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Pro-Life Revisionist History?

Author Jonathan Dudley thinks he has caught evangelicals with their hands in the pro-life cookie jar. In recent articles for the Huffington Post and CNN, Dudley claims that Bible-believing Christians only took up anti-abortion views in 1980 at the urging of Jerry Falwell, who supposedly was seeking to amass political clout and saw the pro-life cause as a way to do it.

As evidence, Dudley quotes prominent evangelical leaders from the '60s and '70s who supported abortion rights to one degree or another, sometimes quoting Scripture to buttress their position.

Why is the issue of evangelical motives important today, more than 30 years later? Well, according to Dudley, “For one thing, it’s harder to argue the Bible clearly teaches something when the overwhelming majority of its past interpreters didn’t read the Bible that way.”

He goes on: “It further illustrates that evangelical leaders are happy to defend creative reinterpretations of the Bible when it fits with a socially conservative worldview — even while objecting to new interpretations of the Bible on, say, homosexuality, precisely because they are new.”

In other words, he says we’re being unfaithful to Scripture and being intellectually dishonest. Hey, where I come from — and for all of us here at BreakPoint — those are fightin’ words!

So where to begin? I think I’ll start with Christianity Today editor Mark Galli, who responded to Dudley online. Galli freely concedes that evangelical views have changed over recent decades, moving from a reluctant “pro-choice” stance back in the day to a solidly pro-life one now.

Yet Galli says that while politics may have played a role, other disciplines — including sharper ethical reasoning and a deeper knowledge of history — played much bigger ones. Think about it. Galli notes that Scripture, like all great literature, has depths of meaning that sometimes take centuries to come to cultural consciousness.

For example, although the Bible never explicitly says “life begins at conception,” it's a reasonable conclusion after studying all the relevant passages. In the same way, Scripture never uses the word “Trinity” for God, but it’s the only orthodox interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on God’s being.

Is it really so hard to believe that it might take time for Christians to grasp the ramifications of Scripture for the world in which we live? The emancipation of women took millennia, even though Genesis says both male and female are created in God’s image. And it took William Wilberforce in 18th- and 19th-century England to launch the anti-slavery movement.

So if Christian worldview thinking can change in these instances, why not in the case of unborn human life? We're always learning as Christians — or at least should be!

And Christians aren’t the only people who have become more pro-life since the '80s. A significantly higher percentage of our society claims to be pro-life, partly because of the widespread use of ultrasound machines and a new-found recognition of the carnage that results from the extreme “pro-choice” position, which is essentially abortion, even partial-birth abortion, for any reason. Evangelicals were never for that, and more and more people are against it.

And with more than 50 million unborn human beings legally slaughtered in the womb since Roe v. Wade, the nature of “choice” that we face has become much clearer.

And it’s flatly untrue to say that the “majority of interpreters” throughout history did not forbid abortion. While 20th century evangelicals were late in the game on this, other Christians were not. Catholics have been consistently pro-life, and the first written Christian condemnation of abortion dates to the late first century in a document called the Didache.

Of course, knowing that the position of many Christians about something as fundamental as human life has changed so recently ought to give us a healthy dose of humility. If we could have been so wrong, we ought to hold our beliefs today firmly but with grace towards those who disagree. Let’s allow these folks the same opportunity to change their minds that we had. And remember, a lot of our neighbors already have.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: November 20, 2012

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