The extraordinary evil of the eugenics movement in the United States before World War II is well known and documented. But I did not know the complicity of some churches with that movement until reading Amy Laura Hall’s excellent article, “To Form a More Perfect Union: Mainline Protestantism and the Popularization of Eugenics.”
Quoting from church leaders’ own writings and sermons, she presents a horrifying view of how certain churches actively worked to promote the viewpoint that some people should be eliminated. There is little subtlety in their arguments.
From Harry F. Ward, Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary from 1918-41:
A social ethic based on the principles of Jesus no less than requires the elimination of the weak, not their perpetuation, and this it accomplishes by making them strong and by preventing their production, through both breeding and environment.
From Reverand Philips Endecott Osgood, Rector of St. Mark’s Unitarian Church, preaching in 1926:
God will provide his Spirit to our children’s children; why handicap its incarnation? It will be the finer in its manifesting if it need not labor under handicap. . . Until the impurities of dross and alloy are purified out of our silver it can not be taken in the hands of the craftsman for whom the refining was done. God the refiner we know: do we yet dream of the skill or the beauty of purpose of God the Craftsman with his once purified silver? May the time soon come when in refined humanity he can see his own face, clear and unsullied.
The ‘impurities of dross and alloy’ are people considered unfit: those born with physical or cognitive disabilities.
From Edwin Bishop, preaching at Plymouth Congregational Church, also in 1926:
Through neglect of eugenic knowledge and practice, tares are sprouting widely through the wheat.
How did this happen? How did individuals created by God for his glory come to be referred to by theologians and preachers as ‘tares’ and ‘impurities’?
Dr. Hall explores that question as well, and I’ll cover it tomorrow.
The entire essay can be found in Theology, Disability and the New Genetics: Why Science Needs the Church. I cannot recommend the book, though there are a couple of essays of this quality in it. Too many others fail to raise to the standard of good argumentation, let alone sound Biblical theology.