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My Take: When evangelicals were pro-choice
The author notes that evangelical Christians were once largely pro-abortion rights.
October 30th, 2012
05:54 PM ET

My Take: When evangelicals were pro-choice

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Abortion • Catholic Church • Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (2,844 Responses)
  1. mchavira2

    To those of faith; Was Jesus ever in His mother's womb? If so, would you abort Him?
    To those of no faith; Why in the world would you click on a webpage about faith/belief etc.? And why post such drivel? Your superior intelligence is not being reflected well in your posts.

    October 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • Trace

      What?!?!?!?!

      October 30, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Meatwad

      @mchavira2

      I would stop posting, but I never get my turn watching the damn T.V.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Observer

      Drivel is when people PRETEND that the Bible ever mentions the word "abortion". Read it sometime.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @mchavira2

      Number eleven on my top thirteen list of the most irritatingly stupid arguments religionists make here:

      11. Failure to recognize the reverse of the coin:
      eg: “This is the Belief Blog why are you here?” Nothing exists without its opposite – darkness/light, hate/love, apathy/passion, belief/unbelief. Unbelief is coequal with belief in the conversation.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • LinCA

      @mchavira2

      You said, "To those of faith; Was Jesus ever in His mother's womb? If so, would you abort Him?"
      The Romans tried post-natal abortion on him, and see how well that worked out.

      You said, "To those of no faith; Why in the world would you click on a webpage about faith/belief etc.?"
      It's an attempt to save some souls. There are far too many deluded individuals around to approach personally, a blog like this is the next best thing.

      You said, "And why post such drivel?"
      Who is posting drivel? We'll have his atheist membership card for that!

      You said, "Your superior intelligence is not being reflected well in your posts."
      At least you recognize the superior intelligence.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • mchavira2

      @not GOP. I understand what you mean regarding a discussion about belief vs non-belief but this topic here, abortion from an evangelical perspective, seems pretty insular.
      @Lin I only read the posts on page 4. Starting with yours they have gotten much better and cleverer. If I was a non-believer though I would frequent the non-believer blogs. Where I could talk about all the things I don't believe in like relativism etc.

      October 30, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @mchavira2,

      the issue of abortion is a hot-button issue for all Americans. Most atheists will support a woman's right to choose.

      The topic is relevant to the discussion of morality. The Christian lobby is very strong in the US.

      They maintain that they have an absolute, unchanging biblical 'mandate' to oppose the current law in the United States. This article directly challenges the concept of the absolute, unchanging biblical mandate, and highlights the fact that the morals of Evangelical Protestants are relative, they change with time and they do not represent a "mandate" for *all* Americans.

      That is why this topic is so important to atheists.

      October 30, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • mchavira2

      @ Not GOP
      Everything you said is of course true. This is an important topic for all Americans and I understand your concern. I think dialectic is a dying art and it is to our detriment as a culture and a nation if it dies out.
      Yet if I were to debate with a child, who believes in Santa Claus, whether or not Santa's sled is red or green but I did not believe in Santa Claus why should that child take seriously what I have to say about Santa's sled?
      You and I can dialect about God but can we talk about something that pertains to a law of God if we don't even agree that God exists?

      October 30, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @mchavira2,

      if believers had the intellectual honesty to say "I simply accept this because my faith tells me so" then yes, I agree with you completely. I can have no argument with that and I'm not really interested in having one. But this is not how believers behave and nor is this merely a theological irrelevance on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. This is a topic with legal and life repercussions for all Americans.

      The believers say "I have a absolute biblical mandate and it also applies to YOU" (and then trot out chapter and verse). The bible is well researched and readily accessible on the internet and it is not hard to challenge anyone claiming an 'absolute biblical mandate'. So we can and we do.

      October 30, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • mchavira2

      @ Not GOP
      Hmm... I get the sense we are not talking about the same thing. Your sincere argument seems to be more along the lines of a concern with the first amendment and the fact that people with a religious conscious can vote and impose thier vote and thus their conscious on you.That is another matter.
      It is still disingenuous to critique a book which you consider a work of fiction. I mean where do the Biblical contradictions begin for an atheist if not at page 1?

      October 31, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @mchavira2,

      Perhaps we are talking about different things.

      Your original question was: "To those of no faith; Why in the world would you click on a webpage about faith/belief etc.?

      Belief and unbelief are coequal concepts here. Atheists are a small minority in the US. For obvious reasons they are fierce proponents of the doctrine of separation. The CNN belief blog is 'neutral turf'. Believers and non-believers are welcome here.

      I doubt that you would find so many atheists on an evangelical blog.

      October 31, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  2. Jackson Z

    Still waiting to hear a smart evangelical respond to this...........

    October 30, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  3. B Schmitt

    A fetus is an unborn baby! The fetus is a separate human being from the mother. Killing a fetus amounts to killing a human being! Life is not about Choice!

    October 30, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Where is your God now?

