Author Topic: Evangelicals and Abortion: the History  (Read 1829 times)

Brian Stoffregen

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Evangelicals and Abortion: the History
« on: November 18, 2019, 04:39:10 PM »
Nadia Bolz-Weber in Shameless presents the history of how abortion got on the Evangelical Christian agenda.

In 1968, Christianity Today, the flagship magazine for conservative Evangelicals, published a special feature on birth control. The article quoted Bruce Waltke, a professor from the famously conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, who said that the Bible plainly teaches that life begins at birth, not conception.

“God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed,” Waltke claimed. “The Law plainly exacts, ‘if a man kills any human life he will be put to death (Leviticus 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.’”[1]

Physician Jonathan Dudley later wrote an opinion piece for CNN’s Belief blog in which he noted that viewpoint was the “consensus among evangelical thinkers at the time.”[2]

What changed? you might as. Well, not the Bible, that’s for sure. In 1969, several black families in Mississippi filed suit against private Christian schools that had excluded black students from enrolling. That’s what changed.

How is that lawsuit connected to views on abortion? When it comes to the Religious Right, the commonly held origin story is that in 1973 American Evangelicals woke from their political malaise as a response to Roe v. Wade. It’s a compelling story, but it’s not entirely true.[3] The issue that originally galvanized Evangelical Christian voters was one of “religious freedom” – namely, the freedom for Christian institutions to remain deeply racist.

Nine years before the suit against racist admission policies of Christian schools in Mississippi, Bob Jones Sr., an evangelist and the founder of the university that bears his name, claimed in a radio address that racial segregation was ordained by God, and that to oppose segregation was to oppose God and “God’s plan” for humanity.[4] It would not be until 1971, forty-four years after its founding, that Bob Jones University would admit its first African American student, and even then only because the federal government forced its hand.[5] That year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Coit v. Green that private schools would be denied tax-exempt status if they maintained racially discriminatory policies.

Paul Weyrich, founder of the conservative think tank The heritage Foundation and one of the architects of the Religious Right, wanted to further rally American Christians as a moral force on the stage of 1970s American politics. So after mobilizing to defend Bob Jones University and its racially discriminatory policies, he and several other Evangelical leaders held a conference call to discuss their strategy going forward. The conversation is detailed by Dartmouth historian Randall Balmer in his book Thy Kingdom Come.


Someone suggested … that they had the makings of a broader political movement – something that Weyrich had been pushing for all along – and asked what other issues they might address. Several callers made suggestions, and then, according to Weyrich, a voice on the end of one of the lines said, “How about abortion?” And that is how abortion was cobbled into the political agenda of the Religious Right.[6]

After rallying to defend the religious freedom for conservative Christian institutions to remain racist and still retain tax-exempt status, a small coalition of Evangelical leaders wanted to keep the momentum going, and decided the issue that could build their movement was abortion. That was the day Evangelical started changing their minds around what the Bible says about when life begins.
   
[1] And in 1973, Robert L. Pettus Jr., a medical doctor, wrote a book titled As I See Sex Through the Bible, based on a series of classes he taught for his Church of Christ congregation in Madison, Tennessee. He painstakingly used scriptures to determine the answer to questions about sexuality and gender roles, most conclusions adhering to the conservative Christian thinking of the day. But when discussing what the Bible said about abortion, he concluded that a fetus does not have a soul because it was with breath that God gave Adam life.
 
[2] Jonathan Dudley, “My Take: When Evangelicals Were Pro-Choice,” Belief blog, CNN, October 20, 2012.
 
[3] Randall Balmer, Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America (New York: Basic Boos, 2006), Kindle ed., loc. 463-70.
 
[4] Daniel L. Turner, Standing Without Apology: The History of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2001), 225, 369.
 
[5] It was not until 2000 that interracial dating was no longer banned on the campus of Bob Jones University.
 
[6] Balmere, Thy Kingdom Come, Kindle loc. 481-532.
   
