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Friday, October 23, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Immasculate Conception

In which two or more of our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Last week we discussed the problems faced by children who grow up without fathers. If it were just an issue within society, that’s one thing, but evangelicals are increasingly being called upon to aid, abet and even validate single motherhood in the church.

Tom: I’ve just referenced three cases (and there are many more like them) where so-called Christians are looking to justify these sorts of choices and normalize them in Christian circles. Here is Glenn T. Stanton of Focus On The Family. He says single motherhood is not a woman problem, it’s a man problem:

“If women can’t find good men to marry, they will instead compromise themselves by merely living with a make-do man or getting babies from him without marriage.

Women want to marry and have daddies for their babies. But if they can’t find good men to commit themselves to, well … Our most pressing social problem today is a man deficit.”

So the problem, according to Glenn, is that there are “not enough good men”. Do you buy that, IC?

A Few Good Men

IC: Maybe we can say that a good man might be harder to find than in the past. Let’s grant him that. Does that mean that we need to improve our focus on making men better, or does it excuse a woman doing anything at all in aid of fulfilling whatever maternal yearnings she has?

Tom: Well, I think we talked about making men better two weeks ago, because that’s certainly part of the problem.

IC: Correct. But even if there is a perceived crisis in masculinity, why would producing fatherless children be some sort of solution? In fact, it looks like a perfect recipe for creating many more men who do not know how to be men. And likewise, how does doing this sort of self-centered parenting make our women better women? I think his explanation is absurdly out of step with the problem he identifies.

Aiding and Abetting

Tom: This sort of docile acceptance of the way feminists frame an issue is often referred to as “white-knighting”. It’s very common, unfortunately. It’s basically, “Women are doing something wrong, but they have no other option”. So it’s not just that men are failing to be men and that women are becoming increasingly disobedient in response to that: we also have these squads of “enablers” lining up to support what is inarguably a selfish and imprudent lifestyle choice with long-term negative consequences for the child and for society. But government hands out the cheques, feminists stand there applauding and now even within the church, a certain percentage of evangelical men in leadership roles choose to curry favor with single mothers rather than call sin sinful.

Let’s be very practical: how should the church treat a single mother who shows up on its doorstep? I see people trying to apply Paul’s instructions regarding widows. Jennifer Maggio says, “The single parent family is the modern-day widow and orphan”. Does that track for you?

“Modern-Day Widows

IC: No. There’s nothing of the widow in a woman who conceives children out of wedlock by choice — though there might well be half of the “orphan” in a child who has been brought into the world fatherless. The child may be a victim. But the mother is the cause of his misfortune. She’s the perpetrator.

Bear in mind again, though: we’re not talking about genuine victims of rape or abuse, not about women whose husbands have died, nor about those who have been abandoned through no fault of their own. We’re only speaking here of willful women who abandon God’s pattern for parenting in order to satisfy their selfish desire to have a child.

Tom: Quite so. If God cares for widows and orphans, as scripture makes clear, there is ample grace to be had for those in need through no fault of their own, and the church should be reflecting that in practical ways. But Churchian enablers like Jennifer Maggio who are all over the internet campaigning for Christians to reach out to single mothers, provide programs for them and treat them as widows are NOT talking at all about single mothers who are actual widows, paradoxically. They are looking to make evangelical churches warm, welcoming places for women who have not repented of making a wrong choice. They want to remove the “stigma” of single parenthood caused primarily by sleeping around or being the initiator of a divorce.

That’s a very different thing, wouldn’t you say?

To Respond ...

IC: Absolutely. Now, what's the alternative, Tom? Suppose we have a young woman in our congregation who has chosen to produce a child out of the context of marriage ... whether by natural or artificial means. Does the church have a responsibility to respond in any way to this choice?

Tom: Well, I think they’re two separate issues, and have to be handled separately. In the case where the child is naturally conceived, he or she is the consequence of promiscuity. That’s not the child’s fault, but it is impossible for the church to deal with the child independently of its mother. That’s the nature of family relationships: our actions have consequences. The church is not to associate with people who claim to follow Christ but are unrepentantly sexually immoral. We are told “Purge the evil person from among you”. It ain’t trendy, but that’s what the word of God says.

So what happens next would very much depend on the mother’s attitude to her sin.

IC: You mean whether or not she’s prepared to admit it AS sin, repent and forsake it?

Tom: Right.

... Or Not to Respond

IC: Is the situation any different if, as in the article, the young woman in question elected to have a technical procedure issuing in a child?

Tom: For the child, probably no difference at all. Some people in the child’s life will certainly be aware that he or she is the product of a sperm donation and IVF rather than a one night stand, but most will not. The child may not be told for years.

But you mean for the church and how it should handle it? I find it a very unlikely scenario, to be honest. I don’t think a Christian woman in fellowship in a church is at all likely to even begin something like this without other Christians being aware what she’s contemplating while she’s still working her way through her options. I think the far more likely scenario is the one where she shows up after the fact as a seeker or visitor with child in tow.

But either way, the immediate problem for the church is condoning sexual sin. I can’t think of an unequivocal biblical response to an IVF-enabled donor conception myself, even if I think it’s selfish and short-sighted. I’d be reluctant to try to formulate a response based on inferences rather than commands in scripture.

IC: Agreed. And while I might also agree that this is a far-fetched scenario for a church, I would guess that that is only a comment for the present — that is, assuming this procedure becomes normalized in the larger society. However, I suspect we are colouring far outside the lines of normal as defined by God’s intention whenever we speak of a child being created at the whim and convenience of a woman but without benefit of father, so perhaps we cannot even reasonably expect that God would address what we do after such a move.

Understanding the Fatherhood of God

Do you suppose, Tom, that an increasing number of fatherless children has any implication for our understanding of the Fatherhood of God?

Tom: For their understanding of God? Almost inevitably. You understand what a father is to the extent you have experienced that relationship, at least until you’re old enough to work these things through intellectually. Even then, there will be huge gaps. I find people I know who grew up without fathers tend to think of fathers as optional, because they’re here today and they managed somehow, so having a father can’t be all that big a deal. There’s also a fairly common lack of respect for authority, but that may be the spirit of the age rather than anything particular to children raised by a single mother.

I don’t know if there’s typically projection from that: that to them maybe God seems just as optional.

IC: I think that has to be the inevitable outcome of our belief that fathers do not matter. If God commends himself to us as our Father, and yet we believe we don’t need fathers, then we must also be convinced he’s not offering us anything very important.  

But that metaphor is supposed to convey something very great. It’s supposed to speak of his provision, his compassion, his moral direction, his mercy and forgiveness, and ultimately his salvation toward us. These are the attributes of fatherhood, rightly considered; and we dismiss them not only at the peril of our social well-being, but at the peril of our theology as well.

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