September 25, 2017

David Cornwell: Why Christians Have Children

Parents and baby

Moving beyond the obvious, have you given serious thought as to why we have children? What difference does it make that we are Christian? Did you and your spouse discuss this ahead of time? What part in your decision did, or will, the Church make?  Does your specific church have any teachings about this, and if so, do you know what they are, and  do they make any sense in contemporary culture?

Fifteen months after Marge and I exchanged vows and were united in marriage in a Methodist church, our first child was born. Her birth was not an accident. But we had not  planned it. I cannot remember a relevant discussion, other than the fact that we wanted kids.

When we were given pre-marital counseling, I cannot remember anything at all being discussed about children. In fact, I can remember very little about the counseling session.

However in the Christian college we attended, in the same year we met each other, we were together in Marriage and Family class. And —as fate would have it, our professor was Reverend Harry Hitch, and ordained Methodist minister. Later he assisted the pastor of the church in the actual wedding ceremony.

I can remember very little about the specifics of the class, whether it was from a Christian point of view or not. In a general way, of course it was. The college was both conservative, and Christian. Professor Hitch always started with prayer, and  sermonette. But the book we used, and the class itself seemed very secular in its approach,  being the sociology of family and marriage. In other words it was a soundly rational “American” approach. But putting this rationality aside, the one point I remember Professor Hitch being adamant about, was that Marge and I were somehow meant for each other. Since then I have seldom debated that point.

This was in the mid 1950’s, so as we all know this was the “perfect” era for the American family. Father was the breadwinner, and mother stayed home keeping house and preparing meals so the smiling children would grow up to be breadwinner fathers and pretty mothers staying home to make more cute, perfect children.  On Sunday the smiling family would go to the local church, with little girls wearing pretty dresses and the boys clip-on bow ties. Then, when arriving back home, mom would hurry to finish up Sunday dinner, which being the big meal of the week was delicious. Sometimes grandma and grandpa would come and join the meal. And everyone would sit at the table and happily discuss the pastor’s fine sermon.

Today I would like discuss some ideas and positions found in the writings of  Harmon L. Smith, Stanley Hauerwas, and William Willimon. Smith is an Episcopal priest and has taught at Duke Divinity School and University. His book is Where two or three Are Gathered; Liturgy and the Moral Life. Hauerwas taught at Notre Dame and Duke for many years. And Willimon is an ordained United Methodist minister, and a retired bishop. He and Hauerwas together wrote the book Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony.

Smith writes from the point of view that we are called, as Christians, to be a particular kind of people. He approaches this from a liturgical point of view, saying:

Gathering the people, collecting the faithful, launches the liturgy as a reminder that we are called out of this world to be, by the mercy of Christ, the baptized sons and daughters of God…. This, for Christians, is descriptively accurate of who we are truly meant to be…. The people who practice Christian ethics are thus a particular people, who have a particular identity and self-understanding. They are a particular people because they acknowledge and affirm a particular story which instructs and forms them into the people with a particular mission and purpose for being.  It is the “gathered church.”

Hauerwas and Smith proceed to write from a theme taken from the book of Philippians being that “our commonwealth is in heaven” and that we, as the church, “are a colony of heaven” and thus we find ourselves being “resident aliens” in a post-liberal world. The thesis is succinctly phrased as follows:

A colony is a beachhead, an outpost, an island of one culture in the middle of another, a place where the values of home are reiterated and passed on to the young, a place where the distinctive language and life-style of the resident aliens are lovingly nurtured and reinforced.

They wrote in 1989, but hold fast to the same themes today.

Whatever our background, tradition, or ecclesiology might be, we are all attempting to follow Jesus. So the question I want to raise is this: What do you believe about having children? How have the teachings of your church, past or present, influenced you? Just how much prayerful thought have you given it? For one thing is sure – once that new bundle of life leaves the mother’s womb, blinks at the light, and lets a loud voice be heard, your life will never again be the same.

Hauerwas and Willimon propose a conversation among Christians around the question as to why we have children in the first place. They are asking for an answer specifically from us who recognize ourselves as being “resident aliens” and those who live in this earthly “colony of heaven.” This is part of the conversation I want us to engage in here today. For I have a feeling that if we answer it in certain ways it will make all the difference in the world.

I grew up in a Christian home, from infancy attended a Methodist Church, went to a Christian college, and have a seminary degree. Later I was ordained as a minister in the church. And then, not too long ago, was the first time I ever remember coming face to face with this teaching. Was it there, and I just missed it? Did it fail to make connection because of my spiritual denseness?  I was astounded.  Here I was a father, and grandfather, and have grandchildren. I love them each one dearly. But this hit me almost like a direct revelation that I had never before considered. What did it mean?

child-sleeping-w-parents-556x435Smith says that as Christians we are called to take our cue about parenthood, as well as every other human relationship from how God “has regarded us, loved us, sacrificed for us, reconciled us, and blessed us.” And that it is on these understandings that we shape our marriages and know the real meaning of parenthood.

And so approached like this, parenting becomes a vocation on behalf of God and the church. The babies we have then are a witness to our belief in God, and far more than the fulfilling a natural instinct. And herein lies the difference between “procreation” and “reproduction.”

Hauerwas and Willimon add to this, saying that we as Christians have children,  to a great degree, in order to tell our children the story. We tell them the story that they themselves are now part of, and will be able to pass on to their children.

When we were baptized, and now when our children are baptized, this story becomes our baptismal responsibility. It also becomes the baptismal responsibility of the church, for the liturgy of baptism makes clear that children are not simply the sole responsibility of biological parents, but also that the whole church bears parenting responsibilities.

I am not sure how others churches do this, but when a baby is brought before our church for baptism, our pastor takes the child in his arms, walks the isles of the church, and introduces the child to the congregation. From that moment on, we all take on this vocation in behalf of God. Or at least this is the meaning we assign to these moments together. Then it is up to us. And God.

When we were young parents, all kind of books were being written, a plethora of advice and information on how to be proper parents.  I am sure that is still true. I cannot help but wonder, however, if we were to be true to the paradigm of being resident aliens in an colony of heaven, living true to the story, can we envision anything being different? Or is that simply too much to ask surrounded as we are by the secularized paganism of Western culture?
Smith insists that as Christians we are to live out our lives as if they are normed by the cross of Christ, and that therefore we are part of a people where life is formed by that cross. And that this takes place right in the midst of a world that denies such a people exist.

Think about it this way: We could rid ourselves of all the reasons we have given or heard in the past as to why we have children. Consider some of the rationales we have given, heard from friends, or which our own parents have given as to why children were wanted. I personally think these reasons are flawed, and contain in them the seed of trouble that eventually comes to haunt us as families. Some of them seem in their face to be relatively harmless, but many of them, if played out, lead to great disappointment, misunderstanding, and deep seated family problems.

These reasons are partly those pointed out by Smith, Hauerwas, and Willimon. I want them to receive proper credit. However they are so common all of us will recognize them. One reason often heard is “children help us to be less lonely,” thus a desire for children. Another is “children help give meaning to life.” Of course both of these have elements of truth, but both also have within them the seeds of disillusionment. Loneliness cannot be cured by having a child. The child will grow up, and in any case will not want to hang out with parents for very long. As Hauerwas suggests, getting a dog is a cure for loneliness, not getting a baby. And if one is to believe the arguments of modern advertising, getting a luxury car will give more meaning to life than having a child. Or making sure one is tied into the correct retirement plan, as if difficult days of older age are something to look forward to.

Oftentimes in our culture, one wants to have a child for the purpose of carrying on a family owned business. This does work out sometimes, but is fraught with real danger. I have a friend who was shut out of her father’s furniture business, by his will, simply because she was a girl. Her brothers were given the keys to the shop – she was not worthy to carry on the tradition or the name. Over time this has built resentments and repercussions beyond measure.

