Book review: Planned Parenthood, CPH 1959

This is a book published by CPH in 1959, authored by (otherwise conservative) Professor Alfred M. Rehwinkel of Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

I just finished reading both this and the 1936 edition of For Better, Not For Worse by Walter Maier (also published by CPH). It's absolutely amazing to see the change in attitude which
occurred in the span of two decades, where CPH would then publish a book which praised Margaret Sanger and her "Planned Parenthood" clinics.

Here are some selected excerpts from this fateful volume by Prof. Rehwinkel. First, he defines the term which is the title of his
book, one which he borrowed from Margaret Sanger:

"Planned parenthood, then, means to apply to the function of begetting children and the establishment of the family the same intelligence, experience, judgment, and careful weighing of all the consequences for those concerned as a man would normally apply to any other life situation where an important decision must be made. ...That to this end they voluntarily regulate the frequency of pregnancy and set limits to the number of possible offspring by the use of artificial devices recommended for that purpose by the medical profession, governed in their decision by the exigencies of the existing circumstances." [page 9]

Remember that this is said in a positive context!

"The emerging but still groping and uncertain public opinion on birth control found an enthusiastic champion in the person of a brilliant young woman by the name of Margaret Higgens Sanger." [page 32]

He then proceeds to tell her life story and boast of her brave struggle to see the legalization of birth control.

"This state of affairs became a nightmare for the sensitive soul of Margaret Sanger. Fear of another pregnancy filled the heart of every poor woman that she came in contact with. The question that met her was always the same: 'What can I do to keep from it?' or 'What can I do to get out of it?'

"These appalling conditions haunted Margaret Sanger day and night. She appealed to the doctors to do something about it, but they refused... The struggle was a hard and a bitter one. Very few men or women had the courage to share with her the odium of public disapproval, though they might share her general ideas. She was harassed by law enforcement agencies, repeatedly suffered imprisonment, and even her husband had to go to jail for a considerable time merely for having handed to an investigator a pamphlet published by his wife on the use of contraceptives. But Margaret Sanger was determined to carry on until Anthony Comstock laws had been repealed or modified and the public opinion had been enlightened." [pages 34-35]

What a heroine!

"And it is a noteworthy fact that approximately 60% of those who answered the questionnaire prepared by Rev. Paul G. Hansen of Denver, Colo., for the Family Life Committee of the Board of Parish Education of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (ca. 1953) favored a judicious practice of birth control, which seems to indicate that the position of the church is no longer convincing for a great many of its members" [page 44]

Ahhh! Theology by public opinion.

"And what complicates these difficulties still more is the fact that the Bible is not as specific in these matters as it is in other areas of Christian life. It is no wonder therefore that pious and learned theologians from the great Saint Augustine to present-day Christian scholars have wrestled with this problem and have arrived at conflicting conclusions." [page 47]

It is a wonder to me that a supposedly learned theologian such as Prof. Rehwinkel would make such an ignorant statement as this. Was he simply unaware of the unanimity of exegetical conclusions found on this issue among our fathers in the faith? One would be hard pressed to find an issue about which all previous generations have spoken with more of one voice.

"And now, if we turn to the Sacred Scriptures for a clear and definite word or directive regarding birth control, we discover to our discomfort that the Bible is surprisingly silent on the subject." [page 48]

Only because he refuses to see what all those who came
before him saw Scripture saying. Such blindness is what leads Rehwinkel to conclude that:

"...children may not always and under all circumstances be a blessing and therefore be desired by man." [page 56]

That's exactly the attitude that comes from not listening to the countless places Scripture contradicts Rehwinkel's assertion on this very point.

"Can planned parenthood or birth control as defined in Chapter II ever be considered right and permissible for Christian parents, or is it wrong and sinful in its very nature?

...The answer to the second part of the question is no." [page 88]

Then he proceeds to give unproven conclusions as to why the answer to the first part of the question is yes. Proceeding from there, he writes:

"When and under what circumstances are Christian husbands and wives free to exercise that liberty and resort to the use of contraceptives in marriage with a good conscience?" [page 92]

Now where do you think a good Lutheran theologian would direct a Christian couple for advice in such a situation of casuistry?

