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.
The opinions about what the Bible says about abortion stated in this article are complete lies. Abortion is the mother slaughtering her baby
Lex....If the mass of cells that you call a baby can survive without my body...if you could extract those cells from my ody and it could live on its own....then maybe you would be on to something. Medical Science is FACT. Your butt hurt notions on the matter are meaningless and your opinion is a severely uneducated one.....move along
That is one hell of a roar you got there.
@Woman... same thing I've been saying all along, but you put it better!! :)
Reblogged this on Joel Peterson.
We all really needed to know that.
If fetuses has more rights then women, then fetuses should pay more taxes than women.
There are people in the world who as the result of bad genetics or horrible accidents are in persistent vegetative states and really don't have any contribution to society or the world as a whole. While their hearts and beating and their lungs fill with air, they really are just empty vessels. But because they share our DNA, people cry foul when we don't do life saving procedures on them or let them pass away with dignity. On the other hand, the same people who cry foul wouldn't bat an eyelash at killing animals for sport or watching animals species go extinct. Such a double standard.
Explain the difference to me, particulary amongst my more left leaning friends how you can support the pro-choice movement but protest capital punishment? How can you stand by and supoort the murder of a helpless,defenseless life but raise cane against the death of a convicted disgusting member of our society? Denial is a save-now-pay later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows teh truth on some level.
Because one is a mass of cells that can not survive outside the womb....The other isa human being who has memories, feelings, emotions...
Because they don't think it is a life. It's what 99% of disagreements over abortion come down to – what is a life, what is not a life?
The Democratic nominee for vice president believes life begins at conception. He just isn't willing to stop women from terminating that life.
Easy. Pro-choice is about protecting an individual's right to control their own body. I oppose the death penalty because there are multiple doc.umented instances of an innocent person being executed. Essentially I oppose government power, and support individual freedom.
I actually have no problem with capital punishment, if there is indisputable evidence of guilt.
Woman, how do you know that as you describe a mass of cells has no feelings particularly when that mass of cells has developed organs, etc.? Does it not feel the pain of being crushed and torn apart, no matter how brief it may be?
Please see paragraph 6. That appears to draw a very relevant distinction based upon a theological platform supporting the thesis you infer to be contradictory.
That's an easy answer to give. They had mob daddy's in Illinois.
abortion isn't an easy choice for most people, and for the people it is.. do you want them raising more like them??? you don't seem to get the practical aspect of human existence by wanting to FORCE peolple to give birth. That is never a good answer... EVER! Look at the stats, unwanted babies become damaged and usually turn into very very bad people MOST of the time. How many murders, rapists, pedo's etc where unwanted kids... i'd bet MOST of them... you wanna inflict those people on our society??? YOU don't THINK, that is the problem with MOST RELIGIOUS PEOPLE
If you take God out of the equation(which I clearly do) then the distinction and ethics of the situation is clear.
A woman has 400 hundred eggs any one of which can be utilized to produce a child when she desires it. The independant worth of any one of them is minimal on it's own. Clearly no one is up in arms about all the eggs lost to monthly menstrual cycles.
As for capital punishment, no matter how heinous the crime, killing the perpetrator is a release from punishment(given that no post death judgment is forthcoming). Far better to make them live the remainder of their days imprisoned with severely restricted freedoms. Also if further evidence ever points to their innocence death is unforunately unreversble.
The pharisees and mobster attorneys were so bad in Illinois they had to abort capital punishment.
Reid, you care baout life so much that you would condemn me to a life I never wanted and you would codemn a child to a life where they were not wanted...a life of poverty.....without a father....You would do all of that because you are afraid A MASS OF CELLS might feel pain???? Once again....if those mass of cells can survive without my body, than let it go live out its days somewhere else feeding off of the taxpayer's dollars...not in MY BODY. You can condemn me to hell all you want and say I am killing "babys" but modern medical science tells me it is just a growth and nothing more. I will take facts over your opinion
typo...it's 400...not 400 hundred.
Illinois is the Big O's hood. He aborted his transcripts from his 'higher learning'. He wasn't much on votin' either.
Woman – most abortions are elective by single women of middle class means. Additionally, there are many more carefully screened couples who would love to adopt a baby than there are babies available for adoption. Non of these children, and I include the severely handicapped, are unwanted. That's why many couple have gone overseas to adopt children who need loving families and many of the families specifically look for handicapped children. You may prefer death to life and, though I not, you may one day choose that for yourself. But I can't see justifying someone making that judgement for a child. My experience is that my kids were alive, active, and interactive long before they were born. (I would sing them to sleep when my wife would lie down. Otherwise, they thought night time was play time.)
