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.
It seems that translating the passage in Exodus to reference "miscarraige" is not really the best translation. Based on context and based on the fact that there are several other words that would have specifically meant miscarraige or abortion (If the passage in Exodus had used the word "nephel" as in Job 3:16 or "shakol" as in Ex 23:26 then misscairage and the concept put forth by the author would make sense). The word the author of this article suggest should be translated as miscarriage is the hebrew word "yatsa" in the 1069 times the word is used it is never translated as miscarriage. It is often used in reference to the coming forth of life. Gen 1:24, 1 Kings 8:19, Jer 1:5 to list a few.
The word "yatsa" means to come forth, or deliver even. There is no indication that there is a death in the passage. So why assume one? The context seems to imply that if the struck woman gives birth prematurely but there is no harm that follows the birth, then there is a fine. But if there is harm that follows the birth, then take life for life.
Seems pretty straight to me.
The writer appears to be about 15 years old. Did you really think that he put forth the research on the issue that you obvioulsy have at some point? He just wanted his opinon to be right. :-)
I think they just let anyone publish their opinion on CNN and no one ever does any fact checking.
Pray to end this discussion in the political arena!!!!
And we all know that will go nowhere because praying might make YOU feel better, but it doesn't DO squat.
Prove it...that's right, you can't prove it doesn't help.
That said, prayer should be more about thanksgiving and less about gimme gimme gimme. There is more evidence to prove god exists, than to prove otherwise.
alex: what evidence of god's existence do you speak of?
Mike, I wish that one persons experiences could be relayed to another, but a vocabulary simply doesn't come close. When I lost my mother and thoughts of suicide where always in my mind, God spoke to me and told me to have faith .... he was sending someone to heal my heart. At that moment everything around me froze and I saw a vision infront of me of a women and two children holding her hand. I could see her as plain as if she was standing in front of me. For years later a coworker asked me to double date with a friend of his girlfriends so that they could go out that night. When we met the girls that night I just froze .... my wife was the women that had been shown to me. We have been married 27 years and we have the two lovely children that I had been shown holding my wifes hands.
God has shown and done so many things for me in my hours of need that there isn't time to type them all out now.
But, I do feel sorry for you ...... God doesn't reveal himself to those that have no faith.
The author is missing the origin of the controversy. There was a powerful reason for the big shift. Richard Nixon and his campaign strategists decided to capture the religious vote by making abortion an issue, and they won. That's all it took to persuade conservative politicians that abortion was wrong. Winning elections is the only moral good the conservative politicians recognize.
Unfortunately, now they can't ever go back, no matter how much of the rest of the country abandons their fake moralizing. As more and more people move towards letting women make their own moral and religious decisions (called "Pro Choice"), the GOP will end up with the people who are easiest to manipulate. Oh, that already happened?
So, there is moral equivalence between the pro-abortion and pro-life camps? Despite the fact that religious people struggle with the concept and morality of when life begins, as opposed to the pro-abortion camp's adamant denial that there is even a moral question? Just say that you're pro-abortion and move along. You have not presented a balanced view of the issue, let alone the theology.
Nobody is pro-abortion.
Do you think there are groups out there soliciting pregnant women to go get abortions becuase they're good?
No. Pro-choice is not pro-abortion.
Don't evangelicals reject the idea of basing your morals on past teachings that aren't explicitly stated in the Bible? Isn't that what Sola Scriptura is all about?
Heather, you know what is really frightening? Liberals coercing people to vote for their candidate who don't even know what the candidate stands for! Some vote on the basis of race despite candidate qualifications because they want to see a person of a certain skin color in the oval office. That's scary. Do you think anyone voted for or against Obama because of his race?
I just read this scripture. It is not referring to abortion, but instead refers to when a pregnant woman is hit during a fight and miscarries. There's a big difference between miscarriage and abortion.
But you can use any religious scripture to justify about anything including murder and slavery.
Jesus Christ Larry. You realize that abortions didn't exist until the 20th century. The bible is not a literal tool you idiot. It is inferred by the text that any taking of an unborn life.