I know of other cases where one of the children, preferably the male of the family, was expected to take on the family farm. The son made known his desires to do almost anything else. The bond that should have been between father and son, was ruptured, with resentments festering in both persons. Also most of us have heard of instances where the child was expected to become a doctor, or member of another profession, perhaps a pastor even, because this is what father, or mother, and grandparent have done with their lives.

However we have children because of a witness to our belief in God, and not merely because of natural instinct or the culturally conditioned reasons that are so common. And as Smith states, this is important to acknowledge “because it means that neither disease, nor environment, or nuclear bomb, nor any other condition of our existence which would suggest that bringing babies into this world is unloving or selfish, is sufficient to deter us.”

Hauerwas and Willimon add this:

Christians ought to ponder what an amazing act of faith it was for Jews in the face of constant and death-dealing Christians and pagan persecution to go on having babies. People of God do not let the world determine how they respond to tomorrow.

So, what do you think? How do you respond? Is anything about this new or different from your normal way of thinking? Does your tradition, denomination, or congregation have a teaching regarding this? To me this is far too important a question to simply surrender to prevailing cultural and economic reasons to either have children or choose not to have them.

Comments

  1. Just a quick note, as a young adult in the 90s all I ever heard of was how I would regret it if I didn’t have kids. Childless, unmarrieds were miserable, etc.

    I ran from marriage for years because I had no desire to be saddled with kids, but a mission trip to, (OK, this is nuts): India, changed all that. It was working with kids and travelling on trains where families would “adopt” me for the trip. I was suddenly thinking, I want kids. Preferably adopted from India, but I knew that wouldn’t work out.

    I got married and we had kids, then we adopted locally. I knew, if we had kids, I wanted more than 2 kids. But, just when I was fine with 2 (health reasons forced us to stop there), God clearly called me to open my home to a special needs child.

    So, yes, I did plan my kids. After years of not wanting kids, I had many good “no” reasons. Not many “yes” reasons. If I did it again, I may have adopted all of them, as there are so many kids needing homes, and I am not someone who needs my DNA running around. That said, I am glad for the kids I had as well as my adopted kids.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Loo, thank you. Being willing to adopt children, taking the risks, providing the love, to me is a special calling from God. I can see how your reaction to being “adopted” for the trip would set you to thinking.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Loo, as an adopted child age 58, I thank you too. It is the gift of God to have a heart to adopt.

      Dana

    • Tim VanHaitsma says:

      I am not a believer, but a follower of this blog. I adopted my daughter from china for ethical reasons. I could have had children of my own but I saw so much need in the world with plenty of underprivegded children that in good conscience I could not make my own. She has been the joy of my life for 9 years now and would never changemy decision. Adoption is a personal choice but one that I advocate heavily

  2. Childrearing was something that God granted to Adam and Eve prior to the Fall. Like everything else, the bearing of children was in some sense corrupted by the Fall. Children and biological family ties are part of the Old Creation. In the New Creation that is the Church, God does not intend to do away with the usual methods of nurture, but intends to redeem them.

    What does Christian parenthood mean? Ultimately parenthood must begin with an appreciation of the Trinity, the Eternal Oneness and also Eternal Otherness of God. The family is both a unit and also individual persons. Just as there is authority and submission within the Godhead, so in Christian homes as well. God rules the Universe as Father–thus showing the pattern for fathers everywhere.

    In begetting the Son, the Father is the Initiator; He sends forth His Word. The Son delights to the do the Father’s Will. The Son glorifies the Father. The Spirit glorifies of the Son’s work, bringing it to completion. In a family, a father initiates the courtship and begins the family in His mind, bringing it to pass through his word, through vows and covenants. The wife responds to this initiation by glorifying his work, by advising him, arguing with him and keeping his affairs in order lest he lose track of himself. Through the two of them coming together, they produce a child, whom, they hope, will carry on a legacy of covenant faithfulness. This child can glorify what they have already accomplished together.

    As the Father is the head of the Son, so is the Son the head of every human father, who is the head of the wife. The two of them are heads over the children. At no time does this submission imply a “lesser than” state–Father, Son and Spirit are all three Very God of Very God, and so all in a Christian family, though they have differing roles, all are one in Christ.

    Why have children? To show in a sacramental way the Triune reality, and also to redeem all of Creation and establish God’s covenant faithfulness.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Ben, I am interested in how you arrived at this developed theology. Is it part of your own upbringing? Or did you arrive at it later in life? I like this: “Why have children? To show in a sacramental way the Triune reality, and also to redeem all of Creation and establish God’s covenant faithfulness.”

      • David,

        Sorry for the length of time in getting back with you here.

        I have largely come to these views later in life. I was not raised with them. Recently I have grown in Trinitarian awareness. There are a group of Reformed scholars, taking the lead of Cornelius Van Til, who have urged this kind of thinking.

        We’re not supposed to share links in the comments, so I will suggest Googling Peter Leithart’s name and “Do Baptists Talk to Their Babies?” I would also recommend Rich Lusk’s book “Paedofaith. Dr. Leithart has written a chapter in his book The Baptized Body called The Sociology of Infant Baptism which I thought was brilliant.

        I didn’t want to go full-on with infant baptism and covenantal thinking about families in my post since I didn’t want to hijack this thread into a baptism thread. Nonetheless, that does provide the background for my thoughts. Christians who baptize infants implicitly confess many things, and I advocate thinking through those things.

    • petrushkasrib says:

      I agree with the first part of the statement, about sacramentally showing the Triune reality (although I would contend that children are not necessary to the equation)… however I will have to disagree with the second part. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the use “redeem” in regards to Creation, but phrasing it that way sounds too similar to the extreme Quiverfull movements that advocate procreation as the means to further the Dominion Mandate: produce Christian children to regain the world for God. A homegrown cousin of missionary dating, if you will. 😛 I believe the Great Commission encompasses, and supercedes, the dominion mandate; having or fostering children is one way of doing that, but not the only way.

    • *sigh* can you manage that lovely trinitairan theology without the patriarchal bias??

      Life is not that simple. Sometimes the woman is the one that starts the relationship ball rolling. The man of course has a free will choice as to whether he will accept that, and respond, just as a woman would have. And courtship is a dance of small movements towards one another, movements made by both parties.

      Often it is the woman who is ready to have children before the man is. She has a sense of the fact that they have a timeframe when childbearing is going to be possible in a way that a man doesn’t.

      Of course lucky for you if you married a woman who isn’t your equal, then you can be boss of her all you like.

  3. T.S.Gay says:

    It seems plausible to me that the Christian faith( in its many denominations today) has failed to pass on to young people the Christian faith in an orthodox form that can take root and survive the secular faith of today. Michael Spencer said as much about evangelicals in his 3-part coming collapse posts.
    I’ve participated on another website’s posts about why. I actively listened to many give different reasons. It seems true to me that a child will probably learn a lot more about Christianity from the face( countenance) of a parent during worship or perhaps more importantly during prayer at home, than much doctrine. Do you know that this ” colony of heaven” approach has at least a related idea called the Benedictine option?

    • David Cornwell says:

      Thanks. I agree, that practice is far more important than doctrine. And this is where failure lurks, if the children see in us something different. The church is important is exactly the same way. A fighting and divided church ends up confusing children.

      Although I have known that the Catholic Church has a strong doctrine concerning children and family, which I have always admired, I have really known very little about it in the past.

      Please say more about the Benedictine option.

  4. “People of God do not let the world determine how they respond to tomorrow.”

    This is such an important point! I love it!

    I’ve been married now for just under three months, and yesterday we finished what I jokingly call our “post-wedding-pre-marriage-counseling” sessions from a wonderful program called “Prepare and Enrich.” It’s much more in-depth than what most folks get. I’m glad that my then-pastor insisted on us going through it, even if it had to be finished after the wedding. And it did insist that we talk about raising children.

