While browsing through Twitter the other day, I happened upon an interesting post from one of my favorite Christian writers, Samuel Sey.
In it, he declared:
“If a woman doesn’t want to be a mother, she shouldn’t be a wife. My dude, stay away from her.”
Founder and blogger at slowtowrite.com and contributing writer for various other outlets, Sam has done well to pen prolific thought pieces on the state of our culture, and he always endeavors to do so through a Biblical worldview. We also share a platform here at Pyrolithos Foundation, where we each publish articles that address cultural issues from a Biblically-conservative perspective. In other words, Sam and I are on the same team; he is indeed my brother in the Lord; and, in most instances, I agree with his commentary.
Yet, admittedly, I found his tweet to be a bit provocative and potentially discouraging.
From my end of the internet, the initial tweet, as it was written, read as if to communicate that a woman who does not desire children can’t still be of value to a man as his wife. And since the message presupposed that the man in the scenario wanted children, I wondered if his counsel would still apply if the man also did not desire children.
While tempted to just scroll on, I thought it best to express to my brother in Christ how his message might be perceived (and how it was being received by many of his supporters), and I sought clarification of his meaning just to be sure I didn’t misunderstand his point.
In his response to me, and in a subsequent Instagram post to his followers, Sam was kind enough to clarify what he intended to convey.
“I stand by what I said, guys. I didn’t say men shouldn’t [sic] stay away from women who can’t have children. I said they should stay away from women who don’t want to have children. A woman who doesn’t want to have children at some point is disobeying God (Genesis 1:28) and rejecting the blessings of children from herself and children. And quite frankly, if a woman isn’t willing to selflessly have children—she’ll be unlikely to selflessly love her husband. After all, children are gifts spouses lovingly to [sic] give to each other. Also, my words do not mean the man shouldn’t attempt to convince the woman. It simply means that if she doesn’t want children…he shouldn’t marry her. The same, of course, applies to men who do not want to have children. Women should stay away from those men as well…
If you still disagree, test my words with scripture. Alright, that’s all. Grace and peace!”
To be honest, I actually think his position is a valid personal conviction. Yet, I’m still not convinced that it should be counsel doled out as applicable to all Believers in all cases, though Sam’s position is that it should.
“I can’t believe this is controversial for Christians…Wow,” he exclaimed in a follow up to his initial tweet. (He would post a second tweet the following day warning women against marrying men who don’t want children.)
So, as he’s extended the invitation (and as Scripture commands), I endeavor here to examine his words through Scripture. I also wish to flesh out his sentiments to their theological conclusions and practical implications to demonstrate why his commentary on this topic was deemed so controversial.
If You Don’t Desire Children, You’ll Likely Be a Terrible Spouse?
“If a woman doesn’t want to be a mother, she shouldn’t be a wife.”
“If a man doesn’t want to be a father, he shouldn’t be a husband.”
Written as counsel to men and women, respectively, both sentiments posit that the party who doesn’t want children isn’t suitable for marriage. Granted, if one party in a courtship desires children but the other does not, I agree with Sam. I do not believe it would be wise for them to marry one another.
Yet, this is merely my opinion. It isn’t a command of God. If the couple were to proceed with marrying anyway, they would not be in sin, though they’d likely encounter strife over the matter of children at some point, unless someone changes their mind.
The only command of God concerning spouse selection for Christians is that a Believer not marry an unbeliever, which is what being “unequally yoked” refers to in 2 Corinthians 6:14. Once this requirement is met, the Lord grants us freedom to choose to marry whomever we please (Numbers 36:6; 1 Corinthians 7:39).
This would mean two Believers who do not desire to be parents may choose one another for marriage. They’d be equally yoked in faith and on the same page regarding their desired family structure: just the two of them.
However, according to Sam’s argument, two people who don’t want children shouldn’t even marry one another. Since each party doesn’t want to be a parent, this presumed character deficit makes each of them incapable of being a good spouse to the other. In other words, if someone does not have a desire to be a parent, they do not deserve to marry.
