Teddy Roosevelt, speaking in 1905 to the National Congress of Mothers:

There are many good people who are denied the supreme blessing of children, and for these we have the respect and sympathy always due to those who, from no fault of their own, are denied any of the other great blessings of life.

But the man or woman who deliberately foregoes theses blessings, whether from viciousness, coldness, shallow-heartedness, self-indulgence, or mere failure to appreciate aright the difference between the all-important and the unimportant–why such a creature merits contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle, or upon the man who refuses to work for the support of those dependent upon him, and who though able-bodied is yet content to eat in idleness the bread which others provide. (Quoted in What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, 174-75)

An American President would never talk like this today; I find it remarkable that one ever did.

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Comments:


50 thoughts on “Teddy Roosevelt On Deliberately Not Having Children”

  1. ChrisB says:

    Honey badger wishes he was as bad as TR.

  2. Richard says:

    So are you commending TR on this statement? Or are you saying that it goes to show that at least we have learned to show a bit more respect and civility to those who may disagree with our particular way of viewing the world? I certainly hope you are saying the latter.

    What an awful statement. I could see where it might have made more sense over 100 years ago to say something as ridiculous as this. But even then, I hope some brave people gave the president some push-back.

    This is not a statement that inspires anything in me but the desire to work harder towards a world in which there is greater respect, compassion, and civility towards those that differ from me. Thank-you Kevin for posting this as a great reminder of that cause! If you find other closed-minded quotes in the book, please continue sharing them! :-)

  3. Dean P says:

    Yeah last time I checked TR was not a contributor to the cannon.

  4. Scott says:

    I surely hope the book didn’t support this, ahem, wisdom.

  5. Timothy J McNeely says:

    TR would not like me much then. I’m am “deliberately forgoing these blessing.”

    I agree with Richard. We should work hard towards showing respect to those we disagree with. TR did a pretty bad job.

  6. Tom Wallin says:

    President Roosevelt makes a strong statement regarding the ultimate value of having children, rightly labeling this among the all-important things we experience in this life. His point that many settle for lesser pursuits is, not surprisingly, lost in our age and culture. I don’t think I would have the courage to state it quite so bluntly, but I never charged up San Juan Hill either.

  7. Henry says:

    Kevin,

    this is clearly a topic that needs more teaching on and by more leaders. The years of silence have enabled the weeds to grow, to the point where the repudiation of motherhood is a deeply enshrined ‘right’ in the evangelical church.

    The reactions you are getting indicate you are attempting to tear down a high place. Thanks for these posts, I hope you do not lose heart at the resistance you are encountering. Nehemiah faced the same.

  8. Henry says:

    further note:

    it is interesting to notice the complete lack of respect for Teddy Rosevelt’s view (repudiation of motherhood is a sin) by those who are calling for “respect” in the treatment of other views.

  9. Henry says:

    Matt Hosier (NFI) has recently posted on this subject also:

    http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/sex_should_be_fruitful

  10. dgsinclair says:

    What he missed were those who, believing Malthusian predictions of doom, truly believe they are doing something moral in not creating additional children.

  11. anaquaduck says:

    Autonomy is a splendid thing to some, the freedom to do as we so please. Yet where would these individuals be if it were not for their parents. There is a certain amount of responsibility that comes with bringing up a family so I get the connectedness regarding work & responsibility.

    Living by faith is trusting in God, His provision & wisdom. Children in this regard are a blessing, not a burden on the planet.

  12. Paul Reed says:

    “There are many good people who are denied the supreme blessing of children, but the man or woman who deliberately foregoes theses blessings, whether from viciousness, coldness”

    This talk makes having children sound more like military service rather than an actual blessing. Everyone agrees that riches and health are blessing. And yet, no one would ever have contempt for someone who isn’t as healthy or rich as they are. But this talk makes it sounds like “I’m suffering by having kids…you should have to as well”. This talk sounds like something a conscripted man would say to a draft dodger. If you are happy and fulfilled by having children and consider them a blessing, I don’t see how you would feel contempt toward those who don’t.

  13. JohnM says:

    Soldiers who run away from battle are liable to be shot. Men who will not support their dependents are (at least sometimes) jailed. So TR thought people who choose not to have children should be….? Sorry, I’m not signing that petition, even if my personal bias is toward, yes, having children.

    Ironic too, considering what progressivism has wrought since TR’s time. You started it Teddy.

  14. steve63 says:

    The problem today is that the decision to have children is totally rooted in self. Westerners weigh the pros and cons of having children based on the blessings and sacrifices that accrue to self. Most decide that the blessings outweigh the sacrifices and choose to have their 1 or 2 children, but some do not. But hardly anyone thinks of having children as a duty for the common good. It’s ironic that the people most likely to choose childlessness (liberal progressive types) are also the most ardent supporters of social programs such as society security, medicare, single payor healthcare, etc. These people expect to be supported by government in their old age, but expect others to do the hard work of raising future taxpayers to fund these programs. The folly of this type of thinking is playing out right now in Europe, where government is already being forced to cut back on benefits because the last generation did not have enough children to fund present programs. The West is beginning to reap the consequences of it’s selfishness and it’s only going to get worse. Although stated a bit harshly, TR was correct. The decision not to have children (cases of hardship excepted) is an immoral one because there are consequences that go far beyond the pain or pleasure that accrues to self.

  15. ScotT says:

    So Steve63, did you have children “for the common good” or because you wanted them? I got to be honest, I don’t know a single Christian brother or sister who opted for children because, well you know, they’re just so altruistic.

  16. steve63 says:

    ScotT, yes I did want children. It’s kind of nice when what you want to do is also the right thing to do. It’s like giving to the poor. It’s the right thing for a Christian to do. But it’s also nice to know that most people who give to the poor do so because they want to do it. What I’m saying is that wanting something and “doing the right thing” are not mutually exclusive. So I’m certainly not saying it’s wrong to have kids because you want them. What I am saying is that for the most part, married couples who desire to remain childless do so for solely selfish reasons without any consideration as to what’s the right thing to do (I understand there are exceptional circumstances so I’m not making an absolute statement here). I also observed that it’s quite hypocritical for people to demand that government provide more and more entitlements for them in their old age while having refused to do their part to ensure there were enough future taxpayers around to shoulder the tax burden. If people like that were a negligible minority this issue wouldn’t matter. But it’s not negligible. All you need to do is look at Europe to see what the painful consequences are for a society that refuses to reproduce itself.

