Godly Seed

Godly Seed

American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973

Marriage and Family Studies

List Price: $79.95


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ISBN: 978-1-4128-4261-7
Pages: 172
Binding: Hardcover
Publication Date: 11-10-2011
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Interview with Allan Carlson

In an ironic twist, American evangelical leaders are joining mainstream acceptance of contraception. Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973, examines how mid-twentieth-century evangelical leaders eventually followed the mainstream into a quiet embrace of contraception, complemented by a brief acceptance of abortion. It places this change within the context of historic Christian teaching regarding birth control, including its origins in the early church and the shift in arguments made by the Reformers of the sixteenth century. The book explores the demographic effects of this transition and asks: did the delay by American evangelicals leaders in accepting birth control have consequences?

At the same time, many American evangelicals are rethinking their acceptance of birth control even as a majority of the nation’s Roman Catholics are rejecting their church’s teaching on the practice. Raised within a religious movement that has almost uniformly condemned abortion, many young evangelicals have begun to ask whether abortion can be neatly isolated from the issue of contraception. A significant number of evangelical families have, over the last several decades, rejected the use of birth control and returned decisions regarding family size to God. Given the growth of the evangelical movement, this pioneering work will have a large-scale impact.

Editorial Reviews

“[E]xplores the path taken by evangelicals from ardently opposing the dissemination and use of contraception in the late 19thcentury to acceptance by the mid-1900s… Recommended.”

—B. F. Le Beau, Choice

Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973 examines the history and process by which evangelical leaders eventually moved from being against contraception to accepting birth control and even briefly abortion. It uncovers a relatively little-known segment of evangelical history and Christian religion, exploring shifts in arguments and interests in the early Church and following the religious movement's influences and changing interpretations of the Bible. Any Christian collection strong in Christian social history will find this a scholarly survey that fills in many gaps.”

—The Bookwatch, Midwest Book Review

“[A] fascinating history of sex, contraceptives and abortion… Godly Seed is more than a history of abortion, spotlighting those who opposed it and others who defended it. It is also a book of the rich history of the church, both catholic and protestant… Godly Seed should be in the library of all, no matter what side of the debate you stand. It is remarkably non partisan, offering all views respectfully, even showing the negative conduct of Chrisitan leaders along with abortion proponents who misuse Scripture verse to make their point.”

—Reverand Austin Miles, http://cc.org/blog

"Opposition to birth control is widely perceived as a 'Catholic issue.'  Historian Alan Carlson demonstrates that as a matter of historical fact, the Christian churches were united in their opposition to contraception until 1930. Carlson deftly shows how the change occurred, through a combination of 'divide and conquer’ tactics by the population control lobby, intellectual exhaustion among the Mainline Protestants, and  anti-Catholicism among the Evangelicals. Highly recommended."

—Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president, Ruth Institute

"This provocative volume by one of the world's foremost family-issues scholars suggests that perhaps American Evangelicalism unwittingly traded the Blessed Virgin Mary for Margaret Sanger. The arguments are hard-hitting and unrelenting. Reading this book is like seeing an unwelcome reflection in a mirror. But it might just start a conversation that is well worth having." 

—Russell D. Moore, dean, School of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Customer Reviews Average Customer Review: 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 1 Reviews

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Godly Seed Review, 8.15.2011
5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5
Reviewer: Rossinna Ippolito
Godly Seed is the history of the birth control movement in America from 1873, when the prohibitive federal Comstock Law took effect, to 1973, when the passage of Roe v. Wade made abortion a legal option. After a short section on reproductive issues in ancient times and a primer on the views of the Protestant Reformers on fertility and marriage, the author delves into the legacy of the formidable Anthony Comstock. Comstock, of Puritan descent, devoted his life to the suppression of sexual information. Equating contraception with abortion and pornography and working with organizations like the YMCA, Comstock lobbied politicians until laws were passed in each state forbidding the possession of contraceptive devices, obscene material, and abortifacients. The federal Comstock Law resulted in the arrests of hundreds of business owners and individuals who bought or sold such materials. So much fear was generated due to the Comstock Law that publishing houses no longer produced medical textbooks containing information on reproduction. Nurse Margaret Sanger had a patient who died due to a botched abortion. When Sanger tried to conduct research into the human reproductive system to try to understand what had gone wrong with the pregnancy termination, she was appalled to discover that due to the Comstock Law she could find no information on the subject. Sanger then decided to make it her life’s mission to undo the work of Anthony Comstock and to make reproductive information not only available, but to make contraception seem respectable by renaming it first “birth control” then “family planning.” Sanger went on to help found the Planned Parenthood Association of America, which stressed the notion that the ideal family was one in which each child was scheduled for birth according to the needs and desires of the parents, rather than a family whose children were born by chance. Christians had traditionally adhered to the idea that God would decide how many children should be born to each family, and they eschewed contraception. However, with the passage of time and the new fear of world overpopulation, some began to rethink this notion. One of the public figures who helped Evangelicals in particular to accept birth control and thus help to cut down on the population explosion was preacher Billy Graham. In his worldwide revival crusades Graham had seen firsthand what overpopulation could do to a country. Concerned and wanting to do something to help, Graham commissioned Christian theologians and founded Christianity Today magazine, which had the early mission of convincing Protestant Christians that contraception was not only acceptable to God, but that it could possibly be a sin not to engage in birth control. Christianity Today sponsored reproduction symposiums and even editorialized that abortion was a valid choice for the Christian believer. Catholicism had never found birth control or abortion acceptable options, but all the Evangelical discussion on the subject of reproductive choice sparked debate within the American Catholic community. Many Catholics hoped that the Pope would agree with the new views of Evangelicals with his Humane Vitae encyclical, but this was not to be – the Pope sided with tradition. One group of Protestant Christians applauded the Pope’s stance – the Fundamentalists. Convinced that Evangelicals had become too liberal and had gone too far with their acceptance of abortion, a group of Fundamentalists decided to return to strict Biblical teaching on fertility. These believers founded the Quiverfull movement, which holds that families with large numbers of children are especially blessed by God. The Quiverfull adherents do not use contraception and they trust that overpopulation will be remedied by God, in that He will always provide for believers. Godly Seed is well-written and objective – one is never sure to which side of the contraception debate the author adheres, with the exception that the reader is sure to realize that Gnostics are not a particularly favorite group of Mr. Carlson.