Alfred C. Kinsey (1894–1956), the entomologist-turned-sexologist whose taxonomic reports on American sexual behavior electrified the nation, was a notorious provocateur. The two major volumes he supervised, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), were the publishing sensations of their day and roused zealous if discordant responses across the country, indeed the world. To admirers such as the sexologist Robert Latou Dickinson and the publisher Donald Porter Geddes, Kinsey was a pioneering scientific researcher in an age of moral hypocrisy, a tireless investigator of human desire and intimate behavior whose contributions to human history ranked with those of Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and Adam Smith. To critics such as Monsignor Maurice Sheehy, the head of Catholic University’s Department of Religious Education, he was a dissolute pseudo-intellectual bent on shredding the moral fabric of the nation by wrecking the family. Sheehy called Kinsey’s work, unmistakably “the most antireligious” of the time. Towering scientist and liberating revolutionary to some, lascivious fraud, religious threat, and likely Communist to others: Kinsey stood with Senator Joseph McCarthy as one of the most divisive personages of the 1950s.
That Kinsey’s publications marked a watershed moment in the history of American sexuality has been widely assumed, however disputed the specific results remain. An early, influential plot line credits his explicit discussions with inspiring a historically anomalous sexual revolution that flourished in the sixties, characterized by an experiential ethic of “if it feels good, do it”—an ethic blasted by critics as permissiveness—and accompanied by drugs, feminism, and the beginnings of a gay rights movement. Although that dramatic scenario still surfaces in mass media depictions of Kinsey, historians of sexuality have, in recent years, challenged its more simplistic facets—as when John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, in Intimate Matters, pointedly refer to the so-called sexual revolution and to a plurality of sexual revolutions in U.S. history; or when Beth Bailey, in Sex in the Heartland, explains how Americans have used the metaphor of “revolution” to make sense of bewildering sexual changes (or perceived changes) around them. Other scholars have contributed by further illuminating the histories of homosexuality, trans-sexuality, and marriage debates well before the 1960s, helping temper exaggerated depictions of an overnight change in American sexual mores. Such important correctives, deposing the model of a singular upheaval in erotic norms arising out of the frigid fifties, have both scholarly and political uses, as they expose historical variety in sexual norms and downplay the novelty of recent changes in sexual custom or jurisprudence.
Yet the revisionist accounts, taken together, have tended to obscure an important consequence of Kinsey’s emblematic role in the enduring popular perception of a decadent sexual revolution and his figuration by conservative opponents as a secularizing villain. Again and again, writers have painted Kinsey as unqualifiedly antagonistic to religion, apparently concurring that the influence of his work—and of whatever sexual transformations may have occurred in his wake—stood in stark opposition to the religion of his time. That presupposition has concealed the fact that although he was scrupulously secular in his own convictions, Kinsey played a critical religious role in the United States by enlivening Protestant liberals to reconsider and, indeed, revise their views about sex. Even as many Christian authorities were moved to rebut or denounce him, Kinsey inspired others to reflect anew upon sexuality, advancing among many a rigorous, introspective reappraisal of traditional moral norms and prejudices that would endure long after his death. Religion surely infused the heated arguments about the famous scientist’s life and legacy, most visibly in the admonitions of religious conservatives who then and later would vilify Kinsey for imperiling traditional American values. But religion could and did play other decisive roles as well.
Those who write about him rarely discuss Kinsey’s religious encounters beyond the familiar story of his stringently religious father, an account habitually embellished well beyond documentary evidence to exhibit a child persecuted by religious tyranny. Kinsey the elder, the story goes, was “the sternest, the strictest, the most unforgiving” of Victorianera Methodists, a man who permitted his family few indulgences and dispensed regular punishments. The family’s social life, “such as it was,” according to the Kinsey biographer Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, “was restricted to a few of the Hoboken Methodists—gloomy gatherings, exchanging platitudinous pieties, the children enjoined to respectful silence.” Another biographer, James H. Jones, surmises that Kinsey’s childhood God was “the God of the Old Testament,” a harsh patriarch built on all the “mean-spirited, hate-filled, and fearful” things Kinsey presumably heard in church. “Given his harsh religion and overbearing father,” Jones concludes, “young Kinsey must have suffered in full measure the pain and agony to which seriously religious children can fall victim.” In due course, he rebelled bravely against his father’s dreary religion and thereafter stood firm against all other forms of superstition and hypocrisy. Jones, whose account of Kinsey (as critics such as Martin Duberman and Thomas Laqueur have noted) often strays afar from textual evidence into psychological and moral critique, reads Kinsey’s life as “a struggle to use science to free himself from his own religious upbringing and the sexual guilt he felt as a boy.” Such histrionic descriptions have been widely influential, despite their weak evidentiary basis; and their currency supports the portrayal of Kinsey’s relation to religion in exclusively adversarial terms.
To be sure, Kinsey set the stage for later interpreters—admirers and critics alike—to reduce him to a despiser of institutional faith. In his published works and public comments he frequently and emphatically referred to Jewish and Christian codes as the chief source of America’s sexual shame, even as he belittled the impact of traditional religion on American sexual life by contending that religious people regularly disobeyed those teachings (often enough without guilt). In one of the few extended treatments of Kinsey’s thinking on religion, now more than thirty years old, the historian Paul Robinson observed that the scientist seemed to hold “two incompatible points of view,” skipping back and forth between them in order to present religion in the worst possible light: Kinsey could drily emphasize religion’s scant influence on contemporary sexual mores (scoffing at the “hypocrisy of the devout” who were shown not to practice what they preached) while yet stressing the toxic historical impact of the Judeo-Christian tradition on American sexual life. In Robinson’s view, that interpretive paradox “was testimony to the strength of Kinsey’s anticlerical sentiments. He was anxious to pin the blame on religion, no matter what the evidence.”
Several other insightful analyses of Kinsey’s work and the national debates it engendered likewise presume a more or less wholesale antipathy between Kinsey and all things religious. Janice M. Irvine, in Disorders of Desire, notes rightly that Kinsey was “critical of religion, educational institutions, and homes,” citing a statement from Sexual Behavior in the Human Female that seems to indicate a straightforward, uncomplicated enmity between Kinsey and religion. Sarah E. Igo, in her chapter on Kinsey’s reports in The Averaged American, cites Irvine on this point while also reiterating, via Gathorne-Hardy and Jones, the legend of Kinsey’s “strict Methodist upbringing” and its impact on the “personal agenda” he brought to his work. Religion plays no other role in these works, except as a (seemingly obvious) force attempting to undermine or suppress Kinsey’s findings. James Gilbert, in his chapter on Kinsey in Men in the Middle, also repeats the “strict Methodist household” line and concurs with the familiar presumptions about religion, asserting, “Indeed, it was rare for any religious leader or spokesman to find much good in Kinsey’s work, except those few who bruited his discovery that religious people were likely to be somewhat more inhibited in their choice of outlets.” Although Jennifer Terry, in An American Obsession, correctly observes that clergy were among those liberals who “applauded Kinsey’s work for bringing sexuality out into the open where it could be discussed rationally,” she does not name any such clerics; and since her only quoted examples of religious voices are those of the most extreme fundamentalist critics of his work, it appears as if the liberal religious voices were irrelevant or inconsequential. Finally, in American Sexual Character, Miriam G. Reumann’s exhaustive study of the responses to Kinsey’s work and what they tell us about postwar ideas about sex and national identity, we learn a great deal about the anxieties of the period but, again, very little about religion beyond the usual reactionaries. Whether caused by indifference, a general aversion toward religion, or a distaste for the politics of religion and sexuality in our own time, these lapses in scholarly works that otherwise offer a great deal to historians of sex and gender are puzzling. Even a token investigation of religion in Kinsey’s context would reveal a more nuanced, accurate plot.
In short, the habitual rendering of Kinsey as a cultured despiser of religion ignores important documentary evidence of his enthusiastic and sustained engagement with a range of religious liberals, nearly all of them mainline Protestants. That stock depiction has helped mask the ways those personal exchanges factored in the reshaping of Protestant religious attitudes toward sexuality in the decades to come. Three bodies of textual evidence, read together, illumine Kinsey’s religious encounters from a new angle: his published remarks about religion, chiefly those in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female; responses to his work that appeared in religious publications or were penned by religious writers, across a broad theological spectrum; and Kinsey’s vast personal correspondence with Protestant religious leaders that has lain quietly for a half century, evidently unread—or at least not cited—by those who have written on Kinsey’s antireligious hostility (including Igo, Gilbert, and others who have utilized Kinsey’s correspondence for other purposes). Those materials yield an appreciably more intricate picture of Kinsey’s encounters with religion and with religious leaders of his time than we have yet seen. The evidence shifts the scene from a stark battle between religion and secularism to a fierce but subtler dispute among religious actors across the conservative-liberal spectrum of American Christianity, a dispute in which Kinsey was a pivotal, albeit nonreligious participant. Looking beyond his lifetime, to the subsequent work pursued by several of his Christian correspondents as well as many others inspired by him, we can begin to perceive how Kinsey enabled a conversation that quickened substantial shifts in liberal Protestant thinking about sexuality.
Religious Responses to Sexual Behavior in the Human Male
Religious responses to Kinsey’s research on human sexuality were variegated from the start, far more so, in fact, than subsequent historians have supposed. That story can begin in 1938, when the forty-four-year-old Kinsey famously began teaching a marriage course at Indiana University, as well as conducting interviews with students and colleagues that he termed “sex histories.” That fall, a member of the campus religious council assured skeptics that the course, which featured lectures from several Indiana University faculty members besides Kinsey, included not only the explicit discussions and graphic illustrations for which it was already becoming infamous but also “the positive aspect” of sexual behavior, namely “the everlasting beauty of [the] sacrament of marriage.” A year later, still under pressure and dealing with resignations from two faculty lecturers who disliked his focus on the so-called vulgar dimensions of married life, Kinsey invited two local clergymen to deliver lectures on religious conceptions of marriage for the course: W. E. Moore, the minister of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and Thomas Kilfoil, the priest of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. Criticisms of Kinsey intensified, however, so that within two years, indignant members of the local ministerial association petitioned the university’s administration, and the pressure forced him to give up the course. Undeterred, he focused his energies on collecting ever-greater numbers of sex histories from as wide a range of men and women as possible.
That range included the religious. His correspondence from that period shows Kinsey as a tireless pursuer of interviews from an array of sources, including clergy, for his planned books on the sexual behavior of ordinary people. A typical letter posted in September 1944 thanked Leonard Anderson, an Episcopal priest and the director of Chicago’s first home for dependent African American boys, for giving his own sex history and also for getting those of “all the boys who were in the house.” Kinsey also pressed Anderson for more contacts in “the Negro sections of the city,” and correspondence indicates that the white, reform-minded priest enthusiastically accommodated this wish. In another letter from early 1945, Kinsey wrote to E. Fay Campbell of the Presbyterian Church’s (USA) Board of Christian Education, describing the parameters of his research and politely requesting Campbell’s own sex history, as well as introductions to other church people for additional histories. “If our sample is to cover the whole range of society,” pleaded Kinsey, “it must include a goodly representation from persons who are active in religious groups.” That request was apparently less successful. Although Campbell wrote back to thank Kinsey for his “interesting letter,” he ignored the request for sex histories and broader contacts; correspondence between the two men apparently ended at that point.
