Speaking for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1927, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” in the decision to allow sterilization of a young woman named Carrie Buck. The logic: “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”
As a result of this ruling, 30 states adopted sterilization laws, thousands of operations were performed and the robust movement of building better people gained steam. Parts of the church also were actively participating in national sermon contests on eugenics (a science that deals with the improvement — as by control of human mating — of hereditary qualities of a race or breed).
About a dozen years ago a talented Lutheran theologian asked me to comment for an upcoming Lutheran Services in America book called Hope and Healing. Carl Uehling published his work in 1999 and closed his book with a portion of those comments. We were at the eve of this century — and today there’s really nothing new to add.
I said then: “The United States is at a crossroad. History is full of examples of the ills caused by separating us into labeled groups: the stronger and the weaker; the rich and the poor; the superior and the inferior. However, the church speaks of the tapestry of life. Each thread a vital part of the larger whole we can only dimly perceive.
“Now, one road leads to a new millennium and a new look at people — as individuals, with fewer labels. The other, darker road increases the chance that we will see the frail as using too much of our scarce resources. We will begin rationing care, deciding that some people, based on a label, will not receive the care that they need. But, we have faith that God has given us a planet, a science and the humanity to recognize that scarcity is only a distribution problem.
Faith-based social ministry organizations have had such a conviction. We have done far more than just ‘believe’ that God will provide. We have led America in services that meet the needs of people where they are. We will continue to be a vital thread connecting the church and the state fabric at critical points in that overall tapestry.”
The Catholic Bishops of America, had this to say in a 1978 pastoral letter: “The same Jesus who heard the cry for recognition from the people with disabilities of Judea and Samaria 2,000 years ago calls us, His followers, to embrace our responsibility to our own disabled brothers and sisters in the United States.”
The 2009 Churchwide Assembly requested that the Church in Society unit produce a message on human disability that would aid awareness, deliberation, and action within this church, giving special attention to the unique issues (e.g., physical, sensory, psychiatric, or intellectual) of the different types of disability. It is long overdue.
This week's front page features:
Mama Va-Va-Voom: Mary-Joyce Doo Aphane talks about HIV/AIDS issues in Swaziland, Africa.
Homework and snacks: St. Luke Lutheran community outreach focuses on a local school that provides tutoring and weekend meals.
Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes: This documentary provides a behind the scenes look at Keillor, a man famous for his humor and writing.
Also: As Darwin turns 200.
Also: Permission to go public.
Deadline extended: Bible verses that made a difference
What Bible verse made a difference in your life and why?
Please explain in 250 words or less. Include your name; the Scripture
(book, chapter and verse); your congregation (provide town and state);
and your e-mail address or phone number.
Send to: The Lutheran magazine, attn: Elizabeth Hunter, 8765 W. Higgins
Rd., Chicago, IL 60631; e-mail: email@example.com.
Deadline: Sept. 29
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