Sunday, February 05, 2006

"Daddy, can I quit now?" Tales from "BEFORE" the Crib

Recently I was browsing through The Eternal Marriage Student Manual (for Religion234 and 235 if you're curious), and there is a chapter entitled "Birth Control." It has such great quotes as, "Birth Control is wickedness" by Joseph Fielding Smith (on page 15 if anyone wants to read that zinger). It also has the story of an anonymous President of the Church's daughter, who was in her mid-40s and after suffering a miscarraige on her 9th child was visited by her father (the Prophet) in the hospital. She asked him, "Daddy can I quit now?" His response: "Don't ask me. If you two can face Heavenly Father with a good conscience and say you have done your best then you may quit."

Elder ( later President) Benson said, " The world teaches Birth Control. Tragically, many of our sisters subscribe to its pills and practices, when they could easily provide earthly tabernacles for more of our Father's children."

The First Presidency in 1969 wrote to Church leaders saying" 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."

Interestingly, President Smith's quotation was written about the same time that the Supreme Court decision of Griswold v. Connecticut loosened state controls on contraceptives like birth control pills (the Connecticut statute surely was intended to curb birth control); and Elder Benson's and the First Presidency's statements were a few years later, when the controversy over contraceptives was still pretty big.

Recently, President Hinckley said, "I am offended by the sophistry that the onl lot of the Latter-day Saint woman is to be barefoot and pregnant. It is a clever phrase but false.... He did not designate the number nor has the Church. This is a sacred matter left up to the couple and the Lord."

He then quotes the Church Handbook of instructions which says the same thing.

My questions are: Has the Church changed its stance on this? Does the Church create these 'policies' based on reactions to current events or perceived attacks on the family, ie. the controversy surrounding Birth Control at the time the statements were made???

Were women encouraged to stay home and produce child after child as a means to keep them from becoming involved in the Feminist movements in the 70s?

It seems odd that the Church would be so extremist in its policies, doesn't it? You must absolutely have many many children or it is contrary to the teachings of the Church..

What happened to bring the Church more to the middle? President Hinckley's quote sounds much different from the other three ( One of these things is not like the other...).

And, why, if the Church has changed its policy, would they keep these old quotes from the Prophets in a brand new edition of the book. Why is it necessary?

Why should we need to be told how many to have? Even if its not doctrine, it sure sounds like its a "custom" or part of the "culture" of Mormondom to have as many as possible.....

For example, A High Councilman came and spoke at Church the other day, he said before he and his wife were married, they set a goal to have 10, yes TEN children. He was so proud to announce that they had BEATEN that goal by 40% ( or 4 more children) so they are the proud parents of 14 children. Not that there is anything wrong with that- but is it really necessary to gloat at the pulpit?


At 2/06/2006 08:50:00 AM,

Sheldon and I have talked about this before......I'm no historian, but I've noticed a huge difference between women who were alive pre-ERA, those who lived during the ERA years, and women who we're born after all that happened. I don't know if that solves anything, but maybe it's a starting point.

Why they'd leave it in the institute manuals? One word - CES. Their one mission is to make sure there is no nuance in the gospel scheme EVER!!! "No birth control allowed" is a lot easier to teach than, "it's up to you." Really, I have know idea why that's still in there. I'm sure i'm making a ridiculolus over-generalization about CES, but it does seem that way.

At 2/06/2006 12:16:00 PM,

"Their one mission is to make sure there is no nuance in the gospel scheme EVER!!!" LOL :)

I think CES has a middle-management problem. They're more Catholic than the Pope, so to speak. The BYU Religion Dept. on the other hand, is doing a much better job at this.  

Posted by Ben

At 2/06/2006 01:48:00 PM,

A brief quibble or two: Griswold v. Connecticut  did not "make birth control legal". That case simply found that a Connecticut law permitting sales of contraceptives only with a doctor's prescription was an unconstitutional infringement on a "right to privacy", which the artful Justice Douglas found in some "penumbras" of the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.

I am not sure how many other states had statutes like Connecticut's, but there were many that didn't.

What's more, birth control pills, which came out a few years before Griswold, still require a doctor's prescription.

The Griswold case was decided in 1965, four years before the 1st Presidency letter you quote.

The encouragement by Church leaders to have large families dates back to the 1800's--it didn't arise as a response to late 20th century feminism.


Posted by Mark B.

