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.
Why is it not illegal to kill sperm? Is it not human life?
No, no one says it is, But how about those who crush a child's skull as it is being born.
The kind of butchers that Germany used in the their death camps.
Goebbels could have put you to good use.
But makes sense, the biggest murderers in history are atheistic leftist.
Stalin, Lenin and Mao.
Along with the baby butchers for birth control.
100's of millions murdered and still counting, the McDonald's of mass murder.
What a group group to be in.
Richard: What about the millions of unborn that do not make it to birth? Does that not make your imaginary friend a murderer? When you have the ability to become pregnant and have a full comprehension of what it is to be so then you can voice an opinion, until then keep your opinion out of the personal lives of women.
I just recently read a quote.
"Please keep your opinion out of our personal business"
Guard at Dachau
Oh yes Mr Truth.
One more quote.
"You can only speak against our concentration camps if you're a German"
Another guard at Dachau
Oh yeah MR truth,
What about all those busy body allies invading and stopping the German's from exercising their "CHOICE"
What right did they have!! They were so judgmental and condemning.
Its a choice that should be left between the German guard and his Fuhrer.
Besides they needed the elimination of the child, opps I mean, Jew to be safe and legal.
Richard: Keep up...this has nothing to do with Germany...it has to do with abortion.
Richard – so sperm is not human life? What is it then?
By the way, speaking of the Nazis, what was it that was written on their belt buckles again?
Richard, the biggest murderers in history were probably right handed. So what? No one kills in name of not believing in something, and if they did, how would you know which thing they don't believe in is the reason the killed, was it lack of belief in Odin or unicorns?
The point is that at the time just before it became an issue for the Left, contemporary Christianity didn't have a problem with it. Once the Feminist Movement got going, Christians- the conservative ones, especially the MALE variety, seized onto it because it was a bone in a dogfight over how men were to deal with women. It is an issue of control, dominance. Like two dogs with a bone, the CCs and the Fems fight over this. But one thing is clear, throughout history, women who want abortions have always found a way. The only question is; ought we to treat it like a health care issue, or a function closer to assisted defecation?
Thoughout history people have always found a way to murder.
So should we make murder safe and legal. Our legal system doesn't seem to see it your way.
Also today, there are currently more women who identify themselves as pro-life.
In the last three years we reach that tipping point and you and feminist buddies no longer officially speak for the majority of women. But I bet that won't stop your war on unborn women.
Imagine so many women growing a conscience, guess you don't have that problem, at least not when it comes to butchering the unborn for birth control.
I AGREE ABORTION IS WRONG WERE I DISAGREE WITH THESE FANATICS IS THIS ONCE THE BABY IS BORNE THEY DON'T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THEN . THEY MORONS THAT WOULD BE STATE ASSISTANCE THEY WOULD HAVE TO PAY I I WOULD NOT CARE , THEN ONE THEY STOP THE CHILD BEING ABORTED THEY THEN DON'T WANT TO PAY TO KEEP IT ALIVE .
Remove two periods and a comma, and this is almost completely unintelligible.
I've put off getting married and raising a family because of the economy. That being the case, can I sue the "job creators" for not creating a job for me and in effect aborting the family that I had in mind?
my response went to the wrong post, stupid CNN. What I meant to say here is, yes they killed your not yet born children, those murderers. You could have wanted 14 children.
Leftist and mass murder just seem to go together.
Mao, Lenin and Stalin killed their 100's of millions.
Today's leftist seems determined to out do these mass murderers by butchering as many of the unborn for birth control as possible.
Just think of the 100's of millions of people who have had their lives snuffed out by leftist.
And then just think how that number is growing by thousands daily.
Often, those most ardently in favor of abortion rights are also against the death penalty for convicted killers. The irony of these contadictory views escapes them...
You might re-read the article, looking for the word "born." It is key. For me, however, the objections to the death penalty are 1.) that it is prohibitively expensive, and 2.) that in the case of the wrongly convicted, it is irreversible.
Thank goodness abortions are reversible,
Wait a second there not.
There is no "God"
consider this understanding of exodus 21:22-23
Didn't have to read far at all to see problems with this opinion piece. He's citing, rightfully so, a select few christian preachers for his examples. But these selections harbor several problems. A – The citations provided are understood as laws issued by Pharasees, both the article writer and those he cite are insinuating they are Christian laws. In practice, the Christian would be more apt to criticize them according to Christs teaching in the proper context. B – . Neither Leviticus 24 nor Exodus 21 contain any declaration towards a fetus. The cited Exodus 21 merely says that if two people are fighting and accidentally hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely, if there is NOT serious injury, the husband can fine the offender, if there IS serious injury, it is to be dealt in equality upon the offender, from life for life to tooth for tooth. This opinion piece would have been pretty good if it wasn't so blatantly selective on false dichotomies.