  17. Adam says:

    The problem with going back to history is that people can believe things for various reasons that are not rooted and grounded in scripture. We have to ask, not only what historical figures believed, but why they believed it.

    For example, as John Noonan points out in his book Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, the notion that contraception is wrong is something that developed over time. The argument for the idea that deliberate childlessness is wrong is amazingly weak exegetically. You don’t find it in the Apostolic Fathers [although you do find the Apostolic Fathers saying that abortion is wrong]. It is not really until the end of the second century that you start finding people saying that contraception is wrong, and their ideas are tinged with gnostic and stoic thought.

    The gnostics, of course, were neo-Platonic dualists, and believed that the physical was evil, and the non-physical was good. This made sexual relations evil in the eyes of the gnostics. The Christians, however, went back, not to scripture to disprove this whole framework, but ended up going to stoic philosophy. The Christians, rather than going back to the Bible, decided to run off to Stoic philosophy dealing with the processes of nature, by which they could argue that the sexuality was necessary for procreation, and passion and desire of sexuality was downplayed. It is this tradition that gets passed down, and even ends up in the writings of the reformers.

    However, very little Biblical exegesis was offered for this position, and what little attempt at exegesis was offered most exegetes reject today. It is a position that simply was never founded on Biblical exegesis, and that is dangerous. That is why, when we look at history, we must not only asked *what* someone believed, but we also must seek to understand *why* they believed it. If they did not believe it for Biblical reasons, then we must not bind it to the conscience of God’s people.

  18. Adam says:

    Also, I would simply point out that, if you say that deliberate childlessness is not a sin in and of itself, but you say that most people today don’t have children out of selfishness, then what happens if you get rid of the selfishness, but not the deliberate childlessness? What happens if the couple seeks to serve God in some area other than having and raising children? Are they still in sin? Obviously, you would have to say “no.”

    The point is that the sin is not deliberate childlessness. It is selfishness. Once that is removed, whether they end up having children or not, there is no problem. That is why the problem is much more general. The problem is what selfishness does to a culture as a whole, and one of the things it does is to make people not want to serve God in ways such as this. However, we can’t bind it to the conscience of individuals, because scripture doesn’t do so, nor do I think we need to bind it to people’s consciences in order to solve this problem.

    I have used this illustration before, but what if there is a shortage of elders in the church? Do we all of the sudden go back to the Bible, and read some command that everyone must be an elder back into the text, binding it to everyone’s conscience, and then accuse those who aren’t becoming elders of sin? No, such would be absurd, because scripture does not bind such a thing to our consciences. We bring the need before the congregation, and we ask that the people would pray for God to lead them as to whether he would have them serve him in this way.

    We should be doing the same thing with the demographics issue. Rather than accusing people who aren’t having children of being in sin, and adding to the word of God, we should, instead, be bringing this need before the church, letting people know that it is a pressing need, and asking them to consider serving God in this fashion. Countercultural eisegesis doesn’t help matters, and when you abandon the sufficiency of scripture for counterculture and history, it will always end up very badly. I realize that the temptation to do that can be very strong, especially in light of our current problems, but we need to keep our eye on the ball, and that is to understand what scripture itself demands of us and nothing more.

  19. anaquaduck says:

    “or upon the man who refuses to work for the support of those dependent upon him”

    a bit off topic but if taxes serve the better good of a nation, work is not just about provision for the family & sharing with those in need but also a means to bring blessing if used wisely. So those who dodge taxes are bringing harm to the prosperity of a nation.

    It seems a little weird when considering how many children to have like some sort of logistical task. God doesn’t give a number as such. Yet there are great promises to trust in for those who may be governed by fear or doubt in this regard.

  20. steve63 says:

    “We should be doing the same thing with the demographics issue. Rather than accusing people who aren’t having children of being in sin, and adding to the word of God”

    God commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Gen 1:28). So how is it “adding to the word of God” to tell people they should be reproducing? Yes, I know some will say that the Earth is already full now so this command is no longer in effect, but where in Scripture are we given some number at which God considers the Earth as full? In any case, what we are dealing with in some Western countries now are populations that are not even remaining static, they are contracting. So even if it could be proven from Scripture that the Earth is now full, mankind still needs to remain fruitful in order to keep it full. So I don’t think it’s adding to the Word of God at all to say that the decision of a married couple to intentionally remain childless is a violation of the command to be fruitful and multiply (which could not have been given solely to Adam and Eve since it would have been impossible for one couple to “fill the earth”. The command clearly was given to mankind in general).

  21. JohnM says:

    @anaquaduck

    If it’s taxes and the public good were talking about, of course those children are going to be tax consumers as well as tax producers, and may well turn out to be net consumers. People who deliberately, or carelessly, produce children they know they haven’t the means to support aren’t doing much better than people who simply will not support their children. They certainly are not serving the better good of the nation when it comes to taxes and spending.

  22. Adam says:

    steve63,

    God commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Gen 1:28). So how is it “adding to the word of God” to tell people they should be reproducing? Yes, I know some will say that the Earth is already full now so this command is no longer in effect, but where in Scripture are we given some number at which God considers the Earth as full? In any case, what we are dealing with in some Western countries now are populations that are not even remaining static, they are contracting. So even if it could be proven from Scripture that the Earth is now full, mankind still needs to remain fruitful in order to keep it full. So I don’t think it’s adding to the Word of God at all to say that the decision of a married couple to intentionally remain childless is a violation of the command to be fruitful and multiply (which could not have been given solely to Adam and Eve since it would have been impossible for one couple to “fill the earth”. The command clearly was given to mankind in general).

