Southern Seminary President Al Mohler recently charged married couples who decide to remain childless are guilty of “moral rebellion” against God’s design.
“Marriage, sex, and children are part of one package,” Mohler said July 27 in Baptist Press. “To deny any part of this wholeness is to reject God’s intention in creation–and His mandate revealed in the Bible.”
Mohler quoted a declaration in Psalm 127: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.”
Mohler did not explain why he and his wife, Mary, stopped after two children, but he made a case similar to a number of parents profiled on various Web sites who have adopted a “full quiver theology,” leaving decisions about family planning up to God.
“Those people who think that children are primarily trouble and that large families are to be pitied are not sitting on God’s side of the blessing!” Rick and Jan Hess wrote in their 1990 book, A Full Quiver: Family Planning and The Lordship of Christ.
They say archaeologists from the Middle East state matter-of-factly that the correct number of arrows in a quiver in King David’s time was between 12 and 15. They don’t argue that every family must have 12 to 15 children. But they do contend that couples “just need to trust God to provide them with the perfect number of children for their situation.”
The Hesses aren’t the only Christian leaders who advocate allowing God to “open or close the womb” without the aid of surgery or pills.
“Love your children. Love them first by wanting them,” wrote Steve Schlissel in Christian Culture in a Multicultural Age. “The very employment of birth control is a statement against the gifts of God, and it plants the foot firmly along the road for love to grow cold. It is the very foundation of choice against love. If God gives you five, 10, 15 or 20, then praise Him! He’s given you quite a legacy.”
Bill Gothard, whose Institute in Basic Life Principles seminar has long been popular in fundamentalist Southern Baptist circles, believes in no birth control and encourages couples who have undergone surgical sterilizations to have them reversed. (Gothard has been featured on FamilyNet, a TV network owned and operated by the Southern Baptist Convention, and spoke to trustees of the International Mission Board in 1992.)
“It is the devil who hates the idea of large families unless, of course, the offspring can be raised up to be God-hating adults i.e. Islam, or children raised up in broken homes with no Godly heritage,” wrote Philip (Flip) Benham, national director of Operation Save America, an anti-abortion group.
“[God] calls children a blessing,” Benham wrote. “Can you think of anyone that does not want God’s blessings? But, by and large, most of us in America are in disagreement with God over this issue.”
“Large families, raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord, are a blessing that comes from the Lord Himself to do battle against His enemy,” said Benham, who has five children. “Faye and I could have had many more children. I often look at our table and wonder about the others who could have been here if we had only known this truth.”
Other followers include a missionary, quoted by a blogger, who visited a Baptist church in Iowa, with his large family filling an entire pew. “We believe in birth control,” he said. “We put God in control of the births.”
Last year a Southern Baptist couple from Arkansas received national media attention when American Mothers Incorporated named Michelle Duggar, a home-school mother of 14 children with a 15th on the way, as Young Mother of the Year.
Bill Elliff, pastor of the Summit Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in North Little Rock, Ark., and his wife, Holly, have eight children.
In a 2002 radio interview, Holly Elliff said she used birth control early in their marriage but stopped after her fourth child, when she and her husband studied the Bible and decided to surrender the size of their family to the Lordship of Christ.
She said it took her about six months to work through the Bible’s references to children as a blessing, to God’s sovereignty in opening and closing the womb and about releasing her life to something that at that point was not her personal preference.
“As I did that, over and over and over, I found the same things: that God was the Creator of life, that God knew who He wanted to create, He knew what we were going to look like, He had a plan for every person–that it was all His business,” she recalled. “It was not what I wanted to find in the Scripture, but that’s what I kept encountering.”
A former SBC seminary president, Mark Coppenger, wrote in February that Christians have a responsibility to “be fruitful and multiply.”
“Certainly, there are those who are called to singleness,” Coppenger, now a pastor in Illinois, wrote in Baptist Press. “Of course, there are reasons for couples to delay or interrupt child-bearing. But the burden of justification before God always rests upon the willfully childless.”
Coppenger said he does not agree with those who believe that Christians should dismiss all contraception, however. “I don’t see a moral obligation to use every God-given capacity to the max. I have the capacity to sing, but I don’t sing myself hoarse every day. But if I never sang to the glory of God, I should be ashamed of myself.”
Mohler said in his article that Christians should recognize the trend toward deliberate childlessness as a “rebellion against parenthood [that] 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,” Mohler said.
“The Scripture does not even envision married couples who choose not to have children. The shocking reality is that some Christians have bought into this lifestyle and claim childlessness as a legitimate option. The rise of modern contraceptives has made this technologically possible. But the fact remains that though childlessness may be made possible by the contraceptive revolution, it remains a form of rebellion against God’s design and order.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said Mohler does not practice what he preaches.
“When Mohler preaches that couples should have a ‘full quiver’ of children and only has two arrows himself, he models the hypocrisy of ‘do what I say not what I do.’ Does his small quiver mean that he’s in rebellion against God? I don’t think so. I do think his full quiver theology illustrates a wacky misuse of the Bible for some weird political agenda.”
Mohler said the church “should insist that the biblical formula calls for adulthood to mean marriage and marriage to mean children.”
“Willful barrenness and chosen childlessness must be named as moral rebellion,” he wrote. “To demand that marriage means sex–but not children–is to defraud the creator of His joy and pleasure in seeing the saints raising His children.”
Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists said in a Weblog that Mohler’s article shows how far Southern Baptists have come toward adopting the Roman Catholic view that sex is only for procreation.
Prescott said Mohler’s “rigidly procreative understanding of sex and marriage owes more to Augustine and Aquinas than it does to the Bible.” It also contradicts the Apostle Paul, who said, “I wish that all were as I myself am,” meaning celibate and childless, he said, and would prevent a missionary couple from making a moral choice to not have children in order to serve God more freely.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com