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.
MAN talk about not knowing your Bible.. Ex 21 :22 “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if ANY harm follows, then you shall give LIFE FOR LIFE, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Esh STUPID LIBERALS...
Yeah, those Dallas Theological Seminary professors sure don't know their Bibles.
He was much less orthodox than his fellow DTS faculty
how is orthodoxy defined by one who claims a personal relationship with Jesus Christ attained by reading the bible?
Why was he less orthodox? Because you disagree with him?
Modern re-writes don't count. Originally referred to miscarriage, not premature birth. "If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine." The concept of having a soul at conception is extremely recent. A couple of centuries ago, you're christian brothers and sisters would have burned you at the stake for saying such a crazy thing.
He was less Orthodox because the Evangelical Theological Society disagreed with him
Historical Evangelicals must also hold to the 5 fundamentals of Fundamentalism.
Can you also quote from other books of fiction or is your library limited to only one fairy-tale?
Talk about not knowing your Hebrew. Bad translation, Rudy.
I agree 100% that this interpretation is WAY off. Kind of scary what has been done to the standard really. However, it is also clear that the scenario described in Exodus is about a pregnant woman injured as a bystander. Folks, that's called manslaughter now-a-days. Don't pretend you didn't notice that either, just because it wasn't pointed out. See Numbers 35 for more on NOT killing a person for manslaughter. Also, note that it is up to the husband as to the punishment, so probably not going to fare to well anyway.
I find it humorous that someone defending a book of fiction, written by man and espousing a philosophy of life that has caused more death and destruction than any other force in the history of mankind can call someone who they do not know a "stupid liberal". You are intellectually bankrupt.
Either way, separation of church and state. Your have no right to force your religious beliefs on anyone. Ever.
MAN talk about now knowing your Bible.. Ex 21 :22 “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if ANY harm follows, then you shall give LIFE FOR LIFE, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
read the passage again. "yet no harm follows" refers to harming the mother, not the fetus.
The attacker is not punished for the miscarriage, but only if additional harm like râpe or other violence happens to the woman.
Yes, the verse does not say that she gives birth prematurely–it talks about if the woman miscarries and there is no additional harm. I know that Christian "scholars" with an agenda try to interpret the Hebrew word `yatsa' to mean somehow that the baby is born prematurely but it doesn't make any sense to do that.
I'm wondering why the author doesn't bring up science and it's research on when life begins? It seems that most articles from cnn talk about how religion is anti-science, but in the case of abortion, science agrees with the Catholics. Life begins at the MOMENT of conception! Every 10th grade biology student is taught this. If you pro-science you have to be against abortion!
"If you pro-science you have to be against abortion!"
What does being "pro-science" mean, and why would one have to be against abortion if they were "pro-science"?
How do you define life? Cellular replication starts at conception.
The Catholic tradition is that this is when the embryo is inhabited by a soul. Science says nothing about souls.
I believe you have "science" confused with "seance."
So really what you're saying then is that identical twins only each have half a soul, because the fertilized egg doesn't split apart for up to a week after conception. Similarly with chimeras, or hermaphrodites, two fertilized eggs merge together well after conception. Do these people have two souls?
Yes, it's life. But it's not yet human life. Consider a carrot seed you've just planted in the ground. It's living in the sense that it will develop and grow according to its DNA. But it's not a carrot, is it. At some point along the line, it matures enough that we see it as that. When science talks about a fertilized egg as being life, it's in that context. Because in reality, nothing can grow and develop unless it's living. But that doesn't make it human life. So at decision time, when there's a living, breathing human being before me, and blob of cells, I'm going to choose the health and well-being of the living, breathing human being every time. When we get to the point when I can force you to give me your blood, your bone marrow, your kidney, to save my life, then we can discuss forcing a woman to use her body so that a fetus can live.
Which Catholic belief does science agree with? In the 13th and 14th centuries (maybe earlier and later, too) the Catholic Church said that it was acceptable to abort boys before 30 days and girls before 45 days. So the "life begins at conception" belief of the Catholic Church has not always been the standard, even there.
I find this article ridiculous. 1. Evangelicals did not split from the fundamentalists of Princeton until the middle of the 20th century. 2. Abortion was not universally legalized until 1973 so Evangelicals would no more protest abortion prior to this than they would protest using an iphone in 1973. 3 Norma McCorvey (aka Jane Roe of the Roe v Wade trial) became an evangelical in the late seventies and since protested abortion; she writes herself about pro-life Evangelicals influencing her before Roe V Wade. 4. Bruce Waltke should not be seen as a prototypical Evangelical as he was removed from the Evangelical Theological Society over other theological issues years ago. 5. Christians have opposed abortion since the Roman empire.
