This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae. It has turned out to be one of the most influential and controversial religious documents of the 20th century. Glenn Stanton, director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family noted, “Humane Vitae is as powerful and prophetic as it is misunderstood and ignored….]it is] an uncompromising and unapologetically Christian view of male and female, conjugal love, and the wonder of marital sexuality. It calls us to remember there is an objective and divine moral law related to our procreative possibilities and the ends of marriage itself.”
In the section “Consequences of Artificial Methods (17), Pope Paul VI makes this prophetic observation, now finding fulfillment in the #MeToo movement, as women find their voice concerning sexual harassment. “When men become accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods they may, forget the reverence due to women, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
Back in July of 1968 the pope’s words seemed a bit extreme for a culture experiencing a sexual revolution with the mantra of “all you need is love,” meaning sex. I was a young married seminarian, going to Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. I remember well going to Griffith Park to observe what was then called “love-ins,” where the freedom of expression was on full display. For a young man from the northwoods of Michigan, going to see a “love in” with my parents from Upper Michigan was like visiting a alien culture and lifestyle.
As a young man, committed to marrying the love of my life in 1965, after a courtship of four years, I was committed to sexual purity. I am thankful to God for his mercy towards me. We married as virgins, but maintaining purity was not easy. I remember well Paul’s admonition in I Cor. 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” “….sexual union has a spiritual component, sexual activity outside marriage is a unique sin both against Christ ( I Cor. 6:15) and one’s own body (v 18)” (ESV Study Bible). The Message says it very descriptively, “Adultery is a brainless act, soul-destroying , self-destructive” (Prov 6:32).
The Pope pointed out that “human beings – and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation – need incentives to keep the moral law.” He spoke like a father warning his children of the consequences of their choices. He predicted, observed the Archbishop of Sidney that “the sexual and contraceptive revolution would lead to more infidelity than marital stability, to lower moral standards rather than greater virture, to a hyper-sexualized culture with all its attendant challenges and to the exploitation of women rather than their equality.”
Men, I cannot stress the vital need of Godly men to be exemplars of sexual purity. Young men will look to you for hope and encouragement. With such great sexual confusion in society, men young and old, need encouragement and loving accountability in the contempory sexual wilderness. We need to celebrate and rejoice in God’s great gift of sex within marriage. I Thess. 4:3-5 could be our watchword. “This is God’s will, you see: he wants you to be holy, to keep well away from fornication. Each of you shoul know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not in the madness of lust like Gentiles who don’t know God” (Wright).