NYT reprint: a story about a couple who changed their views on family planning

My favorite media source

"My favorite online media source: NYT website" retirednoway

My favorite online media source: NYT website

The New York Times is my favorite source of news. The saying, “All the news fit to print” originated from them.

The quality of its journalism is such that it has won more Pulitzer prizes than any other newspaper. The quality of its writing is such that a standards book was written based on the style of its reporting in English. That’s heavy stuff.

The couple’s story

Today, with my memory still fresh from yesterday’s editorial, I read this story on their website. It’s about a conservative Christian (a Protestant) who met her husband in storybook fashion. Here’s the article:

In August 1999, Bethany Patchin, an 18-year-old college sophomore from Wisconsin, wrote in an article for Boundless, an evangelical Web magazine, that Christians should not kiss before marriage. Sam Torode, a 23-year-old Chicagoan, replied in a letter to the editor that Ms. Patchin’s piece could not help but “drive young Christian men mad with desire.”

The two began corresponding by e-mail, met in January 2000 and were married that November. Nine months later, Ms. Torode (she took her husband’s name) gave birth to a son, Gideon. Over the next six years, the Torodes had four more progeny: another son, two daughters and a book, “Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception.”

"Bethany Patchin and children" retirednoway

Bethany Patchin and children

The couple divorced. Above shows that she lives with the kids while he lives separately just minutes away.

Now the next paragraph and only the next paragraph’s important.

In “Open Embrace,” the Torodes endorsed natural family planning — tracking a woman’s ovulation and limiting intercourse to days when she is not fertile — but rejected all forms of artificial contraception, including the pill and condoms.

The book sold 7,000 copies after its publication in 2002 and was celebrated in the anticontraception movement, which remains largely Roman Catholic but has a growing conservative Protestant wing. As young Protestants who conceived their first child on their honeymoon, the Torodes made perfect evangelists.

That was then, this is now.

Now, the next paragraph’s important. Thank God for copy-and-paste!

In 2006, the Torodes wrote on the Web that they no longer believed natural family planning was the best method of birth control. They divorced in 2009. Both now attend liberal churches. Ms. Patchin — that is her name once again — now says she uses birth control, and she even voted for Barack Obama for president.

“I was 19 when we got married,” Ms. Patchin said by telephone from Nashville, where she and her former husband live and share custody of their four children. “And I was 20 when we had Gideon. My parents weren’t anti-birth-control; they were pretty middle-ground evangelicals. So I kind of rebelled by being more conservative. That was my identity.”

The book she and Mr. Torode wrote two years into their marriage is quite short and quite sweet, an earnest work whose hopefulness one badly wants to share. Procreation is “the umbrella under which the other aspects of marriage are nurtured,” they wrote. Sex is “a joyous song of praise to the Creator,” and “having children (or adopting them) brings husbands and wives closer together and expands the community of love.”

They concluded succinctly: “When we should be saying ‘I do,’ contraception says, ‘I do not.’ ”

Cool, huh. Now, the next two paragraphs are important.

“Open Embrace” also embraced the view that children stabilize marriage, for “with each child a couple has, their chances of divorce are significantly reduced.” So what went wrong for the Torodes, whose children now range in age from 4 to 9?

Among other challenges, Ms. Patchin, now 30, had unplanned pregnancies. “I got pregnant nursing twice,” she told me. “So my first two kids are 15 months apart, then there is a three-year break, then the younger two are a year and a half apart. That was intense. Beyond hormonally intense, it was relationally intense. It was nothing I would ever want anyone else to have to experience.”

In their 2006 statement on the Web, the couple wrote that natural family planning could harm a marriage, even when it worked.

Cool, huh. And finally, the next paragraph is very important.

“Wanting to make love to your spouse often is a good thing, but NFP (natural family planning) often lays an unfair burden of guilt on men for feeling this,” the Torodes wrote. And it is “a theological attack on women to always require that abstinence during the time of the wife’s peak sexual desire (ovulation) for the entire duration of her fertile life, except for the handful of times when she conceives.”

Rest of the story if you’re interested:

The couple left Wisconsin for Nashville in 2007, after Ms. Patchin had what she called an “intuition.” Every time the song “Tennessee” by Mindy Smith came on the radio, she started crying. “I said to Sam, ‘I think we need to move to Nashville.’ I wanted to be somewhere warm.”

They divorced two years later, and this year Ms. Patchin filed for bankruptcy “because of the divorce and some medical bills,” she said.

Today, neither Ms. Patchin nor Mr. Torode is part of the anticontraception community, nor conservative Christianity. In Nashville, Ms. Patchin, who does accounting work from home, attends a church affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the most liberal of the Presbyterian denominations in the United States. Mr. Torode attends an Episcopal church with a female priest.

“Where I’m at now, it’s confusing,” Ms. Patchin said. “One day I am like, ‘Sure, God exists and loves all of us,’ and the next day I am like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ I think that’s healthy. Agnosticism is a healthy part of any good faith.

“I feel like I’m a secular Christian the way you can be a secular Jew,” she continued. “I appreciate my Christian roots, but I think all the ways humanity has developed are good things. Freedom is a good thing.”

Mr. Torode, who lives minutes away, is a book designer and now writes only fiction.

“I was always primarily more of a comedy writer,” Mr. Torode said when reached by telephone. “It’s unfortunate that I went through this serious period of trying to write theological works. I wrote a comedy novel called ‘The Dirty Parts of the Bible.’ ”

This year, “The Dirty Parts of the Bible,” which Publishers Weekly called “rich and soulful,” passed “Open Embrace” in sales. “That was a big deal for me,” Mr. Torode said. Last year, he asked the publisher Eerdmans to stop printing copies of “Open Embrace.” He promises there will be no Kindle version.

“I am out of the business of trying to tell people what they should do,” Mr. Torode said. “I am out of that business for good.”

reporter: MarkOppenheimer.com; twitter/markopp1

What Betty Ford said

Mrs. Ford, the beloved former First Lady of President Gerald Ford, passed away today (Saturday, July 9th).

She said, “Having a baby should be a blessing.” She continued, “It should not be a duty.”

Think about that.

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