A couple weeks ago I participated in an e-mail conversation with two friends about justifying the choice to have children in the wake of the earth’s environmental crisis. I know. A heavy topic with difficult questions. Luckily these friends and I are close enough that we can wrestle with uncomfortable questions and share our opinions openly and honestly with one another.
What was the context? We’re all socially conscious, eco-concerned Mennonites who wrestle with the state of the world as it stands; its devastated land and non-human life; and the cold, hard fact that this earth is not what it once was due to human influence. How can we choose to produce more children knowing that the human population is rising despite depleted resources, and that, because our children will be raised in North America, they most likely will use up more than their fair share of those resources?
The choice to have children is so personal. It’s hard to imagine someone shaking a finger at a person for choosing to conceive and birth a child into the world. “None of your business,” is the visceral response. In our society, it’s also becoming increasingly controversial to question the reproductive rights of women. So it’s understandable that a conversation about the right to have children in an overpopulated world isn’t one typically had during morning coffee breaks.
So why did I want to even engage in this conversation? Because, for me, being eco-concerned, green or an environmentalist, or whatever else you want to call it, is part of my spiritual ethic. I choose to let my decisions be influenced by my concern for the environmental state of the world as a way of engaging with the Spirit.
So the question, “How do you justify having kids?” is not an insulting one, but one that makes me recognize the impact that having children has on the earth. The human population is sitting at a little over seven billion people, with more billions projected over the next century. With this fact, and the overconsumption of those living in developed nations, one could argue that not to have children is a more environmentally friendly choice.
Here we come to a larger question, one that I wrestle with often: “How do I balance my personal choices and freedom with the beliefs I hold?” By recognizing both and that they are not mutually exclusive. I believe I can make the choice to have children, but that I also have a responsibility to raise them to care for the earth and its creatures, both human and non-human.
How does this allow me to engage with the Spirit? My evangelical roots tell me that everything I do—in word, thought and deed—needs to be in line with the Spirit. The Spirit that renews the heart and mind is the same Spirit that gives life to all creatures. It’s the same Spirit that compels me to think hard about my choices and then to live gently after I’ve made them.
Of course, this eco-ethic can become a salvation game, with guilt settling in over the less environmentally friendly decisions I make: driving our car vs. riding the bus, using disposable diapers vs. cloth, or buying conventionally grown produce vs. organic.
In these moments I lean on faith that someone else is carrying the weight of the world, that there is a way to live creatively in order to make a different choice next time, that God’s love can be known despite the disasters we humans wreak on the land and ourselves, and that our children will do better than we have done to date.
Katie Doke Sawatzky (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Vancouver.