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FIRST-PERSON: SBC builds new track record on abortion

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Southern Baptists have recently been reminded of the sanctity of human life with the tragic slaughter of three medical workers in Yemen Dec. 30. As Americans mark the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade this month, it’s ironic that even after 40 million murdered babies have been the victims of a “choice” made for them, some people still don’t get it.

A friend recently told me the definition of a martyr involves “choice” on their part. In the case of our International Mission Board friends, they had chosen to continue to serve in a part of the world where they would be in eminent danger of being sacrificed for the cause of proclaiming the gospel through their very lives and deeds.

Unborn children have been sacrificed daily on the altar of their parents’ either extremely selfish or tragically misguided “choice.” They are unwilling participants in this massacre. Babies are offered up hourly and daily to appease parental “choice,” even though fathers typically are left out of the equation.

And the awful, awful truth is that Southern Baptists may have helped this country make one of its biggest mistakes in 1973.

In 1971, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in St. Louis approved a resolution that stated, in part: “We call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion….” While the subsequent wording did indicate this was to be only for certain cases, the resolution no doubt added fuel to the slow-burning fire that would ignite the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.

In that same time period, the SBC’s Christian Life Commission (predecessor to what is now the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), maintained what writer James C. Hefley called a “foot-dragging policy on abortion.”

Led by Foy Valentine, the CLC initially gave only scant attention to abortion. Valentine often argued the SBC had “spoken with many voices on abortion,” citing part of a resolution passed at the 1976 SBC annual meeting in Kansas City. The resolution, which referred also to the 1971 action, appeared to support Roe v. Wade, citing the “right of expectant mothers to the full range of medical services … for the preservation of life and health,” according to volume two of Hefley’s six-volume series, “The Truth in Crisis: The Controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

The 1976 resolution went further, however, in noting a “conviction” Southern Baptists had about the “limited role of government” in abortion matters.

Throughout the ’70s and into the ’80s, Valentine and the CLC fought the efforts of many pastors and individuals who believed the SBC should offer a strong moral opinion against abortion. Even after messengers to the 1980 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis passed what is considered its first strongly “pro-life” resolution, the CLC continued to ignore the grassroots opposition to its “pro-choice” position.

In 1985, through the efforts of a growing conservative resurgence, messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Dallas voted to place a Sanctity of Human Life Sunday on the denominational calendar. This move meant the CLC would have to provide materials for the day’s observance.

Hefley correctly predicted that the observance “would give the impression to the world that the SBC was solidly linked with the pro-life movement, which was what conservatives wanted and moderates, as represented by Valentine and the Christian Life Commission, did not.”

Southern Baptists now have an ethics agency that considers Sanctity of Human Life issues a high priority. We have pregnancy care centers throughout the country. But the fight is not over.

Early American poet Emily Dickinson said: “Success is counted sweetest, by those who ne’er succeed.” It’s been a long haul. I’m not particularly proud of the fact that it took Southern Baptists so many years to come alongside other pro-lifers in this battle, but I know that God, in his sovereignty, allowed it to happen for a reason.

Maybe now is the time to do what it takes, to go above and beyond, to count the sweet success of knowing we have done all that we are able. Maybe this is the hour for Southern Baptists, educated and aided by a virtually unflappable SBC ERLC president, Richard Land, to shine.

While the world’s attention is on our slain missionaries and the precious contributions they made to share the gospel and make the world a better place for others, let’s take the opportunity to wipe out a practice that leaves our unborn children at the mercy of a “choice” in which they have no part.
Hannigan is the managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan