Being Fruitful

Robert Stacy McCain

Published 7/11/2002

Sam and Bethany Torode oppose contraception. They say it interferes with the "one flesh" nature of marriage declared in the Bible.

No one can accuse the Torodes of failing to practice what they preach. Their son Gideon was born almost exactly nine months after their November 2000 wedding.

"We don't waste any time," says Mr. Torode, 26, of South Wayne, Wis. He and his 21-year-old wife are expecting their second child in February.

The Catholic Church condemns contraception as "intrinsically evil," but the Torodes are not Catholic. They are part of a new generation of young Protestants who disdain birth control and favor larger families.

"A lot of people grew up without realizing there was an alternative to the dominant contraceptive lifestyle," says Mr. Torode, art and design editor of Touchstone, a Christian magazine.

In their new book, "Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception," the Torodes declare they want a "passel" of children, and they are not alone. Christian Internet sites such as advocate large families based on Psalm 127:5: "As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them."

Many evangelical Protestants in the pro-life movement have large families. Tennessee pro-life activist Charles Wysong and his wife, Brenda, have 15 children; Arkansas state Rep. Jim Bob Duggar and his wife, Michelle, have 13; Virginia home-schooling leader Michael Farris and his wife, Vickie, have 10.

The evangelical journal Christianity Today began questioning family limits in 1991, asking, "Is Birth Control Christian?" In 2001, the magazine ran an article by the Torodes: "Make Love and Babies," along with a rebuttal by Eastern College biblical studies professor Raymond Van Leeuwen.

"To suggest that birth control is evil or perverse," Mr. Van Leeuwen wrote, "because it undermines God's sovereignty is to underestimate God's sovereignty and reject our responsibility to serve Him wisely."

The Christian Research Journal took on the topic in an 1996 article by Michigan Theological Seminary professor Wayne House. "Many [couples] are more than willing to enjoy sexual relations with no procreation responsibilities, yet the [biblical] text indicates that childbearing is a very real part of the purpose of God in creating male and female," he wrote.

It was not until the 20th century that Protestant churches endorsed birth control. Martin Luther and other early Protestant reformers "believed in abundant fertility," says Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for the Family, Religion and Society in Rockford, Ill. "He condemned contraception and abortion in the strongest possible terms. Specifically, he thought [God's blessing for Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28] to 'be fruitful and multiply' was a divine command."

Prior to the 1900s, Mr. Torode says, most Protestants opposed birth control for the same reasons expressed by Pope Paul VI in his July 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae."

"They believed contraception would increase promiscuity and encourage adultery by separating sex from procreation," he says.

But after the Church of England approved birth control at its 1930 Lambeth Conference, "all Protestant denominations went on to endorse contraception, except for a few groups like the Amish," he says. Protestants "were following the spirit of the age. They were influenced by people like [Planned Parenthood founder] Margaret Sanger."

By the 1980s, acceptance of birth control was so widespread that tubal ligation surgical sterilization of women, now America's No. 1 contraceptive method became routine for women after having two or three children.

"After my mom had my [younger] sister, who is her third child, the nurse actually prepped her for a tubal ligation without her consent, but the doctor intervened he was a Christian, too," Mrs. Torode says. "My mom was pretty groggy and she didn't even know what was going on."

The Torodes endorse the Natural Family Planning (NFP) practices advocated by the Catholic pro-life Couple to Couple League, but most Americans don't know about NFP because the medical community almost unanimously endorses artificial birth control, Mr. Torode says. "It's so hard to get honest information. It's hard to find doctors who encourage large families."

The national trend toward smaller families has had profound consequences, Mr. Carlson says. Out-of-wedlock births 33 percent of all U.S. babies last year were born to unmarried women have become a troubling statistic, partly because the marital fertility rate has declined by more than 40 percent in the past 45 years.

Marital fertility is "the most important indicator of social health," Mr. Carlson says. "It's important because it embodies two critical measures of social health: the desire of young adults to marry and to procreate new life."

The Torodes base their opposition to artificial birth control on Genesis 2:24: "Therefore, shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."

"God created marriage, sex and children to go together," Mr. Torode says. "There's the concept of the husband and wife becoming one flesh. And children are a gift that God bestows on that union. Contraception puts up a barrier in the middle of the union."

"We believe that husband and wife should hold nothing back from each other," he says, "and children are pretty much the natural result of that kind of love."

The Torodes' love began with a whirlwind courtship after 18-year-old college sophomore Bethany Patchin published an August 1999 article arguing that Christians should not kiss before marriage.

Her article in Focus on the Family's online journal Boundless ( prompted Mr. Torode to reply with a letter that accused Bethany of trying to "drive young Christian men mad with desire" by boasting she had never been kissed. She now concedes there was perhaps "subconsciously" some truth in his charge.

After exchanging e-mails, the two met in January 2000. They were engaged that May and married six months later.

Mr. Torode now laughs at the irony of his letter to Boundless: "I can see the love letters pouring in now, from saps all over the country, proposing to poor Miss Patchin. Never underestimate reverse psychology," he wrote then.

"Then I wound up being the sap that fell for it," he says now, "because we did get married and we didn't kiss until our wedding day."

When the couple looked for books about contraception, they found that few modern Protestant authors had addressed the topic so they decided to write their own book.

"We're not trying to impose our views on others," Mrs. Torode says. "We're just putting an alternative out there, because a lot of people don't even realize all the options they have."

Copyright 2002 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.