The Controversy:

I recently stumbled across a couple articles that Dr. Albert Mohler published a few years ago on the subject of married couples who choose to forgo having children. In the first of these articles provocatively titled Deliberate Childlessness: Moral Rebellion With a New Face, Mohler argues that “Christians must recognize that this rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God’s design.” To back up his point the author refers to Psalms 127:3-5, a passage that says children are blessings, rewards, and gifts. Mohler believes that the sexual revolution has devalued the very thing it praised by seeking to “liberate sex from marriage [and even from gender], but also from procreation.” At the height of his argument the author makes the declaration that “Couples are not given the option of chosen childlessness in the biblical revelation.”

As you can imagine, this article caused a significant stir, so much so that Dr. Mohler wrote another article two years later entitled Deliberate Childlessness Revisited where he responded to some of his critics. While the second article was more cautiously worded, Mohler continued to stand strongly by his point that for a married couple, completely refusing to have children was a moral problem. He also states his disagreement with the common objection that a rejection of parenthood is simply a deeply personal and sensitive question that is beyond moral consideration on the part of the Christian community”

Dr. Mohler insists that since the Scripture praises families and children, and since God designed the sex to be the method of procreation, married couples should be open to the idea of having children. In this second article the author revisits the issue of sexuality, declaring that “The effective separation of sex from procreation may be one of the most important defining marks of our age–and one of the most ominous.” While stopping short of the Roman Catholic teaching that each and every sexual act must theoretically have the possibility of conception, Mohler does maintain that completely separating sex from procreation distorts the gift of God that is sexuality.

My Thoughts:

This post comes as a result of reading both of these articles, reflecting on Scripture, and conversing with some of my friends about this volatile issue. You may now be asking the question: What business does an unmarried twenty-six year old man have commenting on this topic?  Well, I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on any of the issues involved in this discussion, but I do accept that reflecting on these things is helpful for those who are unmarried. I believe that young adults should spend significant time wrestling with these issues in effort to better prepare themselves for marriage. I can’t help but think that many marriages would be much healthier if those in them had started thinking about these things before they tied the knot. Particularly, I am bothered by the fact that many young men are incredibly unthoughtful on the subjects of birth control, and children – likely because they never have to take the medication or deliver the babies. So think about these things is what I have done. Here are my humble and imperfect reflections on the issue at hand: Deliberate, Sustained Childlessness.

In my perspective Al Mohler makes two strong points. The first being that we live in a culture where children, as a whole, are not valued as God values them. What Dr. Mohler refers to as the “contraception culture” has trained us to think of pregnancy and children as threats rather than blessings. Many people today view children as burdens, annoyances, and hindrances to achievement. This is exactly the opposite of what Scripture says. From the book of Psalms to the ministry of Jesus, we see children valued and family encouraged.

Mohler is clear that he is not against all birth control. He states: “I have consistently argued that Christian couples can make responsible decisions about the timing and number of children, so long as the marriage is genuinely open to the gift of children and the responsibilities of parenthood.” Al Mohler is not telling every couple to try and immediately get pregnant. He is encouraging all married couples to evaluate their hearts and attitudes about having children in light of what Scripture says. For some that might mean having more children, for others it will not. He isn’t offering a one size fits all family plan, what he is doing is encouraging more Scriptural reflection about this issue considering the fact that so many of our cultural attitudes about marriage, sexuality, and children are distorted.

What Al Mohler condemns is a culture where having children is avoided because people are pursuing selfish ends. I would contend that what motivates many couples to avoid having children is a desire to avoid the commitment, responsibility, and self-sacrifice that children require. Raising children is hard, and a lot of couples today just don’t want to bother with them. This doesn’t mean that every couple who does not have children is operating primarily out of selfishness, but this may be more a factor than we would care to admit.

Many are quick to point out that there are several legitimate reasons why a couple might want to avoid having a child. Living situation, ongoing education, financial limitations, and health concerns are often cited. Mohler himself agrees that there are situations (such as unusual Christian service) where having children might rightly be avoided. I myself don’t doubt that there are legitimate situations where each of these reasons are valid, but for many couples not having children may be more of an issue of priority than of implausibility. Is it possible that a couple might value a certain standard of living or a certain level of flexibility more highly than the raising of Godly offspring? Let me be clear, I believe there are good reasons for avoiding pregnancy; I am just not sure the reasons we usually hear are as compelling as we think they are.

I will also add this to Mohler’s comments: I see at least two passages in Scripture where God seems to indicate that having children has a protective and redemptive influence in the lives of parents, (1 Tim 2:15, 5:11-15 in these verses, particularly mothers). In the second of these passages, young widows are actually encouraged to remarry and have children because of these sanctifying benefits that come from raising a family. Caring for a child requires both mother and father to lay their own lives down for the sake of their children. When a parent gives up his or her freedom and autonomy and instead chooses to invest their time loving and raising her children there is an undeniable spiritual benefit. When we sacrifice our own interests to serve others, we are changed by our service. Many men and women do not want that influence in their lives, and for some, not having children is an easy way to avoid self-sacrifice. I must also note here that there are multiple, childless, married couples I know who use their time, energy, and flexibility to invest in other people in amazing ways. They have my complete respect. They view their lack of biological children not as an excuse for self-indulgence but as an opportunity to serve others in an amazing way.

Coincidentally, I believe that the same cultural attitudes that are contributing to intentional childlessness are also pushing young adults to avoid the commitment of marriage all together. This related development is also troubling.

The second way in which I resonate with Mohler’s comments is in his discussion of the nature of sex. I am convinced that it is not a coincidence that God created the act of sex to provide pleasure, facilitate emotional bonding, and result in procreation.  Mohler’s concern, and I share it, is that willfully and permanently separating these elements from each other has unintended consequences and may, in fact, distort the gift of sexuality given to us by our Creator. In some situations, intentionally remaining childless may not only be a rejection of God’s design but also an assault on our own wholeness as human beings.

Having grown up in conservative Christian culture, I have, at times, seen sex distorted in a different way. Although I never heard someone say it, at points I got the picture that pleasure was an inadequate reason to have sex (this has massively shifted in Christian culture today).  Scripture certainly seems to view sex as more than merely a utilitarian baby-making function.  Just read through the Song of Solomon. The isolation of pleasure from sex is also an ominous and non-biblical development. In some circles it is still important to remember this fact.

I am concerned that in the same way that casual sex distorts the relational aspect of sexuality (by short-circuiting emotional bonding) deliberate childlessness could distort the procreative aspect of sexuality. This certainly isn’t to say that the two things are morality on par, just that they could each represent a distortion.

While Al Mohler may come across as sounding rather harsh, I believe he brings up important points in his two articles. The strength of his writing is that it urges us to think more deeply and more Biblically about cultural paradigms we have too quickly accepted. Our perspectives on marriage, sexuality, and children have all been shaped by a culture that rejects God and his revealed Word. It is time to reevaluate our perspectives on these important issues in light of God’s truth.

Each of us should humbly seek God and ask him to point out areas where our views on marriage, sexuality, and children are not his views. May God help each of us develop a posture toward viewing children as blessings, and a may he grant us a willingness to welcome these blessings in his time.