This article is shotty history and clearly a loaded argument.
Also, he mis-quotes the SBC. Read for yourself:
implicit in your argument is that there were pro-life Evangelicals in the 1970s. This suggests they existed in greater numbers than today for them to be in any way influential. I suspect there are very few of them today.
"she writes herself about pro-life Evangelicals influencing her before Roe V Wade"
For anyone considering their view on abortion, this is a good article by a leading academic on abortion.
Anthony T – Evangelicals were late in the abortion fight. Maybe not 100%, but as a whole, it was looked at as a "Catholic" issue. Jerry Fallwell was critical in waking up evangelicals. BTW- I heard Norma McCorvey (aka Doe) converted to Catholicism.
There are of course more evangelicals today than in the 70s, this is not a result of political change but the evolution of the sonogram. Of course their were prominent prolife Evangelicals in the 70s even Jimmy Carter opposed abortion right from his early political days and does so today.
They weren't late to the abortion fight, they were late to politics period.
This guy attended Yale Divinity School? He obviously was sleeping the day his professor (hopefully) discussed the subject of "context". His pretext of OT (Nomadic/Levitical Jewish Custom) is misleading. His claims about the Southern Baptist Convention "supporting" abortion in 1971 are...misleading. I don't know explicitly what the DTS professor Waltke said (DTS is non-denominational); as such, might Doogie Houwser here even start by explaining what he meant by his definition of the term "Evangelical"? That is the most obfuscated term on the planet! I surely hope if he truly is an MD in training that he takes better notes in Med School than he did in Divinity School (and English class). Regardless of one's position as atheist or believer, I find the best that CNN "Faith" writers seem to do is "muddy the water". Perhaps that's what happens when most of their "Faith Writers" come from liberal backgrounds (Northeast..Boston, Yale), where "Post Modernism" ( the "..everyone's belief is valid, there is no such thing as absolute truth... meta-narrative) Kool-Aid is consumed by the quart. What's next for this young man....another Masters on the "Gospel of Jesus Wife"? CNN tabloid writing at its best. "Move along....nothing to see here...."
McCorvey appeared to have become an Evangelical under Flip Benham and later turned Catholic
thanks to Joe's reference, there is no misquote in the article.
In 1971 the SBC said:
"Be it further RESOLVED, That we call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as râpe, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother"
This WAS their position. It HAS changed.
Do you still consider 'morality' to be absolute?
Talk about revisionism.
my apologies, I garbled my earlier comment: implicit in your argument is that there were pro-life Evangelicals in the 1970s. This suggests they existed in greater numbers than today for them to be in any way influential. I suspect there are very few of them today.
What I meant to say was: there were pro-choice Evangelicals in the 1970s. This suggests they existed in greater numbers than today for them to be in any way influential. I suspect there are very few of them today.
Clearly this is not substantiated in context of your comments.
I want to respond to this post: "I find this article ridiculous. 1. Evangelicals did not split from the fundamentalists of Princeton until the middle of the 20th century. 2. Abortion was not universally legalized until 1973 so Evangelicals would no more protest abortion prior to this than they would protest using an iphone in 1973. 3 Norma McCorvey (aka Jane Roe of the Roe v Wade trial) became an evangelical in the late seventies and since protested abortion; she writes herself about pro-life Evangelicals influencing her before Roe V Wade. 4. Bruce Waltke should not be seen as a prototypical Evangelical as he was removed from the Evangelical Theological Society over other theological issues years ago. 5. Christians have opposed abortion since the Roman empire."
1. This point has nothing to do with the article
2 and 3. These arguments contradict each other
4. So he wasn't an evangelical in 1968 because of something that happened thirty years later?
5. Perhaps, but apparently not since 1968.
The 1971 SBC statement did not reflect the values of most Southern Baptists. Look up the conservative ressurgance of the SBC. SBC leadership stood strongly against most of it's churches on many issues up until the early 90s before being displaced by the masses within the denomination. Morality did not change, some trustees did
so your argument is one of orthodoxy, for adherents to a belief that eschews orthodoxy.
@GOP- yes their were probably more pro-choice Evangelicals at that time, but they were still the minority (pro-choice people in general were prior to the 70s)
@Jackson (I apreciated your response)
"1. This point has nothing to do with the article
2 and 3. These arguments contradict each other
4. So he wasn't an evangelical in 1968 because of something that happened thirty years later?
5. Perhaps, but apparently not since 1968."
1. My point was that his statement implies a very narrow time range so often the lines were blurred between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals and most of the pro-life talk came within this gap between Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.
