Thursday, October 27, 2016

Until Recently, Evangelicals Condoned Abortion

To me, all of the amazing 31 stages of prenatal life are precious
Most evangelicals in the US today are known as strongly anti-abortion. But this hasn’t always been the case. 

Fifty years ago it was mostly Roman Catholics who were militantly opposed to ending a pregnancy, appealing to church tradition going all the way back to the Didachea first century document which states, ”Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not corrupt boys; do not fornicate; do not steal; do not practice magic; do not go in for sorcery; (and) do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.”

But prior to the right wing political push that followed the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973, most conservative Protestants in the US either had little to say on the subject or actually defended the right of a woman to choose. 

The November 8, 1968, edition of the evangelical magazine Christianity Today addressed the issue, but in the first of its two lead articles Dallas Seminary professor Bruce Waltke makes the case that scripture is largely silent on abortion, and that “the Bible does not equate the fetus with a living person," but adds that "it places value on it” (CT, Vol. XIII, No. 3).

In 1971, the Southern Baptist Convention actually passed what could be considered a pro-choice resolution, committing themselves “to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

Soon after Roe v. Wade, the highly respected fundamentalist pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas,  W. A. Criswell, made this surprising statement, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

My denomination, Mennonite Church USA, committed to a consistently pro-life or “whole-life” stance, opposes war and other forms of violence such as the death penalty, torture and euthanasia. In 2007 it affirmed the following regarding abortion:

• Human life is a gift from God to be valued and protected. We oppose abortion because it runs counter to biblical principles.
• The fetus in its earliest stages (and even if imperfect by human standards) shares humanity with those who conceived it.
• There are times when deeply held values, such as saving the life of the mother and saving the life of the fetus, come in conflict with each other.
• The faith community should be a place for discernment about difficult issues like abortion.
• Abortion should not be used to interrupt unwanted pregnancies.
• Christians must provide viable alternatives to abortion that provide care and support for mothers and infants.
• The church should witness to society regarding the value of all human life.
• Professionals whose ministry involves dealing with the moral dilemmas of abortion and reproductive technologies need our support.

Many of us find it heartening that evangelicals have become more "pro-life" over the past decades. But it is also true that conservative movements in the ’70’s appear to have used the issue for political purposes, as a way of persuading Christians to oppose candidates like Jimmy Carter in favor of Ronald Reagan, for example. This in spite of Reagan having supported some of the most liberal abortion policies in the nation as governor of California.

I fully support a “whole-life” position, including human life in the womb, and even more so since seeing the ultrasounds of grandchildren in the making, and since becoming more aware of how distasteful the process of a surgically induced miscarriage really is.

And I also agree with Catholic Sister Joan Chittister, who writes, "I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Thankfully, there has been a steady decline in the number of legal abortions in the US since the Roe v. Wade ruling, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. I hope that trend will continue, not necessarily through our criminalizing it and driving it underground, but by discouraging it and making it less acceptable, much as we have in the case of smoking, and by providing alternatives such as better health services and expanded options for people wanting to adopt children. 

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