The Nashville Statement, Procreation, and the Purpose of Marriage

Friends, I hesitated to write this, but I believe what I have to say needs to be said. Please know that the criticisms in this article are not aimed at every person associated with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood or all the signers of the Nashville Statement. More to the point, I consider the signers to be my brothers and sisters in Christ, I love them, and I welcome a respectful dialogue between us.

Two days ago, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released the Nashville Statement, a document composed “in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture”. It presents a series of affirmations and denials that touch on such issues as marriage, gender roles, homosexuality, and transgenderism. Having reviewed this document, I would say that those final two issues seem to be creating most of the concern on the part of the authors. Consider this portion of the preamble.

We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.

It seems like every day we hear news reports about children sent to the principal’s office for failing to call a classmate by his or her desired gender pronoun, bathroom laws being changed and then changed again, Christian leaders vacillating on the issue of gay marriage, or liberal politicians labeling traditional Christian teachings as hateful bigotry. That is the era in which we live, and it has come at us at a dizzying pace. There is an urgent need for the church to declare the truths of biblical orthodoxy regarding human sexuality. We cannot possibly expect the world to obey God’s commands when it has forsaken the God who gave them, but we must nevertheless refuse to live as the world lives and believe the lies that they believe. If we forsake the Word of God, we forsake God Himself.

Therefore, I should begin by saying that I broadly agree with the content of the Nashville Statement. I am not even opposed to the concept of an ecumenical group of Christian leaders getting together to draft a new confessional document. I am by no means suggesting that we forsake our historic confessions, which are of utmost importance. Nevertheless, every confession was new at some point in history, and every generation of Christians has been forced to rise to new challenges. The Westminster Assembly of 1643-1653 did not address the issue of transgenderism, for it simply wasn’t a real issue at that time. Science had not advanced to the point where one could safely undergo gender reassignment surgery. We live in a different age, and it is vital that we address the challenges of that age.

The question is, has the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (hereafter CBMW) gone about this the right way? Indeed, are they even the best organization to be putting out such a statement? That may seem like an odd question to ask, given that manhood and womanhood are in their very name, but given some of the things this organization has promoted over the years, it is a question that we must ask. Several prominent Christian voices have already been raised in response to the Nashville Statement. They have pointed out the fact that it discusses God-designed gender roles but is ambiguous as to what those include. This has raised suspicions in the minds of some. They have also noted that some of the initial signatories have taught a doctrine of the Trinity that is not in line with the traditional Reformed confessions or even the Nicene Creed. (Here I refer to the doctrine known as the Eternal Subordination of the Son.) I am sure that other authors will develop these issues in greater depth, but I am choosing today to focus on something that might be missed by others who are not as sensitive to the pain it can cause.

Article 1 of the Nashville Statement says the following: “We affirm that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.” The one word here that hit me like a ton of bricks was procreative. What message was CBMW attempting to send by including this term?

On the most basic level, they could simply be saying that human procreation is only supposed to occur within marriage. That is a perfectly biblical teaching. However, I think the authors had other things on their mind here. If we are talking what is only allowed in marriage, then it would have been sufficient to say that the marital union is sexual. They have gone further by saying that it is both sexual and procreational. Why?

I can think of three possible reasons. 1) They are attempting to argue that same-sex marriage is invalid because it cannot be procreative. 2) They are attempting to say that the sole or primary purpose of sex in marriage is procreation. 3) They are attempting to say that marriages should never be deliberately childless.

I could see the people associated with CBMW making any of those arguments. The first is definitely within their wheelhouse. The second is more in line with traditional Catholic teaching, but as we will see, evangelical Protestants have an odd degree of crossover with that branch of Christianity. The third has been a popular line of reasoning for some of those associated with CBMW, most particularly Albert Mohler.