On January 5, 1948, Kinsey’s first report from his interview data was published by Philadelphia’s W. B. Saunders Company, a staid publisher of medical texts. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male had been well publicized and marketed in advance, and reviews preceded its official publication date in major venues such as Newsweek, Harper’s, the New Yorker, and the New York Times. These early appraisals were quite positive, as were most other postpublication analyses in the secular press. Religious commentators were, however, rather more mixed in their responses, some showing outrage from the beginning. An editorial in the Jesuit publication America lambasted the book’s marketing strategy (the book itself had not yet been seen) as “pandering to prurience”:
The sound conclusions of genuine science are part of God’s truth and as such are never to be disowned, flinched from, hushed up. But there is a vast difference between the recognition and use of scientific truth by those who have a legitimate interest in it and its helter-skelter popularization among those who have no ground for interest save curiosity. As well might one popularize for the masses a strictly scientific treatise on the compounding of poisons.
With the “poisons” analogy, of course, the magazine exposed its deeper concern with the book’s effect on American youth, its potential to contaminate and debase the innocent.
Kinsey’s commentary on religion in the first volume was consistent with the book as a whole, which aimed for a tone of detached objectivity, of pure reportage on the facts as he and his research team had found them. The topic of religion received brief mention from time to time and lengthier analysis in chapter 13, “Religious Background and Sexual Outlet.” Here, Kinsey established his chief historical claim:
There is nothing in the English-American social structure which has had more influence upon present-day patterns of sexual behavior than the religious backgrounds of that culture…. This is no place to work out the details of the historic development, but it is important at this point to realize that these present-day codes are quite ancient, that they are the product of still older religious systems, and that throughout their history they have been the bases for the law which has formally expressed society’s interest in controlling human sexual behavior.
Kinsey was interested in the effects of religion on the more devout members of the major religious groups he studied (Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish). He concluded that religiously inactive males of all faiths were far more likely to masturbate and pursue sexual pleasure outside marriage than were their devout counterparts. But he was still more interested in how these older religious teachings continued to influence contemporary sexual habits even among the nonreligious. In Kinsey’s view, few recognized the enduring influence of Jewish and Christian concepts of sexuality on modern notions of right versus wrong and natural versus unnatural. To uphold such categorical distinctions was perforce to “stoutly defend the church’s system of natural law.”
If religious leaders were relieved to hear that regular worshipers mostly heeded their teachings on sexual discipline, few showed it; immediate clerical reactions were exceedingly critical (though more positive responses would soon emerge). The first public religious response articulated after the volume’s publication, when reviewers could comment on the book and not merely its advertising campaign, came from Chicago’s Loyola University on January 15. The Catholic institution issued to the media a “News Release on the Kinsey Report,” comprising a condensed version of a speech made by Herbert A. Ratner, a faculty member in Loyola’s school of medicine. The speech criticized Kinsey’s research for conflating two distinct concepts: that of the “average” and that of the “normal,” complaining that Kinsey’s approach would entice readers to imagine sinful behaviors as normal and good simply because of their alleged frequency. Other Catholic commentators became even more critical in their rebukes of Kinsey, condemning his Darwinian biologism (which they perceived as reducing human affections and behavior to amoral instincts) and ostensible ethical relativism while raising further questions about the study’s sample and statistical conclusions. Such critiques did not initially appear to influence parishioners, however: George Gallup’s mid-February poll of Americans across the country found that “both Protestants and Catholics in the population express approval of the Kinsey study, although Protestants are more in favor than Catholics are.” According to Gallup, Protestants approved of the study as a “good thing” at a rate of 57 percent, compared with 10 percent who thought it a “bad thing” (the rest had no opinion or mixed responses); meanwhile, Catholics who expressed an opinion approved of it at a rate of 49 percent to 19 percent. The lay Catholic approval rate was particularly intriguing, since virtually no positive statement about the volume was made by Catholic leaders.
As Sexual Behavior in the Human Male climbed best-seller lists, trade presses rushed to hop on the lucrative Kinsey bandwagon with a series of commentaries and discussions of the famous volume. Most were collections of articles by experts in several different academic fields, and all of them included contributions from religious thinkers. One of the earliest, Albert Deutsch’s edited collection Sex Habits of American Men was released by Prentice-Hall in May and featured comments from Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergymen (one representative from each tradition), along with psychiatrists, psychologists, anthropologists, and other specialists. The Catholic writer, Charles G. Wilber, sharply criticized Kinsey’s suggestions about Catholicism (including the “‘allegedly devout Catholics’ reported to be petting”) and expanded on some of the critiques made by Ratner, protesting that the authors of the report “treat man purely as a zoological specimen” rather than as “a free agent who has duties and rights and whose acts have social and moral implications.” Against the implication that the nation’s sex laws ought to be rethought, Wilber sharply retorted, “the mores of some of the people in the northeastern states should be changed to conform to the natural law.”
Rabbi Louis I. Newman, a prominent Zionist as well as an advocate for Reform Jewish education, served as the book’s authority on Judaism. He responded favorably to the Kinsey volume and quoted from the study what he believed to be the finding with the most important implication for religion: “The differences between religiously devout persons and religiously inactive persons of the same faith are much greater than the differences between two equally devout groups of different faiths.” This means, wrote Newman hopefully, that “religious groups, whatever their particular symbolism and imagery, and despite their theological warfare, do influence the conduct of their members. Perhaps if a common denominator can be found for the instruction by religionists, not defying, but utilizing aright, the research of such works as the Kinsey-Pomeroy-Martin survey, we can build a more serene and effective social order today.”
The Protestant contribution was penned by the Reverend Seward Hiltner, the executive secretary of the Department of Pastoral Services (formerly the Commission on Religion and Health) at the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America (soon to become part of the National Council of Churches), who would later serve on the faculties of the University of Chicago Divinity School (1950–1961) and Princeton Theological Seminary (1961–1980). Hiltner voiced his agreement with certain values expressed in the report, such as “reducing hypocrisy, trying to eliminate any unnecessary suffering, and the like,” but disagreed with other principles embedded in it, such as the presumption that human beings were wholly like other animals in their sexual appetites or “that what exists must therefore be so important that it is in some measure what ought to be.” Sharing Rabbi Newman’s commitment to flexible engagement with Kinsey’s text, Hiltner was adamant in noting that the volume should be heeded by church leaders, who would then have a choice to make about how better to instill their tradition’s sexual teachings:
We can try to be moralistic, or we can try to teach people to be ethical. We can battle one pressure with another, or we can help people to find out how to make up their minds for themselves after they have become aware of what is really relevant. Either way we believe in a moral law. But in the one case we become policemen and propagandists. In the other, we are educators and shepherds.
All too often, warned Hiltner, Christianity had offered poor justification for its moral teachings while etherealizing sex beyond earthly recognition. Kinsey’s view offered a crucial, fleshly corrective to such distortions.
A mostly favorable review of Sex Habits of American Men that appeared in the New York Times in mid-May criticized the three clergymen’s articles as the weakest in the volume. “It is not surprising that this should be true,” wrote the liberal reviewer Bruce Bliven. After all, “It would hardly be reasonable to ask any clergyman at this time to discuss in a completely dispassionate way a study so violently out of accord with many of the assumptions of organized religion.” That brusque dismissal by Bliven, the editor of the New Republic and a foe of religious fundamentalism no less than of Communism, lumped Hiltner’s and Newman’s tempered liberal responses into the same mold of conservative indignation exemplified by Wilber, despite the fact that Hiltner and Newman offered a pointed contrast and defended Kinsey against knee-jerk moralizing. Still, playing subtly on the old theme of religion’s effeminate decrepitude, Bliven labeled all three as the volume’s intellectual lightweights.
A week after Bliven’s review, the celebrated Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr published his own response to the first Kinsey report in his magazine, Christianity and Crisis. Niebuhr granted that Catholicism and Protestantism, in their traditionally “morbid and prurient attitude toward sex,” had both failed to realize “the ideal of relating sexual life sacramentally to the whole of personality and to the whole of a loyal community of persons in the family partnership.” Such criticisms echoed Kinsey’s own descriptions of religion’s effects on Western sexual morality, even exceeding them for emphasis. But Niebuhr recoiled at the solution he believed Kinsey, whom he equated with “modern secularism,” offered. In a quotable line that many would repeat in their own critiques of Kinseyan scientism, he concluded, “The modern naturalism which seeks to solve the problems of man’s sexual life by treating him as an animal, only slightly more complex than other brutes, represents a therapy which implies a disease in our culture as grievous or more grievous than the sickness it pretends to cure.” Censure from this redoubtable theologian, whom no reviewer would dare dismiss as inconsequential (much less unmanly), carried significant weight and influence among church leaders and lay members. Time magazine reported Niebuhr’s critique, opining that the revered thinker spoke for “many another churchman” in finding Kinsey’s attitude toward sex even worse “than the sad state of U.S. morals it indicated.” But although Niebuhr’s condemnation of Kinsey loomed large in the public mind, not all religious Americans agreed with the scope and content of those disparagements, and there was no shortage of more positive responses.
Plentiful praise from religious leaders arrived in Kinsey’s mailbox. The Reverend Wesley J. Buck, a Lutheran minister in Council Bluffs, Iowa, wrote an appreciative letter to Kinsey in which he also requested a job on his research staff. (Kinsey’s response was warmhearted, but he did not offer him such a position.) Another admiring letter arrived in July from the Reverend Ward Avery from Bloomingdale, Indiana. The handwritten missive quoted the Bible on homosexuality and concluded that “God has ordained some men to be ‘that way’ for the purpose of glorifying Him, because they have been endowed with great spiritual capacity.” Though letters promulgating strong religious views were often marked with a red sticker meaning “Crank” in the correspondences files, this letter intrigued Kinsey, and he urged Avery to come to the university to give his own sex history. Another missive arrived in September from a Methodist minister in Baltimore who claimed to have just completed his fourth reading of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and who lauded the book’s broad relevance for the church:
You and your associates deserve the highest praise for such a study as you have given to the world, with all of the facts contained. May God give us, as parents, educators, social workers, judges, ministers and others working with people, sense enough to be guided by the result of the Report, in order that we might deal with them as wise persons and not the fools we have been.
Such fan mail from ministers likely brought some relief and satisfaction to Kinsey; his exhaustive files, filled with copies of his own protracted responses and continued postings, reveal that he was a keen correspondent with religious persons sympathetic to his research.
Publicly, however, many religious leaders maintained a wary stance toward Kinsey, doubtless influenced by the early caustic appraisals by Catholic and conservative Protestant leaders. A sharpened Catholic reaction made national news in mid-September, when the National Council of Catholic Women passed a resolution deploring Kinsey’s volume as “an insult to the American people” and “a disservice to the nation which can only lead to immorality.” In contrast, mainline Protestant leaders gradually grew more comfortable in articulating what they saw as the useful aspects of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. The prominent mainline Protestant magazine Christian Century printed carefully worded sentiments by the church leader Roy Burkhart, who warned, “It would not be wise for church leaders to reject or resent these findings. Obviously they indicate that a poor job has been done in the guidance of growing life.” Burkhart, already nationally known as an advocate for birth control and marriage counseling, added, “This is a field where the church has an unusual opportunity, since it is the only agency that gives guidance to the individual from birth until he is born fully into the life of the Spirit…. As church leaders, therefore, we need to take a constructive attitude toward the Kinsey findings. This does not mean, of course, that we should not look critically at them.” Protestant-Catholic tensions had long run high on matters of sexuality—with access to contraception as the chief irritant—and mainline Protestants frequently worked to distance themselves from what they deemed the extremism of Catholic dogma. A tempered Protestant response to Kinsey’s work fit well into that context.