    As my wife and I were preparing for our marriage and wedding, one of the things that we talked about a lot was how we want our family to be an object-lesson of Christ-and-the-Church, and a visible witness of the Kingdom no matter where we go. What that’s going to look like, we still are working out, obviously! I’m sure some of y’all are rolling your eyes at our wide-eyed idealism that comes from being newlyweds. But nonetheless, that’s our goal. And we’re looking to other couples, wiser couples to help us grow that way. The baptismal vows are very important in our tradition. As much as we want to didactically teach our future children the faith, we want to model it more.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “The baptismal vows are very important in our tradition. ”

      I wish this were universally true. Stay with it.

    • Josh in FW says:

      I don’t think those of us married for a while should roll our eyes at “wild-eyed idealism” such as yours, but use it to encourage us to break out of ruts and remind ourselves of the excitement and goals we had when we first got married. Write yourselves a letter describing your hopes and desires and revisit it every few years.

      May God bless your marriage.

  5. “This was in the mid 1950’s, so as we all know this was the “perfect” era for the American family.”

    I turned 9 in 1950 and 19 in 1960. The only thing true about my family is the paragraph that begins with the sentence above is the part about the clip-on bow ties. Mama had been raised Jewish in Philadelphia but was afraid to make that fact known when we moved to Texas because of her fear of bigotry and violence. Dad was a long-lapsed Methodist with a mouth like the sailor he had been during the war. I did attend the local Methodist church wearing a clip-on bow tie, but I rode with neighbors and my parents stayed at home. Both Grandmas died before I was born. One Grandpa lived in Pennsylvania and the other one in Iowa, but we were in Texas and I didn’t know either one. Mama had a college degree that qualified her to be a schoolteacher but she stayed home because she was dying of cancer. Dad never finished high school and worked as a machinist in an aircraft factory 35 miles away. The first year he ever earned $5,000 happened because he worked overtime an awful lot of Saturdays. We didn’t own a car so he rode to work in a carpool. We didn’t have running water. We didn’t have a bathroom.

    As far as I’m concerned, the myth of the perfect family of the 1950s is just that – a myth.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      As someone born in 1955 and an aficionado of the Nifty Fifties and First 1960s, I have said this many times:

      The Godly Golden Age(TM) of the Fifties is NOT the real 1950s. It is a MYTHIC 1950s according to Ozzie, Harriet, and Donna Reed.

      • I read comments like this often, and it seems in vogue to diss on the 1950’s, especially if one’s own story was different. Obviously many were. But I do think, especially in comparison to today, there is some truth in the concept of the nuclear family that attended church regularly, stayed together, and had traditional roles by gender.

        I’m not sure we can dismiss one way or the other just based on personal experience, can we?

        • Vega Magnus says:

          A culture is not necessarily desirable just because it has those three attributes you mentioned.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > and it seems in vogue to diss on the 1950?s

          It was what it was, it is not diss’in to point out that this image is not what is was for *most* people. The people recorded on TV or in the media for an era usually represents that eras *aspirations*, not its *occupants*. As history slides forward the next ages forget that and the media becomes [to them] a representation. I suspect it is ‘in vogue’ to diss the 1950s, if that is true, because todays aspirations [including mine] are quite different than those commonly held in the 1950s – in that may lie at least a portion of the fuel for the Culture Wars.

          > if one’s own story was different. Obviously many were.

          Most were, as the majority of America was not described by “affluent white suburban”. If someone constantly pointed to an image saying that-is-you, and it wasn’t, … the compulsion to object is understandable.

          • “it is not diss’in to point out that this image is not what is was for *most* people. ”

            Again, I’m just curious, how do we know this? How do we know what the norm was? Just seems to be a lot of assumptions being tossed around.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            There is a tremendous amount of demographic information related to place, economics, and race.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Just a myth; exactly. In my own family, my paternal grandfather was an alcoholic who lost everything eventually because of it. He had owned a general store and a ferry boat on the Ohio River. On a trip he drank some poison booze and almost died. He quit drinking, but was a “dry drunk” the remainder of his life. His wife (my grandmother) was wonderful loving person, but his drinking and abuse ran her crazy, very literally, and she died in a state mental institution. On my mother’s side was also a somewhat dysfunctional home, but for other reasons.

      My father was converted in a Methodist Church, and there he met my mother. His life was changed radically, but he never became perfect! He did not finish high school either, but like you, my mother was a college person.
      And we did not have a bathroom for many years!

      But some of our best days were Sunday, when everything changed. We went to church, had our family meal, played together, and read the papers. We did not do shopping or go to the movies. My memories of this are very good ones.

    • Damaris says:

      Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique is a great antidote to the Leave-It-to-Beaver view of the fifties and sixties. Even in middle-class, non-alcoholic families there was a profound dysfunction. Agreed, it’s not an era to be sentimental for.

  6. “is the paragraph” should have been “in the paragraph”…sorry.

  7. Radagast says:

    ” What do you believe about having children? How have the teachings of your church, past or present, influenced you? Just how much prayerful thought have you given it? ”

    In my tradition (Catholic) we do have pre-marriage classes and there is a strong component on the openness to children. But we also believe marriage is a vocation, something we are called to do, and equally on par with the two other vocations, that being religious and single life.

    I was a Catholic-turned agnostic-turned rediscovered Catholic. At the time of my first child I was just in the beginnings of re-discovering my faith. But Church teachings and my and my wife’s journey taught us a lot and had an influence on us. Above all we are open to life. That resulted in seven children. We don’t believe in putting our kids on a pedestal so with freedom comes responsibility. In my house everyone pulls their wait in chores and the like. Some of my kids are college age now and this has really worked out well (they know how to wash, clean, etc and the boys can swing a hammer). They are not perfect and have made some mistakes, but they are light years ahead of me at their age so I am humbled and grateful.

    Actually, raising kids and parenting has always been a topic of discussion and prayer in our house. My wife especially takes it pretty seriously. We did not plan our family, we both did not come from a big family, and we both had to work through the baggage we each brought into the family, which also included child raising techniques. Prayer had to be a strong part of that if we were ever going to make it.

    We are big proponents of bringing the kids to Church each week (and right now, at least for the younger ones, every day in Lent too, right before school). That does not mean to bring them and drop them off for religious teaching daycare. Kids need to get use to routine. I am sure I will have more thoughts later.

    Just to end we wrap all this in love, and especially for my girls, though not at the exclusion of the boys we make sure they know they are loved each day.

    My thoughts….

    • Radagast says:

      weight not wait

    • David Cornwell says:

      “But Church teachings and my and my wife’s journey taught us a lot and had an influence on us.” This is a good story. Thanks. This is one of the strengths of Catholicism.

      Like I said, in the churches I attended, not much was taught. It is a shame, because Methodism has been such an important influence in the history of America. Yet in many ways it failed. This happened (in my opinion) because of its stress on “personal” experience, and then later because of its drift into a certain kind of liberalism. The postliberalism of some of the newer theologians is making a difference where its given a chance. But the hierarchy is scared of the numbers they have been seeing for 30 years, with declining membership and an older demographic. So church growth, and the controversy over homosexuality, have become the main defining issues.

      • The more I study church history, the more I’m convinced the biggest errors and destruction can be placed at the feet of three individuals: Darby and the Wesleys. In many ways, the church and especially America would have been better off without them.

        • David Cornwell says:

          I hear what you are saying, and certainly agree about Darby.

          However I think that American Methodists more or less divorced themselves from the Wesleys. Some theologians have recently worked to recover the “Catholic Wesley.” Unfortunately this has had little effect on the practice of the church. An American bishop said that American Methodism owes nothing to Wesley, being that its founders were actually Cokesbury and Asbury.

          As Hauerwas states it: “Our emphasis on sanctification, moreover, became confused with a pietistic construal of the faith shaped by revivals. So holiness was thought to be about the individual rather than the church. ”

          The thing is, every nook and cranny of America has been penetrated by Methodists. I doubt that there is a county in the country without a Methodist Church of some kind. There are about six of them within a six mile radius of my home. Three are town churches, the others in small villages.

          I think there have been many changed lives due to the past evangelistic emphasis of Methodism. In becoming mature, it lost is way theologically, and never developed the catholic ecclesiology it needed for maturity.