I do not deny that marriages between two people of the same sex cannot be truly procreative. That is just a biological fact. I nevertheless find it to be a poor argument in this day and age. The broader culture no longer accepts that such relationships are unnatural or harmful to society because of the lack of procreation. It does not even expect heterosexual marriages to be procreative. Therefore, you are not going to win anyone over by making this point. Same-sex relationships are wrong because God says so repeatedly and emphatically in His Word. The only way you can get around this is by attempting to argue that we should treat the New Testament gospel like the Old Testament law, with certain aspects that were only meant for that time and place. This is not the traditional orthodox understanding of scripture, and it is not one that scripture itself leaves open to us. Let that be argument enough against the practice of same-sex marriage.

Protestants have been fighting ever since the Reformation to recover the notion of sex as a pleasurable experience within marriage rather than a necessary evil required for the continuation of humanity. I am disappointed when I see anyone ceding this ground back to the Catholics. No one denies that sex is procreative, but it is not only procreative. Read the Song of Solomon. Sex is not a necessary evil and it is not only about making babies. It is a good gift of God that is a great blessing when used correctly. Let us not forsake this biblical definition.

What of that third point? How does procreation fit in with the purpose of marriage? Are married couples required to have children? Is this the highest purpose of marriage?

A few months ago, I was privileged to have a very brief Twitter interaction with the American Conservative writer and author of The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher. He had posted a meme on Mother’s Day that portrayed flower bouquets for all different sorts of mothers, including those who had no children. The purpose was to mock the way that Mother’s Day gets applied to everyone. After a few people, including myself, expressed concern over the meme, he quickly deleted it and apologized, saying that he never intended to cause offense. He then surprised me very much by asking me individually if I, a childless woman, would expect to receive flowers for Mother’s Day, and if so, why?

I don’t need flowers on Mother’s Day, and I told him so very politely. I accepted his apology, which was given in good faith. I did, however, explain to him a perception that I often come across in evangelical circles: that marriage and motherhood are the highest good for a woman, that marriages are required to be procreative if possible, and that those who do not fit this mold are less fulfilled or of less value in the life of the church. Dreher then surprised me for the second time. He was apparently not aware that such an opinion existed. I regret that I cannot recall his exact words, but he essentially said, “Who is saying that to you? That’s evil.” I believe he actually used the word evil. He noted how the church has historically valued celibacy, and that this view of mandatory marriage and reproduction was not biblical. I assured him that such an opinion existed within the ranks of evangelicalism. (Dreher is currently in the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity and was previously a Protestant and a Catholic, though not at the same time.)

It did not shock me that Dreher, who hails from a stream of Christianity that has been more favorable toward celibacy, would not see procreation as the purpose of all human beings. I was admittedly a bit surprised that in all his visits to evangelical seminaries to tout The Benedict Option and all his interactions with conservative Christians of various stripes, he had never come across this opinion that childlessness was the opposite of godliness. After all, he gave a series of talks at Southern Seminary, which is headed by Albert Mohler.

Mohler is one of the most vocal critics of childlessness within Christian marriage. Back in 2003, he wrote an article titled “Deliberate Childlessness: Moral Rebellion With a New Face”. Here are a few excerpts. I encourage you to follow the link and read the whole thing.

Christians must recognize that this rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God’s design. The Scripture points to barrenness as a great curse and children as a divine gift…

The motto of this new movement of chosen childlessness could be encapsulated by the bumper sticker put out by the Zero Population Growth group in the 1970s: “MAKE LOVE, NOT BABIES.” This is the precise worldview the Scripture rejects. Marriage, sex, and children are part of one package. To deny any part of this wholeness is to reject God’s intention in creation–and His mandate revealed in the Bible…

The Scripture does not even envision married couples who choose not to have children. The shocking reality is that some Christians have bought into this lifestyle and claim childlessness as a legitimate option. The rise of modern contraceptives has made this technologically possible. But the fact remains that though childlessness may be made possible by the contraceptive revolution, it remains a form of rebellion against God’s design and order. Couples are not given the option of chosen childlessness in the biblical revelation. To the contrary, we are commanded to receive children with joy as God’s gifts, and to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We are to find many of our deepest joys and satisfactions in the raising of children within the context of the family. Those who reject children want to have the joys of sex and marital companionship without the responsibilities of parenthood. They rely on others to produce and sustain the generations to come.

