הִנֵּ֤ה נַחֲלַ֣ת יְהוָ֣ה בָּנִ֑ים שָׂ֝כָ֗ר פְּרִ֣י הַבָּֽטֶן׃
Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.
It’s true – a seed is planted in darkness, but it grows towards the light. The struggle to conceive is much the same, so remember to turn your face to the light.
Whilst many church authorities have objections, including the Catholic Catechism, assisted reproduction holds a special place in Christian life, and has for over 3,500 years! In fact without assisted reproduction, there likely wouldn’t be any Christianity. Ishmael, Moses, Esther and even Yeshua were all conceived through a type of surrogacy or adoption!
Most would agree that should a person be fit to parent, it is their human right to do so. However, the Bible holds children in the highest esteem and teaches that they are a also blessing; So when it’s impossible for gay couples to conceive, and 1 in 6 heterosexual couples struggle with infertility, it makes us wonder if those people are, in some way, being punished.
Of course the question of why God “allows” suffering is an extremely philosophical one, and is deserving of it’s own post – but one thing is for certain, infertility is not a punishment. In Isaiah 66:9, God states “Shall I bring to the point of birth and not give delivery?”, sometimes translated as” I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born”. Even more, the Bible offers many examples of righteous people who suffered with infertility.
- Sarah suffered with barrenness for 90 years of her life (Genesis 16:1)
- Rebekah suffered with barrenness for 20 years of her life (Genesis 25:21)
- Rachel suffered with barrenness, eventually dying in childbirth (Genesis 30:1, Genesis 35:18)
- Manoah and his wife suffered infertility (Judges 13:2)
- Hannah and Elkanah suffered infertility (1 Samuel 1)
- Michal, first wife of King David, suffered with barrenness (2 Samuel 6:23)
- The Shunammite Woman suffered with barrenness (2 Kings 4:16-17)
- Elizabeth, mother of John The Baptist, suffered with barrenness (Luke 1:36)
The most important thing to know is that an infertility journey always comes to an end – whether it’s with children like Sarah, or without, like Michal.
Nowadays, those struggling to conceive have many options to choose from, but in the spirit of keeping with the LGBT theme of The Star-Crossed Christian series, I will only be discussing surrogacy, sperm/egg donation and adoption.
First things first though, is it even right for same-sex couples to raise children? A common objection to this statement is that children need both a mother and a father, and that children with absent fathers (in particular) are statistically more likely to be incarcerated or to commit suicide. Yet what those who make this argument often forget is, the effects of an emotionally absent father are almost identical to that of a physically absent father and that multiple studies have concluded that children from families with lesbian parents are statistically just as well off as those with heterosexual parents. Of course each parent wishes to do the correct thing by their child, which is why it’s best to remember the words of Jane Blaustone – “the best security blanket a child can have is parents who respect each other”.
The idea of commercial surrogacy is a controversial one, especially in Christian communities.
On account of the physical (and often emotional) side effects that pregnancy can have on the body, commercial surrogacy is not a career many women are willing to take on – often meaning many commercial surrogates are women from financially unstable backgrounds that take on the job because there is an open position, not because it’s their passion, and they do so sometimes without even understanding the full ramifications of their decision.
According to an article on Forbes.com, surrogates residing in the US earn an average of $3.00US each hour of their pregnancy (based on a pregnancy of 266 days) – provoking the author to liken the practise to human trafficking. This means that commercial surrogacy, or womb-renting as some call it, directly violates the Bible’s commandment of not exploiting those in need (Proverbs 22:16).
It is absolutely paramount that the dignity and Holiness of the surrogate and child be upheld.
The womb of a woman is a sacred place, not merely an incubator; It was created by God to transport neshamas (hebrew for “soul”) from one realm to another, and to sustain the tiny body in which that neshama resides – a woman mimics God in this way, and is the only creature able to do so. In fact it was Miriam’s womb where Heaven and Earth first met, through the conception of Yeshua – this is why she is referred to as “theotokos” in the Greek New Testament, meaning “one who gives birth to God”.
When it comes to the dignity of the child, there is still much debate. Opinions vary on when ensoulment, and therefore personhood, occurs – some say at conception because of verses such as Jeremiah 1:5, and others say at first breath because of Genesis 2:7. So if for some reason, a couple chooses IVF instead of artificial insemination (the difference being whether the sperm is inserted artificially and left to fertilise the egg naturally, or whether fertilisation occurs in a lab), the decision of what to do with the “unwanted” or “left over” embryos should be carefully thought out with both opinions in mind. In cases such as these there are many compassionate options to choose from – the embryos can be frozen for future attempts or even donated to another couple!
Much like commercial surrogacy, commercial sperm donation raises questions regarding it’s ethicalness. Some speculate that commercial surrogacy, and therefore commercial sperm donation, treat children as commodities to be bought and sold, rather than blessings from the Creator (Matthew 19:14).
A wide range of problems can also arise when going through a sperm bank – including the legal rights of the donor, the child and their parents. There have even been cases of donors with STIs transmitting their infections.
For this reason most Christians would advise against the commerciality of surrogacy and sperm donation, perhaps suggesting a donor or surrogate with a personal and meaningful connection to you. This way children can also grow up fully understanding their origins and how wanted they were by their parents. Having a basic understanding of their ancestry or even just their immediate family tree, helps give children a sense of belonging, identity and security.
When it comes to the common, um, *cough* “”retrieval”” method of sperm used in donation, it’s a little more complex.
Historically, masturbation was a cultural toe’vah (abomination) because it involved “the spilling of seeds” and therefore sentencing the potential next generation to nonexistence, before they were even born. Nowadays however, the main concern among Christian ethicists is not the bodily action itself, but rather the often exploitative and sometimes idolatrous, emotion behind it (see here).
In a discussion with Loveology author John Mark Comer, Dr. Gerry Breshears expressed that there is a way to get around this debacle; However, if it’s a serious issue that a couple is unable to compromise on, there is always options like
- Percutaneous Epididymal Sperm Aspiration (PESA)
- Microsurgical Epididymal Sperm Aspiration (MESA)
- Testicular Sperm Aspiration (TESA)/Testicular Fine Needle Aspiration (TFNA)
- Testicular Sperm Extraction (TESE)
Or…adoption! Some would argue that this is by far the most appropriate method of “conceiving” for gay couples – simply because it appears to be the “purpose” of homosexuality in other species, and therefore God’s creation. There are multiple instances of gay animals adopting the abandoned offspring of their heterosexual counterparts, including among penguins and flamingos.
It must be noted that these are only the educated opinions of Christian ethicists; Ultimately, it is a parent’s decision on how they conceive and raise their child, and we must trust that God has endowed them with the binah (intuition) and chayil (valour) to do so.