations.

In 1970, United Methodism officially backed abortion rights.  And in 1972, United Methodism began its 40 year debate about homosexuality.  The deconstruction of human sexuality away from marriage and procreation in favor of self-actualization has of course accelerated, with many liberal clergy cheering the way.   But more thoughtful Protestant and evangelical thinkers are beginning to reconsider a full moral theology for the body based on historic church teachings.   Matthew Anderson is a rising young evangelical thinker whose 2011 book Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith is a helpful resource. His blog is:  http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/.