Multiply and Replenish the ____

January 15, 2006 | 93 comments

After decades of low birth rates, Japan’s population just went into absolute decline. Public figures have started to call on the Japanese to breed like rabbits. I shouldn’t laugh because of that, but I do.

Like most Western countries, the Japanese haven’t been having children at the replacement rate for years, but only now has the Japanese population got old enough that its actually shrinking. Most of the West is still a few years away from actual population declines, but is getting close. The United States has the highest birth rate among Western nations. It is exactly at 2.1, the replacement rate. By way of comparison, the UK is at 1.7, France is at 1.8, Russia is at 1.3, China is at 1.7, India is at 2.8, Brazil is at 1.9, Turkey is at 1.9, Egypt is at 2.9, Morocco is at 2.7, Yemen is at 6.7. The United States birthrate is a little misleading, however. Much of the fertility is due to births among immigrants (this is also true for other Western countries). Not all American-born groups are failing to replace themselves, however. While non-Hispanic whites have a fertility rate of 1.8, African-Americans have a rate of 2.2 and Utahns (which I’m using as a stand-in for Mormons, since I’m unable to find Mormon-specific data (but see here)) have a fertility rate of 2.6 children per woman , declining from a rate of 3.3 during the 1970s and the high of 4.3 in the early 1960s.

For more on demographics, see here and a map here.

But the essential fact is this. The West has thougth a long time now that its populations were still growing, and is now becoming aware that the opposite will soon be the case. What to make of it? Mark Steyn thinks that the lack of births among westerners is ominous, given Islam’s fecundity. I recommend the article, and the numerous letters it sparked, pro and con.

If demography is a problem, what’s the solution? Some time in the next couple of days, I will do a post on possible pro-family, pro-birth rate policies (so please save your comments on those topics until then).

But what I’ve been thinking about recently is on my own individual responsibility to have children, to keep my marital covenant ‘to multipy and replenish the earth.” How much, I’ve wondered, does that responsibility vary depending on the birth rates of the people around me? Do I have a greater obligation when the people around me live in childlessness?

Here’s what I would like to know–
(1) to what extent is your understanding of the appropriate family size influenced by the birth rates of others? In other words, if you believe that ‘multiply and replenish’ can mean something less than having all the children you’re capable of having, would you feel some obligation to adjust upward the number of children you would have if you live in the middle of a birth dearth? If you believe that the number of children you have is a matter of prayer, do you think that declining birth rates are something you would consider in your prayers, or something God would consider in guiding you? Conversely, if you believe that ‘multiply and replenish’ means having as many children as possible, how would the (hypothetical) knowledge that others around you are breeding at an unsustainable rate affect your decisions?
(2) if your own births can be affected by the birth rates of others, who are the relevant others? Do declining birth rates only become important when the entire world population begins to decline (currently projected not to happen until late in the century)? When your culture or nation begins to decline? When your family line starts to die out?

Per the Faulconer-Huff proposal, I will be moderating off-topic comments until the conversation is fairly well-established.

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93 Responses to Multiply and Replenish the ____

  1. Julie M. Smith on January 15, 2006 at 10:28 pm

    Very interesting post and thanks for all of the links. And you pose very good questions. It’s nice to see a new spin on a topic.

    We’ve tried to be very prayerful in making family size decisions (as I’m sure LDS couples in general are), and so it would never occur to me to consider birth rates in making decisions about my own birth rate ;).

    (It -is- ironic that there seems to be almost an inverse relationship between the birth rate that a country has and the birth rate that a country can well support: that color-coded map was a real eye-opener; I think an alien studying it might conclude that you need to be an instable country with an AIDS crisis, civil unrest, and occasional famine to be really fertile.)

  2. Bradley Ross on January 15, 2006 at 10:59 pm

    Truman Madsen in his book Joseph Smith the Prophet (p. 39) wrote:

    Joseph Smith made many prophetic statements that last to our day. Some of them seemed preposterous at the time. Lillie Freeze recalls one such. “He said the time would come when none but the women of the Latter-day Saints would be willing to bear children.” In large measure this is already happening today-before our eyes.

  3. RoastedTomatoes on January 15, 2006 at 11:21 pm

    Adam, truly thought-provoking material. There are clear economic consequences of the falling birth rate of Western societies, but I’m somewhat uncomfortable talking about the cultural consequences. On the other hand, nobody wants to see their own culture go extinct, right?

    I think that decisions about numbers of children are necessarily interdependent ones; the number of children that a family can actually support depends on economic conditions, opportunity structures for those children in the broader society, and so forth. As developed societies come to need children more badly, I think those opportunity structures and economic conditions will become more open. Hence, the number of children a family can realistically have increases. So, I guess, my opinion on this is that my views on family size do depend on the behavior of others.

  4. DHofmann on January 16, 2006 at 12:17 am

    How will we know when the earth has been replenished? (And where did all the people go the first time that made it need replenishing?)

  5. yossarian on January 16, 2006 at 2:09 am

    Isn’t this problem readily fixable in the short term in the United States and a lot of other Western countries through immigration? In reality, the populations of many of the developed nations are not declining in absolute terms, yet. Japan being the exception because of its extremely low birthrate and its hardline semi-xenophobic stance on immigration.
    The question then becomes one of assimilation. How does a state incorporate a host of new citizens without losing the bonds that made it a state in the first place? That is a hugely multifaceted question to answer and I am to lazy to answer it. I just like the questioning not the hard work of answering them.

    As for societal needs impacting birth choices, I suppose that the whole free rider game theory calculus applies here. I know society needs more babies but who wants to raise the brats? Just kidding. Four still sounds about right to me.

  6. Tatiana on January 16, 2006 at 4:20 am

    Well, I’ve always wanted five, though that’s negotiable up to 7 or 8, but unfortunately it’s not a serious question for me at the moment. I don’t worry about what used to be called “race extinction” because that’s just racism, and I don’t worry about cultural extinction because immigrants assimilate into our culture just fine. I really don’t think it’s a problem at all.

    I actually think after the world population stabilizes then perhaps drops again to something like 3 billion or less, that people will start wanting more children again just for the joy of having them. I don’t think it’s going to be difficult long term to keep the population from dropping too low, and I do think we have a long way to go feeding and educating the human population we have now before we need to worry about there not being enough people.

    Every topic leads, for me lately, back to the huge income disparity between the first and the third world. It’s somewhat of a digression, but let me quote something I read yesterday that really struck me.

    “24 And let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practise virtue and holiness before me.

    25 And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself.

    26 For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?

    27 Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.”

    This is from D&C 38:24-27

    When God looks at all his children in the church today, aren’t some of us in robes and some in rags? Is it true that we aren’t His if we don’t fix this? I think it should be a top priority, but done in a smart way, and not just throwing money at the problem. I also think immigration is one important way in which we can become one. A low birthrate here allows for higher immigration rates. So I think it’s a good thing.

    That doesn’t mean I personally wouldn’t rather have 5 – 8 children, if that opportunity ever came. I would love it! But by myself I’m not going to change the U.S. birthrate, so it’s not really an issue either way. :-)

  7. APJ on January 16, 2006 at 4:57 am

    Adam, I don’t think that the ‘birth-rate of others’ can in any way be a measuring stick for what I am supposed to accomplish. In other words, the ‘average birth rate’ may be greater or lesser than the number of children that I have, but if I focus on that, I will only feel a little better, or a little worse, than average. I would rather focus on raising my children, however many they may be, to be the best that they can be. Why should I feel ‘more than adequate’ or ‘less than adequate’ in my calling to multiply and replenish…I would hope that the Lord does not have a measuring stick as to how many kids one must bear (or one’s spouse) to be pleasing unto him

  8. Adam Greenwood on January 16, 2006 at 9:17 am
  9. Veritas on January 16, 2006 at 9:39 am

    I really dont see why we should be so concerned with Birth rates. On one hand you have people freaking out because the worlds population is so high and it doesn’t appear the earth can bear it…on the other hand you this post. Either way I don’t get the concern (well I sort of do with the first but I kinda think its an irrational fear). Who cares about race and nationality and culture….aren’t we supposed to all be one? And I agree whole heartedly with Tatiana that a pop. decline here would leave more room for immigration which I think will help the gospel to spread. Now as for how many children I have…that has nothing to do with other peoples decisions or statistics. Its personal. However…as the world does approach that 10 billion in 2010 mark…as the number of orphans due to aids etc. increases at a much higher rate I do think adoption is something members of the church should look into very seriously (or all people in first world countries). There are just sooo many children who need a family out there.

  10. Ivan Wolfe on January 16, 2006 at 10:08 am

    Dhoffman -

    I hope you’re joking. But if not: The word “replenish” is a bad translation in the KJV. Pretty much every other translation into English uses the world “fill” as in “multiply and fill the earth.”

  11. Sarah on January 16, 2006 at 11:59 am

    The only birth rate I pay much attention to is the one of my friends, which overall has convinced me that if I can ever get myself married, I ought to have at least one more kid than I might have otherwise chosen. And that’s mostly because many of my non-LDS friends seem to be using childlessness as a statement — a statement that’s not effectively countered by much of anything besides having kids of your own (I’m thinking here of giddy “It’s so awesome to not have any kids and be able to go on a cruise or out till 3am…” statements.) Most of my friends, even including older ones, don’t have any children at all. And they think it’s odd that someone who’s trying to go to law school plans on having more than one or two kids, even.

