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My Take: When evangelicals were pro-choice
The author notes that evangelical Christians were once largely pro-abortion rights.
October 30th, 2012
05:54 PM ET

My Take: When evangelicals were pro-choice

Editor's Note: Jonathan Dudley is the author of "Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics."

By Jonathan Dudley, Special to CNN

Over the course of the 2012 election season, evangelical politicians have put their community’s hard-line opposition to abortion on dramatic display.

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin claimed “legitimate rape” doesn’t result in pregnancy. Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock insisted that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

While these statements have understandably provoked outrage, they’ve also reinforced a false assumption, shared by liberals and conservatives alike: that uncompromising opposition to abortion is a timeless feature of evangelical Christianity.

The reality is that what conservative Christians now say is the Bible’s clear teaching on the matter was not a widespread interpretation until the late 20th century.

Opinion: Let's get real about abortions

In 1968, Christianity Today published a special issue on contraception and abortion, encapsulating the consensus among evangelical thinkers at the time. In the leading article, professor Bruce Waltke, of the famously conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, explained the Bible plainly teaches that life begins at birth:

“God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: 'If a man kills any human life he will be put to death' (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22–24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense… Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.”

The magazine Christian Life agreed, insisting, “The Bible definitely pinpoints a difference in the value of a fetus and an adult.” And the Southern Baptist Convention passed a 1971 resolution affirming abortion should be legal not only to protect the life of the mother, but to protect her emotional health as well.

Opinion: Why the abortion issue won’t go away

These stalwart evangelical institutions and leaders would be heretics by today’s standards. Yet their positions were mainstream at the time, widely believed by born-again Christians to flow from the unambiguous teaching of Scripture.

Televangelist Jerry Falwell spearheaded the reversal of opinion on abortion in the late 1970s, leading his Moral Majority activist group into close political alliance with Catholic organizations against the sexual revolution.

In contrast to evangelicals, Catholics had mobilized against abortion immediately after Roe v. Wade. Drawing on mid-19th century Church doctrines, organizations like the National Right to Life Committee insisted a right to life exists from the moment of conception.

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As evangelical leaders formed common cause with Catholics on topics like feminism and homosexuality, they began re-interpreting the Bible as teaching the Roman Catholic position on abortion.

Falwell’s first major treatment of the issue, in a 1980 book chapter called, significantly, “The Right to Life,” declared, “The Bible clearly states that life begins at conception… (Abortion) is murder according to the Word of God.”

With the megawatt power of his TV presence and mailing list, Falwell and his allies disseminated these interpretations to evangelicals across America.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

By 1984, it became clear these efforts had worked. That year, InterVarsity Press published the book Brave New People, which re-stated the 1970 evangelical consensus: abortion was a tough issue and warranted in many circumstances.

An avalanche of protests met the publication, forcing InterVarsity Press to withdraw a book for the first time in its history.

“The heresy of which I appear to be guilty,” the author lamented, “is that I cannot state categorically that human/personal life commences at day one of gestation.... In order to be labeled an evangelical, it is now essential to hold a particular view of the status of the embryo and fetus.”

What the author quickly realized was that the “biblical view on abortion” had dramatically shifted over the course of a mere 15 years, from clearly stating life begins at birth to just as clearly teaching it begins at conception.

During the 2008 presidential election, Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren demonstrated the depth of this shift when he proclaimed: “The reason I believe life begins at conception is ‘cause the Bible says it.”

It is hard to underestimate the political significance of this reversal. It has required the GOP presidential nominee to switch his views from pro-choice to pro-life to be a viable candidate. It has led conservative Christians to vote for politicians like Akin and Mourdock for an entire generation.

And on November 6, it will lead millions of evangelicals to support Mitt Romney over Barack Obama out of the conviction that the Bible unequivocally forbids abortion.

