In a recent posting we focused on traditional Judaism’s generally negative position on the choice not to have offspring. In our book, Enough of Us: why we should think twice before making children, we examine religious motives for bearing children. With the exception of Catholicism, Christianity has a variety of different slants on this subject. While some churches take the attitude that “be fruitful and multiply” is a commandment, others look at it as something other than a demand from the almighty.
Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, writing in the November 12, 2001 online issue of Christianity Today, says that “Fertility is not a command but a blessing that God gives his creatures.” Therefore, says Van Leeuwen, a professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, “be fruitful and multiply” is a blessing, a “may you” declaration from God, not a mandate. He also states that “some Christian traditions take a wrong turn” when they see “Be fruitful” as a command. “They argue on the basis of the created order (sometimes called natural law) and Scripture that God has actually commanded married people to have children.” These Christians, he says, “argue against birth control.” Van Leeuwen concludes that “Within the limits of marriage, sex is one of the good gifts of God’s creation . . . whether or not it seeks in every instance to be fruitful in a procreative sense.” This debate about the concepts of blessing vs. command opens the way for Christians to exercise free choice by not bearing children “provided they are wise and serve God.”
An anonymous childfree Christian blogger posts her views at childfreechristian.blogspot.com/2009/06/is-childfree-christian-oxymoron.html. She is in her early thirties who has never wanted children. She quotes from 1 Corinthians 7, which the blogger believes is “the most powerful support of being childfree.” The Apostle Paul is a single man and in giving his opinion about the unmarried state. He appeals to others to remain single in order to “free them from anxieties” so they can give “undivided devotion to the Lord.” The blogger says that Paul condones a married couple’s abstention from sex for spiritual reasons, and that “there is nothing to say that pregnancy prevention couldn’t be one of those reasons.” She also makes the point hat Jesus, “the center of our faith,” never had children.
Of the many responses to this blog, two expressed by women in their thirties stand out:
“I get questions too, and I want to scream at them IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. I am so happy I have been Googling, and seeing other married Christian couples out there with the same heavy heart about kids.”
“. . . I felt relief wash over me. I am not alone! I am 34, happily married and have never had a desire for children. I am also a devout believer in Jesus Christ, and I have struggled over whether my lack of desire is sinful.”
A blogger who identifies herself only as Debi (Twiga92.wordpress.com/on-being-christian-and-childfree) writes about Life as a Childfree Christian Missionary Kid. “There seem to be a lot of Christians out there that think it is wrong for a Christian couple to choose not to have children. . . . Yet the reason God created a wife for Adam was to be a helpmeet (sic), a companion, so that he would not be alone. Obviously they had to have children in order for the human race to exist, but I think we’ve pretty much taken care of the “fruitful and multiply” aspect! . . . . Reproduction is a benefit of marriage, not a requirement.”
There have been Christian sects that supported being childfree such as the Shakers and the Cathars. Nineteenth century Shakers were not marriage-oriented and therefore did not procreate. The Cathars of the 12th and 13 centuries, judged procreation as undesirable and had no objection to contraception.
Clearly, some Christians struggle with being childfree, even with the more liberal interpretation of “Be fruitful and multiply.” In a Yahoo! contributor network essay “Why I Choose to be Childfree in Church,” Hillari Hunter, expresses frustration about being judged in church and said that parishioners send “puzzled looks or out-and-out disdain” to the childfree churchgoer. (http://voices.yahoo.com/shared/print.shtml?content_type=article&content_type_id=826017).
There is help for the guilt-ridden at www.christianforums.com, which is designed for couples who choose not to have children. We applaud their courage in thinking twice before making more of us.