  12. Adam Greenwood on January 16, 2006 at 12:15 pm

    Its hard to see how having more kids can directly do much. But people like Sarah serve as a model to those who are tempted by the lie that fulfillment comes through career and vacations, not children. And also as an inspiration to the rest of us. Thank you, Sarah. Best of luck with law school, courtship, and motherhood.

  13. Nathan on January 16, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    All of you are absolutely wrong… well, in part. There is no doubt to me that the culture affects the decisions on how many children we bare. Of course, I too would say that me and my wife make this decision between ourselves and the Lord. But I honestly can say that I probably will limit how many children I have due to outside concerns. Concerns that perhaps we don’t really think about. We live (in the US at least, perhaps other “western” civilizations as well) in a society so concerned on how we live that children become a burden to ones income. Even though one may not care to compete financially with the Jones’ or strive not to, we want our children to have a good life, play on little league soccer and baseball leagues, have opportunities to have better education, to be able to experience life, often hoping that we as parents can give more to our children than we had. I think this is good, but it all takes money and time; both of which are scarce commodities. Even if we are not comparing ourselves to others, this is the society we live in. A hundred years ago, these were not the concerns of parents. Children did not go to some organized league and were lucky to get a college education, let alone finish primary and secondary schools. It wasn’t afforded and wasn’t looked at with the same priority as it is today. As with money, time is more scarce as well. Sure, we all have 24 hours, but today there are so many things battling for our time that children, again, become a burden.

    And I say this with all respect due to those people who sincerely are trying to follow God’s counsel with them in respect to multiplying and replenishing the earth. My wife and I are trying to do the same, but I will unlikely have the same number of children as I would have a hundred years ago becuase of the pressures of the modern world.

    So in conclusion, I don’t look at the birth rate and say phooey to a silly statistic, but I look at the reasons behind that statistic and say that we likely follow suit to some degree.

  14. Joseph Stanford on January 16, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    #13- Nathan, I agree. As Latter-day Saints, are all inevitably influenced by the culture around us, perhaps most so when we think we are not. What my grandparents thought was a reasonable sized house with one bedroom and reasonable income, to raise 7 children, I wouldn’t. Why else is the birth rate in the Church down substantially in recent years? It’s certainly not because of any change in Church teaching, and it’s not because of a rising rate of infertility. Infertility might be on the increase, but not enough to account for the drop in birth rates in the Church or in the world.
    This does not necessarily mean that all cultural influence is bad. But there is a clear and compelling call in the gospel to seek the influence of God through the scriptures, the prophets, the temple, and the Holy Spirit (D&C 45:57), and make these more important in our lives than the influences of the world. Still, there will always be an influence of the world on us. If we believe otherwise, we are in fantasy land.

  15. Julie M. Smith on January 16, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    “Why else is the birth rate in the Church down substantially in recent years? It’s certainly not because of any change in Church teaching”

    Are you serious, Joe? You don’t think it has _anything_ to do with a shift from, say, President McKay calling birth control ‘gross wickedness’ to the current counsel to pray about it as a couple?

  16. Bookslinger on January 16, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    There are several numbers to use, live births per woman over her life span, annual percent population growth discounting, annual births per 1,000 women of childbearing years.

    Look at the map Adam linked to, it’s mainly Islamic countries and Africa. I read somewhere that Pakistan currently has a 4% annual population growth rate. That’s a doubling every 18 years, and fits in with the 5 children/family number listed on that map page.

    I used to discount the statement that there have been approximately 60 billion (60,000,000,000) souls on the planet since Adam and Eve. I played around with a spreadsheet, and saw that it could easily be accomplished with less than 3.5 children (surviving to adulthood and who in turn reproduce) per woman. Even given a 50% or greater childhood mortality rate, that’s not hard to accomplish. Same way with the suggested numbers in the Book of Mormon. A population of 10′s of millions in the hemisphere 1,000 years after Lehi landed is not an impossibility. The only big question is to what degree war, famine, and disease affected population.

    I think one could make a point for the reason the United States allows so much illegal immigration is that we are short of workers. One could make a point that we are short of workers for two reasons: a) abortion and b) low birth rate. Our growing economy in the US _needs_ those illegal workers.


    My hope is that the western world, and the US in particular (and especially LDS) work to take 1) prosperity, 2) freedom, and 3) the gospel to all parts of the world. Mark Steyn has a point. If we (the Western industrialized world) don’t help raise up the rest of the world, the rest of the world is going to overwhelm us (the Western industrialized word), and drag down our Western society to the point where we can’t help lift up others, and we eventually sink. I also think we are committing cultural and societal suicide by tolerating so much wickedness in our own society.

  17. JKS on January 16, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    Why do LDS Americans have fewer kids than previous LDS parents?

    1. Car seats – Its not just the car seats, it is the societal expectation that parents have a responsibility to keep our children physically safe. Children can’t play alone on the street (if you are a good parent). You don’t just pack them into your stationwagon, you have to have a car seat or seat belt for EACH person in the car. You can’t let them walk down the street to school by themselves. You can’t let them out of your sight at the store. Parents of today, must take every precaution available to keep their children safe.
    2. Fear of Failure in the Home – Our focus on the family has some repercussions. We try too hard. We see divorce everywhere (sometimes in our homes where we grew up). We see teen pregnancy, teen drugs, teen suicide, etc. We go to church and we are told that Motherhood is the most important job in the world. Fathers are told that no career success will make up for failing our children. We want to be perfect parents. We want to protect our children from the evils of the world. We want to teach them. We want them to have testimonies. We want them to succeed in life. We know that the only way to do this is to go to church every week, read the scriptures daily, family prayer twice daily, amazing FHEs each Monday, etc. So we have three kids and we look at how much we are FAILING at raising our children. No one stands at the pulpit and tells us it is ok to fail our kids. That it is better to have 8 kids and be a lousy parent, than have 2 kids and do it well. If our choice is another pregnancy and maybe that means I’ll more impatient with our current kids, or I’ll have to sleep an hour more each night so they are going to have to watch 1 hour more TV per day, and maybe we think that if we are up all night with a baby we won’t notice when our older kids are having problems at school, or we won’t notice that our child has gotten into drugs, or we will be too preoccupied to keep our individual relationship with our current children on the best level possible to we can parent them perfectly.

  18. Lisa V. Clark on January 16, 2006 at 8:15 pm

    The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It
    by Phillip Longman

    is an excellent read. It tackles this very question using various factors, data, concerns, etc. Longman, not a Mormon, sites Utah and Mormons in general as an exception to the dangerous trend.

  19. Matt Evans on January 16, 2006 at 10:43 pm


    Because so many Mormons disregarded the prophets’ counsel on birth control, it’s likely that we, like Joseph Smith with lending the 116 pages to Martin Harris, have been permitted to have our own way because of our unwillingness to follow God’s will. It’s also likely that the prophets, wearied by members resisting their counsel, asked God to deal with the people directly, so that they could counsel those considering birth control to remember the commandment to “fill the earth,” as Ivan pointed out, and to remember the worth of children, and to ask God for guidance. They know that God will teach us the same principles and priorities he’d taught them.

  20. Otto on January 16, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    Wow, Matt. So, you’re saying that my wife and I, and millions of other Mormons who use birth control but who also pray and think of ourselves as getting answers to those prayers, are simply not spiritual enough to discern the anti-birth control counsel that God is giving us when we bring up the subject of family size? How in the world are you in a position to say that God’s trying to give me a message and I’m just refusing to listen?

    Also–and I’m sorry for the exasperated tone, but, well, I find your comment exasperating–how in the world are you in a position to say that your speculations are “likely”? I see no basis for your confidence.

  21. jjohnsen on January 16, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    I know how much individual time my parents could spend with me as one of five children. I also know how much time I am able to spend with my one (soon two) children. I prefer the later, and wish my parents could have spent more time with me when I was younger. I also believe my daughter;s life can be more fulfilling if I can spend this time with her as well as provide her with some of the things discussed in #13.

    Bookslinger, either I underestimate the amount of abortions in the U.S., or you overestimate their impact on the workforce.

  22. jjohnsen on January 16, 2006 at 11:36 pm

    Matt, you said so many.
    How many Mormons are not following the prophets council on birth control? Are you telling me my wife and I are mistakenly listening to satan when we pray and receive guidance that our second child should be our last?

  23. Andermom on January 17, 2006 at 12:30 am

    I don’t remember where, but I remember reading in a recent thread someone mentioning the shift in the type of labor done these days and how that changes the way people have kids. They said something like “having kids is no longer the road to financial security and prosperity that it once was.” When you work on a farm, and have ten kids, then it’s like have 10 employees who work for cheap. The farm’s productivity goes up, and wealth ensues. Now, most people work in an office, and kids don’t increase office productivity. In fact, if both parents work, then every additional kid costs that much more to put in day care, feed clothe, pay for schooling etc. In this sort of work culture kids are *only* a financial liability to the people that care for them. No matter how much value they may have to society as future workers, there is no tangible(monetary) benefit for the parents. Possibly one of the better ways to encourage people to have more children is to have very real, and very large tax breaks for every child.