Pick the Bible you like. Some versions say MISCARRIAGE and don't say "two men".
And we should expect people writing articles on Christianity to actually understand something about which they are writing?!?! ;)
If that's our expectation, unfortunately, we're going to be sadly disappointed in this day and age. (Let alone the fact that the discipline of journalism has pretty much gone the way of the dodo these days.)
Hey Christians, disregard what the Bible says about the Canaanites reaching their full measure of wickedness and the whole Moloch/baby sacrificing thing because in '68 "conservative" prof Bruce Waltke says life begins at birth. It was in Christianity Today so that means it's God's word. Thank you CNN for providing us with yet another theological superheavyweight in the form of one Jonathan Dudley that we can all learn from.
Yep, and some christians said slavery was okay.
Christians and leftist can be wrong.
The main difference leftist are much more lethal.
ie Stalin, Lenin, Mao and today's abortionist.
Exodus 21: 22-24 does not mention a fetus...it has absolutely nothing to do with this post. Its about a premature child. This article is obviously biased and as many of the other commenters pointed out, its facts are not right. The abortion debate goes back way earlier then this one Christian article.
it mentions MISCARRIAGE depeinding on which version of the Bible you think is true and which is a FALSE Bible.
Yea, I'd like to have the time to dig into that Waltke quote a bit more, as I know him professionally and have great respect for him... so I'm having a hard time believing that is in context. He's a pretty top-notch OT scholar. (Though I certainly disagree with him here and there... but I can't believe he'd make that big of a mistake.)
BTW... folks will probably want to go here and read some of the notes:
It gives you a bit of an introduction to the discussion.
Even people who dont look favorably on christianity, or any religion for that matter, only need to do the slightest, most effortless amount of research to see the problem with this article. It's pretty bad that CNN has such low standards for employees, isn't it?
The Exodus passage mentions punishment for CAUSING a miscarriage not a spontaneous miscarriage. The quote states that if a woman is attacked and the attack results in premature birth (miscarriage in some translations) the punishment is based SOLELY ON INJURY TO THE MOTHER. If she is seriously injured then you take equivalent retribution (eye for eye, tooth for tooth etc). If she is NOT seriously injured then monetary compensation should be paid to her husband.
The status of the child is not even taken into account. In other words, there is NO PUNISHMENT for "killing" the unborn child.
It always makes me wonder, why people defend abortion with the argument "There's too many unwanted children already not aborting them just brings more into this world" By that argument, lets just do what the animal shelters do, and put down all the unwanted children noone adopts. Its the same argument.
On a side note, I am pro life, and will always vote pro life, but if someone else wants to have an abortion, hell go for it. You're the one who has to answer to God in the end for it, just the same as the rest of us have to answer to him equally on judgement day. Just don't put me down for voting for what I believe in using YOUR system.
See, that's what people forget. Voting, its a human system. When I vote my conscience, I'm just taking part in a system humans have set up to govern themselves and other humans, so don't get cranky with me if I vote different than you. If we did things GODS way, instead of HUMANS way, well, that would be a whole lot different, perfect, and happy. But things won't be that way until He returns, so you guys are safe just dealing with the HUMAN system for now. :)
Make sure to tell Thor "hello" when you finally get to meet him.
LinCA: ahhh yes, the old "This god existed before your God" argument. So I guess that means the most recent god must always be the true god? Oh wait, maybe you believe whoever came first was the real god? Nono, perhaps you mean that, the idea of God at all is absurd? I must say, it is simply awful trying to keep up with all these non-believing beliefs of the non-faithful put their faith into these days. You all must get together some day and put it all into a grand book, a book for the ages, so we all may pore over its well versed pages!
P.S. you're funny haha!
The problem is that most of the pious seem to make every day "Judgement Day".
"The problem is that most of the pious seem to make every day "Judgement Day".
.........................................German guard at Dachau.......................................
"The problem is that most of those pious allies seem to make every day "Judgement Day".
....................German guard seeing the allies coming to abolish the concentration camps............
I'm fro letting your slave live and will always vote that way, but hell if someone wants to kill their child, opps I mean slave, let them go for it!!!!
Right, I mean who are we to judge?
I mean that unborn child, opps I mean slave is their property right!
You said, "ahhh yes, the old "This god existed before your God" argument."
No. It has nothing to do with which imaginary friend came first. It is about there not being any reason to believe any of them are real.
You said, "Nono, perhaps you mean that, the idea of God at all is absurd?"
Bingo!. It's no different from the idea of the Tooth Fairy.
You said, "I must say, it is simply awful trying to keep up with all these non-believing beliefs of the non-faithful put their faith into these days."
