The recent miscarriage experienced by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar is making a great deal of news headlines these days, as are thoughts about whether or not it was appropriate for photos of the child to have been taken by the family or for some of those photos to have become public (perhaps inadvertently) through social media. (It should be said that this was done by a nonprofit organization that specializes in such photos for grieving families and that they were used in a family ceremony to commemorate the baby’s life–context is important!)
I actually don’t want to speak to the photo “controversy” and simply add my words to the cacophony. They are a family in the public eye, and when private tragedy happens to such public individuals and families, the results are often awkward. I sympathize with the Duggars and I hope that they are able to find comfort in the days ahead.
I would rather use the opportunity to address something I have seen here and there that does bother me, and that is the growing attitude of many–in the media, as well–that large families are somehow, in and of themselves, wrong or that the desire to have a large family is somehow immoral. Our family isn’t even that large (the two of us and four boys), and yet we’ve experienced a bit of that attitude, ourselves. What’s wrong with a large family? If children are a blessing and we’re able to have them, then why is that somehow unethical? When did “big family” become a pair of dirty words?
Before I get to my thoughts on that, let me add some qualifying comments.
For one, I know that there are families out there who actually use a growing family as an opportunity to capitalize on public welfare. There are, as well, related but (IMHO) less-offensive-but-still-very-wrong cases where couples continue actively pursuing making their families larger and larger despite the fact that they know that they do not have the means to support their family as is and despite the fact that they expect the government (which means, of course, taxpayers) to support their family. Yes, I believe this is wrong and, frankly, immoral. (Note: I’m not speaking of a large family that has fallen temporarily on hard times, but, rather, a couple that is deliberately continuing to make their family larger and larger despite knowing that they cannot support the children they have already.) If a man can’t support a larger family, he should not create a larger family. (cf. 1 Tim. 5:8).
Also, I know that there are so-called Christian movements out there (e.g., some “Quiverfull” folks) who believe that it is a sin to plan your family in any way and that any sort of contraception (not abortive birth control, which is wrong, but true contraception) or “natural family planning” techniques involving timing, etc. are against God’s will. While it would be beyond the scope of this post to discuss the matter in depth, let me simply say that this is not what the Bible says. The fact is that God, Himself, is carefully planning His family and not just going about it “willy nilly” (e.g., John 6:44, 1 Cor. 1:26-29), and lovingly planning a family is not the same as being anti-family. (It is a terrible shame that the satanic abortion industry has co-opted the words “family planning” and “planned parenthood” as they are actually in the business of “family destroying” and “corrupted parenthood.”) The Bible is NOT against the wise use of contraception, nor is the Church of God that teaches from that Bible.
On this point, since we’ve been talking about Herbert W. Armstrong, it might be good to point out that he was very forcefully clear on this matter, as well, and that he taught very straightforwardly: “To PLAN a family in an intelligent manner, as to the time of the first arrival, and the time-spacing of other children–this is a different matter [versus purposefully avoiding family altogether]. Nothing in the Bible forbids this. MUCH in the Bible, in principle, supports it!” (The Missing Dimension in Sex, p.232). He then recommends to married couples some secular books on contraception and birth control (p.233) that could satisfy their need for contraceptive information to help plan their families. As he says (back on p.232), failing to apply principles of what he called “planned parenthood” (not the evil, pro-abortion “Planned Parenthood” but the principle of actively planning your family) actually meant missing out on an element of God’s “supreme purpose of character building.” Mr. Armstrong was right about this then, and he’s still right, today.
And–one more point–it is true that some can make an idol of “family” and an idol of “procreation.” They worship the idea of family instead of the God who created the family. That, too, is wrong.
From what I understand of them, I do not agree with the Duggars concerning their beliefs about what it means to “trust God” concerning the having children. Trusting God with such things does not entail adopting such attitudes about family planning any more than trusting God with your family’s protection means that you have to leave the doors to your house unlocked and open while you sleep–or any more than trusting God with providing for your family means that you don’t try to do your best at your job or career and be the best provider you can be.
However, much of the criticism they seem to receive comes more from those who seem absolutely against big families. Yes, some of the criticism comes from those who aren’t against big families, per se, but against certain choices they’ve made concerning their family (are they exploiting their children on television, etc.) — I understand that, and I’m not addressing that. I don’t watch them on TV enough to speak intelligibly on that. And, yes, some may criticize whether or not families of that size are wise or may question if they are really doing right by their kids — I understand that, too, and I’m not addressing that. If you decide to allow your family choices to be the centerpiece of a television series, you open yourself up for those sorts of discussions. And they can be good discussions.
But then there are those critics who seem to be against the idea of big families, at all, where “big” in their minds, varies but isn’t necessarily truly “big” at all. If a husband can truly support a large family, and his wife’s health is not unreasonably at risk, and they are able to give those children the love they owe them, then what’s wrong with a large family?
It seems such criticism is grounded in a few different things. Some feel that it is an additional burden on the earth’s resources–global warming, overpopulation and all that–that is immoral to allow at this stage in human history. Others seem to be offended at the need such a large family has for customary, biblical husband/father & wife/mother roles–outdated, oppressive, yadda, yadda, yadda, and all that rot. Still others seem affronted by the focus such families generate on traditional family structure versus, say, homosexual “marriage”, etc.
Each of those criticisms is misplaced. As for the environment, a rightly raised generation can do wonders for the world. The burden of proof would be on those who so loosely
connect large families with environmental degradation, and I don’t know that this would be the easiest argument to make (see entry on “China”)–nor that it would even be relevant if it could be made. God is the source of moral law, and it would be in the laws of God that the case for “immorality” would have to be made. As for traditional roles for parents and the traditional family structure, well God is for both. Those with issues about such things are invited to take it up with Him. 🙂
(I’ll add that my wife makes a good observation at this point. Though we disagree with them on what God expects of a husband and wife with regard to family planning, my wife believes that some of the criticism they receive comes fro those who believe that God has no place in telling you what to do with your family at all. I think she’s right about that.)
No, there are those who would turn their nose up at a large family whether they were on television or not. Seeing them at the mall or grocery store would be just as offensive as seeing them on TV. And that’s a shame.
If the husband and wife can truly love them, if their health is up to the task, and they can actually, physically support them, what’s wrong with having a large family? Nothing that I can see. And aside from all the legitimate and helpful discussion that a public family like the Duggars’ might generate, there is an element that derides them purely for the fact that they believe that children are a blessing, that big families can be a wonder thing, and/or that religious beliefs should actively guide our decisions regardless of convenience. Having a large family definitely means that one will have to give up focusing on yourself and your own wants and desires and sacrifice for the sake of others. And, frankly, that goes against the “Religion of Me” that so saturates this world.
I do hope that the Duggars grow in their understanding of God’s true desires and purposes. (I know a television program I could recommend they watch!) I do hope that they are able to see that trusting God with your family does not mean abdicating responsibility for planning that family. I do hope that they are able to see that just because children are a blessing and a heritage from the Lord (and they are: Psalm 127:3), that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a role in prudently planning the timing and spacing of such blessings, any more than the fact that a prudent wife’s being a blessing and gift from God (and she is: Proverbs 19:14) means that we should “get one” as soon as possible whether we’re ready or not (nor does it mean that we should try to obtain as many wives as possible 🙂 ). Blessings such as these are also stewardships–something I am sure they understand but something I believe they could understand more fully.
But when it comes to those who seem to look at their family in disgust simply for the fact that they are a large family, I’m on their side. It’s true that when it’s done wrong it can be a disaster. But when it’s done right, a big family can be a very beautiful thing, indeed, and something to be celebrated.