By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
May 20, 2022
Abortion is murder, but should women who seek one be charged with a crime? Or are they also victims of the abortion industry? And if Southern Baptists truly oppose abortion, should they support laws that limit it but don’t outlaw it?
These questions are at heart of a controversy that arose last week when Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined more than 80 pro-life leaders across the nation to sign an open letter to state lawmakers urging them not to pass laws that turn women seeking abortion into criminals, especially if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, putting states back in the driver’s seat.
Cape Coral, Fla., pastor Tom Ascol, who is a candidate for SBC president, took to social media to claim that Leatherwood’s signing of the letter was in violation of the On Abolishing Abortion resolution that the SBC passed last year. Ascol went so far as to call for Leatherwood to be removed from his post.
The SBC resolution states in part that “abortion is murder, and we reject 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 his defense, Leatherwood points out that his support of the letter to lawmakers asking them to “act with love and compassion toward abortion-vulnerable women,” is consistent with language in another SBC resolution, also passed last year. That resolution, On Taxpayer Complicity In Abortion And The Hyde Amendment, asserts that Southern Baptists should “work through all available cultural and legislative means to end the moral scourge of abortion as we also seek to love, care for, and minister to women who are victimized by the unjust abortion industry.”
In fact, SBC messengers rejected an attempt to reword the resolution’s final line to “preach the gospel and urge repentance from all men and women guilty or complicit in the sin of abortion.”
“The messengers easily voted down an attempt to punish vulnerable mothers last year,” Leatherwood told Baptist Press. “So, our actions are in line with the messengers.”
This is not the first time the SBC’s stance on abortion has been called into question. Shortly after the On Abolishing Abortion resolution was passed, eight leading Southern Baptist scholars, including former ERLC president Richard Land, wrote an article in The Public Discourse explaining why they opposed the resolution, which they called “well-intended but woefully flawed” because it offers no exception for the life of the mother, and it opposes incrementalism.
“I support the statement by the leading Southern Baptist Scholars as written in The Public Discourse. The resolution needs to be amended,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
“As written, it could result in unintended consequences and injure the Convention’s credibility on the life issue. Whenever two lives are at stake because of some complication in the pregnancy, if the baby is a threat to the mother’s life, there is no evil in protecting her life by taking the child,” said Creech. “That’s the decision of the mother, the father, or other family members, if the mother can’t make it for herself. They may choose to save the baby and allow the mother to die or let the baby die to save the mother. But if the baby were aborted to save the mother’s life, that’s a form of self-defense and there is no sin in it.”
Creech said that some leaders in the convention, which have been referred to as “absolutists,” want us to be open to the possibility of criminal charges against the mother. He said the pro-life position has never sought to punish mothers.
“We should stay focused as we have for decades on the abortionists and the abortion industry. It won’t move the pro-life needle forward by prosecuting the mother,” he said. “This is not to say the mother doesn’t need to repent. But even the suggestion she should be prosecuted would create an unholy trinity of victimization: the mother, the child, and the pro-life cause.”
Creech added that when he has lobbied for legislation to tighten North Carolina laws on human trafficking, it was important to ensure that the proposed law targeted the trafficker or the pimp and not the victim.
“We tried to lift, even repeal penalties, against the girls being trafficked,” he said. “Granted, some of them got to where they were because of their sin and certainly those needed repentance. But we knew it hampered the cause to stop human trafficking, if we went after the girls who were prostitutes. There is a sense in which they are victims too.”
As for the scholars’ claim that the resolution unwisely rejects incrementalism, Creech agrees that incrementalism is essential to achieving success on a host of social issues.
“It’s always better to have a glass half full than an empty glass with nothing. Shall we not do some good if we cannot do all the good?” he asks, rejecting the resolution’s extreme all-or-nothing approach.
The Public Discourse article puts it this way: “Incrementalism is the idea that, while we all are working for the complete abolition of abortion, we also want to support measures to limit and curtail abortion along the way to save as many lives as we can. The sponsors of this resolution reject incrementalism because they say it gives up on the principle of the sanctity of every human life, and we ought not surrender that principle.”
But the scholars point out that even if pro-lifers can’t reach the ultimate goal of stopping all abortions today, they are going to take as much ground as possible until total victory is won.
“That is why the pro-life movement supports incremental steps such as abolishing Roe v. Wade, enacting partial-birth abortion bans, passing parental notification laws, approving ‘heartbeat bills,’ opening crisis pregnancy centers, and other such measures,” the scholars wrote. “None of these measures constitute the complete abolition of abortion, but they do save precious human lives along the way to total abolition.”