Over the past few years, I’ve repeatedly come across Christians who are sounding the alarm on Muslim expansion. (For example, see the Christianity Today.) They point out that the growth rate of Muslims is surpassing the growth rate of Christians and that this is largely due to Muslim birth rates. Because Muslims are birthing more children than Christians, the alarmists claim that they will surpass Christians. You can see an example of this perspective here:
There are many problems with this analysis. It assumes that the countries in which Muslims are immigrating are Christian. It carries undertones of racism in its opposition to higher birth rates in ethnic groups that are dominantly Muslim. When Christian families are told that they need to have more children, the burden for increasing birth rates is largely shouldered by women.
This anti-Muslim analysis also fails to account for the effects of migration on Muslim families. Muslim immigrants are more likely to educate their daughters, and the education of women results in lower birth rates. Where poverty is diminished, birth rates decrease. And when families migrate to cities, the birth rates decrease.
More importantly, advocating higher birth rates is not a biblical strategy for expanding the people of God. In fact, Scripture indicates that God’s people grow precisely in the face of low birth rates.
This is seen at the inception of God’s entering into covenant with the patriarch and matriarch of Israel. God promises to Abraham and Sarah that they will birth a son even though they are old (Genesis 17). In fact, it is precisely in Sarah’s condition of barrenness that God promises, creates and births this particular people set aside for God’s purposes.
Later in Israel’s history, after they have been conquered and taken into exile, the Babylonians castrate the male leaders in order to cut off their progeny and to secure the “purity” of their own ethnic elite (2 Kings 20:18). In the midst of the threat of assimilation and in the face of what seems to be the end of their people, God promises through the prophet Isaiah that the eunuchs who are faithful to God’s covenant will receive an everlasting name that will not be cut off. This, God says, is even better than having sons and daughters (Isaiah 56:4-5). God asserts that it is through faithfulness and not through procreation that the people of God expand. In 56:3 and 6, the prophet says that through faithfulness, the foreigners (those outside the people of God) join themselves to the Lord.
Those who promote increasing birth rates in Christian families must also explain how they square their proposal with the life of Jesus. Jesus was not married and had no children. While Jesus does not assert celibacy as a model for all Christians, he does say: ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can’ (Matthew 19:11-12).
Some also affirm that Jesus’ models renunciation of sex in order to unmask and disarm the idols of sex and fertility. Others assert celibacy as a pragmatic approach to mission, pointing to the Apostle Paul’s words to be unmarried “as I myself am” for “the unmarried are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, but the married are anxious about the affairs of the world… (1 Corinthians 7: 25-31, 36-40). Most probably, Jesus’ life of celibacy is indicative indicative of his priestly ministry for atonement (echoing back to Leviticus 16). Again, this atonement is coming from God, through God’s promise and through God’s act of reconciling humanity to God’s Self, not through our own initiatives of pro-creation. Would it be our prayer and expectation that the God who “calls into existence the things that do not exist” birth new life in our barren lands?