Burkhart’s practical experience with married couples presumably enabled him to comprehend the material bearing of Kinsey’s work, in contrast to the seeming abstractions offered by the more theological Niebuhr. Kinsey’s correspondence files show that he was distinctly aware of the varied points of view held by religious thinkers and public leaders, and still more that he was heartened by the growing positive responses from many liberal Protestants who were actively engaged in pastoral care, chaplaincy work, and other practical professions. Several letters passed between Kinsey and the Episcopal clergyman Otis R. Rice, beginning in the fall of 1948 and resuming after the publication of the female volume in 1953. Kinsey initiated the correspondence to commend Rice—a chaplain at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan and instructor at New York’s General Theological Seminary who would shortly become an executive in the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America—for his article elaborating the pastoral utility of Kinsey’s volume. In the American Social Hygiene Association’s 1948 book Problems of Sexual Behavior, Rice distanced himself from the emotional reactions of both the “pessimistic moralists” in the church, who were filled with doom and gloom about the nation’s plunging morals, and the naïve Pollyannas who so readily dismissed Kinsey’s work as nonsense. Plainly, Rice noted, the pastoral counselor “has encountered sexual behavior again and again in the course of his normal ministry”; the chief value of the Kinsey report was, therefore, to remind the church of the need to rethink its basic moral tenets, as well as the need to deal more openly and directly with human sexuality as a part of helping persons attain maturity. In the wake of Kinsey’s study, Rice argued, “We shall need to re-examine … the principles of our moral theology. We shall need to re-examine our own pastoral opportunities, our homiletical opportunities. We shall need, perhaps most of all, to examine ourselves.”
Kinsey’s unsolicited letter was filled with gratitude and approval for Rice’s balanced point of view: “I want to tell you that your article definitely encourages me. In the first place, it is encouraging to know that there are clergymen who do publicly approve of our work. Secondly, it is encouraging to know that the Church does have leaders who can be as level-headed as you are in considering the problems involved.” Kinsey went on to praise the positive effects Rice’s article was likely to have on broader public opinion, remarking that he was “glad that an article like yours will help persuade the public that at least some segment of the religious leaders is ready to face fact.” As the correspondence continued, Rice seems to have given his own sex history to Kinsey, or at least showed a willingness to establish further contacts with religious leaders. “I quite comprehend,” wrote Kinsey (as he did to many other clerical correspondents), “that it takes a considerable amount of thought for one of your station to cooperate and to give a history. In consequence, I am doubly appreciative of your help in our work with clerical groups. We shall be delighted to follow through whenever any of these possible contacts work out.” Like many forms of human generosity, Kinsey’s was partly calculating, a means to entice friendly correspondents to join the data sample or, at least, to gain their tacit approval. In an atmosphere of conservative Christian antagonism, Kinsey surely felt particularly triumphant in obtaining clergy sex histories.
In the months and years following the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Christian leaders continued to come out to praise or to blast Kinsey’s work. The Reverend Joseph Barth, the minister of the First Unitarian Church of Miami, preached a fervent sermon on November 21, 1948, in which he sided with Kinsey against conservative critics. Contrasting Kinsey to “conventional Christians,” Barth noted that Kinsey was interested in the everyday realities of human sexual behavior, whereas the “traditional” priest or minister is “very interested in human sexuality, as he would be interested in a snake in his living room—to watch it, and to catch it and to kill it.” As evidence, Barth cited the recent pronouncement by Catholic University’s Monsignor Sheehy that the volume was “the most anti-religious book of our time,” a description that, Barth protested, absurdly marked Kinsey’s volume as more sinister than even Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. However bizarre the fixation of “orthodox religionists” on sex, Barth admonished, “It is easy to see that from where that Christian priest sits, sexuality is the great human sin, and fascism is a lesser evil by far.” The minister went on to contend that the biblical Jesus had upended that hypocritical hierarchy of sin and that Kinsey himself exhibited “more of maturely religious value in fact and attitude … than most of the criticism I have ever heard in this field from the lips or pens of conventional Christians.” Besides its sheer wealth of “facts,” Kinsey’s report bore witness to empathy’s power over judgmental bigotry: “If that isn’t, in action, the attitude of love which Christians talk so much about but so seldom practice, then I don’t know what the word means.”
Liberal Unitarians might preach pulpit sermons full of praise for the Kinsey report, but more conservative Christians, Protestant and Catholic, still would have none of it. Public denunciations such as Sheehy’s grew, notably among Catholic priests who took especial offense at Kinsey’s declaration of the abnormality of celibacy. As Sheehy complained to one journalist, “Dr. Kinsey’s report gives the impression that if one has not some hidden or overt means of sexual expression he is beyond the pale of normalcy.” But however personally the celibate clergy took Kinsey’s low appraisal of their life-style, they mostly chose to center their critiques on matters of broad concern. The mere fact that the report broached such unpleasant or even odious topics as homosexuality, pedophilia, bestiality, and all manner of extramarital sex meant it was not “scientific” but plainly lascivious, critics argued, and hence indefensible by any civilized standard. Ever sensitive to criticism, Kinsey frequently bared his irritation with those reactions in his correspondence with religious leaders he deemed saner and less prone to “emotional and illogical expression” than his most animated detractors.
This record of argument and interchange, praise and condemnation, shows that the religious responses to Sexual Behavior in the Human Male were mixed and multifarious. While the responses receiving the greatest amount of public attention—such as those by Niebuhr and Sheehy—were most often exceedingly negative, support and enthusiasm for Kinsey’s work remained robust in other quarters, at least among liberal Jews and Protestants. Although the correspondence files suggest that Protestant clergy may have praised Kinsey’s work more emphatically in private than in public, the appreciative evaluations published by Protestant leaders such as Hiltner, Burkhart, and Rice—all three of whom, notably, were committed to the practical work of pastoral care—ensured a broad discussion of the volume’s relevance for Christian communities.
Kinsey did not wholly trust the goodwill of the religious leaders of his time and certainly not of those leaders who seemed to him to cling to outmoded theories and superstitions. That wariness was borne out by events to come. Yet he persisted in seeking out leaders who would pave the way for a more favorable reception. In June 1951 he wrote a hopeful letter to Karl Morgan Block, the Episcopal bishop of California who presided over lofty Grace Cathedral, to remind him of a pleasant meeting the two of them once had and to request an appointment during Kinsey’s upcoming visit to San Francisco. A July thank-you letter reveals that such a meeting did occur, laying the groundwork for Block to introduce Kinsey to other Bay Area religious leaders. Some months later, Block wrote to thank Kinsey for “the magnificent service you offered our clergy at the conference on Pastoral Counseling in the matter of sex, held in the Cathedral House April 8, 1952.” Block praised the “insights and help” Kinsey gave to the group, remarking, “I can wish for nothing better for our clergy of all communions than to have the privilege of such an informal conference as was ours. Every priest and pastor will have a far more useful ministry if he obtains scientific knowledge of the sex life from one so unusually gifted and highly qualified.” In his written response, a pleased Kinsey noted that the meeting “renews my faith in the belief that I have always had, that there are many groups in the church who are interested in utilizing what help science may give to an understanding of human problems.” Although no signs suggest that Kinsey imagined a corresponding benefit to science from religion, Block plainly believed that the church had much to gain from the era’s most famous crusader for sexual candor.
Religious Responses to Sexual Behavior in the Human Female
Religious appraisals of Kinsey’s work grew even more contentious with the publication of his explosive new volume, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. It was released on September 9, 1953, to astonishing fanfare as well as unprecedented excoriation. Because many popular magazines had featured stories about the book in the three weeks prior to its release (select journalists received private access to the page proofs if they pledged to wait until August 20 to publish their articles), many readers seemed to consider themselves experts on the volume even before perusing it closely. An acrimonious telegram sent to Kinsey on the day after the book’s release gives a clear account of how the volume was perceived in some conservative Christian quarters. John Chapple, the Catholic editor of the Ashland, Wisconsin, Daily Press, wrote:
I consider your report on sexual behavior in the human female the most direct and devastating attack upon Christian civilization during the present century with the single exception of the Lenin Revolution in Russia in 1917, of which it is a tremendously effective corollary.
I hope the American people recognize this report for what it is, a direct frontal assault upon Christian civilization and a dirty, beastly attack upon American womanhood. A disintegrating force let loose out of a Pandora’s box of evil which only after exhaustive efforts can be effectively neutralized….
As for you, Dr. Kinsey, I as one American Editor consider you as one of the most loathsome wretches ever produced in human form, or else an individual utterly bewitched by the forces of evil and darkness.
Although criticism from Catholic quarters was hardly unexpected, this foaming missive was particularly vivid in its accusations that Kinsey was well-nigh demonic and that his report on female sexuality was nothing less than an assault on “Christian civilization.”
Other Catholics reacted with similar venom and velocity. The Indiana Provincial Council of Catholic Women (part of the National Council of Catholic Women) wrote to Indiana University President Herman B Wells on August 24, 1953, denouncing Kinsey and demanding information about Kinsey’s teaching and general influence at the school.
If you, Dr. Wells, do not recognize how dangerous it is to popularize incendiary suggestions like these, we tremble at what may happen to our sons and daughters entrusted to the care of Indiana University…. In recent years we have seen in Nazi Germany what can happen to men when the traditional idea of moral law is questioned and then scoffed at. Dr. Kinsey questions the worth of Christian morality; he comes close to scoffing at it. Does he represent your thought, Dr. Wells? Does he represent the thought of Indiana University?
Wells’s response ignored the lurid Nazi parallel but assured these Catholic women that “Dr. Kinsey’s research project is entirely divorced from the University’s teaching function.” Furthermore, Wells astutely countered the group’s religious argument with one of his own, defending Kinsey’s research and “the right of the scientist to investigate every aspect of life in the belief that knowledge, rather than ignorance, will assist mankind in the slow and painful development toward a more perfect society. To deny this right and this objective would seem to deny the belief in a divine order as it pertains to man and the universe.” The challenge Wells posed could not have been clearer: which position most damnably undermined religion?
Wells’s response, however shrewdly it sought to turn religion to scientific ends, surely missed the point for Catholic and Protestant religious conservatives who attacked the female book much more furiously than they had the male volume. Two distinctive attributes of the second volume—neither of which was addressed by Wells but repeatedly emphasized by Kinsey’s critics—intensified the censure. First, the book paid increased attention to religion, seizing every opportunity to blame and ridicule traditionalist religion for its sexual prudery. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female did not argue against God or theism in general, however much critics accused Kinsey of promoting a blasphemous skepticism; but it had plenty to say (even more than its predecessor) about antiquated superstitions and tyrannical religious institutions. Devoted adherents could surely perceive Kinsey’s contempt for their world view, and they also sensed his glee in concluding that the “attempt in Judeo-Christian cultures to impose pre-marital chastity upon both males and females” was a visible failure, with nearly 50 percent of his total sample having had coitus prior to marriage. It was surely also shocking to see in table 92 that, of devout religious women who had premarital sex, 62 percent of Protestants and 50 percent of Catholics felt “no regret” afterward. Nonetheless, (as with men) religiously devout women proved the most obedient to religious moral codes, a point of potential encouragement for Christian leaders who could thereby affirm religion’s effectiveness in instructing their most devout believers. Religious conservatives, however, rarely underscored those positive implications.
