Editor’s Note: Please read this update to this piece.
Following the Supreme Court opining that abortion should be legal in all 50 states in 1973, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Press ran a celebratory article written by Barry Garrett contending that legal killing of preborn human beings “advanced the cause of religious liberty, human equality and justice.” Linda Coffee, the attorney arguing against Texas’ abortion ban in Roe, was a dyed-in-the-wool Southern Baptist. She attended an SBC-affiliated church in Houston where her grandfather was a deacon. Much of her life revolved around church as she sang in choir, played in church sports leagues, and attended church camps. In 1971, the Southern Baptist Convention published a resolution calling upon Southern Baptists to “work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as 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.” A 1981 pamphlet published by Christian Life Commission, the political advocacy wing of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote, “[it] is questionable that Christian love and justice would be served by extremely restrictive laws which do not give conscientious people with proper medical advice the opportunity to choose when they are faced with very grave moral dilemmas related to abortion.” Many Southern Baptist leaders were key figures in the formation of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR), Paul Simmons being the most prominent. At a 1981 RCAR forum, Simmons declared, “God is pro-choice.” Before Congress in 1981, Simmons echoed the slave traders in separating personhood from humanness. “The real concern is whether or not the fetus is to be regarded as a person, not whether it is a human life,” Simmons said. He went on to concede that the preborn child is both “human” and “alive,” but the question of personhood is “vastly more complex.” There were Southern Baptists who opposed abortion in the 60s and early 70s but they were the minority. Many of today’s Southern Baptists profess to have nominally fixed the problem, but are functionally pro-choice and are actively fighting against the abolition of abortion in multiple states.
The Abolition of Abortion in Oklahoma Act (OK SB13) was killed with the help of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO). The BGCO’s public opposition to the abolition of abortion played a huge role in providing cover for State Senators Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and Jason Smalley (R-Stroud) who killed the bill without a hearing. Getting their talking points from National Right to Life VP Tony Lauinger, the BGCO bemoaned the fact that OK SB13 “unnecessarily and purposely repeals hard-earned pro-life laws that have helped significantly reduce Oklahoma’s abortion rate, including repealing our state’s ban on partial birth abortion, parental notification requirements, the unborn child protection from dismemberment abortion, among numerous other life-saving laws.” As explained previously at The Resurgent , this is either a level of political illiteracy that’s difficult to fathom or it’s an open admission of ulterior motives. To end abortion, you have to get rid of pro-life regulations that allow abortion. Lauinger and the BGCO either don’t grasp that or they care more about maintaining their incremental pro-life “victories” than they do about ending abortion. They also said the courts would attempt to invalidate OK SB13. This is, of course, true. The courts won’t even allow basic safety regulations on abortion facilities, so they’re obviously going to be angry at the abolition of the practice. Thankfully, abolition bills like OK SB13 enforce the constitutional principle that the courts have no authority to legalize murder. It wouldn’t matter if the courts attempted to invalidate OK SB13.
Like their Oklahoman counterparts, Texas abolitionists are also fighting to overcome one of the SBC’s two Texas conventions. Mirroring the BGCO in getting their talking points from their local Right to Life lobbyist, the horrific misinformation spread by the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) appears to have come from Texas Alliance for Life (TAL). TAL president and Supreme Court idolater Joe Pojman recently told the Austin Chronicle, “[w]e could no sooner ignore SCOTUS than the force of gravity.” Along the same lines, a letter written by the BGCT argued that the Constitution demands the states obey any and every federal decree, no matter how evil or unconstitutional: “HB 896 seeks to enforce its anti-abortion prohibition ‘regardless of any federal law, executive order, or court decision’ – meaning that it would require Texas to ignore controlling Supreme Court precedent on abortion and deny the Supremacy Clause in Article VI, Para. 2 of the US Constitution.” This is stunning constitutional illiteracy, albeit widespread. Article VI of the Constitution clearly specifies that only those made pursuant to the Constitution are legitimate laws and binding on the states. For the few who misunderstood this in their day, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison authored the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions which call state-level nullification the “rightful remedy” when the federal government acts in violation of the Constitution. Jefferson also addressed the topic of judicial supremacy specifically in an 1820 letter to Charles Jarvis. He could’ve been writing straight to Pojman and the Texas Baptists. “You seem to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps…. Their power [is] the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.” The question then is whether Roe is pursuant to the Constitution and therefore legitimate. On this point, there’s no serious discussion to be had. As former dean of Stanford Law John Hart Ely put it , “[Roe v Wade] is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.” Like the BGCO, the BGCT is acting either in ignorance or with malintent. We should be gracious and assume it’s ignorance, but repentance and altered direction going forward are needed either way.
