On April 29, 2008, I wrote this retraction on my old Upsaid blog Fragmenta. It was deleted along with the rest of the blog when Upsaid abruptly disappeared. I dug this entry up via Wayback Machine. Since some have been asking for it, I am reposting it here.
The older I get, the less I know.
When Sora and I were first married, we espoused a “Quiverfull” position. This was partly because I had grown up in a church with several large families that I admired; partly because Sora had come to Christianity through the influence of Christian women who were reacting against feminism and everything else. Steve Schlissel’s position on the matter was also an influence.
We talked a pretty hard line against contraception. We were young and arrogant and thought we had all the answers. And of course, I enjoy a good argument, so I didn’t hesitate to stake out the extreme ground and defend it online. I argued with Jon Barlow and Joel Garver. Barlow’s argument was the closest to persuading me out of my position, as he fisked our “QuiverFAQ” and urged that Sora and I were “making the blessing of children into a good unlike any other good.” At the time, I didn’t let on that Barlow had made any dent. But I’m sure that that exchange, and others like it, contributed to my change of mind like water wearing away a rock.
I still respect the Quiverfull position, and am, ironically, grateful that we held it for 8 years, since we got a bunch of lovely children out of it. I have tremendous respect for Steve Schlissel and Valerie Jacobsen and the numerous families we know who are doing a wonderful job with more children than we have. But several considerations have made us change our minds on the issue.
David Daube’s analysis of the issue in his article “The Duty of Procreation” (CWDD 3, p. 951-969 is persuasive to me. His main point is that Onan is not the rule:
[The story] brings out an exceptional situation where you must do your best to produce offspring… To infer from this a basic obligation to procreate is fallacious. Had Onan begotten a child for the deceased and then practiced coitus interruptus, with the widow and ten more women, forgoing the perpetuation of his own name, he would have incurred no reproach. There is nothing strange in this. It is in the very nature of a boon that, while as far as your own person is concerned, you are free to take it or leave it, you must not withhold it from others. a sufficiency of food or a donkey in good shape is a pleasant thing to have. Yet there is no injunction in the Bible against starving myself should I be so minded or against saying good riddance if my own ass break down; indeed I may shoot it even when it is in perfect condition and sell its hide or make a bonfire with it. But – note the analogy to Onan’s case – Biblical law does call on me to allow a corner of my field to be harvested by the poor and to help up another man’s ass that has fallen.
I have also lost a lot of confidence in one of my main arguments: namely, that the church taught against contraception for 1900 years. I’ve come to believe that the church is fully capable of making colossal errors of interpretation, and then hanging onto them for centuries. So I’m now more willing to entertain the idea that Jim Jordan might be right on this issue.
A third factor was Grandpa Mickey, who ever so gently pointed out that the more kids we have, the less time we have with any of them. This rankled like a burr under the saddle, and didn’t seem very persuasive when we only had four. And we answered it by saying that time spent with siblings is a good of which children have more when they’re in a full quiver. But now we have six, and while we’re delighted with all of them, we are feeling the time crunch and recognizing that the maintenance and opportunity costs of many more children will preclude a lot of things we also want to do.
It also seems to me that there are some people who have vocations, even within marriage, that require them to forgo more children. For many years, I was not able to imagine any such vocation, but my imagination has improved with time.
Some parents are uniquely gifted to do a really good job with a large number of children. Our assumption when we only had 2 or 3 or 4 was that if God was willing to keep giving children to a given set of parents, and those parents weren’t doing a very good job of parenting them, then it was ipso facto a result of the sinfulness of those parents: impatience, selfishness, materialism, etc. It was easy to say that they should just get their act together, stop sinning, and keep having kids. But some men are better builders than others, and the Bible says we are to evaluate our resources and act wisely. Saying “just stop being selfish” is not a solution to the problem.
We still think children are a blessing. We still think that the modern birth control mindset should not be the default modus operandi. But we’re no longer willing to say that everyone who uses birth control is sinning.
I am grieved that I was wise in my own eyes, and rejected the counsel of older and more prudent men in the faith. (Doug Wilson’s position comes to mind.) I am sorry that I accused faithful brothers and sisters of sin without Biblical grounds. And I am especially sorry that I bound heavy burdens for other families. I ask your forgiveness.