More offensive than the statistics pertaining to religiosity were Kinsey’s blunt assessments of what he considered religion’s negative attitudes toward human sexuality in general. He concluded (again, more outspokenly than in the male volume) that those attitudes stemmed from irrational fear, which he associated with conservative Christians and Jews. Kinsey laced his discussions of “Hebrew” and Christian codes with terms such as “impediments,” “restrictions,” “obligations,” “absolutist philosophies,” and others suggestive of rule-bound legalism. Throughout the volume, Kinsey placed the blame for the “shame, remorse, despair, desperation, and attempted suicide” of women who transgressed particular moral codes on the religions that developed the codes, not on some purported “intrinsic wrongness or abnormality of the sexual act itself.” Eastern religions fared much better in Kinsey’s world view, as did so-called primitive groups. Both were examples of the “many religious groups which have extolled the beauty and sacred nature of all sexual activity, and have incorporated sexual symbolism and sexual ceremonies into their worship.” Such sex-positive religious folk as “the ancient Sanskrit” could seem exotic and far away, but they, nonetheless, offered hopeful inspiration: “The temple worship in ancient Athens and in certain Roman and Hindu cults, and religious ceremonies among primitive groups in many parts of the world, recognized the morality of both marital and non-marital sexual activities.”
Those portrayals of religion exasperated religious conservatives, who despised the elevation of promiscuity as something “sacred” and who detected insufferable smugness pervading what was, to them, the outlandish charge that strict mores either wreaked horrific psychological damage or abetted wanton depravity. But it was not merely such blasphemous absurdities that they opposed. Far more sinister and worrisome than Kinsey’s rendering of religion was the second attribute that distinguished this book from its predecessor: its graphic focus on the sexual activity of women and girls. The volume’s fastidious attention to the regularity of female masturbation, petting, premarital intercourse, same-sex activity, and other practices besides marital coitus in the supine missionary position, was the chief focus of conservative religious rage toward the book and accounts largely for the sheer ferocity of the reaction to the female volume. After all, the male volume had already proclaimed that men experienced about half their orgasms in situations that most Americans reputedly still reckoned sinful, unlawful, or otherwise objectionable. But when Kinsey claimed to find much the same picture for women, his work threatened to upend the gendered sexual roles and expectations that, for religious conservatives, comprised the very foundation of a godly civilization. In short, gender figured deeply in the explosive reactions among religious conservatives to Kinsey’s publications.
The female volume tendered statistics on premarital sexual activity in contemporary women’s lives that made mainstream social norms look archaic and those who professed them positively two-faced. Fifty percent of women were having sexual intercourse before marriage? That number seemed outrageously, monstrously high to conservative Christian critics; but still higher was the number who, claimed Kinsey with deadpan certainty, had been virgins in name only when they donned the wedding veil. Kinsey reported that of the females in his sample born around 1890–1900 (those of a professedly more “sexually restrained” generation), some 80 percent described some sort of petting in their histories, while about 90 percent of the entire sample and nearly 100 percent of those who had married, had petted prior to marriage. Kinsey noted that many persons anxious about the “moral bankruptcy” of youth viewed petting as “the product of an effete and morally degenerate, over-industrialized and over-educated, urban culture.” But far from being a harbinger of the collapse of American civilization, petting was the product of “ancient mammalian origins”; it was not simply harmless but downright beneficial in preparing young women for sex in marriage. Kinsey made sure that religious leaders heard his points loud and clear, insisting, “It is petting rather than the home, classroom or religious instruction, lectures or books, classes in biology, sociology, or philosophy, or actual coitus, that provides most females with their first real understanding of a heterosexual experience.” Kinsey’s claims about female masturbation rates were also startling high, even among the religiously devout: “In some of the most devout groups, as few as 41 percent had ultimately masturbated,” a statistic that to some did not suggest “few” at all.
As for the girls who had, as it were, gone all the way, Kinsey assured readers that no harm was done to them: 69 percent of those who were still unmarried at the time of their interview asserted they had “no regret” about their premarital experiences, while a whopping 77 percent of the married women, Kinsey wrote, “looking back from the vantage point of their more mature experience, saw no reason to regret their pre-marital coitus.” Citing a variety of experts who claimed that premarital sex was naturally harmful and guilt-inducing for women, Kinsey acridly retorted that religion itself was the cause of such harm, not the sex itself. (He made a similar argument linking authoritarian religion with lesbianism, warning, “Our case histories show that this disapproval of heterosexualcoitus and of nearly every other type of heterosexual activity before marriage is often an important factor in the development of homosexual activity.”) Whether by petting, masturbation, or other forms of sexual behavior, girls who had experienced orgasm early in life were, Kinsey insisted, much better adjusted sexually in their married lives, and, moreover, such premarital orgasms among women were already occurring on a grand scale. In all, Kinsey wrote matter-of-factly, “About two-thirds (64 percent) of the married females in our sample had experienced sexual orgasm prior to their marriage.”
The overall pattern that emerged from the report was of vast and diverse sexual activity among girls and women, married and unmarried, in the United States. But the female volume did not claim that this situation had always been true; rather, the current scene was the product of important historical changes. The volume’s foreword, written by officials on the National Research Council, the entity that distributed Rockefeller Foundation funds to support Kinsey’s work, attributed the “exceedingly rapid and revolutionary change in sex attitudes and practices” over the past half century to three factors: “woman’s progressive sexual and economic emancipation”; the “all-pervasive influence of Freud’s views and discoveries”; and the “exposure during the World Wars of millions of American youth to cultures and peoples whose sex codes and practices differ greatly from those in which they had been reared.” But of these factors—feminism, Sigmund Freud, and foreigners— only the first garnered the explosive response of religious critics, making plain that, for them, women’s emancipation represented a singularly dire threat.
Along with the outpouring of articles in religious publications, pulpit and radio sermons proliferated in response to Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. More than a few of these were reprinted for widespread distribution. Those materials indicate a continuing range of religious reactions to Kinsey’s work, from irate condemnations by Catholics, Baptists, and some Methodists to admiring paeans by Unitarians along with many mainline Protestants such as Presbyterians and Episcopalians. Conservative critics repeatedly warned that Kinsey’s report on women threatened to trigger the collapse of American civilization. At the First Methodist Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Reverend William D. Wyatt raised the possibility of Kinsey’s connection to Communism and urged his congregants to recognize the report as “unsubstantiated, unscientific propaganda” that aimed for “moral anarchy.” Firstly, Wyatt argued, Kinsey’s results were false: they were based only on interviews with women “willing to discuss sex matters with a stranger,” therefore, women “holding liberal views on morals.” “Normal American women,” he insisted, “would refuse the request for such an interview”; he quoted other self-styled experts to bolster his view that those women were abnormal in either their licentiousness or their neurotic fabrications of “sensational affairs.” But worse than being false, Wyatt argued, the report was deeply dangerous, in that Kinsey had spurned “the morality of the Bible and the Ten Commandments, which has built our civilization.” If its data were not seen as phony factoids amassed to “junk our morality,” Wyatt warned, husbands would soon suspect their own wives of infidelity, and greater infidelity would indeed occur, since “we, like sheep, want to be like others, and are prone to yield to high-pressure propaganda.” Loose women placed the institution of marriage in peril, and American civilization hung in the balance.
John S. Wimbish, the pastor of New York’s prominent Calvary Baptist Church, agreed with Wyatt, aiming a few more insults at the nearly six thousand women “who were lewd enough to be thus cross-examined” for Kinsey’s study. The volume “constitutes an attack on our American way of life more overwhelming than that of Pearl Harbor,” and Wimbish warned those who took it closely to heart of apocalyptic destruction in no uncertain terms:
As our civilization totters on the brink of chaos, we need to remember that God destroyed the antediluvians with the flood because of immorality. God destroyed the cities of the plain with fire and brimstone because of immorality, and what was wrong in the days of Noah and the days of Sodom and Gomorrah is still wrong today. May God have mercy on our nation when religion is frowned upon and Kinsey is idolized!
The evangelical crusader Dr. Torrey M. Johnson concurred, preaching, “If Kinsey prevails there will be no future for the United States.” Johnson’s answer to the evils spawned by Kinsey was a “holy Ghost revival” that would confirm the conception of the American home put forward by the Founding Fathers while satisfying a palpable fantasy of revenge. “When that day comes, the problems of America will be solved and the Kinseys and the Communists together with all other enemies of God and America—borers from without and within—will finally be driven to their holes never to return.”
Most prominently, the internationally known evangelist Billy Graham delivered a dramatic radio sermon on “The Bible and Dr. Kinsey,” a message broadcast over the abc network and soon published for even wider distribution. Graham lambasted Kinsey for the graphic details throughout Sexual Behavior in the Human Female and warned, “It is impossible to estimate the damage this book will do to the already deteriorating morals of America.” Graham singled out the statistics on female marital infidelity as particularly shocking, and he emphasized the “lopsided and unscientific” nature of the report’s claim that “seven out of ten women who had premarital affairs had no regrets.” Those women, Graham assured his audience, were not among the “millions of born-again Christian women in this country who put the highest price on virtue, decency and modesty.” Those women were debased and callous in their sinful deeds, and their overrepresentation by Kinsey was an immoral misuse of science and “an indictment against American womanhood.” “Thank God,” Graham averred, this was not the full story; for, as yet, “we have millions of women who still know how to blush—women who believe that virtue is the greatest attribute of womanhood.”
Over those sermons hovered the specter of bawdy, degenerate women, treacherous in their refusal to submit obediently to the morality of church and home. Their flouting of authority and seeming eagerness for sexual emancipation aligned them in the conservative mind not only with free lovers of earlier generations, but also with feminism, long an enemy to conservatives who insisted on a divinely established male clergy and patriarchal family structure. Echoing older arguments against women’s legal and political rights, these conservative ministers stoked fear in their parishioners: if women were allowed to run wild in their sexual behavior, American civilization would crumble to dust; Communism and the devil would rise victorious—the evil, illegitimate offspring spawned by female promiscuity. In this conservative religious world view, the perversion of women was not the sole villain, it was conjoined with liberalism, and many of Kinsey’s critics associated the report’s female interviewees with the promotion of liberal morals and liberal religion more generally. Torrey Johnson put it bluntly:
Sow to the wind and reap the whirl-wind! This is the devastating harvest resulting from the seeds of infidelity sown by liberal preachers and theologians. It has played into the unscrupulous hands of such people as those who prepared the Kinsey reports. The preacher who does not believe the Genesis account of the creation of the world and of the creation of man and of the fall of man and of the need of regeneration is in exactly the same category with Kinsey.
A liberal religious and sexual revolution seemed already underway, and the infidels who preached such a vile revisionist gospel were surely to blame.