I should make clear that Mohler does not argue that couples who are unable to have children are in any way violating God’s design. He speaks in the title of that article about deliberate childlessness, i.e. married couples who simply choose to prioritize other things over reproduction. I do not deny that there are people out there who are so selfish and care so little for their fellow human beings that they cannot be bothered with anyone else’s problems, including those of their own flesh and blood. I suspect that most of these people are not true Christians, and I have met few of them in the churches I have attended. It is more common to see people forgo parenthood because they are overwhelmed by the responsibilities they already have, are concerned what affect the introduction of children might have on their marriage, or feel that their personal calling is to something other than the societal norm. There are some individuals who really do hate children and the expenses and obligations they bring, but there are probably even more who don’t mind children but, as I said, choose to prioritize different things.

Mohler does not believe that such a thing is acceptable according to a Christian worldview. Notice how tightly he has joined the notions of marriage and reproduction. “Marriage, sex, and children are part of one package. To deny any part of this wholeness is to reject God’s intention in creation–and His mandate revealed in the Bible.” There is also a clear assumption that selfishness is the chief motivation behind deliberate childlessness. “Those who reject children want to have the joys of sex and marital companionship without the responsibilities of parenthood. They rely on others to produce and sustain the generations to come.” Never mind that many childless couples help to raise the children of others. Never mind that they may be choosing to be childless so they can devote their lives to serving those in need. Mohler’s version of Christianity does not allow altruism and childlessness to exist in the same room. They are polar opposites. This was not just something Mohler wrote about in an article one time. He stands by that opinion.

Perhaps we should ask at this point, “Is this really what the Bible teaches?” Certainly, I could pull out dozens of scripture quotations talking about the joys and blessings of parenthood. I could give you numerous commands about how parents have a duty to love their children and raise them “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4b). The following is a favorite passage of those who advocate large families.

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,

The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,

So are the children of one’s youth.

How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;

They will not be ashamed

When they speak with their enemies in the gate.

Psalm 127:3-5

Now, we must understand that in biblical times, one did not simply have children to be personally fulfilled or even to obey a divine command. Children helped with the family business. They cared for their aged parents. They inherited land and thus maintained the family honor. This was a very different society than the one we live in today. There was no pension system. Some of the Mosaic laws were aimed at helping widows, but in general you were in dire straits if you did not have sons to take care of you in your old age. Therefore, while children are still a great blessing today, they were a blessing of a different kind in biblical times: they were necessary for maintaining one’s livelihood.

Do the changes in society mean that there is a change in God’s Word? No! However, I do think our understanding of ancient Near Eastern culture can help us comprehend what these things meant to the original audience. A barren woman was not just sad because she wanted a baby. She was sad because of her societal shame and the fact that she would likely suffer in widowhood. Her husband might stop loving her if she could not provide him with heirs. Sadly, this is still true at times today, but most of us no longer view women as purely reproductive instruments. Likewise, it is unlikely that a man in 2017 would be mocked by his business partners for not having children the way that an ancient Israelite might have been afraid to meet his enemies at the gate. This is part of why the Bible doesn’t envision married couples not wanting children: because it was such an utterly undesirable fate.

I think we also need to be careful in taking something that scripture describes as a blessing and interpreting it as a command. Simply because children are a good gift does not necessarily mean that everyone is required to pursue them. Marriage is an equally good gift, and scripture makes clear that not everyone is called to that. (1 Corinthians 7) Jesus certainly commanded us to value children even as He does when He said, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16b) However, we must remember that Jesus Himself never married or had children, yet He perfectly fulfilled all the divine commands. That is particularly important to remember when we read the following passage, which is the closest thing we have to a scriptural command to have children.

