My wife and I have six unique and wonderful children. We also live, for the moment at least, in Appalachia. For those reasons alone the recent quote from televangelist Pat Robertson caught my attention:
“That’s the big problem, especially in Appalachia. They don’t know about birth control. They just keep having babies. You see a string of all these little ragamuffins, and not enough food to eat and so on, and it’s desperate poverty.”
There are too many responses to this to list them all. A very good one can be found here. Is this a Christian response to poverty? Are elitism and snobbery in line with the Gospel message? Does disparaging the poor and their children further the cause of Christ? Are children to be viewed merely as ornaments to be collected once you attain a certain financial status?
From here the temptation to descend into anger is a great one. I can easily imagine falling victim, and penning a quick diatribe against televangelists or condemning condescension. Instead, and surprisingly, I feel overcome by sadness. How can there be such contempt for the poor? There are two bigger picture issues with Mr. Robertson’s rant, both reflective of great confusion and disordered thinking prevalent in the world today.
First, children are not a disease and poverty isn’t a symptom. Mr. Robertson confuses effect for cause and casts blame upon the children while completely ignoring the bigger picture. He thinks “they” don’t know about birth control; the real issue is that in a society in which marriage has lost all meaning, all cultural weight, many begin to see having a child as the only means to solidify a relationship. The difficulty is rarely the number of children but the number of fathers, and more unfortunately, the number of absent fathers. Marriage, for centuries the primary means of lifting families out of poverty, is now a quaint novelty in many communities, and a consequence of that is the poverty Mr. Robertson sees.
Second, Mr. Robertson’s misguided quote reveals a deeply disordered and secular view of children. I can personally attest that having a large family doesn’t bring financial wealth, but just as assuredly I know they can bring spiritual rewards greater than any material ones. Children expand our view of the world, and our love for them leads us to a greater understanding of God’s love. The sacrament of marriage and the gift of children both push us onto the path of self-sacrificial love, where selfishness and materialism are overcome and cast aside in the service of a greater good. Believing that life should be an ordered progression of milestones, of which children are merely one of the stops along the way, is a very dangerous and common conceit. Children are neither a means nor an end – they are a new life, a new person created in the image of God and brought forth through the love of the parents. Sadly, though I am sure he doesn’t see it, Mr. Robertson’s comments show that he is on the same ethical and moral path that leads to abortion, forced sterilization and eugenics.
Never a fan of Pat Robertson, I am nonetheless shocked that a major Christian leader could espouse such thinking. As Christians we are fundamentally opposed to anyone speaking so contemptuously of the poor and so dismissively of the lives of children.