Science in Christian Perspective



Rethinking Christian Perspectives on Family Planning and Population Control
Department of Sociology
Indiana University

From: JASA 28 (March 1976): 2-8.

Historical Christian Views on Contraception
Christians have a long history of pronouncements when it comes to issues related to population control. These pronouncements have been many and varied, but their traditional content is caught by Martin Luther's argument. "'Propagation,' wrote Luther, 'is not in our will and power ... creation is of God alone'" (Thomlinson, 1965:188). But John Calvin went one logical step further and condemned the one form of contraception with which most people at that time were familiar. Coitus interruptus or withdrawal was "'doubly monstrous'" to Calvin for "it is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before he is horn the son who was hoped for'" (Petersen, 1975:519).
The obvious thrust of statements such as these has been pronatalist in nature, i.e., Christians have supported the idea of children-"The more the more meritorious." One outgrowth of that view was strong Protestant opposition to "artificial" contraception and to abortion during the 19th century. In 1869, for instance, Anthony Comstock and The Society for the Suppression of Vice got the New York state legislature to pass a law defining birth control writings as obscene (Thomlinson, 1965:207). Most states followed suit and in addition banned "the manufacture and sale of contraceptives or the dissemination of birth control advice. In 1873 Comstock was instrumental in passing federal legislation which made it a criminal offense to import, send through the U.S. mails, or transport between states any article of medicine for the prevention of conception or for causing abortion" (Thomlinson, 1965:207). And while most Protestants have recently changed their position regarding contraception, the official Catholic position remains consistent and against both contraception and abortion. Indeed, "Some Catholic theologians consider contraception a worse crime than abortion because whereas fetieide is only the murder of a human being, contraception involves prevention of both a human life and an eternal soul. After feticide, so runs the argument, the soul continues, but in the case of anticonception techniques, the soul is never created in the first place-a far more heinous sin" (Thomlinson, 1965:199-200). The point is that toward the end of the last century American Christians of varied persuasions shared a common abhorrence against practices that would prevent the union of sperm and egg, and against practices that would destroy the developing outcome of that union. Opposition to abortion and contraception was all one package. Only recently have official Protestant statements cut up the package and allowed the legitimacy of contraception. However, it seems clear that reinterpretations by Protestant theologians regarding contraception came in response to the behavior of Protestant laypersons. Laypeople were in
fact using contraceptives (and so were the theologians, one suspects), and so the churches moved to justify the practice.

Much the same thing is now occurring among Catholics. Many local parish priests and even more parishioners are not listening to the Pope. Evidence gathered over the last 15 years shows increasing convergence between Catholic and non-Catholic contraceptive practices (Ryder & Westoff, 1971). While Catholics continue to have somewhat larger families than nonCatholics, and continue to he somewhat less rigorous in their contraceptive behaviors, the trend is clearly in the direction of convergence with white nonCatholics. But even nonCatholics who are more theologically conservative are likely to feel more uncomfortable with contraceptives, and likely therefore, to have larger families (Ryder & Westoff, 1971).

Views on Abortion

Abortion represents the other part of the package where Christians have traditionally taken pronatalist positions-positions that encourage population growth. Nevertheless prior to the 19th century Anglican ecclesiastical law held that, "The soul entered the body at the moment of quickening of the embryo, that is, the first time the woman felt movement in the uterus," (Thomlinson, 1965:200), Generally this occurs during the fourth month and English laws reflected this theological notion. Prior to 1803 abortion was punishable only after "quickening" (ihid). But subsequent to 1803, English laws became more stringent in also prohibiting "prequickening" abortions.
Recently modern governments have begun to reverse those laws and to allow abortions. All of us are familiar with the dramatic 1973 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down state antiabortion laws. Among Christians, there is sharp division regarding abortion, Most Catholics and many conservative Protestants continue to believe that abortion is akin to taking a human life. Some Christians favor a consistutional amendment prohibiting abortions. On the other hand there are many Christians who fall into two remaining camps regarding abortion. One group contains women who would never obtain an abortion themselves, and men who would resist it if their wives wanted it. Yet these same persons prefer the present law allowing freedom to anyone to have the right to choose abortions. Finally there are some Christians who not only favor the present law, but also feel they have the moral right to have abortions themselves if they felt it were necessary. (See Spitzer and Saylor, 1969; also Gardner, 1972, for a spectrum of opinions among Christians on this issue.) It has been argued that since there are equally devout Christians on all sides of the abortion controversy it ought to be declared a matter of Christian liberty. Christians ought to be allowed to follow the leading they perceive from the Holy Spirit and the Bible and church history. They should seek the counsel of other devout Christians and make prayerful, careful decisions as to what God wants them to do in this matter.

