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I’ve been stewing over the proposed idea that Baptists should combat falling baptism numbers, at least in part, by having more children.

 

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler has long blogged concerns about the trend toward fewer children (here’s a recent sample, one of many related posts). Like the SBTS-oriented Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and members of the “full quiver” movement, Mohler has advocated having larger families as a Christian duty and has even spoken of deliberate childlessness as moral rebellion against God.

Now Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president Danny Akin, a former member of Mohler’s faculty, has joined the effort to promote larger families among Baptists. In an April 16 chapel sermon, Akin said Mohler had shown him statistics comparing the decline in Baptist birthrates to the decline in baptisms, suggesting that one way for Baptists to battle falling baptisms is to have more children.

If there’s a direct correlation between lower birthrates and fewer baptisms among Baptists, that would seem to suggest that our own children have been our main mission field all along. Akin suggested that the more children we have, the larger our “primary mission field.”

I won’t argue the logic of that – if Baptists have more children, they’ll almost certainly produce more Baptists. But that’s not the primary reason we should have children, and I don’t think either Akin or Mohler would argue for that.

What disturbed me most is that Akin went on to speak approvingly of comments made by Bertha Smith, in which she derided birth control as a sin and argued that Muslims will take over the world because they tend to have more children than Christians. Akin called her a “prophetess,” and added: “You say, ‘What are you saying?’ I’m saying you need to have a bunch of kids.” Having more children “has a missiological motivation,” he said.

I’ve heard this argument before in various settings: Since Muslim families tend to have lots of children, Christians should have more children in order to keep them from taking over.

There are many good reasons for having children. In my view, raising more kids in order to outnumber adherents to a competing religion is not one of them. That may have been good advice in the partriarchal age, when God predicted that Abraham’s descendants would be as the sand of the sea, and it may have been important in more primitive periods when many children died and parents had no social security beyond their children, but we don’t live in those worlds.

I have no argument with those who want to have large families, but I reject the notion that Christians are obligated to produce as many children as possible.

There’s no doubt that Christians have a missiological imperative to influence our world. Jesus clearly taught us to go and make disciples, teaching others his way. I can’t recall a single instance, however, in which Jesus suggested that his followers should have large families as a strategic component of our mission.

If Christians truly impact the world, it will be through the lives we live and the compassion we show, not the number of children we produce.

 

Tony Cartledge is associate professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor to Baptists Today, where he blogs.

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