Femi Osunnuyi: Now, people say I don’t answer questions quickly enough. Let me allay your fears I’m going to answer this question in a very long way. It’s not short because it is a complicated question. I would never answer such a question in a straight way because it’s not simply a rational question, it just isn’t. I won’t go into all the sociology of it and all of that but, all around the world, people are getting married and having children later, and this has a lot to do with urbanization. And if you go into the cities of the world, this is even more pronounced. One of the things that we’ve seen very clearly is that where there has been an increase in the education of women, there has also been an increase in the marriage age and a reduction in the fertility rates. It’s just a fact and this doesn’t mean that the education of women is a bad thing – God forbid. It’s just a fact that once you put those factors together, this causes delays in marriage. In a city like Lagos, for instance, when I used to think about my parents’ generation, many of them already had children before they were 30. Now, people are getting married at the average age of 33, it’s just a fact.
Sadly, when women turn 30 and older, their chances of getting married diminish. And then they begin to ask, “Has my chance to get married gone?” And there’s that maternal instinct in every woman at least, I’m not speaking by experience, but I know that there’s something in a lot of women that wants to have a biological child. And for many people who have turned to reproductive technology, it’s born out of that pain. I know this because I have counselled, spoken with, prayed, and cried with people. I’ll just be frank, one of my biggest burdens as a pastor is counselling the “advanced-age” single ladies in our church – it pains me. I believe in the fact that you can be single and fulfilled – I 100% believe it because your fulfilment is in Christ – but I also know that the fact that you are fulfilled in Christ doesn’t mean that you won’t have an unfulfilled desire that might still cause you pain. So, for a lot of people who have considered reproductive technologies, it comes from that desire.
I do want to say this first: if any of you are in that situation, God sees you. He does. Sometimes, your community – your family, spiritual leaders – may pretend to really know the pain that you have, and I say pretend not because we are intentionally pretending but that in as much as we try to identify with you to the best that we can, we don’t see the tears every night. But God sees it all. So, I do want to say that you can and should continue to take your pain and cast your cares and burdens before the Lord because he cares for you and has demonstrated that in giving you the best gift of all – a gift that can never be taken away from you.
With that being said, and no condemnation of anyone, I think that the Bible tends to push against the idea of seeking to personally rear a child as an unmarried individual. And I say this from the standpoint of what it means to bring a child into this world. I think there is an underlying assumption from those who do this that they are enough to raise a child, but I don’t think that single parenting is by design God’s ideal in raising a child. Now, this is not a statement against people who by circumstance became single parents. Notice that there’s a difference between what you become by circumstance and what you become by design. By design, it means that you started off with that position; but by circumstance, it means that you didn’t plan for it, or you accidentally came into it. So, somebody choosing to go down that road is making a choice – design. Sadly, I think that the assumption that they are enough for a child perhaps comes from a willingness to extinguish the pain that they feel. But I do want to say that I don’t think it is fair that in your attempt to deal with your pain, you bring a child into this world while causing them the pain of not having the other parent. I would even say that this is the biblical basis for us saying that we don’t think that homosexual marriage is right.
We follow God’s design to say that what is sufficient for conception is also sufficient for nurturing. For conception, you need two opposite sexes to bring a child to life. A woman and a woman cannot bring a child to life, a man and a man cannot bring a child to life, and a single person alone cannot bring a child to life. Technology can help but at least for now, it has not created a sperm out of nothing! So, when we even talk about technology coming in, you still need a sperm donor. And when you say that the sperm donor is not going to be involved in a child’s life – the child already bears the image of that sperm donor – that is saying something. God puts these clues to say that the person that they look like should also be involved in their lives. Now, I know some people would then say, “But what about people who are not good fathers?” Again, these are exceptions and malfunctions of the design, not an argument against the design. This also applies to people who are divorced – a malfunction and not an argument against the design.
And I do think that the first form of identity that children have is not that “I am a boy” or “I am a girl”. A child does not first know “I am a Nigerian” or “I am black”. Do you know what a child’s first form of identity that they know for sure is? “Mama. Dada.” They just know that “Somehow, I belong to them”. And it’s always a tragedy when a child is trying to say “Mama” and Mama isn’t there or “Dada” and Dada isn’t there. That’s why if somebody loses a spouse to either death or divorce, we see it as a tragedy because they are no longer in the picture. When the child looks in the mirror, they do not just see themselves, they see somebody else there but unfortunately, they can’t find that person to be with them. I really do think that you offer false hope when you say things like, “I am mother and father enough for you”. I celebrate the single mothers and fathers who do their best to be all they can to their children, I know many of them and they do a remarkable job, but I also know that if I ask them if they’d rather that their partner be with them – let’s say for those who are divorced and not in an abusive state – they’d say yes. This is because they know that if it’s a mom raising a daughter most times moms are stricter with their daughters while their dad is the one that cuddles and if it’s the mom raising his son most times the mom is so soft with the son and it’s the dad that comes in with discipline – I may be stereotyping. So, I’d say to those who may be considering the use of reproductive technologies in this regard, I think the bigger issue here is how you deal with the pain. I don’t think we should solve our pain by doing things that the Bible would discourage us from. I’d say, let’s deal with the pain the way the Bible encourages us to – by personally finding that satisfaction in Christ through community, adopting spiritual children in the church, and being godparents to other people’s children.
Finally, I’ve also seen people in their older ages who still get married and still carry their own babies!
Answered by Femi Osunnuyi, lead pastor of City Church, a gospel-centred urban church in the city of Lagos. Because of his passion for church planting and leadership development, he also serves on the Lead Team of Acts29 and the Advisory Team of City to City Africa. He is happily married to Tosin and is father to Tofunmi and Timilehin.