          If none of this makes sense, I apologize. I have been trying to think it through for myself, therefore some confusion!

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Not make sense?!?!?! I think “In becoming mature, it lost is way theologically, and never developed the catholic ecclesiology it needed for maturity.” is the best and most succint description of the malady of methodism, much of protestantism, and certainly of Evangelicalism that I’ve ever read.

            As someone whose are was Baptist [primarily because it was there] -> Non-dom Evangelicalism –> Free Methodist -> Catholic sympathizer, you describe it well. As I matured most religiously and just overall, I found no there there, no way that the small square peg of Methodism helped fill in the big round hole of life.

          • Josh in FW says:

            great description

        • I’m not trying to argue, but I am very perplexed by the comment on the Wesleys. We sang one of Charles’ powerful hymns this past Sunday in (a non-Methodist) church. Almost all that I have read about church history has been very positive about the Wesleys (even from non-Wesleyans).

  8. Honestly? We had kids because my wife always wanted to be a mom.Turns out I had a medical condition that made it unlikely. One painful and expensive surgery and year later, we had our daughter. Now the second one is in the oven. Honestly, there was nothing “Christian” about any of it – in fact, it was basically selfish. But having a child has been a real learning and growth experience. Her baptism was especially precious, as we were basically acknowledging not only our dependence upon God, but upon the godparents and church community to help grow her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

  9. T.S.Gay says:

    On the Benedictine option…….please Google “Rebuilding Catholic Society in Crisis magazine”, then click on the article by James Kalb. Yes, this is a Roman Catholic perspective, but read it and know it pertains to every Christian denomination. I would like people to recognize that Kalb does not push for a quietism( retreat into enclaves), nor fighting against the secular( abortion, homosexuality, immigration reform, health care or any issue that comes up in the future). His focus is fighting ….for the Church to be itself and most importantly about catholic children( and I use the word catholic in the traditional sense that John Wesley used it in his sermon “The Catholic Spirit”). Rebuilding Christian society is directly related to our being “colonies of heaven”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I would like people to recognize that Kalb does not push for a quietism (retreat into enclaves), nor fighting against the secular (abortion, homosexuality, immigration reform, health care or any issue that comes up in the future).

      AKA Kalb does not push for the two Standard Christianese responses to the Big Bad World Out There.

    • David Cornwell says:

      James Kalb “gets it” in my opinion. I will read the article. Hauerwas, Willimon, and Smith are very close to “catholic” teachings on many subjects.

      Thanks.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Just read Kalb’s article. He’s a good writer and deep thinker. I will go back later and check out some of his other writings. One of the things I noticed, is that he is not a pessimist. He wrote:

      “In spite of difficulties, the outlook is bright for Christendom, even from a human standpoint, because there is such a need for it.”

      It is so good to hear a positive voice.

    • Thanks for sharing Kalb’s article. Lots to think about.

  10. David – Great Post. I will give much thought to the idea of “…resident aliens in an colony of heaven, living true to the story.” Love that!

    Like you, my wife and I met in Bible College and attended the same Marriage and Family class. The teacher, Stacy Cline, taught a reason for having children that has stuck with me over the years. It shares some elements with both what you as well as what Ben Carmack shared.

    Stacy Cline said we produce (or adopt) children for the same reason that God created mankind. God didn’t “need” us as He already had communion and perfect love within His triune self. But he wanted to share that love and expand that fellowship to others. And that is why we have children; our love produces others with whom we can have fellowship and share our loving relationship. These “others” often are a huge amount of work, require sacrifice, bring sorrow, etc. But in the end the resulting relationship is worth all the trouble. In this way we participate in and illustrate to the world God’s plan for mankind. That approach helped prepare my wife and I for the challenges of parenthood and helped us appreciate the deep sacredness of it.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Sounds as if Stacy Cline is the kind of teacher that we need, and which can make such a huge difference.

    • David Cornwell says:

      David Fitch argues for practices in the evangelical church that would return more comprehensive catechetical approach. He writes:

      “Evangelicals further reveal their modern prejudices toward education when we resist formal initiation processes in our educational programs. Most evangelicals are foreign to the notions of a first communion, a confirmation ritual, or a baptism that has significant initiatory processes around it. In modernist fashion, evangelicals view Christianity as a set of beliefs not a way of life that one must be initiated into.”

      This is not all he has to say, but it shows his approach.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “… In modernist fashion, evangelicals view Christianity as a set of beliefs not a way of life that one must be initiated into.”

        i.e. a Checklist — “Check, check, check, check, check…”

        Or “a set of beliefs” = an Ideology. That would explain a lot of the similar attitudes and behavior to classic Communists.

    • This resonates with why I want children, out of the overflow of the love I’ve received from God, and the love within my marriage. Beautiful.

  11. David Cornwell says:

    Thanks for your honesty. And even though it may seem selfish, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a mom.

    Baptism can have a purifying effect on one’s motives.

    • David Cornwell says:

      This reply was meant to be for Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist and his post above. Sorry for getting it in the wrong place.

  12. This is an interesting question. I would assume that Christians want to have children for the same reason all families do. They had a happy childhood with siblings, parents, etc.,they love the “cuteness” of babies (that’s me).’ Or it just happens. Today there seems to be a trend toward “contraception is sinful” thinking, but I doubt there are many of those couples. I wonder sometimes why so many? Or if The Lord has not given you children why go to such medical lengths when so many adoptees await. Also, a couple who are friends decided NOT to have children before they married and the shock waves were great! This was years ago, they thot they did not the right temperament but their Christian friends always nagged them about it.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “Or if The Lord has not given you children why go to such medical lengths when so many adoptees await.”

      Excellent question. Anyone with an opinion?

      • Personal opinion alert!

        I’m not a big fan of fertility treatments, and what not. I understand why folks would want them, and can respect those reasons and decisions, but my wife and I decided that it’s definitely not for us, and there are several reasons behind this:

        First, as pro-life people, I think we ought to put our money where our mouths are. That is, if we believe that giving a child up for adoption is morally superior to an abortion, we ought to be open to adopt children.

        Second, adoption is VERY significant for Christians, theologically speaking. After all, while Christ’s Sonship is due to being the “only-begotten Son of God,” ours as Christians is one of adoption.

        Third, from a purely practical/pragmatic standpoint those treatments are EXPENSIVE and offer no guarantees.

        Fourth, while I recognize that some folks have troubles with the idea of *really* loving a kid who’s not their own flesh-and-blood (I think my dad falls into that category), my wife and I have no such troubles. We would certainly and without a doubt love an adopted child as much as one of our own bodies.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          My wife and I were unable to conceive on our own and weighed the fertility option. I think the main reason we didn’t go that path was #3. A big wad of money with no guarantee.

          We ended up adopting. Met our baby daughter on the day she was born, took her home on day 2. Our adoption story is pretty amazing, almost as amazing as God’s adoption story of us…lol. I’ll share it sometime.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Oh, and as an additional…

          Fr. Isaac, I can relate to your #4. I was definitely fearful that I would not be able to love an adopted child like I would a child “born” from my wife and I. Even stranger and more fearful, my wife and I decided to explore an “OPEN” adoption, in which the birthmother (and father, if he was still in the picture) maintain contact with adoptive parents and their child. Talk about FEAR and ANXIETY. I went into an adoption seminar pretty much knowing that we wouldn’t go that route. By the end of the 2-day session, I’d done a complete 180 and was on-board, and even more convinced that OPEN adoption was the best approach.

          Let me tell you, seeing our baby girl and adopting her…well, even though she was “born” of a different mother/father, she is our joy! And we love our daughter’s birthmother and birthfather, and all the people in their families. It’s a wonderful, blessed thing.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Not MY DNA” factor?

        You find that in evolutionary biology and animal behavior all the time.

    • “their Christian friends always nagged them about it.”