It therefore follows that it seems ill-advised for Christians to want to turn the clock back and do again what we did in the 19th century, i.e., impose certain religious views regarding abortion on nonChristians. The evidence shows that just as prohibition of alcohol failed, state laws did nothing to prevent abortions. Persons who wanted them got them. Women who could pay lived through their ordeal because they got good physicians and sanitary conditions. But many less advantaged women did not survive the "hack alley butchers," Others who did often suffered grievous consequences including serious infections that brought great pain, and often subsequent sterility. Just as important, the evidence shows that since the Supreme Court decision, abortion-related deaths have dropped markedly in the U.S. (Tietze, 1975). To go back to the old laws would probably raise these deaths to a higher level than before. In addition one study shows that in New York City the greatest impact of legal abortion has been to reduce illegitimacy rates substantially (Tietze, 1973). It is the woman who can least afford the unwanted child who is most benefited by safe, legal abortion (Kramer, 1975). For these kinds of reasons, Christians who are genuinely interested in worldwide population control could very well find it quite difficult to defend laws that prohibit simple access to safe and sanitary abortions.


In addition, populations are controlled not only by contraceptives and abortion but also by sterilization surgery preventing either male or female to contribute to conception. Catholic dogma remains officially opposed to voluntary sterilization, while Protestants have not been quite so outspoken here as in the abortion or contraception controversies (Petersen, 1975). Protestants have rarely if ever spoken out positively in favor of sterilization.
It is clear that Christians have been strongly pronatalist-in favor of producing children. Why should that be? There are at least five reasons we can identify for this traditional Christian pronatalism.

Interpretation of Old Testament

The first has to do with an interpretation of certain Old Testament passages that seem to favor the notion of child-quantity per se. To Old Testament Jews living in an agrarian society, children were a blessing-or
"positive utility" as the economist would say. The more there were, the more smoothly and efficiently the agricultural families of that period could function. And so "blessed is the man who hath his quiver full of them they are an heritage from the Lord." However in the New Testament that theme is missing. Indeed at one point Christ actually warns against the perils of motherhood because of the destruction that was coming on Jerusalem. (Luke 23:29) At another point, He instructs listeners who had just elevated motherhood that motherhoodhood is far less important than obedience to God's will. (Luke 11:27-28) St. Paul pointed out that married persons have to think about the well-being of their family, so that if they wanted to serve God effectively, it might be better not to marry at all. That statement, of course, has been the rationale behind Roman Catholic celibacy through the centuries. The strategy of celibacy is certainly an effective though perhaps unintended way to control population growth, and celibacy has a biblical foundation. It seems that Paul, and most subsequent theologians, assumed that marriage automatically meant children. Apparently it did not occur to St. Paul, or else he did not choose to suggest, that persons could marry and yet be child-free. The firstcentury church believed in Christ's immediate return. The idea of producing many children for whatever reasons did not appear especially pertinent as it had in Old Testament times. Nor, on the other side, was there any reason for the Apostles to warn about a nonexistent "population problem." Life-spans were brief, diseases and famines were rampant. Mortality was high among persons of all ages. Indeed the concern of the Emperor Augustus was to find ways to increase population growth-to encourage Romans to have larger families (Careopino 1940). When Christ did not return and it became evident that the Church was to remain here, it simply revived the Old Testament blessing on "full quivers," and did so within secular societies that welcomed that doctrine in terms of their own interests. That doctrine has persisted to the present time.

Regard for Human Life

A second reason why Christians are so strongly pronatalist is the high regard they hold for human life itself. Many thorough-going humanists would also hold human life with equally high regard. But since Christians believe that people are made in the image of God, human beings take on an added special, or sacred significaneg Much of Christian opposition to contraception was and is based on the assumption that each life is a sovereign and sacred act of God, and to seek to thwart the union of sperm and egg is to violate God's will. How many times have we heard stories about the 17th child of a Christian family-such as Charles Wesley

John H. Scanzoni is Professor of Sociology at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. A graduate of Wheatort College and the University of Oregon, Dr. Scanzoni has been associated with Indiana University since 1964. The author of several books dealing with sex roles, women, marriage and the family, Dr. Scanzoni contributes regularly to Christian periodicals and books. He is an Associate Editor of Christian Scholar's Review, a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Advanced Christian Studies, and a Consulting Editor for Universitas. He is well known as a speaker at Christian colleges and for campus groups at state colleges and universities.

