Monday, August 17, 2015

Is the choice of a single life or deliberate childless marriage an equal choice with marriage and children?

Meghan Daum, writer and editor of the new essay collection Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, insists that those who choose not to have children are not being selfish or greedy or signalling an end to life as we know it.  No, the child-free life, as she and her other authors argue, is just as honorable and virtuous a choice as those who do have children.  Consider this fact:  19% of women today manage to make it through their fertile years without delivering a child -- up from 10% thirty or forty years ago. “There’s more than one way to be a responsible, productive—and even happy—adult in the world,” she writes, and “it’s about time the taboo of choosing a life other than parenthood was publicly challenged by people who’ve thought beyond the Porsche in the driveway or the Manolos in the closet.”

The problem here is that more and more Christians are echoing this sentiment and choosing to go childless or even spouseless while believing that these choices are just as noble and virtuous and godly as the choice to marry and have children.  Unless you live under a rock you noticed that the birth rate and marriage rate is also dropping among Christians.  The unbelieving single individual and the childless couple are not alone -- they have friends in the pews.

Is the single life by God's design or is it the frustrating result of a world marred by sin?  The first job of Adam in the garden was to discover that he was alone and that this alone-ness was different from God's design for all other things in creation.  From that Adam exclaims to the Lord when Eve is brought to him:  This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.  Adam finds his purpose and his completion in the woman whom the Father has made from his rib.  The first order of creation is marriage.  There is no single life in Eden.

But there are people who do not find a spouse or who never have opportunity to marry and for whom the single life is not their choice but their burden (don't get me wrong here, marriage is also a burden since the fall and it is no magical relationship but one of work in which the hardest labor is confessing wrong to and forgiving wrong from your spouse).

The mark of our fallen natures is also revealed in the fact that the order or design of God in creation remains broken and difficult.  We were created from the unique community of family and from family we are meant to learn of God and learn of life together here on earth.  Sin has taught us that marriage and family are hard work and require sacrifice.  This is the unpleasant truth of love.  It hurts.  It gives.  It surrenders.  It dies.  All by giving up right for the sake of service.  Only God can engender such love and He has become the refuge for those who struggle under its burdensome expectation.  But it is not only burden and service.  It is also blessing -- not the kind you tally up on the balance scale but the joy of giving which we discover is our noblest purpose.

I think it is high time we stopped allowing the illusion of singleness and childless choice as equal to the covenanted love of marriage and the openness to children.  The Church must begin to remind people that marriage is not choice but order, that family is not an economic benefit but the design of God from the beginning (be fruitful and multiply), and that children are not choices either but the fruit of God's ordered life by His design.  Even celibacy is not the choice of a single life but love covenanted to God and neighbor at least as deeply in intent as love covenanted to spouse and children.

There is no moral equivalency to marriage and family for those who seek the single life or a childless marriage by choice.  It is for the disappointed who long for marriage and children the painful shape of our lives since the fall and it is for those who seek to avoid marriage and children one more mark of just how disordered our lives have become since Eden.  And for those who marry and find out it is hard and costly to you, you have discovered that sin's disorder is not without consequence even when we do marry and have many children.  Our joy lies in the Lord and our delight in His service -- no matter in what estate we find ourselves.

For those tempted to justify their choice of no marriage or a childless one, perhaps the best condemnation is the extreme of the green perspective which suggests the world would be a better place if there were no people at all in it.

Edit:  For those who are complaining, this was NOT directed at those who choose to be chaste as a gift of celibacy nor at those who are unable to conceive or adopt.  It was directed at those Christians who have adopted the non-Christian idea that life is for me, may be better lived as a single uninhibited from the unrestrained pursuit of personal desire OR as a childless couple who do not want their neat lives messed by children or their pursuit of self hindered by the reality of the demands of children and family.  It was the suggestion, as at least a few of you might have gotten, that to say "no" to marriage or children because we fear giving up something is not a godly option for the faithful.  To those offended by what I wrote, read it again.  I think some of you are inferring things into the text that I did not intend or write.  


Kirk Skeptic said...

