I'm a Terrible "Steward."
Earlier this week, I encountered the same video in a couple of different spaces. This is pretty normal, considering I follow a lot of blogs that tend to discuss the same material, but this particular video irked me so much that I felt the need to add a bit to the echo chamber and blog about it.
The video (which you can watch on Vimeo here) is a trailer for the upcoming film “Blessings Missed.” The film evidently started as a project at the Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp, and has been fleshed out to a full-fledged feature (the site refers to it as a documentary; I refuse to extend it that courtesy).
I recognize that I am not necessarily qualified to discuss production value, so I will leave that question to the pros. What I am qualified to comment on is the theology.
There’s a lot to be disturbed about here, but what I want to focus on is the harmful theology in the idea that “being obedient to God” means having children. Or that children are a natural consequence of obedience.
That is not a blessing.
It’s as simple as this: If you are having children to fulfill a spiritual duty, to call it a “blessing” – which is defined as an extraneous, undeserved, GIFT – is wrong. The theology here slides from one idea to the next, never realizing how contradictory the two concepts actually are. Either children are a natural result of obedience and those who do not have children are disobeying God in some form (which veers into dangerous territory almost immediately, especially when you consider the problems of infertility and miscarriage). OR, children are a gift – ie, something with no strings attached – from God, end of story.
Note: Paul speaks of making sure that we do stuff with our blessings and in that sense there are strings attached, but there is no “do this in obedience to God and you’ll get this particular blessing” thing. Indeed, much of the New Testament seems to be saying the opposite - "the rain falls on the righteous and the wicked" - and it seems that a large part of the Bible is trying to get us out of the mindset that God rewards good people and punishes bad.
Mindset check: A blessing that comes with strings attached or that must be earned is not a gift or a blessing. It is the natural result of a certain set of behaviors. When I was a kid, I received a weekly allowance of $2.50, but I only got this allowance if I did my chores throughout the week. This allowance was a natural consequence that extended out of my obedience.
A gift would have been if my parents handed me $10 at the end of the month, regardless of behavior, and said, “Go nuts.”
So which is it, Family Stewards? Are children a natural consequence of a behavior in relation to God? Or are they a gift we did not necessarily ask for?
There is also the assumption here that children are a blessing in every situation, as sort of a “one-size fits all” theology. For the just-graduated newly married couple starting on their careers, children may not be such a happy occasion, but instead a financial burden. I know several couples who became pregnant within months of getting married and are struggling to keep their heads above water financially.
Maybe it’s because my parents waited until they were 32 to start having kids – 12 years into their marriage. Maybe it’s because I know people who are devoted followers of Christ who will never be able to have biological children. Maybe it’s because I know there are half a million children in foster care waiting to be adopted into a loving family, in the United States alone.
But there is just something wrong about saying that Christians *must* have children in their early 20s in order to show obedience to God. When we turn something from a privilege - because it IS a privilege to be able to produce biological children and provide for them - into a theological mandate, as this film implies, we cross a line.
Am I not obedient to God because I am 25 and unmarried? Are my friends who would make wonderful mothers but have been having trouble getting pregnant somehow not being obedient to God? Is my friend who would love to have children but who has not due to life circumstances beyond her control…is she not obedient to God?
Was Paul not obedient to God? He never married and had kids.
Was Mary (of Mary and Martha) not obedient to God? To my knowledge, they didn't have kids either.
Were Esther, Timothy, the disciples – many of whom never married or had children – obedient?
We tread on dangerous ground when we start making assumptions about other people’s obedience or lack thereof based on a 20th century definition of family and the American dream.
It is insensitive. It is hurtful. And it is wrong.