The two most populous countries of the world, China and India, both suffer from skewed sex ratios due to a cultural preference for boys that causes families to abort or abandon their daughters. From 2000–2020, 115 boys were born for every 100 girls in China, while in India that ratio was 110 boys for every 100 girls. This has led both countries to ban the use of ultrasounds to determine the sex of the baby, although the illegal use of ultrasounds is common.
In Chinese and Indian cultures, giving birth to a girl is traditionally seen as a burden on the family, as women end up joining their husband’s family once they are married. (In India, the wife’s family also needs to pay an expensive dowry.) On the other hand, having a boy not only means passing down the family name and inheritance but also means gaining a daughter in marriage.
In China, the problem has been exacerbated by 40 years under the one-child policy, which led parents to abort their baby girls for a chance to have a son. Since 2016, the government has loosened the policy as the country fears a demographic time bomb. As of last year, China has abolished all fees and fines associated with having more children. While young people have rejected some of the more traditional ideas about gender, in 2021, there were still 112 male births per 100 female births.
Despite the current significant disparity, researchers found that bias toward sons is waning among all religious groups in India and say that the annual number of missing girls has dropped from about 480,000 in 2010 to about 410,000 in 2019. Though Christians comprise 2.3 percent of India’s population and “only” 0.6 percent of the missing, Pew nevertheless estimates that Christians account for 53,000 of the country’s missing girls.
When Chinese and Indians immigrate to the United States, leaders of immigrant churches and ministries differ in how they discuss the topic of abortion and gender preferences as ultrasounds are widespread. Honor-shame dynamics have strongly influenced both Chinese and Indian cultures, and sex, unplanned pregnancies, and abortions are not commonly spoken about.
CT talked to six church leaders, all based in the US, about how they broach the topic of the sanctity of life and gender equality with their congregants and how new immigrants view these topics. Answers are ordered from those who speak about the issue more publicly to those who do so more privately.
Ruth Zhou, director of ministry at Light of Life Evangelical Association in Anaheim, California
At my church, abortion, the sanctity of life, and gender equality are addressed in Sunday sermons. Sometimes we have conferences or lectures about rejecting abortion, sometimes it is mentioned in our fellowship groups. Most of our congregants do not support abortion or gender selection—they accept the gender given by God.
I have counseled some women who are considering abortion often due to conflicts in the marriage. I listen to them share from their heart—mostly they complain a lot. Sometimes they want me to support their decision, but I reply firmly that I won’t support them to get an abortion.
I try to persuade them, telling them that the baby in a mom’s womb is life and that there is no difference between the fetus in a mom’s womb and after birth. They might say, “I have no ability to raise the baby,” and I try to persuade them to keep it, saying that if she doesn’t want to raise the baby, you can give birth first and let someone else adopt it, which is better than having an abortion. Then I pray for her, letting her heart be touched by the Holy Spirit.
James Hwang, former executive director of Chinese ministries at Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) and former senior pastor of Clear Lake Chinese Church in Houston
I emphasize the value of life and gender equality, as per biblical teachings, and preach on these topics from the pulpit. I usually have at least one yearly message around Mother’s Day to emphasize God’s plan and purpose for women. For instance, I preached on the four Gentile women in Jesus’ genealogy (Matt. 1), God’s call to mutual submission (Eph. 5:21), and how both men and women were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). So, the topic of “every life, male or female, is a sacred creation” is preached multiple times each year.
My personal experience with my own family—we are blessed with three daughters—reflects these values. Despite knowing their gender through medical procedures, abortion was never a consideration.
Most Chinese families still hold to the tradition of carrying on the family name and naturally prefer to have at least one son. In the past, this meant families would keep trying until they had a son. This tradition did not lead to abortion until the Chinese Communist Party started to enforce the one-child policy in 1979.
For our Chinese immigrant congregants, many of them only became Christians after they came to the US, and they are working very hard to become a new creation and learn about this new worldview. As far as I can remember, none of my congregants have sought my counseling as to whether they should have an abortion due to the sex of the baby. Some have come to me when the mother’s health was at risk.
Larry Varghese, ordained priest at Mar Thoma Syrian Church in Atlanta
I have often addressed the sanctity of life from the pulpit, but on the particular issue of abortion, I usually speak in smaller, more personal settings as it provides an opportunity to give a more nuanced response. Not every situation is the same, and from the pulpit, unintentional generalizations may cause some to not seek clarifications.