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’

Genesis 1:27-28

That one phrase – “be fruitful and multiply” – serves as the strongest biblical imperative for married couples to reproduce. Anything else is either indirect or implied. This is the only time where God explicitly says, “Go and make babies.” (That’s the Mantravadi Living Translation…) From this, people infer that all married couples are required to reproduce. However, there are a few reasons to doubt this interpretation. First, the command was given not only to humans, but also to animals (Genesis 1:22). Plants were likewise described as “bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them” (v. 11). There is therefore a general fruitfulness envisioned in creation. Second, the command to be fruitful and multiply is part of a larger command to rule over the earth. Third, as the first ever man and woman, it could be argued that Adam and Eve received a command on behalf of all humanity that might not apply to every individual.

That last point is probably the most controversial, but I would encourage you to once again remember that Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled all the requirements of righteousness. He was not fruitful and multiplying in terms of physical reproduction, but He nevertheless was given dominion over the whole earth. Therefore, I think we need to be very careful before we place this command upon every married couple individually.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Sure, the command doesn’t apply to Jesus: He was single. Once you choose to get married, the command applies to you.” I don’t agree with that interpretation, but I do understand it. Perhaps I am wrong and Mohler is right. He is, after all, much more learned than I am and the president of a seminary. It does trouble me a bit to see that when people make arguments such as this, they usually appeal just as much to demographic trends and the shrinking territory of Christianity as much as anything in scripture. But even if Mohler is right and married couples are required to have children, there is still a problem lurking around the corner: we are liable to turn procreation into the purpose of marriage.

By no means do I deny that procreation is a purpose of marriage. Procreation must happen in order for our species to continue, and God has commanded that it should only occur within the marital relationship. Therefore, there is a strong link between matrimony and reproduction. However, it does not follow that procreation is the main purpose of marriage. You may be thinking, “Who is making that argument?” The answer is, “More people than you might think, even if they don’t realize it.” Take, for example, this quote from Gary Thomas, author of the popular book Sacred Marriage, in an article titled “Does God Care How Many Children We Have?”. (Again, please follow the link and read the whole essay before casting judgment.)

Jesus doesn’t deny the sacrifices parenting demands of us, but He also taught that there are more important priorities than a few extra years of being less tired, having more money in the bank, nicer cars or homes, or taking satisfaction in bigger retirement savings. God prioritizes people. People have eternal destinies. Nothing else a couple does can compare with bringing a child into the world and training that child to follow the true God. Nothing.

Did you catch what he just said? “Nothing else a couple does can compare with bringing a child into the world and training that child to follow the true God.” That statement is unequivocal: childbearing and godly childrearing are the greatest goods in marriage. To reinforce the fact that nothing else in marriage is that important, he repeats the word nothing.

Take a moment to consider the implications of that statement. It is not a very far leap from Thomas’ words to the conclusion that childbearing is the purpose of marriage, full stop. An even more natural implication would be that childless marriages cannot possibly compare with those that are fruitful and multiplying. They are missing something vital. They are not doing as much for God. While he was surely not meaning to criticize those couples who cannot have children, Thomas’ argument unavoidably diminishes those marriages as well. If “nothing” in marriage can compare with having children, then what are we saying to those who have been denied this blessing through no fault of their own?

Thomas’ article includes many of the same old “have children, grow the church” lines. Translation: the Muslims are outbreeding us! There may be some real concern about demographic developments in Europe, where the population is not being sufficiently replaced and social welfare programs are suffering as a result. However, the United States is not suffering from such a crisis yet, and in any case, that is a poor way to do theology. But let’s set all of that aside and consider whether Thomas is right about his central argument. Are childless marriages failing to fulfill the divinely ordained purpose of marriage? Will they never be as good or as godly? Are they somehow defective or less successful than marriages that are procreative? Mohler and Thomas may not have meant to raise these questions, but they seem rather natural to me.

When it comes to the real purpose of marriage, Christians have historically come up with more than one possible answer. I think the best summary might be found in the traditional wedding liturgy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It lists three purposes for which marriage was instituted by God.