    I would say that is horrible eisegesis. I dealt with that verse in the last post:

    The dominion mandate has nothing whatsoever to do with individuals. That can be seen by the context of verses 26-27:

    Genesis 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

    Notice how the word “man” is used as the antecedent of plural pronouns. However, the Hebrew for “man” is singular. The reason for this is because the text is constructed ad sensum. While this word can mean “man,” as in “male,” especially when it is used with plurals, it means “mankind.” Notice how this is continued into verse 28:

    Genesis 1:26-28 hen God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

    Now, what reason do we have to assume that the “them” of verse 27 is different than the “them” of verse 28? If the “them” of verse 28 is “mankind,” though, then the command is not given to individuals.

    There is another reason this text cannot be used to argue that it is somehow wrong for couples to not have children. If you say that “Be fruitful and multiply” is a command that individual couples must obey, then you are forced, by the logic of your position, to argue that “fill the earth” is something that individual couples must obey. Hence, the Duggars are in sin, because they only have twenty children, and twenty children do not fill the earth. Unless a couple has 30-trillion children, they must be in sin, according to this logic.

    There simply is no disconnecting the two commands. The only thing separating them is a conjunction. Why assume that the command “Be fruitful and multiply” is given to individuals, but the command “fill the earth” is not?

    There is also another good reason to not take the command “Be Fruitful and Multiply” as being given to individual couples, but to mankind. Consider that, in verse 22, you have the first instance of the command “Be Fruitful and Multiply,” but notice what came before it:

    Genesis 1:21-22 God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”

    So, God creates each of these *kinds* of animals, and then tells them to “Be fruitful and multiply.” If you take the understanding that Genesis 1:28 is given to mankind, then it fits nicely with a particular kind of creation being made, and then being told to “Be fruitful and multiply.”

    Furthermore, the text is not saying that our dominion is related to having children. Not only is dominion mentioned in verse 26 with no mention of having children, but new finds from the Ancient Near East have demonstrated that dominion is actually related to the image of God. For example, a statue found at Tel Fakhariya bearing the oldest Aramaic inscription we know of has the very same words “image” and “likeness” used in Genesis 1:26 in an inscription found on the statue itself. The crucial text reads as follows:

    12…The image of HadadYas’i 13. the king of Gozen, Sukkan, and Azran for exultation, and the placing down of his throne, 14. to lengthen his life, so that the words of his mouth might be pleasing to gods and mankind. 15. He made this likeness which for earlier times he had prepared before Hadad.

    In other words, this image is of a particular king, and is a symbol of his rule. Obviously, that fits well with Genesis 1:26, 28. However, if that is the case, then our dominion is something that we have by virtue of the fact that we are created in God’s image.

    While some might say that this is not the only context in which this command appears, the problem is that every context in which this command is found in the Pentateuch is covenantal in character, given to those in the covenant. The only time that this command was given to individuals is if there was only one individual couple in the covenant, as was the case with the patriarchs. I would say that the significance of this is that the command “Be fruitful and multiply” is meant to be given to the covenant community, and not every individual within that covenant community. Thus, just as every church must have people who serve as elders and deacons, every church must have people who serve by having and raising covenant children.

    Putting this together with the notion of dominion, the problem here is not that we need to take dominion by having children. The problem here is that we are not able to take dominion because of our sin. That theme is all over the post-lapsarian chapters of the Genesis. We need dominion to be restored to us by Jesus Christ, who alone is able to take away the sin that is keeping us from being able to exercise dominion.

    There are simply way too many problems with this interpretation of the passage. As my professor at Trinity, Dr. Averbeck said, it is “overreading the text.” You simply can’t follow the text from verses 26-27, and come put with the notion that this command “Be fruitful and multiply” is given to individual couples.

    Let’s say that I am a teacher, and I divide the class up into groups of six, and let’s say that I say to one group, “I want you to build a model rocket.” Now, the group gets to work planning, and, that night, two people in the group draw up the plans. The next day, they bring the plans to school, and give it to two other people in the group who go out that evening, and buy the necessary materials to build the rocket. The next day they pass those materials off to the other two people who promptly assemble the rocket.

    Now, the due date comes, and they come and set one model rocket down on the table. I look it over, and it is well built with good materials and well designed so I say, “Everyone in this group gets an A.” Another kid raises his hand and objects, “I only see one model rocket. Only one kid should get an A. You ordered them to make a model rocket, and hence, there should be six model rockets, and not one.”

    That is what you are doing with the command “Be fruitful and multiply.” The command was given to a group [mankind], and not to individuals. You can’t arbitrarily say that individual couples must obey the command “Be fruitful and multiply,” but that the command “fill the earth” is something that individual couples are *not* obligated to do, and mankind must do it collectively. It is totally and completely arbitrary eisegesis. If the command “Be fruitful and multiply” is given to mankind in the same way the command “fill the earth” is given to mankind, then it is a gross misuse of this passage to use it in the way you have.

  23. Daryl Little says:

    Great quote from TR.

    What many seem to be missing is the fact that avoiding children is a purposeful decision. Having them really isn’t. Children are simply the natural fruit of a normal sexual relationship within marriage.

    The trouble is, with the normalization of birth-control, which itself is unnatural, wanting to have children becomes the position of choice, while not having them seems like it’s just “what happens” unless a couple decides to change it.

    When will the church as a whole see children as a blessing and purposely avoiding them as a rejection of God’s best for a marriage?

    We would all look sideways at the guy who plants a beautiful tomato patch, who then carefully plucks all of the flowers so that the plants don’t produce any tomatoes. But we do that as a matter of course with children…

    We’ve gotten things so backwards. It’s really quite sad.

  24. Adam says:

    Daryl Little,

    When will the church as a whole see children as a blessing and purposely avoiding them as a rejection of God’s best for a marriage?

    We would all look sideways at the guy who plants a beautiful tomato patch, who then carefully plucks all of the flowers so that the plants don’t produce any tomatoes. But we do that as a matter of course with children.

    Daryl, the problem with this argument is that it ignores that God expects us to exercise liminality with his blessings. Children are not the only blessings, and we have to consider how we are going to deal with God’s other blessings, including the gifts and calling he has given to us. As the book of Proverbs itself says:

    Proverbs 25:16 Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, That you not have it in excess and vomit it.

