Yesterday's article in CNN's belief blog, "My Take: When Evangelicals Were Pro-Choice," is the most recent attempt to relativize evangelical convictions about abortion. Author Jonathan Dudley argues that, "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."
Dudley made the same point in his 2011 book Broken Words: Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics. In the CNN piece, he notes a 1968 Christianity Today issue focused on contraception and abortion. In that issue, Bruce Waltke, at Dallas Theological Seminary at the time, Dudley says Waltke argued that "the fetus is not reckoned as a soul." Dudley also notes that the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 1971 affirming that abortion should be legal, to protect the life of the mother and her emotional life as well.
He's certainly right about the Southern Baptist Convention at the time. But he's mischaracterized Bruce Waltke's views. Waltke was writing about Old Testament views on contraception. The Old Testament does, in fact, seem to make a distinction between the life of a child and the life of a fetus (it never extracts a "fetus for a fetus" principle, for example). But as Waltke notes, the Old Testament nonetheless "protects the fetus," And "while the Old Testament does not equate the fetus with a living person, it places great value upon it." He also concludes regarding contraception (quoting another CT author) that "The burden of proof rests, then, on the couple who wish to restrict the size of their family."
In the article following in the CT issue Dudley notes, Fuller Seminary Theologian Paul Jewett looked at the theological, historical, psychiatric, and sociological dimensions of the abortion issue. He concludes that "there are difficulties … moral theology faces in justifying abortion." And "It seems the Christian answer to the control of human reproduction must be found principally in the prevention of contraception, rather than the prevention of birth."
Dudley is formally right in this regard: Note how Jewett ends: "Abortion will always remain a last recourse, ventured in emergency and burdened with uncertainty." Still, this sounds to me very much like early apologies for slavery, when some northern Christians imagined slave owners as benevolent masters of an inferior people. Once the horrors of slavery became known and the humanity of African-Americans became evident, northern Christians increasingly become single-minded in their opposition to slavery. That has more or less been the history of contemporary evangelicalism regarding abortion. When it was indeed a rare occurance, most of us could imagine an exception here and there. When it turned into the wholesale slaughter of millions (54 million since 1973 in the US alone), we have naturally become as little less flexible about it.
(One of the finer moments in CT history is our early 1973 editorial clearly denouncing Roe v. Wade: "This decision runs counter not merely to the moral teachings of Christianity through the ages." At the end, there was also this prescient comment: "Christians should accustom themselves to the thought that the American state no longer supports, in any meaningful sense, the laws of God, and prepare themselves spiritually for the prospect that it may one day formally repudiate them and turn against those who seek to live by them.")