      That sort of thing is so freakin’ shameful. Sometimes it seems that certain circles of Christians completely idolize the concept of family, to the point where being single is viewed as being weird, not having kids is viewed as being weird, having a stay-at-home dad is viewed as being weird, etc. As I said above, I just got married a few months ago, and I’m in my mid-30’s. Same for my wife. First marriage for both of us. We both got so much flak from folks at Church due to being single for so long. I remember being at some sort of leadership meeting at a former church in my 20’s, and folks would pray for God to bring me a wife. I said afterword something to the effect of “It seems the only person at this table who’s not worried about my singleness is me!” They laughed, but got the point. Another time a longtime family friend who was an elder at my parents’ church asked me why I hadn’t ever gotten married. I told him that I really believed God had kept me from making some very bad mistakes in that area over the years. He laughed and said “Good answer.” I’m so very glad I waited and didn’t succumb to the Christianese pressure.

      • David Cornwell says:

        “certain circles of Christians completely idolize the concept of family”

        Almost like the sentimentalization of a Hallmark card message.

      • Isaac –

        Thanks for sharing. I am impressed with your responses, and your restraint, both in regards to your marriage story, and also how you deal with some of the nincompoops around you. 🙂

        To be honest, I think the comments about not being married and/or not having children is actually a byproduct of erroneous thinking about what it means to be whole – that you can’t experience everything this life has to offer, or that God has to offer, without having sex somewhere in the mix.

        • David Cornwell says:

          I had to laugh about “having sex somewhere in the mix.” That pretty much defines a lot of life today and the shallowness of casual sex.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > that you can’t experience everything this life has to offer, or that God has to offer,
          > without having sex somewhere in the mix.

          +1,000. What this attitude masks is an obsession with sexuality.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Also, a couple who are friends decided NOT to have children before
      > they married and the shock waves were great!

      Indeed, I decided I did not want children. This was an absolute deal breaker in any relationship – I brought it up early and was very clear. My decision was serious and I felt that being clear was respectful – but the reaction was frequently strong. Now I am happily married, with no children. For a long time, as we lived in Evangelical circles, the response was always very much aghast or being told “You’ll regret it later”. I don’t regret that decision today [many years later], and never have.

      Now I have had numerous reverse experiences – where a man will children tells me “that was right idea” [to not have children], that if they had to do it over again, they wouldn’t. But it is always said in a tone indicating they would never say that to someone who had children – there is a sacred code.

  13. stickmanonymous says:

    This is the very question I’ve asked many people. I haven’t gotten many answers that I thought were much good, including from my own parents.

    I have spent my whole life in a Reformed church community where large families are common. The general consensus among people within that community that bearing children is part of a divine mandate to fill the earth and subdue it. That’s assuming they give it much thought at all.

    I have made a decision not to have children. This is very much counter to the expectations of my church community.

    I work in the field of elementary education, and the longer I do it, the less convinced I am that having children is a responsible thing for most people to do. It’s not that I don’t like kids, but I’ve come across too many situations in which parents seem to have given little to no thought to the responsibility that must come with having created another life. When I examine my own personality, I don’t think I’d handle that responsibility appropriately.

    I have worked with some wonderful parents who do an exceptional job. Unfortunately, I’ve also come across too many who should simply have bought some contraception and adopted a puppy.

    Additionally, as far as I see it, the earth is pretty much filled and subdued. Perhaps I’m worrying too much about tomorrow, but most children born today are likely to face some significant social and environmental problems in the future. Of course, many solutions to those problems will be found by children yet to be born, but think I’d only be contributing to the mess, not helping.

    Again, it amazes me that very few (if any) people consider that a child has absolutely no say in whether they’re born or not. If you’re going to be so presumptuous as to create new life, you’d d*** well better put in the effort to make sure you do the very best you can.

    Apologies if that all seems a bit negative.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Well, you are a bit negative, but you have good reasons for it. I have heard some of the exact reflections from my own daughter, who teaches advanced math in an elementary school. She gets so discouraged by some of the parenting she observes, and the effects it has on the children.

      I may have more to say about this, but I need to think it out first.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Ditto. The common sentiment that “everyone loves their children” is so terribly demonstrably *FALSE*.

      I was an accidental late-life child of stressed over-worked people in a stressful depressing time and place. Most of my friends were in the same situation. Children and the adults they become are not stupid, they know whats what.

      Yet somehow this meme that a mother will look into the child’s eyes and be filled with love endures. There is no such guarantee, we are knee deep in the evidence of that.

      Having children is a major epic commitment. Making major epic commitments by happenstance or peer-pressure is a major epic *bad idea*. I decided that if one was going to have children it should be something you *WANT* [ in all caps!]. If it is not something you think about, dream about, long for…. then do not do it.

      > a divine mandate to fill the earth and subdue it.

      Mankind has done did that! Check the box. Then we covered the garden with cigarette butts and candy wrappers. Can we stop talking about that now?

  14. Well, I am a single 24 year old woman. I’ve been working on my master of arts degree in theology, and I want to carry it into doctorate studies. Truth be told, my focus has not been on getting married and making babies. My focus has mostly been on getting my degrees. Romance and all that stuff couldn’t be at the back of my mind any further. However, I might turn back to this blog post should things change, as questioning one’s motivations is a good thing.

  15. David Cornwell says:

    Drena, thanks. I just looked at your blog and in the “About” section you write:

    “The topic of my Master’s Thesis is Christ as King from a postmodern perspective and I aim to answer What are the implications of Christ as King in a postmodern world? ”

    I think you are on the right track. If you are able to answer this question, many of the others will fall into place.

    And I hope my piece does not imply that everyone must rush out and get married. The time may come for that, or it may not.

    • David Cornwell says:

      My answer did not go into the correct slot, but this is a reply to Drena.

    • I am glad your piece isn’t you telling me to rush out and get married, as I don’t want to really, and the Bible has plenty of room for celibacy. Even when I do heavily consider the idea, I often emerge out with mixed feelings about it. Oh well, I have different things to worry about now. If my spouse-to-be drops by, God best make it known as I probably won’t notice.

  16. I’ve often thought having children tended to make me less self centered. They are, initially, so dependent; their needs had to come before mine. And then as they grow, one hopes they’ll succeed where I didn’t, and not fail where I did. Ultimately I have prayed, and continue to pray, that they will serve the living God with all their hearts, minds and souls.

  17. I think David Brooks in the NY Times had a column on this topic sometime last year. He was pointing out that the groups self-confident enough to bring many children into the world also tended to be quite religious. In his own NYC, this is most obvious when you look at the Orthodox Jewish community. Elsewhere, the Amish birthrate is similarly high, while Mormons are above average as well.

    I think Brooks was on to something. It isn’t just blind obedience to a biblical admonition, nor is it simply cultural peer pressure, as real as that no doubt is. It’s that most deeply religious people have a hope regarding the future, even in the face of today’s daunting challenges.

    On the other hand, mixing apocalypticism with Quiverfull ideals leads to disaster. It would surely be better for those so theologically inclined to go with St. Paul’s admonition to just remain in their unmarried and childless state.

    • David Cornwell says:

      ” It’s that most deeply religious people have a hope regarding the future, even in the face of today’s daunting challenges.”

      Amen.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        I hope I live long enough to see how this plays out longitudinally. I am very curious. I find much much more Optimism amount the seculars I know than among the Evangelicals I know. A lot lot more. Will this effect birth rates? I have no idea. There is also the numbers about how those traditions retain their young, which is not so rosy for them currently, but numbers can [and do] change.

        • Danielle says:

          This is an interesting question. Optimism about the future does not always mean a high birth rate. To believe that one’s investment in 1-2 children will pay off–that these one or two children will flourish with a sufficient investment of emotional capital and cash–reflects a lot of confidence in the future: and a belief in the power of careful resource management.

          I find it significant that social commentators have often complained about “selfish” twenty-somethings who are putting off starting families. When these same people enter their thirties and decide to have children, they are immediately accused of the opposite charge: now they’re ‘helicopter parents” who smother their little ‘snowflakes’ with attention, praise, and resources.

