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GOD & TEXAS: Paupers in paradise

Following the Civil War, poverty overwhelmed Texas. Some towns created “almshouses” to provide food and clothing for paupers, but their efforts were insufficient. The most sustained help for the indigent came through private citizens, non-government charities, and local churches.

Under pressure to “do something” about paupers in Texas, the 1869 Constitution, article XII, section 26, required counties to construct “Manual Labor Poor Houses” for the indigent and persons who committed “petty offences.” Eventually, 65 of Texas’ 254 counties (26%) had built some type of Poor Farm. The most notable of these Poor Farms were in the counties of Denton, Kaufman, Travis, Harris, and Parker.

By the time the Social Security Act was established in 1935, most of the poor farms had closed. Bodies in some of the farm cemeteries were exhumed and reinterred in mass graves elsewhere so the farm property could be developed for business and housing.

Texans had mixed feelings about Poor Farms. Many felt that these government institutions were a dishonorable reservoir of social outcasts that were unfairly discarded from neighboring towns. The deaf, blind, insane, old aged, poor, and criminal were all forced into a dismal environment with no provision for rehabilitation.

Adherents of the then-prominent teachings of Margaret Sanger and Edward Devine welcomed the Poor Farm solution. Their philosophy of eugenics alleged that pauperism was a transmitted genetic trait (pauper gene) that had to be stopped through either estrangement, abortion, or sterilization. Therefore, separating these outcasts from mainline society was acceptable.

By 1927, scientists in Germany had developed strategies for eugenics that the Nazis used to eliminate the Jews, disabled, and other people groups. But some scientists in Europe and America discredited the moralities of eugenics as unscientific and racially biased.

It was the Church that stood up to “modern” science. The 1930 papal encyclical “Casti connubii” condemned eugenics, and many Protestant scholars advanced the Bible against the depravities of this philosophy.

Unfortunately, eugenics remains a force to fight today. The Human Genome Project is sometimes referred to as “Brave New World” genetics, or more commonly as “new eugenics.” Gene editing may help eliminate certain diseases, but it often crosses the line of ethics, legality, and social acceptance.

The Texas Poor Farm experiment failed for good reason: Humanity must be treated with the highest respect. Students of history know that when the church is suppressed, homelessness and poverty increase. The partisan laws of government can never replace the benevolent heart of the Christian.

The Apostle Paul taught in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 KJV, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” This remains the calling of the Church.

By setting the Church free to minister in their community, Texas will be a better place. Taking God out of the schools, government, public welfare, and the marketplace, only exasperates the societal crisis we now see.

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