"Husband and wife confronted with such a decision are urged to consult a competent physician and under circumstances also a psychologist or a psychiatrist and their spiritual adviser. Attention may also be called to planned parenthood clinics found in most of the larger cities of the United States. They are staffed with a professional personnel and are ready to serve with expert advice and aid. In most cases they will be listed in the telephone directory under 'Planned Parenthood Association.'" [page 92-93]

Now, after all that HORRIBLE advice, Prof. Rehwinkel writes:

On the other hand, to fix the size of a family at the very outset, at one, two, or possibly three would be a presumptuous arrogating to themselves prerogatives that belong to God. In the first place, they must remember that they are not alone in this but copartners [sic] with God himself. It is God who creates new lives. Husbands and wives are merely the agents through whom God performs this miracle. We confess in the explanation of the First Article of the Apostles' Creed: 'I believe that God has made me and all creatures.'

In the second place, they are not even free to make such a decision. They are not absolute masters of their own lives and destinies. God may withhold all children from them.

Without this final sentence, I would have thought Rehwinkel was reversing everything he had said previously in this book. He seems on the verge of correcting himself when he says that to "
fix the size of a family at the very outset, at one, two, or possibly three would be a presumptuous arrogating to themselves prerogatives that belong to God." Since he believes Scripture does not address this, where does he get this conclusion? If limiting family size to one, two, or three, is arrogating prerogatives that belong to God, then why isn't intentionally limiting family size to five or six?

Regardless, perhaps the final sentence of this excerpt reveals
Rehwinkel's purpose in saying this. He has indicated thus far in his book that it is perfectly fine for people to limit their family size (with the exception of being voluntarily childless). Perhaps here he just wants them to realize that God may limit it even more than they intended!

On this next point, Rehwinkel shows his ignorance of the inevitable outcome of what he is promoting:

The opponents of birth control also raised this objection, that it would have disastrous consequences on the population and the economic conditions of the country.

...There is no evidence in history that birth control had an adverse effect on the economic status of a country. ...Besides, birth control is not synonymous with race suicide. It is not intended to limit families to one, two, or three children... [page 104]

If Rehwinkel could have only seen what a few decades would bring (see the figures I provided in
my earlier post below) perhaps this book would never have been written, or maybe he would have written AGAINST planned parenthood as he should have. We are now at only replacement level fertility (at best), with man and wife having on the average about two children. Our economy is also in great danger because of the aging population and the lack of young workers to support it. And it's becoming virtually impossible for Lutheran young people to find other Lutherans to marry! In his forward to Planned Parenthood, Rehwinkel writes:

"My only plea is that the reader, whoever he or she may be, follow the argumentation calmly and without prejudice to the end. If he does so, one of two things is bound to happen. Either he will be convinced that the position here presented is reasonable, sane, and in harmony with Christian ethics, or he will be confirmed more than ever before in the view that birth control in every form and under all circumstances is an evil and must therefore be opposed to the bitter end. A half-way position hardly seems possible."

Amen. But unfortunately those who read his words found it much easier to take the path of least

To the right is a photo of Professor Rehwinkel with his wife, Dr. Bessie Lee (Efner) Rehwinkel and their daughters Dorothy and Helen.


The Unknown Lutheran said...

Erich (Caspar - Beggars All Forever!):
Well written and examined.

Issues Etc. should interview you sometime.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to read Rehwinkle's later views on Sanger and Planned Parenthood's role in the legalization of abortion. I wonder what influence his book had not only on the view of the LCMS and it's people on birth control but also on their view of abortion.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Unknown Lutheran, thanks for the comments.

Larry, did Rehwinkel have later views? I don't know. But I think the effect of his book and his influence at the St. Louis seminary speaks for itself in the facts which followed him (see my figures below). Of course there's no way of proving or disproving this.

Anonymous said...

Another book to consider

Pastoral Theology by John Fritz

Fritz had some strong language in regards to contraception. A few samples:

"One of Gods’ purposes of marriage is the propagation of the human race…The one-, two-, or three-children family system is contrary to Scriptures; for man has no right arbitrarily to limit the number of his offspring (birth control), especially not if done w/ artificial or unnatural means."