Mike, first of all, you are still asking me to carry and nuture something in my body that is not wanted. Secondly, what kind of Dr. Suess fantasy world do you live in where there are lines and lines of happy couples waiting to adopt. Also, orphanges are always full. Kids are more likely to end up growing in an orphange and foster care, then finding a happy home. Have you been to an orphanage? A foster home? I'd rather listen to the Little River Band while shaving Roseanne Barr's legs for eternity then live in an orphange or a foster home for one more second. You are living in a fantasy world. You can't really believe your white surburbia evangelical cookie cutter view of the world is factual, can you? I am curious. Have you been to an orphange? A foster home? Have you ever talked to an orphan? No? Take a walk.....
Funny how some people dismiss the bible and interpretations of the bible until they hear something that reinforces what they already believe. So instead of an in-depth look about what the Bible says and does not say about abortion and when life begins, we get a very quick history lesson about what some evangelicals half a century ago and today think about two passages (not even fully provided).
I know this is only an opinion piece, but it's pretty darn lazy.
It's amazing how the evangelicals shift their positions then act like it's a timeless belief. A typical southern-evangelical Christian was portrayed on the TV series "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" in the mid 70's. She appeared on the "Dinah Shore Show" and said that she met the first Jews she ever knew when she met Dinah's producers, and it amazed her that they were very nice people. When Dinah asked why she was surprised Jews were nice, she said, "Because they're the ones who killed Our Lord." THAT was the evangelical viewpoint then: they told us the Jews had no right to Jerusalem and the Holy Land they said, because Jesus' "New Covenant" meant the old one was over. Now that they've figured they can make money supporting Israel, they do.
It's amazing how you can take what a group of evangelicals believe and apply to to all evangelicals, even a half-century later.
I am glad you all feel that way. And I hope that no one you love or care about will ever have an abortion. But I am not your family and I am not your friend. I am responsible for my own soul and salvation. So stay the hell away from my body and my decisions. I don't care for any of your verses, because they are meaningless to me. The fear of hell or the promise of heaven have no place in my life. So PLEASE... Stay Away from my body...and my soul....both of which DO NOT belong to you.
Every egg is sacred.
Life begins at ovulation.
Women should be ashamed of themselves for menstruating.
Well it's not like we have a choice. Blame god. It's his fault all those little babies are killed before they can even be fertilized!
Not that you were trying to make a serious comparison, but an egg does not contain all the genetic material to naturally form a human life. A fertilized egg does.
I good Christian woman would get married immediately after menarche and strive to become pregnant every time she can.
Anything less is to go against God's command to "be fruitful and multiply".
I just can't understand why evangelicals don't marry off their 12 year old daughters and thereby condemn them to Hell!
God slew Onan for spiling his seed on the ground instead of impregnating his sister-in-law, as God commanded him to do.
Women who waste their eggs are no less guilty than Onan.
Only if that first harlot Eve hadn't been tricked by a talking snake to eat an apple.
Actually fertilized eggs can have defects such as aneuploidy... which is not a normal human genome and are often intended to be fatal... but we don't let them. Science keeps for fetuses alive, not God.
Doc, you spent too much time in a backroom in Vegas.
According to Monty Python's "The Life of Brian" every sperm is sacred.
Does this mean we can claim a fetus for a tax deduction? If there is a miscarriage, do we have to give the money/deduction back?
So life begins on April 15th? Talk about silly.
You missed my point completely. Congrats. And no, Dec 31 is the day it has to be born by to count for that deduction. Obviously you have never had children.
I just saw my daughter's baby on sonogram, 3 1/2 months. He has the sweetest little face. My daughter fell in love with the little boy already, his little feet, and hands and sweet face and he is only about 5 inches long. I am not a conservative right but it is easy to see the pain this little child child would be in if chemicals burned him or he was ripped apart by forceps. Even from a non-religious stand, this is wrong. Shame on your article.
You are as.suming that everyone wants to keep their child. People who want to have a child don't have an abortion, barring medical necessity. If abortions were made illegal the only thing that would happen is that there would be an increase in the number of unwanted children in the world. Why would you want that?
Blastocysticide is not infanticide.
Fair enough, but do you support the right to purchase an AK-47 that could end that life in a movie theater?
If you protect fetuses, then you need to protect all life. Otherwise you are nothing but a hypocrite.
Doc, 3 1/2 months is not a blastocyst. Please educate yourself.
Prayer changes things .