    God expects us to exercise liminality with his blessings, and not just to grab them willy nilly. Otherwise we will have them in excess, and vomit them. If the guy you speak if in your illustration had another section of tomatoes in his garden, and he knew that, if these tomatoes gave fruit, they would spoil, because he would not be able to use them up in time, then it would make sense as to why you would see him plucking all of the flowers in that particular patch.

    That is why this is not so much an issue of Biblical command; it is an issue of wisdom. How we deal with the blessings God has already given us, and use them wisely in the context God has placed us is crucial to this discussion. The problem is not a lack of children; the problem is a lack of wisdom, or, more precisely, the replacing of wisdom with a love of personal peace and affluence, as Francis Schaeffer used to say. If we keep assuming that the problem is contraception and childlessness, we will keep misdiagnosing the problem.

  25. steve63 says:

    Adam, based on your reasoning then, mankind can be collectively guilty for failing to be fruitful and multiply but no individual couples can be called guilty. So a nation that refuses to reproduce itself can be called guilty of breaking God’s commandment, yet all individual couples within that nation remain innocent. That is illogical. You can’t have collective guilt while all the individuals who make up the collective whole are innocent. That’s like saying a a group of people are collectively guilty of violence but all individuals within the nation are innocent of violence. It’s not logical. If mankind in general is guilty of some sin, there have to be individuals within mankind that are guilty too. You can’t have collective guilt without having at least some of the individuals within the collective whole guilty. If mankind is guilty of not being fruitful and multiplying, then there must be individual couples guilty of contributing to this collective guilt by not being fruitful and multiplying.

  26. Adam says:

    Daryl Little,

    I would also say that your concept of what is “natural” is very much in line with the Stoic thought of natural processes I mentioned earlier. Such is *not* the way the Bible defines what is “natural” in any way shape or form. What is “natural” is rooted in the purposes of God in his creation. Now, some of that will relate to natural processes, but some of it will also relate to the values that come from God’s nature and character. For example, when a person is about to die, certain natural processes start working. However, if we are able to save the person’s life, we do so, going against those natural processes. We do that because God has revealed that we are to preserve human life in such a situation as that.

  27. Daryl Little says:

    Yes, Adam, eating too much honey is a bad thing.

    When you can show me where the Bible equates many children with gluttony, then we can talk. But until then you don’t have an argument.

    What possible gift could there be that would make having children a problem?

    At bottom, and I admit to failing in this area as well, we don’t trust God to provide adequately for the children He blesses us with.

  28. Daryl Little says:

    “The point is that the sin is not deliberate childlessness. It is selfishness.”

    Deliberate childlessness, for an otherwise healthy couple, is selfishness…

  29. Adam says:

    steve63,

    Adam, based on your reasoning then, mankind can be collectively guilty for failing to be fruitful and multiply but no individual couples can be called guilty. So a nation that refuses to reproduce itself can be called guilty of breaking God’s commandment, yet all individual couples within that nation remain innocent. That is illogical. You can’t have collective guilt while all the individuals who make up the collective whole are innocent. That’s like saying a a group of people are collectively guilty of violence but all individuals within the nation are innocent of violence. It’s not logical. If mankind in general is guilty of some sin, there have to be individuals within mankind that are guilty too. You can’t have collective guilt without having at least some of the individuals within the collective whole guilty. If mankind is guilty of not being fruitful and multiplying, then there must be individual couples guilty of contributing to this collective guilt by not being fruitful and multiplying.

    Let’s take this logic and apply it to a church that refuses to have elders and deacons. The church as a corporate body is sinning by not having elders and deacons. Therefore, there must be a sin of not being an elder or a deacon, and we can create the sin of deliberately not being an elder, and thus, every person who has never been an elder is in sin.

    Such is very clearly absurd. The main problem is that the sins of the group may be caused by the individual sin of some people, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the sin of the group is the same as the sin as the individual people in the group. It also doesn’t mean that the corporate sin is caused by every individual person. Israel was in sin many times, but God raised prophets to turn them around. Are we going to argue that they were in sin too, because they were part of the corporate body?

    Going back to the illustration of elder, God calls someone to serve him as an elder in a church, and he doesn’t heed that calling, nor does anyone else in the church, and voila, you have corporate sin. In the same way, God calls some people to serve him by having and raising covenant children, they don’t listen, and you have corporate sin. None of this, in any way, suggests that there is some personal sin of “deliberate childlessness.” The sin is not heeding God’s calling, not deliberate childlessness.

  30. Adam says:

    Daryl Little,

    When you can show me where the Bible equates many children with gluttony, then we can talk. But until then you don’t have an argument.

    Grossly simplistic interpretation of that passage in Proverbs. Did you even bother to read the next verse?:

    Proverbs 25:17 Let your foot rarely be in your neighbor’s house, Or he will become weary of you and hate you.

    Did you also notice that there is a parallel structure here in the Hebrew? Both verse 16 about honey, and verse 17 use a parallel Hebrew construction, פן+שבע which binds the two Proverbs together into one unit. This proverb takes the principle of the honey, and applies it to friendship.

    Also, did you not notice the fact that this Proverb seems to be restated at the end of this chapter?:

    Proverbs 25:27 It is not good to eat much honey, Nor is it glory to search out one’s own glory.

    Now, all one needs to do is to look at the rest of the verse to see the problem for your position:

    Proverbs 25:28 Like a city that is broken into and without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit.

    It is always ironic when people bring up Psalm 127, and want to say that Psalm 127 is referring to culture wars [a totally eisegetical assertion]. However, what is incredible is that this text says that, if you don’t exercise restraint with God’s blessings [as we have seen, not just honey, but friendship, glory, etc.], then you are like a city broken in, without walls.

    What possible gift could there be that would make having children a problem?

    I always give this illustration. Let us say that there is a couple who meets at a homeless shelter after they get off work at 5:00PM, and they make dinner for homeless people for two hours, and minister the gospel to them for two hours. They fall in love, and decide to get married, but the recognize that getting home at 9:00PM is not good if you are going to have children. So, they decide to pour all of their extra time and money into the homeless shelter to continue to minister to these homeless people.