First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name. Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body. Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

Notice that the Book of Common Prayer does list procreation as one of the purposes of Christian marriage. I have no wish to deny this. However, it also lists two other biblical purposes for marriage. Yes, part of the reason for marriage is to have sex. It’s right there in the liturgy. This is based upon the writings of Paul, who said “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9b). By having sex within the framework intended by God, a person may enjoy this gift without falling into sin. Would I encourage a person to get married simply so they could have sex? No, because chances are that if sex is their idol outside of marriage, it will be an idol inside of marriage, and they will still not be satisfied. There is a lot more to marriage than sex, but it is an undeniable part of the marital union and we ought not demean those who desire the good gift of God, so long as they do not make it an idol.

The liturgy also says that marriage was ordained for “the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity”. We must never lose sight of this reason for marriage! I would argue that it is the most fundamental of those three listed purposes. A couple can be incapable of having children and still have a godly marriage. Some people have medical conditions that make it impossible for them to have full sexual relations, but they too can have a godly marriage. However, if a husband and wife fail to love and support one another, providing the help and comfort described in the liturgy, I think we can certainly question whether they are acting in a godly manner. It is the true non-negotiable on this list.

Consider the very first marriage. We read, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” (Genesis 2:18) The language there involves companionship. We read the account of Eve’s creation and are told, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:24-25) That is language of complete sexual intimacy. We therefore have the second of the ordained purposes of marriage listed in the Book of Common Prayer flowing directly out of the third ordained purpose: sex is the good result of that loving companionship. It is not until later that Adam and Eve’s relationship turns into a procreative one, although that was certainly part of the purpose from the beginning.

There are some people who do not interpret these passages the same way as me. Here I will appeal to something published by CBMW. A few years ago, Joshua Crutchfield wrote an article titled “Should Christian Couples Choose a ‘Childfree’ Life?”. This was a response to a cover story in TIME. Crutchfield wrote,

When reading the creation account (Genesis 1–2), you will find that there is only one thing that is seen as ‘not good’—Adam was alone.  He was in need of a helper and so God provided him his wife, Eve.  Yet, when you look at the creation account and you see that there was something wrong with Adam’s being alone, it was because he needed a helper.  So what was Adam in need of help with?  Maintaining the garden?  Naming the animals. While Adam may have been in need of assistance in those areas, there was one area in need of much assistance—procreation.  Adam could not procreate without Eve.  God had created male and female.  He made them in His image, and He made them to subdue and fill the earth. This mandate is nowhere removed or overturned anywhere in Scripture.  God has created marriage and its main purpose is for producing families.

I would once again encourage you to read the full article before reaching a conclusion, but I think we can see in this paragraph alone that the author is working under a different assumption than me. He notes that Eve was created as a helper, but he says nothing about companionship. The area where Adam needed assistance, Crutchfield argues, was in procreation.  He concludes that the “main purpose” of marriage is for producing families, and I am forced to assume without seeing much other evidence that he feels that the woman was created simply because Adam needed someone to bear his children. I would like to think that if I sat down right now with Mr. Crutchfield and asked him to explain things more thoroughly, he would emphasize that there are other purposes for a woman’s existence on earth. However, one is forced to arrive at a certain conclusion based upon his article. Whether or not Crutchfield meant to make this argument, there have been plenty of others who historically argued the same point without apology. One particularly stands out in my mind.

In Part One of Question 92 of his Summa Theologica, the much revered medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote, “It was necessary for woman to be made, as the Scripture says, as a ‘helper’ to man; not, indeed, as a helpmate in other works, as some say, since man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in the work of generation.” Honestly, friends, I thought we had put this argument to bed. It seems blatantly and scripturally obvious that women have other roles in society beyond simply bearing children. If all Adam needed was the ability to procreate, God could have made him like any of the other species that are asexual. There is a reason that God gave Adam something that was “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). Women are helpers to men in so many ways, and a wife is meant to be more than just the mother of her husband’s children.