There are *no* passages in the Bible that refer to abortion. As such we have to look at passages like this to determine what the 'value' given to a fetus is. If the writers of Mosaic law viewed the fetus as a full fledged human person the penalty would not be a fine but death (as is the punishment for murder). However, that isn't the case and as such Jewish tradition says that before the child draws it's first breath it's not a person but a potential person. This is coupled with when God breathed life into Adam and infused him with a soul. In other words, the soul isn't there at conception but at first breath. If the fetus dies (through whatever process) prior to that first breath its not the death of a full fledged person. That being said, it's not like the fetus is given no consideration. It is protected but not absolutely at the same level as a breathing child.
Well, if we are sticking to the facts you may want to do a little more research yourself. Women have attempted abortion for thousands of years using different plant material to induce premature labor! Think and research before you type next time.
Moron, I mean Darryl. Please provide me one reference source to your information about women attempting abortions prior to the 20th century. Not suicide but abortion. Come on, prove it. One reference. Just one. Heck, I'll even believe an internet source.... Come on, just one....
One is all I want....
Histories of Abortion
At least two historians have given us book length treatments of the history of abortion. James Mohr's Abortion in America was published in 1978. Marvin Olasky's Abortion Rites appeared in 1995 and is in some ways a reply to Mohr.
Mohr tells us that in 1800 there were no state laws against abortion. In his view, the common law held that abortion was not a crime prior to "quickening" (i.e., the first felt movement of the fetus) in the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy. After quickening, abortion was usually considered a crime; but it was not equated with murder.
There are no records on the number of abortions performed, but Mohr believes that it was not rare. A variety of pills, powders, and mechanical devices were used –all of which varied greatly in their safety and effectiveness.
Between 1821 and 1840, 10 out of 26 states enacted laws that included provisions on abortion. In five states these applied only to abortions after "quickening." The others applied prior to quickening, but were largely unenforceable because it was difficult to determine whether a woman was pregnant.
Oh darn Leo, you got me. Okay, so people might have wanted abortions in the 19 century. Ok, lets make this a little more realistic and to the point. Give me a reference to abortions say post first century. That would be a little more realistic wouldn't it. Since most of the bible was written pre-first century. Or should we move it out to the fourth century so we could include the first council of Nicaea.
The shortest gestation period where a baby survived is just under 23 weeks. If the mother had killed that child a week after it's birth (or would have been week 24 of gestation), she would be in jail for murder. Yet if the child had not been born and she had aborted it in week 24 it would be legal. Us humans sure can come up with some strange logic to justify ourselves.
Right, to set a line in the sand defining the law seems so bizarre!! Why not just let people decide so we can let mob's of angry religious people round up all the teenage boy's who have been commiting mass murder with their tube socks each night and have them punished! Yeah! Sounds so logical!!
I hope you can sense the sarcasm, but knowing how dumb you must be to have posted that comment I just wanted to make sure...
Why do liberals always have such a look of butthurt on their face like the writer of this "article"? I'm serious. It's something I've noticed a lot lately. Liberals seem to want to have an argument of facial expressions, so they make the most disgruntled, disdainful faces they can make. How far will this trend go? Will people eventually be shown with full ragefaces? I prefer arguments to be at the level of thoughts, not at the level of facial expressions. Liberals are once again showing how eager they are to cheapen debate.
The guy in the photo is a conservative (inferred). Liberal generally support abortion and conservatives do not. Hence, the conservative has a sign against abortion.
How about the fearsome expression of that old coot holding the anti-abortion sign in that photo? Is it just me or do all hellfire and brimstone reactionary evangelicals wear THAT expression? He really looks like he's motivated by compassion and love, doesn't he?
Just keep an eye out for it, guys. There's something going on among liberals where they want to show everyone how upset they are. They are "offended." And you know that when liberals get "offended," then the person who "offended" them needs to stop whatever they are doing. Isn't that nice? Just say you're offended, and you win the argument!
Disanitnodicos, you seem to think that the author simply had a photo taken, and that was the extent of his argument. Perhaps you should read his article. He actually had some reasons there, though I think he left out some of the strongest arguments. What you have said is called an "ad hominem" argument. You can't disprove what he said so you attack him personally. using ad hominem arguments is a sign of having no way of disproving his arguments logically.