Again, one might be of this opinion, but Scripture offers no indication that it is the truth. If it were, it would need to reconcile with the primary reason the Lord made Eve for Adam: “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Genesis 2:18).
It would also need to align with Paul’s counsel for guarding against fornication, which is a sin against God and the only transgression where one sins against his own body: “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2).
To be a good wife according to Scripture, a woman must love, respect and submit to her husband, as unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:22-23,33; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1-2).
To be a good husband according to Scripture, a man must love, be gentle with, and lay down his life for his wife, as Christ gave Himself for the Church (Ephesians 5:25-33; Colossians 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7). Either partner might willingly “submit” or “lay down” their life to defer to the other’s wishes regarding children, but one’s desire to have children or not, in itself, is not a Biblical prerequisite for 1) whether one should marry and 2) whether one will have the capacity to love his or her spouse well.
If You Don’t Desire Children, You’re Disobeying God?
“A woman [or a man] who doesn’t want to have children at some point is disobeying God (Genesis 1:28)…”
In addition to not being suitable for marriage, individuals who don’t desire children are also in sin, according to this claim. Yet, again, there is nothing in Scripture that supports this notion.
Surely, children are meant to be conceived only in the confines of marriage. Children are a natural and normative (albeit not guaranteed) outcome of a man and a woman coming together intimately, and such a union is designed only for the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). As such, when children are conceived outside of marriage, it is a result of sin (Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 6:18, 7:2; I Thessalonians 4:3-4).
But a married couple not having children is not a sin. It may not be normative, but it also isn’t immoral. Contrary to popular belief, procreation isn’t the only purpose for marriage (Genesis 2:7; Ephesians 5:30-32; 1 Corinthians 7:8,36). In fact, its ultimate function is to represent in the earth Christ’s union with His Bride, the Church.
“For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is the great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:30-32).
Having children is a blessing, just as the marital union is its own blessing to be enjoyed in this life (Proverbs 18:22; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). But having children is not a command that if one fails to fulfill it, he has disobeyed God.
Genesis 1:28 is cited to argue otherwise, but let’s consider what it says.
“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
To be blessed by the Lord means to be approved, enabled, or graced by Him. It may also mean to receive a gift from Him. “Blessed” as it is used in Genesis 1:28 is the Hebrew term “bārak”, which carries the meaning “to speak words invoking divine favor”. After God created the first man and woman, He pronounced over them His divine favor to procreate and populate the earth, and He gifted them with dominion over all His creation in the earth.
Were Genesis 1:28 a command to be fulfilled lest one sins, the Lord would be contradicting Himself. First, Jesus obeyed the Father perfectly during His earthly ministry. He knew no sin and only did the Father’s will (John 6:38; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). “The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29). Yet as He came to be about His Father’s business, Christ did not marry or have children. If Genesis 1:28 was applicable, surely He’d have fulfilled it. Yet, if by not fulfilling it He disobeyed God, that would be the one commandment He broke, thereby making Him guilty of breaking the whole law (John 2:10). We certainly know this is not true!
Second, God has not willed some Christian married couples to conceive, despite their desires and best efforts. It would contradict the Lord’s character to command a couple to do something He’s also seen fit to prevent, even as they desire to do it! And it would be morally inconsistent for couples, in an attempt to obey a command to be “fruitful and multiply”, to resort to explicitly sinful or morally questionable practices from the world because they cannot conceive naturally. Such a couple would be in a terrible moral quandary!
Indeed, “be fruitful and multiply” is not a commandment in the sense that it carries a penalty of sin if not fulfilled or counted as righteousness when it is. Not all married Believers are capable of fulfilling it and there are many unmarried unbelievers who are!
But as a blessing, the Lord’s pronouncement to “be fruitful and multiply” generally enabled mankind to reproduce children. Again, because children are a normative outcome of physical intimacy, couples may procreate whether they expect, feel ready, or yet have a desire to have children.