    That is a gift that would make having children a problem, and no one is going to accuse this couple of being selfish, since they are putting their extra time and money into helping the homeless.

    At bottom, and I admit to failing in this area as well, we don’t trust God to provide adequately for the children He blesses us with.

    But, you can go to the other extreme as well, and put God to the test, and presume upon him. I have heard of many horror stories of people who could not take care of their children, because they had way too many. That is not trust in God; that is rebellion against God for not recognizing that God has called us to exercise wisdom and restraint in dealing with his blessings, as Proverbs 25 teaches us.

    Deliberate childlessness, for an otherwise healthy couple, is selfishness…

    Now that is something I would like to see proven from scripture. If the only way you can get that is to ignore the verses that come before [in the case of Genesis 1:28] and the verses that come after [in the case of Proverbs 25:16], what am I to conclude about this statement?

    We simply cannot misuse scripture in this way. We have to let the text speak in its context, and that means that it may not directly say that something is a sin. We may think that it would be nice if scripture would say that it was a sin, because it would solve our cultural problems, but we have to be honest with the text, and, if it doesn’t say that it is sin, it isn’t sin. Adding to the word of God doesn’t solve problems; it just causes more problems.

  31. dgsinclair says:

    Adam, I agree with you, the universal condemnation of childlessness is foolishness. Paul the Apostle actually recommended celibacy over marriage. There can be valid reasons to not have children from an ethical and moral standpoint. Of course, there is also the commands of God regarding the blessing of children, and of course, the worldly person may often be motivated by selfishness, whether or not they mask it with a concern for ethical issues like world resources.

    But I also offered above that many libs are genuinely ‘denying themselves’ to protect the environment. I have also met people who, based on an abusive upbringing, are afraid to have children lest they also become abusers. These people may be mistaken, but they are not being immoral or selfishly motivated.

    There are also those who discover they have inheritable diseases and don’t want to pass them on.

    However, as Christians, I do think that us married folk, as a rule (there are exceptions, like the one just mentioned) do have a responsibility to have children, as I discussed in:

    The Christian duty to bear children
    http://www.wholereason.com/2011/03/the-christian-duty-to-bear-children.html

  32. steve63 says:

    Adam,

    While I certainly won’t deny the concept of collective guilt, I’m afraid that it works exactly opposite to the way you are inferring. You seem to be arguing that while mankind can be collectively guilty for not being fruitful and multiplying, no individuals within mankind can be held guilty for it. But when there is collective guilt, every member of the collective body bears some guilt, although not necessarily in equal degrees. Let’s go back to your example of the rocket building assignment where everyone got an A even though only some did the work. You need to look at it the other way…What would have happened if the group had failed to produce the rocket (because some but not all individuals in the group had failed to do their part). Would the teacher have given everyone an A with the explanation that he couldn’t hold individuals responsible for the failure of the collective whole? Of course not. He would most likely have given everyone in the group an F. The group was given an assignment and they failed to complete the task, so each individual in the group is held responsible. At least that’s how it used to work when I went to school. Yes, certain individuals in the group might have been more negligent than others, and I’m sure they would have faced greater scorn from their fellow group members, but in the end all ended up getting an F. Rather than hold all individuals guiltless, collective guilt holds all the individuals in the group guilty, at least to some degree. It’s no different with your elder example. If I’m in a church with no elders, I’m not necessarily guiltless because I haven’t been called as an elder myself. Maybe God hasn’t sent elders because neither I nor my fellow church members have been praying hard enough. Or maybe enough time has gone by without elders that I am now under obligation to leave that church body, since by staying there I am enabling sin to continue. Whatever it is, I know this: If God holds a body collectively guilty for the sin of being without elders, then there MUST be individual guilt there too. Again, it’s simply illogical to argue otherwise. A total can not be more or less than the sum of it’s parts. You simply can’t have collective guilt without it being the sum total of individual guilt. When the prophets were raised to speak about Israel’s collective guilt, while it’s true that not every individual committed every deed that was condemned, there had to be some individuals who were guilty of those deeds. The prophets did not rail against collective sins that no individuals were responsible for committing. Likewise, if mankind is collectively guilty of failing to be fruitful and multiplying, then there have be individual sins that are contributing to that collective guilt as a whole.

  33. Adam says:

    steve63,

    I never said otherwise. Yes, there are sins that are contributing to the collective guilt. If you read what I said, I questioned the legitimacy of *equating* a group sin of not *having* children with notion that there is an individual sin of not having children. It is the same thing with the eldership. There is a group sin of not having elders. However, there is no individual sin of not being an elder. There is a sin of not heeding God’s calling to that area, but there is no sin of not being an elder. It is irrational to say “there is a group sin of not having x” therefore “there is a personal sin of not being x.”

    If you can’t automatically equate the group sin with the individual sin, then you still haven’t shown that there is an individual sin of “deliberate childlessness.” Again, like the eldership, there is a sin of not following God’s calling to this area. However, deliberate childlessness itself is not sinful. A person might commit other sins [i.e., not heeding God's calling to this area], and, as a result, remain childless, but, deliberate childlessness is not, in and of itself, sinful.

  34. Richard says:

    Adam, you are a smart guy, and I think you do a nice job of handling scripture with wisdom and grace. Scripture must be read as a whole, and not simply used as a weapon by proof-texting here and there. May we always have the wisdom to avoid turning the bible into a new law that we weigh people down with. When we use scripture in a legalistic manner to lay heavy burdens upon the backs of people, I think we run the risk of hearing the rebuke of Jesus just as he said it to the Pharisees all those years ago. I hope you will keep using your gifts as time goes on to help the church move forward in learning how to speak to one another with the same grace and civility that I find you modeling here. Lately I don’t often have the patience to wrestle these things out with the care that you do, but I can see where it could be helpful for some. Unfortunately, often we are more enamored with hearing our own voice instead of listening to the thoughts of those around us. Too bad for all of us when this happens…

  35. Alex J. says:

    Adam,
    This doesn’t make sense to me..

    What possible gift could there be that would make having children a problem?