So, quite plainly, politics has overcome the Bible and common sense. Abortion, and contraception right behind it, have become tools as a means to an end, and not much to do with belief or faith. Those that follow blindly truly are blind to the facts - that a fetus is mostgly, util near term - not a viable life form if exiting the womb prematurely. "Premies" have developmental disorders, and more premature they are, the more disabilities they have, greater pain and discomfort, and typically shorter life spans.
Now, that could be facitlited to a healthier lifestyle if advances on stem cell research and cloning hadn't been retarded by the same misinformed "faith". Even Nancy Reagan said, as Ronnie shriveled under dementia and alzheimers disease - that Ronnie possibly could have benefited from stem cell research and subsequent treatments.
Really patehtic that we are arguing about our choices on personal health care choices and the Republicans want to restrict that access by overturning Roe v. Wade; by limiting OB clinics to include Planned arenthood; and int eh 70s and 80s, bombing abortion clinics; by limiting choices by way of "vouchers' which once again divide those that have, "that can get what they want", from those tht cannot afford the same personal healthcare choices.
Your vote will help decide one way or another... think about it...
The elderly aren't gonna be 'viable' either. Ice floes exist for gubmint health care.
If what you assert is true then the church cannot claim Jesus became incarnate at conception. But it does so it is heresy to say that life does not begin at conception since there is nothing that Jesus took on that he did not redeem. And to take one verse of scripture and from that extrapolate your position is to ignore the context of the whole of scripture. We have several passages like Psalm 119:13 "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb." And Job 10:10-11 " Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese,1 clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews?" We also have John the baptist leaping in the womb for joy at the presence of the unborn Jesus. You may dismiss such things as hyperbole or the church adding something to the Gospel, but lets assume it did, then such things point to the church upholding that there is life in the womb.
Gary, all of this theology builds an entire house of cards on the basis of few words, many assumptions, and much logic, all of which are questionable. For example, what happens if it turns out that Jesus was a special case, and doesn't apply to anyone else? I hope you agree that Jesus was a special case, otherwise the theology falls apart in much bigger ways than this one.
Just wondering, does anyone here really believe that if you punch a mother in the stomach and cause her to miscarriage you are only at fault for physical assault on the mother and not the child? Is the child or "blob of cells" that you killed off no different than the skin cells that were scratched off during the punch? Is there a moral difference if the mother asked you to punch her in the stomach to kill her child compared to her not asking to be punched in the stomach?
Well, according to Exodus it wouldn't be murder. "If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [aka miscarriage] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows." This is immediately followed by the 'eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth' thing so if it was seen as a serious life ending assault there would, without a doubt, be a different punishment under Mosaic law.
...the child is a "blob" of cells until developed enough to survive outside the womb. Fetuses born before term are at high risk of health defects, disabilities, likely death (depending on how premature), and so on and so forth. We can argue whether the fetus is viable by so many months after conception (we can rely on scientific fact for that, but that is another area that the misguided and zealots refuse to participate in).
Before that, they are not viable and will die sufferably. Some "faithful" parents will permit a premature newborn (that is brain dead, or so very incapicitated) to starve to death, to fade away until it dies after birth - when an abortion early on would have spared the pain and suffering. And therein lies another contradiction. Claiming a fetus feels pain, but permitting it to be born prematurely and then let it wither away - is that not sick? You don't know anymore that the premie is suffering than what is purported a fetus "feels" in an abortion procedure. Hypocritcal at the very least, monstruous misguided belief at its peak of "belief".
Why is it if I shoot and kill pregnant woman who is driving to an abortion clinic, I'd be charged with double murder?
Because if you missed, you probably would have shot the doctor instead...
You are obviously too stupid to understand the concept of "viability."
Hrm... If calling someone stupid makes you feel better I guess so. But my question still stands, if someone kills a pregnant woman they are charged with double murder. Ask Scott Peterson who is sitting on death row for this same crime. I really don't care what the Bible says one way or another, what I'm concerned with is that our own laws be consistent. Maybe the answer is that you can only be charged with double murder if the fetus is greater than 6 months old, if anyone has that info, thanks. If anyone else thinks calling names is better, well up yours too.
