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.
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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.
Did you leave me a message ;) Just 'verifying'.
Yes, my email should end it .org, I may of put .com by mistake.
I went to your website... If I called that phone # on there would you pick up... or is that a voicemail ?
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.
O.K... Just sent you an 'email' to the address you left.
Wow. You guys are arranging a date here? On a website about religious belief? Really?
Hey can I be invited? Not nice to exclude others I think you owe me some apologetics?
If you live in the "Los Angeles" area... let us know.
Fantastic article, pass it on!
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.
"Christians truly comprehend the realities" highly unlikely.
Or you could stop trying to force your beliefs on everyone else.....
" Or you could stop trying to force your beliefs on everyone else "
Wow... nice rebut-tal. LOL !
I love this article because I think what Christians believe is super great.
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.
I am pleased you enjoy my posts.
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...
You are the most intelligent turnip ever troll.
Hey 24HCC, go fvck a homeless niqqer and get aids you cvnthead.
So, Truth, are the schools open in your neighborhood tomorrow? You'd better get that homework done, darling.
Really Tom Tom? That is your response? You suck at this. Go back to pointing out obvious things to brainwashed morons.
Prayer changes things
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
recent meteorological events say other wise.
This is a great article and I'm glad to know the information presented here.
Tom Tom is obviously a r@pe victim with aids.
And you're obviously 14 and mentally deficient.
Fvck Tom Tom, if that IS your real name.....you need to stop and listen to the coffee.
Satan personifies rebellion and Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son is first in line to do his evil.
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.
Says the pagan GOP that focuses on the traditions of man.
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.
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.
'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".
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?
Timmy, that's what your parents did.
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.
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?
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.
Typical Tom with a perverted post.
The troll using Answer and Tom Tom's names is a turnip.
That's an insult to a perfectly lovely vegetable.
I like Tom Tom, but she is always getting cross with me ya'll.
I have no idealogical issues with you. I just think your preponderance is undeserved.
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?
You seem to be paying very close attention as you have responded to all of my stupid posts. Who is the idiot now?
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.
I spend my entire life on this blog. What a meaningful existence!!
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?
Tom Tom has her butthole professionally bleached so the New York Knicks can pound that spider all night.
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.
I am a clear front runner for niqqer faqqot of the millenia. I want to thank god for making me fat and undesirable.
Ouuu a christian co.ck-sucker.. lol
You wanna troll I see. XD
Why doesn't the "report abuse" link work anymore?
Tom Tom svcks donkey butthole day and night. What a used tampon!
A freak is upset because he is schooled on a text forum. LOL
"Schooled"? You are far too generous. This azzwipe had his butt-hole handed to him.
I was being polite. XD
This boor isn't worthy of your good manners. It's a dumbfvck troll who posts under about 30 names.
Shut it Answer. I don't need your support.
And he's always about 2 beats behind and a half-step flat. See the previous post.
Yep I know.
Little christian co.ck-suckers are all the same. It is so easy to crush their ego. Oh well.
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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.