      Life is always about choice.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • Observer

      And a acorn is the same thing as a mighty oak tree.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • just sayin

      ... when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Of course life is about choice. Who do you think you are to tell anyone else what they should do when their actions don't infringe on the rights of anyone else, Schmitt? Butt out. Not your uterus, not your business. Don't give a rat's azz what your bible says.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • Doubting Thomas

      1. Don't count your chickens before they hatch <-- makes more sense the more you think about it.

      2.The tape worm in my intestinal tract is technically a fetus. It will not survive if I do not feed it. (I keep it because it has been a great diet tool – already lost 40 pounds).

      3. Just because someone actually points out what the Bible really says, doesn't mean they are driving the abortion bus. It just means that they took the time to read and understand the book. As an athiest, I have read the Bible. I needed it when I was engaged to my wife. Her family are strict Catholics and wouldn't except anything less. So I read it to be able to answer and quote as needed.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      I have four questions for you. Answers are YES or NO only

      1. Is the fetus alive?
      2. Is it human in nature?
      3. Does it have its own unique human DNA not found in any other human being?
      4. Is it harming mom or anyone else?

      If YES to all four (note: this may not be true for #4 in all cases), then the fetus is a unique unborn human that is not harming anyone else. Now try to justify ab0rt1on

      October 30, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  4. Prophet of Framingham

    This have to be done for the repect of lifes

    October 30, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • No Religion

      This not have to be done for the not repect of lifes

      October 30, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  5. Prophet of Framingham

    That is a case that judge should judge! Abortion.

    October 30, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  6. Where is your God now?

    A toddler was kidnapped from his home and thrown 30 ft. onto the asphalt pavement. The baby died of multiple, blunt force trauma.

    The police have yet to find out the baby’s identi.ty who was dropped over an overpass in Honolulu, onto a freeway or who’s baby s/he was.

    Witnesses said that they saw a man throw the infant from the Miller Street pedestrian overpass, but police said they are not sure if the child was alive or dead when the man threw the child. It appears the child was hit by at least two cars, officials said.

    “That was a horrible sight that I seen down there, for any man to do that to a child,” witness Johnnie Bruen said.

    October 30, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  7. Stephan

    I can't wait to see how Albert Mohler responds to this! "Um....yeah, well the Bible is still crystal clear that fetal personhood begins at conception even though no one else has interpreted it that way in history"

    October 30, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  8. Prophet of Framingham

    Earthquake, hurricane...

    October 30, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • No Religion

      flood, hiccups, intigestion

      October 30, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  9. Prophet of Framingham

    I will make they se how I ask!

    October 30, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  10. Liz the First

    Life is eternal, it doesn't begin or end. when a fetus is developing in the mother's body, the life force in it is hers. when it is born, the person it is to become enters and 'personhood' begins. we are not our bodies. we are spiritual beings who inhabit bodies and we get them when they're born. the difference is the same as a car falling off a hauler on the way to the showroom and a driver dying in a wreck. when you buy a new car, you don't go to Detroit or Tokyo and climb onto the assembly line and have them build the car around you, you pick it up when it's delivered. we do the exact same thing with our bodies. i know i cannot prove this belief, but neither can anyone else on the other side of the argument prove that the soul enters at conception. since this is a religious debate, it has no place in government. this is a secular country, not a theocracy, so we don't need to be legislating this debate any more than we should pass a law stating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. we need to all work together to make abortion as rare and unnecessary as possible. unfortunately, the rabid anti-Choice forces are, by ther attacks on Planned Parenthood, making abortion MORE necessary. Planned Parenthood has prevented more abortion than these nuts ever will. ironic, isn't it?

    October 30, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Old Sailor

      But I really want to know. How many angles can dance on the head of a pin?

      October 30, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      You need to learn the definition of "eternal".
      "Eternal" *interacting* with a temporal dimension refutes itself. "Eternal" means the human soul ALWAYS existed.
      There is not a shred of evidence for "souls".
      Hebrew culture had no concept of, and did not believe in either souls or eternal life.
      St. Paul thought only the saved were immortal.
      Liz needs an education in her own cult.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  11. Prophet of Framingham

    I will ask they to stop when is necessary, but they will not play with lives here

    October 30, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  12. Trace

    I would like to see JUST ONE VERSE in the Bible that supports abortion. JUST ONE!

    October 30, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • No Religion

      Trace = Poe's Law

      October 30, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why? What would it matter? Can you find a single word about abortion in the Bible at all?

      Never mind.

      It isn't necessary. We don't live by the bible. This isn't a theocracy and you don't get to force anyone to abide by your beliefs.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Observer

      The Bible says if someone causes a miscarriage, the punishment is a FINE (like a parking ticket?) paid to the FATHER.

      The Bible says if you hurt a PERSON, the punishment is "an eye for an eye".

      October 30, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Liz the First

      You might not see it in the Bible because a lot of current printings delete it, but right after the passage that the anti's like to quote that they say condemns abortion, there's a line that basically says that if you kill a fetus but do no harm to the woman, then no harm, no foul. so, that passage when presented in its entirety actually supports safe, legal abortion.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • gf

      That's the second time today I've seen mention of Poe's Law. I don't see it. There's no parody here, no exaggeration meant in humor that is misunderstood. What Trace requests seems clear, though not relevant really. So perhaps I'm too stupid to understand, but just how is that Poe's Law?

