A Southern Baptist leader previously on record as saying it is a sin for married couples not to have children has added a new rationale--demographics.
In a Nov. 27 Chicago Tribune story about married couples choosing to remain childless, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he sees such a decision as violating God's will.
"I am trying to look at this from a perspective that begins with God's creation," Mohler said. "God's purpose in creation is being trumped by modern practices."
"I would argue that it [not having children] ought to be falling short of the glory of God. Deliberate childlessness defies God's will," he said.
Instead of being worried about overpopulation, as many of the deliberately childless couples say they are, Mohler said he is more concerned about under-population.
"We are barely replenishing ourselves," he said. "That is going to cause huge social problems in the future." The reporter described the reference to "demographic shifts that might occur."
The U.S. population is growing, according to the Census Bureau, from about 280 million in 2000, to a projected 310 million in 2010, to a little under 400 million by 2040. But growth rates are much higher among blacks, Asians, Hispanics and other races than whites, prompting some to question whether Mohler's "full-quiver" theology is in part an appeal to racial politics.
Whether or not he realizes it, Baptist ethicist Miguel De La Torre says in a column for EthicsDaily.com, Mohler's argument is "a race-based warning" that uses "white-supremacy code language advocating for the increase of white babies."
"It is a call for white fecundity [fruitfulness]," says De La Torre, a Cuban-born theologian who attended Southern Seminary and now teaches at Illiff School of Theology in Denver, "lest America becomes overrun with 'colored' children, which would only lead, as Mohler puts it, to 'huge social problems in the future.'"
Another Latino, Baptist University of the Americas President Albert Reyes, said he agreed with Mohler that, "Having a family and being in a family is a centerpiece in Hispanic culture."
But Reyes said he differs with Mohler, in that he believes the Bible recognizes "a variety of family expressions including singleness, celibacy and heterosexual monogamy with or without procreation."
Reyes recently completed a term as president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. His successor in the office is Michael Bell, pastor of Greater St. Stephen Baptist Church in Fort Worth, the first African-American in history to lead the state convention.
A Vietnamese pastor, John Nguyen, delivered the convention sermon at this year's Texas meeting, another first, signaling an effort by state Baptist leaders to diversify its leadership.
About 12 percent of the convention's 2.5 million members are black. Of the group's 5,700 churches, 1,200 are Hispanic and 800 African-American.
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, officials are aiming to increase minority representation on the convention's executive board from 15 percent to 30 percent and hope Bell can help them do so.
Mohler first broached the childless-by-choice subject in a 2003 article, "Deliberate Childlessness: Moral Rebellion With a New Face."
After a 2005 reprint sparked reaction, Mohler returned to the issue in August, saying he is now "even more convinced that deliberate childlessness represents a serious moral issue and that many Christians are deeply confused about the topic."
"Though overpopulation may be a significant issue in some nations, the statistics indicate that underpopulation is likely to be a worldwide phenomenon with ominous repercussions," Mohler wrote in his Web log Aug. 15. "The tragic reality is that citizens of Europe and North America are now failing even to replace themselves in terms of children. We will soon face the phenomenon of an aging population with fewer young people to drive the economy and to support the entire social structure."
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said Mohler's reference to "we" and "ourselves" in the Tribune story is a "pronoun problem," but Mohler's argument also ignores that global overpopulation and excessive consumption already strain the world's environmental resources.
"One can hardly take literally the biblical mandate in Genesis to 'Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth,'" Parham said. "That mandate is surely being rapidly fulfilled."
Begun in 1845 to defend the right of Christians to hold slaves, the Southern Baptist Convention has sought to repair its poor image on race, which persisted through the civil rights movement, with vestiges lingering into the 1980s, when a member of the denomination's Christian Life Commission labeled Martin Luther King a fraud.
In 1995, at the convention's 150th anniversary, the SBC passed a resolution apologizing for condoning and perpetuating past racism, apologizing to African-Americans and committing to "eradicate racism in all forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry."
The Black Southern Baptist Denominational Network in 2004 presented Mohler with its highest honor, the Dr. Emmanuel L. McCall Denominational Servant Award for intercultural ministry.
McCall, a pioneer in efforts to bring African-Americans into Southern Baptist life, is now moderator-elect of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. McCall declined to comment for this article.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.