Ironically, as the Eugenics movement came to the United States, the churches, especially the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and the Episcopalians, embraced it.
Methodist churches around the country promoted the American Eugenics Society “Fitter Family Contests” wherein the fittest families were invariably fair skinned and well off. Methodist bishops endorsed one of the first books circulated to the US churches promoting eugenics. Unlike the battles over evolution and creationism, both conservative and progressive church leaders endorsed eugenics. The liberal Rev. Harry F. Ward, professor of Christian ethics and a founder of the Methodist Federation for Social Service, writing in Eugenics, the magazine of the American Eugenic Society, said that Christianity and Eugenics were compatible because both pursued the “challenge of removing the causes that produce the weak. Conservative Rev. Clarence True Wilson, the General Secretary of the Methodist Episcopal Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals, and the man chosen to debate Clarence Darrow after William Jennings Bryan’s death, believed that only the white Aryan race was the descendent of the lost tribes of Israel. Methodists were active on the planning committees of the Race Betterment Conferences held in 1914, and 1915. In the 1910s, Methodist Churches hosted forums in their churches to discuss eugenics. In the 1920s, many Methodist preachers submitted their eugenics sermons to contests hosted by the American Eugenics Society. By 1927, when the American Eugenics Society formed its Committee on the Cooperation with Clergymen, Bishop Francis McConnell, President of the Methodist Federation for Social Service served on the committee. In 1936, he would chair the roundtable discussion on Religion and Eugenics at the American Eugenics Society Meeting. The laity of the church also took up the cause of eugenics. In 1929, the Methodist Review published the sermon “Eugenics: A Lay Sermon” by George Huntington Donaldson. In the sermon, Donaldson argues, “the strongest and the best are selected for the task of propagating the likeness of God and carrying on his work of improving the race.”
Both the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South promoted eugenics. Most of the time, church advocates of eugenics supported positive eugenics—essentially careful selection of mates. Nevertheless, sterilization became an acceptable kind of eugenics along with marriage laws limiting marriage between whites and non-whites. Some annual conferences supported such laws and a few opposed them.
Indiana passed the first forced sterilization law in 1907; eventually 33 states passed similar laws. Most used Harry Laughlin’s model law that provided for the sterilization of “feeble minded, insane, criminalistic, epileptic, diseased, blind, deaf, deformed, and dependent” including “orphans, ne’er do wells, tramps, homeless, and paupers.” Virginia passed in 1924 a sterilization law based on the Laughlin model and on the same day passed a law making marriage between a white person and a non-white person a felony.
Thirty-three US States eventually passed laws authorizing sterilization of criminals, the mentally ill, the “feeble minded”, Sterilization of the allegedly mentally ill continued into the 1970s in several states, by which time about 60,000 Americans had been involuntarily sterilized. In 1933, Hitler’s Nazi government used Laughlin’s Model Law as the basis for their sterilization law that led to the sterilization of some 350,000 people.
Note also that The Petition is amended as follows:
Delete everything from “we direct…” to the end of the petition.
Change the title of Petition 81175 from “An Apology for Support of Eugenics” to: “Repentance for Support of Eugenics” on both page 421 and 424.