Questions from Readers
● Would a husband’s approving of sterilization (either for himself or for his wife) disqualify him from positions of congregational responsibility?
The Bible clearly shows God’s high regard for the powers of procreation with which he has gifted humans. (Gen. 1:28; 9:1) The “fruitage of the belly” was counted a reward and an “inheritance from Jehovah.” (Ps. 127:3) A man whose genital organs were severely damaged was disqualified under the Law covenant from ‘coming into the congregation of Jehovah.’ The fact that the context of this verse sets forth prohibitions upon those of certain races ‘coming into the congregation of Jehovah’ appears to indicate that this provision relates to defective males among foreigners who took up the worship of Jehovah. (Deut. 23:1-8) It is not stated whether the damaging of the genital organs was intentional or accidental. Additionally manifesting God’s high regard for the powers of procreation, when a woman attempted to aid her husband in a struggle by seizing the genital organs of his opponent, the Law ruled that her hand should be amputated. (Deut. 25:11, 12) Christians, of course, are not bound by the Law covenant. Nevertheless, they are concerned as to the principles embodied therein.
From this we might conclude that the only course in harmony with God’s purpose would be for persons to marry and bring forth as many children as possible. The Scriptures, however, still allow for personal decision in matters relating to the procreative powers. If this were not so, then it would be a course of disrespect for the gift of those powers if any Christian refrained from marrying and producing children. Yet Christ Jesus, who himself refrained from marrying, said: “There are eunuchs that were born such from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs that were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs that have made themselves eunuchs on account of the kingdom of the heavens. Let him that can make room for it make room for it.” Such ones making themselves “eunuchs on account of the kingdom of the heavens” did so by remaining single. (Matt. 19:10-12) By so doing they were not showing disrespect for God’s provision regarding procreation. The apostle Paul, like Jesus, also showed that singleness could have advantages.—1 Cor. 7:25-38.
At the same time, neither Jesus nor his apostles urged childlessness upon married Christians. What Jesus said at Matthew 24:19 was simply a prophetic statement of fact—not to urge first-century Christians to avoid having children, but for them not to delay flight from the doomed city when the sign of her destruction was seen. Much closer to the time of that destruction, the apostle Paul was still encouraging passionate “younger widows to marry, to bear children.”—1 Tim. 5:11-14.
In view of these Scriptural points, it should be evident that the bearing of children has divine approval. Hence, it would be wrong for one to submit to sterilization or approve of sterilization of one’s wife simply because one has no appreciation for God’s gift of the procreative powers. What, however, of the situation where one’s wife has given birth to children but has had to do so through surgical operations, such as cesarean section? She may have had as many as three such operations and her physician may warn her that a further pregnancy could place her in serious danger of experiencing womb rupture, generally fatal to both the mother and the fetus. Would sterilization in such a case necessarily show disrespect for the divine gift of procreation?
It seems evident that the couple have not manifested a light attitude toward their procreative powers, having already brought forth children. They may view sterilization as a procedure advisable to protect the life of the mother of the children already produced. They may view it as a ‘last resort.’ Thus in making their decision they may feel that it is a question of balancing respect for God’s provision of the procreative powers with respect for the gift of life itself, in this case the life of the endangered mother. For this reason, and for additional reasons, it appears that such a decision is one that rests on the individual consciences of those involved.
It may be objected that, even under such circumstances, agreeing to sterilization would represent a lack of faith on the part of those involved. A doctor’s warning is not necessarily certain to prove correct; hence, why not wait and see what happens? The same argument, however, could be used regarding women who submit to a hysterectomy, which, through removal of the womb, is certainly destructive of the procreative powers. Hysterectomies are often performed although the woman is not actually dying. Aside from incipient cancer, there may be large fibroids (fibromyomas) that cause great pain or much bleeding. Benign tumors can become degenerate. Since the threat of fatal illness that these things present is only potential, would respect for the procreative powers require the woman to wait until massive hemorrhaging actually begins before submitting to a hysterectomy and the loss of her procreative powers? True, the woman who has had several children by cesarean section may not have large fibroids or malignant tumors, yet at the same time it can hardly be said that her womb is a “healthy” one, having been cut open a number of times. The Christian whose conscience allows for sterilization might view the condition of her womb as a threat potentially as dangerous as these other conditions described.
Some might consider sterilization as a deliberate “mutilation” of the body. However, any major surgery has a ‘mutilating’ effect on the body; a cesarean section or a hysterectomy obviously does. Nonetheless, where it is a question of maintaining health and life, a Christian may feel that he can conscientiously submit to major surgery. Again, it is a matter of weighing factors, on the one hand giving due weight to respect for one’s body and the qualities divinely implanted therein and, at the same time, giving equal weight to health and the preservation of life itself. This gives further reason why the decision regarding sterilization under such circumstances should rest with the consciences of those involved.
It is a recognized fact that only total abstinence from sexual relations gives any sure guarantee of avoiding pregnancy. But such total abstinence does not harmonize with the apostolic counsel at 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 and, if practiced, might increase the temptation to adultery on the part of one or the other of the mates. Christians who conscientiously wish to avoid sterilization may prefer to rely on self-control and contraceptive methods to avoid a potentially fatal pregnancy, accepting the risk that this involves. However, can such ones rightly condemn those whose conscience may allow for sterilization as a means of protecting an endangered life? In each case the individuals are seeking the same end: to neutralize or block the effect of their procreative powers, in one case by mechanical or chemical means of contraception, in the other case by surgical operation.
What of the man who submits to sterilization due to his wife’s endangered state? It is not his body that has a weakened womb. Still, if his conscience allows for sterilization, he might prefer to be the one to suffer the operation, rather than have his wife undergo further surgery. His conscience might or might not allow him to do so.
What is here presented is not to be taken as indicating any encouragement whatsoever toward sterilization, even as we cannot encourage the use of contraceptive methods by couples seeking to avoid having children. The responsibility for whatever consequences or adverse side effects may result, whether at the present time or in the future, must rest with those making the decision. Sterilization, like a hysterectomy, is a serious step, since human ability to reverse its effects is very slight indeed.
The qualifying for congregational responsibility on the part of a man who approves of sterilization due to his wife’s endangered state, then, is one that must be weighed in the light of Bible principles by the local body of elders. Does his life pattern as a whole show that he has deep respect for God’s Word or does he make light of its counsel? Does he show himself to be conscientious and serious in his decisions? If his motive in approving of sterilization were due to lack of respect for God’s standards, this disrespectful attitude would likely be manifest in other ways as well. On the other hand, if he measures up to the Scriptural requirements for those having congregational responsibility as set forth in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 and other texts, then the fact that his conscience allows for surgical sterilization as a life-protecting measure need not of itself disqualify him. Of course, the attitude of the congregation must be considered. If the matter became an issue of such proportion that it distracted measurably it could seriously limit his ability to serve with effectiveness. Weighing these factors, the elders should then make their decision.