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Contraception

Church of England view

  • Contraception is not regarded as a sin or going against God's purpose  
  • Anglican thinking changed during the 20th Century from concern about increased use of contraception to official acceptance of it.

Is it different from the Roman Catholic view?   

  • Yes. RC teaching says only natural birth control is allowed. 
  • Last official CofE response - 1968 Lambeth Conference (10 yearly gathering of worldwide Anglican bishops). 


Full background briefing

The Church of England does not regard contraception as a sin or a contravention of God's purpose. The thinking of the Church on this subject changed substantially during the 20th century. In 1908 the Bishops of the Anglican Communion meeting at the Lambeth Conference declared that:

'the Conference records with alarm the growing practice of the artificial restriction of the family and earnestly calls upon all Christian people to discountenance the use of all artificial means of restriction as demoralising to character and hostile to national welfare.'

Some of the Church opposition at this time reflected a national concern about falling birth rates. By the 1920s, certain sections of the Church were beginning to develop a richer understanding of sexuality. Sexual love can be seen as good in itself, and it provided an essential way for a husband and wife to express and strengthen their love for each other. In the Garden of Eden God had said, 'It is not good that the man (Adam) should be alone' (Genesis 2:18). It was also argued that people were limiting their families in order to give children a better chance of success. A resolution at the 1930 Lambeth Conference was greeted with mixed reactions and read

'Where there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, complete abstinence is the primary and obvious method'

but if there was morally sound reasoning for avoiding abstinence

'that the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of Christian principles.'

By the time of the 1958 Lambeth Conference, contraception was a way of life among most Anglicans, and a resolution was passed to the effect that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children was laid by God upon the consciences of parents 'in such ways as are acceptable to husband and wife'.

In 1968, the Lambeth Conference considered the Papal Encyclical Humanae Vitae and while recording their appreciation of the Pope's deep concern for the institution of marriage and family life, the Bishops disagreed with his idea that methods of contraception other than abstinence and the rhythm method are contrary to the will of God.

The contrast between the Anglican position and the Roman Catholic position (reiterated on many occasions by Pope John Paul II in the years following Humanae Vitae) illustrates, in part, different ways of approaching questions of moral theology. Roman Catholics have tended to look to the Pope as the source of authority on moral, as in doctrinal, questions. Anglicans have tended to call on 'Scripture, Tradition and Reason'. Increasingly these approaches are being supplemented by appeals to 'human experience'. It is clear, for example, that the experience of Christian married people in relation to contraception explains some of the change in Anglican thinking between 1930 and 1958.

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