Monday, September 2, 2013

Christian without Children

A couple of weeks ago, Time magazine’s cover story “The Childfree Life” looked at women choosing to not have children. Now, I haven’t read the story, but this post isn’t really about the story. Instead, this post is about a Gospel Coalition article in response that crept onto my Facebook feed. I don’t have to read the Time piece to know the response is getting a lot wrong. Perhaps all the women really did come off as narcissistic. Perhaps there should be a discussion of economy and declining birth rates. My issue with the Gospel Coalition piece is not how it represented the Time story, but how it represented the Christian viewpoint.

The first critique is that the Time story didn’t take God into account. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be shocked that a Time article about children isn’t asking these women about their faith. But then the response article starts in about how children are a gift from God and how we need to accept that gift. Now, as a Catholic, I oppose the use of artificial birth control, so you think I’d be right in line with the “children are a gift” line. But my views on birth control come into play after a couple has answered a call to marriage and subsequent parenthood. This article provides no such caveat. It never addresses childfree vocations. It assumes that Christian = having a family. I would probably be in some sort of agreement if it paired marriage and parenthood and said explained that part of sex within marriage is the openness to life (a la Humanae Vitae), but that is too nuanced. Instead, we just get that God is the giver of life, therefore: have children. 

The article also states: “Children are God's merciful means of growing his redeemed people, generation after generation, in all the nations of the world.” 

Um, no. I mean, yes, one way of producing Christians is for Christians to have lots of children and raise them to be Christian and hope most of them remain so. But that’s not in the Gospel. Jesus is always talking about going out and making disciples of the people already here. The primary way of creating a next generation of Christians is to spread the word to new communities, who spread it further and further and so on. Otherwise, you’re left with a purely ethnic faith, a religion one must be born or married into. But one of Christianity’s radical ideas is that the God of Abraham is also the God of the gentiles. Christianity isn’t a faith of bloodlines. It’s a faith of adoption. It doesn’t matter if someone is Samaritan or Greek or Roman. We’re adopted sons and daughters of God. 

The last point states, “In the new heaven and earth, there will be no marriage—and no having babies. This part of human life is temporary, until the whole family of God's people is perfect and complete and shining with the glory of Jesus our Redeemer. Until then, we're in labor! With every birth we're aiming for new birth.” 

Honestly, I have no idea what this means. No marriage and no having babies in heaven, got that (Matthew 22:30). But Christianity is not as family-friendly as everyone likes to make it out to be. Jesus didn’t say to settle down and have lots of children. He did, however, say, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife, and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26). Not really a call for marriage and parenthood.  

And that, “With every birth we’re aiming for a new birth” bit, I have no idea what point the author is trying to make. Each birth might bring forth the Second Coming? Or that we’re hoping each new baby becomes a Christian? Or keep having babies so we can make them Christian? How about making Christians out of the roughly 5 billion non-Christians already here? 

Children are great. They’re curious and cute, and you get to watch them figure the world out with fresh eyes. They are also a lot of work. It’s a huge sacrifice to take on bringing life into this world and raising that little person. Women shouldn’t be pressured to have children. Should every woman (and the article addresses adoption, so even a wider range than biologically capable) have children? What if she doesn’t get married? What if she decides to be a missionary or a nun instead? Or what if she’s just a lay woman who consecrates her virginity to Christ? There is a rich history of women refusing marriage and motherhood in exchange for serving God in other ways. They are not selfish or throwing away God's gift.

We should sacrifice and face struggles and carry the crosses we’re given. But those are going to be different for everyone. If people are called to parenthood, I hope they have the means to have and raise children. I hope they have a supportive community in which to raise them. If people are called to be childfree, I hope they don’t get stigmatized for that decision. I hope they have a supportive community in which to flourish.   

Maybe this is just an overly strong reaction from a twentysomething who doesn’t know which vocation path she’s on. Or maybe this is just a sign that I shouldn’t click Facebook links to the Gospel Coalition

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