          As Demaris/Trevis comment, there is a growing divide between the marital and parenting outcomes of the relatively affluent/secular/liberal areas and the rural/historically religious/lower income ones. Contrary to expectations a few decades ago, today a college-educated woman is more likely to be married than a person without a college degree. (As one study wrote, remarking on both sexes, “College graduates, the highest earners, are more likely today to be married than are Americans with less education — 69% for adults with a college degree versus 56% for those who are not a college graduate.”) The college graduates are more likely to have married later and delayed having children, and often have fewer of them. Collectively, these factors mean more stability and a more resources are falling to the smaller number of children born to the college graduates. Since culture (“do you see your parents reading books?”) and socio-economic status are the two largest predictors of educational outcome, we can expect the gap to having a lasting effect.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Ditto. The trends are running in the opposite directions that the ‘gut’ would have expected. I have no idea how that will turn out; except a premonition that it may not be pretty for a lot of people who will end up with less of a support system and less structure than they have now.

    • Damaris says:

      ” He was pointing out that the groups self-confident enough to bring many children into the world also tended to be quite religious.” This is a good point, Trevis, but another one is, I think, equally true. I teach at a community college in a rural area, and I’d guess that half of my students have children out of wedlock. Many of them have several children with different men/women with no marriage involved. The huge majority of them didn’t even plan to get pregnant (beyond having sex, which ought to be considered at least part of a plan to get pregnant). They just move in with their parents or significant other’s parents and get swept along by circumstance. I don’t see in them a deep optimism about the world that they are bringing their children into; I see a desperation to be loved, to be important for a moment in the eyes of at least one being. I know of only one person over the four years and many classes I’ve taught who has had an abortion; of course there may be more, but it is an expected thing here to have a baby, and no one feels any shame about it.

      • Which reminds me of another NYT conservative commentator just last week, Ross Douthout. He opined that, in many ways, the parts of the country that have the problems that you described are precisely those that (A) have deep religious roots but (B) DON’T have a lot of the good support structures that they once did. I think he even threw in the bit about better to be hot or cold than lukewarm.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > (B) DON’T have a lot of the good support structures that they once did.

          I am puzzled by the past tenseness of statements like this, which I read frequently.

          “they once did”, rural America? When? I don’t buy it, most of those places (a) never had significant social support structures [they did have very high mortality rates] and (b) have not been occupied by a significant population for more than a hundred years – so the “when” is a brief window of time.

    • Trevis – the women in *all* of the communities you cite tend to be very overburdened by the many children they have plus health complications/problems due to frequent pregnancies.

      It’s not a happy scenario for a great many of them, and all too often, older siblings are the ones who raise the younger ones, since one person (the mother) can only do so much. That’s a great burden to place on kids’ shoulders.

      • No argument from me, numo. (My wife and I are childless ourselves, and quite content.) Women always get the heavier burden when having large numbers of children are concerned.

        I’m sure if given more of a say, such women would choose to have fewer children, and I hope that becomes their prerogative sooner rather than later. I still suspect, however, that the birthrate would be well above replacement levels. Hope for the future doesn’t tell you to have eight kids, but it might suggest you have three instead of 2.1 as a matter of course.

  18. Dana Ames says:

    My husband and I wanted children because, under usual biological and social circumstances, “family” consists of a parent of each sex and their biological offspring. Both of us had good family experiences growing up, and both of us had baggage as well. At first, I couldn’t get pregnant, and then I miscarried twice, so it was a while before we even knew if we could have biological children. Interestingly, I knew I didn’t want a large number of children but never really thought of a particular number; my husband was a ZPG-er back in the ’70s. We both came to the conclusion that 3 children were what we wanted, and what God wanted for us.

    Our “premarital counseling” was limited to a very good woman in the church giving me the information that males came to climax before females did. This I already knew. How I wish the pastor would have sat us down, given us the Myers-Briggs test, guided discussion around those findings, asked us to talk about the good things and the difficult things about our families and how we were raised, what our “parenting philosophies” were and how we came to them, what our views on money and handling it were and how we came to them, and our views on marriage and what it is for and how we came to them – and refused to perform the ceremony until my husband and I had heard and understood these things about each other. I think that could have helped a lot. We were married about 10 years before (some) pastors began doing this. Of course, this takes time, and some training a pastor may not have; in which case, a pastor should delegate this to a responsible, trained counselor. We both assumed things about what we believed and what the other person wanted, mostly incorrectly because we hadn’t talked about them in 5 years of knowing one another before we married. That was not a good pattern with which to start.

    Theologically, I have come to the belief that everything comes from the love of the Trinitarian God, the Union of “sameness” (ousia) and “difference” (hypostasis). One cannot love – it takes Two, and those two must be different Subjects, or there cannot be union; and in the depth of real love, there is room for a Third. (Richard Twiss of blessed memory was known to say, “God is One *Because* God is Three!”) Love seeks appropriate union with the beloved without obliterating difference/colonizing the other, but rather upholding the difference and uniqueness of the other, and leaving the other free. This also goes for husbands, wives and children – and friends, and anyone with whom we have any relationship. The Creator God who Is Love in a sense cannot help creating created beings, whom he loves and with whom, as the Beloved, he seeks union. Hence, the Incarnation – which would have happened in any case, and happened as it did in the fullness of time.

    (This is an entirely different theological ground than complementarianism; for c’s, it’s the difference rather than the sameness that matters, both of males and females as humans, and of the Father and the Son as Trinitarian beings; can’t say it’s “hypostasis,” because they do not deal in these terms. But if Christ is not of the same ousia *forever* then the “theological ground” of c’ism is just Arianism with another face.)

    Contrary to a legal trickle-down flow chart sort of framework, I believe in the pulsating reality of God As Love as the ground for all things, including all relationships, biological and otherwise. The legal flow chart is neat and tidy – and it can be had, and has been had, over and over again, without self-giving Love. God is not only meant to be the center/focus of a family, but God wants to inhabit each person so we can all love like he loves. The job of parents is to relate in and model that love as honestly as possible in any given moment, and to help children come to want that kind of love for God and others. Because each family member is unique, there are no cookie-cutter patterns of “training” that will “work” for all children, though our utilitarian society likes to promote this – and so do many Christians, who have lapped up that same utilitarian outlook in the quest for Godly Results without any glitches – or pain (thank you, Enlightenment Rationalism…). In this, as in everything, we will fall short – I have. And yet, we must keep our eyes on the eschaton – the purpose and meaning of it all – even as at times our hearts ache, and at other times (sometimes the same times) attempt to bear unbearable joy…

    Dana

    • David Cornwell says:

      Dana, I have replied below. I must be in too much of a hurry today, I keep getting in the wrong slots for replies.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Meant to also say:

      Love engenders life, in the Trinity and between husbands and wives – but also not only by sexual union between humans. Love begets life and greater maturity among humans by non-physically-reproductive means in the majority of cases.

      Please insert into the thought flow after “…all relationships, biological and otherwise.”

      Dana

  19. David Cornwell says:

    ” In this, as in everything, we will fall short – I have. And yet, we must keep our eyes on the eschaton – the purpose and meaning of it all – even as at times our hearts ache, and at other times (sometimes the same times) attempt to bear unbearable joy…”

    You have pretty much described life, and especially our life with God. Thanks.

    ” there are no cookie-cutter patterns of “training” that will “work” for all children, though our utilitarian society likes to promote this – and so do many Christians…”

    You have noticed this also! Yet we hear cookie-cutter sermons and read the same books, all with the “answers.” Will we ever learn?

  20. I always joke – I wanted six kids, my wife wanted four. So we compromised with — four. 🙂

    I was raised in a more fundamental, Baptist upbringing. I attended a conservative, Christian college. It was always assumed you would have kids, it was never explained why. We were never taught any theological truths around *the reason* for having kids.

    I remember a conversation with my brother on this subject many yeas ago. He was surprised by just how little thought Christians gave this important question, and why very few can answer it. In his words, “Having children is the reason for having children!” It doesn’t need to be justified, and any reasons given in human terms, as David already pointed out, have a huge potential for disillusionment and disappointment.