      October 30, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Observer

      "You might not see it in the Bible because a lot of current printings delete it"

      So does everyone have a FAULTY Bible now?

      October 30, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • SDC

      Numbers 5 lays out a procedure that recommends giving a pregnant woman a substance that is supposed to induce an abortion if she's accused of infidelity; if she has a spontaneous miscarriage/abortion, this is supposed to mean that the fetus was not fathered by her husband, and she is to be cursed forever. if this imaginary "god" had anything to do with these fables, and was against abortion, why would this procedure be recommended?

      October 30, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Trace,

      I'll give you a WHOLE CHAPTER – Numbers 5.

      There's even a recipe for abortion to be administered by the priest to treat unfaithful women.

      http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers+5&version=NIV

      Share and enjoy.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Tard Hammer

      We need to stop humoring religious people altogether. Treating them as anything other than medically delusional is a mistake. These people shouldn't be allowed to operate heavy machinery, manage their own legal affairs, or vote... the exact same restrictions we'd impose on any other delusional schizophrenic.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @gf,

      if you will refer to the wikipedia page on Poe's Law it says:

      "without a clear indication of the author's intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between sincere extremism and an exaggerated parody of extremism"

      The implication here being that sometimes these people are so wacky, you just can't tell if they are serious, even when genuine.

      The 'law' pertains to extremism and the parody of extremism.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • justme

      keep looking and it will take away valuable time well spent somewhere else. keep the faith trace.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • gf

      Tom, I tried a trusty Google search to provide that for you. Shockingly, the word abortion is not mentioned. I did see though that the argument usually comes from Psalm 139 ... Something about God knowing the fetus in the womb, I think thereby attributing human status to it. There is an almost fate part that looked interesting too.

      In the end I think everyone agrees with the same thing, we should have our own rights so long as it does not take away from another, and definitely not take their life, if I want the right to freedom, I still can't kill my grandmother who lives with me to gain that freedom. Now conservatives believe life starts at conception, liberals believe it starts either at birth, viability, or some other general stage. So really that's where the focus of these arguments should center, not on abortion itself. Aha, how easily we're distracted from the real issue, our definitions.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The issue isn't one of when life begins but when rights are guaranteed. Women have rights; fetuses before viability outside the uterus do not.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  13. Where is your God now?

    Texas police are accusing a father and step-mother of systematically starving an 11-year-old boy to death, giving him rations of water and bread only. Police went to Aaron Ramsey, the boy’s father, last Friday after the boy, Johnathan Ramsey, was reported missing by his grandfather who had not been able to get in contact with him in over 9 months.

    Police say that upon questioning and pressing the couple on Johnathan’s whereabouts, Aaron Ramsey admitted he locked his son in a bedroom and starved him.

    October 30, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  14. Trace

    THE BIBLE IS CRYSTAL CLEAR ABOUT ABORTION!!!!!

    October 30, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Observer

      READ it sometime so you'll know better.

      October 30, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Trace

      I HAVE read it. It is the WORD OF GOD!!!!

      October 30, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • No Religion

      Trace, if you believe the bible you are dumb.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Observer

      Trace,

      If you've read it, you know that the word "abortion" is NOT in it. Wishful thinking doesn't count.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Old Sailor

      You are right, it is crystal clear. Abortions are fine – no soul until born.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Give us a quote or you're just another mindless drone.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  15. phillipcampbell

    How do we know Jonathan Dudley has evolved enough to have a soul? Perhaps a few more months of gestation would suffice.

    October 30, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  16. Trace

    Jonathan Dudley has sinned against the LORD!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 30, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Observer

      The Bible NEVER mentioned abortion. Read it sometime.

      October 30, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Old Sailor

      Now the truth is a sin?

      October 30, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  17. Trace

    I sent this to my grandma and she started crying

    October 30, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      She probably cries any time she even thinks about having a grandchild as stupid as you are.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Old Sailor

      If you sent it to me, I'd start crying too. No one should be that stupid!

      October 30, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  18. godNotneeded

    The best way to show a theist that this God of theirs does not exist is by torturing them. As you torture them ask them where is God? And why has God not used his divine powers to save you?

    October 30, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • northern light

      The religious got that covered to .....they claim they are supposed suffer for their god.....so he would not save them
      in any case .....just like the 6 million Jews....he was supposed to have saved Jonah from the whale, one man ....but ain't got time for 6 million of his chosen people.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  19. godNotneeded

    Ahhh!!!!! The religious nutcases are always trying to revert America back into the Dark Ages....
    That old man in the photo needs to be stoned for he is wearing clothing made of two different fabrics, the bible says so..

    October 30, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  20. TheRationale

    Sheeple believe whatever the pastors say.

    October 30, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • godNotneeded

      This is true.

      October 30, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • No Religion

      The American Pimples put their trust in the snake oil guy.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
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