"Birth control, that is, the frustration of conception or the limitation of the number of children… is a sin that has become widespread in modern civilization."

"The real reason underlying birth control no doubt is in most cases the desire to be unrestricted in the gratification of the sexual urge without suffering the inconvenience of pregnancy and childbirth and the care of children, which care to a large extent confines the mother to her home."

"The giving and the withholding of children is God’s prerogative which man should not usurp for himself."

"But if man makes the sexual relation of husband and wife sever chiefly or only the mere gratification of carnal lust, he not only ignores the sacred and lofty purposes of marriage, but reduces it to a state of legalized lust."

"By the unfruitful periods in a woman’s life God Himself has made provision for the prevention of too frequent conception. However, God did not intend that man should use such limitation for the absolute prevention of childbirth nor to permit parents to determine for themselves how many or how few children they will have."

Fritz originally wrote the book in 1931 and revised/expanded it in 1944. Fritz and Maier’s share the same views on the matter. This is pre Alfred M. Rehwinkel.

The edition I have, however, has a foreword by Professor Warneck (from 1977) who I believe may still be a professor at Concordia St. Louis (he was last year). Warneck makes this disclaimer about Fritz’s book, “In the chapter on marriage, many will question Fritz’s … stern rejection of birth control.”

I wonder, is there a Rehwinkel influence here? Sure seems like it. If so, Rehwinkel’s work has influenced several generations of pastors.

J. Conner

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Pastoral Theology by John Fritz is still in print and available from CPH or Amazon for $35.

Thanks for the commments, Pr. Conner.

Devona said...

I really likes that excerpt. Pr. Conner. I might order that book when we've got a few pennies lying around. It sounds opinionated, scriptural, reasonable, and not overly-offensive.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Has CPH repented of applauding Margaret Sanger????

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


CPH did not applaud Margaret Sanger. Rehwinkel did. The book's main premise (re: contraception) is unfortunately valid and accepted in our Synod. How the authors of books come to the conclusions they make is not necessarily something CPH endorses, nor something you can hold CPH accountable for.

The doctrinal review process we have now was not in place in 1959, and the books published by CPH were basically reviewed by seminary professors.

I'm not sure CPH is capable of repenting as an organization, and most of the individuals involved in endorsing this book which applauded Margaret Sanger are dead. Rehwinkel would have been 120 on the 25th of June.

I therefore don't think the question of repentance is applicable in this way.

I'm quite sure CPH would not currently applaud Planned Parenthood clinics or Margaret Sanger. While PP and Sanger were advocating much more than simple contraception in 1959 and before, the name "Planned Parenthood" had not gained the reputation at the time this book was published that it has now with its wholesale advocation and facilitation of abortion on demand.

Anonymous said...

Alfred M. Rehwikel
June 25, 1887, Merrill, Wisc.
Saint Louis Seminary, 1910
Pastor at Pincher Creek, Alta., Canada, 1910-14; Edmonton, Alta., Canada, 1914-22; MA and BD (Edmonton); professor at Concordia College, Edomonton, Canada, 1922; professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, 1936.

M. L. F. Freiberg Sr.

Anonymous said...

FYI...Notice that the pastoral theology text by Dr. John Henry Charles Fritz (July 30, 1874-April 12, 1953) has the section on birth control revised. As Fritz says in the preface to his second edition, 1945: "the paragraph on 'Birth Control' has been rewritten." The Concordia Classics 2000 edition looks to be a reprint of Fritz's second edition. The 1932 edition, pages 177-179 includes a section on the arguments for and against birth control. Fritz opens the section: "In his mimeographed notes to the students in Pastoral Theology, Prof. Theo. Laetsch gives the arguments por and con in reference to birth control (limiting the number of children by the use of artificial means, by medicines, and by unnatural practises)." The contents of those notes are printed in detail. They do not appear in the later edition.

According to the Synod website, Dr. Richard H. Warneck is still on the St. Louis faculty. He graduated from the St. Louis seminary in 1960, the year after Dr. Rehwinkel's book was published.

