Reviews of the history of Protestant teaching on abortion focus most often upon specific comments regarding abortion in the writings of leaders of the various church reform movements in European Christianity beginning in the sixteenth century. Several of the most effectual Reformation leaders, including Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564), were powerful both in reconceiving church practice and in articulating reformulations of Christian theological and ethical teaching. Consequently, for many of their followers and spiritual heirs, their teaching has remained uniquely authoritative in discerning Protestant truth claims. The formal criteria for discerning Christian truth proposed by these reformers, however, is best characterized as privileging the role of Christian scripture (usually referred to by Protestants as the Old and New Testaments) in adjudicating doctrinal and moral disputes. This primacy of scripture as theological and moral norm also characterized the teaching of most other sixteenth-century reformers, including the theological leaders of the many Anabaptist movements.
Since the sixteenth century, all dissent from authoritative Roman Catholic teaching and practice, including newly emergent Christian movements, receives the label "Protestant." The rapidly growing Pentecostal movements in Latin America, indigenous Christian movements in Asia, and the African indigenous churches that have become numerically preponderant among Christians on that continent all fall under this rubric. As a result, extreme caution needs to be exercised in characterizing "Protestant" moral teaching in any contemporary moral dilemma. Even when interpreters are familiar with very diverse Protestant cultural traditions, those who identify themselves as Protestants interpret the meaning of conformity to scriptural norms in a wide variety of ways, and reveal wide differences in biblical "hermeneu-tics," or principles of interpretation, of sacred texts. The diversity of hermeneutical options available accounts in part for the complexity of Protestant voices on abortion today.
Before identifying contemporary Protestant hermeneutical diversity and therefore the range of existing contemporary Protestant viewpoints on abortion, it is important to clarify the cultural roots of Protestantism that shape them.
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