Christians have traditionally taken also because of the Church's ambivalence toward pronatalist positions - positions that encourage population growth.

who would not have been here had the parents "selfishly sinned" and used contraception. We are told that church and society suffer great loss when Christians for "selfish ends" seek to thwart God's sovereign purposes in conception. The argument is Luther's-if God creates a sacred or special life then God will provide for the sustenance of that life. 

The concern for life's sacredness also appears among those Christians who oppose abortion. We are told that the commandment against murder underscores the uniqueness of life, and that abortion is the taking of a human life. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that no one can he certain that the fetus is actually "human life." The fetus does have the potential for human life, but so do the sperm and egg. It is for that reason Catholics tell us not to interrupt their union. In any case, there are two points we can make in regard to abortion and life's sacredness. One is that if we are going to interpret the sixth commandment so far as to preclude destruction of fetuses, it would seem that we would also have to disallow the taking of all human life-even, for example, by the military or police. And of course there are Christians in the so-called "peace" churches who, remarkably, are that consistent. But most Christians today who oppose abortion do not seem to be avowedly nonviolent in general. 

An additional and more serious inconsistency among many who opposed abortion because of life's sacredness has to do with the narrow way in which they often define life. They are passionately concerned that the law guarantee that any developing fetus be brought to full term. But the evidence shows that the incidence of children born out of wedlock occurs most often among the poor and those less well off. Very often such women are black and still in their teens (Kramer, 1975). Even among married women the proportion of unintended pregnancies increases as education decreases (Ryder & Westoff, 1971). Where are the antiabortion Christians who will argue for laws guaranteeing equal opportunity for those unwanted children? Christian voices are seldom heard demanding that the government provide a guaranteed annual income for women or couples with more children than they can support. Instead, conservative Christians complain about "welfare chiselers" and high taxes, while strongly supporting money for police and military who ultimately have the right to take human life. In short, to be concerned for the sacredness of life is not merely to institutionalize mechanisms assuring that all fetuses maintain physical existence. It also means institutionalizing mechanisms to enhance the quality of the child's life in the economic, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual realms as well. To stop merely at physical existence, is to have a very narrow view indeed of God's image in humankind. 

Church's Ambivalence Toward Sex 

Third, Christians have been pronatalist not only because of the Old Testament stress on childquantity, and because of the sacredness of life, but sex. The Bible itself takes a very positive view of sex. In reading Song of Solomon, for example, one is struck by the robust, pleasant, and pleasurable images of sexuality that emerge. It was the Church Fathers who gave us a negative view of sex. For ex ample, "Jerome would not permit married couples to partake of the Eucharist for several days after performing the 'bestial act' of intercourse. 'A wise man' (he wrote) 'ought to love his wife with judgment, not with passion . . . . He who too ardently loves his own wife is an adulterer.' Ambrose made a similar statement and was quoted with approval by Augustine and much later by John Calvin in his commentary on the seventh commandment." (L. Scanzoni, 1975: 30-31). This negativism persisted in Catholicism, and permeated Protestantism as well.

How do these unbiblical views of sex as "dirty" or "evil" contribute to Christian pronatalism? How is it that we can view the means of procreation as suspect, but the outcome-namely babiesin such favorable light? The fact is that because sex is suspect Christians have not talked openly about male and female sexual organs-anatomy. We feel uncomfortable discussing what God has made even with our own children, our own husbands and wives, and Christian friends. Not only do we ignore anatomical discussions, we conveniently ignore the physiology of reproduction. Most of all we don't talk about the specific techniques of contraception, much less techniques of sterilization or abortion. Who can name an evangelical minister who has ever led a series of meetings on "Christian family planning?" For a long time the Church never talked about sex at all, even in the most general terms. Finally within the last 15 years or so, in reluctant response to open discussion in the larger society, some churches hesitatingly allow their teenage youth group to acknowledge that sex is there, all right, but "it's bad and they shouldn't do it 'till after marriage."