M. L. F. Freiberg Sr.

Anonymous said...

Dissatisfaction with the distinction driven between natural (permissible) and artificial (forbidden) means of family limitation is apparent, but an exposition of a new position was very slow in coming. A leading figure in producing it was Alfred Rehwinkel, professor* of ethics and church history at the seminary in St. Louis. By no means a theological radical, Rehwinkel was nevertheless by temperament free in expressing his convictions and often ready to stride boldly into controversial areas where most churchmen feared to tread. In this case he was much aided by his wife, a remarkable woman trained as a physician who was practicing medicine and homesteading in Wyoming when she met Rehwinkel. She had grown up Methodist; thus, “when you told her something was wrong, she wanted to know why, and you couldn't just quote Walther [the Synod's patriarch] to her.” Impatience with ultraconservative standards of woman's role, inquiring skepticism and professional medical competence were highly corrosive; by the early 1940's Alfred Rehwinkel was exploring a new position before groups of pastors and occasionally laymen (Alfred M. Rehwinkel, Dr. Bessie, CPH, 1963; interview, Alfred Rehwinkel, June 21, 1967. For a report of one appearance before laymen, see Lutheran Layman, XVIII, 1947, 25). In such sessions, Rehwinkel provided a sympathetic history of family restriction, explicitly defending the much maligned Margaret Sanger. To dispel intimations that contraception was murder, he explained the mechanics of conception and tried to vitiate the simplistic equating of race suicide and birth control.

The most critical part of Rehwinkel's presentation was his development of a supportive theological rationale. To refute the divine order thesis, Rehwinkel separated the natural order and basic moral law. The latter is admittedly immutable, but man's relation to nature is different; though subject to it, he is at the same time able to modify and limit nature. Thus anesthetics are used in the otherwise naturally painful process of childbirth without causing Christians concern. Only a clear Scriptural word could prohibit contraceptives, Rehwinkel insisted, and this he could not find. Onan's punishment, so often cited, was not for coitus interruptus but for refusing an order based on levirite law. And “Be fruitful and multiply,” so often quoted, was not a command but a blessing. In a denomination formally committed to sola Scriptura, Biblical authority for all doctrine, such a survey was devastating because it left the opposition no place to stand other than a hermeneutical debate.

Rehwinkel pointed out that the Bible does not have a great deal to say about marriage. It assigns matrimony three purposes: intimate companionship, procreation, and moral prophylactic. Thus the author was close to the most judicious definition of marriage stated at the turn of the century. But with a different perspective he could see fuller implications for marital sex in the same Genesis 2 passages which had been cited then. Freed of the natural order argument and of a repressive view of sex, he could do what was impossible in 1900: be as enthusiastic as any Lutheran author about the joys and benefits of parenthood and yet agree to the use of contraceptives.

Here then in the 1940's was limned the essential argument which justified the use of contraceptives. However, Rehwinkel's view was not to be fully articulated in print until 1959. In the meantime the most that may be said for official Synodical publications is that they realized the impossibility of repeating the thread-bare arguments of the 1920's and before. For example, to contend that birth control “logically and inevitably leads to deliberate childless marriages” would have been ludicrous after 1945 when surveys indicated a rise in the number of children Americans considered ideal; contraceptives had not killed the family. Nevertheless, counsel more positive than silence was rare. Arthur E. Graf's** “any form of family limitation is sinful when prompted by selfishness” was as direct a statement on contraceptives as appeared in the Lutheran Witness through the 1950's.

Alan Graebner
Birth Control and the Lutherans—The Missouri Synod as a Case Study
Journal of Social History, Vol. 2, No. 4, Summer 1969, pages 320-22

*Rehwinkel also taught education and psychology
**Graf served as a professor at Concordia Seminary, Springfield, Illinois, 1954-1967

M. L. F. Freiberg Sr.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Thank you very much for your comments, Pr. Freiberg. I'm going to hunt down a 1932 copy of Pastoral Theology for my library. I have the Graebner article and have quoted it here before. And thanks for the additional pertinent quotes from Graebner regarding this post! They help to put things in perspective.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Theodore Laetsch* notes on the arguments pro and con in reference to birth control quoted in J. H. C. Fritz's Pastoral Theology, 1932, pages 177-179.

