This is being written in India. Not long ago a New Delhi newspaper stated that every time the sun rises on this land there are more than 14,000 more mouths to feed than there were the morning before. Deaths? Yes, there are thousands of them. But this is the number of births in excess of all the deaths.

“Population explosion” is the phrase that has been minted to describe this phenomenon of our times. The vigor, not to say the violence, of the expression may raise the question whether or not it is justified. What are the facts?

1. The size of the human family did not reach one billion until approximately 1800.

2. From 1800 to 1850 the increase was 22 per cent; from 1850 to 1900, it was 45 per cent; and from 1900 to 1950, 56 per cent.

3. Since 1950 the rate of increase has been mounting so fast that at the end of the decade 85 persons a minute, or about 45 million a year, were being added to the world total.

4. Latest figures from the United Nations place the present population total at more than 2 billion 900 million persons. (All of “B.C.” and the first 1800 years of “A.D.” are a long time to wait for the first billion; 160 years are relatively a short time to wait for that figure to be trebled.)

What of the near future, the remainder, let us say, of this century. Quotable experts say that the increase will be 150 per cent. If so, we shall have an end-of-the-century population of between 7 and 8 billion.

This is the “population explosion!”

To what theological, sociological, and ethical reflections is such a phenomenon giving rise? Dr. Richard Fagley has perhaps exceeded any other researcher in locating and collating the pronouncements of many Christian bodies—Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant—on what might be called the theology of the family and its bearing on the issues raised by the world’s fantastically increasing population. What may be deduced from this compendium is not the amount of contradiction and confusion that one might be led to expect, but rather, as Bishop Stephen Bayne, Jr., puts it, the astonishing “degree of concensus there is.” Bishop Bayne, who is executive officer of the World Anglican Communion, put this opinion forward in a paper read recently before an international group of churchmen.

What are the areas of general agreement?

1. The theology of the family, while pointed up by the “population explosion,” does not grow out of it nor is it necessarily linked with it. If there were no issue of “overpopulation” (itself an unfortunate phrase, if only because no one knows precisely what it means) the duty of bringing life into the world and responsibly nourishing it would be inescapably there.

2. There is a gratifying measure of agreement that the times are driving Christians to a more fundamental theological understanding of the family itself. In the frightening light of the ravaged family system of China under the Communists and the equally alarming light of the defiled and denigrated family life of sexually undisciplined masses in the United States, serious Christians are obliged to return to the roots of their thinking about sex, marriage, and the home. Even Roman Catholics are not “all of one piece” in holding to the traditional pattern of what is “natural” and what is “against nature.” To appeal to the tradition is not enough. How solidly based is the tradition itself? This becomes the deeper question.

3. There is a substantial concensus with respect to the God-given purposes of marriage and their relationship to each. To a surprising point, theologians of varying communions settle upon three functions or blessings of marriage: (1) the producing of children and their nurture, (2) the fulfillment and enrichment of each spouse by the other in the communion of marriage, and (3) the creation of a stable Christian unit called the family within the church and society. Differences of thought or conviction prevail with respect to the order in which these aims are to be seen and pursued, but there is little disagreement with this combination of purposes.

4. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, there is a significant concensus that family planning in some form may be brought within the scope of Christian duty for parents. One uses the word “may” advisedly. The Greek Orthodox church, for example, says, “Recognizing child birth in Christian marriage as one of the actual problems of life, the Orthodox church sees the possibility of solving it only through personal accountability to God of each separate soul.” Much bolder is the statement published by the Lambeth Conference in 1958 to the effect that “the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children has been laid by God on the conscience of parents everywhere.”

What now awaits firmer and more specific Christian treatment is the question of the means to be employed in family planning and the motives that are to be made explicit in the employment of those means. Often overlooked is the fact that the birth rate is not the only factor in population increase. It is the declining death rate—death control, if you will—that has much to do with it. Is it a moral noninterference with “nature” to employ intelligence and science to keep people alive, that is to say, to regulate (within limits) the working of death, and an immoral interference with nature to employ with Christian conscience a technological intelligence in regulating the working of birth?

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The review is prepared in sequence by Professor G. C. Berkouwer of Free University, Amsterdam; Dr. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Editor of The Churchman (England); Professor Addison H. Leitch of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Pennsylvania; and Dr. Paul S. Rees, Vice President of World Vision.—ED.

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