How, then, did liberal Protestants respond to the female volume? Mainline Protestant ministers typically reacted less melodramatically to the female report and refrained from imbuing it with apocalyptic undertones. Lawrence K. Whitfield, the pastor of Community Methodist Church in Millbrae, California, preached a sermon that acknowledged as valid the concerns held by many conservative Christians but called his congregation to take a more hopeful perspective. “I think the time will yet come,” preached Whitfield, “when we who are so deeply concerned with the ‘rightness and wrongness’ of men’s conduct will feel indebted to Professor Kinsey and his associates for that which they have done.” The prevalence of sexual misconduct outside of marriage and unhappiness within its bonds was not new, noted Whitfield; Kinsey’s blunt descriptions should help Christians realize the “imperativeness of rethinking our whole philosophy of sex relations” for the needs of the day. The mainline Protestant response was hardly univocal or universally positive, however. President Herman Wells, in his memoir, remembered that, “One of the most vicious attacks was that of Jean Milner, the influential pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, which included among its membership quite a few of our important alumni and many of the leading citizens of Indianapolis.” Milner’s “bitter broadside” dealt a “cruel blow” at the local level.
Of greater national import was a set of articles penned by Reinhold Niebuhr, still a towering and much-revered figure in American public life. In writings such as his 1953 “Sex and Religion in the Kinsey Report,” published in Christianity and Crisis, Niebuhr railed against Kinsey’s conclusions about female sexual behavior in even stronger terms (decrying “the absurd hedonism which informs Kinsey’s thought” and his “moral anarchism”) than he used in his critique of the first report. At the same time, many young church leaders with national reach, such as Richard Lentz and Seward Hiltner, both of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (NCCC, the successor to the Federal Council of Churches), defended the usefulness of the latest report to religious leaders and emphasized the need to take the report seriously. Once again, Hiltner, invited to respond to Niebuhr’s scathing critique in a subsequent issue of Christianity and Crisis, developed a middle-ground position against Niebuhr’s intemperance, one that would take seriously Kinsey’s findings as worthy of Christian reflection; but Niebuhr retaliated against Hiltner with burning contempt, concluding, “An ignorant approach to a complex issue cannot be creative. It prevents rather than encourages a consideration of the real issues.” Not incidentally, a short time later, Ursula M. Niebuhr (Reinhold’s wife) published a sardonic review of Hiltner’s Sex Ethics and the Kinsey Reports in another religious journal, where she mocked Hiltner’s pretension to being “a theologian” and sneered imperiously at his intellect and his prose.
Amid this cacophonic reaction, Kinsey sought out strategically useful religious allies wherever he could. He penned a warm note to his trusted California colleague Bishop Block in which he expressed hope that Block had read the female volume. “If not, we should take pleasure in sending you a copy. I have had several of your Episcopal clergymen write approvingly of our research and many of them express increasing disturbance over the way in which our severe sex laws are damaging the prospects of too many of our youth.” Block responded with like kindheartedness, assuring Kinsey that he had been reading his latest “excellent study” chapter by chapter each evening and that he hoped to have Kinsey address the local clergy—notably specified as “the non-Catholic clergy”— upon his next visit. Further exchanges illustrate Kinsey’s enthusiasm for that possibility, but Block’s poor health prevented such a meeting from taking place.
No such bonds of affection existed, of course, between Kinsey and his conservative enemies, whom he mostly ignored (or allowed Indiana University president Wells to intercede on his behalf, as with the National Council of Catholic Women). He was pressed to respond at least once, however, when the evangelist E. J. Daniels, the director of the Christ for the World ministry in Orlando, Florida, wrote to ask permission to quote extensively from Kinsey’s two major reports in his own critique of them. Kinsey’s secretary, Eleanor Roehr, handled the request at first, until Daniels submitted the quotations he wished to use. At that point, Kinsey responded explosively, pointing out Daniels’s strategy of selecting quotations that would wholly distort the claims and intention of Kinsey’s volume. After pointing out those inaccuracies, Kinsey concluded:
Even if you were to limit your quotations to the amount that the publishers would agree to allow to be quoted, it is obvious that you are using the material out of context. I should remind you again, that the publishers and their attorneys are specifically concerned with the legitimate use of the material from their books.
Kinsey’s fury toward fundamentalist critics such as Daniels—whose 1954 book, I Accuse Kinsey!, recounted Kinsey’s refusal to let him quote directly from the male and female reports—would remain potent for the remaining two years of his life.
Kinsey continued to receive support from religious allies, however, including Hiltner, who would continue to write about the Kinsey reports more thoroughly and thoughtfully than any other Protestant leader of his time. On the very day that Kinsey issued his scathing retort to Daniels, Hiltner sent Kinsey his critique of Niebuhr’s position, and, while Kinsey responded appreciatively, he sounded demoralized: “Certainly your discussion points up the fact that there is considerable difference of opinion within the church, and if you had to face the extreme Evangelical groups that are doing writing about us, you would agree, I think, that it is difficult for you or anyone else to speak for the whole protestant church or for any single denomination.” Kinsey’s frustration notwithstanding, these letters indicate the respect, hopefulness, and even affection that passed between him and Block, Hiltner, and other Protestant liberals.
Kinsey appears to have been tireless in his efforts to shore up the liberal religious response, and he publicly expressed his belief that church leaders were beginning to rethink traditional teachings about sexuality. In early 1954, he traveled to New York and spoke to the Executive Council of the NCCC, where Otis Rice was now executive director, and also to the New York Academy of Medicine. He assured his audiences that there had been a “‘peculiar reversal’ of opinion regarding his volumes on sexual behavior,” with most of his support now coming from church leaders and his critics from psychiatric sources. Rice, a steady Protestant backer who likely extended the invitation to Kinsey to speak to the NCCC, wrote afterward to express his “great joy” at the success of Kinsey’s visit and to praise him for his ongoing research: “Your work and your point of view have helped us immeasurably in initiating a re-thinking of our constituent churches and our own Department of many of the problems relating to sex.”
The last major correspondence between Kinsey and a sympathetic religious leader began in the fall of 1954, when Kinsey wrote to the Church of England Moral Welfare Council to request their sex education booklets and other materials pertaining to sexuality. The Anglican cleric Derrick Sherwin Bailey responded with enthusiasm. Bailey was the author of The Mystery of Love and Marriage (1952) and was researching homosexuality in the Western Christian tradition; he asked to cite Kinsey’s work in this regard, to which Kinsey agreed. In the summer of 1956, despite his own failing health, Kinsey wrote again to Bailey, thanking him for sending “your latest report of your church committee on sex laws.” Kinsey continued by noting his own disagreement with Bailey’s “analyses of the scientific data on many points involved in this report,” yet noted his broader approval of Bailey’s “commendable” attitude. “It is most excellent to have church groups, like yours and the English Roman Catholic group, help make it clear what distinction should be made between sin and crime. We shall be very glad to keep in touch with you and serve you if our data are of use at any time.” Bailey wrote back enthusiastically on August 8 to ask for clarification of Kinsey’s criticisms, which Kinsey surely would have been glad to give. Sadly for Bailey, Kinsey died on August 25, before having a chance to respond to Bailey’s letter. And although Bailey intently sought out Kinsey’s successors, Paul H. Gebhard and Wardell B. Pomeroy, for comments on his work, there is no record that they ever responded.
After Kinsey: Religious Allies, Religious Foes
Kinsey’s correspondence with liberal Protestant leaders shows how savvy he was in seeking their stamp of approval for his controversial work. He regularly lauded their broad-minded perspectives, while making no pretense of sharing their theological convictions. He undoubtedly found those leaders quaint (at best) in their adherence to a tradition he had rejected years before, and perhaps he traded flattery for endorsements that could possibly help ward off more conservative foes. Still more, Kinsey would have had reason to resent even liberal religion when the Rockefeller Foundation, in 1954, ended his funding at the same time it awarded half a million dollars to Union Theological Seminary, where his staunch critic Reinhold Niebuhr reigned. (That amount was more than Kinsey had received from the foundation over the course of thirteen years.)
But Kinsey’s voluminous correspondence suggests a more nuanced portrait of his religious encounters than is discernible in either his published works or the livid responses from religious conservatives that garnered such wide media attention. Kinsey engaged with an array of Protestant liberals who supported his work to various degrees, and through private letters, interviews, and discussion meetings, Kinsey often formed relationships with them that led to long-term cooperation even when they disputed some of his conclusions about human sexuality. Those interactions invite a reassessment of Kinsey. He was not simplistically opposed to religion as such—as a static, eternal source of human sexual oppression—but, instead, he became increasingly aware of variations within religions and of schools of theological interpretation that were open to, and, indeed, deeply influenced by, pioneering research in both scientific and humanistic fields, including his own. Respect for the allies he acquired among inquiring, moderate leaders evidently mixed with his keen recognition of their instrumental value to his continued research.
Whether Kinsey’s expressed admiration for religious liberals was genuine or spurious is, however, beside the point. Of far greater historical significance is the result of his measured friendliness to liberal religionists. The relationships he formed advanced and fortified budding religious conversations about sexual ethics that his books had helped initiate. His correspondence with religious leaders is important, then, because it helps show how Kinsey, the thoroughgoing secularist, influenced the shifts in religious thought about sexuality that took place after his death in 1956, especially the shifts in American Protestantism. The discussions spurred by religious leaders influenced by Kinsey spanned a broad spectrum of issues pertaining to sex, marriage, and family life, and here, no less than in nonreligious quarters, subjects that were once taboo increasingly received frank and open consideration.
Elaborating that claim makes way for a revisionist reading of the confining “sexual revolution” narrative in which we remain mired, whether as critics or partisans of the new sexual morality that emerged out of this period in American history. Whatever nuances historians of sexuality have brought to that narrative in recent years, contenders on both the left and the right, in academia as much as in popular culture, continue to conceive of this (ostensibly) new morality as secular in origin and substance and, still more, as secularizing in its effects upon American culture: the rebellious forces of eros fighting a bitter war against Victorian religion. But the revolution in religious thinking about sexuality was no less profound, and it too owed a debt to Kinsey’s inspiration. A few suggestive examples from Kinsey’s correspondents as well as from several other prominent religious thinkers of the 1950s and 1960s may suffice here.
Derrick Sherwin Bailey, the Anglican cleric who was among the last persons to correspond with Kinsey, had already, in 1952, written on a “theology of sex” in The Mystery of Love and Marriage. There, Bailey argued for a wholesale reorientation in Christian views of sex and presented an imaginative explication of the sacred marital union of partners into “one flesh.” This was before Kinsey initiated correspondence to the Church of England Moral Welfare Council that landed on Bailey’s desk in 1954. Bailey’s first letter to Kinsey praised the researcher’s nonjudgmental attitudes toward homosexuality and indicated his agreement with Kinsey’s perspective on this point. When, a few months later, Bailey published Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (1955), he cited Kinsey’s research several times (some of the references, incidentally, contested Kinsey’s published claims about the harshness of Christian antihomosexual laws in earlier historical periods). This book received attention in the United States as well as in Bailey’s native England, where it influenced the famous Wolfenden Report of 1957; that report recommended the decriminalization of consensual homosexual activity and paved the way for the passage, a decade later, of the Sexual Offences Act, which legalized in England and Wales certain private homosexual acts between consenting adult men. Bailey’s interest in rethinking Christian teachings on sexuality clearly predated his correspondence with Kinsey, but his letters also indicate the pleasure and encouragement he took from Kinsey’s serious critical engagement with his writing.
