A joint voice against abortion

  • By Richard N. Ostling / For The Associated Press
  • Friday, October 13, 2006 9:00pm
  • Life

Again this year, abortion, with its religious overtones, is playing out in the political campaigns.

After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, many evangelical Protestants became energized about this and other moral questions, working to an unprecedented extent alongside Roman Catholics.

What are U.S. religious blocs’ sizes – and potential political clout?

A Baylor University survey calls white evangelicals the biggest bloc (33.6 percent of Americans) with the Catholics in third place (21.2 percent), just edged by the white “mainline” Protestants (22.1 percent).

University of Akron polling also ranks evangelicals first (33.4 percent if Latino Protestants and evangelicals within mainline denominations are included) but puts Catholics second and mainliners third. Black Protestants rank fourth.

That’s the context for the latest declaration from Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which denounces abortion as well as euthanasia, assisted suicide and stem-cell research that destroys human embryos.

ECT is an unofficial group convened by Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus of First Things magazine and Baptist prison evangelist Charles Colson. The statement, “That They May Have Life,” ran in Neuhaus’ magazine.

The Catholic participants, led by Cardinal Avery Dulles, affirm official church teaching.

The evangelical endorsers represent only themselves but they’re influential, including: megachurch pastors Bill Hybels and Rick Warren; respected theologians including J.I. Packer; and the heads of Wheaton College and Calvin, Fuller, Gordon-Conwell and other seminaries. Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins is the only “religious right” activist involved.

One signer, Christianity Today editor David Neff, says abortion is willful taking of innocent human life but ECT errs politically by calling it “murder.”

ECT contends that abortion is inescapably a public issue and if Christians seek to influence fellow citizens on moral concerns it’s neither theocracy nor imposing of religion.

The statement cites “scriptural truth” in Psalm 139:13 (“you knit me together in my mother’s womb”), the Ten Commandments (“you shall not kill”) and God’s creation of human life in Genesis.

ECT contends there’s no reasonable dispute that biologically, human life begins at conception, so the issue becomes the state at which a life has rights that require respect. ECT’s answer: “Every human life is, from conception, created by God and is infinitely precious in his sight.”

Countering that is the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which unites mainline Protestant agencies of the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church; non-Orthodox Jews; Unitarians, and others.

The Rev. Carlton Veazey, coalition president, says ECT ignores the diversity of Christians’ beliefs. He sees no consensus among scientists or theologians regarding when life begins.

As Veazey reads the Bible, “freedom of choice is at the very heart of what it means to be a human being,” and “most Christians, in my experience, think the decision properly belongs to a woman.”

While leaders argue, different U.S. religious populations largely agree with each other in University of Chicago polling reported in “The Truth About Conservative Christians” by Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout. (The authors think religious differences make problematic any evangelical-Catholic alliance.)

They say strong majorities among white evangelicals, Catholics, white mainline Protestants and black Protestants all favor legalized abortion in three situations: when a mother’s health is seriously endangered, there’s a strong chance of serious defect in the baby or pregnancy resulted from rape.

But all four groups express mere minority support for abortion in other situations allowed by the Supreme Court.

In each instance, evangelicals’ numbers are the most conservative, mainliners’ the most liberal, blacks and Catholics in between.

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