Failure to take a positive attitude toward sex means that there is no frank and open discusssion about physiology, reproduction, and contraception. Lacking this kind of information, many unmarried couples find that they have produced a pregnancy they don't want. There is strong evidence to show that many young unmarried women who are sexually active do not practice any kind of contraception-much less effective contraception (Kantner & Zelnik, 1972, 1973). And the less education they have, the more unprotected these women tend to be. Even among married persons there is a considerable proportion of children born as a result of what is known as "contraceptive failure"-the parents really didn't want the pregnancy and would have preferred it to be later if at all. (Ryder & Westoff, 1971). Therefore, many family-planning specialists argue that we need to take a more wholesome view of sex and discuss it normally and naturally. One way to achieve that goal is through sex education in schools. Teaching young adolescents about reproduction and contraception should help to reduce unwanted pregnancies both outside and inside marriage. Planners contend that such programs would especially benefit children and young people from less advantaged homes-the very persons who are the least well informed about the physiology of reproduction, who are least likely to use the best contraceptives, and who are the most likely to bear the most children, in and out of marriage.

But using the phrase "sex education" is like waving a red flag in front of some Christians. Because of the traditions of our Fathers we do suspect sex, and some Christians feel that learning about sex and contraception will cause kids "to do it." Adults are dreadfully concerned that adolescents not learn about sex and contraception because we are convinced that to be ignorant is to be, innocent; to be informed is to experiment. Therefore the fear of sex education supports pronatalism, because the fact is that many young people (including some Christians) are already experimenting, and children are being born that were not planned forchildren that contribute to unwanted population growth. At the same time many of these unwanted pregnancies are terminated by abortions-a behavior which some Christians strongly oppose.

To cope with these unwanted pregnancies, and to cut down on the numbers of abortions, some advocates go beyond sex education per se and argue that adolescents ought to have access to the best contraceptives available-much as they have access to good medical care-and indeed as a part of medical care. And where they can't afford it, advocates argue that it ought to be provided free of charge. A recent study concluded that over the past decade "the trend has been consistently in the direction of liberalization of laws affirming the right of young people to consent for their own contraceptive care" (Paul, et al, 1974). What this means is that virtually all persons aged 18 are free from parental control insofar as legally obtaining contraception and abortion is concerned. Moreover among persons under 18 lawyers refer to what they call the "mature minor doctrine,' This simply means that increasing numbers of younger adolescents can legally obtain contraception and abortion whether their parents approve or not.

These trends pose a genuine dilemma for some Christians, especially those who are Reformed in their outlook. On the one hand, widespread sex education, and especially unimpeded access to contraceptives will likely mean that the numbers of unwanted children, along with the numbers of abortions, should go down. Yet on the other hand if Christians support such policies, does that mean that they thereby endorse premarital sex? When St. Paul wrote to Corinth, Athens, or Thessalonica he never exhorted them to preach Christian sex ethics to nonbelievers. While he had a lot to say to Christians about their sexuality, to others the message was one of simple trust in Christ. Unfortunately over the centuries, not only have Christians developed a negative view of sex, we have also tried to impose our own sex ethics on others. We have confused grace with law. And it might be said that Christian opposition to sex education and to dissemination of contraceptives to the unmarried reflects this effort at imposition. Perhaps Christians ought to make a sharper distinction between what they expect from themselves and their children, and what they hope to see in the larger society. We convey to our own children that since sex is a glorious gift of God, it is never "dirty". Nonetheless we also convey our conviction that God's will is that actual intercourse be reserved for marriage (L. Scanzoni, 1975). At the same time we should provide our children with the fullest and the most explicit sex information available (L. Sanzoni, 1973). If this strategy were followed, then ideally Christian single persons would not need contraceptives, nor abortion, nor would they experience premarital pregnancy. If they marry, they would hopefully be better able to eliminate any unwanted pregnancies.

But we can't communicate these same kinds of spiritual motivations to nonChristians. Therefore, if ready access to contraception can reduce unwanted births and abortions, and thus reduce unwanted population growth, then Christians should not oppose ready-access programs. Some Christians might go a step further and strongly support expanded contraceptive delivery programs. It goes without saying that we ought to take a positive view of sexuality and strongly support sex education in the schools and churches.

