TRANSCRIPT: How should local church leaders respond to a single woman who had a child through IVF?

January 29, 2015

Phillip Bethancourt: Welcome back to the Questions and Ethics program with Russell Moore. I’m Phillip Bethancourt, and we have an interesting question for you today, Dr. Moore. So, we got a letter here from a pastor in a small, rural church who asks a pretty seemingly simple question, but it gets more complex as the details unfold. “How should our church respond to a single, virgin woman in the church who became pregnant through in vitro fertilization?” So, he goes on with some of the details to say that she came in and spoke to them about feeling a sense of calling from the Lord that she should get pregnant through this method, even though she is single and a virgin and that they discussed it and counseled her through the issues, and then she went ahead and did it anyway. And so, now she is pregnant with child through this form, and they are trying to think through questions like is this something that they should carry out church discipline on, or should they throw a baby shower, or how should they navigate those issues? So, thinking through that type of situation, what type of counsel would you have for them and for our broader audience about how to think through issues related to in vitro fertilization?

RDM: Wow. Well, what I would say about this is okay, let’s step back and unravel what their problem is. First of all, I agree with the counsel that the church gave to this woman at the beginning that a child needs both a mom and a dad. Now, there are situations where children don’t have a mom and a dad because Dad left or because Mom died or there was some sort of bad situation that happened in the life of that child, and then what do we do? We equip and we support those single parents who are seeking to rear their children as best they can within the community of the body of Christ, and that’s a good thing that we ought to celebrate. I would have said to her exactly as this church did, don’t start out this child’s life without a father as an act of your choice and as an act of your will to do this. I also have problems, as I have outlined before, with in vitro fertilization. I think in vitro fertilization severs procreation from the one-flesh union of marriage, and I think there is a reason why God designed procreation to spring from that covenant, faithful love within marriage. There are all sorts of ethical issues that come along with IVF. So, I would have had all the concerns that the church had, maybe even more.

But, the situation they are dealing with now is what do we do now? She went ahead and she disregarded the church’s counsel, the pastor’s counsel, and she became impregnated having this baby. So, what do you do?

Now, I understand also the tension that these pastors feel because you are trying to think well, if we celebrate this are we now incentivizing other people to create families outside of wedlock without mother and father? But I think that that sort of misses the point here.

You know, there was just this morning, I was reading a really fascinating article. There is a newsletter by Ben Domenech called The Transom that I subscribe to. I get it every morning. It’s really well worth your time to subscribe to this. And he had a section where he is interacting with David Frum, who wrote a magazine article about why the abortion rate is falling, and Frum says there are really two reasons for that, and one of them is a reason that social conservatives will like, and another is a reason that social conservatives won’t like. The first reason is because the positive side of the pro-life message started to take root, this message that life is important and so forth. The second reason though, he thinks, is because there is a cultural absence of the stigma of single motherhood. Now, he says social conservatives aren’t going to like that. I mean, remember all the controversy that happened in American culture in 1992 when then Vice President Dan Quayle said that Murphy Brown, who was a sitcom character, was a bad role model because she was having a child out of wedlock. And Ben Domenech says you know, the stigma being removed from single motherhood isn’t really something that we ought to lament because the stigma never really kept single motherhood from happening; instead, the stigma often drove single mothers into isolation, and sometimes that isolation in recent years was the isolation of the abortion clinic.

So, I don’t think this church ought to take any action that is going to even unintentionally signal that we see the life of this child as being a bad thing. This child did not choose the circumstances of his or her birth, and this child is created and made in the image of God. God knit this child together in the womb. And so, they should receive this child with joy and with thanksgiving, even though they didn’t approve of the means that the mom went through in order to conceive her. The mom is not here in a situation of some kind of ongoing unrepentant sin. She is not in some sort of sexual relationship. She is not involved in fornication. She made what I think is a really bad decision, but now the decision has been made.

And so, what do we do? We welcome in those mothers and their children who need the support of the rest of the body of Christ. And there is going to come a time where maybe this woman has a completely different opinion about the decisions that she made. She is going to need the body of Christ around her. And frankly, she is going to need the body of Christ even if she doesn’t ever come to that situation. I don’t think that ministering to her and ministering to this child is going to cause a proliferation of virgin births by sperm donation in your congregation. I think it is very clear this is not what you are talking about when you talk about family and when you talk about mothering and fathering and children. But you can do that. You can talk about what the bible teaches about moms and dads while at the same time not driving this woman and her child away but bringing them in and saying we disagree with you, and we think this is not the right decision that you have made—the act itself is not a clear violation of a biblical norm in the same way that it would have been in some other situations—but we are going to receive you and minister to you.

That’s, I think, the best way that I can think of to navigate this very very difficult situation. But I am going to acknowledge to you it is a very complex and complicated situation. But I just think we have to be those congregations where we are probably not going to have a lot of these situations, but what we are going to have are a lot of women who are watching our congregations to say how will they receive me if I come forward and say I need help? So, your more typical situation is going to be with unwed mothers who become pregnant the old fashioned way, and a lot of those women are looking around and saying wait a minute—some of them in your communities think if I go to that church and I say I am pregnant the response is going to be oh my word! She must have had sex! You know, and get out of here, harlot! They think that’s what’s going to be the response of the church. Now, you and I both know there are very few churches that are going to respond that way. They are going to love those women. They are going to love the children. But they need to see examples of that happening in the congregation, of women who have conceived children where the congregation is saying look, we don’t agree with the sin behind this, but this child is not a symbol of sin. This child is made in the image of God and needs to be received and needs to be ministered to. That’s my thoughts on it.

PB: Thanks for joining the Questions and Ethics Program. If you have a question you would like Dr. Moore to answer, email it to [email protected], and we will be back again to help you apply the gospel to the pressing issues of the day.

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is former President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. His book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, was named Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the Year. … Read More