younger than the happy meal? evangelicals, abortion and ahistoricism
An interesting and revealing article appeared on a Patheos blog some days ago claiming that the current and standard Evangelical view on abortion, that human life unquestioningly begins at conception, can in fact be traced to a point no less recently than 30 years ago.
In his post, entitled The ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal, Fred Clark shows quite convincingly that the contemporary black-and-white approach to abortion, an approach that has been taken for granted by many as simply biblical, was not in fact the view of conservative Evangelicals 30 years ago.
One of notable Evangelicals includes Normal Geisler (Trinity Evangelical Seminary, Dallas Seminary and Southern Evangelical Seminar) who, in his 1971 book Ethics: Alternatives and Issues, argued that, “The embryo is not fully human — it is an undeveloped person.” His view changed radically in subsequent years.
Clark also points to a 1979 Christianity Today article, edited by Harold Lindsell (whom Clark calls a “champion of ‘inerrancy’ and author of The Battle for the Bible“), in which a unnamed Dallas Seminary professor labelled the Catholic position on abortion “unbiblical” and wrote:
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.
This was considered by Evangelicals an orthodox position. How things have changed.
I should make clear right now that I am refusing to offer a personal view on the issue of abortion in this post. If anyone is wishing to judge me based on my view, you can stop reading right now since ou won’t get it – abortion per se is not my interest here.
The problem with the abortion debate is the utter ahistoricism inherent in much of the rhetoric – most people are not willing to examine nor even acknowledge the historical antecedents of their own views. This results in a basic historical ignorance and the mistaken view that one’s perspective is somehow directly derived from the Bible without need of reference to 2000 years of subsequent history and cultural trajectories.
This ahistoricism extends, unfortunately but predictably, into distortion and unbalance. In and of itself the constant implication that a particular view of abortion is a defining mark of Evangelical, nay, Christian, theology is quite disturbing. So too is the division caused by the issue – I know of no human being who views abortion as a moral good; rather the debate is when, if at all, abortion might be necessary.
I constantly find myself aghast at the incomprehensibility of the conservative/fundamentalist obsession with abortion and homosexuality, particularly when the biblical material on these issues is so sparse (arguably absent in the case of the former). In contrast I find myself more horrified by the lack of concern for more pressing global issues such as poverty, greed, violence and environmental stewardship, especially considering the weight of biblical precedent for such foci (in the case of poverty there are over 2000 references in the Bible, demonstrating at the very least a comprehensive concern).
By all means, oppose abortion if that if your conviction, but one cannot use the moniker “pro-life” unless one is genuinely and consistently pro-life across the board!
How did we arrive at this situation where the dominant conservative approach to the intersection of Bible and culture is so unbalanced toward, statistically speaking, minor issues? I’m sure the answer is highly complex, and I do not imagine I can even begin to answer it here.
Needless to say that the stereotypical conservative hermeneutic has become so ahistorical, selective and propositional that it has failed to discern the “big picture” of the biblical narrative, preferring to focus on narrow issues of morality. Moreover it seems that this hermeneutic has become the slave of a socio-politically conservative agenda.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the primary proponents of this agenda are those that experience little in the way of social marginalisation. Consequently they are unable to stand against many forms of actual injustice that affect them directly. Moreover, given that their legacy is definitive global chaos in the form of issues such as poverty, environmental destruction and corporate greed, it is unlikely that their hermeneutic will make space to confront such urgent issues.
Since such people are, historically speaking, not generally female or homosexual, is it any wonder that the inner-desire for righteous antagonism finds its resting place in issues that focus on women and gays – the very people they are not? These issues become the perfect social evil to rail about self-righteously.
No need for suffering in the name of justice, for incarnation. No need to be legitimately pro-life across all aspects of life. All that is required is the theological equivalent of a sniper rifle.
Sadly the Bible is cooped by this agenda, and history is blindly assumed to be on side. After all, what we believe now has always been the case, right?
Posted on February 24, 2012, in Hermeneutics, Theology and tagged Abortion, Evangelical, Evangelicalism, Fred Clark, Hermeneutics, Homosexuality, Morality, Norman Geisler. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.