THE PRO-NATALIST CASE FOR NUNS

First Things | 7/9/2015 | Alexi Sargeant
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A strange Twitter exchange last week launched a conversation about the relationship between celibate vowed religious and pro-natalism.

In the recent HuffPost essay “Behold, the Millennial Nuns,” Eve Fairbanks chronicled the rising number of millennial women discerning vocations to the religious life—a trend that many Catholics find encouraging. But Lyman Stone, research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, seemed less than happy about this, tweeting: “It’s worth mentioning that not all forms of religiosity are pro-natal and that if there were in fact a wave of vows-taking among religious women the effect on birth rates would be massively negative.” His position seems to be that nuns are bad because they do not reproduce.

Lutheran - Stone - Doubtless - Catholic - Commendations

As a Lutheran, Stone doubtless has had less exposure to celibate-vowed religious than I have had as a Catholic. But surely he has read the biblical commendations of celibacy as a higher calling than marriage, as when St. Paul tells the Corinthians that the one who marries does right, but the one who does not marry does better (1 Cor. 7)? Paul’s reasoning, that “this world in its present form is passing away,” remains true today: Christians understand that our highest loyalties are outside the temporal realm, and vowed religious wholeheartedly live out this eschatological reality.

There are at least three major ways that children and families benefit from people who pursue celibate religious life: from their work, their prayer, and their example. Does this mean that celibacy is, contra Stone, “pro-natal”? The answer depends on whether we treat pro-natalism as a mere question of arithmetic or as part of a Christian witness of hospitality for every young life God sends. As for me and my house, I know how we’ll answer.

Way - Family - Life

The easiest way to illustrate how family life is bolstered by vowed religious is to point to...
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