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.
There are always people trying to twist scripture for their own agenda. The Bible is very clear about the fetus/baby. The Bible says that God communes with the unborn child as he fearfully and wonderfully fashions the child. I have a news flash for you, God does not fellowship with lifeless blobs.
The Bible is very clear. God issued loads of commands to kill women and NEVER ONCE gave a rip if the women to be killed were pregnant or not.
Where is the bible clear about it?
The Mighty Hand of God Will Smite Thee wrote on October 31, 2012 at 8:58 pm, declaring, "Man is made in God's image. He is not a mere beast of the wild."
Let us create in our image an automobile after our likenesses,,,,,,
Lettuce Love, Let us Love.
The verses say if by accident a man strikes a woman while fighting with her husband and her baby dies, it is not a captial offense , however, if more damage occurs it is. What does this hav e to do with abortion which is an intended outcome act, K I L L the child.
The Bible doesn't say fighting with the husband. It could be fighting with her. The death by a caused miscarriage is punished by a FINE.
Observer, again, if it can be interpreted in multiple ways so readily, then "god" didn't do a perfect job of writing it and your god is a joke. But we already knew that.
Yes. Much pick-and-choose hypocrisy.
I don't care to get into discussions about some passage of the bible because it does not have moral authority for me, but I think what you said about picking and choosing is a very real problem. So much of this line-in-the-sand hysteria about what the bible purports to say is just that: cherry-picking. The bible is a great deal clearer about owning slaves and selling your daughters than it is about these issues. Yet so many evangelicals don't seem to find that to be a problem.
1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.
Dumb buildings are usually dimly lit structures. Well lit buildings are dimly dumb structures.
Evangelicals also used to think that slavery was a good thing. Sometimes moral beliefs evolve for the better.
You need to read about onesimus and what Paul said about him, before you spout off. Slavery of that era was not the same as was in the US.
So the slavery of antiquity is fine in God's eyes but 19th centuy slavery is wrong? Tell me exactly how these two different forms of slavery were distinct from each other?
You are actually saying that slavery was and now isn't OK? If so, you are in deep denial.
All morality is relative to its culture. It is not derived from burning bushes or graven tablets.
Try reading the Bible. It's tells how much you can injure your slave without punishment.
Previous comments directed to @rodboy
Absolutely true, Patrick. Isn't it amazing how these people just stick their heads into the nearest sandbox the minute someone brings that up?
I hope any woman who has an abortion is visited by her murdered baby in her dreams every night until she goes insane or commits su.icide.
How Christian of you!
Hatred based on religious indoctrination is the greatest evil there is. Taliban sharia law, here we come.
It's not a baby. It's some goo. Outside of me, it wouldn't live a tenth of a second. The lack of logic in these emotional protestations is breathtaking, and I can only make sense out of it if I consider that those who cannot gestate another human beings are using this issue because they feel control of those who can is slipping away. It's just rubbish.
Read the Exodus passage cited in the blog.
I think it may be a bit much to hope that she commits suicide, but I do hope she thinks long enough to prevent putting herself in the same situation again. I hope we can all agree on that.
Such a raw message. Dumb but raw and uninspiring.
nadinesh, the poitn is the baby would live outside of the womb(after 26 weeks(that is a science fact). My hope is that abortions would occur before that point(i.e. 1st trimester)
" The Mighty Hand " represents the typical contemporary Christian. Arrogant, condescending, and hateful.
Certainly, observer, it sometimes can. But no has an abortion after 26 weeks unless the baby is dead in the womb or the mother will die.
God gave mere rabbits the power to self abort if the offspring would face too great starvation/hardship.
You think he would want his top level create to have less freedom?
That would be the nature of nature not God, none needed.
Man is made in God's image. He is not a mere beast of the wild.
Tony, if people were worried about starving, that may be an issue , but TH AT I S NOT the case here in the US. The baby is in MOST cases a burden on the woman , because the DAD is gone or the woman wants to keep that youthful body.
