Eugenics and the Christian evangelicals

For a more in depth background see Evangelical Engagements With Eugenics, 1900-1940 by Dennis L. Durst

But on the whole the evangelical mainstream in the decades following the turn of the century appeared apathetic, acquiescent, or at times downright supportive of the eugenics movement. In this article, I argue that the evangelicals often accepted eugenics as a part of a progressive, reformist vision that uncritically fused the Kingdom of God with modern civilization.

In Christianity Today, Amy Laura Hall has written an interesting article titled “For Shame? Why Christians should welcome, rather than stigmatize, unwed mothers and their children.”

Amy points out the attitude of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood on charity toward the poor

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, had a way with words. In 1922, she wrote a book chapter titled “The Cruelty of Charity.” Charity toward the poor, especially toward poor immigrants, she opined, only “encourages the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others, which brings with it … a dead weight of human waste.”

However, she reminds us how Sanger’s position was in step with the prevailing attitudes of those times and how mainstream Protestant leaders were all in favor of ‘calibrating the number and type of babies and immigrants allowed’.

In an age when upstanding Congregationalists and Unitarians were urging Americans to produce Fewer and Better Babies (Eugenics Publishing House, 35th edition, 1929), Sanger was in step with the times. By mid-century, most mainstream Protestant leaders agreed that the nation needed to calibrate carefully the number and type of babies—and immigrants—allowed.

One central means for ensuring the careful calibration of procreation was shame. Indeed, the author of Fewer and Better Babies anticipated that working-class parents who produced more than two children would eventually be considered “anti-social, as criminal members of the community.” The anti-immigration and birth-control movements during the first half of the 20th century were linked by the sense that some people were beneath human dignity and would pollute “native stock American” bloodlines. The growing consensus during this era was summed up by the words of a Methodist clergyman from Missouri, writing for the Methodist Quarterly Review: “We should demand that each child born is worthy of a place in our midst.”

Amy reminds us how

During the last century in the United States, many mainline Protestant leaders, committed to the eugenics movement, deemed it their business to determine which births were with the grain of God’s plan for the evolving progress of human history and which births were a drag on the movement forward. Christians are called to more humility and more confidence than that—more humility about the grievous harm that has been done in the name of social progress, and more confidence in God’s ability to turn even regrettable human choices to good.

Showing once again that the concept of eugenics was not limited to Darwinists.