I still remember the time a decade ago I visited a man who had taught me much about Christianity a decade before that. He had moved away from Christ and it showed, even in the way he and his family ate dinner, from pizza boxes scattered on the floor in front of the television. There wasn't even a "Good food, good meat, thank God, let's eat" type of pseudo-prayer. His children had fallen into the natural tendency to vulturize the victuals.
I've received several letters to the editor lately noting the continuing anti-child bias of secular liberal culture. It's almost as if babies who escape the abortionist are then placed not in a crib but on top of a cash register that keeps ringing and ringing. U.S. News & World Report recently warned parents that it takes a zillion bucks to raise children today, both in terms of all the food those omnivores eat and the forgone earning power when some moms stay home.
The bottom line, according to U.S. News, is this: If an average couple chose not to have a child in 1997 and instead received a 7 percent return on the money it would have spent and the extra dough it could have earned, by 2118 that couple could have an additional $1,455,581 in the bank. (Note the magazine's degree of precision.) A second child would come at a 24 percent discount, but would still be a million-dollar baby.
Groups like Negative Population Growth enjoy such factoids. "Are we going to hell in a handbasket?" a recent NPG letter asked, and then showed us the way to its heaven: a U.S. population half the size it is now, with 1.5 children per family and no immigrants allowed. NPGers, like homosexuals, tend to have a high disposable income, since there are no children around to eat up the money that could otherwise be invested in cars, cruises, and political contributions.
Should Christians go for the financial gusto, just as my former mentor and his family fell into wolfish dinners? Joel Belz taught me one index of the health of a church: Make attendance at a typical service the numerator and the number of members on the rolls the denominator. (If the result is below one, the church has problems.) When it comes to testing whether a church is withstanding anti-child pressures, I'd propose making the number of families with parents in their 30s and 40s the denominator, the number of children they have the numerator. (The Bible says, "Blessed is the man whose quiver is full," but it does not present an exact number of arrows, so you may suggest your own appropriate result.)
Pressures to conform today are huge, and not just when it comes to childbearing. University of Virginia history professor Robert Louis Wilken recently noted (see the useful newsletter Critique) that when Roman Empire pagans walked into a church, they "entered a wholly different world than they were used to," one with prayers and hymns from something called a "Bible," and sermons rather than bloody sacrifices. Mr. Wilken's application to today: "A person who comes into a Christian church for the first time should feel out of place. He should feel this community engages in practices so important they take time to learn. The best thing we can do for 'seekers' is to create an environment where newcomers feel they are missing something vital."
There's a similar logic about families. When I walked into the house of my former mentor, the disappearance of a Christian ethos was palpable. The best way to fight the thrust of the U.S. News article and that NPG negativism is to build families that are different. It starts with some basic elements, like a family dinner where parents and children actually converse and pray and read the Bible. The distinction continues as children grow in grace rather than scorn for Christ, and as they establish godly families of their own.
We can fight anti-child pressure by remembering our purpose in life: to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God tells us in Genesis and throughout the Bible that we are to obey his command (and trust him enough) to be fruitful and multiply. The world around us wolfs down pizza, but God wants something better for us. And perhaps we can keep in mind another basic truth: that however we earn and spend our money during our lives, at the moment of death each of us has zero disposable income. We can't take it with us, but if we trust in Christ, he will take us with him.