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We Have Lost the Battle, But Have We Lost the War?

abortion
Cartoon by Signe Wilkinson

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News

Dear Editor,

Forty years ago, Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich birthed the Moral Majority. Falwell traveled America holding “I Love America” rallies. In 1981, my wife and I attended one such rally at the steps of the Capitol in Columbus. As a young Evangelical pastor, I was thrilled to hear Falwell speak of reclaiming America for God. Those were heady days, times when Evangelicals envisioned a path to a “Christian” nation. Falwell encouraged Evangelicals to not only win souls, but to also become political activists. Falwell knew the path to a Christian theocracy was political.

Fast forward to 2022. The baby has turned into a monster. Evangelicals, along with conservative Catholics and Mormons, have abandoned all pretense of evangelization. The goal now is raw political power — the establishment of a Christian nation, complete with laws from the Bible. Evangelicals have spent the past forty years incrementally chipping away at social progress, with the goal of returning America to the good old days of the 1950s: a time when abortion and homosexuality were illegal, women were barefoot and pregnant, LGBTQ people were closeted, people of color knew their place, and Bible reading and prayer were part of public school curricula.

Liberals and progressives, of which I am both, wrongly believed the progress of the 1960s and 1970s would continue to march forward. Whether due to naivety or intellectual laziness, liberals and progressives abandoned the field, retiring to institutions of higher learning. This abandonment has yielded the battleground to people who have no allegiance but to Jesus and the Bible.

Recently, a draft of a Supreme Court ruling on abortion was leaked to the public. The Court intends to reverse Roe v. Wade, immediately criminalizing abortion in numerous states. No one should be surprised by this outcome. And Evangelicals aren’t done. Next on the agenda is outlawing same-sex marriage, banning some forms of birth control, and a host of other hot-button culture war issues. One need only look at Evangelical hysteria over critical race theory, sex education, and gender to get a glimpse of the future.

I see no glimmer of hope on the horizon. I can’t and won’t give up, but I am realistic. Evangelicals have won the day. And they will continue to do so until we put an end to the present frontal assault on the separation of church and state.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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12 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Neil Rickert

    Whether due to naivety or intellectual laziness, liberals and progressives abandoned the field, retiring to institutions of higher learning.

    I don’t think that’s correct.

    Back at that time, the trade unions were considered part of the political left. But I don’t think they were ever liberals. The unions were very racist, and resented the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. So they started voting for Republicans who were openly courting racists.

    • Avatar
      MJ Lisbeth

      Neil—Having grown up in a blue-collar (and mostly Catholic) Brooklyn neighborhood during the 1960s and early 1970s, I can affirm what you say. While most were nominally Democrats because of the party’s stated support of organized labor, some supported George Wallace’s presidential campaigns.

      Otherwise, Bruce’s letter is great. I have hope because of the young. I just hope I live long enough to see legislative hate reversed.

  2. Avatar
    BJW

    Yeah. I don’t feel hopeful. And if people end up leaving red states to preserve their rights, it will further delineate the divide in our country. What a world our descendants are going to live in!

  3. Avatar
    dale m.

    “I see no glimmer of hope on the horizon. I can’t and won’t give up, but I am realistic. Evangelicals have won the day. And they will continue to do so until we put an end to the present frontal assault on the separation of church and state.”

    I get the frustration. A good analogy would be the Palestinian-Israeli war. Always tit-for-tat. Israel trying to defend itself against constant Palestinian jabs at Israel’s defenses. A never ending war of attrition. Both sides have legitimate claims but ……

    In America, the defenders of the Separation of Church and State are constantly on the defensive, parring one onslaught after another. Sooner or later, the Evangelicals are going to get through, because the secular world doesn’t want to pick up the sword (the best defense is almost always a bold and powerful offense). I’m willing to bet they don’t know how, unlike the Republicans who do and have passed veiled threats to the other half. of your country.

    You have had 3 secessionist governments. 2 successful. One lately, unsuccessful. This has not gone unnoticed here in Canada.

    Canada would never interfere with American elections, but theoretically, we Canadians could change the outcome of the course of American history by heavily supporting the 2nd Amendment Rights of America citizens. The G.O.P. and those 10s of millions of Americans that support those Rights are very heavily involved in pro-gun rights and have always alleged that Democratic governments are constantly attempting to take guns away (registration), from law abiding citizens (Republican voters).

