Should Christians stop buying pets and have children instead?

Pope Francis, head of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics, describes couples who choose to not have children as 'selfish'. He said in a statement recently that ‘Sometimes they have [a child] and that's it, but they have dogs and cats that take the place of children. This may make people laugh but it is a reality.’

The pope calls this ‘a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity.’ He goes on to call for couples to have more offspring to solve the West's 'demographic winter' – the thought that we are not producing enough children to sustain the population. He goes on to urge couples who are unable to have children for biological reasons to consider adoption.

It is an interesting and provocative item – fairly typical for this Pope who is not afraid to speak out – and it has provoked a strong reaction from many potential parents. But is this a biblical and helpful idea?

Certainly, there is a general mandate given at the creation of Adam and Eve, our first parents, to ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth…’ (Genesis 1:28), this definitely meant having children. The Pope’s comments would also align with the traditional Catholic teaching that contraception is against 'natural law' and breaks the natural connection between the procreative and the unitive purposes of sex.

Is producing children the sole purpose of marriage and sex?

However, I would suggest it is stretching it too far to say that it is the responsibility of all couples at all times to produce as many children as physically possible. Or that producing children is the sole or primary purpose of marriage and sex and along with most Protestants I would not condemn contraception. 

There can be good and acceptable reasons for limiting the number of children we have such as for economic, social or health reasons. And of course, childless couples are not somehow less glorifying to God because they cannot produce children. I am also not sure it is an urgent necessity to replenish the Western population given that across the globe the population is growing without our intervention. Childless couples are not necessarily being selfish, and pets are probably a good gift from God (although the Bible doesn’t talk about pets as such… But that’s for another blog!).

Having kids is in danger of becoming a self-centred choice

Before we snub Pope Francis’ comments, as many already have, there is something in what he says that seems to highlight a genuine problem. Having kids is in danger of becoming a self-centred choice – that we as individuals decide to have or not to have children for entirely selfish reasons. We view having a child as the next adventure in our life story; to entertain and fulfil me, another consumer item, or a lifetime companion. Separating having children from sex and marriage all too quickly makes sex into a recreational function and marriage into a social contract.

As Christians, I don’t believe we have a place to say ‘don’t buy a pet but have a child instead.’ But it is good to reflect on our values and priorities as Christian couples and ask the question of whether we’ve made our family planning decisions more about our self-fulfilment and less about being God’s fruitful vice-regents?

Graham was also invited to speak with Dave Piper at TWR-UK on the subject of parenthood & selfishness. Watch the video below.

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