Evangelicals, Catholics, and abortion

By Dave Andrusko

LutheransforLifebanner32For months leading up the 40th anniversary of the wretched Roe v. Wade decision we ran dozens and dozens of stories to help put the January 22, 1973 decision in context. In the three weeks + since, NRL News Today has continued what has evolved into what will be a year-old series about the run up to Roe and its companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, and the enormous backlash that it provoked.

We’ve written about how evangelicals became a part of the pro-life coalition before, but no one has put into context better than R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s written on the topic at greater length, but the piece he compiled for the Washington Post last month is as good as any and better than most.

Under the headline, “Roe v. Wade anniversary: How abortion became an evangelical issue,“ Mohler does a wonderful job explaining how evangelicals, including the likes of people like me, were inexorably pulled into the pro-life orbit.

He begins with a brilliant (albeit sad) reminder:

“Were America’s evangelical Christians always stalwartly pro-life and opposed to abortion? Sadly, we were not, and the story behind that delay should be on our minds as we ponder the dark anniversary of Roe v. Wade. To our shame, when Roe came evangelicals were part of the problem.

“This fact would be shocking to many Americans today, who naturally associate evangelical Christians with the pro-life cause. But, prior to Roe v. Wade in 1973, evangelicals were, with a few notable exceptions, confused and uncertain about the question of abortion.”

How Evangelicals made our way out of the wilderness is the core of Mohler’s column which you can read here.

He shows how insiders in his own Southern Baptist Convention—the denomination’s ethics agency–led the way for the SBC to pass a pro-abortion resolution in 1971. But he is also candid in recalling that it was the larger convention that passed the resolution. In those early days even Christianity Today, the flagship evangelical magazine, would run the pro-abortion flag up the pole and salute.

Mohler quickly summarizes some of the important early influences that explain the 180 degree turn. In no small part, it was work of “influential evangelical figures like Francis Schaeffer and Dr. C. Everett Koop (later Surgeon General of the United States)” who, Mohler writes, “helped to forge a united evangelical front against abortion.”

What is underappreciated is what follows next in Mohler’s op-ed:

“One often overlooked dimension of the story is the intersection of evangelical and Roman Catholic concerns in the emergence of a pro-life coalition. While most evangelicals were either on the wrong side of the issue or politically disengaged, Roman Catholic leaders were on the front lines opposing abortion as a fundamental assault on human dignity.”

He graciously (and accurately) adds, “The Catholic tradition, drawn largely from the natural law, became the foundational intellectual contribution to the development of a united front against abortion.”

Evangelicals, coming from a different tradition, would come to the same conclusions by a different route. Mohler notes

“Those arguments [made from the pulpit, drawing on scripture] captured the conscience of the evangelical movement and produced a seismic shift within the movement and within the political life of the nation. From the 1980 U. S. presidential election until the present, the pro-life movement has been populated, funded, and directed, for the most part, by evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders. Beyond that, the emergence of crisis pregnancy centers and support systems for women considering abortion have come from the work of millions of pro-life Roman Catholics and evangelicals at the grassroots.”

Mohler then draws a hugely important conclusion:

“The cooperation is genuine and necessary, as we both understand. At the same time, the very Roman Catholics who remain stalwartly pro-life are those Roman Catholics who most closely adhere to the doctrinal teachings of their church. The same is true on the evangelical side, where moral conviction is most clear where doctrinal convictions have the greatest hold.”

Mohler ends with a history lesson for evangelicals: “Honesty compels evangelicals to confess that the Roman Catholics were here first, but Roe explains why the evangelicals did show up to the pro-life cause–late, but here at last.” How did Roe do that?

“Roe was the catalyst for the moral revolution within evangelicalism,” Mohler writes. “The reality of abortion on demand and exposure to the logic of the abortion rights movement led to a fundamental shift in the evangelical conscience.” (emphasis added.)

And what applied collectively also applies individually. Every time an America grasps what Roe and Doe meant—essentially abortion on demand throughout pregnancy for any reason or no reason—the door is swung wide open for a new pro-life convert.

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