    As a strongly secular oriented capitalist, I see this thing of yours in the U.S.A. as an opportunity for Canada. My country is good at 2 things. Peaceful commerce and a very good diplomatic relationship with the States, NATO and the rest of the world. That’s the first. We are relatively unknown for the second. And that is ?? The Arms Trade. If the correct Prime Minister were in power, and the leaders of Antifa crossed over into Canada claiming that their 2nd Amendment Rights were being trod upon by a G.O.P. gov’t, it wouldn’t be an overly stretch of the imagination for Canada to come up with a weapon similar to Russia’s AK-47. This country could produce 10 million weapons virtually overnight and 100s of millions of rounds in small factories all over this country. Americans must not forget that you guys entered WW-2 as the biggest Arms dealer, followed by the Soviets, then Germany. But the 4th largest Arms producer in the world was Canada (bigger than Japan, Britain and France).

    Returning to storyline ….

    Canada would do all this legally. Canada could ship down loads of weaponry to Latin America. Antifa would presumably have “cells” in these countries to collect them. Our country would want nothing to do with international smuggling (alcohol, tobacco, drugs or Arms) into the States. That’s Antifa’s problem. We could also create small urban shoulder harnessed tow weapons (Wire-guided rocketry). Dangerous on the battlefield, because with wire-towed weaponry, one has to stay positioned until 1,000s of meters away and precious seconds later the rocket is guided into the target (which upon seeing your muzzle flash, can return fire). But within an urban setting, the risks are all but eliminated since one would be firing the rocket a city block away. Fire, Toss, Turn, Run.

    The southern portion of the United States is an absolute powder keg run by the G.O.P. Think of it like Russia. Sooner or later, Little Ukraine is going to be screaming for help. So. Why would Canada get involved with a Super Power on the brink of civil war ?!?

    Because we know our history. We were the Loyalists during the Revolutionary War, that were pursued out of our country and became (for better or worse), the Canadians. We were under the protection of the British Empire even then.

    When America had its first Civil War (the 2nd attempt at succession), Canada did something that is not even recorded in our own history books. During that war, you probably thought you were in it alone. The Confederacy tried desperately to involve Europe on its side, to little avail. Now. A Division of troops in those days = 1,000 infantry. Canada has no love for the American Confederacy. If the Union lost, we all knew we were next. A well armed Canadian Division (no uniforms) turned up in the States and quietly joined the Union (as volunteers). By the end of that war, there were 40 Canadian Divisions of “volunteers” in the southern States fighting with the Union.

    Canada was “neutral”, of course, to maintain a sense of legality.

    Now the old Confederacy is back, with a vengeance. Its head, one Donald Trump, during his sojourn as President (with Russia’s alleged compliance), once stated that he would like a rematch with Canada over the War of 1812. Our sovereignty would be in question once again. That’s on us for letting our military lapse into obscurity. If push comes to shove down there, you have an ally up here. So 2024 elections is as important to us as it is to you.

    Of course. This is all terribly theoretical and should be read as such.

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I feel so angry and overwhelmed right now. A minority of people are telling me that I do not deserve to have autonomy over my own organs or trajectory in life. And why? Because I had the happenstance of being born with certain organs and hormones?

    When I was growing up in the 80s, I saw my grandma and her friends at church mobilizing to create a Christian nation in the USA. They wanted their particular brand of religious beliefs to reign supreme in our nation, and for all others to stand by silently in submission to this rule. They saw it as their God’s decree, that it was necessary and just because it was demanded by their God. I NEVER thought that grandma and Jerry Falwell and James Dobson and Anita Bryant and all the other Christian nationalists could ever possibly succeed. I relied on the apparent safety of the US Constitution’s support of separation of religion of state and upon our court system to protect our rights as diverse human beings with equal protection under the law. Boy was I wrong. Dead wrong. I still can’t get over how wrong I was. 😔 Our nation is barreling toward becoming Y’All Qaeda, the Christian Nationalist Saudi Arabia in North America. The nation that once was an example of at least tryingvto be a democracy with human equality is going backwards – frankly, back to where it was when the US Constitution was written where only white male property owners had full rights. I am literally sick over this. Sick.

  5. Avatar
    Troy

    Bruce I’ve got a question for you. On the OnlySky site Hehmet Mehta made a point that before the religious right lost the segregation issue, Christian protestants, including Billy Graham (or his magazine at least) didn’t have much of an issue with abortion, because in particular the Bible’s edict that life begins and ends with breathing (and leading to the euphuism for death “expire”/”breath out”). An irate religious commenter who said that Hehmet was so stupid he didn’t think he could operate a computer (even though he was a one time Jeopardy! champion) claimed that Christian people have always been against abortion. So as a former active and engaged member of the religious right my question is was abortion an issue for fundamentalist protestants before Ronald Reagan?