Views of marriage that see childbearing as its main purpose are ultimately reductionist. They fail to take into account all the purposes for which marriage was ordained, and many of them end up misrepresenting the reasons that women were created. I cannot possibly speak to the circumstances of every childless married couple. Some may well have selfish motivations for forgoing parenthood. Then again, some people might be choosing parenthood for bad reasons: to give themselves an identity, to keep up with the Joneses, to fill their timeline with cute pictures that will impress their friends. I would like to think that these are not the primary motivating factors for most Christian couples, but such rationales could be slipping in either consciously or subconsciously. There are wrong reasons to have children and wrong reasons not to have children. However, the most harmful view of all may be this: that getting married and having kids makes you more spiritual or brings you closer to God.

Think back now to that interaction I had with Rod Dreher. He was no doubt thinking about historical monasticism with some of his comments. The underlying theory behind much of monasticism, particularly in the Roman Catholic understanding (for I know far less about the Eastern Orthodox), is that those who have taken a vow of celibacy exist in a somewhat different sphere than the rest of us. Getting married and having a family is all well and good, but if you want to be really righteous, you give that all up and pursue God single-mindedly. Many forms of monasticism revolve around a detailed set of rituals, all of which are meant to cleanse a person of their fleshly desires and bring them closer to God’s standard of righteousness. One is forced to conclude that the monastic life has become a kind of idol for many who pursue it: an alternate means of achieving righteousness.

This is where it starts to get odd. Protestantism was meant to have rejected this idea of different levels of righteousness for different vocations, but in a reaction against the Catholic obsession with celibacy, I feel that some in the evangelical sphere have become equally obsessed with childbearing. Even as the Catholic model envisions an ascending ladder of righteousness through the forsaking of marriage and procreation, the evangelical Protestant model has now created exactly the reverse: a system in which your fulfillment and conformation to the image of Christ increases as you achieve the goals of marriage, children, and more children. We have traded one idolatrous view of life for another.

Yes, that’s right. If you place your ultimate identity and source of godliness in anything other than the finished work of Jesus Christ on your behalf, you are committing idolatry and attempting to save yourself. Even some of the best things in this life – marital love, sex, children – can be idols. In fact, they are among the most common ones. Satan loves to take what God made good and twist it every which way until it no longer resembles the original intent. That is true of same-sex marriage, it is true of an idolatrous view of celibacy, and it is also true of this idolatrous view of heterosexual marriage.

If the chief question of our existence is, “How can I be righteous before a righteous God?”, then we must know most assuredly that it is not within our power to make ourselves righteous. We need the righteousness of Christ Himself. We need to be united not with another human being, but with the Son of God. Union with another human, even in a God ordained marriage, does not actually make you holy. Only union with Christ can do that. The one who has that union with the Son of God can then grow in sanctification through human relationships, but make no mistake: neither marriage, nor celibacy, nor parenthood can make you holy. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Only by union with Him are we saved.

This may seem like a whole lot of fuss over one word in one article of the Nashville Statement. Could they really have meant all of this by “procreative”? Well, consider that Albert Mohler is listed as one of the primary signers of this document. He is also a council member of CBMW. As I mentioned at the outset, there are three possible reasons that this word was included, and I’m not sure any of them are all that good. Sometimes a word is just a word, but in this case, I think not. This document was no doubt pored over by many leading figures before its publication: at the very least, by all those who signed it. I cannot speak for the motivations of all the signatories. I suspect that most of them simply wanted to make a strong statement against sexual immorality, and that is commendable. However, we must consider the source. Is the CBMW the true voice of evangelical Christians today? Does it deserve to be? Many good people have been associated with it over the years, but it has also had its fair share of critics, not all of whom were simply theological liberals.

My own concern goes beyond the issues of childlessness and procreation. On the whole, CBMW and groups like it seem to have come to believe that the simple commands of God are not enough for today’s world. They see the declining moral standards of our culture and conclude that further justification is needed for the historic Christian position on marriage. It is not enough to say that God prohibits fornication, adultery, and homosexuality. It is not enough to present the simple commands of Ephesians 5 as the basis for marital relations.