But before casting their ballots, such evangelicals would benefit from pausing to look back at their own history. In doing so, they might consider the possibility that they aren’t submitting to the dictates of a timeless biblical truth, but instead, to the goals of a well-organized political initiative only a little more than 30 years old.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jonathan Dudley.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Abortion • Catholic Church • Christianity • Evangelical • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (2,844 Responses)
  1. therealpeace2all

    @24HCC

    Did you leave me a message ;) Just 'verifying'.

    Peace...

    October 30, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • 24HCC

      Yes, my email should end it .org, I may of put .com by mistake.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @24HCC

      I went to your website... If I called that phone # on there would you pick up... or is that a voicemail ?

      Peace...

      October 30, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • 24HCC

      Yes, but if I don't pick up leave a message and I will call you back. Email might be better, I check that constantly.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @24HCC

      O.K... Just sent you an 'email' to the address you left.

      Peace...

      October 30, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Wow. You guys are arranging a date here? On a website about religious belief? Really?

      October 30, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • fred

      Hey can I be invited? Not nice to exclude others I think you owe me some apologetics?

      October 30, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @fred

      If you live in the "Los Angeles" area... let us know.

      Peace...

      October 31, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  2. Jackson Z

    Fantastic article, pass it on!

    October 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  3. therealpeace2all

    Great article...!!! I sincerely hope that all of you Christians truly comprehend the realities of this article.

    So, in other words, "Pro-lifers", well, actually what you are is...**Pro-Forced Gestationers** ™ , 8O it's time for you guys/gals to stop trying to enforce your position on everyone else.

    Peace...

    October 30, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      "Christians truly comprehend the realities" highly unlikely.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Seamusmeboy

      Or you could stop trying to force your beliefs on everyone else.....

      October 31, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Seamusmeboy

      " Or you could stop trying to force your beliefs on everyone else "

      Wow... nice rebut-tal. LOL !

      Good grief.

      Peace...

      October 31, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  4. 24HCC

    I love this article because I think what Christians believe is super great.

    October 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Random Task

      Shut the fvck up, you fbcking idiot. Is that supposed to be a joke? You have a "great" sense of humor. You should seriously consider doing stand up comedy. You really are that good.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • 24HCC

      @Random Task

      I am pleased you enjoy my posts.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  5. Fvck Tom Tom

    Am I the 14 year old? It seems to me an adult with real world responsibilities would not be able to spend over 20 hours a day on this blog. And furthermore your retorts are infantile and deflective. You seem to be missing my point...

    October 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • 24HCC

      You are the most intelligent turnip ever troll.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Fvck Tom Tom

      Hey 24HCC, go fvck a homeless niqqer and get aids you cvnthead.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So, Truth, are the schools open in your neighborhood tomorrow? You'd better get that homework done, darling.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Tom Tom is Worse than the Holocaust

      Really Tom Tom? That is your response? You suck at this. Go back to pointing out obvious things to brainwashed morons.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Why is it whenever TBT's sister denies him. all he wants to do is fvck Tom, Tom?
      October 30, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    October 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • HeavenSense

      Hi prayerbot.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book can help you:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      October 30, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Spencer

      recent meteorological events say other wise.

      October 30, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  7. abcdxyz

    This is a great article and I'm glad to know the information presented here.

    October 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  8. Fvck Tom Tom

    Tom Tom is obviously a r@pe victim with aids.

    October 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And you're obviously 14 and mentally deficient.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Meatwad

      Fvck Tom Tom, if that IS your real name.....you need to stop and listen to the coffee.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Enough Said

      Satan personifies rebellion and Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son is first in line to do his evil.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  9. PLEASE DON'T FEED THE TROLLS!!!

    t'anks

    October 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  10. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    This is an interesting and long-overdue observation.

    I find it particularly ironic that all of those evangelical protestants who cleave to the notion of absolutist morality with a biblical origin will be unable to process this reality.

    Here were have a 180° shift in so-called "absolute" morality in the space of fifteen years. Ironically the only group whose doctrine has not changed are Catholics and they are not bible literalists.

    More evidence that the bible is totally inadequate to address the moral questions of the 21st century.