You talk of how the right wing and political evangelicals with political motives have strayed their faithful, yet you yourself misquote the Bible incorrectly leading your readers to believe false interpretations of scripture. The irony. Please take time to read and understand the passage in Exodus before you decide to come up with your own conclusions. For those who would like a more informed resource, please read: http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/OTeSources/02-Exodus/Text/Articles/House-Exod21-WTJ.pdf
Yo DV how come your uberpowerful ubersmart god guy can't come up with a better way to sell himself than the bible, as in one that can't be interpreted 48 different ways by 13 different readers?
Bugsy, this is what you come to the internet to comment on. Jeez, really deep.
Anyway, before you comment on the subject. Read the Bible(OldNew Testament) or the Kuran, the is a lot of useful information, that is intended to be interpreted by the individual themself. I'll admit, organized religion has been perverted over the last 1000 years. But if you read the bible, you will be an enlightened individual. You will not take everything for verbatim, but you will come out a better person. Personally, I understand the thought behind Pro-choice and support to a degree, but me personal...in my stage of life...I am pro-life. But, that does not mean I think we should change the laws...they are what they should be. Let people make the decision they can live with.
The Bible NEVER mentions abortion. Read it sometime.
I cannot, for the life of me, understand why I should read your bible in order to make moral determinations for myself. It's not my book; it's yours. There's a great deal of moral wisdom out there, and I wonder if you too wouldn't do well in reading some of it.
nadinesh, I am not saying it is my book, nor that it should be your book. Just that you read it before commenting on it.
I would not comment on a book that I have not read. What would there be to comment on, I haven't read it.
You have a good book for me to read, I'l read it, THEN comment on it. You see how it works...know what you are talking about, THEN comment.
"observer", not too sharp in your observing are you...hardly anyone in the West hasn't read your silly storybook bible. Care to put your bible knowledge vs mine to a test, you arrogant ass wipe?
Bugsy, just to be clear, I am "observer" someone took the name "Observer" I guess the discredit my comments(seems they can't do it straight up).
But to your request, I guess we could have a challenge. Let's debate away:)
The author is not making a Biblical argument. He is quoting born again conservative evangelical Protestants from 1968, 1971, and 1984. He is pointing out that what counts as "Biblical" in that tradition changes according to the politics of the day. This is not a controversial argument.
The author is not making a Biblical argument. He is quoting born again conservative evangelical Protestants from 1968, 1971, and 1984. He is pointing out that what counts as "Biblical" in that tradition changes according to the politics of the day. This is not a controversial observation. It is basic history.
I haven't read through all of the comments, but isn't it clear that a Jew and a Christian must believe Psalm 139:13? Basically, God created us in the womb. Why should we destroy what God created? By the way, I also think that temples and churches should cover all of the expenses of unwed pregnant mothers. This would reduce abortion and allow for the creation of wonderful children.
News for ya, Josher. Not all us Amuricans are Jews or Christians. And reffing your particular book to prove itself is gonna get you cited for circular circular reasoning if you see what I mean by what I said I meant.
LOL ! :D
And the expense of the upbringing, medical insurance and college through to age 26.
Yup, Bugsy, some of ya'll are secular humanists in dire need of a sense of direction, purpose, and introduction to the concept of absolute moral authority.
If you think that's viable, you're either seriously underestimating how much money it takes to raise a child or seriously overestimating how much money churches have.
Again, it's your book, not mine. It is certainly not in the spirit of democracy to press your sacred texts upon others who do not similarly venerate them. I believe you have the right to your beliefs, but only because I too have the right to mine.
I would also comment that, as you see in this article, clearly this by no means a cut-and-dried issue, even if you do need the bible as a moral compass. The article's point is that it is now fashionable to interpret your bible this way; but in the very recent past, it was not. Because so many evangelicals, well, don't get out much, they may have difficulty understanding that this is obviously not a timeless truth, but fad, a fancy, a current point of view which will change again many times. That, I would argue, is no moral absolute, is it?
“Basically, God created us in the womb. Why should we destroy what God created?”