Ahh.. found my own answer. Of course it's Wiki, but still seems true
- Exodus 21:22-25 “Suppose a pregnant woman suffers a MISCARRIAGE as the result of an injury caused by someone who is fighting. If she isn't badly hurt, the one who injured her must pay whatever fine her husband demands and the judges approve. But if she is seriously injured, the payment will be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, cut for cut, and bruise for bruise.”
Screw the church the temples and the mosques........screw 'em. Exodus...gimme a break....quote something that has some meaning.....not a bunch of made up stuff by the men who wanted power after a "prophet" died.....Jesus people.....stop with this bizaro thought process already........and why are old christian white men the one's who supposodely monopolized the anti-choice movement>?>?? Don't those fuddie duddies fight for limited government??? Ok....don't allow tax dollars to fund it.....great...many women will be hurt by this........but take away the choice?>>> go take a long walk off a short pier you old white angry men.
Excellent, intelligent article. Too bad the mouth-breathing, ignorant evangelicals are too stupid and self-absorbed to read anything above a Grade Two level. It's frightening that such backward people have the right to vote and thereby inflict their opinions on thinking Americans.
you seem like a very nice person to talk to...
Thinking americans? You copied churches (who copied the so-called jews) and put your court in robes! That should really impress Jesus. I don't recall Paul getting any permissions from Rome, either.
"For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:39–45)
reiterating John F. obviously a thing isn't going to have feelings or care or give a sh+_t. The baby in my womb is what is written, not "something" or the "fetus". If the baby can have joy, the baby can have hurt and feel pain just as a baby would if killed outside of the womb. Please define what "it" is then before birth...not living?...not human?...just a thing? Do any of the pro choice people ever talk to their baby during pregnancy? probably alot, but why if the baby doesn't know or care or feel. Secondly, pro choicers...if i decide to walk out in busy street and get hit by a car, should i blame the car? I had the choice to stay put. The woman's "choice" begins when choosing to do something which is INTENDED for having babies (men have that choice as well for all you libs to will yell out woman hater or biggot or whatever is the word of the day). Choice after which is whether or not to kill.
Lastly, in response to the bible verse quoted by the author (Exodus 21:22–24). if no harm is done, meaing the baby is alive and the mother is alive. The passage does not necessarily denote the destruction of the baby. It is read as premature birth and says nothing about the death of said child. I will concede it also does not imply however a possible premature birth before the child can survive outside the womb. Basically negating the argument because it does not absolutely win for either side.
note to the author: We do not "know" 100% what God's will is. We do not "know" 100% when and how a soul is placed within us. We also do not "know" 100% that there is a God...oh...but alas...that is FAITH.
Men's writings of what Allah, God, Odin, Santa, Tooth Fairy's thoughts have no bearing in the world of reality or law.
Any religious person or group who bases laws on their Gods to govern others is an enemy to freedom.
DollaB, the premature birth also covers the idea of miscarriage – in other words death of the fetus. That's in the concordats.
The author is twisting the truth. Some progressive sides of the church allowed rare cases of abortion for limited reasons. It was not until millions of abortions per year, with 3rd trimester abortions common, that even most of these people moved to a more traditional view. The traditional evangelical view has always been that life starts at conception–from Jesus in the womb recognizing John in the womb as its foremost example. This was taught by Mosaic law as well.
"... from Jesus in the womb recognizing John in the womb..."
You think that *really* happened? 1st century drama queen writing...
I've never heard the Southern Baptist Convention referred to as a "progressive side of the church." IF this is true, who was considered the mainstream for evangelicals in the early 1970s?
