Book Review: Godly Seed

Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973 by Allan C Carlson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first Carlson book, though I have read many of his articles. Carlson plots the change in the evangelical view of birth control from 1873 and the Comstock laws to 1973 and Roe v. Wade. It is a very dense book, with a lot of end notes. I would love to see an expansion of some of the themes. Also Carlson does not give any real clear answers as to what we should do. Yet it is clear he thinks we have gone astray on this issue. Several things stood out to me.

First, this is a very short amount of time for such a dramatic change in Christian views of sexuality.

Second, Christianity Today played a substantial role in making birth control acceptable among evangelical Christians.

Third, soft eugenics and postmillenialism played a large part in the acceptance of birth control between 1915 and WWII. After that the key factor for evangelicals was the population explosion. Billy Graham, as well as many other Christians, used the coming population explosion as sufficient proof that we need to use birth control.

Fourth, prior to 1973 abortion and birth control were linked by evangelicals. Their acceptance of birth control led to many leaders also considering if not outright supporting abortion. After Roe v. Wade views on abortion were revisited and modified. However, the birth control issue was not.

Fifth, the elevation of companionship as the primary reason for marriage was a key component in getting evangelicals to accept birth control.

Finally, Margaret Sanger and later Christianity Today used the Roman Catholic-Protestant divide to get Protestants to accept birth control.

I found the book very fascinating with a lot of excellent detail. For example, Carlson got access to boxes of notes, etc. at Christianity Today that have not been published. He also does a good job in showing the shifts in mindset that resulted in certain practical outcomes. I am looking forward to doing more reading on the subject, but this was a good start.

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