Jesus Never Spoke of Abortion. Why Do So Many Christians Make It Their #1 Political Concern?
Search the Gospels and you’ll find plenty of surprises. A story about laborers who receive a day’s worth of pay for just a few hours of work. A woman forgiven after being accused of adultery. A foreigner who was a neighbor to an injured man.
But what you won’t find? Anything about abortion.
This isn’t because ancient people didn’t write about the practice. No, we have plenty of mentions about it going back more than 3,500 years. Doctors wrote of herbal concoctions that could induce it, playwrights penned lines about it in their plays, and philosophers weighed in as to whether and when it was ethical.
Jesus, by contrast, didn’t say anything.
Perhaps this is one reason why as recently as the early 1980s, evangelicals didn’t prioritize the issue politically. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention had officially re-affirmed as late as 1976 — three years after Roe V. Wade — that they sought “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.”
In addition, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas at the time said he was happy with Roe v. Wade, declaring, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person.”
In the late 1970s fundamentalist leaders including Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones wanted universities to stay segregated. They knew they’d need abundant political power to stand a chance of revoking the laws that made segregation in private universities illegal (which they viewed as a breach of “religious freedom”), so they united around an issue that Catholics cared deeply about (abortion) to create a united front—a “moral majority.”
It was only when men like Falwell and Jones—egged on by conservative activist Paul Weyrich—began a sustained political campaign that made abortion its central issue that opinions started to change and politics in America was reduced to a simple, one-dimensional litmus test: “Where does the candidate stand on abortion?” For millions of Christians, this became the #1 question they ask when deciding whether to support a political candidate. According to this mindset, if a candidate says they’ll support Roe V. Wade, they’re worth supporting no matter how many horrible they are morally.
It’s a strange take, particularly when the reality of abortion is nuanced and so often requires compassion (something Jesus did speak about).
Take the story of a mother of six who had a late-term abortion under incredibly painful circumstances. She was set to have twins but faced complications late in her pregnancy that resulted in one twin dying and the other facing certain death. Even worse, the pregnancy also put her life at risk. So, rather than have three deaths in the world, she saved her own life to help raise the six kids she’d already given birth to.
That’s what a late-term abortion looks like — and why they should be legal and rare (as they are, representing 1% of total abortions).
Imagine what would happen in a world where all abortions were outlawed and treated like murder. Not only would the woman in this story likely be dead but many women who suffered miscarriages would be tried as criminals, and viewed as suspicious by juries. (“Did it die naturally, or did she have a secret abortion?”) At scale, that’s terrifying, considering that anywhere from 10–20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.
What woman who’s just suffered a miscarriage deserves to go to trial? (It happens.) Where’s the Christlike compassion in that?
What Jesus *Did* Speak About
Even though Jesus didn’t mention abortion, he spoke about compassion and clearly despised hypocrisy. “Woe to you hypocrites!” the Gospel of Matthew records him saying. “You look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy.”
Fundamentalist Christians speak loudly about abortion. But you know what they’re quiet about? The fact that fertility clinics dispose of millions of fertilized embryos when helping people get pregnant. And yet I don’t see Christians petitioning en masse against fertility clinics. Why? Partly because many Christians understandably use fertility clinics to grow their families.
Couple this with the fact that, again, 10–20% of known conceptions end in miscarriages. (Estimates for known and unknown conceptions ending in miscarriage are much higher, at 30–40%.) But I don’t see a mass movement of Christians advocating for solutions that could decrease the rates of miscarriages. That would help everyone—the “unborn” and mothers. Alas, it’s crickets from evangelical Christians.
The hypocrisy is shameful. If a fertilized embryo is equal to human life, then Christians should care as much about miscarriages and fertility clinics as abortions. But they don’t. Because doing so wouldn’t help them win elections. It wouldn’t give them political power. And for evangelical Christians, the name of the game increasingly is all about amassing political power. It’s the exact opposite of what Jesus embodied in the Gospels, just like most of the political leaders they idolize.
If conservative Christians choose to not get an abortion themselves or personally view the act as immoral, so be it. I empathize with anyone who has to wrestle with such a weighty, nuanced decision. But they shouldn’t hold abortion as their #1 political concern while also claiming to worship someone who never mentioned it.
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