Dear 100 Hour Board,
Why aren't Mormons having very many kids anymore? I've noticed that Utah's birthrate has gone down to 2.3. That's not much higher than the national average. We're hardly replacing our own. Whatever happened to multiplying and replenishing the earth and having joy and rejoicing in our posterity? Before so many Mormon families had 6+ kids. Now few are having more than 3 kids. What's happened? Why are we following the world in having fewer kids later in life? Why aren't church leaders pushing us to consider having as many kids as possible like they used to do? I understand that President Monson didn't really ever have a career so he could only support 3 kids. But I can't believe a previously well payed apostle like Elder Renlund only has one daughter and no grandchildren! We would have so many more members and missionaries if we had been making more babies the past number of years! What about our future? Do Mormon girls even want to have large families anymore?! What on earth has happened? When are we going to get back to proclaiming the doctrine of the family with the 1st commandment (given to Adam and Eve) being enforced? I feel like more Mormons who died before 2000 would be rolling in their graves!
-My Name Here
You're right. A decrease in birth rates is obviously indicative of a decrease in righteousness (Elder Renlund must not actually be the Lord's apostle, otherwise he would have had more children and grandchildren). The only value in men and women is their capacity to be baby-making machines. You should probably just branch off and form your own true church that forces people to have a certain number of kids based off of their financial status.
I recognize that this isn't exactly what you're saying, but I'm leaving that paragraph as is because it helps to illustrate the ridiculousness of some of your implications, like looking for outward justifications for the preservation of righteousness in the face of not having many kids. Prophets and apostles have said multiple times that the decision of when to have children, and how many to have is strictly between husband and wife and the Lord. That means that regardless of what you think, you (and nobody for that matter) is any position to judge others based on the number of children they have. Maybe the Mormons who died prior to 2000 would be rolling in their graves, but, frankly, they're included in the category of people who can't rightly judge (this is my way of saying it doesn't matter in the slightest what our Mormon ancestors might think of a couple's birthrate).
God leads the Church through His prophets. Based off of the tone of your question, I'm going to assume that you're not a prophet. Thus it's not your place to say what the Church should or should not be teaching about birthrates. The only thing you should be doing is making sure that you're applying what is being taught to your own life. Certainly you shouldn't be declaring the best way for the collective Church to follow God's commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.
Elder Renlund's wife was medically unable to have more kids. And you never know which other families are struggling with similar issues. Don't judge people's commitment to family based on how many kids they've physically been able to have.
I think the commandment to multiply and replenish the Earth doesn't necessarily mean we have to have large families. When I replenish my groceries I replace what I used, I don't buy exponentially more every time.
The church now allows birth control while before it didn't. Before birth control, it was hard to control how many children you had even if you used the rhythm method or whatever. Frankly, I think a lot of women would have had fewer kids if the church hadn't discouraged birth control back then. Leaders haven't talked much about the reasons for the shift, but you should trust the current prophetic counsel (emphasis mine):
The decision of how many children to have and when to have them is between a husband and wife and the Lord. We should not judge one another on this matter.
And it is true that the shift in Mormon birth rates mirrors the larger cultural shift. However, I think that God takes the culture of the world we live in into account when making these types of decisions. If he didn't, we would all be wearing floor-length dresses all the time and practicing polygamy.
So, I just taught a lesson on the role of intimacy in marriage yesterday in Sunday School, and I think this quote (from President Hinckley, who quotes a manual that was published in 1983, so, you know, waaaaaay before 2000) is pretty applicable:
I am offended by the sophistry that the only lot of the Latter-day Saint woman is to be barefoot and pregnant. It’s a clever phrase, but it’s false. Of course we believe in children. The Lord has told us to multiply and replenish the earth that we might have joy in our posterity, and there is no greater joy than the joy that comes of happy children in good families. But he did not designate the number, nor has the Church. That is a sacred matter left to the couple and the Lord. The official statement of the Church includes this language: "Husbands must be considerate of their wives, who have the greater responsibility not only of bearing children but of caring for them through childhood, and should help them conserve their health and strength. Married couples should exercise self-control in all of their relationships. They should seek inspiration from the Lord in meeting their marital challenges and rearing their children according to the teachings of the gospel." (Source)
In other words, deciding how many children a husband and wife should have is the husband's business, the wife's business, the Lord's business, and nobody else's business.
Hope that helps!