At 2/06/2006 07:31:00 PM,


Timeframe concerns duly noted; but it sounds like your critique of my wife's post (she's not a lawyer, by the way) sounds more like you want to make a general indictment of the "right to privacy" doctrine enunciated in the opinion.

Regardless of the correctness of the decision, I think my wife was just putting those statements in their proper context: Amid significant discussion about the role of women, and the family. I think that Chris correctly intimates that some of the most polarizing statements by the Church on the role of women occurred during the feminist movement - partially as a reaction to it, perhaps? Jill Mulvay Derr and Claudia Bushman have both talked about how "intense" it was for LDS women to live through the polarizing years of the ERA debate and the feminist movement at large.

At 2/06/2006 08:28:00 PM,

Thanks Chris- I think there are significant differences in the women pre and post ERA years.

Anonymous ---As for CES- we'll let Sheldon talk about them he knows all about the middle management problem. Actually someone over at FMHW wrote a letter to the curriculum department asking some questions.....

Mark- my apologies on the incorrectness of my dates. However, I don't know that I can agree with statement that women were encouraged to have large families since the 1800s. Brigham Young was sending women off to Medical School and to Law School, not necessarily encouraging them to stay at home and produce babies.

Also- I don't think the families were encouraged to have "large families" so much as they 1) lost many children in death, and 2) needed many children to help them survive in farming, housework, etc.

I don't believe it was doctrinal or a "policy" then. I think it was the social norm. So comparing life back in the 1800s, life in the 1970s and even life now are very different things.

At 2/07/2006 08:44:00 AM,

Plus, they didn't HAVE birth control (at least not any reliable methods) in the 1800s. So of course people had larger families. I'm with Cat. It was probably more of a social norm back then than a policy.

At 2/07/2006 01:12:00 PM,

As long as we're historicizing, let's look at President Hinkley, who had a--by Mormon standards, anyway--moderately sized family. This would not be suprising for someone who was a young adult during the Great Depression. Widespread, debilitating economic adversity usually makes people marry relatively later in life and limit the size of their family. I think Hinkley's bio at least partialy bears this out. Such pragmatism and life experience could explain his relative sympathy to birth control--the saner pronouncement on family planning in the current General Handbook of Instructions came out during the late 1990s.

Janelle, reliable contraception existed in the 1800s, but it was usually in the hands of prostitutes or the upper class. For an interesting discussion on the introduction of birth control methods to the masses, you should read Margaret Sanger's _Woman and the New Race_. Sanger faced a great deal of police harrasment for opening birth control clinics or distributing birth control information through the mails. The working classes wanted to have the same option that the wives of their capitalist masters did, so if large families were a social norm in the 19th century, that norm may well reflect the pragmatism or resignation of people who had little choice. 

Posted by Boris Max

At 2/07/2006 05:01:00 PM,

I think that Janelle's comment that there was no reliable birth control in the 1800s is comparatively valid. Think about the efficiency of various contraceptives now, as compared to the 1800s, and it is like trying to compare an abacus to a laptop. 

Posted by Sheldon

At 2/07/2006 07:28:00 PM,

The quote below is from that new mini book: True to the Faith.

When married couples are physically able, they have the privilege of providing mortal bodies for Heavenly Father’s spirit children. They play a part in the great plan of happiness, which permits God’s children to receive physical bodies and experience mortality.

If you are married, you and your spouse should discuss your sacred responsibility to bring children into the world and nurture them in righteousness. As you do so, consider the sanctity and meaning of life. Ponder the joy that comes when children are in the home. Consider the eternal blessings that come from having a good posterity. With a testimony of these principles, you and your spouse will be prepared to prayerfully decide how many children to have and when to have them. Such decisions are between the two of you and the Lord.

As you discuss this sacred matter, remember that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved. While one purpose of these relations is to provide physical bodies for God’s children, another purpose is to express love for one another—to bind husband and wife together in loyalty, fidelity, consideration, and common purpose."

Ok. I think it is pretty funny that the words BIRTH CONTROL are the title of the section, but not mentioned AT ALL in the text.

I read the church handbook on this recently and as far as I remember, it was left up to the couple to plan their families. If we were not meant to use birth control, the current prophet would say as much. If he can talk about poker at priesthood, he can talk about the pill at relief society.

I think the shift in our church view is definitely about "times changing" and the fact that our religion is staying modern and relevent to the times, is a testimony to me that we do have a living Prophet. He and God both know that "the world" is making it more difficult to have a gajillion kids. I would also like to think that the Prophet has been around the block and seen that we must take care of our parents...the demands are many and to rear righteous children is a difficult job this day and that might mean less kids for some people.