    To answer the question, I feel that the birth rates of my siblings will influence my desicion on how many kids to have. It goes something like this: My parents had six kids, assuming each kid gets married and replaces themselves then my parents should have at least 12 grandchildren. As it stands I will likely need to have four kids in order for my parents to have 12 grandkids. We’ll see how it works out though. As an aside, my MIL made a FHE assignment board for us which has 7 hooks. When she gave it to me with blank name tags, I asked “So is this my kid quota?”

    Lastly re; the evils (or lack thereof) in birth control, no one has mentioned birth control for child spacing, and it’s subsequent use in promoting large families. All the mothers I know who had two kids within two years are certain that they aren’t going to have any more. It seems if the kids are more widely spaced, then larger numbers of children become more easily handled.

  24. Matt Evans on January 17, 2006 at 12:37 am

    Hi Otto and jjohnsen,

    I was deliberately provocative (one of my chief character flaws!) in order to puncture the widely-held belief articulated by Julie that change equals progress. To show that I wasn’t being too serious, I should add that my wife and I have used birth control, so I’m not arguing that it arose from the depths of hell. However, I do believe God has sometimes given his people a lower law when they’ve been unwilling to follow a higher one, and for that reason I think it’s wrong to assume that the changing emphasis by the prophets’ about birth control indicates something about the morality of birth control. This is especially true because many Mormons *did* dismiss the anti-BC statements by earlier prophets. If McKay taught that BC was a “gross wickedness” as Julie says, and I have no reason to think she’s mistaken, I know that many members did not agree with him and failed to heed him. I don’t know how many members were using birth control at the time the prophet was teaching it was gross wickedness, but I’ve read enough contemporary and historical complaints to know that many (again, no number, sorry jj) dismissed it. How upset God was about that, I don’t know.

    I do know that it’s fallacious to imagine that going from “prophet says” to “ask God” is a substantive, rather than a procedural, change. It would be interesting to see how many members would think their obligations had been reduced if they were counseled to “ask God” how much tithing they should pay, or how often they should attend church. I have no confidence that our average behavior would reflect God’s will, however. Regardless of God’s will, tithing and church attendance would go down. That’s just the sad fact of our fallen human natures; we’ve proven over and over that we must be commanded in all things — and even then we fall far short.

    This isn’t to say that God universally condemns birth control, I don’t think he does, but to argue that Mormons aren’t immune from the psychological tendencies that convince people that God is saying what they want to hear. And if he doesn’t agree with them, they ask again tomorrow, but if he does agree, they act as though they need never ask again. Helaman 12:2-7 — that’s us. Weak mortals.

  25. Adam Greenwood on January 17, 2006 at 11:40 am

    “No one stands at the pulpit and tells us it is ok to fail our kids. That it is better to have 8 kids and be a lousy parent, than have 2 kids and do it well.”

    I’m with you. I do believe that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp; that the choice Adam and Eve made was to try and become giants, knowing they would fail, and that we their children shouldn’t try to return ourselves to the garden; that when it comes to children we take too much thought for the things of tomorrow–but others disagree. So its not just that folks have unconsciously assimilated themselves to the wordly norm that having a child requires getting the child into the best schools, and the best extracurricular activities, and so on, and can be woken up with some good preaching. Some Mormons believe that it would be better to have three children who are likely bound for exaltation than eight kids, with only five or six likely bound for exaltation. So you just can’t assume that once the principle is voiced from the pulpit, everyone will automatically see the point of it.

    When it comes to constricting family sizes (which is not exactly the same thing as birth control use), as a result of my own prayers I’m inclined to agree with Matt Evans analysis, though I think its impossible to prove one way or the other and probably undesirable to do so. Here’s how I assimilate the fact that people have prayed and gotten a different answer. The possibilities are that

    (1) They would be exceptions to the rule even under the old regime. God has other purposes in mind.
    (2) They are deluded.
    (3) having instituted a lesser law, God is content that we live by it.
    (4) A lesser law is appropriate not just en masse but, in many cases for individuals.
    (5) The general changes in attitudes and so on that necessitated a lesser law have changed society in a way that makes it harder for individual families to live a different law.

    These are all possibilities. I have no way of knowing which is which, so I always charitably assume #1 or #5, or possibly #3. People with different views than mine have shown the same charity when they’ve heard the conclusions that I’ve prayerfully come to.

  26. b bell on January 17, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    “The Mormon church has no policy against birth control. Couples are encouraged to have only as many children as they can physically, emotionally and financially afford, said Don LeFevre, church spokesman. ”

    I agree with this comment by the church spokesman. Then I believe that many many Mormon couples are very capable of having 3-7 children effectively. In my ward the average seems to be 4. This is multiplying and replenishing as far as I can tell.

    “You will never regret having a third child but you may regret NOT having a third child” I was told this recently by a 54 year old non LDS bank president after he saw the pictures of my 4 kids. He was saying that he wished he and his wife had taken the plunge and had a third kid.

    I do think that the drasticly lower birth rate in the church since the 1970′s is a sign that things are not all well in the kingdom.

    I personally think that the recent rash of ensign articles aimed at supporting mothers and encouraging child rearing and the comments in conference related to this topic are a sign that the church heirarchy is getting nervous about the drop in births.

  27. no one on January 17, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    While I was in school I did a rotation to a low cost medical clinic in an area with many russian immigrants. These people were very religous and did not believe in birth control. As a result they all had very large families 8-12 kids. There were mothers comming in who were on food stamps, living on less that me and husband who don’t have kids yet, coun’t not afford care for they kids (that why they were on the states mediaid) and after all this they would have 8 kids and be pregant with the ninth. These were families with both a mother and a father I can’t imagine what would happen if the father decided to leave. I don’t believe that birth control is evil. There are some people who do use it that way because of selfishness but its hard to but everthing in black and white. And I would guess that Almost every LDS family has used some form of birth control or else there would be no families with less than 8 kids.

  28. no one on January 17, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    Also with growing ecnomic unstablity. (no one works for the same company for 30 years and have pension any more. Lay off are very common (just ask and IT worker). IT is very important for a wife to have some sort of practical training that she can use to work for more than minimin if she needs to this does not mean have that she can’t have a large family (5-7 kids) but maybe using birth control for that last year of school may make a huge difference for the family later on.

  29. Madera Verde on January 17, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    Just some quick thoughts.
    Several people have expressed comments that worrying about the extiction of a particular “race” is racist and therefore obviously reprehensible.
    (To put my remarks in context, it seems no race is in danger of distinction for the forseeable future but rather some are in decline. Also I take race to mean a cultural identity that transcends generations despite that culture constantly changing. Finally in a discussion about race I would like to bring up the old statement that there is more genetic variation between individuals than between what have been called “races” and cast some doubt on it. Several articles I have read recently suggest that for humans and closely related primates identical genes can be read differently, making that statement less authoratative than previously supposed)
    All of this is context for a narrower statement and response.
    In the the Lord of the Rings one of the characters says that what was so bad about saruman was not that he chose to live a particular way but that he wanted it to fill the whole earth. I think a loss of any “race” would be sad. I use the word race loosely since it would be difficult to define, perhaps I should use the word culture.
    I would be saddened by the loss of any culture or race. I would find it a tragedy that the world would be completely filled by one monoculture. As a kind of ironic aside, those commentators who refrain to mourn the possible decline and loss of their own culture/race would probably be sympathetic to efforts to preserve the many cultures and languages that are on the brink of extinction.
    As for my own self I like diversity and difference. When reading supposed evolutionary histories of humankind I wistfully long for our near relations. How interesting it would be to talk to some of them. But I digress. The first step in a commitment to diversity is self preservation. You must be commited to your own uniqueness and seperateness else to espouse diversity means surrender of identity and conformity.

  30. Julie M. Smith on January 17, 2006 at 2:09 pm

    Matt, I never suggested that the change in policy on bc was -progress-, just that it is -change-, which I don’t think Joe recognizes, but I’m sure he can correct me if that is wrong. I think the changed policy can be attributed to:

    (1) being a lower law
    (2) being a higher law
    (3) being neither higher nor lower but just an appropriate response to changine world conditions

    I, personally, think it is (3), but recognize that to be a personal opinion.

    Madiera summarizes what has been said: “Several people have expressed comments that worrying about the extiction of a particular “raceâ€? is racist and therefore obviously reprehensible.”

    Is it still reprehensible if the current trend means that the entire world will be taken over by fundamentalist Muslims in 100 years because they out-breed Christians? (Note: This is not an argument hiding behind a question.)

    Adam, I really want you to do your follow up post on policies for increasing the birth rate, esp. now that recent Ensign articles have been mentioned. There’s an interesting discussion to be had.

    bbell, it seems that *parents* often deliver the “I wish we’d had more” line but *siblings* often deliver the *I wish my parents had had fewer” line. Whether that’s childish whining or an appropriate response is another issue . . .

