Reconsidering Margaret Sanger In Christianity Today?

Where Is Carl Henry When We Need Him?

I was alerted by this a tweet about a post on the Christianity Today website titled, “Contraception Saves Lives” and provocatively subtitled, “Reconsidering Margaret Sanger as one who was opposed to abortion but emphatic about the personal and social good of contraception.” The author argues that, in the African context, which she says is closer to that in which Margaret Sanger (1879–1966) originally argued for eugenics via birth control, we should reconsider Sanger and appreciate her the way one of her African friends does, as a liberator. Rachel Marie Stone writes:

On my first tour of Zomba Central Hospital in Malawi, Africa, where I lived from 2012-2014, an older nurse-midwife, Lena, told me proudly that she had visited the city of my birth, New York, to study at the Margaret Sanger Center in Lower Manhattan.

“A great woman, Margaret Sanger!” Lena said.

Doubtless the problem of poverty is great and the social conditions to which Sanger reacted may or may not be analogous to those in Malawi but there are good reasons why Lena should re-think her allegiance to Sanger.

1. Sanger, as Stone concedes, was a proponent of eugenics, the theory that the human race needs to be purified of or to prevent growth, as Justice Ginsburg said in a July 7, 2009 interview, “in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” That’s a direct quotation from the mouth of a sitting justice of the United States Supreme Court.

We should not pass lightly by this fact. Sanger thought some races deserve to live and others do not. E.g., she wrote in a 1939 letter:

The ministers work is also important and also he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members1.

Let us assume that Lena fits the category that Sanger used. Does she still think Sanger is a hero?

The connection with eugenics is not a matter of inference. She connected the dots for us in 1921: “The campaign for birth control is not merely of eugenic value, but is practically identical with the final aims of eugenics.”2

We can keep going. She wrote this sort of thing repeatedly. She did not only have her sights set on a particular race but upon a whole economic/social classes:

All of our problems are the result of overbreeding among the working class, and if morality is to mean anything at all to us, we must regard all the changes which tend toward the uplift and survival of the human race as moral.3

According to Sanger, the root problem in the human condition is not sin and the solution is not grace. Rather, for her, as for other racists and eugenicists, the problem is too many of the wrong kind of people.

Eugenics is … the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political and social problems.4

We all know (or should know) that Adolf Hitler intended to create an Aryan “super race.” What most likely do not know is that, the same year (1924) in which Hitler was sentenced to jail for his part in the failed “Beer Hall Putsch,” Sanger was teaching his eugenic theory to Americans via a new and exciting medium, the radio:

How are we to breed a race of human thoroughbreds unless we follow the same plan? We must make this country into a garden of children instead of a disorderly back lot overrun with human weeds.5

“Human weeds,” let that phrase roll around in your mind for a moment. She believed that there were such things as “human weeds.” Sanger is no figment of the fevered imagination of the right. Mike Wallace, complete with cigarette smoke drifting past the camera lens, interviewed her for a television program in 1957:

As Paul Kengor notes, Sanger’s organization, Planned Parenthood, has been exceptionally successful in accomplishing her intention of wiping out African Americans.

Today, Planned Parenthood is the single leading killer of unborn African-American babies, whose lives it snuffs out at a percentage far higher than white babies. That’s the real racial legacy of Margaret Sanger. On January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade would give her Planned Parenthood its mandate, and liberals would sanctify its work with taxpayer funding.

When Dr King spoke of dream, he was not thinking of Sanger’s eugenic dream. When he accepted the Planned Parenthood award in 1966, PP was still publicly opposed to abortion. The civil rights leadership of the 1950s and 60s, even Jesse Jackson, was pro-life. Dr King’s views are uncertain and thus both sides of the debate claim him but Ralph Abernathy and the rest were all openly pro-life. They did not regard abortion as contraception, which is the sleight of hand used by Planned Parenthood to cloak themselves in his shadow. It is almost certain that King was unaware of Sanger’s racist, eugenicist theories. Had he known that she was an unashamed racist, a eugenicist bent on wiping out African-Americans, it’s inconceivable that he would have accepted the award. Hd he known that she unapologetically spoke spoke to the women’s auxiliary of the Silver Lake, NJ branch of the Ku Klux Klan, he would not have accepted the PP award. By the way, that event is not some conservative smear. In her 1938 autobiography she defender her decision to speak to the KKK.

2. This brings me to the second point: How on earth is this sort moral confusion now appearing under the aegis of a magazine founded by Carl F. H. Henry (1913–2003)? It took me only a few minutes to gather together just a few quotations from Sanger. Those quotations are not exception. They were typical for Sanger.