    I always give this illustration. Let us say that there is a couple who meets at a homeless shelter after they get off work at 5:00PM, and they make dinner for homeless people for two hours, and minister the gospel to them for two hours. They fall in love, and decide to get married, but the recognize that getting home at 9:00PM is not good if you are going to have children. So, they decide to pour all of their extra time and money into the homeless shelter to continue to minister to these homeless people.

    That is a gift that would make having children a problem, and no one is going to accuse this couple of being selfish, since they are putting their extra time and money into helping the homeless.

    I have to point out that once these people die there will no longer be anyone to serve the homeless. However, if they have children AND continue serving the homeless they will teach their children that this is a good endeavor worth continuing.

    Also, using the books of Proverbs isn’t always the best for making a complete argument. Proverbs 17:6 -“Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of child is their fathers.”

  36. Adam says:

    Alex J.,

    I have to point out that once these people die there will no longer be anyone to serve the homeless. However, if they have children AND continue serving the homeless they will teach their children that this is a good endeavor worth continuing.

    And, their children will never have the parents at home, because they won’t get home every day until 9:00PM. Also, why this false dilemma? It seems like what you are saying is, either everyone in the covenant community has children, or no one in the covenant community has children. If there are other people who are serving God in the area of having and raising covenant children, there will be plenty of people to replace them once they are gone. Again, don’t assume this false dilemma, and there is no problem.

    Also, using the books of Proverbs isn’t always the best for making a complete argument. Proverbs 17:6 -”Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of child is their fathers.”

    Actually, no one said otherwise. Yes, grandchildren are a crown to the aged. However, one must take *both* things together-the notion of liminality in regards to God’s good things, including the goodness of children. If that is the case, then one can easily see where I am coming from. Serving God by having and raising covenant children is a good thing, but one must enter into that area of service with wisdom, exercising liminality with God’s good blessings.

    Again, I am seeing a lot of false dilemmas. Either everyone has children, or no one has children. Either children are a blessing, or there is a circumstance where having children would be problematic. Why these false dilemmas? We don’t do this with the eldership. We don’t do this with any of God’s other blessings. Why is it that, when it comes to this issue, false dilemmas and a complete neglect of the exegesis of the text of scripture is so preeminent?

  37. dgsinclair says:

    >> I have to point out that once these people die there will no longer be anyone to serve the homeless.

    I see both sides, but the statement above is untrue. They should have *spiritual* children among the homeless who carry on their ministry. Paul the Apostle had no natural children, yet his ministry lived on.

    But in your example, perhaps the couple should not have married in the first place (per Paul’s instruction) – OR should have married and had children. In the past, before birth control, if you married and had sex (as in any healthy biblical marriage), you had children.

    Being married and not having children violates another ‘principle of scripture’ – that of sowing and reaping. If they are having sex, are they trying to short circuit the natural process by preventing pregnancy? Is THAT biblical? That brings up the whole birth control issue, which is equally difficult to claim that one side or the other is correct.

  38. Ben says:

    Mitt Romney got slammed for visiting a University and telling the graduates to not hold back on getting married and having kids. It made a lot of people angry. It’s really sad. I wish our President’s today still did talk like this.

  39. There may be merit in the quote, but I doubt the philosophical foundation of the man who said it. Teddy Roosevelt was a socialist and a statist. Here are some resources:

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/woods/woods79.html

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo/dilorenzo106.html

  40. Adam says:

    dgsinclair,

    But in your example, perhaps the couple should not have married in the first place (per Paul’s instruction) – OR should have married and had children.

    What passage in Paul are you referring to? I can’t imagine Paul forbidding marriage, as he said that such teaching was wrong. And, again, do you think it would be wise to get home at 9:00PM when you have children?

    In the past, before birth control, if you married and had sex (as in any healthy biblical marriage), you had children.

    Actually, as far as we can tell, birth control is older than the Bible itself. Birth control can be found as early as ancient Egypt.

    Being married and not having children violates another ‘principle of scripture’ – that of sowing and reaping. If they are having sex, are they trying to short circuit the natural process by preventing pregnancy? Is THAT biblical?

    Simple. Natural processes are not the ultimate authority in ethics. Scripture is. Again, this notion of natural processes in ethics is not Christian; it is Stoic through and through. Furthermore, the concept of sowing and reaping is in the context of our moral behavior. We will reap the consequences of our evil actions or the benefits of our good actions. The only other context I can find this used in is the context of giving-if you give more, you will receive more. As far as I know, this principle is never applied to “natural processes.”

    Also, there are a number of cases where we would not engage in such reasoning, such as the death of a human being. While a human being is dying, certain processes will begin as the body prepares for death. Does that mean that we don’t save the person if we can, because we can’t violate these natural processes? There are things more important to scripture than “natural processes.” For example, God values life, and whether natural processes have started or not, we should be more concerned about life.

    I have to ask, what about God’s call to liminality in Proverbs 25? Shouldn’t that be more important than “natural processes?”

  41. Adam says:

    Ben,

    Mitt Romney got slammed for visiting a University and telling the graduates to not hold back on getting married and having kids. It made a lot of people angry. It’s really sad. I wish our President’s today still did talk like this.

    Ben, it would make me angry too, and the reason is that it paints with too broad a brush. Yes, there are some people who are well suited to that area of service, and generally get married quickly, and have children quickly. However, for some people, they may end up being called to that area of service later, and for some people, not at all. It all depends on God’s will, and where he wants to set people up to serve. Does God have a right to do this, or do we demand that he do it our way: young marriage and many children. Worse than that, do we demand these things and abuse his word in order to get them, breaking the ninth commandment against God himself all for cultural expediency? Breaking the ninth commandment against God is way too high a price to pay for me. Adding these commandments to scripture may solve our cultural problems, but God will not hold us guiltless for mishandling his word.

  42. JohnM says:

    Adam,

    I mostly agree with you here, but have a few questions with regard to “natural processes” Do they not after all exist? Do they have no bearing at all on ethics? Do we really have to look to the Stoics before we suppose they do?

    Again, I agree with the overall thrust of your argument. But those are questions that occurred to me.

  43. dgsinclair says:

    >> ADAM: What passage in Paul are you referring to? I can’t imagine Paul forbidding marriage, as he said that such teaching was wrong. And, again, do you think it would be wise to get home at 9:00PM when you have children?

