How DARE you have 8 children--let alone 14?

We church leaders should probably ponder the shift in society toward child-free adulthood and its implications for the church. Read the article --then make some contribution to collective thinking if you are willing to help us all grapple with this trend.

keith drury


::athada:: said...

How will this affect our treatment of the alien and stranger, the immigrant? You already suggested that they fill the abortion gap. They will tend to have more kids than us, who will get jobs to help pay taxes for us when we're old and "unproductive". Maybe our self-interest will force us to be more welcoming and Christian and less xenophobic.

Also, how will the clash between pro-family folks and ZPG environmentalists change now that creation care is becoming a force of it's own? I personally think they CAN be reconciled; both are pro-life positions and have room to speak to each other. Whether they will be reconciled is another question. Some folks think they are as incompatible as God and evolution.

Dan said...

Perhaps childlessness, like singleness, will leave more time and other resources for ministry for those who choose this way of life.

Most of the attitudes behind the trends highlighted in the report seem unchristlike.

The Apostles apparently were not free from some of those same attitudes as they tried to shoo the children away from Jesus.

Today we as the church might do well to include caring for single parent households along with caring for widows and orphans.

Anonymous said...

America is not becoming hostile to people with children. On the contrary! People are angry that they have to pay outrageous health insurance premiums because of the selfishness of a few. It has been seen over and over again that these children are born premature and with many problems and who pays for the "desires of a few selfish parents" who are unwilling to take on the responsibility of a parentless child? I'll tell you. The rest of us!

::athada:: said...

We here are "unwilling to take on the responsibility" of taking your comments seriously without your name.

-all of us-

Anonymous said...

Why do you want my name, so you can screw me for not agreeing with you?

You have proven that you only listen to those who fit your mold! Only those with a voice like your's have a place at the table.

The rest of us understand that foolishness.

Funny, you fight for the unborn w/ no name but won't listen to anyone w/out a name!

When your rhetoric matches what you say you believe, then the world might listen!

Josh and Robin said...

Thank you, Drury, for sharing this article. These are important questions to ask. athada sent it to me after I posted on my blog a friend's reflection, "The Sacrament of Family." (see http://monicaklepac.blogspot.com/2009/02/sacrament-of-family.html)

As a young couple in Christian ministry now expecting our first child, we have struggled with feeling second class, selfish, or guilty for the journey we now embark upon. These feelings probably come from the social pressures mentioned in the article, but also from Christian singles or married couples without children. There is sometimes a sense that you can "do more for God" if you're free from family responsibilities.

I believe the discussion on the sacrament of family is needed in the church. Related would also be the discussion of one's vocation as being one of parenthood. It is is a new idea to me but I wish that I had been exposed to it sooner.

Also, although I know virtually nothing about Nadya Suleman, I did watch a 5 minute interview with her. In response Ann Curry's statement about many people believing it selfish to bring children in the world that she is unable to provide financially for, Sulman's response was "I'm providing MYSELF to my children...I'll be present with them...hold them... There are many [parents] who don't do that...and THAT'S selfish."

Regardless of the controversy surrounding this woman, can we really disagree with that?

Amanda said...

I just read a fascinating article in The New York Times where the author claimed that families with four children are often better stewards of the environment than families with one child. The reason being that larger families learn how to reuse resources better than single child homes (ie: hand-me-down clothing, sharing rooms, etc.). The author also gave the oft used argument that a light bulb lights the room with the same amount of energy used for a family of three or a family of six.

Just some further thoughts for reflection.

Randy said...

Fascinating, necessary discussion. The whole child-free approach seems patently wrong within a Christian worldview and it would seem to be a symptom of separating sexuality from children. This need not be a procreation-is-the-only-purpose viewpoint. Rather, it observes that when the idea of, or openness to, children is made accidental to, rather than necessary to, marriage and sexuality, all kinds of trouble results.
To put it another way, the ancients would have mystified at the idea of one choosing marriage but willfully leaving out the possibility of children. The various exceptions to this approach (e.g., suggesting it means elderly folks should not marry) do not undo the "rule" that children and marriage go together.
What we have today in the "childfree" movement is really not human which is another way of saying it is not truly Christian. Posit marriage/sexuality and the idea of children must be in the equation. To do less is to deny the very life one is trying to celebrate.

Joel said...

I believe there are two different issues here, one is a society that is less child-friendly/marriage-friendly/family-friendly, the other is the topic of Nadya Suleman, a single mother who already had six children and added to her brood with eight more in one shot. I'm not sure there's anyone out there that would say that those fourteen kids are going to grow up with a healthy family life whether their mother will "hold them" or not (as a full time student time may be an issue too). The other thing is that she wanted and planned for this addition to her family at the expense of taxpayers this was no accident. These taxpayers are my same friends who want to have kids but want to make sure their finances are straight or have the insurance coverage to provide for their child. They are responsible enough to wait for that point, why should they fund her want?

