Childless by choice?
A thorny problem which exercises many Christians is: is it acceptable not to have any children at all, by choice? Many couples (as many as 1 in 6) are unable to have children, or to have all the children that they want, but is it right as Christians to choose a childless marriage?
Once again opinions differ. Most Christians agree that marriage and sex are not just for producing children — but are they valid choices on their own, without ever intending to have children? Gavin Reid mentions in Starting Out Together that he feels except for reasons of health or age, couples should not choose childlessness. Tim and Beverly La Haye feel the same: ‘We feel that every Christian family should plan on having children if at all possible.’ They point out that conditions today are morally no worse than those of the early Christian era, and that it is ‘the cry of unbelief’ to say that we cannot face bringing up children in today’s world.
Other writers do entertain the possibility of choosing childlessness. Anne Townsend (Marriage Without Pretending) and John Noble (Hide and Sex) point out that if this decision is taken it should be with the full agreement of both partners and in total peace before God. Christians often cite selfishness as a reason for not having children. Certainly it is more than possible to choose childlessness for selfish reasons. What is easy to forget, however, is that it is also very common to choose to have children for selfish reasons. These may be as mild and natural as wanting an outlet for our extra love, wanting someone who will trust us totally, and wanting the experience of pregnancy. The reasons can also be not so admirable: wanting a child to try and heal a fractured marriage; to use as emotional blackmail; to get attention that we feel we’ve been missing out on; or to have someone that we can control or who will live out our unfulfilled ambitions. These motives are not confined to non-Christians. John White in Parents in Pain exposes many of the unworthy reasons why Christians and non-Christians alike choose to have children. Some couples choose childlessness because they don’t wish to pass on, or risk passing on, a serious medical condition such as brittle bone disease, haemophilia, Friedrich’s ataxia etc.The same can be true of some severe inherited mental illnesses. This is never an easy decision to come to, especially when the couple desire children very much.
So don’t condemn out of hand Christian couples who have made a mature decision before God that they feel they can serve him better without children. Christians are quick to tell infertile couples how much more opportunity they have to serve the Lord without the ties of children; exactly the same holds true of those who are childless by choice.
Does the Bible say anything about? There is only one detailed reference in the Bible to avoiding pregnancy, and that is the story of Onan (Genesis 38). This story has often been used to condemn contraception, as Onan was put to death by the Lord for allowing his semen to fall on the ground rather than allowing it to father a child. But as many Christian writers have pointed out before me, the Bible is quite clear that Onan’s sin in the eyes of the Lord was that he refused to carry out his legal duty under the laws of the time, to give a child to his brother’s wife.
The Bible does not specifically advoc4e contraception, but it certainly doesn’t condemn it either. We need to weigh up the special importance that the Bible gives to sex within marriage, as an expression of the couple’s love, commitment and joy in one another and not just a means of procreation, and the responsibility God has given us to govern our own actions thoughtfully, prayerfully and responsibly. Then, as Herbert Miles says, a couple may marry with confidence that ‘the intelligent use of contraceptives … is definitely within the framework of the plan of God and basic Christian principles.’