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

peter_speckhard

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Re: Evangelicals and Abortion: the History
« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2019, 05:06:48 PM »
Such an ironic post in this forum, given that Forum Letter editor Richard Neuhaus played a role not only in the national Civil Rights movement on race but also in the battle against abortion, which he saw as a natural extension of the same battle. Instead of shoe-horning the topic into tired political tropes by which all things conservatives are racist, why not look for a more astute cultural critic than Bolz-Weber?

mj4

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Re: Evangelicals and Abortion: the History
« Reply #2 on: November 18, 2019, 05:47:48 PM »
She paints with some pretty broad strokes if you ask me. Why not consult with an actual religious historian? Martin Marty, maybe? Yeah, and there's another historian that might have some insight. Hmm...what's his name?
« Last Edit: November 18, 2019, 05:52:08 PM by mj4 »

Richard Johnson

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Re: Evangelicals and Abortion: the History
« Reply #3 on: November 18, 2019, 07:43:13 PM »
Such an ironic post in this forum, given that Forum Letter editor Richard Neuhaus played a role not only in the national Civil Rights movement on race but also in the battle against abortion, which he saw as a natural extension of the same battle. Instead of shoe-horning the topic into tired political tropes by which all things conservatives are racist, why not look for a more astute cultural critic than Bolz-Weber?

Or you might try reading an actual historian's account, such as Daniel K. Williams' excellentDefenders of the Unborn: The Pro-life movement before roe v. Wade. In any even, what Nadia Bolz-Weber has to say about abortion hold zero interest to me. Here "analysis" is superficial, and her narrative highly opinionated and unobjective.
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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Evangelicals and Abortion: the History
« Reply #4 on: November 18, 2019, 11:13:25 PM »
I do believe that NBW is right about the earlier Christian view that life began at birth. I’ve read in other places that that’s when the Roman Church considered the soul entered the body with the first breath.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Evangelicals and Abortion: the History
« Reply #5 on: November 18, 2019, 11:35:46 PM »
I do believe that NBW is right about the earlier Christian view that life began at birth. I’ve read in other places that that’s when the Roman Church considered the soul entered the body with the first breath.

I recall reading or hearing that such belief originated in the Rabbinic tradition of the Midrash...might be somewhere in the Talmud.
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Dan Fienen

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Re: Evangelicals and Abortion: the History
« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2019, 12:29:18 AM »
As I recall the Didache forbade abortion and at least some of the other early Fathers. Whatever they may or may not have speculated about ensoulment, to suggest that Christian opposition began as an outgrowth of resistance to integration is clearly historically wrong.
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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Evangelicals and Abortion: the History
« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2019, 02:36:45 AM »
As I recall the Didache forbade abortion and at least some of the other early Fathers. Whatever they may or may not have speculated about ensoulment, to suggest that Christian opposition began as an outgrowth of resistance to integration is clearly historically wrong.


Yes, Didache 2 includes a command against abortion (boldface added).


2:1 And the teaching of the second commandment is this: 2 You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery; you shall not seduce boys; you shall not fornicate. You shall not steal. You shall not be a fortune-teller; you shall not practice sorcery. You shall not kill a child by abortion nor slay it when born. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. 3 You shall not commit perjury; you shall not give false testimony; you shall not speak evil; you shall not bear malice; 4 you shall not be double-minded or double-tongued, for a double-tongue is a snare of death. 5 Your word shall not be false or empty, but confirmed by deeds. 6 You shall not be greedy or rapacious or hypocritical or malicious or arrogant. You shall not take up an evil plot against your neighbor. 7 You shall not hate anyone, but some you shall rebuke, and some you shall pray for, and some you shall love more than your own soul.


For those who might be interested, the Greek of 2:2 is:
οὐ φονεύσεις, οὐ μοιχεύσεις, οὐ παιδοφθορήσεις, οὐ πορνεύσεις, οὐ κλέψεις, οὐ μαγεύσεις, οὐ φαρμακεύσεις, οὐ φονεύσεις τέκνον ἐν φθορᾷ, οὐδὲ γεννηθὲν ἀποκτενεῖς, οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις τὰ τοῦ πλησίον.

"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

peter_speckhard

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Re: Evangelicals and Abortion: the History
« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2019, 08:42:15 AM »
How does one kill a “teknov” via abortion? Can we at least put aside the sophistry that calling the unborn child a child or infant is incorrect? It is a human being. It becomes a dead human being in abortion. On purpose. That’s why Christians universally detest the practice.