    1 Cor. 7:8-9
    But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

    Paul does not forbid marriage, but for those who are ministry minded, he *recommends* that they remain single unless they MUST have sex. In that case, he recommends marriage. Those who are so concerned about ministry that they don’t have time for children really don’t have time for marriage either, because marriage typically involves children unless you use some sort of artificial birth control, which in itself has spiritual implications.

    The idea that children and marriage are somehow separate endeavors is a modern, and I would suggest, ungodly construct, which comes from the acceptance of the even worse separation of sex and marriage. You want to marry? You better want children.

    Now, I’m not against birth control per se, at least not natural birth control. However, only to limit family size, not to prevent children, as I discussed in The Christian duty to bear children.

    Regarding getting home late, just having a job these days involves reducing time with children, and I agree with many who have complained that the two income family has removed parents from the home, and that the industrial revolution started the problem by removing the father from the home. My wife stays home, but we’ve made sacrifices to make that happen, and I wish I had more time at home.

    As a full time IT worker and part time student and associate pastor, I often have to choose to spend more time with the kids instead of acing my homework or my sermon. It’s a tough battle, but spending time w/ your kids is a priority over ministry if you have kids, imo. I chose marriage, so I chose kids. I wish I could minister more, but to some extent, my KIDS are my primary ministry, my disciples, and my flock, while they are young esp.

  44. dgsinclair says:

    >> ADAM: As far as I know, this principle is never applied to “natural processes.”

    I agree that sowing and reaping is mainly discussed in spiritual/moral terms (like Gal. 6:8), but there is something sacred about procreation, and thinking we can sow our seeds and not reap, or interrupt that process chemically without consequence is naive, both physically and spiritually, imo.

    >> ADAM: Actually, as far as we can tell, birth control is older than the Bible itself. Birth control can be found as early as ancient Egypt.

    Yes, but modern birth control is much more available, effective, and ‘safe.’ This has accompanied the moral shift that has separated both children and sex from marriage, which I see as part of a shift FROM Biblical thinking, and Christians who entertain childless marriages for convenience OR ministry, I think are deceived by a worldly mindset, not a Godly one. Want to focus on ministry without children? I think Paul recommends foregoing marriage instead of merely foregoing children.

    At the very least, I think people can exercise their own conscience about it, but I don’t think they have the biblical or moral high ground.

  45. Adam Hawkins says:

    So we are using a quote from Teddy Roosevelt for the proposition that the Bible requires believers to have children if they are able. I am confused.

  46. Adam says:

    JohnM,

    I mostly agree with you here, but have a few questions with regard to “natural processes” Do they not after all exist? Do they have no bearing at all on ethics? Do we really have to look to the Stoics before we suppose they do?

    Again, I agree with the overall thrust of your argument. But those are questions that occurred to me.

    I think the answer is that we must understand the natural realm through the lens of scripture. Yes, we must interpret what happens in the natural realm, but our ethics must always be based in understanding that realm through the lens of scripture alone. Even creation itself must be understood through the lens of scripture. The main difference is that the natural realm is understood and interpreted ethically through the lens of scripture, and we do not make ethical inferences from natural processes in and of themselves.

  47. Adam says:

    dgsinclair,

    The idea that children and marriage are somehow separate endeavors is a modern, and I would suggest, ungodly construct, which comes from the acceptance of the even worse separation of sex and marriage. You want to marry? You better want children.

    Now, I’m not against birth control per se, at least not natural birth control. However, only to limit family size, not to prevent children, as I discussed in The Christian duty to bear children.

    And this is the crux of the issue. To address your link, we have already dealt with that misuse of Genesis 1:28, and, of course, the other text, Psalm 127, is also being misused. The problem is, the text already says why children are a blessing:

    Psalm 127:5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate.

    What kind of battles involved speaking with enemies at the gates in the ancient near east? Legal battles. Basically, the text says that children are a blessing in legals battles, because they can vouch for the character of a man. However, you can’t read this Psalm in isolation from Psalm 128:

    Psalm 128:1-6 How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, Who walks in His ways. 2 When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, You will be happy and it will be well with you. 3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine Within your house, Your children like olive plants Around your table. 4 Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed Who fears the LORD. 5 The LORD bless you from Zion, And may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. 6 Indeed, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!

    Notice, if you have children, you will have someone to vouch for your character. However, notice the benefits that God can give to those who fear Yhwh:

    Your work may satisfy you.
    You may be happy and well.
    You may have children.
    His people may prosper.
    You may have long life.

    These benefits outweigh the mere blessing of having children. The writer of these Psalms basically invites us to ask the question: Which is a greater blessing: Children or the fear of Yhwh? Given the way the author constructs these Psalms, the fear of Yhwh is the greater blessing. In other words, this text is actually *downplaying* the blessing of children in contrast to the fear of Yhwh.

    Again, when I go and do exegesis, I find that the text does not teach these things. When I go and read critical commentaries, I find that it doesn’t teach these things. When I find these arguments addressed, critical commentaries, both evangelical and liberal, reject them entirely. It is simply not a position that is based on scripture. The problem is that your position that sexual relations and children cannot be separated is simply something that cannot be derived from the exegesis of scripture. It must be forced onto scripture, and read back in.

    So, if I as a Christian believe that scripture is sufficient to give us Christian morality, I have to reject that statement.

    Regarding getting home late, just having a job these days involves reducing time with children, and I agree with many who have complained that the two income family has removed parents from the home, and that the industrial revolution started the problem by removing the father from the home. My wife stays home, but we’ve made sacrifices to make that happen, and I wish I had more time at home.

    Again, I am sensing that there is more here than simply scripture. Yes, if you already have children, then it is a duty to take care of them. However, we are not talking about that. We are talking about a couple that does not have children. All I am hearing is philosophies such as stoicism, anti-industrialism, and all kinds of things, but I am merely hearing Bible verses thrown out their, and their meanings assumed. It sounds to me like we have underlying philosophies that are controlling your ethics on this issue, and not the text of scripture.