2,3. my points were that Christians were not broadcasting their view in the market as the author looks to but did so in isolated personal instances.
4. He claimed his views haven't changed on the issues that led to him leaving the ETS
5. Once again it wasn't an idea so widely discussed in the market place and Evangelicals that were part of the Moral Majority (whom I disagree with) attest that they have always held such views.
In summary they didn't publicize their stance on abortion because it was almost universally opposed by all Americans
Orthodoxy is just setting a definition (I do so by the Evangelical Theological Society). Would you have Evangelical just be a buzz word?
clearly there are differences in doctrinal details between people who embrace the label Evangelical Protestant.
The evangelical movement is comprised of many different churches and does not have the monolithic orthodoxy of beliefs like Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, etc.
It was fairly common in times when there was no contraception available, that a woman who had more children than they could afford to feed would put the child to bed and "accidentally" smother it. These were considered good Christian women. Infant mortality was very high then. As was death during childbirth, and after (childbed fever).
Prayer changes things.
He completely mis-quotes what the SBC actually said in 1971.
please provide a reference to the "correct" version.
Here is the link. See for yourself. Fetal life should be protected
thank you for the reference.
How is this:
misreprestented by the author's statement:
"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."
I see no misquote there.
Joe–you just got owned. Your link shows that the author was right.
If believers want to stop abortion they should start by not having them. The believer cults account for over 70% of all ab portions in th USA. Can you say hypocrites with a very dirty "backyard?"
Makes sense to me, given that about 75% of Americans are Christians.
That's why I prefer Carl's backyard. Besides, he has a pool.
Just because a person says they are a believer doesn't mean they are. God's definiton is what counts!
So, no true believer would have an abortion? Or break any of their cult's rules? What a cop out! If being a believer has any value, I would expect the abortion rate for believers to be much less than for the rest of the population, if not very close to zero.
Yeah, they're pro-choice alright....pro the choice to want to decide for some else, which is none of their business in the first place.
86 comments so far, and, by my count, only one that attempts to forward the discussion rather than just ranting. Sad.
I'm not sad at all. My face just gets stuck like this sometimes.
Here we have a thought provoking article by a guest contributor, directly focused on a tenet of the faith of evangelical protestants that is front and center as an election issue and what's the reaction here by the believers?
Meanwhile a puff-piece article that retreads some tweets on the hurricane but has the word 'atheist" in the t;tle has posts churning and burning.
Do I have a point to make? Nothing really insightful. The fundies won't even finish reading this article and they won't post here. It is too intrinsically disturbing to their world-view for them to realize that their beliefs are merely putty in the hands of the American Taliban.
So much for absolute, biblical morality.
You nailed that one GOPer.
Oh wait, Hindu-bot has been very insightful today.
Who cares what evangelicals think? They had some semblance of moral authority leading up to the Civil War with the anti-slavery stance but quickly discovered they had little if any role in the world they helped build. At best over the last 50 years they have had little agenda other than taking revenge on society for putting them in an intellectual nursing home. They even have to cut deals with their archenemies (Mormons and Catholics) to retain political power. The only legitimate thing left for these people is making chicken sandwiches and saying "my pleasure".
I'll take one of those sandwiches if you are passing them out. Hun.
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FROM ORIGINAL MOHAMMAD A DAR
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hindu Mithra ism, savior ism invented little over 100 years after Sydana Mohammad pbh by tribes of Kujar of north Africa and imposition as Fatmid Khalaphit by force by denial of Hidth and Quran, justified by hindu Judaism, pagan secularism to impose hinduism, racism by hindu, fabricated relationship with Family of Syadana Mohammad pbh to justify existence of hindu criminal Kings, a violation of fundamental commandment, human equality under the LA. truth absolute Allah. Cause of conflict among Muslim's and cause of down fall of Muslim's and Islam in Spain.
Sunisim, invented by Turk's by corruption of Quran and hidth to justify existence of hindu King's as Khalipha, after death of Ruler Mohammad, but later renamed, Mehmmat, wisdom of spirit of truth by siblings from his Armenian wife, follower of hindu pagan Mithra ism, savior ism in 13th century.
Christianity, invented by hinduism,. corruption of truth absolute by hindu Pharisees, pagan self centered, follower of hindu filthy pig ism by corrupted Torah, known as Greek Torah, translated and commented by Ben Asheer in 250 AD in Yiddish, secularist, self centered language, also known as Old Testament, part of book of Mithra ism labeled as Bible. A way to justify hindu criminal Kings and self proclaimed Prophets, fortune tellers as god's to rule over humanity.