Troll. Prayer is basically biofeedback. Helps the person praying, does nothing for the person being prayed for.
I doubt it. It definitely has not made u intelligent.
CNN is becoming un-bearable. When they resort to posting the blabbering of some kid that is barely out of college as an expert of when "life begins" it is time to switch to another news service. I am done with reading the left wing banter from this site. It is like you only have to fog a mirror to get your view posted. That is if the mirror is a left rear view mirror.
It's interesting that Jonathan decided not to put the quote in for Exodus 21:22-24. Why not, Jonathan? Are you counting on most people not looking it up? The New International Version reads, “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[a] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
Footnotes: Exodus 21:22 Or she has a miscarriage.
He wasn't expressing HIS opinion on when life begins. He was explaining the history of EVANGELICAL opinion on when life begins. He is absolutly correct. I know, I observed this transformation first hand. One decade the bible "absolutly" said one thing, the next it "absolutly" said the exact opposit.
Instead of dis'ing college kids, you ought to look into becomeing a bit more educated yourself.
I think the author is, legitimately, illustrating for the religious right their hypocrisy in changing their minds about when life starts based not on what the Bible seems to say but on political necessity. If they believe the Bible truly is the word of God, they have to be consistent, which they are not.
Did you put this article together with 15 minutes of research? You cite two sources that are hardly a 'summary' of the thinking of the time, while ignoring 2000 years of this debate in religious scholarship, the position of the Catholic Church at the time, as well as the primary teachings of the major branches of Christianity.
You cite Old Testament scripture, which apparently you believe Christians must strictly follow. I bet you will later cite the dietary restrictions also found in Leviticus as proof that Christians don't really believe what's in the Bible.
If you want to argue on scholarly grounds, please take the time to obtain a minimal understanding of the subject.
David, where in the New Testament does Jesus speak of abortion? Not Peter, not Paul or anyone else, Jesus.
This is an opinion based article. It says my take at the top why do we let someones opinion rile us up. I motion that all true Christians leave as this is a bait article designed to draw out the worst in us.
I agree with you about these opinon pieces. I have to question why does CNN and other news agencies continue to put out more and more of these opinion pieces. What happened to Joe Friday line of thinking "Just the facts Ma'am"? Is there someone at CNN who gets paid by how many comments a piece generates?
Advertising revenue is paid based on the number of page views and comments. Essentially the more people talk about this the more internet advertisers have to pay CNN.
If no one can say for certain when life begins then it is imperative for humans to err on the side of caution.
No, It is imperative that each person make the decision for themselves.
Religion and the worship of god(s) is a filthy perverted disease of the mind
Why are you such a hater of people who have faith? I don't believe in God but I don't feel a need to abuse people who do. Just chill out! Believe what you believe and let others believe what they believe. You don't have to cram your belief (or lack there of) down other peoples throats. Where does that get you..nowhere so why stress over it.
Jonathan Dudley – The teaching on life from a Catholic perspective has never changed. In fact, they have remained consistent since the Roe v Wade decision which is why the March for Life was born in Washington DC where hundreds of thousands come every year on January 22 nd to protest the Supreme Court decision of 1973 as you state. it has remained consistent while others strayed from the basic natural law of protecting innocent life.
The catholic prespective has changed on more than one occasion. I think you need to do a bit of reading. They constantly change their stance on things when science and other understanding on things is discovered. They are old outdated and irrelevant.
Not true. Aquines taught that the soul enters the featus at the time of quickening. Thus the featus could not be considered a human life from conception.
A few things...Evangelical politicians are not putting their hard line positions on display. The journalists who publish these sound bites and the media firestorm that blows them up all over the Internet are distracting from the real conversations about this issue. Also, one issue of Christianity Today does not prove a "consensus" of evangelical thinkers. The term evangelicalism encapsulates a wide-spread group that struggles, by nature of its organization, on many issues. The author asks people who identify as Evangelicals to consider their history, but he's assuming that his version of their history is accurate and shared. Lastly, and perhaps most condescending, the author asks them to consider whether or not they are "submitting...to a political initiative little more than thirty years old" when they cast their votes. The so-called political initiative and the solidifcation of the pro-life message among evangelicals is a RESPONSE to Roe v. Wade (1973...well after the 1968 issue of CT) and it's devastating effects–not some spontaneous ploy to get conservatives elected. Perhaps the author should consider not only history within evangelicalism, but it's shaping within the context of our country's history and not reduce the pro-life position to something Falwell conceived and sold to that community.
