Lauren Sandler’s recent Time cover story on childless-by-choice couples, The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children, reminded me of my shortest date. I had been set up with a beautiful Mormon girl who was a doctoral student in French, and I took her to a nice quiet restaurant to discuss Voltaire, Gide, and Sartre. Before the entrees hit the table, she had told me that she did not want to have children. It wasn’t that she couldn’t have children; she simply didn’t want any. These were not sentiments that were regularly expressed by LDS girls, especially on a first date, and I immediately asked for the check. She responded by saying that other LDS guys had done the same thing on previous dates. Given our church’s emphasis on having children and creating families, I was not surprised.
Like Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, Mormons take very seriously the biblical commandment to be fruitful and multiply. Moreover, we believe that the family is the basic unit of society and of eternity. According to our beliefs, in the next life we will live together as families – parents, children, grandchildren, etc. – as we strive towards godhood. Righteous people who remain single in this life will have the chance to marry in the next and create their own eternal families.
However, for Mormons it goes even deeper than this. There is a correlation in our theology between having children and our eternal destiny that is absent in other faiths. We believe that God and his wife are populating this world with their spirit children, and that righteous couples will have the chance to do so someday as well. In other words, you can’t realize your full potential in the next life without having children.
So what do Mormons think about childless couples? In keeping with our belief in a God who is just and merciful, we believe that righteous people who cannot have children in this life through no fault of their own will be blessed with offspring in the eternities. As someone who was single for many years and wanted very much to be a father, I found this belief to be very comforting.
While I know plenty of LDS couples who are having trouble conceiving, I do not know any who have let it be known that they are choosing a child-free life. There is something about the childless choice that is antithetical to our beliefs about the purpose of life. Many of our spirit brothers and sisters are waiting to come to earth, and we have a responsibility to provide mortal bodies for them. If all of us chose not to have kids, we would frustrate God’s purposes.
Of course, if a Mormon decides not to have children, she won’t face any sanctions or punishment at church stronger than some raised eyebrows. In the end, the choice is hers, and it’s up to God, not us, to judge such a personal decision. On a personal level, as an excited expectant father I will continue to feel sorry for childless couples, whether by choice or chance. I will also continue to be baffled by Mormons who refuse to create families when they have an opportunity to do so.