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SBC leaders express concern, hope on abortion survey

NASHVILLE (BP) — Southern Baptists responded with concern and hope for greater grace in churches to a new LifeWay Research study that shows post-abortive women think congregations are more judgmental than caring.

The LifeWay survey, sponsored by the Care Net pregnancy center network, found 43 percent of women who have had an abortion were attending church at least once a month when they underwent the procedure that took their babies’ lives. Only 7 percent discussed their decision with someone in the church, according to the study released Nov. 23. See related report.

Among the findings in the survey of more than 1,000 post-abortive women:

— They received or would have expected to receive from a church a judgmental reaction (33 percent) far more than a caring (16 percent), helpful (14 percent) or loving (13 percent) response.

— Almost two-thirds (64 percent) thought church members are more likely to gossip about a woman contemplating abortion than to help her recognize options.

— More than half (52 percent) of those who attend church acknowledged no one in their congregation knows about their abortion.

— Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said church members judge single women who are pregnant.

Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, said he “was saddened to hear that most [post-abortive women] said they would not share their plight or decision with people in the church because of fear. I do believe that is a valid point in some circumstances.”

He has ministered to women who had abortions and believes there is an alternative way to view the issue, said Page, a pastor for more than 30 years.

“There are many persons who feel such shame that they choose not to share with anyone,” he said in written comments for Baptist Press. “For some, perhaps even a few, it is easier to say that their fear is of retribution or gossip when the truth is their deepest fear is the shame they feel over doing something so catastrophic.

“My prayer is for God’s healing and forgiveness, and yes also for acceptance by God’s people of those who have made such decisions in their past,” Page said.

Trillia Newbell, the ERLC’s director of community outreach, said the survey results “do not surprise me, but they do grieve me.”

“We want our churches to be places where men and women can share openly and honestly about their struggles,” she wrote in remarks for BP. “My hope is that the Gospel of grace would break through a culture of fear and gossip so that women may be served well. We must equip the church on how to properly handle these tough circumstances with truth covered in gentleness and love.”

A soon-to-be-released book edited by Newbell is designed to equip churches to be pro-life in all areas. The ERLC-published book — “Women on Life: A Call to Love the Unborn, Unloved and Neglected” — will be released in print and e-book format in mid-January.

Garrett Kell, a pastor in the Washington-D.C., area, said the survey results “must cause us to stop and ask uncomfortable questions.”

“Am I the kind of Christian people feel safe to talk about their struggles with or would they feel condemned? Is our church the kind of place where people are shunned for sin or where they are helped to escape its snares?,” asked Kell, lead pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va.

Kell, whose pastoral ministry has demonstrated a burden for the abortion issue and those in crisis pregnancies, told BP in written comments, “Unplanned pregnancies can be terrifying for women and men alike, and a church built on the Gospel will be one that welcomes and walks with people in their time of need. Lord, help us to be this kind of people!”

The ERLC and Focus on the Family are cosponsoring a conference to help equip churches to be pro-life from a Gospel perspective. Evangelicals for Life, a first-time event, will be held Jan. 21-22 in conjunction with the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Moore, Newbell and Kell are scheduled to be among the conference speakers. Registration for and information on Evangelicals for Life is available online at http://evangelicals.life/.

The LifeWay survey showed regular worship attendance made a significant difference in a post-abortive woman’s perspective on her church. Regular church attenders were about four times as likely as those who rarely or never attend to say they expected or experienced such responses as caring, helpfulness and love.