According to your book god created everything, so according to you no one should destroy anything
Todd Ravenell – maybe I am jumping to conclusions but I am guessing you are a man. So it seems to me you should have no voice at all in this issue. I think it is fascinating that all of these white men feel the need to decide an issue that can never affect them. And I don't see them yammering for society to support the women or the babies that the fetuses eventually become. Women are supposed to keep an aspirin between their knees, but maybe men shoul start sticking one up their weenie.
Let's be fair here: even though 100% of the burden of childbirth itself is born by the mother, it can hardly be said that in 100% of all cases no man is affected by the decision to abort or not to abort. If my wife wants to keep a child that I, as a breadwinner, cannot support, that definitely affects me as a man.
So, even though I get your point and what you're TRYING to say, and I agree with the spirit of your words, I think we have to be fair and intellectually honest here and admit that men are indeed affected by the abortion issue and that what they have to say SHOULD weigh into the debate. It SHOULD NOT weigh in more than the voice of women. They should not be able to make the decisions for a woman. But, they should have a seat at the table.
Well, Jack, but even if you cannot support the child and you want your wife to abort, I would argue that you still don't have authority to make the decision - although, naturally, one would hope that a spouse's opinion would be taken into account in a happy marriage. However, the decision is always your wife's, not yours. It's her body and at no point does it "belong" to you. You can leave the marriage because of this decision, however. But nevertheless, it was your action, as well as your wife's, which conceived the child and if she decides to deliver, it's your moral and financial responsibility.
So do we kill children for the sins of their parents?
Well, considering there is no such thing as sin, I don't really think it's an issue.
Well, of course I wouldn't. But a foetus is not a child. It's a bit of untenable goo in my body - not my husband's - and certainly not yours. Haven't you got something that you CAN control to worry about?
So then we should turn away from the wrongs of a couple copulating for sheer pleasures wherein a child has been conceived? Should a child conceived from sheer pleasures be killed as if it is but a rag doll?
We should deal with facts. – Science not religion teaches us that human life begins at conception. – Those who chose to ignore this fact are trying to deny science. The advance of scientific knowledge makes this fact abundantly clear. (Consult you medical text books, etc..)
You nailed it!
Life is not the issue. Rights and bodily autonomy of the woman is the issue. The life at conception argument is a complete Red Herring.
Every time you mast*urbate or have a wet dream or when a women is cycling her period, potential life is being aborted. The wet dream and period is a natural occurrence that kills both sperm and eggs. At the end of the day it's the women's choice to do what she will with her own body, it's no one else's business.
hawaii is totally correct on this one. The issue that ethicists and philosophers think is the core issue is whether the fetus is a person or not, and the lean of most of them right now is that the fetus is NOT a person. Read up on Judith Jarvis Thomson's argument against fetal rights for more information. You should be able to Google it.
When we're talking about ended a life (as defined by science not The Bible), I think life is very much the issue. We should not condone the termination of that life based on the arbitrary decision of the mother – DNA indicates it's not an issue of "anatomy".
It's not YOUR body or YOUR decision, moron.
@TheVocalAtheist: Google "straw man". No one's arguing for the protection of potential life, just life once it's created.
You're forgetting bodily autonomy.
Absolute nonsense. Science has no opinion whatsoever. But considering that foetuses are totally & completely untenable outside the womb, that's a pretty silly statement to make.
So, you are going to tell me that I cannot abort what is inside of me? You want to make that a law for all women? What do you think that would accomplish? Please expound a bit to make it sound rational. It's clearly going to cause back alley abortions again. You will never stop abortions, never and you don't have the right to.
@nadinesh: And your argument seems arbitrary. You can end because it's dependent on you?
Well written, and amazing to hear in light of the current thinking today. Indeed, it has been a recent phenomenon of the ultra right-wing organizers who are using the Bible to further their own political goals. Very sad that so many people have been scared into thinking that they are true.
I looked up the scriptures that you referenced. Both scriptures said nothing that you had quoted them to say.
Did you quote the wrong scriptures? or did you just make this all up?
17 And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death
22 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.
23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
Punishment for murder: death
Punishment for causing a miscarriage: "he shall pay as the judges determine"
See the difference?
