I am getting married and have been praying and searching in the Bible and Ellen G. White’s writings about the issue of natural birth control versus other means. I am interested in knowing what knowledge people had in Mrs. White’s day about fertility. She wrote,

In sending missionaries to distant countries, those men should be selected who know to economize, who have not large families, and who, realizing the shortness of time and the great work to be accomplished, will not fill their hands and houses with children, but will keep themselves as free as possible from everything that will divert their minds from their one great work. The wife, if devoted and left free to do so, can, by standing by the side of her husband, accomplish as much as he. God has blessed woman with talents to be used to His glory in bringing many sons and daughters to God; but many who might be efficient laborers are kept at home to care for their little ones (The Adventist Home, 165, 166).

From this statement, it sounds like couples have a choice regarding whether or not to have children. Did couples know what time of month was best for avoiding pregnancy, or did they just abstain until a pregnancy would be OK?

Basically, the issue here is that Mrs. White says what but not how—isn’t that right? She is clearly in favor of planning for children and controlling the number of children one has. She doesn’t discuss how to accomplish this. She seems to assume that people know how it is done. I don’t get the impression from her writings that she recommended that married couples have no sex until they desired to have a child. Rather, it seems to me that she urged that they exercise self-control in the frequency and timing of their relations in order to carry out the plans that they had made for a family. If this is correct, it corresponds to what is called the rhythm method today. I don’t have specific information about when this was developed, but I would be surprised if its outlines were not widely known in the nineteenth century.

Seventh-day Adventists do not share the Catholic idea that sexual relations must always have the potential for conception nor that God has souls He intends to put into bodies and that artificial birth control frustrates His intentions. We believe that the sexual relationship is for relationship as well as procreation and that one may legitimately cultivate that relationship while exercising options to postpone parenthood. This is, of course, a personal matter, and I don’t claim to speak for every Seventh-day Adventist. But our theology does not direct us to the same view the Catholics hold, and I think that most Seventh-day Adventists do not limit themselves to the rhythm method if other methods are within their reach.

I think that what is important to you is not so much what knowledge nineteenth-century people had, but what is a legitimate stance on these matters before God. I find no prohibition of birth control in Mrs. White’s writings, whether by rhythm or by other means. I find there instead a level-headed, sensible approach to the matter of family planning that has the potential to maximize one’s care for the children one does bring into the world and to enable maximum service for the Lord as well.