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November 5, 2012Culture

Morning Roundup 11/5/12: Pro-Choice Evangelicals?; President Obama's Faith; High Priests of Culture

Evangelicals and the pro-life movement have not always been as clearly connected. Catholics have always been consistently pro-life, but not evangelicals. CNN explains (but don't stop reading the first article and not read the second):

When Evangelicals Were Pro-Choice -- Jonathan Dudley

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.

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.

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.

Mark Galli corrects the history, particularly of one of the quotes, but the reality is that many evangelicals were unengaged in the pro-life movement. However, I would add that Francis Schaeffer was a great influence on this shift.

'When Evangelicals Were Pro-Choice'--Another Fake History -- Mark Galli

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."

Speaking of CNN corrections, Terry Mattingly, takes exception to the recent CNN story on President Obama's faith. He believes that President Obama is "perfectly normal liberal Protestant Christian."

Missing Some Fundamental Facts on Obama and Faith -- Get Religion

A week or so ago, I wrote a Scripps Howard News Service column about the survey research indicating that secular and self-proclaimed liberal Americans are much more likely to be prejudiced against Mormon political candidates than are evangelical Protestants, the very folks that everyone has been worried about during the Mitt Romney campaign. The column opened with a well-known conservative political insider, who is also a conservative Anglican, making a conservative point based on survey research that digs into the biases of religious and secular liberals. Do the math and add up the number of times the word "conservative" is used in that sentence.

Days later, I started getting response emails from readers from coast to coast (since one of my email addresses is attached to the bottom of my columns in most newspapers). I received a higher rate than normal that Monday.

Each and every one of these emails -- every SINGLE one of them -- accused me of attacking Mitt Romney while, of course, taking part in the great mainstream-media conspiracy to hide the fact that President Barack Obama is (wait for it) a Muslim.

Against my better judgment, I responded to a few of these emails by citing the facts that I have written about many times here at GetReligion.org and in other columns -- that Obama made a public profession of faith and, at a time never precisely confirmed by the congregation, was baptized by a clergy-person in one of America's most theologically liberal Christian denominations. Along with his family, he was active in that Christian congregation for many years. He has made numerous public professions of his liberal take on the Christian faith since then.

People responded by saying (a) he's lying or (b) that members of the United Church of Christ -- a liberal national denomination that continues to include some quite conservative local congregations -- are not real Christians.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why so many people in conservative-church pews and pulpits cannot grasp the fact that Obama is a liberal Christian. Yes, he may be so doctrinally liberal that, when it comes to eternal questions, he believes that there are no ultimate differences between Christians, Jews, Muslims and everybody else -- but he is certainly not alone in believing that. The leaders of many denominations believe that. Legions of seminary professors agree with him.

In oh so many ways, Obama is a perfectly normal liberal Protestant Christian.

An update from The Exchange.

The High Priests of Culture

From a recent episode of The Exchange, Gregory Thornbury discusses the high priests of culture. You can see the full episode here.

Be sure to watch The Exchange every Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. CDT, right here at EdStetzer.com.

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