Halacha (Jewish law) does define when a fetus becomes a nefesh (person). "...a baby...becomes a full-fledged human being when the head emerges from the womb. Before then, the fetus is considered a 'partial life.' " So maybe you are confusing things a bit? Even if we look directly at Exodus we find "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." If Mosaic law viewed the fetus as a fully formed person than the penalties would be significantly worse, don't you think? Sure, you can quote the 6th Commandment but the translation used in the KJV is a long standing mistranslation – it's actually "Thou shat not murder" not "Thou shalt not kill". The first is an injunction against unlawful (extrajudicial) killing as opposed to all killing.
This country is not run on the Bible so the opinions expressed within it should not concern the sane ones among us. No one is pro abortion, it's about choice. The same women that abuses the system and gets multiple abortions will do it anyway, legal or not. No laws in this country should be based on biblical, quaranical, puritanical, or otherwise religious tests or texts. Christians or Jews didn't invent 'thou shall not kill' even though they take the credit for it. If it is against christian doctrine then christian women should not get them. If something is against your religion apply it to yourself, you do not have a right to take others rights away.
The unborn have no choice, so the question has nothing to do with choice. It is only about using abortion for one person's convenience over another's life–which is pro-abortion.
Sci: Just as you would not want to submit yourself to the laws of another religion (ex: Sharia), those of us who subscribe to no religion would appreciate it if we were not forcibly compelled to submit to your doctrines of faith
The unborn have no choice, so the question has nothing to do with choice. It is only about using abortion for one person's convenience over another's life–which is pro-abortion.
Do you show the same zeal for sp erm?
Quite frankly, show me a two month fetus that could survive outside the womb...3 months, 4 months, 5 months... please, the ignorance is stifling. Compounding the ignorance is the stand against stem cell research that has so much promise to save prematurely birthed babies, thus possibly supporting your position on life in the womb even more succinct. But, Reagan outlawed the reaerch, so, as a nation, we are at least a generation behind many other countries around the wolrd.
Instead, if we poured our collective hearts and souls into understnading – truly - the complexities of fetal developmental and the science around it - and not casting that science as some form of witchcraft or "evil" science - we would be focused on immediate and important events like the economy...
"The unborn have no choice"
The unborn are not people. Zygote's don't have rights. So they don't have a right to chose.
scieng1, I hope you are all for letting gay couples adopt since you are so concerned with the life of unwanted children. We often see an odd dichotomy of no contraceptive, no abortion, and limited adoption rights from pro lifers. Your religion warps your thinking, and your logic.
So, you'd say that their views have 'evolved?'
The evangelicals couldn't even choke that word out of their mouth.
Not possible, "they" don't beleive in evolution... just running on a treadmill, staying in one place...
If Christians think that the 70% of abortions that are being recieved by members of their own flock would stop if America would just ban abortion, why not take it a step further to protect ourselves from ourselves and ban all fatty foods, no more greasy fast food, no more giant sugery soft drinks because obesity and diabetes is killing our babies!!!
Shut up, I dont like you bad man, now let me at the hog trough!!!
What is the source of your proclamation that 70% of those getting abortions are Christians?
What is the source of your proclamation that 70% of those getting abortions are Christians?
What is the majority in this country...Christians, Jews, Muslims or Atheists? An educated guess will reveal the answer to you.
"why not take it a step further to protect ourselves from ourselves and ban all fatty foods, no more greasy fast food, no more giant sugery soft drinks"
Because they would have nothing to eat while watching NASCAR.
The republicans realized they were becoming a dead brand so they picked up a couple items along the way to convince the undereducated religious groups that they cared for them. Abortion and gays. No matter if they win both houses of congress and the presidency (like they did in the Bush years) they will never overturn Roe v Wade because the religious folks might wake up and realize the republicans have never been concerned about their lives, they were just used a pawns to win more elections so the rich could become richer and the poor poorer.
Yeah. The dems should go pro-life. Then what would the rich old white men use.
Could not agree more.
Darn it! I thought that secret was safe with me. No sense holding elections now. Just crown Obama king forever
"No matter if they win both houses of congress and the presidency (like they did in the Bush years) they will never overturn Roe v Wade"
They had the white house, the Senate, and the HOR under GWB. They never tried to overturn RVW. It's their bogeyman. If not for gay marriage and abortion, there would no reason for dumb white trash religiots to vote Republican.
How very true...
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