    • Avatar
      BJW

      “But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.”

      https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/religious-right-real-origins-107133/

        • Avatar
          BJW

          Everyone who is trying to do away with women’s right to choose, is prioritizing the fetus over the woman. It is evident with the anti-abortion bills in different states that DO NOT INCLUDE ANY EXCEPTIONS, especially for the woman’s health or life. I find myself wondering how many women have to die before voters are outraged enough? Oh wait, affluent women will always be able to get an abortion.

          I never thought that Ireland, a profoundly Catholic country, would become pro-choice. Maybe that death of the Indian woman who couldn’t get an abortion until her fetus was dead spurred it on. But Americans are pretty hard-headed and generally don’t care about people dying: we should have known after all the children gunned to death at Sandy Hook a decade ago didn’t produce profound changes in federal gun laws. In retrospect, Americans disdain for life-saving measures for a virus seem perfectly consonant with that. And letting pregnant women die because the fetus’s life is more important? Also a value among conservatives.

        • Avatar
          Troy

          Thanks, very interesting. I guess I’m curious about the origins of Ronald Reagan’s pro life agenda. He ran for President in 1976 as well as 1980, and was originally a Democrat.

      • Avatar
        Bruce Gerencser

        At one time, the Southern Baptist Convention was either pro-choice or neutral about abortion.

        David Roach writes:

        https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/how-southern-baptists-became-pro-life/

        In 1979, Larry Lewis picked up a copy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and saw a full-page ad listing the Southern Baptist Convention among denominations that affirmed the right to abortion.

        “Right there beside the Unitarians and universalists was the Southern Baptist Convention,” Lewis, a St. Louis pastor who went on to become president of the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board), told Baptist Press. “… That bothered me a lot.”

        So Lewis did something about it, proposing in 1980 the first of more than 20 pro-life resolutions adopted by the SBC over the next few decades. When Lewis became HMB president of in 1987, one of his first actions was to create the office of abortion alternatives to help churches establish crisis pregnancy centers.

        Thanks to Lewis and others, newspapers do not call the SBC pro-choice anymore.

        Before Roe v. Wade

        In 1979 though, it may have seemed a reasonable classification.

        Baptists and Roman Catholics had long agreed that life begins at conception, but Baptist scholars, unlike their Catholic counterparts, generally did not develop biblical and theological arguments regarding unborn children. By the mid-20th century, abortion rarely came up among Southern Baptists, and average church members had only “a general feeling that abortion was wrong,” Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, told Baptist Press.

        Things got worse in the ’60s. “The whole nation and culture kind of went off the rails and lost its moral moorings, including any kind of understanding of the sanctity of pre-born life,” he said.

        Between 1965-68, abortion was referenced at least 85 times in popular magazines and scholarly journals, but no Baptist state paper mentioned abortion and no Baptist body took action related to the subject, according to a 1991 Ph.D. dissertation by Paul Sadler at Baylor University.

        In 1970, a poll conducted by the Baptist Sunday School Board found that 70 percent of Southern Baptist pastors supported abortion to protect the mental or physical health of the mother, 64 percent supported abortion in cases of fetal deformity and 71 percent in cases of rape.

        Three years later, a poll conducted by the Baptist Standard newsjournal found that 90 percent of Texas Baptists believed their state’s abortion laws were too restrictive.

        Support for abortion rights was not limited to theological moderates and liberals. At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in the early 1970s, some conservative students who went on to become state convention presidents and pastors of prominent churches supported abortion for reasons other than to save the life of the mother, Richard Land, former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told BP.

        “They pretty much bought into the idea that life begins when breath begins, and they just thought of [abortion] as a Catholic issue,” Land, who attended New Orleans Seminary between 1969-72, said of his fellow students.

        A 1971 SBC resolution on abortion appeared to capture the consensus. It stated 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.”

        But the resolution added, “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 fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

        Reaction to Roe

        When the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand in 1973 with its Roe v. Wade decision, some Southern Baptists criticized the ruling while maintaining their support of abortion rights as defined in the 1971 resolution.

        Others embraced the Supreme Court’s decision. A Baptist Press analysis article written by then-Washington bureau chief Barry Garrett declared that the court had “advanced the cause of religious liberty, human equality and justice.”

        Norma McCorvey, the unnamed plaintiff in Roe v. Wade who later became a pro-life activist, made her first public statement after the ruling to BP, revealing her true identity. One of McCorvey’s attorneys, Linda Coffee, was a Southern Baptist and also granted BP an interview.

        “It’s great to know that other women will not have to go through what I did,” McCorvey told BP in 1973, commenting on her experience of giving birth and placing her child up for adoption. “I’m glad the court decided that women, in consultation with a doctor, can control their own bodies.”