Earlier we said it was inconsistent for Christians to oppose abortion and yet not favor full social and economic benefits for fatherless or disadvantaged children. It seems to me it is equally inconsistent to oppose abortion and yet also to oppose expanded contraceptive delivery systems. No one prefers abortion as a solution. If abortions can be avoided through expanded contraceptive delivery, then those who are most anti-abortion should be most procontraceptive delivery.

View of Woman

We come now to a fourth reason why Christians have been so strongly pronatalist. At least for some Church Fathers, there was a connection between negative views of both sex and women (L. Scanzoni, 1975). Some Christians still today take Genesis 3 as a commandand interpret I Timothy 2 as the solution. That is, they allege that because women are responsible for sin, they must bear children in pain as part of the curse. And the more they bear, the more they are able to get out from under the curse. While such a view may be too extreme for most Christians, it seems clear that the majority of conservative Christians do view women as inherently different from men in ways other than anatomy. The defenders of intrinsic feminity sometimes wax very mystical (Howard, 1975) in arguing for the uniqueness of woman, and for her subordination. Others argue from interpretations of certain passages that women are indeed different in function and essence though not in rank (Olthuis, 1975).

Modern Christians are not aware of how much they have unknowingly been influenced by Freud and Freudian psychology when it comes to women. Though they object to Freud's preoccupation with sex, they unwittingly concur with his speculation that "anatomy determines destiny." And what is the chief end of woman? To be a mother; to bear children. It is alleged that this is the highest vocation a female can attain. Moreover, like good Freudians, some Christians allege that the Mother has a unique relationship with her infant and small child-that only she can be there providing nurture and training. And so we train young girls to model themselves after the Virgin Mary or the mother of John Wesley or of John Calvin. We never think to teach them to use as models Mary the sister of Lazarus, or Priscilla, or Lydia, or Catherine Booth, or Mary Slessor or Gladys Aylward. We effectively exclude women from vocations that would function as alternatives to childbearing. Some churches still refuse to ordain women, and by various subtle means we keep all but a miniscule fraction of Christian women from participating in demanding professions, or in the middle or upper levels of management.

It is obvious why such policies are pronatalist. We tell women "to be fruitful and multiply" and they dutifully obey. By excluding them from meaningful alternative vocations, we seal them into this one vocation. And we create all kinds of guilt feelings within them if they dare to break out.

Of course it is not only Christian women who are captives of these kinds of forces. For example, many women from lower-class and working class backgrounds perceive that the only rewards in life open to them emanate from motherhood. Life in general presents a bleak and dismal picture. Educational and occupational achievement are simply not viewed as realistic kinds of rewards for which to strive. And then think of the great masses of women in the nonwestern World-their sole opportunity for meaning in life is to hear children. To come to them with contraceptives in hand and merely to say, "Look, with this you can have 2 children instead of 8," has become recognized as an exercise in futility.

An essential part of the overall strategy of effective population control in every part of the world must include providing women with rewarding alternatives to childbearing and encouraging them to seek these out, Oil-rich Iran, according to one observer, may be a case in point.' With the rapid expansion of business, education, and government services as a result of their petrodollars, hundreds of jobs have been created for which there are simply not enough trained personnel of either sex. Therefore all talented persons regardless of gender have been trained and recruited for these slots. Men apparently have no competitive edge over women. It is yet too early to tell whether these trends will mean lowered fertility among well-trained women, or an overall reduction in Iran's birth rate. However both declines should occur if we use the Western experience as a base for prediction.

In the U.S., Christians should support programs to broaden the horizons of young women. In pragmatic terms this means, for example, spending as much per pupil in Detroit's inner city as in its suburbs. It means saying the same thing to every girl that we say to every boy-"You can be anything you want to be-even President!" And what an irony it would be if Christians would argue that a woman can be president but not a preacher or priest. If we're really serious about effective fertility control and reduced population growth, then it's time we discard the Freudian myth about woman's mystical uniqueness and instead include her as a full and equal partner in society, church, and home.

Spreading the Faith through Children

There is a fifth reason why Christians have been so strongly pronatalist. And that is the very biblical notion that children carry on the Faith. The Old Testament makes the point that at the heart of the community of God are adult believers nurturing children from infancy. And in spite of some "covenant children" who "fall away" it is clear that the majority of contemporary adult Christians came from Christian homes. They were "nurtured" in the Christian faith as distinct from converts who have been "evangelized" to Christ from their adolescence onwards. Therefore we have been pronatalist, not merely because children are a blessing from God and intrinsically rewarding, but we also have a worthy utilitarian motive-they maintain the Christian community. The Shakers, for instance, demonstrate what happens when a Christian group rejects sex entirely and therefore childrenthey become decimated to oblivion.