"For those tempted to justify their choice of no marriage or a childless one, perhaps the best condemnation is the extreme of the green perspective which suggests the world would be a better place if there were no people at all in it." Funny how the greenies refuse to follow through on their own beliefs more directly, rather than wimping out by merely flouting the Creation Mandate.

As for Christians choosing this route, one can only wonder if years of unchallenged government education, lack of catechesis, and poor marital examples in the church, have finally taken their toll.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Peters,

I rarely disagree with any of your posts, but I do disagree with this one in the strongest possible terms.

It is impossible to read 1 Corinthians 7 and not see that St Paul sees the single life as a higher calling than that of marriage, even if it is a gift given only to a few. And while he clearly distinguishes his own advice in this regard from a "commandment of the Lord," the wise counsel of an Apostle, which the Holy Spirit has seen fit to include in the Sacred Scriptures, is not to be regarded lightly even if it is not a dominical commandment.

In this post, you condemn those who seek the single life ... by choice. But the single life is not "a choice," any more than marriage is a choice. It is a gift, not a choice, a divine vocation that a person must first discern, and then embrace. As St Paul writes:

For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

For those whose "proper gift" is marriage, marriage is a very great blessing (and I strongly agree with you that openness to childbearing is an essential part of the gift of marriage). But for those whose "proper gift" is to remain single, they are to be honored for recognizing and obeying their calling, not condemned for neglecting the gift of marriage which has not, in fact, been given to them.

In rejecting and condemning the single estate, I believe you are making a very grave error.

ngb said...

Along with Chris Jones, I must vehemently object to this post. Mr. Jones already pointed out Paul's recommendation of celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7; I would like to add Jesus' words in Matthew 19: "There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it," and the implicit praise of virginity in Revelation 14: "No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless."

In addition, you directly contradict your confessions when you condemn the single life (from the Apology):

If continence were possible for everyone, it would not require a special gift. Christ shows that it does require a special gift. . . . Christ is praising those who have the gift of continence. (Tappert, 242)

Here they may cry out that we put marriage on the same level with virginity, as Jovinian did. But no such outcry will make us surrender the truth. . . . We do not put marriage on the same level with virginity. One gift surpasses another. . . . So also virginity is a gift that surpasses marriage. (Tappert, 244)

So you are correct when you note that married life is not equivalent with the single life. Unfortunately, instead of praising both as pleasing in the eyes of God (and the latter as being higher than the former), you contradict Jesus, Paul, and the Confessions by condemning the single life.

Finally, to be fair, you do state towards the end, "Even celibacy is not the choice of a single life but love covenanted to God and neighbor at least as deeply in intent as love covenanted to spouse and children," but you never explain how you would distinguish "the single life" from celibacy. Even if this line were more clear, it is also easily overlooked as it is surrounded by strict condemnations of all those who choose not to marry. If you could clarify the distinction you are making, I would greatly appreciate it.

May Palmer, The Queen of Ivory Soul said...

Oh great! Just what we Christians need.....A new 'law' for us to be burdened with. I am a happily married Christian Woman of 25 yeas. My husband and I chose not to have children (our reasons for not having them are between us and God..). The tone of your latest Meanderings comes off as extremely judgmental, harsh by golly, practically "Sinai-esque". It could easily be misconstrued as a 'mandate' if taken the wrong way. Not all of us want to have children, yet don't enjoy looking to a life time of singleness. After all, why 'burn with passion' which is why we got married. I have no regrets with the decision we made not to have children. I would be so disappointed for a Christian to read this and be burden with unnecessary guilt.

William Weedon said...

Yet, we do not make virginity and marriage equal. For just as one gift excels another, as prophecy excels power of speech, the science of military affairs excels agriculture, and power of speech excels architecture, so virginity is a more excellent gift than marriage. Apology XXIII:38

Pastor Peters said...

I guess I should have been more obvious in my post since I did not intend to characterize those who chose chastity (virginity) with those chose not to marry because they choose to live their lives for themselves. Surely it would not have been too hard to infer in my words a distinction between those who are single by choice (gift) of celibacy as a vocation and those who just dont want to share their lives, their time, their things, and their money with someone else or who choose to avoid commitments as entanglement which might preclude their options for personal happiness. A while ago I wrote a bit about the gift (choice) of celibacy as our Confessions rightly speak and did not intend to make such an equivalent with the current phobia against commitment and the refusal to serve a higher goal than self -- which even Christians are claiming as an choice equal to the choice of marriage (with opennesss to children) or the celibate life.

