Last Saturday, French President Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron address the G20 Summit and, in assessing the structural issues that plague the developing countries of Africa named “women having seven or eight children” as one of the problems plaguing the continent.
This was followed up by a tweet by feminist lawyer Jill Filipovic “Having children is one of the worst things you can do for the planet. Have one less and conserve resources.” This was, of course, tweeted on top of an article in the The Guardian titled: “Want to Fight Climate Change? Have Fewer Children?”
This kind of population-control rhetoric is not new to public discourse, but has become increasingly mainstreamed among progressive thinkers and politicians. In many ways it is the foundational ideology behind the abortion-on-demand movement. I’ve also heard utilitarian talk in some right wing discourse, particularly among some who view immigrants, refugees or other vulnerable people groups as a drain on society.
Christians should reject this utilitarianism, wherever it originates from because it cuts against the high view of humanity we see in Scripture. The opening chapters of Genesis tell the story of God’s unique creation of humanity. Moses, when describing the creation of humans, slows down and includes the great detail. God, we are told, spoke creation into existence, but sculpted, from the dust, the human race and endowed men and women with his image. King David uses similarly creative language in Psalm 139, describing the way in which God knit him together in his mother’s womb.
Humans matter to God because he created them as his image-bearers, to represent him in the world. Humans were given stewardship over creation. It is only when Adam and Eve rejected God’s kingly rule that humans began turning in on each other in violence. It only took one generation to see violence and bloodshed, as Cain slew his brother Abel. It was the first instance of the devaluing and dehumanizing that has characterized our fallen race: the viewing of our fellow man or woman as an obstacle to our freedom. God told Cain, in that moment, that the blood of Abel cried to him from the ground (Genesis 4:10). Later, in Genesis 9, after Noah’s flood, God again renews his commitment to the high value of the human race.
As Christians, redeemed from sin and citizens of Christ’s new kingdom, we should be champions for the value of human life. The kingdom of God is renewing and restoring what sin has destroyed. And the church is the place where people are not valued for their perceived utility, but because they are blood-bought saints that God is gathering from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
At times, even those of us who champion life are guilty of a soft utilitarianism. When we view children as a nuisance or a bother or when we value church members for their giftedness rather than their humanity, we are communicating a message that is at odds with the Christian story. The disabled child, the immigrant, the impoverished family—we must not see them as problems to be solved, but people to be loved, welcomed, and part of the community of faith.
A holistic, biblical, view of human dignity also keeps us from a political tribalism that trades the dignity of one group of vulnerable people for the dignity of another. It allows us speak for all sorts of vulnerable peoples whose voices have been silenced. It keeps us from being coopted by parties or platforms.
Human dignity is one of the gifts that Christianity gives to the world. And it is Christians who, of all people, look at the most vulnerable members of our society and say: You have dignity.