I understand that Christianity Today is a reflection of evangelicalism and that in the new media age there are more writers and websites than there are editors but even so it is hard to fathom how CT can publish something so confused, so contrary to basic creedal Christianity. CT serves Christians from a variety of backgrounds, traditions, and confessions but is there any doubt among most of them that all human beings, of whatever race, are created in the image of God. Is there any doubt in any reasonable mind that Carl Henry would have opposed the promulgation of the views of a racist eugenicist in the pages of Christianity Today or via any of its subsidiary websites?

3. Surely the Christian response to poverty in Malawi and everywhere else is not to promote the views of a female Hitler but to seek human well being by teaching people to think of other humans, in utero and born (if you’re reading this you are a former foetus, congratulations! Mom didn’t kill you and that’s no small thing) as bearers of the image of God, and therefore as deserving of protection in the womb and of humane care out of the womb. Birth control, properly understood (i.e., preventing conception) is a matter of Christian liberty but caring for human beings is not. The second table of the moral law says: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. That’s not a matter of liberty and on that Stone and Christianity Today Inc would do much better to follow our Lord than to promote abhorrent views of Margaret Sanger.


1. Commenting on the ‘Negro Project’ in a letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble, December 10, 1939. – Sanger manuscripts, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, North Hampton, Massachusetts. Also described in Linda Gordon’s Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1976.

2. “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda“, October 1921, page 5.

3. “Morality and Birth Control“, February-March, 1918, pp. 11,14.

4. “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda“, October 1921, page 5.

5. Radio WFAB Syracuse, 1924-02-29, transcripted in “The Meaning of Radio Birth Control”, April 1924, p. 111

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  1. Excellent piece, fascinating quotes.

    Whenever I’m approached by a sidewalk PP rep, I bring up Sanger and her racism, her eugenics, and they deny it either out of ignorance or blatant dishonesty.

  2. Several years ago a Teaching Elder in the PCA, who was my Pastor at the time, recommended a book because it had been named “Book of the Year” in some category by Christianity Today. I replied that, in my opinion, such an award already counted as two strikes against the book, and that several good endorsements from men I trust would be needed for me even to consider it. Such is my opinion of that once great magazine. My Pastor was not pleased, but I had made my point, and I’m glad I did.

  3. By the way, who is that woman in the photo? I thought Margaret Sanger looked like Dana Delany. TV movies are carefully researched and meticulously accurate, right?

  4. I found out about this CT article at Denny Burk’s blog site. After reading the original, I e-mailed CT to let the publisher know that this is the sort of thing that keeps me a *former* subscriber to his magazine.

  5. I was going to respond to this thread on the basis of Ginsburg’s remark, but then I clicked on the link and saw that the subject was thoroughly beaten to death in that 2009 HB thread.

    Instead, I’ll just comment on CT in general. I’ve never been much of a fan of that periodical and have never subscribed. But my wife is and has, so every once in a while I flip through it. It is probably correct to say that the present day publication is a far cry from what Carl Henry envisioned decades ago. I notice that it tend to prey upon each and every notorious issue that surfaces in “religious” life (never mind Christianity) nowadays. If approached on this basis, I’m sure that the editors would simply respond that they feel compelled to present all views of a particular matter and remain separate from them (except, of course, on the editorial page, which is all over the place most of the time).

    I also notice that the magazine is festooned with advertisements for various “Christian” educational institutions, speaking tours of “well-known” theologians (though I’ve never heard of most of them), etc. I’m sure it thrives on the income from those sources and the publishers aren’t about to print anything that might offend them. To that end, I suggest a name change: Instead “CT”, how about following the lead of mags like Popular Mechanics or Popular Science and just call it “Popular Christianity”… because, after all, that is exactly what it is.

  6. I was under the impression that the eugenicist program in America is what inspired the Nazi program under Hitler. It all began, I believe with Social Darwinism. I think both sides fed on each other.

    • That’s right. Sanger began publishing on birth control when Hitler was still trying to make a living as an artist n Vienna. It was he who was a “student” of Sanger, and not the other way around.

      • Is there evidence of some direct link between Sanger and Hitler? E.g., were her works translated into German and available in Germany in the 20s? Common ideas isn’t evidence of direct dependence. I want to be careful not to overstate the relationship between them.

  7. I can’t speak to the extent of any direct relationship. I was primarily making a point about the direction of the flow of ideas.

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