A couple of years after their correspondence ended with Kinsey’s death, Bailey published his most extensive study of sexuality, Sexual Relation in Christian Thought (1959), a book twice as long as his previous treatments. This learned volume went back to Paul’s teachings on sex in the New Testament (including crucial context on Judaism and the Greco-Roman world) and analyzed the patristic fathers, the medieval church, the Reformation (including early Anglicanism), and Christianity in the modern era. The study was particularly noteworthy for the degree to which Bailey agreed with Kinsey’s assessment that traditional Christian doctrine was lamentably hostile toward sex. He insisted on rereading the creation stories in Genesis to derive “a more accurate exegesis” of the meaning of sexuality in the Christian tradition. As the New Testament scholar Robert M. Grant, an American teaching at the University of Chicago, wrote in his review of the book, “Bailey’s very useful work turns out to be an example of apologetic for a modern Christian view of sex.” Bailey, in fact, continues to be cited for his innovative research on homosexuality.
The liberal Protestant professor and pastor Seward Hiltner would continue writing about sexuality for the rest of his scholarly career; just as importantly, he trained several generations of seminarians to think broadly about sex and sexuality in ways that would have seemed impossible before Kinsey. Hiltner occasionally expressed disappointment that religious leaders had mostly ignored his own publications on sexuality, all of which aimed in some way, as he later reflected, to get church people “to take scientific findings [about sex] into account, to update pastoral and ethical principles about sex, but to bring basic theological perspectives to bear on the subject without apology.” Both of his early books in that area—Sex Ethics and the Kinsey Reports (1953) and Sex and the Christian Life (1957)—sold well in the public marketplace, he noted, yet “were largely ignored by ministers and other church leaders I had hoped to reach.” But through his vast mentorship of ministerial students at the University of Chicago and Princeton Theological Seminary over a span of thirty years, not to mention his work as a leader in the emergent and burgeoning fields of pastoral psychology, pastoral theology, and pastoral counseling, Hiltner played an important role in legitimizing sexuality as a crucial subject of ministerial discussion and education until his retirement in 1980.
Many prominent liberal religious leaders with whom Kinsey had not directly corresponded also joined in the public discussion. In 1961, the Canadian and National (U.S.A.) Councils of Churches convened the First North American Conference on Church and Family at Green Lake, Wisconsin. Over five hundred delegates came to the conference, representing thirty-three denominations and fifty-seven states and provinces. For five days, participants presented sex research from a wide range of research specialties, and took part in response panels of church leaders; lengthy discussion groups; and a number of special events devoted to issues of sex and sex education. Sylvanus Milne Duvall, a Congregationalist minister and co-chair of the conference, outlined the goals of the week:
Today we face two major questions about sex, marriage, and family life. (1) What are the sex standards that we Christians believe in and are prepared vigorously to proclaim, teach, and uphold[?] This question must include such practices as birth control, abortion, and homosexuality, as well as “normal” heterosexual conduct. (2) What is our position regarding the permanence and stability of family life? … Have changed conditions made the traditionally stable family obsolete? Or have they made permanence and stability more important than ever—a crucially vital social and religious essential?
The proceedings were subsequently published as Foundations for Christian Family Policy, edited by Elizabeth Steel Genné and William Henry Genné, liberal Protestants who were at the forefront of rethinking those questions and who also co-wrote a popular trade book titled Christians and the Crisis in Sex Morality (1962).
Much of Kinsey’s urgent, broad-minded spirit suffused these documents, as clergy “pleaded,” in the Gennés’s words, “for more understanding of both facts and the spirit of our gospel in place of the all-too-prevalent moralistic, legalistic prejudgments that characterize many church members.” Sex researchers who had been influenced by Kinsey gave frank and thorough presentations at the event. Wardell Pomeroy, who, with Kinsey, coauthored both the male and female volumes, and also became the director of field research at the Institute for Sex Research upon Kinsey’s death, was one of the experts brought to the church conference. His frank talk on masturbation was reprinted and cited in all the subsequent publications from the event. (The Gennés, lamenting the shame heaped by church leaders on generations of Christian youth who may have succumbed to this temptation, concluded, “The church has a special responsibility to help people handle guilt feelings that may have been engendered.”) Pomeroy found the event so remarkable that he later described it at some length in his book, Dr. Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Research. There, he praised the increasingly “free and enthusiastic exchange” between experts and ministers and noted, “Returning to Bloomington from Green Lake, I could only think how much Kinsey would have enjoyed the conference.”
Other sex experts who attended the Green Lake conference were Lester Kirkendall, a sexuality educator and later a co-founder of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS); Mary Steichen Calderone, the medical director of the Planned Parenthood Federation (and later the executive director of SIECUS), who had carried on a warm and lengthy correspondence with Kinsey; Evelyn Hooker, a psychologist influenced by Kinsey’s research on male homosexuality whose own work contributed to the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; and Ruth Proskauer Smith, an abortion rights and family planning advocate. Working closely with those and other thinker-activists, Christian leaders at the conference voted to adopt a statement affirming the church as “a redemptive fellowship—friendly, nonjudgmental, forgiving, accepting.” The church, continued the statement, “must be compassionate, supportive, and empathic. It must re-examine the quality of its own interpersonal relationships. It must seek out and be ready to accept all people into fellowship, whatever they have done.” Along with an appeal to “strengthen homes and families” in both religious faith and sexual teachings, the statement called on the church to “re-evaluate attitudes toward marriage and sex, in light of biblical theology and scientific findings” and to “develop a positive Christian ethic on sexual behavior which will be relevant to our culture.” Kinsey’s articulation of what liberal religious leaders could accomplish with their sexual teachings was hardly more straightforward. Indeed, many Christian signatories to the statement subsequently committed significant time and energy to writing and speaking about the need for new and creative religious thinking about sexual ethics.
Harvey Cox, the liberal Baptist theologian who would earn international fame with his 1965 book The Secular City, squared up against Reinhold Niebuhr on sexual issues in Christianity and Crisis, for an article that was then reprinted for popular consumption in Redbook. Citing Kinsey, Cox noted that American society was mired in hypocrisy that most refused to face, the “cant and flimflam of its sexual folkways.” Cox diverged from Kinsey, though, in calling for a “de-mythologized … sexual ethic,” one that would “reject … any Kinseyan inference that what is being done should determine what ought to be done,” while refusing, in turn, to “pander to the cheap attempt to oversimplify the issue” of premarital intercourse. Cox admitted that his solution risked sounding like “evasion,” but he argued emphatically that his nuanced approach could help Christians “outgrow our ridiculous obsession with sex, of which our fixation on chastity and virginity is just the other side of the coin.”
W. Norman Pittenger, a theologian and Episcopal clergyman who taught for thirty-three years at New York’s General Theological Seminary, authored his first book on sexuality in 1954, when Kinsey was still alive, titled The Christian View of Sexual Behavior, and went on to author many more. His early response to Kinsey’s studies was relatively conservative—he echoed critiques made by others of Kinsey’s biologism, dedicated Christian View of Sexual Behavior to “all those who in Christian marriage have been made one flesh,” and wrote extensively about sexual sin; but he would later argue for full acceptance by the church of same-sex relationships. In books such as Time for Consent (1967), Making Sexuality Human (1970), Love and Control in Sexuality (1974), and Gay Lifestyles (1977), Pittenger disavowed much of his earlier writing on sexuality as being “altogether too conventional” and made a robust case for applying identical ethical standards to homosexual and heterosexual erotic behavior. His stance was unambiguous: “I am frank to say that I cannot see how the desire of the homosexual for bodily manifestation of his sexual drive is wrong, in and of itself; nor can I see why, once this has been put under human controls, it is wrong for him to act upon it.” By the time of his death at age ninety-one in 1997, Pittenger had spent decades supporting the gay rights movement, including the Episcopal Church’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) organization, Integrity. He was eulogized at the General Theological Seminary as “a cheerfully liberal catholic Christian, who saw no reason to distrust science or reason or the critical spirit,” one whose theological vision was “firm in faith and therefore open to inquiry, devout in the stance of worship and therefore generous in both heart and mind.”
Countless other religious liberals joined in that process of rethinking sexual ethics from Jewish and Christian points of view. Their efforts bore fruit in traditional organizations such as the Young Women’s Christian Association and United Church Women, which plunged into the task of addressing hitherto forbidden sexual topics. In addition, a number of Protestant denominations redoubled their efforts to produce straightforward sex education curricula for children and teens. New alliances also emerged, including a host of groups devoted to the religious and civil rights of gays and lesbians, along with organizations such as the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, an explicitly pro-choice network of Protestant and Jewish clergy that referred women to safe abortion providers well before Roe v. Wade decriminalized the procedure. Insofar as they continued to advocate committed monogamous relationships, as most religious liberals did, their perspectives hardly seem radical. But many religious liberals were, in a palpable sense, revolutionary, bearing witness to a new openness and creativity in sexual ethics spurred in no small part by the provocative work and engaged collaboration of Alfred Kinsey.
None of his encounters with liberal Protestants made Kinsey a more religious man— he remained an unabashed secularist—but his candid correspondence indicates his conviction that religion, in the hands of those who valued open inquiry over blind obedience and who acknowledged multiple forms of love and desire, could foster something better than fearful prudery and intolerance. While evidence of Kinsey’s liberal religious encounters hardly tells us all we may want to know about his mature views on religion, it reveals enough good will to revise the platitude of unmitigated enmity that has discouraged scholars from inquiring into this area of Kinsey’s life and legacy. Most importantly, it helps uncover an untold story of religious liberals’ deep engagement with sexual theories that felt revolutionary in light of the strict cultural ideology they confronted. Piecing together that account compels us to rethink the complicated relationship between religion and sexuality in recent American history.
READ MORE: Walter Benjamin
R. Marie Griffith is professor of religion at Princeton University and director of the program in the study of women and gender.
For research assistance, I am grateful to Liana Zhou and Shawn C. Wilson at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction; Kenneth Henke in the Department of Special Collections at Princeton Theological Seminary’s Henry Luce III Library; Joan Duffy in the Department of Special Collections at the Yale University Divinity School Library; and staff in the Department of Interlibrary Loan at Princeton University’s Firestone Library. For critiques of earlier drafts and related assistance, thanks to Rebecca L. Davis, Amy DeRogatis, Donna J. Drucker, Susan E. Henking, Ed Linenthal, Melani McAlister, Anthony Petro, Leigh Eric Schmidt, Amy Sitar, and the anonymous reviewers for the Journal of American History.
Readers may contact Griffith at [email protected]
1ï¿½ Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy, and Clyde E. Martin, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (Philadelphia, 1948); Alfred C. Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (Philadelphia, 1953); Donald Porter Geddes and Enid Curie, eds., About the Kinsey Report: Observations by 11 Experts on “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” (New York, 1948), 17; “Sheehy Attacks Kinsey Report,” Washington Post, Nov. 14, 1948, p. M19.
2ï¿½ John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (1988; Chicago, 1997); Beth Bailey, Sex in the Heartland (Cambridge, Mass., 1999). Other influential works in this vast field include George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940 (New York, 1994); Joanne Meyerowitz, How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States (Cambridge, Mass., 2002); and Jane Gerhard, Desiring Revolution: Second-Wave Feminism and the Rewriting of American Sexual Thought, 1920–1982 (New York, 2001).
3ï¿½ For the only study of religious responses to Alfred C. Kinsey, see Robert Cecil Johnson, “Kinsey, Christianity, and Sex: A Critical Study of Reaction in American Christianity to the Kinsey Reports on Human Sexual Behavior” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1973).