1. Economic—Danger of Overpopulation.
Malthus, an Englishman, 1766-1834, in 1798 called attention to this danger, due to the fact, as he claimed, that food products increase in arithmetical progression, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., while mankind increases in geometrical progression, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. In order to ward off this danger of overpopulation and improve existing conditions, positive limitations, such as wars, epidemics, etc., are not sufficient; the increase of mankind must be stopped artificially. He advised postponement of marriage, and John Stuart Mills advised continence, or abstinence, in married life (preventive limitations). Two-children system favored, especially in France. In 1877 the Malthusian League was organized for the purpose of advocating artificial prevention of conception.
2.Hygienic—Woman's health is broken down by too many childbirths.
3.Biological—The sex urge is purely a biological process, and every man and woman has the right to gratify it and to prevent conception or remove undesirable consequences, just as every person has the right to remove superfluous, undesirable hair, nails, etc. — a purely biological process. Suppression of sex urge is harmful, unnatural.
4.Eugenic—Not quantity, but quality counts. Quality is improved by birth control. Mankind, which is now in danger of deterioration, must be regenerated.
5.Social—Birth control makes for greater marital happiness, better opportunities to enjoy life and attend to social duties, to satisfy cultural demands, etc. Better wages, not so much abject poverty. Children better equipped for life, better chances for education, wealth, etc. Prevention of extraconnubial intercourse by married people and more marriages, since marriage without danger of children gives all needed opportunity for satisfying the sexual urge.
6.Expediency—Rather use contraceptives than resort to abortion or murder of born or unborn children.