Make sure you don't use a translation written after the 1970s mind you. The references to miscarriage were changed to premature birth.
I think the main take-away point from this article is that Jonathan Dudley supports murdering babies.
saying "murdering babies" fifty times still doesn't make it true, my friend. That's just propaganda. It's no more a baby than a wart.
It's sad when an op-ed writer will go online and publicly say he supports having 50 million babies murdered every year.
Again, it's a not a baby - that's just something an evangelical pr firm dreamt up. It's a bunch of cells in my body that would be dead before you could even take them out of my body. It's part of me: not you. It's no more a baby than a tumor is.
trace, that number is legal abortions since 1973 NOT per year. so divide by 39 to get an average
Great article. The Bible clearly states that the spirit enters the body at birth. Good to see that someone actually reads it without adding a lot of garbage..
Anyone who quotes the Bible on ANYTHING is intellectually suspect...
That would be called intellectual suicide.
Jean Sartre, The bible is a very hard read with many potential contradictions. And I agree, not everything in the bible should/could be taken verbatim. But there are many, many useful and wise passages that will guide almost all individuals on a righteous path. So, to blindly say there is nothing in the bible worth quoting, simply implies that you have not read the bible and have little grounds to speak on the subject.
"...the bible is a very hard read with many potential contradictions."
Really? Potential contradictions? You glean what you will in what you read but the truth is truth and it sure isn't the Bible for me, maybe for you, but not for me.
Why don't you give Darwin a try and get that around you head? It's only fair and reasonable to listen to the other side of the story isn't it?
I am fully away of Darwin and believe in evolution. So your point is moot.
But my point still stands...wrap your head around that...
"And I agree, not everything in the bible should/could be taken verbatim. But there are many, many useful and wise passages that will guide almost all individuals on a righteous path. So, to blindly say there is nothing in the bible worth quoting, simply implies that you have not read the bible and have little grounds to speak on the subject.
Nice try, seems I am the open mind, while you are well..the simple mind.
You're just another hawker of dime store philosophy and wiser than wise, poor fool.
TheVocalAtheist, thats it? just name calling. ok, I'll discuss with someone else.
How sad our values have become when life is disregarded. Abortion is wrong, very simple. The liberal person knows this but will not admit. Ask someone who has had an abortion if they will every forget or wonder what could have been. But we must not forget in our liberal society it all about me.
What about when a woman is impregnated by force.
No answer Todd?
You Said: " How sad our values have become when life is disregarded. "
A vast distortion and over-generalization... topped off with faulty causation.
You Said: " Abortion is wrong, very simple. "
Statement made as if it is objective "fact." I would ask you according to what authority do you claim absoluteness in your lost performative statement...?
You Said: " The liberal person knows this but will not admit. "
This is a blatant example of 'mind-reading' of a class or group of people based on political affiliation, 'as if' you 'know' what's really going on in with their thinking. And, again... massive over-generalization. I would ask again... and you know that all liberals believe that all abortion is wrong, ...how exactly ?
You Said: " Ask someone who has had an abortion if they will every[sic] forget or wonder what could have been. "
I know of several women who have made that choice to terminate their pregnancy. It is definitely a hard choice... but every one of them are glad they did it. It just wasn't right for them. Every one of them are happy, healthy, contributing individuals... and... it would have put them on a path, had they had the child, that would not have given them the ability to contribute and be as happy as they are today. Maybe that's not the case for 'every' woman in the world that has to make the tough and often agonizing choice to terminate a pregnancy, but... for the ones that "I" know of, it was the right choice, and glad they had ... 'a choice.'
You Said: " But we must not forget in our liberal society it all about me. "
More over-generalization. BTW- you would be surprised at the vast number of Christians/Conservatives that have and will have abortions.
It's a tough choice for anyone. Keep the laws as they are.
Hey Toad! Answer the Lamb will ya?
well, if a woman was impregnated by force she had it-a-comin is what Jesus sayed.
With the human population already bigger than the earth can sustain, any rational method to reduce the birth rate is a good thing. After the second child, sterilization by hysterectomy AND vasectomy should be the rule for indiscriminate breeders.
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