The issue of our society being less child friendly is a sad one, and even worse if it has spread to the church (haven't seen it personally but not doubting it either). One of the greatest things a married couple can do is bring a child (or more) into this world and raise him/her in a loving Christian atmosphere. I would say that it would open MORE witnessing opportunities and involvement in the community via schools, t-ball, etc.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how to do this but I'll try anyway.

I think Suzanna Wesley had 19 children and home schooled her children even when her husband was in jail--twice if I remember right. She even had to use "welfare" by farming them out when he was in jail.

And I think Suzanna herself was the 25th child born in her family--so when we think 14 children is "a bit too much" maybe we only mean too many to live a comfortable life ourselves?

I realize that many children died back then but still, she had a hige family to raise and she gave is John and Charle Wesley and by them the whole Methodist family.

I'm not saying couples are obligated to have many children--just that those who do should be honored--maybe even supported.


Elizabeth Glass-Turner said...

The bioethics discussion aside, I think it's ludicrous that the public finds it a moral duty to "hold accountable" people who want large families.

It's a limited goods mindset gone completely astray.

Interestingly enough, no one asks the question of someone I admire - Angelina Jolie. Why? Because half her kids are adopted? Because she's wealthy? Because for her, she's a humanitarian, but for a private individual, it's excess?

At the end of the day, it comes down to protecting individual family's freedom. Freedom of religion and freedom to reproduce, interestingly enough, go hand in hand.

Resources and freedom aside, I rather suspect children would be appreciated more as a blessing if family was perceived as a means of grace; but that requires time invested - and behavior disciplined. (Don't you know at least one kid so poorly trained it makes you want to distribute contraceptives?)

I wonder, too, how divorce influences our thinking on this: the more kids you have, the more widespread the effects of divorce are. Divorce is seen as such a near-by possibility, it seems irresponsible to bring too many kids into the equation?

Then, do more kids help add to the sense of accountability to a marriage or partnership?

Bill Barnwell said...

I guess count me in the "it's a personal choice category." Why do we want to encourage people who don't want kids to have them? I'm not talking about abortion here. That's a whole different issue that involves responsibility from another angle (I wish I wouldn't have got pregnant, I'll just abort it). You can say someone's theology is off, or priorities of marriage are bad, but the fact is people who aren't excited about parenting don't typically make the best parents. I realize that many get with the program when "accidents" happen and that there's a spiritual and biological gear that kicks in for most to lovingly raise and protect their children, but I don't see this as optimal for couples starting out with their first child.

I think it's fine if someone wants to have six kids. But I don't think it's asking too much that they actually think through the consequences and have a plan for rasing up this family rather than some spiritual sounding pomp such as "God will provide" (usually through the form of other taxpayers and other family members).

It's not rocket science that if you have continual unprotected sex, kids will result for a couple that has typical fertility capabilities.

For the selfish that consider children a burden to society (an extreme view that few truly hold as an absolute), I'd much rather they have a heart change first and have a higher view of humanity and parenting before going ahead and having children because they feel the social pressure to do so.

On the contrary, people are having less kids because as a practical matter, it's just harder for the average middle class family to have larger families these days, and because people are marrying later. They are marrying later because they are maturing later, because of college, and economic realities.

I know of more than a few couples that waited 3-5 years or more to have children and now have three or more children and the families are productive and stable.

My greater concern is not adding social pressure to couples to have children they don't want or aren't ready for, but the gradual decline of grandparents. Even if everything I said is correct, the fact is that people marrying and having kids later in life leave less time for grandma and grandpa to be involve in their grandchilds life, if at all in any real meaningful way.

Outside-the-Beltway Drury said...

I have some random observations to go along with the others here:

1) Elimination of public schools will never happen because it is more of a jobs project than a tool of child education. In the current debate on Pentagon budget cuts, one of the "experts" pointed out that education spending provides more jobs than comparable high tech defense contracts.

Note: nothing was said about how those education dollars would actually help children--probably because most people intuitively agree that public schooling does not primarily serve the interest of educating children.

2) The church has already adopted a less child-friendly approach. Compare the Sunday School and bus ministry fervor of the 60s and 70s to today. Most churches run their children programs as a warehousing program to free up adults to attend "real" classes and programs. Having brought our children as visitors to dozens of different churches over the past few years, including our home churches in that time, we have received as many or more "sighs" and "groans" as we have warm welcomes with the addition of four children to their program. In a couple cases there was nothing. More troubling were the cases where there was a program or class but our kids were refused entrance (either explicitly or implicitly) because they were not welcome--it is now polite parent etiquette to make an appointment before bringing your children to most churches.

3) I read an article not too long ago about how having more than two children is a status symbol and considered "showing off" in most urban areas now. The article followed the theme echoed somewhat in the comments here that if you are wealthy like Angelie Jolie (regardless of marital status) then many children is fine (albeit an extravagance). If you are poor or perceived as poor, you are considered irresponsible, ignorant, and even threatening.

4) I find an interesting tension between the various scientific theories of the environment and evolutionary theory. One could argue that the octo-mom in California is a marvelous evolutionary success in species propagation (as well as those uber-fertile immigrants). While enlightened environmentalists talk about population bombs, evolutionists ought to be praising these baby factories as winners in the survival competition.