It's really, really simple. It's so simple, even a 5 year old can figure it out. If there isn't any evidence, there is no reason to believe it is true. The only reason people keep believing in their gods, but not the Tooth Fairy, is their parents won't let them. It isn't because there is a compelling case to be made for gods. There isn't.
You said, "You all must get together some day and put it all into a grand book, a book for the ages, so we all may pore over its well versed pages!"
There are plenty of books. The problem is to get people like you to read and comprehend them.
Understanding evolves over time. Science shows us that an unborn child is a living being. This author must still believe the world is flat.
Romans 1:21 – "For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened."
Good point Larry.
Even more sad, it would appear he has an agenda to see more of the only truly innocent class of people we have destroyed.
Promoting the butchering of the unborn for birth control.
Acually science shows us that a fetus, prior to viability, an independent life from the mother as it is solely and totally depdendent on the mother's organ system for it's own maintanence.
Such arrogance to think that your beliefs should give you authority over mine. Is it not enough that you practice your faith as you interpret it, while respecting others enough to do the same?
What benefit will come from forcing others to do what YOU think is right, when you are simply denying them the right to benefit from the best gift God has given us all – free will?
Think about how many times the Bible has taught about the importance to CHOOSE between good and evil. Compare that to how often Jesus has forced anyone to do anything without having that choice. These "Christians" are not very Christ-like in my mind...
But my mind doesn't matter, and while I don't claim to know the mind of God, it isn't hard to imagine that "She" might just see abortion to be the lesser of two sins presented in this situation – with the denial of other peoples right to use God's gift of free will being the other. It also isn't hard to imagine this to be a direct affront to God's design for us!
And doing right loses most of it's meaning when it isn't by choice, it is the choice itself that matters more than the outcome – or have you read a different Bible than the one I did?
So, you'd support getting rid of homicide laws, then, so everyone can choose? ;)
And, it's not arrogant for you to push your will on others?!?!? Even the death sentence on so many innocent little ones?
Also, I'd REALLY like to hear the 'lesser of sins' argument. So, please tell us, when would killing someone be the lesser of sins? The only thing I can possibly think of is cases of true self-defense. I don't know many pro-life folks who would deny that case. So, you've got some others?
Theh author of this article is ignoring or does not know that the origin of the abortion debate began way earlier. Back when the biblical zealots decided that a woman does not have the right to "spill the man's seed" , those men felt great personal rejection when a woman did not "accept" him in his totality. It is largely an ego thing coupled with the male instinct to spawn. At one time there was a need to go forth and populate the earth but that has outgrown its usefulness. Then too, why in the hell are we having this argument where there are well over 140,000 kids in foster care, awaiting homes, millions of kids abused and neglected, going hungry, uneducated, no med. care, etc. As a society, we don't value kids very much, but we sure give it a lot of lip service about how precious life is. Until we prove our ability to care for children AFTER they are born, the argument about abortion is pointless. And consider this... throughout the world, the overwhelming reason women have abortions is because of poverty. We don't want to train or pay women properly ,so that they can raise children but we condemn them for not having kids. We live in a county full of contradictions and until we resolve those economic issues, abortion will be a fact of our society. Having said that, we must not tolerate involuntary servitude, and we must reject those who seek to cram their "morals" and bible mutterings down our throats and in other bodily orfices.
Why don't we make laws to stop driving, drinking, eating junk food, building weapons, etc. they all kill lives. By the way, ask God to stop natural disasters because they kill lives.
God has never killed anyone or anything. lIfe has a cycle. The Bible which I have read and know well, has never said many of the things that people claim to be knowledgeable about. Think about it. Then think again. Blessings
It's amazing that you never heard of all the commands from God to kill people and the Great Flood.
What book did you read and mistakenly think it was a Bible?
Poorly researched (or purposely biased) article, as the debate goes back far MUCH further than the 20th century (and there certainly was no consensus... as if this is something new, as the article portrays). However, a big difference today, is that we now know the answer SCIENTIFICALLY, as well as Biblically. While I'd probably not consider Dr. Waltke a conservative in the sense the term is being used here (he was a prof at my alma mater), I can hardly believe that quote is in context. Surely, Waltke was aware of passages which talk about spiritual events in the lives of unborn children (John the Baptist at meeting the in vitiro Jesus, for example).
Either way, clearly, life does not begin at birth. If that position was held in the past, it is simply in error. What is amazing, is that the more secular the culture becomes, the more anti-science it gets on this issue. (That kind of under-covers what is REALLY going on here. This debate isn't about science, logic, well-being of society, women's rights, etc... it's about eugenics at a foundational level and empowerment of women – at the sacrifice of children, potentially about half of them women btw – at the political level.)
The Bible is rather clear on how it views the taking of human life: it's against it.
That said, for those who choose to ignore the authority of the Bible, far better reference frames are found in the legal system and a biology lab. Try to follow.