4ï¿½ Information on Kinsey’s childhood religion comes mostly from interviews with Kinsey’s associates and family members conducted long after Kinsey’s death. See Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, Sex the Measure of All Things: A Life of Alfred C. Kinsey (Bloomington, 1998), 7–8; James H. Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life (New York, 1997), 13–15; and Cornelia V. Christenson, Kinsey: A Biography (Bloomington, 1971), 17. See also Regina Markell Morantz, “The Scientist as Sex Crusader: Alfred C. Kinsey and American Culture,” American Quarterly, 29 (Winter 1977), 563–89, esp. 566. This mythic trajectory drove the plot of Bill Condon’s 2004 Hollywood biopic, Kinsey, featuring John Lithgow’s memorable if deliberately exaggerated depiction of the sex-obsessed Christian father— inflated from the staid engineering teacher to a towering fire-and-brimstone preacher perfectly calibrated to the big screen. Kinsey, dir. Bill Condon (Fox Searchlight, 2004). For critiques of James H. Jones’s work, see Martin Duberman, “Kinsey’s Urethra,” Nation, Nov. 3, 1997, pp. 40, 42–43; Thomas Laqueur, “Sexual Behavior in the Social Scientist: Was Alfred Kinsey a Pioneer or a Pervert?,” Slate, Nov. 5, 1997, http://www.slate.com/id/3021; and Richard Rhodes, “Father of the Sexual Revolution,” New York Times, Nov. 2, 1997, pp. 10–11.
5ï¿½ Paul Robinson, The Modernization of Sex: Havelock Ellis, Alfred Kinsey, William Masters, and Virginia Johnson (New York, 1976), 81, 83.
6ï¿½ The passage from Sexual Behavior in the Human Female quoted by Janice M. Irvine describes church, school, and home as “the chief sources of the sexual inhibitions, the distaste for all aspects of sex, the fears of the physical difficulties that may be involved in a sexual relationship, and the feelings of guilt which many females carry with them into their marriages.” Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, 264. Janice M. Irvine, Disorders of Desire: Sexuality and Gender in Modern American Sexology (1990; Philadelphia, 2005), 21. Sarah E. Igo also misleadingly refers to one of Kinsey’s liberal religious defenders, Seward Hiltner, as simply a “contemporary critic,” when the response of Hiltner and other religious liberals to Kinsey was much more complex than that description allows. Sarah E. Igo, The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public (Cambridge, Mass., 2007), 206, 207, 230, 260–61. James Gilbert, Men in the Middle: Searching for Masculinity in the 1950s (Chicago, 2005), 99, 91. For Jennifer Terry’s examples of fundamentalist voices and their contemporary analogues, see Jennifer Terry, An American Obsession: Science, Medicine, and Homosexuality in Modern Society (Chicago, 1999), 304, 306, 382– 86, 392. Miriam G. Reumann, American Sexual Character: Sex, Gender, and National Identity in the Kinsey Reports (Berkeley, 2005), 27, 212.
7ï¿½ In the American Protestant tradition, religious liberals have seen themselves as pursuing a progressive, credible version of Christianity based more on reason than on disputed revelations, what Gary J. Dorrien describes as a middle ground or third way between “authority-based orthodoxies and secularizing unbelief.” Gary J. Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900–1950 (Louisville, 2003). Robert S. Ellwood, writing of conservative-liberal divides in American Protestantism at midcentury, likewise summarizes: “The keystone of theological liberalism … is conviction that the faith can and should be put in words compatible with the best scientific, philosophical, and cultural language of the day.” Robert S. Ellwood, 1950: Crossroads of American Religious Life (Louisville, 2000). On the shifting self-perception of mainline Protestants since the 1950s, see Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion: Society and Faith since World War II (Princeton, 1988); James Hudnut-Beumler, Looking for God in the Suburbs: The Religion of the American Dream and Its Critics, 1945–1965 (New Brunswick, 1994); William R. Hutchison, ed., Between the Times: The Travail of the Protestant Establishment in America, 1900–1960 (Cambridge, Eng., 1990); and Robert S. Ellwood, The Fifties Spiritual Marketplace: American Religion in a Decade of Conflict (New Brunswick, 1997).
8ï¿½ The member of the campus religious council was Frank O. Beck, an 1894 Indiana University alumnus and retired minister who gave the initial gift toward building the campus’s nondenominational Beck Chapel. He was quoted in the Indiana Daily Student: “The course … is expected to teach students not only the negative aspects of how to escape sex and marriage pitfalls, but also the positive aspect, the everlasting beauty of [the] sacrament of marriage.” “Enrollment Deadline Set for Course on Marriage,” Indiana Daily Student, Sept. 24, 1938, p. 1. See also Gathorne-Hardy, Sex the Measure of All Things, 125; and Donna J. Drucker, “‘A Noble Experiment’: The Marriage Course at Indiana University, 1938–1940,” Indiana Magazine of History, 103 (Sept. 2007), 253n29.
9ï¿½ Alfred C. Kinsey to Leonard Anderson, Sept. 26, 1944, Nov. 3, 1945, Leonard Anderson File, Alfred C. Kinsey Correspondence Collection, Kinsey Institute Archives (Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Indiana University, Bloomington); Kinsey to E. Fay Campbell, Jan. 1, 1945, E. Fay Campbell File, ibid.; Campbell to Kinsey, Jan. 5, 1945, ibid.
10ï¿½ “Shocker on Sex,” Newsweek, Dec. 1, 1947, p. 52; Albert Deutsch, “The Sex Habits of American Men: Some of the Findings of the Kinsey Report,” Harper’s Magazine, 195 (Dec. 1947), 490–97; Bruce Bliven, “Books: The Kinsey Report,” New Yorker, Jan. 3, 1948, pp. 60–63; Howard A. Rusk, “Concerning Man’s Basic Drive,” New York Times, Jan. 4, 1948, p. BR3. “Pandering to Prurience,” America, Jan. 3, 1948, pp. 371–72.
11ï¿½ Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 465–68, 487.
12ï¿½ Loyola University, Chicago, “News Release on the Kinsey Report,” Jan. 15, 1948, binder 6, p. 6, Print Media Response to the Kinsey Reports, Kinsey Institute Archives. For a condensed version of Herbert A. Ratner’s speech, see “Sex Book Assailed by Ratner,” Chicago Daily News, Jan. 15, 1948, p. 12. George Gallup, “Kinsey Survey of Sex Habits Is Widely Approved by Public,” Washington Post, Feb. 21, 1948, p. 11. The history of Catholic conservatism and liberalism looks rather different than that of American Protestants; see John T. McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York, 2003).
13ï¿½ Charles G. Wilber, “Religious Aspects—A Catholic Viewpoint,” in Sex Habits of American Men: A Symposium on the Kinsey Report, ed. Albert Deutsch (New York, 1948), 191.
14ï¿½ Louis I. Newman, “Religious Aspects—A Jewish Viewpoint,” in Sex Habits of American Men, ed. Deutsch, 199. It appears that Louis I. Newman’s liberal Reform views echoed throughout many American synagogues, since Kinsey regularly received—and accepted—invitations to speak in those venues. I do not here attempt to reconstruct the Jewish story, however, since the correspondence files at the Kinsey Institute do not clearly identify Jewish rabbis who corresponded with Kinsey at nearly the same rate as the institution identifies Protestant ministers. Other sources need to be consulted to determine how much Kinsey’s studies may have influenced Jewish ideas about marriage and sex.
15ï¿½ Seward Hiltner, “Religious Aspects—A Protestant Viewpoint,” in Sex Habits of American Men, ed. Deutsch, 176, 181.
16ï¿½ Bruce Bliven, “Appraising ‘The Kinsey Report,'” New York Times, May 16, 1948, p. 18. See also Sterling North, “Two ‘Footnotes’ Illuminate Kinsey Report,” Washington Post, May 16, 1948, p. B7.
17ï¿½ Reinhold Niebuhr, “Sex Standards in America,” Christianity and Crisis, May 24, 1948, pp. 65, 66. “Sex and the Church,” Time, June 7, 1948, p. 76. Union Theological Seminary president Henry P. Van Dusen concurred with Reinhold Niebuhr in Henry P. Van Dusen, “The Moratorium on Moral Revulsion,” Christianity and Crisis, June 21, 1948, pp. 81–82.
18ï¿½ Wesley J. Buck’s letter to Kinsey is not in the files of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, but Kinsey’s response makes clear Buck’s request. Kinsey to Wesley J. Buck, Aug. 7, 1948, Wesley J. Buck File, Kinsey Correspondence Collection. Ward Avery to Kinsey, July 11, 1948, Ward Avery File, ibid.; Kinsey to Avery, Aug. 12, 1948, ibid.; Avery to Kinsey, Aug. 20, 1955, ibid. Samuel M. Carter to Kinsey, Sept. 10, 1948, Samuel M. Carter File, ibid.
19ï¿½ “Kinsey Report Hit in Catholic Group,” New York Times, Sept. 15, 1948, p. 20. Roy A. Burkhart, “The Church Can Answer the Kinsey Report,” Christian Century, Sept. 15, 1948, pp. 942, 943. For a profile of Roy Burkhart’s work, including his controversial marriage clinics and “seminars on sex adjustment problems,” see “Beloved Fellowship,” Time, Aug. 11, 1947, pp. 64, 67. On marriage counseling, see Rebecca Louise Davis, “‘The Wife Your Husband Needs’: Marriage Counseling, Religion, and Sexual Politics in the United States, 1930–1980” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2006). On Protestant-Catholic tensions surrounding contraception, see Leslie Woodcock Tentler, Catholics and Contraception: An American History (Ithaca, 2004); Tom Davis, Sacred Work: Planned Parenthood and Its Clergy Alliances (New Brunswick, 2005); and McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom, esp. 221–49.
20ï¿½ Kinsey to Otis R. Rice, Oct. 18, Nov. 7, 1948, Feb. 8, 1954, Otis R. Rice File, Kinsey Correspondence Collection; Rice to Kinsey, Feb. 5, 1954, ibid. Otis R. Rice, “Educational Considerations from the Church Point of View,” in Problems of Sexual Behavior; Research, Education, Community Action, American Social Hygiene Association (New York, 1948), 130–36, esp. 130, 136. This volume compiled the proceedings of a symposium held by the association in 1948, to consider the first Kinsey report and “its relation to the social hygiene program.” American Social Hygiene Association, Problems of Sexual Behavior, title page. “Effects Weighed of Kinsey Report,” New York Times, April 1, 1948, p. 50.
21ï¿½ Kinsey to Rice, Oct. 18, Nov. 7, 1948, Rice File, Kinsey Correspondence Collection.
22ï¿½ Joseph Barth, “Religion and the Kinsey Report,” typescript sermon, Nov. 21, 1948, pp. 1, 2, 4, binder 72, p. 62, Print Media Response to the Kinsey Reports.
23ï¿½ “Sheehy Attacks Kinsey Report.” Kinsey to J. Carlton Babbs, Jan. 8, 1949, J. Carlton Babbs File, Kinsey Correspondence Collection.
24ï¿½ Kinsey to Karl Morgan Block, June 13, July 10, 1951, Karl Morgan Block File, Kinsey Correspondence Collection; Block to Kinsey, April 10, 1952, ibid.; Kinsey to Block, April 15, 1952, ibid.
