October 22, 2012
Imagine the Brady Bunch, the hit TV show from the 70's, being re-packed for today's viewers. Would the plot identify with the majority of younger couples - or even Boomers?
Not according to a recent article at the Weekly Standard (HT: Steve Hays at Triablogue). The article's author, Jonathan Last, is set to release his new book, What to Expect When No One's Expecting: America's Coming Demographic Disaster, in 2013. Last gives any number of reasons for the alarming decrease in childless American couples. Some might say, "It's the economy, stupid." Fair enough, says Last. But that's not the main reason couples aren't having children. As is typical with these kinds of trends, the factors are multifaceted, complex, and resistant to easy categorization. However, Last argues that it's the culture of divorce, contraception, abortion, and the shift in religious practice - all events that marked out the 70's - which are leading to the decline of American couples having children.
Undoubtedly, Last's book will prove to be an interesting and provocative read. What I'm interested in, however, is the disturbing rise of the number of young evangelical Christian couples I know who have been married for years and have only a cute puppy to show for it. I have none of the research amassed by Last to bolster my suspicions; only the observations of my own pastoral ministry. Mine is not an empirically rigorous analysis but I think there's some truth to it.
When I've asked younger Christian couples about children and when they expect to have them, the usual suspects show up in their responses. "We want to get ourselves in a financial position where we can provide for a child," or "We want to travel for a little bit before we children," or - my personal favorite - "We want to enjoy our marriage first before we have children." Now the first two reasons are laudable, in a sense; it's good to exercise fiscal prudence and there's nothing wrong with travel. However, these two responses, as well as the third, all betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bible's view of children. They all seem to assume that children are a burden to be borne, rather than a blessing to be enjoyed.
In fact, one will search in vain for any Biblical passage that treats children as anything other than a blessing. Not a financial hardship. Not a hindrance to unfettered roaming across Europe. And certainly not a detractor to marital bliss. Psalm 127:3 summarizes the Biblical position well: "Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward." From Genesis to Revelation, children are seen as both a sign of the Lord's favor and a source of great joy and blessing.
Most spectacularly, our Lord himself became a baby. Surely, if anyone could complain of "not enjoying their marriage" or "being financially unprepared," it was Mary and Joseph. While the Biblical data is slim, it seems that our Lord's earthly parents were poor. But there is no corresponding hint that they were wringing their hands over the birth of this unexpected child for the typical reasons most couples do today. The main cause of consternation seems to have been the supernatural nature of this pregnancy, not the fact of it.
It appears that others felt the same way. Elizabeth, John the Baptist's mother, using the same language of Psalm 127:3 exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" (Luke 1:42). Consonant with the entirety of Biblical revelation, our Lord's family and friends saw children as a blessing.
Is that the attitude of the evangelical church today? It might be. But it is surely unsettling when Christian couples refuse to have children. There really are no good Scriptural reasons to avoid childbearing. If you are providentially hindered from having children, perhaps the Lord is calling you to adopt children. Either way, as Christians, we ought to delight in seeing children in our congregations, our homes, and our circle of friends. It seems to me that a number of Christian couples are missing out on this blessing for rather poor and unscriptural reasons.
The driving force - again, in my limited experience - for Christian couples to delay or forgo children usually boils down to the desire to be free. Children require a lot of care. They will never fit your schedule and your life will change dramatically when you have one (or many). No, a dog is not good preparation for children. Dogs don't color on walls, don't talk back, and don't require multiple sleepless nights of feeding. And then the real fun begins, for children become teenagers. By contrast, when dogs grow older, they usually lie around the house.
From start to finish, having another image bearer of God dependent on you is not an easy task. But it is not a joyless task either. It is a blessed task to which God calls his children (!), a task that is there from the opening chapters of Genesis. Like every other human endeavor, it is tainted by sin, but the joyful labor of childrearing is not to be shunned but encouraged in the church of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps if the Brady Bunch was repackaged for the so-called millennial audience, Mike and Carol Brady would never even have had the problem of merging sibling groups; neither would have had children prior to remarriage. Rather, it'd be the "Mike and Carol Show," a sitcom about an urban couple who both have great jobs, love running together, romantic dinners, and weekends to the Catskills or the shore. Children? Hardly. Such a burden would immediately turn off the target audiences.
The scary thing is the possibility of Christians tuning in and finding nothing to protest.