If you weren’t so fortunate as to grow up with that book, allow me to introduce the basic premise to you: things start out innocently enough. A young man, probably about the reader’s presumed age, offers an amicable mouse what appears to be a chocolate chip cookie. The naive lad doesn’t realize, though, that he’s damned himself to a ride down a very, very slippery slope. For, as the book foretells, “if you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll probably ask for a glass of milk.” Well, sure, no problem there… but if you give him a glass of milk, he’s going to want a straw. And most likely he’s going to ask for a napkin too… and before you know it, your entire day has been pushed beyond the event horizon of the black hole that is your relationship with a very needy rodent.
It’s a prophetic parable for the primary grades set: the people around you may cry about “slippery slope” arguments being logically fallacious, and yet sometimes… well, sometimes you get a very long way down the slope before you realize a hungry mouse’s desert craving has destroyed your entire day.
Sometimes life imitates art. I’m talking, in this instance, about Protestant acceptance of birth control.
Before the 1930′s, more-or-less all Christian denominations agreed that birth control was sinful (which is a fact that I was blissfully unaware of until I was well on my way to becoming Catholic. In fact, our evangelical pastor strongly advocated birth control in our pre-marital counseling, and I hadn’t the foggiest idea that would have ever been controversial… but I digress, and I thank God for the grace of Confession). Back then, I think Christians would have unanimously given their assent to G.K. Chesterton’s statement that those who advocate for birth control actually believe in neither birth nor control.
But in the 1930′s, the Anglicans broke rank. Pretty much every Christian denomination thereafter followed suit…except, famously, the Catholic Church. In a tumultuous time in Church history, Pope Paul VI wrote his encyclical Humanae Vitae, which not only defended the Church’s traditional teaching, but offered some pretty bold predictions about what would happen in society if contraception became widely embraced. The Catholic Church taught then and still teaches now that marital sex has both a unitive and a procreative purpose: that is God’s design is that sex draws the couple together, and the result of that is an openness to new life as a result.
At the time, it sounded like an awful lot of “slippery slope” to many progressives, both inside and outside of the Catholic fold. It also sounded like a lot of Catholic hogwash to Protestants who had, by the time the encyclical was released in 1968, almost universally embraced contraception for married couples. A lot of scare tactics from an old celibate Italian man who lived in a castle, right?
I thought about all of that this evening because I just read that the lead singer of Jars of Clay–a very popular Christian band from my evangelical youth–has decided to very vocally support gay marriage.
Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. Oh sure, it flies in the face of New Testament teaching, but I’ve heard whispers of support of this sort of thing from evangelical friends and acquaintances for quite some time now. Some popular evangelical speakers and bloggers have been going down this path for a few years. Jennifer Knapp, another popular Christian artist from my youth, came out as a practicing homosexual back in 2010. A few months ago, there was the scandal/public relations fiasco caused by World Vision… Is it too early to call it a trend? Maybe.
But there’s other troubling signs within evangelical views of sexuality. Divorce and remarriage is already widespread and accepted, despite Jesus’ clear teachings against it in the New Testament. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about issues like in vitro fertilization or storing embryos. And among evangelicals my age, there seems to be…well, fatigue, for lack of a better word, surrounding the issue of abortion, even if not many take up the pro-choice mantle.
This is what allowing for contraception does: when once you separate the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality, you pretty much end your chances of having a coherent Christian theology of sex. If sex is mainly unitive, and procreation is optional, then the entire function of marriage becomes very self-centered: we are brought together for the purpose of being brought together. The question becomes: what will make me and/or my spouse more happy or fulfilled? And if we stop being happy when we come together, then why shouldn’t I divorce you and marry someone else? And if I want to come together with someone from the same gender because that’s what makes me happy, then why should we be denied the unitive, since the procreative is optional anyways? Why should I let a few Bible verses affect my opinion– I mean, Paul was a product of his culture, he didn’t really understand what homosexuality is the same way we do, right?
You see, that old celibate Italian guy who lived in a castle understood something: conclusions follow from premises. When once you alter your starting premises, even a little, your conclusions are bound to be wildly, radically different. Even evangelical Christians who believe in the Bible as the inspired word of God are not immune to this. Without a coherent Christian philosophy of sexuality based on natural law and reason, people find a way to dance hermeneutical jigs to get the doctrine they want. Allowing contraception into Christian marriages was just the first step on the path towards a wholesale abandonment of all traditional Christian sexual morality.
That is to say: if you give a mouse a condom…