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Resolutions repudiate earlier abortion stance, affirm family, religious liberty

PHOENIX (BP)–Messengers to the 2003 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting repudiated previous resolutions on abortion from three decades ago, while reaffirming their commitment to the biblical view of marriage and the family and to religious liberty.

In its morning session June 18 at the Phoenix Civic Center, the convention voted with unanimity or near unanimity to approve each of eight resolutions.

The resolutions adopted:

— Reiterated the SBC’s opposition to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion 30 years ago and expressed regret that previous actions had supported abortion.

— Renewed Southern Baptists’ commitment to the biblical model of the family and the permanence of marriage.

— Reaffirmed absolute religious liberty in this country and abroad, including the right to convert from the religion of a person’s birth.

— Renounced all anti-Semitism.

— Restated opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

— Endorsed U.S. military action in Iraq as a “warranted action based upon historic principles of just war” and called for prayer for the rebuilding of that country.

— Supported humanitarian efforts to relieve the global AIDS crisis and encouraged Southern Baptists to act compassionately toward those with the disease.

— Expressed appreciation for the people of Phoenix, the Southern Baptists of the area, as well as all others involved in the proceedings of the annual meeting.

A lengthy resolution titled “On 30 Years of Roe v. Wade” not only restated the SBC’s belief the 1973 ruling was “an act of injustice against innocent unborn children as well as against vulnerable women in crisis pregnancy situations,” but it said convention resolutions in 1971 and 1974 “accepted unbiblical premises of the abortion rights movement, forfeiting the opportunity to advocate the protection of defenseless women and children.”

In 1971, SBC messengers approved a resolution that endorsed legislation that would permit abortion in the cases of “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.” The 1974 convention affirmed the 1971 resolution.

In addition, some SBC leaders affirmed the right to abortion. Foy Valentine, then-executive director of the SBC’s former Christian Life Commission, and three seminary professors endorsed “A Call to Concern,” a statement affiliated with the then-Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights that supported the Roe v. Wade opinion. RCAR is now the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

The convention began adopting pro-life resolutions in the early 1980s after the conservative resurgence began.

The messengers said in the new resolution on Roe v. Wade they “lament and renounce statements and actions by previous Conventions and previous denominational leadership that offered support to the abortion culture.” The resolution also said, “… we humbly confess that the initial blindness of many in our Convention to the enormity of Roe v. Wade should serve as a warning to contemporary Southern Baptists of the subtlety of the spirit of the age in obscuring a biblical worldview.”

The resolution expresses a desire for “the day when the act of abortion will be not only illegal, but also unthinkable.” It urges Southern Baptists to adopt “unwanted children” and to minister to women in crisis pregnancies. It also calls for enactment of a ban on partial-birth abortion, which involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered child in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.

“[O]n the 30th anniversary [of Roe v. Wade], we thought [the previous SBC actions] deserved our attention,” Resolutions Committee chairman Mike Hamlet told reporters in a news conference. Hamlet is pastor of First Baptist Church North Spartanburg, S.C.

The Christian Life Commission did not become pro-life until Richard Land became its head in 1988. The CLC is now known as the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Southern Baptists “needed to express our sorrow and our grief” over the resolutions of the early 1970s, said Land, nearing 15 years at the ERLC.

“Some of the leadership in our convention was on the wrong side of Roe v. Wade and the issue of abortion, and too many in our convention in the early ’70s were insensitive and unaware of the issue and erroneously thought of it as merely a Catholic issue,” Land told Baptist Press. “The enormity of the bloodshed caused by Roe v. Wade quickly awakened many Southern Baptists who weren’t on the wrong side — it just wasn’t on their radar screen. And quickly Southern Baptists went from being insensitive and not sufficiently aware [to] and alarmed by the issue, to being strongly pro-life.”

Messengers affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman in adopting a resolution opposing a growing movement to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States and other countries. Vermont legalized “civil unions” between same-sex couples in 2000, and California’s legislature recently granted marriage-like rights to homosexual partners.

The Resolutions Committee “did not see a sense of conflict” in presenting the resolution at a meeting where an outreach to homosexuals was promoted, Hamlet said.

Russell D. Moore, a member of the committee and assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., told reporters, “We believe same-sex marriage hurts homosexuals, and we love homosexuals enough to tell them the truth that the Gospel of Jesus Christ forgives every sin, including the sin of homosexuality, and it also can transform an individual. So we believe that this is actually a message of love to homosexuals.”

In keeping with the meeting’s emphasis on families, a resolution titled “On Kingdom Families” urged churches to strengthen marriages and homes through preaching, teaching, counseling and “restorative church discipline.”

In its resolution on religious liberty, the convention urged the federal government to advocate religious liberty overseas and to consider countries’ policies on persecution and religious discrimination in making decisions on foreign aid. It also cited recent criticism of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals as intolerant because of their belief in Jesus as the only Savior.

Islamic regimes were not the targets of the resolution, Hamlet said.
“We believe in religious liberty for anyone and everyone,” he said. “So that was a statement that applies not only to Islamic people but to all people. So it was not pointed just at Islam.”

Land, a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the resolution “points out that exclusionary faith is not necessarily and by definition intolerant. Baptists, as evangelical Christians, are committed to sharing their faith, but they are adamantly opposed to any form of compulsion in faith, because they know that that’s not genuine faith. While we believe that Jesus Christ is the only way and the only truth and the only life, and we have an obligation to share that, we at the same time are absolutely committed to soul freedom and freedom of conscience for every human being whatever their faith.”

The resolution against what it described as a “rising tide of anti-Semitism across the globe” said Southern Baptists stand with Jews against violations of “our historic commitments to religious liberty and human dignity.” It called anti-Semitism “contrary to the teachings of our Messiah and an assault on the revelation of Holy Scripture.”

Wiley Drake of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., introduced amendments to both the Iraq and religious liberty resolutions, but messengers overwhelmingly defeated both.

The convention schedule included two 30-minute periods for consideration of resolutions, but the messengers finished voting about 15 minutes through the first report.

This was the first year of a new procedure, approved at the 2002 convention, allowing resolutions be submitted as early as April 15th but not later than 15 days prior to the annual meeting. Eight resolutions were submitted in advance.

In addition to Hamlet and Moore, other members of the resolutions committee were Jim Butler of Mississippi; Craig Christina of Oklahoma; Penna Dexter and Brandon Thomas, both of Texas; J.D. Greear of North Carolina; Randy Hahn of Virginia; Dale Wallace of Alabama; and Calvin Wittman of Colorado.