–by Pastor Mike Middaugh
In Western Europe, Japan, and Russia, the birthrate has fallen dramatically, to below replacement levels. There are a number of reasons for this, including a desire to stay childless longer to focus on education and career. Another reason may be, as sociologists have noted, that secularism fosters individualism. In secular cultures, people tend not to see the value of sacrificing self (in the form of finances or time) for the sake of marriage and/or children. A different argument places the emphasis on hope, or lack thereof. In some European countries, men and women of childbearing age may not see much hope for future generations. They feel economic challenges in the wake of recessions, they know the pain and suffering that is present in all places around the world, and there are fears of even greater disasters, both economic, and technological, that are possible.
For many years, the United States remained unique among developed countries as the birthrate remained more stable, but would you be surprised to learn that since 2007 it has taken a sharp turn in the opposite direction? As several studies and reports note (here and here), as of 2012 the U.S. fertility rate has fallen to 63.0 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. While this number has been slowly declining since the post-war, baby-boom era, in 2007, when our recession started, the rate began to fall much more dramatically, especially among immigrant families. 2007 was also a notable year because that was the last time the U.S. birthrate was at replacement levels, or 2.1 babies per woman. Today it stands as 1.88.
Before saying and anything else, I want to note that this is a very complex issue. It is not fair to characterize it in any one direction. Another possible reason for the drop in birthrate can be linked to a much better, and more ethical lifestyle for women in many countries. Women, who are now waiting longer for kids, because they can get the same education and jobs as men. It also should be noted that the infertility rate may be rising. There are many women in our own country and others, who desperately want kids, but are not able to have their own. There are also those couples who choose not to have kids for a variety of reasons, and those who stay single. As noted in this past Sunday’s sermon, being single is a noble position in and of itself, something that was elevated by Jesus and Paul as allowing an individual to give great service for the Kingdom of God.
But what I do want to do is express our belief that families and kids are still a great blessing today. Throughout the Old Testament it was very clear that descendants are the lasting symbol of God’s generosity to a family. Able to carry on the family name, and the families’ relationship with the Creator God, children were considered one of the greatest gifts God could give.
Today, bringing children into the world can also be a sign of the unique world view we hold as Christians – we know that our hope rests solely on the sacrificial, generous work of Jesus as he lived among us and went to the cross. Parents, who are also sacrificial and loving towards their kids, and who are willing to give up their own independence for the sake of the future, symbolize and embody what Christ did for us.
Families are also one of the greatest means for changing the world around us. They provide a stable place for kids to learn, be cared for, and be equipped for life as part of something bigger than just themselves.
Ultimately we must acknowledge that our hope is not in marriages or families, having kids or not have kids, but our hope rests in a God who provides and who knows our hearts. We can have hope for the future in spite of rocky economics, rumors of war, or any other challenge because of a God who says he will care for this world until our Lord returns.