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The SBC Stakes Out a Position on Abortion that Will Win Few Hearts and Minds

Last week the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution on abortion that undercuts all of the work the denomination has done on this issue for the past half-century.

The resolution called for the abolition of abortion with no exceptions, and it decried the use of incremental steps to end abortion. It laid down a bold and ultimately foolish agenda – no exceptions for the life of the mother and no small wins.

The resolution, which is not binding on SBC churches, took a different route than normal to the floor of the convention for consideration. Oklahoma pastor Bill Ascol authored the resolution and submitted it to the Resolutions Committee for consideration ahead of the SBC’s Annual Meeting.

When the Committee brought out the resolutions they were going to present for consideration, they did not include Ascol’s. They said messengers “would agree with some aspects of this resolution,” but they chose to address the topic of abortion in a resolution on the Hyde Amendment. Ascol asked the messengers to overrule the Committee and allow his resolution to come to the floor for debate, which they did.

The resolution contains tough wording about abortion and those who would seek them. As many evangelicals would agree, the resolution clearly states that “abortion is murder.” However, it goes farther than many in the pro-life camp have been willing to go historically. For example, the resolution says the SBC affirms that “the murder of preborn children is a crime against humanity that must be punished equally under the law.”

The pro-life position for the last five decades has maintained the women who seek abortions should not be prosecuted. This resolution makes it sound as if America’s largest Protestant denomination wants women to be prosecuted for seeking an abortion. Rather than offering grace to women who have sought abortions in the past, we will call them murderers and withhold the arm of grace.

The resolution also goes farther than the pro-life position has gone in the past by denying any exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. The resolution says that “over the past 48 years with 60+ million abortions, traditional Pro-life laws, though well intended, have not established equal protection and justice for the preborn, but on the contrary, appallingly have established incremental, regulatory guidelines for when, where, why, and how to obtain legal abortion of innocent preborn children, thereby legally sanctioning abortion.” In addition, it says that the SBC rejects, “any position that allows for any exceptions to the legal protection of our preborn neighbors, compromises God’s holy standard of justice, or promotes any God-hating partiality.”

In approving this resolution, messengers also sent the message that any incremental attempts to end abortion are unacceptable compromises. The original resolution declared that the SBC “will not embrace an incremental approach to ending abortion because it challenges God’s Lordship over the heart and the conscience, and rejects His call to repent of sin completely and immediately.” Furthermore, it pledges to work “with all urgency to enact legislation using the full weight of their office to interpose on behalf of the preborn, abolishing abortion immediately, without exception or compromise.”

A messenger brought an amendment that added the word “alone” after “incremental approach,” and the messengers approved it. However, it did little to blunt the message of the resolution.

Many Christians want to see abortion end entirely, and I am in that number. However, the approach that is outlined in this resolution tosses aside any convictional kindness that might be extended in the abortion debate and takes a zero-sum approach to abortion law. Rather than looking at partial-birth abortion bans and pain-capable abortion bans as a triumph, the wording of this resolution frames them as unacceptable compromises that should be avoided.

Josh Wester, the chair of research in Christian ethics at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the SBC’s public policy arm, urged messengers to defeat the resolution, arguing that it sacrifices all of the gains the pro-life movement has made in the last half-century.

Wester said the resolution “would state plainly and unequivocally that any measure any method any move that falls short of total abolition is to be taken off the table.” He pleaded with them to see the value of incremental wins, saying, “There is not a Southern Baptist in this room that does not want to see partial-birth abortion banned forever.” According to the Tennessean, he also pointed out that the resolution sends pastors back to their churches with a confusing message. He said it would lead them to “tell the folks in their churches, the state legislators that sit in their seats, that they are only free to support legislation that would bring about total abolition.”

Southern Baptists should have listened to Wester. Christians should not advocate for the prosecution of women who seek abortions. Instead, we need to work at building an apparatus of care that makes it easier for women to choose life. We ought to recognize the foolishness of sacrificing incremental wins, knowing that while it will be difficult to eradicate all abortion, every abortion we prevent is a victory for those made in God’s image.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

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Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”

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