In the midst of a world that is overpopulated, and in the midst of a nation that consumes far more than its share of the world's resources, the question of reproduction for the sake of community is an extraordinarily serious matter. We can modify the Old Testament praise of children because we no longer live in an agrarian setting. We can hold life sacred and still opt to limit growth by the most effective technologies at our disposal. We can discard our "hangups" about sex, and our prejudices toward women, and consequently limit numerical growth. But how are we going to resolve the dilemma of limiting growth and still maintaining a viable Christian community? (Bayly, 1975). The Pope is at least consistent when he tells the world and the Church that both will prosper if they accept all the children God sends. But can we legitimately tell the world to cut back on children, when we feel Christians should proliferate for the sake of the Kingdom?

In reality the dilemma is not quite that painful because it appears that many Christian couples (including Catholics) have begun to follow the lead of persons in the larger society and to reduce the average sixes of their families. But then the question becomes, how much can Christians reduce family size-3-2-1-zero? And more important, is there any way we can seize the initiative and show the world how we can enjoy the rewards of ehlidren, have sufficient numbers to maintain viable Christian community, and yet be responsive to the pressures of uncontrolled population growth? Are there life-styles that Christians can develop that can serve as a witness to the world as to how to achieve responsible growth in the midst of rapidly changing conditions?

The foundations of such life-styles would be based on the twin elements of individual freedom and corporate responsibility. Each Christian man and woman would be more free than now to produce and/or to care for as few or as many children as they wanted. Some would produce or care for none-they would be child free (J. Scanzoni, 1975b). Others would be free to produce and/or care for 1, 3, 5, or 10 if they wanted to. In other words there would be no negative sanctions taken against those who believe that God wants them to be child free-nor against those who feel God wants them to be prolific. Right now we sneer at the latter, and are cold towards the former. Neither would we censure singleness as we do now when we use such derogatory terms as "old maid." Instead we would affirm the Catholic concept that for those who are called, singleness is a unique means to serve God with unrestricted dedication.

Likewise we would need to change substantially our notions regarding both men's and women's roles. Earlier we said that the Christian woman should be free to be "all she can he" (L. Scanzoni and Hardesty, 1974) as far as vocation is concerned. The evidence is clear that married women who are oriented towards occupational achievement in the same sense as their husbands have fewer children (J. Scanzoni, 1975a). Trends towards female achievement are likely to expand among Christian as well as non-Christian women. We should support the freedom of those women to achieve and to have few, if any, children if that is how they discern God's will. But what of the Christian married woman who desires serious vocation plus some children? One way to accomplish both goals is for husbands to take much more seriously than they have the Old Testament teaching on fathers nurturing their children. We must discard the Freudian notion that to achieve emotional health infants and children require their own natural mothers. Fathers can nurture just as well as mothers. The Bible makes clear that Christian men are supposed to be just as gentle, tender and compassionate as women. Therefore Christian husbands and wives should be free to be genuine equals in child care as well as in occupational achievement. To go one step further, some Christian husbands may want the freedom not to work at all during some period of time in order to "stay home" with a child or children. Christians should be allowed this freedom without the censure that we currently apply.

Child Care by the Christian Community

Now let us become even more heretical and suggest that during this period of rapid change the Christian community must begin to assume more responsibility for the care of all its own children (Henry, 1975). For the past hundred years or so we have become accustomed to households in which the biological mother (in most cases) became uniquely responsible for all phases of the children's development. As our society became more urbanized the effective influence of the kin on child-nurture became increasingly less. That process was reinforced and made mysterious by Freudian notions about various "complexes" between parents and their own children. Actually, in most societies, for most of the world's history, children have had a wide range of significant adults with which to identify besides their parents. Actual parents were always important, but so were older siblings and cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Among the masses of people, prior to industrialization, biological mothers had to work as hard and as long as fathers to eke out a living-usually from the land-sometimes as small merchants or within the guild system (Young and Wilmott 1973). Mothers simply didn't have time to hover over children as many mothers do today. And among the upper classes where the mother actually had leisure to hover, she didn't use it for that purpose. Their nanny, or nurse, interacted with growing children far more than the mother ever did. And somehow the world survived in spite of the lack of intense mothering to which we have become accustomed. Some Christians even refer to that premodern era as the "golden age" of Protestantism. But with industrialization a middle class emerged in which women had discretionary leisure, but not quite enough wealth to hire nannies, nor were the kin as accessible as before. And so evolved what some have called "a cult of motherhood," in which the woman's whole mission and destiny became wrapped up not just in bearing children, but also in caring for them.