  31. b bell on January 17, 2006 at 2:33 pm


    I have really noticed the articles in the Ensign recently. There have even been articles about how difficult it is for European (Ukraine, Russia in this article) saints to have children in a culture that seems opposed to family formation/births. This will start to get more attention from the Heirarchy as the years pass.

    I am also looking forward to Adams post.

    “Is it still reprehensible if the current trend means that the entire world will be taken over by fundamentalist Muslims in 100 years because they out-breed Christians?” This is probably the reality for at least Europe. I do not think the US is heading in this direction. The French government has already lost control over large portions of its major cities. I have read recently in major publications that 60% of the births in France are to Muslims. France will be the first nation with a UN veto to have a muslim majority. Perhaps in 2 generations. The battle of Tours is waging again.

  32. no one on January 17, 2006 at 2:50 pm

    The french goverenment is much more family friendly than the US government and still the women in France have a very low birth rate. i have friend who has lived in France for about 15 years, and she was saying that French women don’t hire babysitter (to go out on a date with the hubby on the weekend) That they take care of they own children. If this is true no wonder they have a low birth rate who whould want to be not able to go out for 20 years. A lot of things are cultural. The fact is childrean are more time consuming than they used to be, and they are costing more. After all the bachelors degree is turing out to be the new high school diploma. Many jobs now require master or higher. More school, safety concerns, are all very taxing on parent. Its still possible to have large families but without an other major reason like religion telling you to have kids. people just aren’t going to have a large family its too hard. And noonw want to live in that small house our great grandparents lived in.

  33. no one on January 17, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    Unless they are LDS or have an other religion that supports large families

  34. Tatiana on January 17, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    Julie #30: “Is it still reprehensible if the current trend means that the entire world will be taken over by fundamentalist Muslims in 100 years because they out-breed Christians? (Note: This is not an argument hiding behind a question.)”

    My answer is Yes, it’s reprehensible. The way I can tell is that it contains the words “the entire world will be taken over by ___________”.

    Our culture is in no danger of extinction. Not only are we the number one immigration destination, but the rest of the world is adopting many elements of our culture all the time. We also adopt elements of other cultures, like Anime or Karaoke. We’ve done it throughout recorded history. Think of gunpowder, or paper. Good ideas tend to spread.

    Racially and culturally, the human species is pretty well-blended. If all humans were wiped out by some catastrophe tomorrow, except for one small band of stone age people on a single Pacific island, our species would retain something like 85% of our genetic diversity. We truly are all one.

  35. Adam Greenwood on January 17, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    I don’t think Julie in A.’s question was about genetic diversity. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the commandment to ‘multiply and replenish’ isn’t about genetic diversity either.

  36. Julie M. Smith on January 17, 2006 at 3:38 pm


    But what if our culture *were* in danger of extinction–I don’t find it _impossible_ that, using Europe, Africa, AND the Middle East as a base of operations, a fundamentalist Muslim empire could take over North America. (I don’t think it is likely at all, but I’m thinking in hypotheticals here.) My point is: Is there _ever_ a point where we say as a nation, “We aren’t going to allow your people to ourbreed our people because we don’t want to be at the mercy of your military designs and we don’t want your culture to become our culture?”

  37. Ariel on January 17, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    Tatiana, have you ever played the board game Risk? It’s a world takeover game. The way to win is to take over as many countries as possible until the other players have been eradicated. Once a person has the middle east, Africa, Russia, and Europe, even if the other player has everything else, they’re pretty much doomed.

    You say that immigrants tend to assimilate into American culture- I don’t fully agree, but did you read Steyn’s article? What we need to look at is European culture. Muslims DON’T assimilate into European culture, they actually become more Muslim and more anti-European when they immigrate. And they continue to have lots of children, while native Europeans don’t. European culture is in clear danger, and once Europe has been taken over, just like in Risk, there will be a serious risk to the U.S. culture.

    But like Julie said, this post is all about what-if’s, anyway. Is there ever a point, regardless of whether that point is now, when we should breed for the sake of out-breeding the Muslims so our culture lives? Or out-breeding the Smiths and the Petersons so our family line lives? Or out-breeding the [insert enemy here] so we have soldiers to fight them?

    IMO, and I know this will get me attacked, the answer is yes to the culture question. I consider U.S. culture with the freedoms it offers to be superior to Muslim culture with the horrific women’s rights violations and the extremely patriarchal system. If there was no commandment to “multiply and replenish/fill the Earth” I would multiply simply to keep my culture alive.

  38. Concierge on January 17, 2006 at 7:41 pm

    I’ve never found a commandment to this:

    >>># 37 If there was no commandment to “multiply and replenish/fill the Earth”…>>>

    in Genesis, Moses or Abraham. What is written in one account (that goes beyond the others) is that the God’s should “cause” them to be fruitful and multiply.

    The first “commandment” to man, in each – Genesis, Abraham and Moses – is actually a dietary commandment…that man was not to eat from the tree of knowledge.

    All monotheist religions have dietary laws to adhere to as a reminder of the Garden allegory/story/account. While I believe in bringing spirit children to this world, I don’t view it as a commandment – more of a responsibility that we are offered as a way to exercise our agency.

  39. Jonathan Green on January 17, 2006 at 8:25 pm

    Sorry, Julie, pencil me in for ‘reprehensible’. There’s no way we–in this country–can make the statement “we aren’t going to allow your people to outbreed our people” without defining some Americans as undesirable based on their religion or ethnicity. That path ends badly every time someone tries it. It’s an ugly question with an ugly enough history that it’s difficult to engage the rest of the discussion.

  40. Julie M. Smith on January 17, 2006 at 8:30 pm

    Jonathan, my hypothetical assumes that the “your people” are not Americans but rather militant Muslims (in another country). Does that change the equation for you?

    By the way, *I’m* not sure of the answer to my question myself. Like you, I think anyone who thinks, “We need more X-Americans otherwise they’ll be too many Y-Americans” is a racist jerk. But what if the superbreeders are in another country–one with no commitment to democracy, justice, or religious tolerance? What happens then?

  41. Seth Rogers on January 17, 2006 at 9:18 pm

    I’m reminded of Christ’s admonition to his apostles: “suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of heaven.”

    I think a pretty good barometer of a society’s standing before God is how accepting they are of little children. When a society starts rejecting its children, I think it’s a sign that things have gone seriously wrong.

    Children are not glamorous, they are icky, demanding, noisy, bothersome, and they seriously “cramp your style.” In short, they really rub arrogant and self-centered people the wrong way.

    No surprise then that they rub a lot of well-to-do Americans the wrong way as well. These self-important folks would do well to remember that in the sight of God, we are all “children.”

    By that measure with which we judge others, shall we ourselves be judged.

    A society that rejects or marginalizes children and those who deal with them is in open defiance of God and will pay dearly for it.

  42. Jonathan Green on January 17, 2006 at 10:19 pm

    Julie, when have Americans ever found an external enemy without turning against some element of their own fellow citizens? If Muslims having babies is a threat halfway across the world, how much worse if they’re here in our very own country? We can’t imagine an external threat without imagining a fifth column in our midst.

    What, strategically, does ‘superbreeding’ get you these days? China has four times the population of the US. It has no commitment to democracy, justice, or tolerance. Whatever strategic threat it represents does not include invasion, however. Rhetorically, though, the concept of ‘superbreeding’ is neat, because it lets us return civilian populations to the category of militarily significant target. Why people choose not to have kids, and the consequences that follow, is an interesting and important topic, but approaching it in terms of strategic fertility is pernicious.

  43. Julie M. Smith on January 17, 2006 at 10:33 pm

    Those are good thoughts, Jonathan Green. Would your position change if (1) the US moved beyond fifth column thinking [which we haven't, but we are certainly doing much better than we have in the past] and (2) unlike China, our next superbreeding culture had significant expansionist ideals? I’m still trying to establish if there’s ever an appropriate situation for trying to ourbreed the other guys, and I’m still not sure.

  44. Adam Greenwood on January 17, 2006 at 11:29 pm

    “I’ve never found a commandment to this:

    >>># 37 If there was no commandment to “multiply and replenish/fill the Earth�…>>>

    in Genesis, Moses or Abraham”

    Its an obligation we assume in temple marriage

  45. Bookslinger on January 17, 2006 at 11:29 pm

    jjohnson: (#12): I was also lumping abortion with the reduced birth-rate, but the annual number of abortions in the US is staggering.

    From the web page at:

    Approximate number of abortions in the U.S. per year (based on assumptions by the Alan Guttmacher Institute).

    1996 – 1,365,700
    1995 – 1,363,700
    1994 – 1,431,000
    1993 – 1,500,000
    1992 – 1,528,900
    1991 – 1,556,500
    1990 – 1,608,600
    1989 – 1,566,900
    1988 – 1,590,800
    1987 – 1,559,100
    1986 – 1,574,000
    1985 – 1,588,600
    1984 – 1,577,200
    1983 – 1,575,000
    1982 – 1,573,900
    1981 – 1,577,300
    1980 – 1,553,900
    1979 – 1,497,700
    1978 – 1,409,600
    1977 – 1,316,700
    1976 – 1,179,300
    1975 – 1,034,200
    1974 – 898,600
    1973 – 774,600

    From 1973 through 1985 that’s approximately 15,000,000 people who would now be adults, 21 to 33 years old, if they hadn’t been aborted as babies, or fetuses for those who don’t want to think of them as babies.

