Mennonites regard children as gifts from God, a heritage of the Lord; and to bear and rear children is an expected reality of marriage. However, in the late 20th century many believed responsible Christian behavior includes using birth control to space children, to prevent unwanted pregnancies, or both.
A study published in 1975 asked about the use of birth control devices or pills by married spouses in Mennonite and Brethren in Christ congregations. Of the respondents, 11 percent thought the use of birth control was always wrong, 25 percent thought it was sometimes wrong, 47 percent considered it never wrong and 17 percent were uncertain (Kauffman/ Harder, Anabaptists four centuries later, 180). Apparently about half of these people were unwilling to give blanket approval to the practice of contraception despite the fact that the Mennonite Church (MC) and the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM) had adopted statements indicating approval of contraception by methods approved by the medical profession.
These percentages reflect a more accepting attitude regarding the use of birth control than that found in a resolution adopted by a district of the Virginia Conference (MC) in 1940, an official statement of belief about marriage and marital relations. This resolution reflected the belief that artificial devices and the general practice of birth control were injurious to the moral and spiritual welfare of the home, and they could lead to harmful physical results. A later, even stronger, statement in the same document called attempts to avoid parenthood by use of artificial devices sinful and contrary to the will of God.
The Mennonite Conference of Ontario established a Birth Control Committee (composed of three men) in 1944 to study the issue. In 1945 the committee reported modern birth control methods "tend to a reversal of God's holy law given at creation" and "makes possible the indulging of fleshly desires apart from the marriage relationship." No other Canadian Mennonite conferences appeared to make explicit statements birth control.
Greater acculturation of Mennonites in the 1960s and 1970s with the broader society may have promoted more liberal attitudes toward birth control. Research among the general population has shown that the higher the level of education of the wife or husband, the more likely is the use of contraception. Farm workers consistently have a lower proportion of birth control users than the general population and wives working outside the home are much more likely to have completely planned fertility. As greater numbers of Mennonites increased their level of education, left the farm, and had families in which the wife worked outside the home, it became likely that greater numbers used using birth control methods.
The Old Order Amish who still reject higher education, remain primarily an agricultural society in which women do not work outside the home and have shown no indication of reducing their growth rate by birth control. In 1981, the mean complete Amish family size was 6.8 children, more than twice the mean for the American family. Abstaining from sexual intercourse is their only accepted form of birth control, but some Amish families concede to using the rhythm method. Some reluctantly use other methods upon medical advice. In Amish circles birth control is not commonly discussed, even among Amish women. Old Colony Mennonites also do not practice birth control.
Erickson, Julia, Eugene Ericksen, John A. Hostetler, and Gertrude Huntington. "Fertility Patterns and Trends Among the Old Order Amish." Population Studies 33, no, 2: 275.
Friesen, Duane K. Moral Issues in the Control of Birth. Newton, 1974: 67.
Hostetler, John A. Amish society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980: 104.
Mennonite Church (MC) General Conference statement. The Christian View of Marriage and Christian Parenthood. Scottdale, 1959: 7.
Mennonite Church of Ontario. 1945-46 Calendar of Appointments: 38-40.
Mumaw, John R. Marriage, Marital Relations and the Home. Scottdale, 1940: 19.
Wenger, A. Frances. "Acceptability of Perinatal Services Among the Amish." Presented at Nurses' Symposium on Future Direction in Perinatal Care. Baltimore, Md., 1 October 1980.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 85-86. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Hershberger, Anne K. "Birth Control." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 18 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B541ME.html.
APA style: Hershberger, Anne K. (1989). Birth Control. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B541ME.html.