I read a great, thought provoking, challenging article today on preventing pregnancy due to the economic crisis we're in. Good stuff! For the majority of our married life Mr. G has been "quiverfull" and I have not been, I wanted a big family, but the idea of giving up control of the situation really scared me. However, I agree with the article completely and I'm really examining my current beliefs to see if I need to change.
Is An Economic Downturn A Good Reason to Stop Having Kids?
Thursday, June 11, 2009
The news has not been encouraging lately. Between job losses, bankruptcies, and government takeovers, it is hard to be optimistic about the future from a financial standpoint. Even China appears more capitalistic than America these days (see here). As a result, many Americans are making very hard choices. There are even commercials on television depicting families sitting around the dinner table talking about difficult decisions they must make and dreams they must defer. My family and I have had similar discussions as I have had a few events cancelled on account of “the economy”. Things are indeed tough.
One of the overlooked consequences of the current economic downturn is the increasing number of people who have decided to forego having children. All over the western world people are deciding that now is not the time to get pregnant. As a result, the vasectomy industry is experiencing an economic boom. As evidence of this, there was a recent article in Bio-Medicine titled, “With the Economy Down, Vasectomy Rates Are Up.” The author notes that, “Doctors around the United States are reporting a sharp increase in the number of vasectomies performed since the economy soured last year.” The numbers are actually quite astonishing. One article reported more than a thirty percent increase in vasectomy rates in Canada. Things are even worse in some parts of the United States. The Bio-Medicine article reports:
Since November, Dr. Marc Goldstein, surgeon-in-chief of male reproductive medicine and surgery at the Cornell Institute for Reproductive Medicine in New York City, said his practice has seen about 48 percent more vasectomy consultations compared to the same time the previous year.
This is especially discouraging news in light of the already astonishingly low birthrates in the industrialized world (See: here, and here). Russia, for example, is expected to see their population cut in half (from 140 Million to 70 Million) between 2005 and 2050. As Michael Specter of the New York Times put it,
“Driven largely by prosperity and freedom, millions of women -- here and throughout the developed world -- are having fewer children than ever before. They stay in school longer, put more emphasis on work and marry later. As a result, birth rates in many countries are now in a rapid, sustained decline. Never before -- except in times of plague, war and deep economic depression -- have birth rates fallen so low, for so long.”
And that was 1998! Things have gotten progressively worse since then. Many European countries have already reached the “point of no return,” and are in danger of becoming Islamic Republics.
Unfortunately, most people view having children as a purely financial endeavor. This attitude was summed up well by Dr. Harry Fisch, a professor of clinical urology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, in New York City, who said:
"The issue about kids is often a financial one, and, if finances are low, it makes sense that people would be less likely to have more kids. And if they're thinking about it, this is the time."
Interestingly, things have been good (from a financial perspective) over the past few decades, but birthrates were still in decline. Thus, the current problem is not one of healthy birthrates becoming unhealthy in light of the economic downturn. Instead, greedy materialistic people who already saw children as a burden when they were ‘filthy rich” (which includes Americans at the “poverty line” if you look at things from a global perspective) are now in a panic because they are slightly less rich. But what does the Bible have to say on the subject? Is an economic downturn, or a set of difficult circumstances a good enough reason to stop having children?
I do not believe that an economic downturn is a sufficient reason to prevent pregnancy. I base my argument on four key factors. First, children are a blessing. The Bible is clear on this issue:
“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” (Psalms 127:3-5 ESV)
I love the ESV translation of this passage. Here we see an important nuance in the Hebrew text. It is not the man whose quiver is filled that is blessed, but the man “who fills his quiver.” In other words, we should seek children. We should desire them.
Second, we are commanded to “be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen 1:28; 8:17; 9:1, 7; 35:11; Jer 23:3) One of the principle purposes of marriage is procreation. Of course, this goes beyond merely having children to actually bringing them up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4) in an effort to spread the image of God (and the gospel) throughout the earth. As such, it is unthinkable for Christians to attempt to enjoy the benefits of marriage and avoid the responsibility of having and raising children to the glory of God. R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY said it better than most when he wrote:
Christians must recognize that... rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God's design. The Scripture points to barrenness as a great curse and children as a divine gift... Morally speaking, the epidemic in this regard has nothing to do with those married couples who desire children but are for any reason unable to have them, but instead in those who are fully capable of having children but reject this intrusion in their lifestyle.