    No wonder we need to import cheap labor, we’re “missing” 15,000,000 adults, not even taking into consideration yet the ones who are “missing” due to a lower birth rate.

    Extrapolating those numbers from 1996 through 2005, one then comes up with another 28,000,000 people who would be alive and under the age of 21, had they not been aborted.

    Look at it another way:

    Mormons constitute approximately 2% of the US population. And assuming 1/2 of US Mormons are converts, that means Mormon converts make up 1% of the US population.

    Of those 43,000,000 people who could have been born, 430,000 might have accepted the gospel, had the averages held out. Assume, for a moment, that I’m off by a factor of 2, and that Mormon converts make up only 1/2 % of the US population.

    So even at a low estimate, that’s still 215,000 potential converts among the aborted. Or at least 430 wards, or 43 stakes. (Assume 500 people/ward counting inactive members.)

    The number of US abortions since 1973 far outnumbers the genocides of Hitler (7 to 20 million, not counting soldiers of all sides who died in the war ) and Stalin (20 to 30 million, or 60 million from all Soviet communists if you start with Lenin and go through the end of the cold war) , and also Mao Tse Dong (35 to 40 million).
    (Genocide numbers from: )

    Slightly different, but in the same ballpark, figures for genocide can be found

    Another point I want to make is that Hitler was not the #1 mass murderer of the 20th century. The highest scores in genocide, of people after they are born, belong to Soviet and Chinese communists.

  46. Tatiana on January 17, 2006 at 11:52 pm

    Julie, I don’t think that’s a fruitful line of thinking at all. Since my best friend for many years is Islamic, and the child of immigrants to Europe, I don’t think of Islam as a threat. It’s no more scary that Muslims keep their religious customs when they move to Europe than it is for Mormons not to drink iced tea in the American South. Many of the Islamic religious customs are just like ours, in fact. They fast, they don’t drink alcohol, and their religion is a central part if their lives and worldview, as our is for us. Culture differences (those that are problematic like the status of women) can be resolved much more easily by conversion than by breeding, anyway, since culture isn’t genetic. Also it changes over time, of course, so it’s hard to say what U.S. culture will be like in 3 generation, or Muslim culture, either. My friend is planning to go to the middle east when she finishes her docterate, and try to influence Islamic studies in what she sees as a favorable direction. Joseph F. Smith, looking at us today, might think Muslim women dress much more modestly than LDS sisters these days. (I just happened to read something from his teachings where he deplored the mutilation of garments that some sisters were doing then to wear the “modern” fashions, that I gather showed wrists and shins to an unprecedented degree.)

    So my answer is that our society isn’t under any threat because it’s vibrant and successful. People love freedom, and they accomplish the most in free systems. I think it’s a good thing that the birthrate for humanity as a whole drops. Whatever we lose here can be made up with immigration. I hope that soon the benefits of modern civilization will extend to all people on earth, then we will find a stable global population level, perhaps one that is smaller than today’s, but in which every child will be cherished, and have opportunities for education, health care, nutrition, and eventually jobs which are far beyond those of the average child today.

  47. Joseph Stanford on January 18, 2006 at 12:24 am

    15- Julie, yes I’m serious. I agree with Matt Evans and others that the substantive change in birth control statements from Church hierarchy (and yes, I agree it was a change, from speaking against birth control to staying neutral on it, to, in more recent times, tacitly acknowledging it in general without any mention of specific methods other than condemning abortion for birth control), are directly correlated with the influence of the secular culture on church members. Whether that influence is good, bad, or neutral, is as you say, another question, but I think there is no question that this is the main direction of influence. I think that the changes in the church’s stance had minimal additional effects over the overwhelming cultural and (to a lesser but real extent) economic forces on church members that have been described so well by JKS, bbell, and others here.
    #23, end of comment by Andermom regarding the value of childspacing in encouraging larger families, Amen. Of course I don’t know for sure, but it seems to me there are plenty of Mormon families out there who start out with an ideal of just letting the kids come, and then (in part because our culture does not encourage the kind of breastfeeding that ordinarily would result in a 2-3 year spacing between births) have 2,3,4,5 kids, every year or 1.5 years in succession, get worn out, and then go get sterilized. (Pretty ironic considering the residual warning against stertilization in the GHI.) Whereas if they spaced their children a little more, they could perhaps run the race longer and have more kids.

  48. Julie M. Smith on January 18, 2006 at 10:58 am

    Tatiana–You are completely missing the point of my question. It has nothing to do with whether Muslims are “good” or not. It has everything to do with whether, if we knew that in a century militant, expansionist, fundamentalist Muslims would be in a position (due to their higher-than-western birthrate) to dominate geopolitics, if we would now make a conscious decision to support pro-natalist policies in order to prevent that from happening. That’s all. I’m not concerned with whether it _will_ happen (which I doubt, because I agree with you about the ‘good’ nature of almost all Muslims), but I am concerned with whether, given my hypothetical, we would consider attempts to outbreed a wise idea.

    Re #47–Joseph, aren’t you the tiniest bit uncomfortable suggesting that the prophet and other brethren have changed a doctrinal position due to “the influence of the secular culture on church members,” especially one that affects a major covenant? Do you think, for example, that increasing economic pressure on the Saints might cause the prophet to change tithing to 5% due to cultural pressure? And I think that efforts by yourself, Matt Evans, et al, to suggest that the changed bc stance is a result of the prophet ‘caving’ to cultural pressure is dangerous. Any time we do something other than take prophetic counsel at face value, we are setting ourselves up as someone above/beyond/better than what is being preached. On a separate issue, I appreciate the comments about spacing as leading to a higher overall birthrate and I think that you describe very well what happens to a lot of couples.

  49. Adam Greenwood on January 18, 2006 at 11:07 am

    Julie in A.,

    How are we not taking prophetic counsel at face value? The church says that it has no official policy, and we agree that it has no official policy. We have an explanation of why the church has ceased to have a policy, but we aren’t trying to make it obligatory. As far as I know, the church hasn’t offered any alternative explanation for the change, including yours.

    Before 1978, would I be failing to take prophetic counsel at face value if I rejected the ‘less-righteous-in-the-preexistence’ theories, or if I accepted them?

    Your position seems to be that church members should never believe anything beyond what the current prophet has explicitly stated. Of all the views that have been expressed in this thread, that is the only one that seems contrary to revelation to me.

  50. Matt Evans on January 18, 2006 at 11:45 am

    Julie, I don’t think the prophet “caved” to social pressures, God does the caving (116 pages, Law of Moses). Moses didn’t choose the lesser law. I agree that absent a revelation, or at least an explanation from church leaders, on the reason for the changing emphasis, we can’t know what rule God would prefer were we obedient.

  51. Mark B. on January 18, 2006 at 12:38 pm


    Perhaps it’s the use of the pejorative “caving” that makes it difficult to answer your hypothetical question about tithing with “yes.”

    But the history of God’s dealings with us seems to be filled with examples of changing laws due to our (or society’s) inability or unwillingness to live (or allow us to live) the law.

    Consider the Hebrews at Sinai, and their receipt of the Mosaic law because of their disobedience.

    Consider the change from 100% consecration to 10% tithing.

    These might suggest that yes, God does change his requirements (presumably only for a time) if we show ourselves incapable of living the ideal law.

  52. Adam Greenwood on January 18, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    I think I’d agree with Mark B. that when God adjusts the law because of the inability or unwillingness of the people to live it, its not caving so much as it is both a punishment and a mercy.

    “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept•, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom•; for unto him that receiveth• I will give more•; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.”

    But let me say that folks do sometimes *criticize* the prophet for supposedly caving to something or other. Its not like Julie in A. made this phenomenon up off the top of her head.

  53. Julie M. Smith on January 18, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    Adam et al:

    First, let me clarify that my position here is not “the policy on bc has changed and that’s progress/good/a step in the right direction.” My position is “the policy on bc has changed and it might be dangerous to make assumptions as to why.” Why do I think it is dangerous? Because if you assume that what we now have is a ‘lesser law’, then there would be a desire to try to live or encourage others to live by (what you perceive to be) a higher law, which I think we’ve seen manifest in some of Joseph’s thinking on other related subjects. More generally, there is danger in not taking pronouncements at face value: “Well, the prophet might have said X but what he REALLY thinks is that it would be better to do Y.” I shouldn’t need to go into any detail to explain why that line of reasoning can be dangerous.

    Mark B,–for all cases where a higher law is replaced with a lower law (and I agree that there are several) the fact that that is what was happening was made clear. That isn’t the case with bc.

    I have no problem with a blog discussion exploring whether the shift in bc policy is a move to a higher law, moving to a lesser law, or neither, but a shift that reflects changed social conditions. I actually think one could make a reasonable case for any of these three options. My main concern is that people holding firmly to one of these views would use their authority to teach and counsel in a way to suggest that their position is the Church’s position.

  54. Adam Greenwood on January 18, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    ” My main concern is that people holding firmly to one of these views would use their authority to teach and counsel in a way to suggest that their position is the Church’s position.”