JUDAISM, Self center ism, pig ism, or Atheism, invented by hindu's pagan's of Egypt by corruption of truth absolute in Torah to Justify hindu pagan Pharaoh's and their hindu pagan Santans, goons as god's to rule over humanity with impunity.
HAVE hINDUISM, CORRUPTION OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE, RELIGIONS AND LIVE WITH MAYHEM, AS HAS BEEN THE CASE FROM hIND, DARK AGES TILL TODAY. FOLLOW THEEN ALLAH, CONSTI TUTION OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE, ALLAH , GOD AND THE LORD, FOUNDATION OF CONSTI TUTION OF AMERICA TO HAVE PEACE AMONG HUMANITY. To learn more please visit truthisthelimit.com
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WOULD SOMEONE GET MULLAH THE MONKEY AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER? HE KEEPS SENDING OUT NONSENSE!
FROM ORIGINAL SHEIK YER BOOTY
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credit card No rewards points ism, visa 18% ism invented little over 100 years after foot locker Kevin Smith discounted by tribes of Macy’s of north Minnesota and imposition as Mall of America by force by denial of wetzel’s prezels and Sears catalog, justified by credit card Gap ism, american express gold cardism to impose holiday sale shopping, 20% off by credit card, fabricated relationship with hot dog on a stick of Kevin Smith to justify existence of credit card criminal victoria’s secret, a violation of fundamental hot girls, human equality under the bra and panties sale. double coupon absolute Shopping gods. Cause of conflict among mom’s and cause of down fall of teen girls and MALL shopping in Spain.
The OT LOVES Abortion.
And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver. - Leviticus 27:6
Yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb. - Hosea 9:16
The priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell. And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen. ...
My return email to you will be coming from a different address. The one I gave you is a forward but it is still me.
Interesting that the most abusive troll-filth being posted on this article is being done by good loving Christians.
I agree with you. These people offend my delicacy.
Religious folks are not delightsome.
Most likely it's an atheists posting as a Christian.
Possible, but the fact you can't be sure speaks volumes about what many Christians actually believe.
Rational Libertarian, if you mean that Christians know you to be full of pride? Over what? Nonsense.
Oh, I get it! Jeff is one of those atheists pretending to be a Christian to make them look bad. Good job.
More abortions take place in Kansas than any other state.
(Considering the would-be chlldren-of-the-corn.)
Guess what the #1 state for rape and porn consumption is? Here's a hint: it also tops the anti-depressant use studies too.
Utah. It is also the state whose own officials suspect it is highest in unreported rape, because Mormon women are considered tainted by it, and they won't tell on the Mormon men doing it.
Now, those are some interesting facts. Curious when the Mormon apologists will start showing up.
It's the damn 3.2 beer ya'll. I can't even get my drunk on.
@Abortions are Hilarious!!
"More abortions take place in Kansas than any other state."
False. New Jersey has the most abortions, followed by New York. Kansas is #24.
The Catholics have never had a different view.
The article makes that point already.
Though your use of "never" is perhaps a stretch.
The 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae reaffirmed the sanct;ty of life from conception to natural death and asserted a continued condemnation of both abortion and euthanasia as grave sins which were equivalent to murder. The idea can be traced back as far as the third century.
When I find religious people in public I fling my freshly picked boogers at them.
I throw the old ones I have been saving up at them. The new ones are for Republicans.
End, thanks for proving how perverted you atheists are.
If you are going to throw your boogers at Christians, don't forget to bring a towel!
where do you keep your saved-up old boogers until needed? Maybe an empty Altoids tin or something?
lol, you fundies see perversion in every shadow. Cram a bible up yer ass and see if that lifts your spirits.
Behind my ear.
End, thanks for proving what Christians know about atheists ... that you never evolve.
Jeff, thanks for reminding me that it is opposite day.
By the way, if you are a Christian you are a stupid person. It is necessary to be stupid in order to be a Christian.
"Never" is a long, long time; the catholics didn't have an "official" view on the matter until they worked out a sweetheart deal with Napoleon, giving them free reign in France as long as they prohibited abortion. Napoleon got more soldiers for the army, and the catholics got power to run the churches and schools as they saw fit, so don't tell me that the catholics have "never" had a different view.
Jeff, I fart in your general direction, and...
The author of the article looks like a pedophile. Creepy.
You think so? I guess it take one to know one.
Horrors, earth quakes, floods, disasters are God's wrath against all of us. Carnal beings, thinking and doing, never to learn Jesus' spiritual truth. My 12-year-old daughter quit smoking crack, but her kids can't kick the habit. Stay on the wrong side of the gulf until you are blotted out for eternity.
LOL ! :D
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.