The Changing Evangelical Position on Abortion

Four decades ago, I was immersed in baptism at a Southern Baptist church. At about the same time, the Southern Baptist Convention was passing a resolution that will shock you just as it shocks me.

Today, the red line that religious conservatives have drawn most firmly is the line against abortion rights. Many evangelicals, including myself at one point, would not even consider voting for a candidate who was pro-choice. Abortion is murder. What could be more obvious? And for what does government exist if not to prevent the murder of its most vulnerable subjects?

So imagine my surprise when I recently learned that the evangelical consensus just one generation ago was pro-choice, not pro-life! The most surprising piece of history for me was the 1971 Resolution of my own Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Keep in mind that this was a resolution adopted after much prayer, listening for God’s Spirit, etc., as such resolutions always are. This is what the Southern Baptists felt God was leading them to proclaim.

June 1971

WHEREAS, Christians in the American society today are faced with difficult decisions about abortion; and

WHEREAS, Some advocate that there be no abortion legislation, thus making the decision a purely private matter between a woman and her doctor; and

WHEREAS, Others advocate no legal abortion, or would permit abortion only if the life of the mother is threatened;

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, that this Convention express the belief that society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we call upon Southern Baptists 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.  [emphasis mine]

Did you catch that? The Southern Baptists just 41 years ago urged their members to work for pro-choice legislation, even allowing for abortion in the case of likely “emotional damage” to the mother (i.e., if having the baby would be just too stressful). That’s pretty darn close to abortion on demand.

They have since repudiated that position. You can trace the evolution of their position in the series of resolutions that are assembled here or on the SBC’s own Website here.

I’m not here to argue about abortion, or even about religion. I just want to share my emotional reaction when I learned that my own conservative denomination once proclaimed that God had led them to say the opposite of what he supposedly leads them to say today. It’s a lead-in to the post I promised on why I left evangelical Christianity.

First, I felt, “That’s it. These people no longer have any moral authority whatsoever with me. None. What they’re now urging on me as The Truth From God’s Unchanging Word is the opposite of what it was just within my own lifetime. They obviously have no clue. For better or worse, I’m going to have to figure stuff out on my own.”

[Edited to add:] Second, I felt surprise that I evidently had still been getting moral guidance from evangelical Christianity. I thought I had let go of that after my study of slavery in the Bible and evangelicals’ excuses for it. I felt a little sad as the last thread broke. Or at least I think it’s the last thread.

The third feeling was a little indignation that evangelical pastors have not been forthcoming about the profound shift in the evangelical position on this issue. If they had been, then their congregations (a.k.a. voters) would be more humble and maybe the country would be less polarized.

Fourth, it became more clear than ever that we cannot count on God to grant prayers for wisdom, even when we think he has. How could God lead one Bible-believing, God-honoring, prayer-filled group of Southern Baptists in 1971 to call on their members to “work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion” in the case of “emotional damage” to the mother, and then lead another prayerful group in 2003 to “lament and renounce statements and actions by previous Conventions and previous denominational leadership that offered support to the abortion culture”?

And what prayer would God answer if not a prayer for a wisdom about protecting innocent, human life? In fact, the Bible promises that God will answer such prayers generously.

This is a special case of the inefficacy of prayer, which is one of the reasons I left evangelical Christianity. More on that in my next post.

4 responses to “The Changing Evangelical Position on Abortion

  1. Perhaps the god they are serving and praying to isn’t the God of the Bible. Perhaps they (the leaders/ organization) simply use him as Laben used Jacob. It is not uncommon for people to use one of higher authority to establish their position though the source they use may totally disagree. After all, Benjamin said, “Beer is proof . . .” so use beer to prove all things.

    I understand what you are saying and it thoroughly upsets me as well.

    • Obviously in any polarized debate in which people express their position as backed by the same authority, something has to be wrong.

      Either one is wrong and the other right, or they are both wrong. By wrong I mean it could be that the person is lying about his authority, misunderstood the authority actual position or has been misled by the authority.

      The authority can be all things, from the bible, to god’s revelation to one’s parents or some scientific writing. People are people after all, no matter who they are and it is always for the best to search for knowledge for oneself and not blindly follow others who claim to have answers.

  2. Pingback: Kirche heute, 26. November 2012 « Moment Mal

  3. Pingback: Why I Left Evangelical Christianity, Part 2: Worthy Prayers | Path of the Beagle

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