Published May 5, 2005
OPEN EMBRACE: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception; by Sam and Bethany Torode; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002; 144 pp.; paperback ; $12.
When Sam and Bethany Torode decided to marry, they talked about contraception with their married friends, who were largely evangelical Protestants.
Although their friends saw nothing wrong with using contraceptives, something spurred the Torodes, also Protestants, to explore a different path.
And out of that impulse has grown a remarkable book.
“Open Embrace” is a must-read for married couples, especially Catholics. It is one of the most lucid, down-to-earth and sweetly written challenges to everyday views about contraception that you will find.
It is also a riveting revelation of a different approach to love, one that could very well knock the socks off married couples.
In short, the Torodes advocate the notion of loving another person with a truly “open embrace,” which means without devices, pills or other attempts to “protect” one spouse from the other.
The book is charming in its honesty. For example, the Torodes admit they once discarded prohibitions against birth control as “superstition left over from the Middle Ages.”
Things changed, however, when they investigated a Natural Family Planning home-study course presented by the Couple to Couple League (www.ccli.org).
As the young couple began to understand the natural cycle of a woman’s fertility, they grew closer and soon made a commitment that they would, as Christians, “remain open to children” in the sexual act.
The book reveals that early Christian teaching held that fertility and sexuality were part of a continuous harmony and cautioned against breaking the God-given connection between sex and procreation.
Although this is a little known fact, the truth is that, at one time, all Christian teachings, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, taught that artificial birth control was wrong.
All this changed in 1930, when the Anglican Church said contraception would be morally justified in certain, very restricted cases. Other Protestant denominations followed suit, and soon the prohibition against birth control was seen largely as a Catholic issue.
Still, with the publication of “Open Embrace,” the Protestant tide may be turning.
An important point: the Torodes do not suggest that every act of lovemaking involving fertile couples should result in conception. Instead, the book emphasizes that since a woman is fertile only a few days a month, couples wanting to wait for the next baby can abstain from lovemaking on those days.
Also, knowing the fertile days makes it easier for couples that are longing to conceive a child to achieve their dream.
And no, the book is not endorsing the old rhythm method. Instead, “Open Embrace” promotes a much more precise method called Natural Family Planning, which has an effectiveness rate of 99 percent.
The couple uses Scripture and tradition to back their claims, while also suggesting that lovemaking au naturel sparks a deeper sense of emotional intimacy between a man and a woman.
The pill, along with creams, diaphragms and condoms, are barriers to real intimacy and love, the authors say.
“Every time a husband and wife come together, they ought to do so in earnest, in an open embrace, withholding nothing from each other—including their fertility,” they write.
Still, they realize that some couples may have serious reasons to avoid a pregnancy.
The solution is abstinence during the fertile time of the month, which the Torodes hold is better for a relationship than contraception, which demeans the sex act.
The twosome points out something that most married couples already know: When you fast from anything, the feasting that follows is even more enjoyable.
This book may come as a shock for readers who have been led to believe that we must protect ourselves against fertility, as if it were a disease, rather than regarding it as a gift from God.
In a chapter, “Having Babies, Not Regrets,” Bethany says she has never heard Christian parents expressing regret over having another child—or wishing they’d had none at all.
But she also knows couples that regret having no children—and those that wished they’d had more.
“To welcome a child, after all, is to welcome Christ,” she points out.