This is not the first time I’ve come across this rhetoric, of course. There is ample judgment laid at the feet of people who choose not to have children, and that judgment is double for women. Women are treated as somehow monstrous if they declare they have no desire for kids or even if they demonstrate some ambivalence as I do. There is a belief that it is “against nature” to not want kids especially among, ironically enough, those who would otherwise not put any stock in natural selection and evolutionary processes for survival, i.e. a desire for children is natural because it propagates the species.
To suggest that it is a spiritual imperative to procreate is a gross mishandling of Scripture, and again, women bear the brunt of this more than men do. It’s interesting to note that Adam means ‘man’ in Hebrew, whereas Eve means ‘living’ because Adam saw she would be the mother of all the living. Adam is known by who he is as an individual; Eve’s identity is tied to her fertility. The patriarchal view that a woman’s value comes from her ability to produce an heir leads to all kinds of misfortune for women in the Old Testament: from Sarah and Hagar, to Rachel and Leah, to Tamar, to Hannah.
But Old Testament traditions (they’re not even laws) do not and should not govern Christian theology and living. We must recognize that God’s view of women is different than any society’s view of women, even, and perhaps especially, biblical Israelite society (because let’s be honest, the story of the OT is about how they kept getting things wrong).
God’s view of women is the same as His view of men. I know: I sound like a radical feminist, yeah? But let’s look at the Word. Men and women are both created in God’s image. There’s neither male nor female for we’re one in Christ. These passages should be burned into your memory. Taken holistically, when we read the Bible, we see God’s love and compassion for women. Women are mistreated at the hands of people, not God. Esther, Deborah, and Huldah are three women of the OT who play very important roles in the spiritual and political history of Israel. Yet, their parental status is not mentioned. Clearly, God can and does use women for purposes other than popping out tykes, even in the OT.
And, again, we really should be taking more of our cues from the New Testament. Jesus’ treatment of women was absolutely radical for the time and culture in which He was incarnate. Even Paul, who is so often misinterpreted to back sexist rhetoric, is a champion of women when understood properly. In the NT we get Priscilla, Phoebe, Junias, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Julia, and others whose identities are tied to who they are as individuals in Christ and not to their fertility.
Our society, as progressive as it claims to be, is harmful to women in very old, patriarchal ways, which run counter to Christianity (at least as I understand it, not as it is practiced by some sects). One of those ways is the cult of motherhood. There is still the assumption in secular society (as well as the church, unfortunately) that a woman’s highest achievement is becoming a mother. There is still a belief that a woman couldn’t possibly be happy without kids, that every woman has a “biological clock” that starts ticking and that once she hits a certain age, she becomes desperate to bed down with someone, anyone, in order to make babies. Are there women who fit this description? Sure. But there are plenty who don’t. The problem is systemic in that from a young age, girls are indoctrinated with the belief that having kids must be one of their life goals. We give them dolls to “mother,” and encourage them much more than boys to babysit. It is so pervasive that I believe many women have kids simply because it’s what one does. They are expected to, and they don’t really think about what they really want.
It’s the same feeling I get when I sit in the church I’ve been attending and someone mentions they need help in the nursery and makes eye contact with me because I’m a woman. I must naturally want to spend my Sunday morning with strangers’ crying babies, right? Of all places, the church should be one where women are valued for who they are as individuals rather than how they fit into a family or what stereotypical gender roles they can fill.
Look there are lots of people out there having kids, and some of them are people I know personally and love. That’s great. But enough of this judgment on people who choose not to. It’s not a moral failing. To say that it’s selfish is to completely ignore the fact that there are plenty of parents out there who are selfish and plenty of non-parents who aren’t. Trust me, as a public school educator, I know all about them. Exhibit A: the parents who couldn’t be bothered to attend their daughter’s band concerts because they were out drinking all the time. Guess which selfish childless person went to every one of her band concerts? I know lots of childless people (single and married) who are anything but selfish. And more importantly, there is no solid biblical argument supporting Francis’ assertion. But, Maresha, you might argue, didn’t God command us to “go forth and multiply?” No, He told Noah to go forth and multiply because there wasn’t anyone on earth except 8 people at the time. Now we have 8 billion. We’re good.