Anonymous said...

What a mean column today! People without children are being bashed as being selfish as they were planning to be swinging singles since they were teens. Many single people did not plan to be single and without offspring, but Mr or Ms Right just never came along, especially if a LCMS member expects a potential spouse to join his or her church. You might be dating an ELCA person who flatly refuses to change. Of course, this is a dealbreaker. Better to die an old maid or lonely bachelor.

Lutheran Lurker said...

Winifred, is there a difference between childless couples and those who marry already deciding not to have children? It seems that Pastor Peters did explain that not being able to find a spouse or not being able to have children was not the fault of the people but the result of a sinful world. Would you disagree? I think many people are bashing Pastor Peters for things he did not say. It seems that he is drawing attention to the Christian couples who mimic the values and desires of those outside the church. Do you believe all who are choosing to be single are doing so for godly reasons? Do you believe all who are choosing to be childless in their marriages are doing so for godly reasons? If you think they are, you are living somewhere different from where I live.

Unknown said...

People who marry and do not have children are abnegating their responsibilities. The whole history of Christian marriage and even the marriage rite itself is not only about spouses loving and submitting to one another but also to the rearing and loving of children. The idea that childbearing and marriage are mutually exclusive is false.

That said, the Lutheran church has done a horrible job in promoting child bearing among married couples. The LCMS wedding rite I have heard specifically mentions children "only if God wills." That seems to be a surrender to modern mentality where children are an option. If none are produced, it must be God's will, even if the couple uses birth control, something the Lutheran church has gone out of its way to support since the liberalization of the 1950s.--Chris

Anonymous said...

A pastor ranting about parishioners using birth control is not going to keep women in the church, indeed, he will sound like he has joined the Republican "War on Women". Perhaps a better way would be for the church to offer family friendly perks like discounted child care and diapers and ask congregation members to donate used cribs and high chairs.

Making married couples without children feel unwelcome is also a good idea, make more room in the pews for families with offspring. Let the double income - no kids people take their high incomes and find another church. -- Winnifred

David Gray said...

It will certainly keep godly women in the church. And it is good to have a place where people who have what are historically normal numbers of children can feel at home, unlike most of society which mocks the fruit of the womb.

Unknown said...

Leave it to a Democrat, i.e. Winnifred to make this post about a false "war on women". Take your money and go elsewhere. Build a nice church. Too bad you won't have children to leave it to.-Chris

John Morgan said...

How do you propose to separate those godless, spouseless, fallen, broken, childless, unfruitful, disordered,immoral, condemned, and unfaithful singles from those who have chosen a life of chaste celibacy? How do you propose to separate them from eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven? I hope this is a spoof. If it's serious, it's one of the most misguided pieces I've read in quite a while. John Morgan, ICE

Nicholas said...

May Palmer,

You and your husband are wrong.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious what thoughts you may have on this. I'm a Christian, and have studied the Bible. I think we can both agree that Jesus was true God, and true man. I think we can also agree that Jesus lived the perfect life, died for our sins, rose again, and through faith in Him, we have eternal life.

Now, I have not seen Biblical evidence to indicate that Jesus was married, nor have I seen any evidence to indicate that he had any children. To my mind, that means one of two things. 1) Assuming he did live the perfect life, it is perfectly acceptable to not be married or have children. 2) It's not acceptable, meaning Jesus actually did not live the perfect life, rendering his death meaningless, and Christianity as well. Which one is it?

Anonymous said...

Reading this post makes me glad I am not Christian. I'm 55, single, and never wanted children. I'm glad I don't have kids. I'm glad I am single. And I am certainly glad I'm not Christian. What a nasty group of people. Keep your book, and keep it away from me. If people judged you the way you judge others you would have a fit. I don't want to be around your ilk in a church. You suck as people, and if that is your church, it sucks as well.