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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Cashed out

Religion | The National Association of Evangelicals backs off its million dollar subsidy from pushers of contraception for the unmarried

Issue: "Praying for rain," Aug. 11, 2012

It's a new season.

As spring turned to summer, WORLD on June 21 broke the news that the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) had received $1 million over several years from the National Campaign for the Prevention of Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (NCPTUP). That organization promotes contraceptives for the unmarried. Many evangelicals had heatstroke.

NAE reacted at the end of June by flashing on the home page of its website two questions and answers: "Does NAE promote biblical sex in biblical marriage? Yes. Has NAE endorsed contraception for unmarried Christians? No." But the real question was whether NAE was helping NCPTUP promote its unbiblical message-and whether NAE, which has an annual budget of only $1 million, was asking NCPTUP for new money.

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On June 15 NCPTUP chief program officer Bill Albert had written to me that NAE and NCPTUP were discussing a second grant: "The second award is still under negotiation and has not been finalized." The goal of the second award would be "to continue the work started under the previous grant." Albert added on July 9, regarding the NAE grant, "Funding has been extended through the end of the year."

But NAE has received a lot of summer heat from individuals and denominational leaders. On July 10 NAE vice-chairman David Neff told me flatly, "We are not applying for another grant." (Neff is also editor-in-chief of Christianity Today.) NAE's "Generation Forum" project, funded by NCPTUP, will close down later this year.

It will be important to watch whether future NAE-sponsored events include NCPTUP speakers, as did a Los Angeles gathering in 2010 and the Christian Student Leadership Conference in 2011. It will be an improvement if future NAE announcements, publications, and videos stop echoing NCPTUP's failure to distinguish between married and unmarried contraceptive use. (See the "Generation Forum" video below and the Spring 2012 issue of NAE Insight for examples of such lumping.)

NAE President Leith Anderson's seven-paragraph June written response to WORLD, all of which is online at worldmag.com, included these two sentences: "Evangelicals are conflicted about contraceptives outside of marriage because we never want to promote or condone sexual immorality. But we are told that contraceptives can reduce abortions and we want to stop abortions."

The "but" is key: Should evangelicals accept the NCPTUP notion that to reduce abortion we should promote unmarried contraceptive use? Pastors writing to WORLD in late June and early July overwhelmingly said no to adultery. They proposed five alternatives.

FIRST, many said we should fight the recent tendency to marry later. (Since 1971 the median age for first marriages has jumped from 23 to 28 for men and from 21 to 26 for women.) Paul Mulner of Winston-Salem, N.C., wrote, "I have counseled certain young people to get married sooner than they had planned. I am opposed to the practice of long engagements and I let our young people (and their parents) know that."

That advice reflects what Paul told Corinthians: "If they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:9). This was in line with common Jewish practice of the time, as later recorded in the Talmud: One sage, Rav Huna, said, "He who is 20 years of age and is not married spends all his days in sin."

Pastors' comments to WORLD also match up with what University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus has found: "Most young Americans no longer think of marriage as a formative institution, but rather as the institution they enter once they think they are fully formed." That's a problem, because marriage pushes men and women to maturity, and late marriage means extended adolescence for millions.

Others mature without marriage, but for many single men this crucial developmental delay underlies both sexual recklessness and job fecklessness: Earnings for men between the ages of 25 and 34 have fallen by a fifth in the past 40 years, accounting for inflation. The change also contributes to abortion and poverty among single moms: Many unmarried women, competing for eligible men, feel the need to be sexually available. Parents of both men and women are complicit, because they often urge children to have a firm career foothold before considering marriage.

SECOND, we should show the consequences of sin: John Piper in Minneapolis wrote that promoting contraceptive use is "opposite from Jesus' approach. Instead of suggesting a way to soften the impact of sinning he intensified it." Piper cited Matthew 5:27-30 and Galatians 6:7 ("God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap"), then concluded: "Abortion is caused by illicit sex the way stealing is caused by unemployment. We don't give the unemployed person money so he won't steal. We help him see that work is better, and then help him find it."

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