1. It is sinful.
A. It is willfully setting aside God's will and command, Gen. 1:28; I Tim. 5:14; 2:15; Gen. 38:9-10
B. It is despising His promises and is depriving oneself of a blessing, Pss. 127 and 128. See texts under C.
C. It is usurping for oneself an exclusive privilege of God, that of giving or withholding children, Ps. 127:3, Gen 29:31—30:6; 30:22; 33:5; 16:2; 20:18; Lev. 20:20; Job 42:12, 13; Luke 1:58; I Sam. 1:10, 11
D. Birth control by means of anticonceptuals, coitus interruptus, etc., is ruthlessly interfering with God's method of creating a living being.
Hufeland, on of the most noted physicians of Germany, 1762-1836, says: “The first question undoubtedly is, When does life begin? There can be no doubt that the act of copulation is to be regarded as the beginning of the existence of the future being and that the very first, even though invisible, germ of this being has the same claim upon the care and protection of the physician as the later, fully developed man. . . . A human being is being murdered in its incipiency. I am not going to answer sophistic, even Jesuitic, cavils. I appeal to sane reason and to the pure, unspoiled moral feeling of every man. . . . The product presupposes producing, and if it is wrong to kill the product, then it goes without saying that it is wrong to render futile the act whereby it is being produced, for thereby one actually kills that which is in the process of being produced (das Werdende) in its first beginning.” Quoted in De Valenti, Die Ehe, biblisch und aerztlich beleuchtet, page 65 f. This is undoubtedly the Scriptural view. Cf. Ps. 139::13-16; Job 10:8-11, especially v. 10 (the act of copulation described).
E. Marriage degenerated from a holy estate to mere gratification of carnal lust, Heb. 13:4; I Thess. 4:4.
2.It undermines the State. It is race suicide.
Even the two children system will rapidly lead to extermination of a people, for 10 percent of all marriages are naturally childless, and unmarried people do not contribute to the growth of a nation, while the two-children system replaces only the parents, no replacements for unmarried people and childless couples, hence a decrease in population, and the nation will die out. At least four children to a family to prevent this dying out, five children to bring about an increse in population.
3.It undermines the home.
Parents become selfish, incompatible. Children idolized, pampered, egotistic, self-important, undesirable citizens in many instances.
A Supreme Court Justice is quoted as saying: “It is my conclusion that childless homes are responsible for the almost complete absence of real home-life. I cannot help but reach the conclusin that, if our women had children, there would be more happiness and fewer divorces. Presence of children attracts the husband to his home and keeps mothers from the gossiping neighbors and bridge parties. Absence of children promotes discord. Their presence makes for harmony.”
4.It is unnatural and harmful to health.
Oscar Lezius, quoted in Lehre und Wehre, 1914, says: “Modern women that are willing, in the interest of decreasing the number of childbirths, to use certain means and force their husbands to do the same thereby destroy their own and their husbands' nerve-power, become hysteric, and shorten their lives Women who according to the old custom were willing to give birth to five to ten children, to refrain form the use of 'Parisian articles,' and to demand no coitus interruptus from their husbands have every prospect of longer life and the enjoyment of better health than their modern contemporaries, whose renowned cry for the child is often enough satisfied with one birth, who like fallen women (in der Gesinnung von Dirnen) make use of anticonceptuals, degrade matrimony to the level of unchastity, pass their days in hysteria and nervousness, and make their homes in institutions for the nervous or insane asylums. Women with many children are in middle age much more beautiful than those who have few children and who owe this misfortune not to a hard blow of fate, but solely to an immoral tendency toward the use of anticonceptual means.”
Borntraeger, quoted in Lehre und Wehe, 1914, says: “It is simply not true that birth control brings advantages to families, neither economical nor social nor sanitary nor other advantages. Altogether out of place is the contention that birth control preserves health and beauty for women and improves the quality of posterity. Nowhere are there so many instances of female trouble, nowhere so many women die in childbed, than where the generative process is interfered with artificially.”
5.It is not a eugenic success.
Says Lezius, quoted in Lehre und Wehre, 1914: “France has undoubtedly degenerated physically and morally since it has decided for a cowardly and egotistic control of increase in population. It is also a fact that the oldest children are often weaker than the younger. If the latter remain unborn, and if only the oldest children continue the family trunk, degeneration is not to be avoided. Benjamin Franklin was the fourteenth child of his father and the only genius of his family. Today he would not have come into the world. Frederick the Great was the seventh child of a poor officer and would not exist today. Bismarck was the fifth child, and of the older children only one grew up. If the parents of these children had made use of the two-child system, how different would the world look today, and how much poorer wold it be!”
Says Borntraeger, quoted in Lehre und Wehre, 1914: “That birth control does not improve the quality has been shown conclusively in the example of France, where this system has been in vogue for eighty years and more. In the children of poor France there is evidently physically and ethically a retrogression rather than an improvement as far as the quality of humanity is concerned.”

*Theodore Laetsch, D.D., Old Testament Isagogics, Pastoral Theology
Began teacing at Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, MO in 1927

M. L. F. Freiberg Sr.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Pr. Freiberg,

Is that all of what is missing from the 1945 edition of Fritz's Pastoral Theology? Were there any other changes in the chapter on birth control?



Anonymous said...

I would say for the most part, the answer is Yes. A quick glance between the two additions shows some changes in capitalization, a proof text being changed (ie: page 148 of the 1945 ed. cites I Cor. 6:16, where the 1932 ed. cites Matt. 19:5), proof texts not in the 1932 ed. being added in the 1945 ed., a heading being reworded (ie: Engagement Equivalent to Marriage (1932) is changed to The Binding Force of an Engagement (1942), the paragraph on common law marrige, page 152 of the 1945 ed. is not found in the 1932 ed.

When Dr. Fritz says in his 1945 preface that "the paragraph on Birth Control has been rewritten," that is not an understatement. He definitely reworked that part of his book under the chapter on Marriage, taking into account some of what Prof. Laetsch's notes address.

M. L. F. Freiberg Sr.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Thanks, Pr. Freiberg.

Anonymous said...

Another book to consider:

"from Teens to Marriage" by Reuben D. Behlmer, CPH, 1959

"Birth control is a source of friction in a mixed marriage. Most Protestant churches have taken no firm stand for or against birth control, and many Protestant church members apparently practice birth control by some mechanical or chemical means."

By 1959, the Mo. Synod already absorbed a lot from Protestants.