It shouldn't be a sin to plan your family
THE Christian church has a patchy record so far as its teaching on sexual morality is concerned.
Jesus taught the indissolubility and exclusivity of marriage: so far, so good. But quite early in Christian history some Church leaders began to show a distaste for sexual intercourse which has had damaging results.
They taught that celibacy was a higher way of life than marriage; and they taught that sexual intercourse should be undertaken solely and exclusively for the procreation of children. Thus they excluded the possibility that sexual union might be undertaken simply as an expression of affection and intimacy.
Nowadays very few people would argue that celibacy is superior to marriage, but there is still some disagreement over the place of sexual intercourse.
Nearly all Christian denominations teach that sexual union within marriage has a wider function that the production of children, but the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church adds that nothing artificial must be done to prevent conception.
Couples may seek to plan their family by "natural" means, such as avoiding intercourse at times when the woman is most fertile; but anything beyond that is sinful.
So the principle that sexual intercourse is primarily for procreation is maintained, but within a thought frame which concedes that it may also be used as a simple expression of love.
Very few Roman Catholics in western countries feel bound by their church's teaching in this respect; they feel that they can conscientiously disregard it, and use artificial contraceptives.
But in the developing world the Roman Catholic teaching has what many would see as a damaging effect.
Recently, for example, the British government has teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide family planning facilities for many millions of women who were previously denied them.
The intention is to prevent unwanted pregnancies which often endanger the mother's health or produce another mouth which it will prove hard to feed.
The official Roman Catholic church strenuously resists initiatives of this kind, both on grounds of doctrine and by arguing that the money involved could be better spent in other ways.
Many Christians take another view. They say that once the principle has been conceded that sexual intercourse has a wider purpose than procreation it is hard to see why artificial contraception within marriage should be forbidden.
A planned family is more likely to be a happy family.