We must begin to think very hard about what it means to distinguish childbearing from childcaringthe natality function from the nanny function. We must begin to think about a far wider range of nurturing mechanisms than we have envisioned for the past hundred years. We must think about what it means to relieve the Christian nuclear family of the total burdens of both bearing and caring for all the needs-emotional, spiritual, social and economic-of children. Many Christians object to the State assuming more responsibility

There are five reasons for the traditional Christian view: interpretation of the Old Testament, regard for human life, the Church's ambivalence toward sex, our views of women, and the fact that children carry on the Faith.

than it already has for the care of their own children. But who could object to the Christian community itself-denominations and local churches becoming the servants of Christians. These are Christians who perhaps would like to bear a child or additional children but who feel they cannot because they claim they can't afford it, or because both partners are involved in serious vocation, or because for any reason they feel they would not be adequate parents if left to themselves.

The forms of the Church's servanthood on behalf of such persons would be many. Expansion of existing religious legal adoption services is one. We would not discourage adoptions by single persons as we do now, nor should we discourage interracial adoptions. There are some Christians who have not had the chance to marry or else do not wish to marry, yet they desire the experience of parenthood. They should be encouraged in this desire. The facilities of local churches that often stand idle during the week could be used to provide loving childcare on a daily basis. Senior citizens could be used in these arrangements, along with arrangements to provide childcare within private homes if some parents prefer that. The list of specific forms of the church's commitment to childcare is virtually endless and obviously situational. The basic policy point is that Christian parents could always count on the Christian community to provide whatever resources are needed in the care of children.

And that includes economic resources. The financial cost of children in the next few decades is going to continue to rise markedly. Add that cost to the equally marked rising aspirations of Christian women for vocation, and we can see how the quantity of covenant children available to nurture could decline significantly. The concept of making the whole Christian community responsible for the care of all its own children could be a means to balance those two economic and social trends. In this way the quantity of covenant children could be kept at a reasonable level-hut far more important the quality of their care would not suffer and might even be enhanced.

Such patterns could also serve as examples to the larger society of how to maintain continuity in responsible fashion while living in a world of shrinking resources. Such patterns could also be mechanisms whereby nonChristians might be willing to entrust the care of their children to the Christian community, and thus provide us with means of evangelism for both parents and children. In addition, some nonChristian women who are pregnant but considering abortion, might instead be willing to give up their infant to a community of this sort. Finally, nonChristian women who do not wish to keep their newborn or other children might be willing to give them to the community for adoptive purposes, if they saw that it cared vitally about the well-being of children.


In concluding, we may say that in the past Christians have been strongly pronatalist proclaiming for themselves and for the world the virtues of childbearing and caring. But "times are changing" and we can no longer advocate the same modes of reproduction either for ourselves, or much less for society. We may have to make clearer than ever before the distinctions between Christian and nonChristian ethics on sex, abortion, and contraceptive delivery systems. Christians should be in the forefront of efforts to control population growth here and around the world so that the interests of nations, families, and individuals are best served. Yet we must recognize that those interests vary. An American view of population growth may be quite different from views held by nonwestern politicians, or some black leaders within our own country.

At a general level there is a connection between those peoples seeing their identity and power threatened through reduction of numerical growth, and the Christian community seeing its identity and influence threatened as a result of fewer children being born into it. And while we cannot deny the freedom of individual Christians to avoid or to severely limit childbearing if that is how they perceive God's will, we can take bold and perhaps daring steps to encourage reasonable continuity. In the days ahead may God grant us grace to know how to maintain that precarious though necessary balance between individual autonomy and our corporate responsibility to see all Cod's children as our very own children as well.


1In conversations with a native Iranian who works for her government, and who is presently taking graduate studies in the U.S.


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