25ï¿½ John Chapple to Kinsey, telegram, Aug. 21, 1953, binder 72, p. 102, Print Media Response to the Kinsey Reports.
26ï¿½ National Council of Catholic Women to Herman Wells, Aug. 24, 1953, binder 72, p. 80, ibid.; Wells to Mrs. Harold D. Brady, Sept. 2, 1953, ibid.
27ï¿½ Kinsey et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, 324, 345. For rates of premarital coitus, see ibid., 282–345.
28ï¿½Ibid., 320, 368.
29ï¿½Ibid., 233, 231, 264, 154.
30ï¿½Ibid., 316, 285, 14, 269, 282.
32ï¿½ William D. Wyatt, “The Kinsey Report,” sermon, Aug. 30, 1953, n.p., binder 72, p. 93, Print Media Response to the Kinsey Reports.
33ï¿½ John S. Wimbish, “The Kinsey Report in the Light of the Bible,” typescript sermon, n.d., pp. 1, 9, binder 72, p. 91, ibid. Reprinted in slightly revised form as John S. Wimbish, “Kinsey in the Light of the Bible,” in I Accuse Kinsey! Startling Exposé of Kinsey’s Sex Reports, E. J. Daniels, (Orlando, 1954), 113–26. Torrey M. Johnson, “The Kinsey Report and the Bible,” typescript sermon, Oct. 11, 1953, pp. 5, 6, binder 72, p. 86, Print Media Response to the Kinsey Reports. Jean S. Milner, the minister of the Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, also equated the Kinsey report with Communism; see Jean S. Milner, “The Celestial Fire,” sermon, Oct. 18, 1953, pp. 10–12, binder 72, p. 89, ibid.
34ï¿½ For Billy Graham’s sermon “The Bible and Dr. Kinsey,” delivered on The Hour of Decision radio program on September 13, 1953, see Daniels, I Accuse Kinsey!, 103–12, esp. 103, 104; and Billy Graham, The Bible and Dr. Kinsey (Minneapolis, 1953).
35ï¿½ Johnson, “Kinsey Report and the Bible,” 2.
36ï¿½ Lawrence K. Whitfield, “Dr. Kinsey Goes to Church,” typescript sermon, Dec. 27, 1953, pp. 2, 5, binder 72, p. 90, Print Media Response to the Kinsey Reports. Herman B Wells, Being Lucky: Reminiscences and Reflections (Bloomington, 1980), 181–82. Milner, “Celestial Fire.”
37ï¿½ Reinhold Niebuhr, “Sex and Religion in the Kinsey Report,” Christianity and Crisis, Nov. 2, 1953, pp. 140, 141; Richard E. Lentz, “The Challenge of the Kinsey Report,” International Journal of Religious Education, 30 (Jan. 1954), 19–20; Seward Hiltner, “Niebuhr on Kinsey,” ibid., Jan. 11, 1954, pp. 181–82; Reinhold Niebuhr, “More on Kinsey,” ibid., 182; Ursula M. Niebuhr, review of Sex Ethics and the Kinsey Reports by Seward Hiltner, Religion in Life, 23 (Summer 1954), 472–74. The historian Paul Robinson took Niebuhr to task for his repeated critique, citing him in noting that “Kinsey was unquestionably wronged when he was made the prophet of ‘anarchism in the field of sex.'” Robinson, Modernization of Sex, 80.
38ï¿½ Kinsey to Block, Nov. 25, 1953, Block File, Kinsey Correspondence Collection; Block to Kinsey, Nov. 30, 1953, ibid.; Kinsey to Block, Dec. 4, 1953, Jan. 9, 1954, ibid.
39ï¿½ Daniels, I Accuse Kinsey!; Kinsey to E. J. Daniels, Jan. 8, 1954, E. J. Daniels File, Kinsey Correspondence Collection.
40ï¿½ Seward Hiltner to Kinsey, Jan. 8, 1954, Seward Hiltner File, Kinsey Correspondence Collection; Kinsey to Hiltner, Jan. 18, 1954, ibid.
41ï¿½ Sexson Humphreys, “Kinsey Says Churches Are His Backers Now,” Indianapolis News, Feb. 5, 1954, binder 27, p. 45, Print Media Response to the Kinsey Reports; Rice to Kinsey, Feb. 5, 1954, Rice File, Kinsey Correspondence Collection; Kinsey to Rice, Feb. 8, 1954, ibid.
42ï¿½ Derrick Sherwin Bailey, The Mystery of Love and Marriage: A Study in the Theology of Sexual Relation (New York, 1952); Derrick Sherwin Bailey to Kinsey, Oct. 18, 1954, Derrick Sherwin Bailey File, Kinsey Correspondence Collection; Kinsey to Bailey, Nov. 10, 1954, June 25, 1956, ibid.; Bailey to Kinsey, Aug. 8, 1956, ibid.; Bailey to Eleanor Roehr, Sept. 10, 1956, ibid.
43ï¿½ Gathorne-Hardy, Sex the Measure of All Things, 412. Wardell B. Pomeroy, Dr. Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Research (New York, 1972), 379–80.
44ï¿½ Bailey, Mystery of Love and Marriage; In his first letter to Kinsey, Derrick Sherwin Bailey wrote, “I was very interested in the off-prints which you sent to Canon Warner on the subject of homosexuality, and particularly in those dealing with concepts of normality and abnormality in sexual behaviour, and with the criteria for the hormonal explanation of the homosexual. The latter I thought especially valuable. I take it that you would have no objection to reference being made, if necessary, to these works in the evidence which it is my responsibility to prepare for the Council to lay before the Home Secretary’s Committee of Enquiry on homosexuality and prostitution.” Bailey to Kinsey, Oct. 18, 1954; Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (London, 1955), 27, 33, 50, 135–36. The Wolfenden Report: Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offenses and Prostitution (New York, 1963); Jeffrey Weeks, Sex, Politics, and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800 (London, 1989); Andrew Holden, Makers and Manners: Politics and Morality in Post-War Britain (London, 2004).
45ï¿½ Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Sexual Relation in Christian Thought (New York, 1959). Robert M. Grant, review of Sexual Relation in Christian Thought by Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Journal of Religion, 40 (July 1960), 212–13. For examples of how Bailey is still cited in scholarly works, see William A. Percy, review of The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology by Mark D. Jordan, American Historical Review, 103 (April 1998), 496; Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, s.v. “Bailey, Derrick Sherwin”; and Gordon Hugenberger, “Questions and Answers on Issues Related to Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage,” typescript, June 2004 (in R. Marie Griffith’s possession).
46ï¿½ Seward Hiltner, “A Descriptive Appraisal, 1935–1980,” Theology Today, 37 (July 1980), 211. Seward Hiltner, Sex Ethics and the Kinsey Reports (New York, 1953); Seward Hiltner, Sex and the Christian Life (New York, 1957). In an unpublished 1975 paper, Hiltner also referred to Sex Ethics and the Kinsey Reports and lamented that church leaders had apparently “ignored it completely.” Seward Hiltner, “Homosexuality and the Churches,” typescript, Jan. 1975, p. 13, Kinsey Institute Library (Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction). On Hiltner’s career and impact, see Allison Stokes, Ministry after Freud (New York, 1985); E. Brooks Holifield, A History of Pastoral Care in America: From Salvation to Self-Realization (Nashville, 1983); and LeRoy Aden and J. Harold Ellens, eds., Turning Points in Pastoral Care: The Legacy of Anton Boisen and Seward Hiltner (Grand Rapids, 1990).
47ï¿½ Sylvanus M. Duvall, “Our Historic Faith Faces New Frontiers,” in Foundations for Christian Family Policy: The Proceedings of the North American Conference on Church and Family, April 3–May 5, 1961, ed. Elizabeth Steel Genné and William Henry Genné (New York ), 23. Elizabeth Genné and William Genné, Christians and the Crisis in Sex Morality: The Church Looks at the Facts about Sex and Marriage Today (New York, 1962).
48ï¿½ Genné and Genné, Christians and the Crisis in Sex Morality, 16–17, 77. Pomeroy, Dr. Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Research, 453. Elizabeth Steel Genné interview by R. Marie Griffith, July 23, 2007, transcript (in Griffith’s possession); Joseph Hough interview by Griffith, May 8, 2008, transcript, ibid.; Ruth Proskauer Smith interview by Griffith, June 18, 2008, transcript, ibid.
49ï¿½ Genné and Genné, Christians and the Crisis in Sex Morality, 119, 120. On Lester Kirkendall and Mary Steichen Calderone, see Janice M. Irvine, Talk about Sex: The Battles over Sex Education in the United States (Berkeley, 2002); and Jeffrey P. Moran, Teaching Sex: The Shaping of Adolescence in the 20th Century (Cambridge, Mass., 2000). For Calderone’s correspondence with Kinsey, see Mary Steichen Calderone File, Kinsey Correspondence Collection. On Evelyn Hooker, see Andrew M. Boxer and Joseph M. Carrier, “Evelyn Hooker: A Life Remembered,” Journal of Homosexuality, 36 (no. 1, 1998), pp. 1–17. On Ruth Proskauer Smith, see Ruth Proskauer Smith Papers (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Cambridge, Mass.).
50ï¿½ Harvey Cox, The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective (New York, 1965); Reinhold Niebuhr, “Christian Attitudes toward Sex and Family,” Christianity and Crisis, April 27, 1964, pp. 73–75; Harvey Cox, “Evangelical Ethics and the Ideal of Chastity,” ibid., 75–80. When Redbook reprinted Harvey Cox’s article, it was paired with an essay by Robert E. Fitch. Harvey Cox and Robert E. Fitch, “The New Protestant Debate over Sex,” Redbook, Oct. 1964, pp. 104, 56, 104, 105.
51ï¿½ W. Norman Pittenger, The Christian View of Sexual Behavior: A Reaction to the Kinsey Report (Greenwich, 1954), 5. W. Norman Pittenger, Time for Consent: A Christian’s Approach to Homosexuality (London, 1967); W. Norman Pittenger, Making Sexuality Human (Philadelphia, 1970), esp. 10, 62–63; W. Norman Pittenger, Love and Control in Sexuality (Philadelphia, 1974); W. Norman Pittenger, Gay Lifestyles: A Christian Interpretation of Homosexuality and the Homosexual (Los Angeles, 1977). Richard A. Norris Jr., “Memorial Eucharist for W. Norman Pittenger, Chapel of the Good Shepherd, The General Theological Seminary, The Feast of Lancelot Andrewes, 1997,” Anglican Theological Review, 80 (Winter 1998), 6, 7. Emphasis in original.
52ï¿½ For a useful source from the period, see John H. Phillips, “Sex Education in Major Protestant Denominations” (published by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.), 1968, folder 244, box 23, William H. Genné Papers (Yale Divinity School Library, New Haven, Conn.). On the history of homophile organizations in American Protestantism, see Heather Rachelle White, “Homosexuality, Gay Communities, and American Churches; A History of a Changing Religious Ethic, 1946–1977” (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 2007). On the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, see Arlene Carmen and Howard Moody, Abortion Counseling and Social Change, from Illegal Act to Medical Practice: The Story of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (Valley Forge, 1973); Davis, Sacred Work, esp. 126–35; and Joshua D. Wolff, “Ministers of a Higher Law: The Story of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion” (B.A. thesis, Amherst College, 1998). Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
By R. Marie Griffith