One cannot be in violation of Genesis 1:28 for not desiring to have children when the Lord could still grant them children regardless. Thus, applying Genesis 1:28 as prooftext that a desire to not have children is a sin doesn’t appear to be appropriate.
Citing Genesis 1:28 to charge with sin those who don’t desire children also disregards that not all are called to marriage, the union through which God approves the conception of children.
When discussing God’s lifetime design for marriage and strict restrictions against divorce with the Pharisees in Judea, Jesus’s disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matthew 19: 11-12).
Paul reiterates this truth when speaking with the Corinthians. He notes that the unmarried are free to care for the things of the Lord, while the married have divided interests – the things of God and earthly cares. While he offers his opinion that he wished all were unmarried as he was that they could also focus fully on ministry, he doesn’t count those who desire to marry as sinners. Moreover, as he concedes that it is “better to marry than to burn with passion”, he speaks to the need to marry to address one’s desire for physical intimacy – not their desire to have children – to avoid the risk of sexual sin (1 Corinthians 7:7-9).
Interestingly, Jesus permits some to become eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom of God, while Paul, being such a eunuch, grants grace to those whose interest is divided as they tend to their marriage. So, surely, we can grant grace to Christian married couples who may not desire children of their own, but fully desire to be spiritually “fruitful and multiply” through the Great Commission.
The blessing to “be fruitful and multiply” was generally pronounced over mankind – whether Believers or unbelievers – that the earth be populated. The Great Commission to go into this now populated world and make disciples was universally given to followers of Christ – whether married or unmarried, parents or non-parents – that the Kingdom of God be filled with His children from every nation, tribe and tongue.
Certainly even if a Christian married couple “falls short” with the former, which has temporal benefits, they can be in God’s favor as they carry out the latter, which has an eternal reward. Most assuredly, those who abide in Christ, the true vine, will bear much fruit (John 15:1-5).
If You Don’t Desire Children, You’re Rejecting Your Blessings?
“A woman [or a man] who doesn’t want to have children at some point is rejecting the blessing of children for herself [or himself]…”
Again, if the Lord has willed for someone to conceive, they will conceive despite their desires.
“There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).
“A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
In Psalm 127, which teaches us that unless the Lord builds the house, the builders build in vain, we also learn that children are a gift from the Lord. As gifts, they’re not necessarily granted per our desires nor because we deserve them. They come to us as the Gift Giver wills to grant them, and when He delivers them, indeed we should be grateful for and receive them.
From my observation, though one might express that they don’t desire to have children, they would still be willing to receive them if the Lord saw fit to bless them in this way. While having a long held desire for children is wonderful, it doesn’t necessarily speak to one’s selflessness. It isn’t necessarily a sacrifice to do what one has long desired to do. But it could speak volumes of one’s character if they are willing to give of themselves to do what they might not desire. Such a disposition would truly demonstrate a “not my will, but your will be done” attitude before the Lord (Matthew 26:39). It would demonstrate genuine trust in and require a humble reliance on Him.
So, ultimately, merely lacking a desire for children doesn’t necessarily mean one’s heart would “reject” the gift of children or that they’d withhold this gift from their spouse. These blessings are only rejected through willful, sinful actions.
If one becomes pregnant and chooses to give up their child for adoption, that could be a sign their heart has rejected the Lord’s blessing. But it could also be a means to selflessly protect the child and to pass their blessing on to others. We see an example of this with Moses’ parents, who were married, but had to send him away and ultimately allow him to be adopted by Pharaoh’ daughter to protect his life (Exodus 2:1-10). One’s personal circumstances would dictate their heart’s true intentions for taking this route.
One might also argue that using birth control is a sign that one’s heart has rejected the Lord’s blessing of children. While Christians vary in their convictions concerning birth control, the good news is the Lord’s plans can still prevail even with its use, as birth control is not 100% effective and, at best, contraceptives only prevent conception for a limited time. Sam’s argument requires that one desires to have children “at some point” lest he or she disobey God. Some Christian families use contraceptives to aid them in planning when that “some point” might be. Though, again, despite their plans, the Lord is the One who ultimately builds “the house” and His counsel is what ultimately prevails.