    OK. No one here has authority and no one here has preached that their understanding is taught by the church, but this is a valid concern.

    ” More generally, there is danger in not taking pronouncements at face value: “Well, the prophet might have said X but what he REALLY thinks is that it would be better to do Y.â€?”

    This kind of second-guessing would be wrong, but no one here is doing it. The Church currently says that it takes no official position on birth control and family size, and to my knowledge no one here is arguing that the Church really does. Further, I have no idea what the Prophet *really* thinks about birth control and/or family size. All I know is what he or his agents have said.

    My thought that the shift from having large families to no official position is a move to accommodate the weakness of the people wasn’t derived from trying to guess what the prophet really thought. (As you can see from this way of putting it, I reject that we’re currently in a lesser law situation. We’re in a no-law situation.) I arrived at it by trying to reconcile current and former prophetic pronouncements, with the addition of certain views on the nature of joy and what constitutes progression and godliness.

  55. Seth Rogers on January 18, 2006 at 1:42 pm


    The cases where a “higher law” was replaced with a “lower law” were not half as clear to the people involved as they are to us today.

    We only know what was happening because of hundreds of years of interpretation and extra revelation (some of it as late as the 1800s). I don’t think the law change was half as clear to Moses’ Israel or Peter’s Christianity as you make out.

  56. Julie M. Smith on January 18, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    Adam writes, “This kind of second-guessing would be wrong, but no one here is doing it.”

    The second-guessing that I am talking about is very much happening here: the argument that bc is a ‘lesser law’ is what I am referring to.

    Seth, I think you are making an unsafe assumption because we don’t know all of the revelation, counsel, documents, preaching, etc., that Moses or Peter’s people had; we just know what from that pool has been transmitted to us.

  57. Adam Greenwood on January 18, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    Julie in S.,

    its only second-guessing if the Prophet has offered a different explanation. The Prophet hasn’t.

  58. Julie M. Smith on January 18, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    Would you rather I called it ‘first-guessing’?

    Again, nothing wrong with first-guessing on a blog; my concern is when the ‘guesser’ confuses her own opinion with the stance of the Church.

  59. Veritas on January 18, 2006 at 2:47 pm

    I need some clarification….let me give you my background…
    I got married about 4 years ago…so having kids has been a possiblity for me since 2001. I had never ever given thought to kids or bc or anything before this time. I would kinda think “oh 4 kids would be nice” cause thats how many were in my family. We attended a marriage prep class (what a waste of time) where we were given a handout with a quote from Kimball from the 70′s, from a speech given at a non-church event about bc. Basicly said you shouldn’t use it because the implications of it were scary. Well, to say the least I was shocked. I had never heard anything EVER from our church about not using bc. I was mortified and tried looking further into and could not find a single shred of anythign from any one before or since with any reference to this sort of policy. A relative said that that was just a quote people who didn’t believe in bc loved to dredge up that was pres. kimball speaking ‘not prophetically’ (not in general conference etc.). I relaxed and forgot about it. Then I keep seeing these type of posts on here. Like I said, it was my understanding that the church has never had a different policy than it does now.

    But, even so…this is the time I live in. President Hinckley is the prophet. So, why should I give a hoot what has been the case in the past? I have heard many people teach that we should study and know our CURRENT prophets counsel…he has been ordained to lead us in our CURRENT world and help us navigate through our CURRENT society’s issues. So, why should I care what the prophet taught that people that were having children fifty years ago or twenty or fifteen? I look to the prophet to guide me now when I”M having children…

    And one last thought. Something that has been really on my mind lately is that is possible that while my parents and grandparents etc. generation it was important to limit bc and have some endless number of children…well, maybe thats just not the case now. The worlds poplulation is rapidly approaching a level that the earth cannot sustain, so, maybe HF IS prompting us to have less children…maybe because so so many children are being born outside of the parental relationship that the Saints in the last days will be bearing less and adopting more? I think in these last days there might be less children born in the church, but they will be of a special generation that will lead the church through the moral battles it faces.

  60. Adam Greenwood on January 18, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    “Again, nothing wrong with first-guessing on a blog; my concern is when the ‘guesser’ confuses her own opinion with the stance of the Church. ”

    If I meet any women doing that, I’ll be sure to let them know.

  61. Julie M. Smith on January 18, 2006 at 2:58 pm


    I think a reasonable reading of the evidence is that birth control _was_ somewhere between discouraged and forbidden in the past. I think it is fair to say that the policy has changed. I also think that the new policy is unambiguous as stated in the GHI (which is–or should be–where the counsel would come from if you went to your bishop with this question) and True to the Faith: that use of bc by a married couple should be a matter of prayer between them. Hence, in some situations, bc use WILL be forbidden (by God, through prayer) married couples; in other cases it will be acceptable.

    You write, “The worlds poplulation is rapidly approaching a level that the earth cannot sustain” There’s a verse in the D & C that I am too lazy to look up that suggests otherwise. . . There are very good reasons for limiting one’s family but I don’t think overpopulation is one of them.

  62. Adam Greenwood on January 18, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    “use of bc by a married couple should be a matter of prayer between them”

    If that’s the Church policy, your conclusion “in some situations, bc use WILL be forbidden”, or its converse, don’t necessarily follow.

  63. Bookslinger on January 18, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    “Our culture is in no danger of extinction.”

    That’s arrogant baloney. History clearly indicates all cultures are susceptible to extinction, and most times the vast majority of people don’t see it coming. “Hey, we’re Nephites. The Lamanites will never beat us.”

    The 20th century saw two great and long-standing cultures for all intents and purposes wiped out by communism. The Soviet communists destroyed Russian culture, and the Chinese communists destroyed Chinese culture. The people remained, but their cultures were wiped out. And regardless of how miserable those prior cultures were, they were replaced with even greater misery that lasted many years.

    Also worthy of note is that hand-in-hand with the extinction of both of those cultures was the government sponsored slaughter of tens of millions of their citizens.

  64. Veritas on January 18, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    Julie –
    I wasn’t really saying I would limit my family b/c of overpopulation. But if we are throwing out hypotheticals for why the bc policy is what it is….and appears to be what it always has been unless someone kind find an official church statement from the past that is different from what we have now….then, maybe is this is one reason why, possibly, people might be prompted to have fewer than 10 children. Or fewer than 5. The world is drastically different than it was 25 when years ago when my parents were winding down their child-bearing…and I for one and very grateful that we have a Prophet to guide us through these tough decisions is such a crazy turbulant world, and we don’t have to rely on the guidance of dead men from a different generation.

    As for comparing the ‘change’ (of which I have seen no proof) in bc policy to the change to a lower law of tithing from the law of consecration…hogwash! In that case, the Saints were clearly instructed to live a certain way, there was no ambiguity, it was scriptural doctrine (did they used to ask if you used bc in a temple recommend interview for example? didnt think so…) and when the saints failed they KNEW they were switching down to tithing. So, hardly a correct comparison. No one ever got up in GC and directed the church to under no circumstance use bc and then a few years later got up and said, you guys aren’t obeying…so scratch that and just do what you want. please.

    Seems like the ‘how many kids/bc or no bc’ thing always turns into…I have 10 kids so I must be more faithful than you four kid familys. The people with large families who dont believe in bc get up and testify that the Lord doesn’t want us using bc cause thats what they do.

  65. Julie M. Smith on January 18, 2006 at 3:41 pm

    Adam re #62, you’ll need to explain more because I don’t follow you. The scenario that I am envisioning is a couple praying and feeling strongly that God does not want them (at least at that time) to use bc. It is forbidden to them via the answer to their prayers. (I assume that when the counsel is to make the decision to use bc a matter of prayer, that that prayer will be answered and that the answer can be “OK” “not OK” or “whatever you want”.) In that case, bc would be forbidden to them. I’m offering that as a response to Veritas who seems to dismiss the idea that it could be wrong to use bc in any case.

    Veritas, I have to be out the door, but I’m sure some intrepid soul will find us the Pres. McKay quote about bc being “gross wickedness.” There are similar ones from that era as well.

  66. b bell on January 18, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    “If you believe that the number of children you have is a matter of prayer, do you think that declining birth rates are something you would consider in your prayers, or something God would consider in guiding you? Conversely, if you believe that ‘multiply and replenish’ means having as many children as possible, how would the (hypothetical) knowledge that others around you are breeding at an unsustainable rate affect your decisions?”

    back to the post. I gave no consideration at all to current US birthrate trends while having 4 kids in 4 years. We had a surprise multiple birth so all of a sudden we joined the 4 plus kid group at church. After I had this many kids I then started researching and noticed that very few non LDS people here in TX in my area had more then 2. Plus we would get so many comments from the non LDS.

    I really like to drop the fact that we are planning on at least one more in a couple of years on people in Biz meetings to see what they will say.