    As a full time IT worker and part time student and associate pastor, I often have to choose to spend more time with the kids instead of acing my homework or my sermon. It’s a tough battle, but spending time w/ your kids is a priority over ministry if you have kids, imo. I chose marriage, so I chose kids. I wish I could minister more, but to some extent, my KIDS are my primary ministry, my disciples, and my flock, while they are young esp.

    And, of course, the real issue is whether the Bible teaches that, if you have marriage, you have children. Again, scripture teaches no such thing. If we don’t assume that connection, as scripture doesn’t, then there is no problem. It is only when this is imposed back on the text of scripture that this becomes a problem.

    I agree that sowing and reaping is mainly discussed in spiritual/moral terms (like Gal. 6:8), but there is something sacred about procreation, and thinking we can sow our seeds and not reap, or interrupt that process chemically without consequence is naive, both physically and spiritually, imo.

    Again, the notion of natural processes as sacred is simply not Christian. Again, is it wrong to stop natural processes that will eventually lead to the death of a person? Natural processes, as I said to JohnM, need to be understood against the nature and character of God as expressed in scripture, and not assumed that they, in and of themselves, are sacred.

    Yes, but modern birth control is much more available, effective, and ‘safe.’ This has accompanied the moral shift that has separated both children and sex from marriage, which I see as part of a shift FROM Biblical thinking, and Christians who entertain childless marriages for convenience OR ministry, I think are deceived by a worldly mindset, not a Godly one.

    First, it is amazing to me to see the way in which scripture is misused on this issue, I call you and others on it, and then you say that my position is a shift *from* Biblical thinking!!!! I am left scratching my head at that statement. Biblical thinking involves allowing the Bible to speak for itself. When I have to see passages of scripture misused in order to get this position, and when I see competent exegetes continually rejecting these arguments, it is amazing to me to read that statement. Biblical thinking involves going back, and testing your interpretations on the basis of the Biblical text. That is simply not being done on this issue. It is a mess of counterculturalism, stoic thought, and anti-industrialism that knows no place in the text of scripture.

    At the very least, I think people can exercise their own conscience about it, but I don’t think they have the biblical or moral high ground.

    And yet, amazingly, you haven’t engaged the exegesis I have offered of these text. This discussion has proved to me more and more that I *do* have the Biblical high ground. No one reading the text of scripture would ever get the notion that you can’t divorce marriage from children. It is exegetically indefensible. And, if I have the Biblical high ground, then, obviously, if I base my ethics on the Bible, I have the *moral* high ground as well.

    Again, I find it odd that your position would result in Paul forbidding marriage to those who would not have time for children in ministry. You don’t think that is somehow inconsistent with Paul’s statement that those who forbid marriage are evil? And, what should that tell you about your position that you cannot separate marriage from having children? However, if Paul didn’t hold that view, and you are simply reading it back into Paul, then it makes Paul perfectly consistent with himself. If you have to force Paul against himself, then what does that say about the consistency of your position?

  48. dgsinclair says:

    >> ADAM: So, if I as a Christian believe that scripture is sufficient to give us Christian morality, I have to reject that statement.

    Even if I bought your narrow exegesis of these passages, they don’t erase the real issue – if you don’t want children, esp. for the sake of ministry, you should, as I would interpret Paul, forego marriage entirely, because to have sex and prevent children is part of the spirit of the world that wants the pleasures and privileges of marriage without the commitment, and certainly without the children. No time for kids? No time for marriage? Time for marriage? Make time for kids, the fruit of love.

    Or, attempt to violate nature avoid reaping. It’s not an ironclad argument, but I think it’s more scriptural than trying to support the idea of birth control.

    >> ADAM: Again, I am sensing that there is more here than simply scripture. Yes, if you already have children, then it is a duty to take care of them.

    Yes, but I am denying the argument that someone should not have children because ministry will keep them out at night. Perhaps I should argue that I should not work a job because I want to be with my kids! Seriously, even ministry must be done with balance, and to use it as an excuse to not have children doesn’t sound that noble to me. As I said, if you are so noble, be celibate and unmarried. I don’t think this ‘married with no children for the Lord’ idea is really justifiable, it seems more like false piety.

    >> ADAM: Natural processes, as I said to JohnM, need to be understood against the nature and character of God as expressed in scripture, and not assumed that they, in and of themselves, are sacred.

    Of course, but are you denying that intercourse and childbearing and rearing are not sacred trusts in scripture? Are you saying that just because they are natural that they are NOT sacred? Must I develop a thesis for you to believe that?

    >> ADAM: First, it is amazing to me to see the way in which scripture is misused on this issue….

    Yes, well, you spent an entire paragraph moaning that point, but failed to make any scriptural argument to my statement. So, um, did I miss where you justified childless marriages for ministry’s sake from scripture?

    >> ADAM: You don’t think that is somehow inconsistent with Paul’s statement that those who forbid marriage are evil?

    I didn’t mean to say that Paul forbids marriage, only that he recommends that those who don’t want to spend time on family because they want to do ministry unhindered should remain single. But if they can not, they should marry, and the typical expectation of those in a scriptural marriage is to have sex, and guess where babies come from? Paul certainly would have expected that outcome. Where in scripture do you see this recommendation for childless marriage, when everywhere else, I see the blessings of children mentioned (and I don’t buy your ‘it was only for legal reasons’ that children were a blessing interpretation).

    Add to that the growing theological resistance to birth control among evangelicals, who I think are on to something which the Catholics perhaps have been correct about for a long time. If you want to understand that argument and the biblical reasoning behind it, you can of course find it and evaluate it.

    I also want to reiterate that separating sex and children from marriage is, imo, part of the spirit of the world, and not from God, and to see church people not having children for the ‘sake of ministry’ (as if children aren’t to some extent the greatest ministry of all) seems like they are justifying their rightful need for sex, and their selfish need for accomplishment and meaning by avoiding the natural outcome of sex in marriage. I think it is largely a foolish perspective.

    And I say that as one who struggles with NOT being able to do more ministry bc I have children. But I chose marriage and ALL that comes with it, which perhaps itself was selfish compared to being single for ministry. But I would never preach childless marriages as a Christian virtue.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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