    October 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Enough Said

      Says the pagan GOP that focuses on the traditions of man.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @GOPer

      As you can see from what I wrote above, as usual, we have a similar take on things.

      I'm curious as well to see how the *spin* goes on this one.

      Be well...

      Peace...

      October 30, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @therealpeace2all,

      it makes me wonder what @fred's reaction would be.

      It really hits hard at the core of the absurd 'absolute', God-given, bible-derived morality. This concretely debunks the entire notion. They really do make it up as they go along.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      'The bible is absolute.'
      'Morality is absolute.'

      1968: Abortion is not murder
      1982: Abortion was always murder

      It all has a really Orwellian feel to it: "IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY" etc.

      "WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN AT WAR WITH EASTASIA".

      October 30, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  11. little timmy

    Gosh, if you knew a woman was r aped and her kid was going to grow up and look like the angry dude in the photo above, would you really try to get her to save that little Damian?

    October 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Enough Said

      Timmy, that's what your parents did.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  12. Fvck Tom Tom

    How hard is it to beat retarded christian people in a logical debate? Really? It's like beating a dead person in a race. You take pride from this? You are pathetic.

    October 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And you get your entertainment here? How desperate are YOU? Why aren't you out boinking your girlfriend, or at least abusing yourself into your sister's panties?

      October 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Fvck Tom Tom

      Boinking? Ha ha. I looked that up in an english dictionary and could not find it. Perhaps you should venture back to the third grade and learn how to communicate like someone who is not a fvcktard.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Enough Said

      Typical Tom with a perverted post.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  13. 24HCC

    The troll using Answer and Tom Tom's names is a turnip.

    October 30, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      That's an insult to a perfectly lovely vegetable.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Meatwad

      I like Tom Tom, but she is always getting cross with me ya'll.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  14. Fvck Tom Tom

    I have no idealogical issues with you. I just think your preponderance is undeserved.

    October 30, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You don't even know what "preponderance" means, and if you did, you'd complain to CNN, you little dweeb. How small ARE you, anyway?

      October 30, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  15. Fvck Tom Tom

    You seem to be paying very close attention as you have responded to all of my stupid posts. Who is the idiot now?

    October 30, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Here, fishy, fishy, fishy. Come and get the bait. Come on, honey. You know you want to....

      I DEMAND that you respond to this post. You must answer. It is my command and you must obey.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  16. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    I spend my entire life on this blog. What a meaningful existence!!

    October 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And you spend yours fuming because you had your azz beaten to a pulp, poor little thing. Do you really think anyone is paying attention to you here?

      October 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  17. Tom, Tom, the Fvcking Moron

    Tom Tom has her butthole professionally bleached so the New York Knicks can pound that spider all night.

    October 30, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  18. curious

    Wow, a Christian that seems to have read the bible rather than gotten his theology from Fox News. I'd like to meet this author in person.

    My crass joke asside, I have met a handful of other christians that feel the same way. Most of them are afraid to share their opinions in their church.

    October 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  19. Answer

    I am a clear front runner for niqqer faqqot of the millenia. I want to thank god for making me fat and undesirable.

    October 30, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Answer

      Ouuu a christian co.ck-sucker.. lol

      You wanna troll I see. XD

      October 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • ME II

      Belief Blog,
      Why doesn't the "report abuse" link work anymore?

      October 30, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  20. The People Vs Tom Tom

    Tom Tom svcks donkey butthole day and night. What a used tampon!

    October 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Answer

      So funny.

      A freak is upset because he is schooled on a text forum. LOL

      October 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "Schooled"? You are far too generous. This azzwipe had his butt-hole handed to him.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Answer

      I was being polite. XD

      October 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      This boor isn't worthy of your good manners. It's a dumbfvck troll who posts under about 30 names.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Shut it Answer. I don't need your support.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And he's always about 2 beats behind and a half-step flat. See the previous post.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Answer

      Yep I know.

      Little christian co.ck-suckers are all the same. It is so easy to crush their ego. Oh well.

      October 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.