Third, any decision to avoid pregnancy has to be based on biblical reasons, and a struggling economy is not one of them. While I do not believe that there are many instances where preventing pregnancy would be “biblical”, I do believe that there are some instances where one could make a strong biblical argument for doing so. For example, if a man’s wife breaks her pelvis in an automobile accident, I believe he would be quite wise in holding off any plans for a baby. I know there are some who have argued that it is “never biblical” to prevent pregnancy. However, I disagree. As a pastor, I would advise a man in the aforementioned situation not to impregnate his wife, and I would base that advice on Peter’s admonition to “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7 ESV). I believe this goes directly to a man’s role as protector in the home.
However, that is a far cry from the, “Things are really bad now” line of reasoning. Anyone wondering if the Bible gives any hint as to whether or not God would advise his people to continue having children in the midst of bad economic, or political times need only look at Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon. In the midst of conditions that make ours look like a day at the park, the Lord spoke through his prophet:
“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” (Jeremiah 29:4-6 ESV)
I thank God that my ancestors who were slaves (by the way, that’s worse than an economic downturn) bore children in spite of their difficulties. Had they adopted today’s mindset, there would be no descendants of slaves alive in America today. We would all have been “prevented” in the name of “prudence”.
Fourth, if one has biblical reasons to avoid pregnancy (and this is almost never the case), the next step would be to employ biblical means in doing so. If a couple finds themselves in a situation where avoiding pregnancy becomes necessary, there are other issues to take into consideration. For example, birth control shots, I.U.D.’s, morning after pills, and many birth control pills, are actually abortifacients (they have the potential to cause early abortions when they fail at preventing pregnancy). As such, they should be avoided. Also, bodily mutilation (vasectomy, tubal ligation, etc.) is a serious and morally questionable alternative (1 Cor. 6:19). That leaves barrier methods (though this raises questions of “spilling the seed,” i.e., Gen. 38), and abstinence (which carries with it a whole other set of difficulties; 1 Cor. 7:1-5). In other words, such decisions are far from “cut-and-dry” for those attempting to think and act biblically in this area. We must search the Scriptures (I also recommend resources like Andreas Kostenberger’s book, God, Marriage and Family).
Unfortunately, most Christians never give such issues much thought. Very often we assume that since the practice of preventing pregnancy is so common, it must be biblical, prudent, and ethical. Moreover, most “Christian counselors” actually advise believers to prevent pregnancy in virtually any instance. For example, if they 1) are newly married, 2) already have two or three children, 3) have experienced “difficult pregnancies,” 4) had one or more deliveries via c-section, or 5) are in the midst of an economic “crisis” (i.e., can only afford one new car and a 2,000 sq. ft. house). If you don’t believe me, start listening to call-in “counseling” shows. I know this firsthand. Regrettably, my wife and I fell victim to such “counseling” after our second child was born. Suddenly, we had our girl and our boy (the perfect LITTLE family), and the all-too-common excuse of “difficult pregnancies,” (coupled with a Cesarean delivery) so it was time to shut it down. We hired a doctor to take his scalpel and suture, and tell God we no longer needed, wanted, or trusted him in that area of our lives. I talk about this dark episode in Family Driven Faith.
I believe the burden of proof is on those who wish to prevent pregnancy. Search the Scriptures to see if these things are true. We mustn’t simply assume that the old clichés are true. I know we’ve always heard that the responsible thing to do is prevent pregnancy until you are “ready” financially (and there are no complications, or sickness, or dreaded warnings from physicians), but what does the Bible say? And who’s ever “ready” for a baby? Moreover, who knows what the financial scene will look like nine months from now?
There’s another issue at play here. Many people who prevent pregnancy today and plan on just “getting back around to it” some other time are in danger of, “tempting the Lord their God.” (Matt 4:7; cf. Deut. 6:16) Getting pregnant is not a guarantee. There are plenty of people out there who cry themselves to sleep at night because they’ve been trying for years and God has not opened the womb. People who put pregnancy off until a “more appropriate time” need to bear this in mind. You don’t know when (or if) you will get pregnant. As such, it is quite presumptuous to put it off until you decide you’re ready. Remember, God is the author of life, and every child is a blessing. Besides, who’s going to fix our ethical, spiritual, economic, and political crisis in the next generation if those of us who know the answer (the gospel) shut it down and stop launching arrows simply because they may require a little financial sacrifice in the short run?
The original article can be found here.