    I tell people – having kids is a huge responsibility. It is most likely the hardest thing you will ever do, and simultaneously, the most rewarding. After having three of our own, we adopted a special-needs child from Romania. It has been incredibly difficult, even traumatic at times. But what God has give us as a family, and the resolve, graciousness, and compassion this experience has instilled on our three birth children has been profound in ways that would take pages to describe.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, David.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Jerry, I have been told that special needs children will teach us, as parents, and our children, things about God and grace that we may not learn in other ways. Thanks for being willing to adopt and for making this child part of your story, and God’s story in your life.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Thank you Jerry & family. You’re doing the love we all talk about. May the Lord help you.

      Dana

  21. I wouldn’t be so quick to write-off the 50’s. It seems to me that if you were a young man coming of age in the 50’s, expectations of what it meant to be a man were fairly clear. A) You started your working career with the expectation that you would work until retirement age and unless you got very lucky and made your fortune allowing you to retire at 55 instead of 65. Because you were working, you were more likely to B) start married life in your early 20s, probably didn’t have a lot of time to hop from one girlfriend to the next. So you’re married, you’re working hard and become the primary breadwinner. You get a house, you C) get kids and if you’re a good worker, you gradually move up the ladder and assume greater responsibilities but make greater monies until you D) retire.. Looking back, there is considerable satisfaction that you took care of your responsibilities.
    Back then if you weren’t working full time and moving towards taking care of wife and kids you were a “Bum.”
    *
    Now you’re 30, unmarried, hop from job to job, girlfriend to girlfriend and instead of being a “bum” you’re just suffering from “failure to launch.” That doesn’t seem to be a good thing for men. I believe God intended men to work; those who don’t do poorly in their lives. Yeah, let’s not write off the 50’s.

    • Vega Magnus says:

      There are a lot of factors that have to go right for your life outline to succeed, and in any case, that lifestyle is mostly long gone now that the job market has shifted towards requiring a college degree. You’re mainly describing the typical ‘graduate high school, marry your sweetheart, work at the factory/mill/mine/whatever’ ideal you see in the PSAs from the ’50s that Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed on, and that is long dead.

      • Indeed. And meanwhile, I guess women are intended to be cooking and cleaning and mom-ing it up a la Barbara Billingsley in Leave it to Beaver…

        It only works for certain upper-middle class folks, and even then, this idea of the 50s as some kind of Better Time is about TV and movie-type fantasies, not reality. You can see some of the other side per anxiety and post-war fears in movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, along with anything that even tangentially touched on the possibility of nuclear holocaust. It seems to me that Doctor Strangelove says a great deal more about the 50s-mid 60s than typical sitcoms of the timeever did.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Doctor Strangelove comes into play, surprisingly, when I go to Brony meetups. You see, there’s this famous fanfic called “Fallout: Equestria”, 300,000+ words (plus spinoff side-stories, kind of like Left Behind) about After-the-Bomb My Little Ponies. (No, I’m not making that up.) Every meetup, when other Bronies (most all born after the Second Russian Revolution ended the Cold War) find out one of my main interests in the fandom is good fanfics, I always get asked “Have you read Fallout: Equestria”?

          And I tell these Bronies born after the Cold War why I don’t. I tell them of the fear of Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War of the time, the hopelessness (It’s Inevitable), like Global Warming freakout but upped by orders of magnitude. About Doctor Strangelove. About how After-the-Bomb Post-Holocaust was such a common sub-genre of SF it got so badly overdone. I lived through the constant fear of Fallout: Equestria happening FOR REAL (INEVITABLE Global Thermonuclear War, 110% certainty of Human Extinction before the year 2000). About Star Trek giving us hope (that we wouldn’t blow ourselves up and instead Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before) with the Cuban Missile Crisis in recent memory.

          In many ways, all Hal Lindsay did was slap a coat of Book of Revelation paint on Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War and promise a Rapture escape hatch.

          • David Cornwell says:

            In the 50’s and beyond our doctrine for survival was MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. Quite a contradiction. This is what i learned as a young teen. If we had more bombs and missiles then they did, they would not blow us up because we could blow them up bigger. Ike’s Secretary of State was John Foster Dulles who preached the doctrine of massive retaliation. He told the Russians that if they touched Berlin, we would bomb them out of existence.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > You’re mainly describing the typical ‘graduate high school,
        > marry your sweetheart, work at the factory/mill/mine/whatever’
        > ideal you see in the PSAs from the ’50s that Mystery Science
        > Theater 3000 riffed on, and that is long dead.

        Emphasis on *ideal*. This never described more than a small minority of America’s population. This is not a picture of the 50s, it is a snapshot of a common aspiration of the 50s. And one that, IMNSHO, failed to deliver on its promise – many of those who were promised a pension, et al, can today attest to that.

  22. Vega Magnus says:

    I wonder how much latent animal instincts actually color people’s decisions to have children? Probably a whole lot more than one might think IMO, but evolutionary psychology is a big, weird can of worms that I don’t really care to get into.

    • Vega, I think the desire to reproduce is part of life, from single-celled organisms all the way on up to the so-called higher mammals, and I honestly don’t think it’s necessary to go to evolutionary psych in order to see, acknowledge and accept that.

      Which – no offense, David! – is why theologizing about the reasons for wanting to have kids strikes me as a bit odd, as I think it is *so* easy to over spiritualize things that are innate and normal. I’m not saying that thinking about the topic is bad or wrong, merely that trying to figure out “higher” purposes for many things in life seems to be an easy trap to fall into. I know I’ve been there more than a few times myself, though not on this particular topic.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Thanks Numo. Sometimes we do over spiritualize things. However we, as humans, are not only physical beings, but also spiritual. Thus the difference between reproduction and procreation. It seems to me that having children is one of the most spiritual things we do. I do not mean this in a sentimental way at all, because it is a down and dirty vocation at times. And from the time a baby is born, until the day we die, it can be terribly difficult, yet can offer so many blessings. But we view life differently, than the buzzard I saw cleaning up a dead squirrel the other day.

  23. melissatheragamuffin says:

    Re adoption: My husband and I decided against adoption because no adoption agency would place an infant with us because we’re both in our forties. They all want us to take an older child. While I respect and applaud people who adopt older children, I know that those kids come with issues. It has to be BAD to remove a child from it’s natural parents. An older child that ends up placed for adoption has already been around the foster care block a time or two and more than likely witnessed things no child should ever witness. I am not up for that kind of a challenge.

    After suffering our second miscarriage in two years, I have an appointment with a fertility specialist next month. We’ve also decided we’re not willing to go as far as invitro because we just don’t believe in fertilizing all those eggs and leaving them in storage. It’s just not right. But, if they can do something to increase our adds of conceiving the usual way and me being able to carry I’ll take it.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      My wife and I were both 40 when we adopted our daughter, and she was only 2 days old when we took her home. There were no issues in the situation, either, just two young kids who wanted to place their child in a Christian home. So there are agencies (and perspective birthparents) out there that work with “older” people, that would LOVE to put their child in a stable home.

  24. Joseph (the original) says:

    I have 3 strapping young men. Each one unique in their personalities and physical traits. I am amazed at the way God designed the procreation process with the combining of genetic markers from both parents…

    My ex-wife miscarried our first child; we both believed it was a girl. Abigail Grace or Katie Irene…

    I wanted to have children, but like most (every?) parent, I didn’t know what I was getting into…

    The pastor that officiated at our wedding had emphasized God’s statement to Adam & Eve about being fruitful & multiplying…

    I took some Child Development classes in junior college knowing someday I would be a parent…

    My youngest almost died from high fever once; he had a fibril seizure. Rushed him to emergency via ambulance.
    They thought it might be meningitis. I was holding him when he went limp & his eyes rolled back before the call to 911. I hope I never, ever, have to deal with that type of situation again…

    I do not want to ever deal with the death of a child as my sister did. I think I would be completely undone…

    All of my boys have weathered the divorce somehow without becoming angry young men that have closed off members of their paternal & maternal sides of the family…

    I am one proud Papa…

    As any parent does, I do hope they become better adjusted human beings than I ever was…

    I can’t imagine my life without them in it. They do help me be my better self…

    Thank you Jesus…

  25. Randy Thompson says:

    This isn’t a terribly spiritual or theological response to the question at hand, but I believe one reason for having children is that your children keep you young. At age 63, I find my adult sons keep me in touch with all sorts of things I’d be oblivious to. I am enriched by this greatly. They have made me think about a number of things I wouldn’t have thought about with out them. I am decidedly 63, but I am also younger than that because of them.

