The narrative is simple: American Evangelicals never were pro-life and were in fact quite pro-choice until, losing their apparent battle in favor of segregation, they decided (for reasons never fully explained) to turn against abortion in their presumed quest for political power. There are several problems with this. For starters, it doesn’t matter. No one’s convictions about abortion have their basis in what some Evangelicals allegedly believed half a century ago. Before someone decides whether abortion is wrong, he doesn’t ask himself, “Wait! What did W. A. Criswell believe?” Moreover, this point ignores both the influence of American Roman Catholics in the pro-life movement and the growing secular pro-life contingent.
The main problem with this account however is its inaccuracy bordering on total falsehood. It ignores the history of Christians opposing abortion for two millennia and assumes that the American Evangelical experience starts in the late 20th century. In his compelling work Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, Marvin Olasky, the noted Evangelical journalist, lays out the pre-Roe history of Evangelical Americans’ fight against abortion. From the Colonial era onward, American Protestants, both mainliners and their Evangelical counterparts, took inspiration from the Bible as well as from the ancient, medieval, and early modern church in their doctrine on abortion. Though limited in their scope at first, American Protestants sought to keep abortion criminalized, increasing the pressure as it became more common in the United States. While it is true that Evangelical Americans’ history with abortion is more nuanced than thought in some quarters, the whole story is not one that makes for good pro-choice agitprop.
It’s telling that this chronicle always starts in the early 1970s. A more complete history would start in the ancient Near East, where the early Christians uniformly interpreted their scriptures, replete with texts about the personhood of the unborn, as prohibiting abortion. As early as the first century, Christians taught: read more»
Joseph S. Laughon | The History of American Evangelicals’ Opposition to Abortion Is Long | National Review | September 10, 2021
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