    I do not really care what others think so this will not affect my child rearing going forward. I do think that HF has a voice in the matter. One of my big fears regarding child birth is that I will be to influenced by temporal concerns that I will ignore spiritual promptings to have another child. (the vacation, the BMW, the 4000 sqft house etc) I would hate to be confronted by this at the judgement. I know a lot of 4 plus Kid families in my ward that feel this way. I am afraid that many LDS folks will face this esp since the LDS birthrate had dropped so much. I am having a hard time believing that the apparent 60% drop in the LDS birthrate since the 1970′s is inspired. I feel it is the fact that we live in a culture that has moved away from larger families that has influenced so many of us to limit our families.

    I also fully acknowledge that God and nature can prompt us to limit our families. Either HF can inspire individuals to limit their families or nature can do it for us without our consent. My brother says that HF is prompting him to only have 2 kids right now. He has 2 now and says maybe HF will prompt him again but he is staying put at 2 right now. I have nothing to say about his personal inspiration about this.

    It is interesting to note that the average GA has 5-6 kids. Read Alma 13…..

  67. b bell on January 18, 2006 at 3:51 pm

    Also I see no real issue using BC. I came of age in the mid 1990′s and was not taught in church that BC was against LDS doctrine. We do need to stay with current prophetic councel today

  68. Adam Greenwood on January 18, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    Your scenario could happen. I’m saying that your certainty that the scenario will happen (or, conversely, your certainty that some couples will be told to use birth control or constrict their families) does not follow from what you say the church’s rule is. That’s all.

  69. Andermom on January 18, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    Here is something about birth control. It isn’t the “gross wickedness” quote, but it is discouraging use of birth control in any form:

    “I remember the counsel of our beloved prophet Spencer W. Kimball to married students. He said: “I have told tens of thousand of young folks that when they marry they should not wait for children until they have finished their schooling and financial desires…. They should live together normally and let the children come….”

    This is from the October 87 Priesthood session address by Ezra Taft Benson. I found this in the current ‘participants study guide’ for the Marriage and Family Relations Sunday School class. It says with the copyright info that the english version was approved in 1997. If anyone is curious the SWK quote is referenced as being from “Marriage is Honorable” in ‘Speeches of the Year, 1973′, [1974] pg 263. I have a feeling that the ‘gross wickedness’ quote might be in that same speech.

  70. Joseph Stanford on January 18, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    Julie, and others,
    I agree that something seems wrong if church leaders “caved in” to political pressure, which I would tentatively describe as a direct political-style lobbying to the church leader to do something that some constituency wants, as opposed to a response to an overall social condition. But as has been stated, changing commands because of the response of the people or the political environment is nothing new. A few more examples. 1 Samuel 8, where Samuel (on instruction from the Lord) agrees to appoint a king at the people’s wishes, against their own welfare (same situation in Ether 6:22-25). Joseph Smith and associates had to change what they were attempting (and were commanded) to do repeatedly according to the response of the people (D&C 105:16-18 and others). The manifesto was issued “inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress, forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort…” And so on to many other examples. The church, members and leaders, are shaped inexorably by cultural forces, and church leaders and the Lord Himself respond to those forces. Although most of these examples can be interpreted as a lack of fully faithful response on the part of the covenant people, I also think there are positive cultural forces, for example, the civil rights movement, that arguably prepared the Lord’s people to progress positively (Official Declaration #2).

    D&C 104:17 The earth is full, there is enough and to spare.
    In the Proclamation on the Family, I don’t see how there could be any more emphasis than there already is on continuing to multiply and replenish the earth. Call me simple, but I think if the overall situation changed, the Lord could have the prophet tell us. Of course, each couple may have their own particular reasons to avoid having a(nother) child, again between them and the Lord.

  71. Mark B. on January 18, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    Having married 30 years ago this summer, I obviously grew up in a different church from the one b bell knew. Here are some examples:

    From Pres. N. Eldon Tanner, Conference Address, April 1980:

    We reaffirm today what U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt said in 1917:

    “What this nation vitally needs is not the negative preaching of birth control to a submerged tenth, and the tenth immediately adjoining, but the positive preaching of birth encouragement to the eight-tenths who make up the capable self-respecting American stock which we wish to see perpetuate itself� (Metropolitan, Oct. 1917).

    There are various arguments for curtailing the birth of children or the size of families, but they are contrary to the laws of God. Our early citizens who were patriotic and God-fearing, and in many instances lacked for material possessions, believed in large families; and from that stock came some of our greatest statesmen and finest lawyers, scientists, and educators. They were self-made men reared in humble homes where spirituality abounded.

    (Emphasis added.)

    From Pres. Lee, October Conference, 1972.

    Now, again, where there is abject poverty in some heavily populated countries, we declare it is a grievous sin before God to adopt restrictive measures in disobedience to God’s divine command from the beginning of time to “multiply and replenish the earth.� Surely those who project such measures to prevent life or to destroy life before or after birth will reap the whirlwind of God’s retribution, for God will not be mocked.

    From Pres. Kimball, October, 1979.

    As we look about us, we see many forces at work bent on the destruction of the family, both in America and abroad. Family ties are being destroyed by an ever-increasing divorce rate, by increased infidelity of spouses, by the abominable sin of abortion, which bids well to become a national scandal and is a very grave sin. Another erosion of the family is unwarranted and selfish birth control. [Note that here Pres. Kimball leaves an opening for "warranted and unselfish" birth control, although he doesn't describe what that might be.

    Pres. Kimball, RS General Meeting, 1975.

    Those things that endanger a happy marriage are infidelity, slothfulness, selfishness, abortion, unwarranted birth control, leaving the home to others, and sin in all of its many manifestations.
    [Note again the escape word "unwarranted."]

    I’m sure there are many more (including in the old General Handbooks, which I don’t have access to). These statements do reflect the general tone of teaching about birth control during that time.

    Finally, the following is a letter from the First Presidency, dated April 1969, which was the “last word” on the subject for years thereafter:

    The First Presidency is being asked from time to time as to what the attitude of the Church is regarding birth control. In order that you may be informed on this subject and that you may be prepared to convey the proper information to the members of the Church under your jurisdiction, we have decided to give you the following statement:

    We seriously should regret that there should exist a sentiment or feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. We have been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth that we may have joy and rejoicing in our posterity.

    Where husband and wife enjoy health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity, it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. We believe that those who practice birth control will reap disappointment by and by.

    However, we feel that men must be considerate of their wives who bear the greater responsibility not only of bearing children, but of caring for them through childhood. To this end the mother’s health and strength should be conserved and the husband’s consideration for his wife is his first duty, and self control a dominant factor in all their relationships.

    It is our further feeling that married couples should seek inspiration and wisdom from the Lord that they may exercise discretion in solving their marital problems, and that they may be permitted to rear their children in accordance with the teachings of the gospel.

  72. Mark B. on January 18, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    A large collection of statements from the leaders of the church, with a commentary by the man who compiled them, can be found at

  73. b bell on January 18, 2006 at 4:55 pm


    These types of statements must have stopped in the 1980′s because I never heard word one about these statements until I was an adult having kids and only then thru internet research.

    I am anticipating in the near future some serious language/talks about limiting family size sometime in the next few years. The Ensign is starting to publish softer articles about it recently.

  74. Julie M. Smith on January 18, 2006 at 8:22 pm

    Joseph Stanford–

    When we got to the point where you mentioned that changes are sometimes the result of positive (as well as negative) pressure, then we got on the same page. My sense is that, for bc, the jury is out as to whether it was positive, negative, or a neutral response to changing conditions. Another possibility is that it is different things to different people.

  75. Julie M. Smith on January 18, 2006 at 9:07 pm

    “A large collection of statements from the leaders of the church, with a commentary by the man who compiled them, can be found at

    Wow. To leave off True to the Faith and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (and the Ensign article from which it came) from a list that long is to abandon all pretense of objectivity.

  76. ed on January 18, 2006 at 9:40 pm

    “To leave off True to the Faith and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (and the Ensign article from which it came) from a list that long is to abandon all pretense of objectivity.”

    Perhaps. But this certainly wouldn’t be the first instance of picking and choosing to support a favored position, nor the most eggregious. People exclude teachings they don’t like as being all the time when they’re trying to make a point. For example, the famed “BYU evolution packet” conveniently leaves out the giant stack of sources and statements that conflict with evolutionary ideas, some of which I would argue seem just as “authoritative” as TTtF or EoM (…paging Gary from NDBTF…). And the list purports to be a list of statements by general authorities, which TTtF and the EoM are not. Like it or not, there are decades of more or less authoritative statements by church leaders opposing the use of birth control. I agree with you that the omission of TTtF shows a lack of objectivity, but I don’t sense a lot of objectivity from anyone on this topic.

  77. Julie M. Smith on January 18, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    ed, I suppose that if the author had framed it as (1) an effort to support a favored position or (2) as an historical overview (I agree that there are decades of statements opposing bc–just not _this_ decade!), I would feel differently. But it is packaged to represent Church teachings on the issue, which means that leaving off TTtF and EoM makes no sense–claiming that they aren’t GA statements doesn’t cut it.

  78. Otto on January 18, 2006 at 9:55 pm

    Yeah, ed, but it’s one thing to trawl general authority statements — which, frankly, can vary widely in their positions — and quite another to look at recently released material that have been as thoroughly correlated/vetted as the two sources Julie mentions. Personally, I would think something that multiple GA’s have have a hand in in the last 20 years is more authoritative than something than one GA said in a BYU devotional in the 70s or whatever.

