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If the gospel is to make a difference in our culture, surely it will come as a surprise, rather than simply echoing entrenched political positions. Few Christian ethicists today are better at surprising their readers, and the wider world, than Amy Laura Hall, the director of the doctor of theology program at Duke Divinity School. She has been willing to challenge utilitarian forms of medical research that undergird the modern university's power and prestige. Her arguments against embryonic stem-cell research have found a wide hearing, partly because she combines a fierce commitment to the dignity of the least human being with a keen feminist awareness of the implications of runaway medical hubris for women and families.

There are few ethicists working today who combine publicly accessible arguments with such a consistent Christian witness. Here, though, her answer to our big question—How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good?—may surprise and challenge a different set of readers, as she looks at the history of Christian attitudes toward unwed mothers and their children, and calls us to a different future.

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, had a way with words. In 1922, she wrote a book chapter titled "The Cruelty of Charity." Charity toward the poor, especially toward poor immigrants, she opined, only "encourages the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others, which brings with it … a dead weight of human waste."

In an age when upstanding Congregationalists and Unitarians were urging Americans to produce Fewer and Better Babies (Eugenics Publishing House, 35th edition, 1929), Sanger was ...

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In the Magazine

September 2006

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