Pastors in both Oklahoma and Texas have protested SBC leadership’s opposition to abolishing abortion. Six SBC-affiliated pastors in Oklahoma participated in a roundtable discussion responding to the BGCO in which they criticized the BGCO for their position on abolition as well as their top-down structure. “I just assumed that we as Baptists in Oklahoma were all on the same page, and when I heard that our leaders came out – initially it was neutrality- then we received a letter that explained why the can’t support it… that crushed me. That was that moment in which I realized maybe we’re not all on the same team here. That was really disappointing,” Billy Elkins, Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Chickasha, OK said. “I felt a little bit betrayed. I felt like I wasn’t consulted, that nobody asked us. Every meeting for years you would go to the BCGO and they would remind us that this is a bottom-up organization, that they serve at the pleasure of the churches. And when this statement came out, it felt very much like a top-down denomination… This seems in a way, that three men have potentially killed [SB13].” Jay Jones, Pastor at Christ’s Fellowship Church in Lawton, OK took issue with the BGCO overruling its own members. “The churches which make up the BGCO – the people of those churches – seem to be overwhelmingly backing [the Abolition of Abortion in Oklahoma Act]. They’re for it. For me, when I read [the letter], it seemed to me that you have three men – whether they had the counsel of other people, we don’t know, all we know is these three men – they wield a tremendous amount of power and influence, and what they say unfortunately, many pastors will now fall in line. I don’t care what their motives are, I’m not here to question their motives, but that’s the reality of the way the SBC works. People will fall in line with what the leadership says which undermines our ability to even have a conversation about this… We feel as if our people’s voices have been robbed by someone who has such a voice and so much influence that our churches can feel that our voice has been taken away from us.” The humanistic nature of the BGCO’s letter bothered Dusty Deevers, pastor at Grace Community Church in Elgin, OK. “Especially in a time when the Southern Baptists could speak so prophetically, so profoundly the world of God into a culture that’s losing its mind, we look like we’re losing our mind with it when we write letters like [the one written by the BGCO.” George Mayes, also a pastor at Christ’s Fellowship Church, made the connection to the SBC’s 19th century support of slavery: “Southern Baptists have been on the wrong side of abolition before. Are we really going to be on the wrong side again? Are we really going to argue the same way that the Southern slave holders were arguing? It’s an embarrassment. It still is an embarrassment. Southern Seminary just put out an apology just a few months ago. It’s still a blight on our name.” Mayes also took issue with the BGCO’s complaints of pro-life regulations being repealed. “Josh, if the first [argument in the BGCO’s letter] bothers you the most, this one bothers me the most because it’s so obvious [repealing pro-life regulations] is exactly what [SB13] is supposed to do. This is where I try not to read into the motives of the letter because either they are simply misunderstanding, or they are intentionally trying to word this in a way that makes it sound worse than it is. Yes, it does repeal these other laws because you don’t need them anymore. If abortion, across the board, is criminalized, you don’t need these other laws saying this kind is criminalized, this kind is criminalized, this kind is criminalized.” Mayes authored a letter to the BGCO explaining that members of Christ’s Fellowship Church would be disciplined for doing what they did. “If we had someone from the legislature or the BGCO in our congregation who didn’t support the abolition of abortion it would be a matter for church discipline. How can I say anything less about the BGCO now?” Stephen Bratton and Aaron Wright, pastors of an SBC-affiliated church in Houston, wrote open letters published on the church website specifically rebuking former SBC President Jack Graham for opposing TX HB896. Graham tweeted support for Texas State Rep. Jeff Leach who is currently refusing to bring the the Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act up for a vote. Leach has until May 6th to do so. “You have used the power of the pulpit and your influence as one who is supposed to speak for the LORD to effectively endorse the murder of another 55,000 children in Texas in the next year and 110,000 over the coming two years before our legislature meets again… You have been given much influence through the pulpit and your leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention. Much will be required from you as you stand before the Lord. Your endorsement of the shelving of HB 896 is essentially authorizing the deaths of approximately 110,000 pre-born children in this State, and you will be held accountable before God for those deaths. As a fellow pastor and as someone who desires to see the greatest holocaust in the history of the world ended, I rebuke you! Mercy and Compassion demand laws that PREVENT murder by exacting equal justice for all. If there is no justice, there is no reason to cease evil acts. Because you have endorsed this position, you have removed justice from the equation thereby giving sinful men and women no reason to discontinue the act of murder. I implore you to repent of this action and to DEMAND with all the authority that God has given you that abortion be abolished in the State of Texas. Would you fear God or fear man? Would you obey God or obey man? Would you submit yourself to the Word of God or to the culture of death that surrounds us! Repent in the name of the LORD! Soli Deo Gloria, Stephen Bratton
Pastor of Preaching
Grace Family Baptist Church”
Wright’s letter was similar, calling out Graham for his philosophical inconsistency and moral failure that he must repent of. “About 149 children are aborted every day in the state of Texas. How is passively holding a bill back that seeks to make abortion illegal within the state either caring or courageous? To whom is Representative Leach being caring? Certainly not to the children who are aborted. In what way is he being courageous? Standing by while the innocent are slaughtered isn’t courage… In what way is this demonstrating either grace or truth? Such words in this context have no meaning and using them in this way diminishes the Biblical concepts of grace and truth… If abortion is the murder of innocent life, how is it that you believe there should be no criminal consequences for committing murder? Don’t believe the spin that claims the bill requires all women who have an abortion to face the death penalty. That is not true, but it does declare that abortion should be declared illegal by the state. And that declaration results in the criminality of abortion, which is consistent with the sixth commandment. We are commanded to protect those who cannot protect themselves. This requires action. Will you remain passive as 149 children a day are murdered in the state of Texas? Is this not what the men and women of Weimar did day after day…week after week…month after month? There came a point with each of them where they became accustomed to the smell of burning flesh and lived their lives in passive complacency in the face of evil. Has the evil lost its sting in your mind? Are you callous to this ongoing destruction? Brother, I am calling you to repent of your action in supporting civilized passivity in the face of murder because it is inconsistent with the word of God and even the natural order. A civilized passive rebellion to tyrannical evil is no resistance at all. Instead, it is participation. Both scripture and history are replete with such examples. Please remove your Tweet and call Representative Leach to bring HB896 to the floor. Yours Respectfully,
Grace Family Baptist Church
Pastor of Discipleship”
The issue at hand is whether we should obey God who commands us to love our neighbor and rescue those being led to slaughter or obey the Supreme Court which unconstitutionally commands us to enable mass murder. There should be no disagreement among Southern Baptists on this matter. That the SBC’s leaders in Texas and Oklahoma are standing athwart abolitionists of a monstrous evil for a second time is to their enduring shame.