At 2/07/2006 09:06:00 PM,

That's really interesting. I had never read the "TRUE TO THE FAITH" booklet. Thanks for pointing that out.

I think you are right that the Church is recognizing that child-rearing obligations and expectations today are far different from the mid-1900s, where a parent was considered "successful" if he/she could keep a child from dying before the ripe age of 10.

Today, we expect parents to provide children with physical, emotional, spiritual and mental/educational support. We expect a lot more of parents; in essence, I think the Church (and society at large) has "raised the bar" on parenting. With the greater emphasis on quality (not that lots of kids automatically means low quality... after all, I am third of nine) of child-rearing, I think quantity will take more of a back seat.

Additionally, I think the Church recognizes more and more that parents need to have children to a degree that they can continue to progress physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well. No point having 10 kids if Mom is an emotionally "burnt out" Primary President when all is said and done... 

Posted by Sheldon

At 2/08/2006 01:26:00 PM,

There is a book out there called "Between Husbands and Wives: Gospel perspectives on marital intimacy" that is great.

President Kimball spoke a lot on the issue and he didn't seem to have many problems with it.

I was skeptical of all of Sheldon's anti CES rhetoric 6 months ago, but after he converted me to his views on Santa Claus, his CES stuff sounds pretty good.

At 2/08/2006 02:22:00 PM,

That was CHRIS' anti-CES rhetoric. Not Sheldon's.

At 2/08/2006 09:29:00 PM,

I've been reading "Founding Mothers" by Cokie Roberts. There was an interesting passage I thought was applicable to this discussion. The wives of the founding fathers ( much like the early Saints) would often only see their wives every few years, but when they did, the women could almost be sure to get pregant. Cokie Roberts says this:

Though some women expressed their distress at the repeated pregnancies, it was what women expected, and the men didn't seem willing to do anything about it. That started to change at the end of the eighteenth century, perhaps as a result of women feeling somewhat more in charge of famiy decisions after their wartime experiencesforced them to take charge of so much else. There are letters from mothers adevising their daughters to nurse babies longer in order to stave off another pregnancy. And birthrates did start declining in the last couple of decades before the turn of the nineteenth century.

At 2/09/2006 05:29:00 PM,

I know I'm entering this discussion a little too late - in fact, it's probably over. I just wanted to post in support of CES (somebody has to). I think Chris's comments were overgeneralized and unwarranted. Remember, there's much more to CES than BYU - which I consider to be a very insignificant subset (tenured religion professors?) of the System, having been an employed part of it for some 3 years now.

And I think all this just lends credence to my position that Griswold is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever handed down.

At 2/09/2006 07:24:00 PM,

Your comments on CES are well-taken, though not necessary. I think I noted in my post that I was, in fact, overgeneralizing. We're I completely serious, the irony would be that I criticize CES for ignoring nuance while avoiding it myself (that would've been a better argument against my position).

Your comment on Griswold puzzles me. While I don't expect an all-out law review article to support why one does or does not support a particular view on Griswold, surely honest discussion requires something more than the analysis you provided: "All this just lends credence to my position that Griswold is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever handed down." All what? I don't follow your reasoning. Are you willing to put Griswold (establishing the right to marital privacy) on the same level of Dred Scott or Plessy v. Feurgeson?  

Posted by Chris

At 2/09/2006 10:56:00 PM,

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2/09/2006 11:02:00 PM,


Your hyperbolizing of Griswold ironically sounds a little bit like Chris' hyperbolizing of CES.

And for the record, this blog post really had nothing to do with Griswold, except that the author used the case as a "historical bookmarker" to give context to the time in which the birth control statements were made... any other "big" historical event of the era, dealing with reproduction/family issues, also could have been used. No causation is implied, intended or asserted.

Unless, of course, you are asserting a time-shift causality argument; that is, "if Griswold had never been issued, then birth control would have remained quasi-illegal, then the Church would never have had to tell its members not to use it/to use it/whatever".

And for the record, I thought the CES comment was funny.

Which was Chris' point in making it.

Although, there is some truth to the statement, and once you peel away the hyperbole, there are some great issues that Chris addressed with that statement.

And also for the record, Chris admitted in his comment that he was making a "ridiculous over-generalization". He tipped his own hat, so to speak.




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