The topic of the equality of sexes is addressed at all levels and settings as possible. I reference Genesis 1–3 (the creation of humanity, the culminating act of creation in Gen. 2, and the impact of gender relations from Gen. 3). I reference women of the Bible, their roles, and their impact. I also point out the nuances of Paul’s thoughts on women throughout his letters, as letters are by nature contextual. For instance, what does long hair imply in Corinth? What do we know about women with short hair in that time and place? Was this the culture of the day or something Paul is laying out for all time?
The South Indian Christian immigrants that I am familiar with usually have an ultrasound done and are ready to know the gender. Few choose to not know the gender for personal reasons (often out of an unspoken solidarity with how life would have been, had they stayed in India), but even they will still have an ultrasound to know the health and development of the child.
Most of the immigrant couples who settled here from the southern state of Kerala following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 were primarily supported by working women, often nurses. I think the self-selected demographic that immigrated reflects a continued appreciation of women, and so the viewpoint toward female children isn’t what it was once was.
Pastor Chen Daode, pastor at Mandarin Baptist Church in Los Angeles
At my church, we will discuss the topics of abortion and gender equality, yet there are no specific sermons on it. Instead, it is implied from certain Scriptures, such as Psalm 139:13–14: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” At that time, we will apply it to the sanctity of life. The message of equality between men and women is implied in the creation account in Genesis and in Galatians 3:28.
I have found that modern young Chinese people, including immigrants from mainland China, seem not to care whether they are having a boy or a girl. Perhaps it is because they have more progressive ideas or because they are further from home. In my time as a pastor, I’ve never had a young couple tell me they were considering abortion due to the gender of their child.
I only know of some couples whose first child is a son and who hoped to have a daughter with their second child. Therefore, no one pays too much attention to the fact that ultrasounds can be used to identify the gender here in the United States.
Joy Cheng, founder and director of Family Ministry at FEBC Chinese in La Habra, California
In my ministry, we provide resources and help Chinese churches with customized ministry planning and walk with them to build up their own family ministry. I use Genesis 1–2, Psalm 139, and Jeremiah 1:5 to emphasize the special design and value of life and the sexes. I believe only God’s eternal truth can help people value their sexuality and their life, and sustain them to live to their fullest potential. When the topic of abortion comes up, I provide them with resources for other options and try to help them think before they make decisions.
Most of the Christians I serve have never heard about the gospel before they came to the US. For many, even after they became Christians, what God says about life and marriage and the sexes is still unknown and vague to them. Therefore, I develop ministries and courses to help them build their new life in Christ and God’s truth.
When I teach God’s design of marriage, I emphasize the different functions of each gender and the importance of unity and equality in marriage. When teaching about parenting, I explain about the sanctity of life, the parents’ stewardship, and children as property of God.
For expectant parents, ultrasounds provide an opportunity to see and bond with their unborn child. I personally have never encountered anyone who decided to abort the child after they found out the sex of the baby.
Anil Yesudas, an interfaith catalyst in Chicago
I don’t have direct conversations about abortion in my ministry. But in general, we do everything to dissuade a person from going for an abortion even if we know that there will be some medical problems with the child. Those are the children that teach us how to love. And every life is priceless.
Nobody has come to us recently with those issues, but we know what our position is. Our position is that the girl or the boy child are equal. We have cherished our daughter and we have cherished our son.
Indian families tend to keep quiet and tell very few people if they plan to have an abortion. If they do tell people of the older generation of Christians, the older people won’t push back unless they have a very strong biblical conviction. Usually they don’t want to give any opinion, good or bad, positive or negative. They just act as if, I don’t understand all these things. But they understand these things. They are kind of [promoting] abortion by trying to be neutral or feigning ignorance.
My mom and dad were evangelists in India, and we lived next door to the government hospital. One of the nurses was a Catholic and did not believe in abortions. From time to time, somebody would come and they would look for abortion. So she would inform my mom and tell her to speak to the lady sitting on the bench.
My mom would talk to them and end with, “I think you should just walk away. Don’t tell anybody, just walk away. It’s better to keep your baby.” And these random women would really get up and walk away from the hospital. She did that for many years, quietly, because if the hospital staff had known, they would have blocked her from coming.