Fornication and adultery are major problems among the teens (and adults) in our village. The South African government only irritates the issue by offering grant money to poor girls with children, thus encouraging a girl to have a child with a man who acts like one. Moreover, it is widely known that South Africa has among the highest AIDS rates in the world. So while the government promotes “safe sex” to the youth, our church preaches “pure sex”.
Often girls in our neighborhood will have babies out-of-wedlock; rarely, but at times, girls in our church will too. Should we be generous with gifts for the single mom? If the answer is no–because marriage is the prerequisite for such–why not include church membership, hospitality, and consistent Bible reading?
On the other hand, our church is small enough for the congregation to know in general which mothers are wed and those who are not. Would honoring them with gifts be a tacit softening of our position on fornication? Suppose Masana, a 19-year old member of our church, falls into sin and has an illegitimate child. What should we do? Of course we love her, implore Matthew 18-repentance, counsel, and pray for her. But isn’t the bestowal of baby clothes and ribbons with smiles on our faces the universal speech for agreement, joy, and commendation? Everyone agrees that Jesus showed kindness and forgiveness to the adulterous woman at the well, but neither did he proclaim her before all as a woman to be praised. In our village, there is no longer shame for having a child out-of-wedlock. In fact, it is far more disgraceful to be a wedded woman of thirty years of age with no children than to be an unwed girl of eighteen with two babies. If everyone in the village claps for the latter, should the church as well?
This is a difficult problem. Recently, a girl who has sat under our teaching and been involved in our ministries for years had a child out-of-wedlock. My wife made a large gift bag and we presented it to her in the hospital. Here are five reasons why.
1. Because she is still performing a very difficult and noble deed in raising a child, which is more than can be said for the father and those mothers who decide to kill their children prematurely in the womb. She did not make a wise choice in conceiving the child, but she was honorable in keeping it. A 2005 survey recorded nearly 250 abortions per day in South Africa. Department of Health figures show that between August 2012 and July 2013, 85,000 South African women aborted their children. This woman was not among them, and this should be commended.
2. Because the law written on her heart will cause the gift for mother and child to communicate grace. She received the gifts somewhat awkwardly, as though she perhaps did not deserve them. But only then could the gifts communicate grace, because grace is undeserved (Rom. 5:15).
3. Because we are to do good to “everyone”, not just the righteous (Gal. 6:10). I take this verse to mean that while the church’s emphasis should be toward helping those in the church, we should also find ways to assist those who are away from God and have made a mess of their life. South African mothers get $30/month for each child. That doesn’t go very far, so this is a chance for Christians to show love. If the mother is a Christian, whether or not she has a spirit of repentance could also play a part in the amount of generosity.
4. Because a brief time of honor and generosity to unwed mothers will not override the substantial time we give in preaching about biblical marriage and the sin of fornication. We are to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), but not all at once. There are times for grace and times for law.
5. Because cultural issues make the sifting of wed and unwed very difficult. I think I know who is married in our church, but I’m not sure—and neither do the wives. Formal wedding ceremonies are rare in our village, especially with the older generation. A person is married when they pay the bride price. But what if he pays only half? What if the husband comes home a few weeks a year during Christmas? And who knows whom he is living with in the big city where he has found work. The logistical complexities are endless. So if giving baby lotion, diapers, and flowers to unwed mothers communicates the wrong idea, can we give gifts of food and clothing to older mothers in our church who are “married”–but not really?