  79. Mark B. on January 18, 2006 at 11:07 pm

    Just to clarify: My posts ##71 and 72 were simply intended to (a) report on the state of the teachings when I was reaching adulthood and (b) give easy access to a lot of previous leaders’ statements on the subject.

    I don’t know who the guy was who collected those statements and I wasn’t intending to endorse his website as the final word on the subject.

    Now I’ve got to go get my fifth child to bed.

  80. Julie in Austin on January 18, 2006 at 11:13 pm

    It’s OK, Mark, I didn’t assume that his views were necessarily yours, and I did appreciate the links because I _did_ ask for someone to find the old line on bc for us.

  81. Sara R on January 18, 2006 at 11:49 pm

    I remember reading that website in about 1999. He probably just hasn’t updated it since “True to the Faith” came out. And the Encyclopedia of Mormonism didn’t go through correlation, did it? If I recall correctly, the Ensign article you are referring to was an “I have a question” article, and those come with a little note saying that answers are meant as guidance only, not as definitive statements of doctrine/church policy.

  82. Otto on January 19, 2006 at 12:01 am

    The EOM wasn’t correlated per se, but, as I understand it, it was heavily vetted. As I recall, one or more general authorities were assigned to oversee entries on doctrinal issues. I can’t imagine controversial topics such as this would have gone through unchecked if they were misrepresentative. Also, as I recall, the Church purchased copies of EOM to donate to public and academic libraries. Seems more trustworthy as far as general doctrinal guidance, in my opinion, than a bunch of talks compiled with an agenda.

    And before we put too much trust in an uncorrelated compilation of talks, let’s recall that when a book by a general authority called “Mormon Doctrine” was first published it was riddled with doctrinal inaccuracies.

  83. ed on January 19, 2006 at 1:14 am

    Well, here’s a statement from the current decade from a rather prominent church leader:

    People write asking what is the position of the Church on the Word of Wisdom, for instance, on soft drinks or something. And we think, “Why do they have to ask?”….Without having to have the Church deliver a statement on it, you should know what the Lord’s position is on abortion or cloning or same-gender marriage or birth control. All of those things are built in as a part of what we know and what we are.

    Boyd K. Packer, BYU FIreside, 2 February 2003

    This statement is admittedly coy, but I have a hard time imagining that Packer meant this to be taken as a pro-birth control statement, given the long history of official statements against the practice.

    And I have trouble with the idea that the ultimate standard of truth is when an unsigned booklet mostly made up of a mishmash of quotes from various sources that suddenly and mysteriously emerges from “correlation.” I grant that books like TTtF are a very good resource for guaging what the mainstream church teaching is at a given time on a given topic.

  84. ed on January 19, 2006 at 1:29 am

    BTW, Adam, I came late to this thread and I think it’s a great topic. There was some discussion on this earlier thread about the widespread concern with “race suicide” in the first decades of the 20th century. I think this quote from Joseph Fielding Smith, which can be found on the page with all the birth control quotes, is very interesting:

    The old colonial stock that one or two centuries ago laid the foundation of our great nation, is rapidly being replaced by the “lower classes� of a sturdier and more worthy race. Worthier because they have not learned, in these modern times, to disregard the great commandment given to man by our Heavenly Father. It is indeed, a case of survival of the fittest, and it is only a matter of time before those who so strongly advocate and practice the pernicious doctrine of “birth control� and the limiting of the number of children in the family, will have legislated themselves and their kind out of this mortal existence.�Relief Society Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 7, July 1916

  85. Otto on January 19, 2006 at 1:38 am

    Wow, ed. You’re pretty cavalier about dismissing as a “mishmash” a book titled “True to the Faith” that is published by the Church, distributed by the church through official channels, etc. Don’t you think such large-scale distribution and endorsement represents a certain kind of authority and trumps the fact that it doesn’t have a specific author listed?

    Seems to me it would be more authoritative for precisely those reasons. It’s no secret (esp. since the recent biographies of McKay and Kimball) that the brethren often disagree with one another about this or that topic. And it’s no secret that Elder Packer is considered one of the more conservative of the Apostles. And it seems to me that when an Apostle speaks so coyly and indirectly, he’s venturing into unofficial opinion territory and uses coyness as a device to suggest or admit as much. Packer especially — I like him very much, and I’ve seen him speak in non-conference situations where he veers into a kind of extemporaneous mode in which he assumes a slightly abrasive/sarcastic tone that suggests opinion rather than doctrine. If it weren’t so, he would speak freely and directly–why in the world wouldn’t he, save deliberate ecclesiatical restraint? There are things about which the church certainly is not coy in conveying a position!

    If the answer on the caffeine issue (which we must surmise from Packer’s comment, if we assume your reading, is that we shouldn’t touch it), for example, is so clear, how are we to know that? What are the clues? The BYU food services policy? (And if that’s the authority, what about the BYU biology department on evolution?…)

  86. Otto on January 19, 2006 at 1:51 am

    So, ed, I’m curious. If I were to compile a list of all the General Authority statements since 1916 related to race as a function of “fence-sitting” in the preexistence–a notion thankfully rejected today–do you think the list would have a sum of credentials equal to those of the birth control quotes list?

    Similarly–and I don’t intend a threadjack here, just a comparison–the church in the last few years has come much closer to recognizing that same-sex attraction is at least partly a function of nature rather than solely nurture (that idea comes through in at least one recent Deserat Book publication, and in some comments by General Authorities). The position towards homosexual acts doesn’t seem to have changed, but ideas about the causes of it seem to have changed somewhat. So despite what the current position might be, I’m sure you’d have no problem scouring all the General Authorities’ statements since 1916 or even 1996 and find lots of them rejecting the notion that homosexuality has a biological component.

    In short, I think that list is pretty irrelevent as a guide for official doctrine.

  87. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 10:06 am

    Selected statements by General Authorities are never irrelevant, but they are not always conclusive.

  88. ed on January 19, 2006 at 11:30 am

    Otto, I’m not “dismissing” TTtF, merely describing it. Perhaps the word “mishmash” has a negative connotation, but I couldn’t think of a better word.

    I’m not saying that TTtF is not an authoritative source, but it is not clear to me that it is any more authoritative than any other church manual, or a talk by an apostle in GC.

  89. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 11:35 am

    Y’all were getting a little feisty, so I’m glad to see that you’ve returned to civility. Keep it up.

  90. Julie M. Smith on January 19, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    Sara R–

    That particular “I Have a ?” was written at the behest of Pres. Kimball and printed with his OK. This I learned from his new bio, not the main text but on the CD.

  91. Adam Greenwood on January 19, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Y’all are getting a little Midrashic here.

  92. b bell on January 19, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    How about we drop the BC issue and get back to the Multiply and Replenish issue? Holy threadjack batman

  93. Tatiana on January 24, 2006 at 5:30 am

    “Tatiana–You are completely missing the point of my question. It has nothing to do with whether Muslims are “goodâ€? or not. It has everything to do with whether, if we knew that in a century militant, expansionist, fundamentalist Muslims would be in a position (due to their higher-than-western birthrate) to dominate geopolitics, if we would now make a conscious decision to support pro-natalist policies in order to prevent that from happening. That’s all. I’m not concerned with whether it _will_ happen (which I doubt, because I agree with you about the ‘good’ nature of almost all Muslims), but I am concerned with whether, given my hypothetical, we would consider attempts to outbreed a wise idea.”

    Julie, Sorry for not answering sooner. I’m also sorry I didn’t make my answer clearer as covers your admittedly unlikely scenario. I do not believe it’s ever wise for societies to compete by attempting to outbreed each other. Good societies have inherent advantages that allow them to flourish, including strong immigration pressure, greater generation of new ideas, and flourishing of new techniques and technologies, tendency to export itself to the rest of the world, etc. In short, we need never artificially manipulate the birthrate (an exercise I see as oppressive when exercised in either direction) because the best societies will have so many inherent advantages that there’s no need to fear. That fear itself is an important element of a repressive society, and fostering and advancing that fear with an “let’s outbreed the badguys” campaign would be disasterously counterproductive.

    Here’s another illustration of the same idea. I believe the U.S. won the cold war because the structure of our society was inherently better than that of the Soviets. The soviet-style cultural elements we imported in an attempt to counter their power, for example beefing up the CIA to offset the fear and power of the KGB, supporting friendly-though-repressive governments abroad to prevent the spread of communism (e.g. Batista, Shah of Iran), Lysenkoism in science, etc. represent real losses on our part, in that they changed our superior system in ways that made it more closely resemble their inferior one, when our superior system was already destined to win by dint of its superiority. In these cases, feeding the fear led directly to the loss of parts of that better system that was our pre-cold-war free society.

    I think the same thing is happening post 9/11. In an effort to fight terrorism and repressive societies, we’ve voluntarily made our own society more like theirs. I hope that trend reverses.

    If we try to whip the public into a breeding frenzy by heightening the fear of being swarmed by the enemy masses, we change ourselves into them directly, rather than staying ourselves, or persuading them to change into us. Because culture isn’t genetic, we lose the battle by our own actions that way.


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.