December 2006. I had just walked down the aisle and took my seat among the other graduates at my small, Christian university. The charge to us graduates was given that day by a man from Uganda who spoke on numerous things, but, among the talk about AIDS in Africa and the importance of marriage, our Ugandan friend said (something to the effect of), “Christians should have more babies in order to combat Muslims who continue to have them.” At the time, engaged to my beautiful wife, I wasn’t all that opposed to having sex often. But the charge sat with me: the best way to spread the faith was to have babies and pass on the faith to those children.
Years later, I sat in chapel at the same Christian university as an Ethiopian missionary charged those there to spread the gospel to all parts of the world. As he began to show the growth of global Christianity by the numbers, the thought dawned on me: Christianity isn’t growing because people are having babies. It’s growing through the word and deed of Christians across the continents.
Stanley Hauerwas has said in more than one place: “Christianity doesn’t grow by birth. It grows by conversion.”
I feel some obligation as a Christian parent to pass on my faith to the next generation. I also feel some obligation to have children so “the world can be a better place.” I now have two wonderful children, and the elapsed time after our second child has brought questions of a third. Regardless of if we have a third or not, our house has not become the baby-factory our Uganda friend desired.
I might feel an obligation to pass on the faith to my children, but, as Christians, our children are God’s children living among us; often found in the poor, hurting, orphaned, and even widowed. Like Mother Teresa who offered to take in unwanted children, we too take in the unwanted and make them our children.
I might feel an obligation to make the world a better place (although I’m not sure I can do that through my children because they’re my children and will likely make the same mistakes I did). However, I can share Christ’s grace and forgiveness to those around me to bring others into the Church. And we can work together to not make the world a better place but (in the words of Hauerwas) make the world the world.
The problem with thinking Christianity will grow through birth is that it makes an idol of the family and also ignores the blessing of singleness (as Paul seems to see it). However, if Christianity grows by conversion, we, Christians, are all responsible to breed more Christians.
How are you doing at breeding Christians?
What does your church place more of an emphasis on: the nuclear family or discipleship?