Stephanie, you are the one in denial. The authors statements about the shift in perception of the beginning of life from birth to conception are entirely accurate and his assesment of why this happened is 100% on target. There is no question that the Christian community at large believed without doubt that life began at birth prior to Jerry Falwal and others making a concerted effort to change that position. Despite your denials, you are a victim of a politically motivated shift in your religious teachings and beliefs. Its pathetic how easily it was done.
It's easy to manipulate the simple minded.
The article is not accurate. If the position of the majority of Christians on the issue was that life begins at birth, why does the author need to cite little known evangelical references? Why not simply cite the decrees of the Pope of Rome?
Oh yeah, because the Church and 95% of Christians didn't hold this belief.
The real question that comes to me as I read your post, is what was it about Roe v. Wade that caused the nature of morality to shift so far, so fast for evangelicals. If life began at birth in 1972, why did it suddenly start beginning at conception after a 1973 Supreme Court decision? Obviously there was not a complete consensus on the issue because Jerry Falwell presumably believed in his position prior to 1973, but the Southern Baptist Convention is hardly a group of crazy leftists sitting around preaching heresy, and their position just 2 years before Roe was that life begins unequivocally at birth. So, the author's point is a valid one. There has been an immense shift in evangelical thought. That shift took place in a period of less than 15 years. The fact that such a shift occured raises the valid question of whether the current position on the moment that life begins is truly what it says in scripture. If it is, and scripture says unequivocally that life begins at conception, then how did so many biblical scholars get it so wrong for so many years?
steph, says, '....Christianity Today does not prove a "consensus"....' Nah, it's just one of the favored offsprings of gubmint daddy, who are in washington, hollowed be his name. Corpse are people, too!
Catholics are not Evangelicals. Evangelicals are not bound by or particularly inspired by the edicts of the Pope. Just ask Martin Luther. Evangelicals are by definition protestant.
Also, the author mentioned in his article that after Jerry Falwell, the Evangelicals and the Catholics formed a political alliance. The point was not that the Catholic viewpoint has changed, it really hasn't for over a hundred years, but rather the point is that the evangelical viewpoint had shifted to align itself with the Catholic viewpoint.
See my comments above: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/30/my-take-when-evangelicals-were-pro-choice/comment-page-16/#comment-1897718
Before casting my ballot I did take another look at what God had to say. I looked at what he had to say in the "original language"...he said if any mischief occurred, it was a lif fir a life...translated in the Greek that means a "soul for soul"...this tells me that a preborn child already has a soul. Also translated in it's original language, it is "premature birth"...not miscarriage, as some would have us believe...God also tells us that He doesn't change. I don't have to worry about my fellow "Christians" or evangelists changing their minds with the changing times, because God always stays the same.
If you have time, please read Exodus 21:22-24 explained in it's original language.
Good for you. You base all you important decision on a fairy tale.
Actually, I have an uncle who is a Biblical scholar and has read the Bible in far closer to the "original text" than 99% of the people on the planet. He thinks it is far from clear.
Thanks for the scholarly insights, Calleygirl – but Exodus was written in Hebrew, not Greek.
Do you really believe that the Old Testament was written in Greek, by the Hebrews?
Or that instead of an oral history, that all religious events were physically recorded as they took place?
You also understand that the bible is a group of selected writings (by a group of a couple hundred men), which were recorded years if not centuries, after the supposed event took place?
God was right when He said not to place our hope in man because man will fail us, He never will...if I'm wrong, I'm wrong...God won't fail us...why don't you look it up in the original text yourself if we're going to use scripture to support our stance on this subject?
The facts don't change...from the moment of conception, it's a life. If a scientist were to find a *single* cell on Mars, they'd proclaim they found life...we can't have it both ways. God gave us free will, that shouldn't be mistaken for His approval. It's legal in this country to terminate if we so choose. No matter who is elected, I don't see that changing. we all have to live with our own conscience.
Can you please stop trying to tell other people, who don't believe in your god or your souls, what they should or should not be doing based on what you think your god had to say about it? I've got whole book shelves filled with "holy" books, which are filled with the "word(s) of god(s)", yours among them. They often contradict each other. So, what makes your holy book any different from all the others? So different in fact, that you believe it's OK to pass laws requiring other people to adhere to it's teachings? Your book wasn't the first. It wasn't the last. It offers no more empirical evidence than any other that what it contains is true.
You and you god can both go f*** yourselves.
It's legal in this country to terminate if we so choose. – per your statements.
This discussion is about religious groups, that want to abort that choice, and their change of venue since 1970.
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.