1. If a human is living, is it OK to kill him? The legal system says no. But what if the human is very old, or not very smart, or is a real jerk, or has red hair? Still, the answer is no. So, the standard is, 'It is NOT OK to kill a human.'
2. Accordingly, the next question is, "Who/what is a human?" Does this depend on age or size or ability to drive a car or vote or breathe oxygen? The Supreme Court could not come up with a reasonable answer for this question in Roe v. Wade, so Justice Blackmun, arbitrarily chose the "point of viability" as the limit to when abortions could take place. (However, viability has radically changed since 1973, with progressively younger dates being recorded in obstetric wards.)
3. If the legal system cannot definitively establish a standard for human-ness/personhood, let's ask a scientist. What makes a human a human, biologically speaking? Two arm and two legs? Ability to speak or reason? Opposible thumbs? No. A human is a human based on his genetic composition: 23 pairs of chromosomes with a defined set of genes in replicating cells which generate a functioning organism. It is not dependent on age or size of the organism.
4. So, if an organism has the genetic components of a human, it is a human.
5. Biologically speaking, a human egg fertilized by a human sperm has the genetic composition of a human within seconds of the penetration of the cytoplasm. Therefore, the single, initial, composite egg-sperm cell, is a human.
6. Since killing humans is NOT OK, intentionally destroying this cell/human is NOT OK.
7. The inescapable conclusion is that abortion is NOT OK from a moral and logical scientific point of view. To our inexcusable deep national shame, it remains OK from an arbitrary legal point of view.
This is not a Theocracy. Stick your bible up your as's.
There is overwhelming evidence, that contrary to what this abortionist author says, that the bible asserts time and time again references to God knowing us in our mothers womb etc.
And even the most hardened abortionist has to acknowledge that crushing a child's skull as it it tries to take its first breath and then ramming forceps up its brain stem to insure it has no chance of survival is a vile and barbaric procedure.
Yet if you kill the baby before its fully out of its mother, thats okay?
Science increasingly teaches us life begins before birth.
Its a felony to destroy the egg of an Eagle but not to kill a child as its being born.
Sadly its authors like this that will have to give an account to the God they purport to represent someday.
Its takes not only a superficial reading of the Bible but clear lack of scientific knowledge to say life begins at birth.
The Bible never mentions abortion. God killed fetuses all the time and didn't care.
Read the Bible sometime.
That's why supposedly 'pro-women' organizations such as Planned Parenthood fight so hard to make sure mothers are not properly informed about the procedure they are about to undergo. If most people knew the truth, abortions would go way down. They know this. It would hurt the bottom line. It's big business for them. (Similar to the way the slave traders used to hide the ugliness of the slave trade from the average folks.)
And, you're also correct that this is a legal contradiction, not just between animals and humans, but human to human. Many states have laws which consider the fetal human in homicide cases. For example, if someone murders a pregnant woman, it is a double homicide. Yet, if that woman doesn't want the baby, then it's apparently nothing. What this means is that the status of the human fetus comes down to whether he/she is wanted or not. It is the powerful defining the worth of another human all over again.
God had people killed when they became so corrupt that they offered their children as human sacrifices, along with other evil.
If their were children inside their mother they were killed as well.
But it was because people had become so corrupt that sacrificing their children became normalized, as today.
Hmmm, who does that sound like?
You guys are the kind of theologians that Joesph Goebbels would have loved.
I sure you would find some twisted reason in the bible to kill the Jews as well.
The history of the left is mass murder.
With the biggest mass murderers in history being committed by leftist like Stalin, Lenin and Mao.
Along with today's modern leftist who supply the ideological and theological back drop to carry out huge mass murders in concentration camps, opps I mean abortion clinics.
Along with advocating government sanctioned theft for "good causes".
Talk about being morally bankrupt.....
"With the biggest mass murderers in history being committed by leftist like Stalin, Lenin and Mao."
More brainwashed comments from the christians, religion has killed more people in human history than anything else. Christians like you won't acknowledge this truth because then you have to face the reality of your barbaric religion.
The funny thing about athiests is that they apparently have'nt really thought it through. The logical conclusion is that there is no meaning to anything. Stalin and Mao are but a glimmer of true atheism.
C-60, I suggest you read before commenting upon others' comments.
Speaking of not thinking things through, please tell us all about talking animals and unicorns in the Bible.
If you tell us about how atheistic leftist manage to become the biggest mass murderers in history.
ie Lenin, Stalin, Mao and today's butcher the unborn for birth control leftist.
The later seem to love to pick on those who are innocent and defensiveness.
Kinda like a bullies of death.
"ie Lenin, Stalin, Mao and today's butcher the unborn for birth control leftist."
That's why your barbaric god supposedly killed every human being on the planet including women and children. That's is what fits the definition of a butcher.
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.