Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention this week debated the denomination's pro-life strategy during an impassioned session that ended with the passage of a resolution calling for the immediate abolition of abortion "without exception or compromise."
The convention has passed more than a dozen pro-life resolutions since conservatives took control of the denomination in the 1980s.
Bill Ascol, a messenger from Bethel Baptist Church in Owasso, Okla., and the sponsor of the latest resolution, asserted during floor debate that past resolutions were "half-measures" and too pragmatic.
The resolution that messengers passed states "unequivocally that abortion is murder" and says messengers "reject any position that allows for any exceptions to the legal protection of our preborn neighbors."
But the resolution was amended following a debate that mirrored a wider conversation within the pro-life community.
At the heart of the debate was whether the SBC supports the incremental strategy by most major pro-life groups to chip away at Roe v. Wade. Examples of the incremental strategy include fetal heartbeat bills and bans on partial-birth abortion. This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of a law that was part of this incremental strategy: Mississippi's law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Ascol's original resolution stated: "We 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 (Gen 3:1; John 8:44; Rom 2:14-15; 2 Corinthians 11:3)."
Messengers, though, passed an amendment adding a single word ("alone") to the resolution that changes its meaning. The final version of the resolution states: "We will not embrace an incremental approach alone to ending abortion …."
Chris Garner, a messenger from Gillespie Avenue Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., offered the amendment.
"As a Southern Baptist, as a Great Commission Baptist, we should absolutely pursue the abolition of elective abortion," Garner said during floor debate. "But that does not mean that in our pursuit of abolition of this most heinous sin, we should not grab every bit of ground that the Lord gives us along the way. After all, didn't William Wilberforce, the great abolitionist, do the exact same thing?"
Ascol urged messengers to oppose Garner's amendment.
"What we're trying to do is take a firmly biblical stance and move forward, sending a very clear message. Abortion needs to be abolished," Ascol said.
The amendment and the resolution easily passed.
Southern Baptists also passed a resolution supporting the Hyde Amendment, a legislative "rider" that prohibits tax-funded abortion.
Prior to this year, the SBC's most recent pro-life resolution was from 2015. That resolution called abortion a form of "genocide."
"We reaffirm our repudiation of the genocide of legalized abortion in the United States and call on civil authorities to enact laws that defend the lives of the unborn," the 2015 resolution said.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/SabdiZ
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.