On Holy Thursday, Melinda Gates publicly professed her Catholic faith and then personally attacked her Church over its position on contraception. I could not help but be reminded of Judas and his mysterious betrayal of Christ that night, sealed with a kiss.
In fairness to Mrs. Gates, her speech wasn’t expressly about the Church. It was about her foundation’s new “NoControversy” initiative to promote universal access to contraception. Her message was simple: Contraception is not controversial. And to convince people of this, she argued that population control, abortion, and forced sterilization have nothing to do with the international promotion of universal access to contraception. If people associate them together, they are just “confused”.
This is a life and death crisis. Every year, 100,000 women who don’t want to be pregnant die in childbirth. About 600,000 women who don’t want to be pregnant give birth to a baby who dies in her first month of life.
I know everybody wants to save these mothers and babies.
But somewhere along the line, we got confused by our own conversations and we stopped trying to save these lives. We need to be clear about our agenda. It is not abortion. It is not population control.
But why attack the Catholic Church? Well, because the Church isn’t confused about contraception. In fact, even if the contraceptive movement really had successfully cut ties with the population control movement and no longer had anything to do with the promotion of abortion, which is very hard to believe thanks to the work of UN agencies like the UNFPA, the Church would still refuse to change its message: Contraception is bad for people.
That is why Melinda Gates did what she did. As a Catholic, she knows contraception is controversial, and she knows that dismissing the controversy isn’t as simple as laying the blame on confused people making confused arguments about the very real dangers of contraception and its affects on human health, relationship, and society. So she knew she had to dismiss the Church’s teaching as unreasonable and to do it publicly. If she was going to prove to the world that contraception was objectively good, she had to dismiss the Church, and particularly the Church’s audacious claim that it speaks the truth.
In the tradition of the great Catholic scholars, the nuns also taught us to question received teachings. One of the teachings most of my classmates and I questioned was the one saying that birth control is a sin.
I think one of the main reasons people are so uncomfortable talking about this issue is a lingering concern that separating sex from reproduction will encourage promiscuity. It’s a reasonable question to ask about contraception: What is its impact on sexual morality?
But like most women, my decision about birth control had nothing to do with promiscuity. I had a plan for my future. I wanted to go to college, and I studied hard. I am proud that I was one of the very few female computer science graduates in my class. I also wanted to have a career.
Judas knew Christ and was with Him everyday, even in public, and he still betrayed Him. It would be very difficult to deny that Judas wasn’t aware of his own actions. He went to see the high priests, he took their blood money, he brought their guards to Christ. But did he really know what he was doing? Or was Judas confused?
I imagine that the Apostles hardly ever understood exactly what Christ meant when he spoke about the inevitability of His impending death. All of them were used to Christ speaking beyond their comprehension. Some of them ran away from Him, one of them betrayed Him three times before the cock crowed. But not all of them handed Him over to death.
We also shouldn’t forget that for Judas it must have seemed like Christ was the one who was betraying him. Christ was the one abandoning him. Christ’s death proclamation did not evoke images of the power, or the King, or the Kingdom that Judas has imagined. In fact it was beyond imagination and must have seemed to Judas to be an inconceivable and unnecessary sacrifice.
This was the same Christ who Judas had seen preform countless miracles and who spoke to Judas with an affection he had never encountered anywhere else. So, Judas betrayed Christ because Judas felt betrayed first. But the others did not. They did not because they belonged to Christ and his friendship, while Judas merely “participated”, unconvinced.
The others, even if they did not understand, were so caught up in wonder, so in love with Christ that they could only follow, continually convinced that what Christ had to say, even if it exceeded the confines of their imagination, was nonetheless true.
Today, most Catholics struggle with the Church’s teachings on contraception, but many are convinced by and in wonder of the person of Christ and the Church which continues to proclaim His truth. Within their struggle, they keep following, convinced by the overall attractiveness of the faith. Melinda Gates is not convinced, and so she chooses to deny its teaching, not because she hates the Church, but because she feels somewhat betrayed by it—because she can’t understand it, just like Judas couldn’t understand why Christ, instead of accepting to be turned over to the Romans, didn’t raise up an army of angels to take over and have Himself crowned King. However, we can’t forget, that those who stayed, eventually did understand.
In June the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with the support of the British Government and the UNFPA will host a family planning summit in London. Her speech was meant to pave the way for its success and to call for the entire world to get behind what she claims is a very worthy cause.
Those who denied Christ also did so for what they considered a worthy cause, and this story, even 2,000 years later, continues dramatically today.