So, the only clear signs one’s heart has utterly rejected the blessing of children – the only ways we can clearly see that one is unwilling to submit to God’s will for their lives – is if they choose to abandon their children (ex: a father leaving his family) or if they end the lives of their children (ex: a mother having an abortion). Such heinous acts do not only actively reject the Lord’s gift of children, they are sin (1 Timothy 5:8; Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 6:16-19).
While lacking the desire to be a parent isn’t a sin, it can lead one to commit sin when encouraged by evil. As James warns, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full grown, leads to death” (James 1:15). Thus, for example, if one lacks the desire to be a parent and is pro-abortion, chances are greater that they’d be willing to reject the blessing of children through abortion. Yet, even our widely accepted “good desires” are also susceptible to the temptation to do evil. The desire to have children has led many to engage in immoral fertility practices that cause man to play “God” and technically yield the same end as abortion.
If They Don’t Want Children, Stay Away from Them?
“If a woman [or man] doesn’t want to be a [parent]….stay away from [them]!”
Perhaps the strong admonition to “stay away” from men and women who don’t desire children stems from a presupposition that such individuals are desperately wicked or hard-wired to harm children.
This likely explains one commenter’s reference to Ecclesiastes 7:26 as he agreed with Sam’s initial tweet.
“And I find more bitter than death
The woman whose heart is snares and nets, Whose hands are fetters.
He who pleases God shall escape from her, But the sinner shall be trapped by her.”
The intended application was that a woman who doesn’t desire children must be, at her core, “more bitter than death”, thus a man must escape her. However, this verse is actually a warning to men to flee the adulterous woman.
Certainly, if one would go to the lengths of abandoning, aborting or abusing a child, one should “stay away from them” as a potential spouse. If that person also professes to be a Believer, beyond removing them from the short list of potential spouses, Paul instructs us as Believers to have nothing to do with such people in the Church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).
A potential suitor has the right to know whether their love interest desires children, and it is fair for them to be concerned if they want to have children but their love interest does not. But someone merely expressing they don’t desire to have children is not enough intel to count them as more corrupt than the next person or “more bitter than death”. Before presuming the worst of a person’s character and immediately opting to “stay away” as if they’re a leper, it may be helpful to lovingly press in.
As Christians, we are to deal gently with one another and show grace, understanding that we, too, are imperfect, prone to sin and in need of the Lord’s grace and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32; Galatians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 10:12). The reason statements like the one Sam tweeted can be controversial, even among Christians, is because the messages lack nuance. They broach a sensitive and deeply personal topic only to offer blanket solutions and paint all involved with a broad brush. They don’t take care to consider that Christians, while new creations in Christ Jesus, are from various backgrounds, have had varied life experiences and are at different stages in our sanctification and levels of conviction. We don’t want to speak in a way that might cause one another to stumble or become discouraged. Certainly, we shouldn’t sacrifice truth on the altar of “feelings”, but the truth we speak should actually be the truth, not merely our opinions, and it should be spoken in love (Ephesians 4:15-16). If what we say cuts, it should also bind up.
Of course, if the person one is dating is indeed a Christian, God’s Spirit dwells in them and He is progressively changing their heart day by day. So my counsel to anyone courting right now is, if all else seems well with the other person, I would recommend that rather than utterly dismiss them, bear with them in a spirit of love (Ephesians 4:2).
Take an interest in understanding why they don’t desire children and assess what they truly mean by that statement. Do they mean they’re ambivalent about children but could be persuaded? Could they mean they’d be open to having children if they were to conceive or if their spouse wants them? Might they have presumed they don’t want children because they’ve never met a person they saw themselves marrying…until they met you? Or, do they sincerely mean they will do everything necessary, up to and including deserting or murdering their unborn child, to ensure they never become a parent?