They have constructed a highly developed version of gender roles that relies just as much on cultural constructs as it does on biblical mandates. They have snuck patriarchy in the back door and portrayed it as complementarianism, to such a degree that the word “complementarian” now means next to nothing. They have looked for justification for their position in a new doctrine of the Trinity that makes the Son of God and Holy Creator less than fully God in order to make Him more like female human creatures. They have portrayed themselves as the defenders of biblical orthodoxy, but they have in fact forsaken that orthodoxy when it comes to the doctrine of God. They have added law to law in the hope of protecting a simple command, but the Word of God does not need protection brought about by human innovation. All it needs is faithful witnesses to proclaim the Word and only the Word. Let that Word win some and harden others. That is all that the Lord requires of us, and it is more than enough to fill a lifetime.

Even in light of all of this, you may still think me too harsh. We are, after all, in a moment of cultural crisis. Should we not be circling the wagons around biblical orthodoxy and setting aside our quarrels over secondary issues? If my only quibble was over the issue of childlessness, I might agree with you, but as I have noted, there are bigger issues at hand. Multiple signatories of the Nashville Statement – notably Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, and Owen Strachan, but also some others – have taught the doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son and/or the Eternal Functional Subordination of the Son repeatedly and without apology. In the opinion of this author, that is a fallacy in their doctrine of God. If your doctrine of God is skewed, then your doctrine of man will be skewed. If your doctrine of man is skewed, it is going to affect how you view gender and sexuality.

Therefore, we should not treat the doctrine of God and our view of the Trinity as a secondary issue, for it permeates and colors everything else. We should not pretend that we can set orthodoxy aside to defend orthodoxy, only to pick it up when the crisis is over. What good does it do to draft new confessional statements to suit our present needs when we have abandoned the historic creeds and confessions that saw the Church through centuries of turmoil? There is a certain amount of bravery in this Nashville Statement, but I wish they had taken a bit more time to explain the language that they used, and I especially wish that they had shown equal fervor in defending the orthodox understanding of the doctrine of God.

Friends, I am currently dealing with an undiagnosed illness. They are about to scan my brain and tell me if I have a neurological disorder. I have no idea if I will ever be able to have children. Much of my identity seems to hang in the balance. I must cling to the truth that my marriage is no less complete than anyone else’s because I have not been blessed with children. I must cling to the cross and place my identity in Christ. I am sure some will criticize what I have to say, but that is honestly not my greatest concern at the moment. Perhaps this Nashville Statement hit me at a bad time, when I am already feeling vulnerable and sensitive regarding these issues. I am not angry. Truly, I am not. I want answers to what is plaguing my body. I want to have children. However, I also want to believe that no matter what happens, God is with me and He has a plan. His best intention is what will occur, whether my marriage is procreative or not.

I pray that our Christian leaders, whether they have signed the Nashville Statement or not, will defend biblical orthodoxy in all areas. I pray that we will show love to people regardless of their situation and that the gospel of Jesus Christ will flow through us to a world that desperately needs it. Thank you for taking the time to read this overly long article and may God bless you.

All scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation.

4 thoughts on “The Nashville Statement, Procreation, and the Purpose of Marriage

  1. “They have constructed a highly developed version of gender roles that relies just as much on cultural constructs as it does on biblical mandates. They have snuck patriarchy in the back door and portrayed it as complementarianism, to such a degree that the word “complementarian” now means next to nothing… but the Word of God does not need protection brought about by human innovation”

    If I could post a standing ovation .gif here, I would. Well said, Amy!

  2. Hi Amy: Well written. For me you struck gold when you said: ” On the whole, CBMW and groups like it seem to have come to believe that the simple commands of God are not enough for today’s world. They see the declining moral standards of our culture and conclude that further justification is needed for the historic Christian position on marriage. It is not enough to say that God prohibits fornication, adultery, and homosexuality. It is not enough to present the simple commands of Ephesians 5 as the basis for marital relations.”
    With so many in CBMW as proponents of ESS this Nashville Statement is the fruit of the poison tree.