        A 1981 pamphlet published by the Christian Life Commission, a precursor organization to the ERLC, spoke of “Christian concern for the value of the defenseless fetus” but went on to argue, “It is questionable that Christian love and justice would be served by extremely restrictive laws which do not give conscientious people with proper medical advice the opportunity to choose when they are faced with very grave moral dilemmas related to abortion.”

        In a more extreme stance, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Paul Simmons argued that “God is pro-choice,” and some prominent Baptist leaders were among early supporters of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights.

        How opinions changed

        Not all Southern Baptists supported abortion rights, however. Lewis became strongly pro-life in the late 1960s when he and his wife sought to adopt a child, believing they were unable to have biological children. The Lewises — who eventually had three biological children — were told they had to wait five years to adopt due to a shortage of children.

        “To me it was incongruous that people would be destroying their babies when there were [couples] who were desperately wanting children,” Lewis said.

        For Land, a high school science class drove home the reality that unborn babies were humans worthy of protection. A classmate whose father was an obstetrician brought a fetus to school in a jar of formaldehyde as a prop for a presentation and stored it beside Land’s desk. When Land told the teacher he was disturbed by the fetus, he was sent to the principal’s office, where a school administrator asked, “You’re not Catholic, are you?”

        A few months later, Land’s mother told him doctors had urged her to abort him, believing he would be born with severe abnormalities.

        “From that moment forward, I really felt an obligation to speak up for unborn children who couldn’t speak for themselves, because I had been in danger,” Land, who was president of the CLC/ERLC for 25 years and now serves as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, said.

        As the 1970s progressed, Land, Lewis and thousands of individual Southern Baptists — including the organization Southern Baptists for Life — argued for protecting unborn life in all cases except to save the physical life of the mother. Among non-Southern Baptists, apologist Francis Schaeffer and future U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop argued that abortion was immoral and gained increased support for the pro-life cause.

        Southern Baptists as prominent as W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, began to shift from a qualified pro-choice view to fully embrace the pro-life position.

        Following the Roe v. Wade decision, news sources reported that Criswell said, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

        But, according to Land, Criswell “listened intently” to pro-life arguments during the ensuing years, including arguments Land made while teaching at Criswell College beginning in 1975. When the “Criswell Study Bible” was published in 1979, Criswell included “overtly pro-life” study notes, Land said.

        Mirroring Criswell’s change of mind were similar changes in the broader evangelical world. Theologians Carl Henry and Norman Geisler, for example, both became ardently pro-life.

        “Some of our pastors in those years hadn’t really studied what Scripture said about abortion,” Jerry Vines, former SBC president and retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., told BP. “But I think the carnage [of increased abortion following Roe v. Wade] drove them back to their Bibles to take a further look at it.”

        Studying a Greek word from the New Testament “really nailed down the abortion issue for me,” Vines said.

        The word “brephos,” translated as “baby,” is used eight times in the New Testament, Vines said. Six of those occurrences refer to children who have already been born, but two speak of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb.

        “That’s pretty convincing evidence that Scripture looks on a baby in its mother’s womb as a baby,” said Vines, who also noted Jeremiah 1 and Psalm 139 as convincing pro-life passages.

        Moving forward

        When a succession of conservative presidents were selected by messengers to lead the SBC beginning in 1979, they appointed resolutions committees that consistently proposed pro-life statements. In turn, messengers to the convention’s annual meetings supported those statements — partially because some had changed their opinions and partially because greater numbers of conservative messengers were attending the meetings.

        Meanwhile, Land was elected chief executive of the Christian Life Commission in 1988 and made defending unborn life one of the entity’s priorities. Under his leadership, the CLC lobbied for pro-life legislation in Congress and taught Southern Baptists how a biblical ethic of life applied to abortion, reproductive technology, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.

        Current SBC President Ronnie Floyd told BP that Southern Baptists must build on victories of the past and rearticulate their commitment to defend unborn life in every generation.

        “If we continually hold high our commitment to holy Scripture, to the lordship of Jesus Christ and our commitment to human life from the moment of conception, I think we can constantly be an effective voice” for life, Floyd said.

  6. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    BJW—Before Paul Weyrich forged a marriage of convenience between the “states’ rights” (“segregationist” for those who can’t spell it) folks and anti-choice voters, the latter were mainly Catholic. But as you and the article you linked point out, it had become too socially unacceptable, outside of a few small circles, to openly advocate separation of the races. It’s a lot harder, I think, to use religious or moral beliefs to justify opposition to Loving vs Virginia or Brown vs Board of Ed than to Roe v Wade.

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Bruce Gerencser