Pete Vecchi said...

There are so many points made in the article and so many questions asked, that it will be difficult to be succinct with an answer. I have come to believe that the time and effort I spend on writing long responses if probably often not a good use of my time, because I figure that many people (but certainly not all) probably gloss over the response--especially if they are longer. So I'll try to be succinct.

The problem seems to be that we as the church have let the government co-opt what should be our job to care for the "orphans and widows." We have developed into an "entitlement" culture in the U.S., where we believe that it is "someone else's" responsibility to take care of things for us. We've established educational systems that mandate by law that we try to educate as many of the tens of millions of children of this nation's children within certain secular, government-established parameters in order for them to pass certain tests that the government has established as being the true standard by which we can measure whether or not education is really taken place. But by buying into that system, I believe we are losing the truth that each person God creates is a unique individual.

Then when the church focuses on individual issues that it disagrees with in society (whether it be abortion, welfare, education or lack thereof, etc...) we tend to get so focused on the issues and forget that they are generally just symptoms of a greater problem: people need to know Jesus and need to come to God through Him.

Why should we as the Church think that we are going to change society through laws and policies when the main thing that is needed is for people to come to God through the redemptive work of Christ Jesus? And this is by faith through Grace--not by law.

Keith wrote an article a few weeks ago that basically talked about the worship of nationalism or government as being almost the same thing in the minds of some as worshiping God. The government is not almighty; God is.

Jesus calls us to take care of the orphans and widows; He doesn't call on us to make sure that the government does it.

How does the Church go forward from here? I don't know what WILL happen, but shat SHOULD happen is that we stop trying to conform to the world's patterns of dealing with children, and start celebrating the unique individuality of each child (and adult, for that matter) whom God has created.

Then, let the CHURCH (not the government) decide how to deal with 8 or 14 babies from the same mother, instead of pawning them off on the government and letting taxpayers complain that they shouldn't have to take care of those children.

The secret is that taxpayers SHOULDN'T have to take care of those children, especially if the taxpayers have their resources forcibly (i.e., against their will) taken from them by the government. Instead, people whose hearts have been regenerated by by the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus Christ, and who are boud together in love through the Holy Spirit, and who are formed into the Church--the Body of Christ-- should follow the commands of Jesus and compassionately care for the mother and the 8 or 14 children through a motive of love, not through government-mandated taxes.

Oh well, I rambled anyway. So much for being succinct.

PastorKarl said...

Pete: My church is taking up an offering for these eight babies. Not because we think this woman should have had eight babies when she already had six--but because these babies are human beings with dignity...dignity after they are born as much as they would have had dignity as a fetus, and also because WE need to respond as pro-life Christians in our church to this situation.

It is curious to me that all the anti-life-pro-abortion folk are coming out of the woodwork now complaining about this woman's "right" to have all these children--where is their "a woman's right to choose" arguments now? Do they only argue for a "woman's right to choose [death} but not a woman's right to choose [life]?

I don't like the woman myself--she seems a bit coo coo to me.. BUT these eight babies are important to the church and we can't ignore what Pete says above--if we believe in the dignity of the fetus we certainly must believe in the dignity of these eight children just as strongly--maybe more so.

Keith Drury said...

Exceptional discussion here this week--thank you for your thoughtful comments which amplified, illustrated, and applied the original column to church life. Thanks!

Pastor Al said...

Personally remember living life surrounded by childless urban professionals, in the latter half of the 70's. It becomes a sterile life-style over time. Multi-generational chatter was missing. Self-absorption ruled the day. Eventually most tired of it and returned to their home towns; they only thought they needed to escape.

Will Christians mirror the excesses of their culture? Probably. I suspect we will get over it quicker and seize the day.

We presently have five babies in our church (average about 100 in attendence). I blame it on the church water! We are in the process of connecting our nursery facilities visually with the sanctuary, as our main physical project of the year. We want parents to know that we are excited about their children.

The great opportunity we now have is to surround young parents with a loving support system that attends to some of their physical and emotional need. We (the church) often act as surrogate grandparents for both parent and child. It has always been rough in the early years of child bearing. If we preach/teach family values... we need also to act on our message.

Robin said...

Could it be that the pendulum is merely swinging to a point that it is considered "okay" to not have children? Considering that not having children has long been little short of some sort of disease state, I think a little moderation would be nice. There are other ways than giving birth to achieve generativity (versus stagnation) and have a successful marriage.

I sincerely doubt that the childless will ever outnumber those with children, especially in The Church. After all, having children often causes absent young adults to return to a church, so their children can have its Godly influence. And even if the childless do outnumber those with children someday, don't assume that all those without children hate kids, don't know what to do with them, or begrudge their parents.

And no worries here in the South, our churches are still child-focused! Nearly everything we do in some way connects children to the church and to God. At our church we even corporately pray for pregnant mothers by name every Sunday morning! I'm amazed at the shear manpower it takes to run our children's ministries on a weekly basis. It dwarfs all other ministries combined! And that's perfectly okay with me.