Of course, if we’re dating someone whose character would allow them to abandon, abuse or abort their child, this might be something discernible even without discussing desires for children. One would also wonder how a born again Christian even begins to develop a romantic interest in someone who sounds like they’re either an unbeliever or are still heavily conformed to the world (Song of Solomon 8:1).
But if all else seems kosher with their walk and profession of faith, I’d recommend a Believer not dismiss another Believer so quickly. This doesn’t mean they eventually have to marry. It means they simply display the love, patience and grace Christ has called us all to show one another (John 13:34).
I Said all of This to Say…
Marriage, which will not take place in the kingdom of God, is an earthly institution God established to 1) reflect in the earth the relationship between Christ and His Bride (the Church) and to 2) grant mankind the common grace of companionship in this fleeting life under the sun (Matthew 22:30; Ephesians 5:30-33; Ecclesiastes 9:9). Marriage is a blessing to be enjoyed by Believers and unbelievers alike, as are any children the Lord might bless couples to conceive along the way.
While I see no evidence in Scripture that it is a sin if one doesn’t desire to have children or that lacking that desire means they shouldn’t marry, I would agree that it would not be wise to marry someone who would commit sin in order to avoid being a parent if children are conceived.
But I’m not convinced this mindset – being willing to reject a conceived child – would apply to most Christians, assuming a Believer is pursuing another Believer. (If they are not, their dating choices need to be addressed before worrying about if the other person wants kids!)
But for those who are concerned about professing Christians who do not desire children, consider how the Lord can change their heart and give them new desires.
“Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). This truth is often misrepresented to mean that the Lord will give Christians whatever we want, but it actually means that, as we abide in Him, He places His desires into our hearts. As we grow in Him, we come to desire what He desires for us. If having children is the Lord’s good pleasure for a Saint, their heart can come to desire it. No one in Christ is a lost cause.
If one is convinced that the desire to have children is an appropriate way to determine that a person will make a good spouse in marriage, I can only respect their conviction.
Yet, that would seem to be a snap judgment, not judging the matter (or the person) righteously (Matthew 7:1-4). If we hope to know if someone would make a godly spouse, there are other ways to make that assessment.
Consider first whether the individual is even a Christian. Assess their understanding of the Gospel and whether they view Scripture as God’s infallible, authoritative word. Observe how they treat you and carry themselves during your courtship and note if you each encourage one another’s growth in the Lord. Pay attention to how they engage their family, friends and church community (Do they belong to a church community?). Observe their friends. Get to know their pastor and their parents, if applicable. Pay attention to how they interact with children.
These are just a few suggestions, but the point is there are many ways to glean whether a person might be a suitable mate. Whether they want children may indeed be a “deal breaker”, but it shouldn’t be a way to assess the whole of one’s character, how they would relate to you (or someone else) in marriage, or their standing with God. Such counsel goes above the line of Scripture and could cause one to miss out on a wonderful potential spouse or, at the very least, lead them to develop an uncharitable view and unfairly judge a brother or sister in the Lord.
If after all that has been said here one still believes sin must be presumed upon those who don’t desire children, there are quite a few theological questions that need to be answered.
For instance, what happens to Believers if they still lack the desire for children upon their death? What of the eternal state of married couples who don’t desire children and/or never produce their own children? Have they died in unrepentant sin?
If someone can’t have children and has, as a result, lost the desire to have them, are they a) in sin because they lack the desire, b) deserving of grace because they’re unable to have them, or c) content in the state they are in?
Is lacking the desire to be a parent a sign that a professing Christian isn’t truly saved? Is this a salvific issue? If it is, where is this supported in Scripture? If it isn’t, why then are the personal desires and choices of others our business to judge?
Again, Sam’s my brother in the Lord. We’re on the same team, and I often agree with his takes. But given the spiritual and practical implications of his most recent tweet, I felt compelled to flesh out the claims made and test his words through Scripture, as he kindly suggested. I pray I treated the matter Biblically, fairly and with clarity, and I hope I spoke the truth in love.
Nevertheless, as iron sharpens iron, I also welcome those who disagree to test my words wherever I may have fallen short.