  3. I too could not make it past Article I. I am an evangelical woman who has been sterile since birth. Article I seems to call my marriage sinful as procreation could never be a part of it.

    This goes directly to how I have felt excluded by American Evangelical ministry for years, as if I am not made in the Imago Dei too.

    My prayers are for you.

  4. Amy,
    It is obvious you are a very thoughtful theologian. I am grateful for that. I will say, however, that you said Genesis 1:28 was the only place where God commands “be fruitful and multiply.” That is not correct. He commands it, not only before sin entered the world, but afterwards, to Noah in Genesis 9:1. The significance of this is that Adam was a representative head of all humanity, while the covenant with Noah was a universal covenant. Obviously the command is an ongoing command because it encompasses the vision to “fill the earth.” Obviously Adam and Eve and Noah and his wife cannot “fill the earth” on their own. Procreation is the NORM for marriage and to deny this is simply making a wax nose with Scripture. Of course there are exceptions but that is what they are, exceptions. God’s vision for the world is to “fill the earth” with His images, namely, human beings, and ultimately, to fill it with redeemed images of His holy and loving name. The weight of these commands are more than an opinion. They are normative commands, which obviously, may have exceptions but your emphasis against the clear procreation purpose of God seems misplaced and defensive. You seem to be confusing the Nashville Statement with the wrong attitudes of some in the church. That is not the same thing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the NS; indeed, the statement on procreation is reflecting the weight of the sovereign God’s commands to “be fruitful and multiply.” The Statement rightly reflects the WEIGHT of that command. You seems to want to lighten it, which I think is not true to the command itself. Why would you or anyone else be dismissed from this command or God’s vision to fill the earth with His images, namely, people? Surely God understands there are exceptions for various, legitimate reasons and I assume your reasons are ones He understands. I do not know. But if two people get married at 70, our Lord understands that they will very unlikely have children but it does not take away from the purpose of the marriage institution itself to “be fruitful and multiply.” Perhaps our 20th and 21st century have put our sensitivities in the wrong place. Perhaps the radical individualism applied to sexuality since the 1960s has impacted us all more than we like to admit, and that it isn’t the Catholics fault afterall. Could it be that the Catholics got this one right? Having grown up Catholic and now a Reformed Protestant minister, I can say that this is one area where the Catholics are closer to the Biblical truth than the typical Protestant, who likes his radical individualistic freedom. Christians of all types need to understand that some Christians do not have children for all kinds of various legitimate reasons. However, the bigger problem in our day is the attitude of, “A girl for me, a boy for you, thank God, now we’re through.” Our vision of women childbearing is pitiful in America today and I applaud the Nashville Statement for its language of “procreation.” Europe is hardly even replacing its population. They will pay a price for such a vision of marriage and life, and I fear we in America aren’t far behind. It is important we distinguish between something that is normative but also recognizes various exceptions. God obviously knew not all women could have children and that some had unique callings that would draw them away from childbearing, but that has no bearing on God’s vision for marriage as the norm.
    And frankly, some of the exceptions people give themselves NOT to have children are driven more by selfish individual desires rather than being rooted in God’s vision to “fill the earth” with His holy images called people. The Bible does not share the allergy to childbearing that many in our day seem to have. Nor does the Bible share the allergy to women being their husband’s helpmates and maintaining a strong interest in the order of the home. Proverbs 31 clearly shows the breadth of involvement women enjoy with Biblical blessing but even there, her focus seems to be on building up her husband and children and doing what she does for the primary benefit of the home and family. There is more to say. Again, I commend you for your thoughtfulness but I would encourage you to consider if putting “procreation” in there really requires all the explanation you are demanding. Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 9:1 seems to clearly make it a normative command. At a minimum, that command involves all to support a very strong procreation view of marriage, something you seem a bit hesitant to do, as if it is more of an option. If I have misread your intent, please forgive and correct me. Grace to you.

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