Church must speak louder in abortion debate, panelists say
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--The future of the pro-life movement in America rests on Christian pastors and leaders courageously confronting the issue of abortion, a group of pro-lifers agreed in a panel discussion at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Two Southern Baptist leaders joined a pro-life Presbyterian activist and a former United States congressman to discuss the future of the pro-life movement in America. The seminary’s Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement sponsored the Feb. 5 forum.
The panelists said that while the pro-life movement has momentum -- and in many ways is winning -- more could be done if pastors and leaders boldly confronted the issue of abortion on Sunday mornings.
“I know ministers in my local community who will not preach on the issue because they say, ‘There are people in my congregation that have had abortions and I don’t want to stir up the issue,’” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“We are still suffering in our denomination from a generation and a half of theological malformation in our [Southern Baptist] seminaries -- malformation that has been stopped and reversed, and I praise God for that.”
Adding that he “expects better” from the next generation of leaders, Land said too many Christian leaders see abortion as a political issue instead of what it is -- a moral issue.
“It’s not a political issue,” he said. “It has political consequences. ... [Instead,] it is the most profound moral and spiritual issue of our time.”
Christians must remember that abortion has two victims -- the baby and the mother, Land noted.
“There are millions and millions of women suffering who desperately need to hear a word from their pastor about abortion,” he said.
Joining Land on the panel were R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary; David McIntosh, former U.S. Representative from Indiana’s 2nd District (1994-2000); Terry Schlossberg, executive director of Presbyterians Pro-Life; and Russell Moore, head of the Henry Institute and assistant professor of Christian theology at the seminary.
Moore agreed that too many pastors see abortion as strictly a political issue.
Such pastors believe that “you vote for pro-life candidates [and] you do that outside the walls of the church, but you don’t need to talk about it, because it’s not a biblical, theological issue in their minds,” Moore said.
Churches must confront abortion because the source of the problem lies not in politics but in the human heart, the panelists said.
“The culture of death in the human heart is far more dangerous than the culture of the abortion in the abortionist’s place of work,” Mohler said. “The one leads to the other -- from the heart to the abortion clinic [and] not from the abortion clinic to the heart.
“... We must reach the human heart. We must pray for that day when the idea that a woman would kill the baby in her womb would become such a moral horror that it would not be contemplated.”
The first-century Christians were clearly pro-life, Mohler said, pointing to an early church document -- the “Didache” -- that called abortion “murder.” It is believed the document was written around A.D. 100. Land added that the early church stood for the sanctity of life when the surrounding Roman culture often practiced abortion and infanticide.
“Abortion is one of the ‘thou shalt nots’ [and] it’s named by name,” Mohler said.
Many of today’s Christians stand in stark contrast to those early Christians, Mohler said, with some self-professing evangelicals remaining surprisingly silent.
“What we’re finding in the church today is a realignment,” he said. “Abortion is in many ways the critical criterion for this realignment. ... If abortion is not producing the realignment, it is at least revealing the realignment.”
The Southern Baptist Convention is an example that “moral sanity” can be recovered, Mohler said. Referring to pro-choice resolutions on abortion passed by Southern Baptist Convention bodies in the 1970s, Mohler said the convention has “a great deal of ground to regain, but thanks be to God we’ve been given that opportunity.”
Today the SBC is unquestionably pro-life, with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message saying that Christians “should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.”
While the Southern Baptist Convention official policy is pro-life, the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s policy is pro-choice, Schlossberg said. She heads an organization seeking to guide the denomination back to its historical pro-life roots.
“The Presbyterian church has not always held a position in support of abortion rights,” she said. “In fact, that’s an innovation of modern history. ... We are a clear sign that in the Presbyterian Church the issue isn’t settled. We are a growing organization in a denomination that is losing members at a rate of more than 30,000 every year.”
A shift to pro-life belief is occurring, Schlossberg said, although the Christian church must stand taller in the debate.
“I don’t see adequate response from the church, even in the church’s own self-understanding of its role in this respect,” she said.
Abortion, though, is not the only issue that must be confronted in the church, Mohler said, citing sex as another forefront issue. Sexual freedom is a theme often championed by abortion rights proponents, he pointed out.
“If the issue of abortion were separate from issue of sex, it never would have arrived at the Supreme Court in the first place,” he said.
Presbyterians Pro-Life spends much of its time encouraging the teaching of biblical sexuality, Schlossberg said. PPL “is now as active in the sexuality debate in our denomination as we are in debates over human life,” she said. “Why? Because it’s perfectly clear to us that the connections exist”
The church must teach “God’s intent for sexuality in order for us to get to the issue of abortion,” she added.
McIntosh, who intends to run for Indiana governor in 2004, said youth leaders play a crucial role in the abortion battle.
“You can’t fudge it,” he said. “You can’t hedge it and not give a clear answer. Kids will keep probing with you.”
Former President Bill Clinton has said he developed his pro-choice views in church, Moore noted. To that, McIntosh said, “Be good stewards as youth pastors and maybe the future Bill Clintons will not be led astray.”