    In my experience, people my age without kids seem to me to be older than they really are, and narrower. Children slow down the hardening of the proverbial arteries.

    I realize that this is a rather peripheral reason for having kids, and there are certainly other, better reasons, as many posters here have so eloquently shared, but I’ve thought about this for sometime now and I think there’s something to it.

    Even if you disagree with absolutely everything your children think and do, they make you think about what they think and do, and often that in and of itself is a broadening and helpful experience. .

    • David Cornwell says:

      Randy, you’ve got a point. I’m older than you, but I find the same thing is true most of the time. And my grandchildren definitely have that effect. One of my daughters teaches advanced math to elementary students in a rather poor school district, and her enthusiasm for task never stops.She helps keep me young.

      • Randy Thompson says:

        We have no grandchildren yet, but I anticipate discovering the real meaning of “second childhood” when that happens!

    • Rick Ro. says:

      When we adopted our girl, I think my parents became 10 years younger. It added joy to their lives. Yes, this appears to be a very nice side effect of having children.

  26. What about the admonition to be fruitful and multiply? I’ve heard that given as a reason many times. When I point out that we have filled the earth it is pointed out that this is the same logic that people give for abortion (grrr….)

    How often do y’all (iMonk-ers) run into this? Is it a really contentious issue where you are at?

    • It’s not a command. It’s a blessing and should be rendered, “The Lord blessed them, saying, ‘May you be fruitful and multiply…”

      • Are you sure about that CM? The blessing is there, but the words read like a command. I don’t see a translation with “may you”. Is there something about the context of a blessing that softens the command?

        NIV:
        God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

        CEV:
        God gave them his blessing and said: Have a lot of children! Fill the earth with people and bring it under your control. Rule over the fish in the ocean, the birds in the sky, and every animal on the earth.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Sometimes I think we take texts like this and individualize/personalize them, when (perhaps) they were intended to be viewed as “to the community.” If I individualize this, personalize this, then yes…it would appear the responsibility is mine. But if I view it as a comment to a nation, then it becomes less “my” responsibility and more of a responsibility of many. And one only needs look at the evidence of today (humankind appears to be ruling the earth) to see that this has happened.

          So if I ever saw anyone wield that scripture toward someone else as a way to have them consider having children, I’d probably step in and suggest that “be fruitful and multiply” seems to have been taken care of by others, and not to use scripture inappropriately.

    • stickmanonymous says:

      Perhaps what I’ve posted earlier might resonate with you.

      Within my church community it would certainly be a contentious issue if one were to express a belief that the mandate to fill the earth and multiply seems to have been effectively accomplished.

      In my opinion it’s just as immoral (if not more so) to produce a child that you’re not willing or able to properly care for with every scrap of your energy as it is to abort an unwanted child. Either way the parents bear an immense weight of responsibility for the life that they create and affect. I’m certain a lot of people here wouldn’t agree, but I’ve seen situations in which abortion seems to me to have been the more merciful option.

      In a society where all right thinking people accept that a child neither can nor should be able to consent to certain things, you’d think people would be a lot more considerate before creating a human life without that human’s consent, especially when there might be factors that that individual would never choose for themselves.

      What do you think of the idea that grace comes before law? Would you accept that the command to love your (perhaps unborn) child might outweigh the command to produce him or her in the first place merely to fulfill some ancient and divine statistic or quota?

      Neither Jesus nor Paul were the quiverfull type, and both of them made fairly explicit allowances for people who weren’t planning to be fruitful in the multiplying sense.

      My church’s marriage form (yes) states that the secondary purpose of marriage is to “continue and increase the human race”. I don’t expect to be married in my church any time soon.

      Again, if I were to express this idea as bluntly in my church community, the majority would uphold the admonition to fill the earth and multiply. But that’s Dutch Calvinists for you.

      • David Cornwell says:

        You have raised issues, many of which I personally have not totally resolved in my own mind. I think the writers I quote would probably interpret God’s desire that we have children as something different from the need to populate the earth, but as a witness to the power of God over against the power of the world. They believe, I think, that we should refuse the fear that is offered to us by the world as a reason NOT to have children. The world is a scary place, but God’s power overcomes the world.

        I know this does not answer your question, and neither does it answer some of them in my mind. But it gives me a new way to think about the problem of Christians bringing children into this dangerous world.

    • Thank you CM, Rick Ro., stickmanonymous, and David Cornwell for your responses – you’ve given me much to think on.

  27. Danielle says:

    I’m coming in late to this discussion because I didn’t have time to think through a comment before. Here are my thoughts:

    In the particular evangelical circles in which I’ve traveled, it was just assumed that one would marry and have children. While this was not quite spelled out, the official reason for having kids seemed to be to make more Christians, and to respond in faith to the “multiply and subdue” mandate in Genesis. Particularly among the home schoolers, there was an attitude that children were simultaneously priceless gifts and the means to re-establish moral order and take back the nation. Children were to be loved; also, disciplined, protected, equipped, prepared, groomed, built, and ultimately deployed into the culture wars.

    As an adult, I rejected key elements of the above viewpoint: the premise that the culture wars were worthwhile, or that men and women should subordinate all their considerations to the family. More broadly, my view shifted away from colonization/dominion as the operative value, to human creativity as being the value. In my mind, the goal was not to create soldiers of sufficient number and fortitude; the goal was to have children because it is an intrinsically good and creative enterprise that allows one to cultivate a unique soul capable of being something beautiful and creating beauty in the world. As a corollary, this also meant that adult men and women had a right ‘be human’ independent of the specifics of their biology or the potential to be parents. In other words, removing from procreation the burden of being the be-all of all things, it becomes more, and people become more. We’re dealing in humans, not parts; quality over quantity; diversity over dominion.

    What I didn’t anticipate–but perhaps I should have guessed–was down the road that this ‘creative endeavor’ would actually helped me move out of the post-evangelical wilderness. My decade or so journey there was punctuated with periods of exploration and depression or sheer numbness. When I finally finished my Ph.D., changed cities, looked for a new church, and decided to go off birth control, I (predictably) fell into one of my customary religious depressions. Basically, I ask lots of questions I already know I can’t answer, and panic. But this time, I came at the mounting despair with a kind of urgency: I didn’t want to survive it this time; I wanted out. I wanted roots somewhere. I wanted to have a family. There had to be some kind of resolution. So I went through familiar territory: Convince myself God wasn’t actually looking for a reason to destroy me (yes, I know how bad that sounds); remind myself that I’d decided long ago that faith involved reliance and love, and not confidence; fall back on the sacraments and liturgy for support, because they take my eyes off the need for certainty or particular proofs or anything relating my subjectivity, and onto the unseen action of God in the mundane. Rince, repeat. This time I added: “I need a way out. I need a reason to believe that it is OK to have hope.” Then I took my husband on a getaway, as an act of marital penance for being such a miserable person to be around for the previous several days.

    On that trip, I got pregnant.

    I am not sure precisely why, but this felt like a kind of answer. To be clear, I don’t mean a divine sign: I got pregnant because I had sex and was not on birth control. I don’t do signs, especially not where biology 101 forms a perfectly sound explanation for an event.

    But it was this: a reason to hope, a symbol or means of grace in the common. A strangely Old Testament one, really. Somehow, in the same way that ‘bread’ and ‘wine’ and reciting psalms gives me hope, this did too.