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Southern Baptists take a stand

The SBC removes an historic church and passes an historic statement on IVF

Delegates vote during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting on June 11. Associated Press/Photo by Doug McSchooler

Southern Baptists take a stand

More than 10,000 Southern Baptists gathered in Indianapolis last week for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC was confronted by an unusually urgent set of decisions this year, and the messengers, as those sent by the churches are known, had a full agenda.

That agenda included several blockbuster actions on issues of controversy in the larger culture as well as regular reports from the convention’s ministries and boards. Anyone who thinks the annual meeting of the SBC is boring should come and watch next year in Dallas. This year, there wasn’t a spare moment on the agenda.

SBC president Bart Barber of Texas finished his term only after he presided over a complicated meeting with massive challenges. The first of these challenges is presiding in a way that allows a maximum number of messengers to speak to issues, following the convention’s adopted rules. In a hotly contested election that required three ballots, conservative North Carolina pastor Clint Pressley was elected the convention’s next president. It had been a long time since six candidates were nominated for the office at a single convention. The tellers committee got a real workout.

In terms of pressing business, the two issues that loomed largest as controversies were a proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined the use of the title “pastor” for any woman as grounds to find a church no longer in “friendly cooperation” with the SBC. That measure, passed last year by a large margin, required another supermajority vote in this year’s convention. On the second vote the measure failed by only a few percentage points. Interestingly, the same messengers made the SBC’s convictions on the matter clear by removing a prominent church from the “friendly cooperation” status by a very large margin—and over the same issue. The historic First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Va., was removed from the “friendly cooperation” status after the congregation had expressed its support for women serving as pastors. The SBC’s confession of faith states that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” and messengers showed their unity on this question. The constitutional question is likely to arise again.

The convention took action on issues ranging from sex abuse prevention to support for Israel in its war against Hamas, but the other big headline had to do with something most messengers probably did not expect to confront—issues related to IVF.

The IVF resolution turned into instant headline news. Frankly, evangelical Christians have been late to get serious on this issue, and it was the recent Supreme Court of Alabama decision that served to focus evangelical attention. To put the issue bluntly, most evangelicals are reluctant to engage the issue. Far too many Christians say they believe in the sanctity and dignity of human life at every stage, from fertilization to natural death, but when the issue turns to the massive ethical issues related to IVF, many evangelicals, including far too many Southern Baptists, have refused to connect the dots.

IVF is part of a giant human reproduction industry that turns human embryos into consumer products that are marketed to single women, same-sex couples, and a host of others.

The resolution does connect those dots, and it passed by a large margin after open debate on the convention floor. The resolution recognizes that many Christian couples “experience the searing pain of infertility” and affirmed that “all children are a gift from the Lord regardless of the circumstances of their conception.”

But the resolution goes on to state that “though all children are to be fully respected and protected, not all technological means of assisting human reproduction are equally God-honoring or morally justified.” The resolution listed many of the grave concerns about the technology of IVF, with particular reference to current standard procedures that produce untold thousands of “excess” human embryos destined for eventual destruction, often involve the selection of embryos based on quality or preferences, may involve human experimentation on embryos, and involve a host of other related issues. At the top of that list is now the reality that IVF is part of a giant human reproduction industry that turns human embryos into consumer products that are marketed to single women, same-sex couples, and a host of others.

Response was swift and predictable. MSNBC host Joe Scarborough rejected the pro-life argument in general, and the SBC resolution specifically, by referring to the SBC action as “very judgmental” and “very driven by politics.” Well, that last statement is false on its face. The SBC gains nothing politically by speaking up for human embryos. We speak up because we truly believe that human life is sacred from the moment of fertilization. That is what evangelical Christians have said we believe for decades as we have fought against abortion. Did we not mean it?

The SBC resolution affirms “the unconditional value and right to life of every human being, including those in an embryonic stage,” and calls on believers “to only utilize reproductive technologies consistent with that affirmation.”

Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post went after me in particular, arguing that “Mohler speaks for a minority that believes all abortion, from the moment of conception, is murder.” Well, he got that much right. Robinson went on to argue for a woman’s right “to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy”—categorically. No one said this battle for human dignity and unborn life would be easy, and we clearly have a lot of work to do. But I must say that I am very thankful to be part of a convention of Baptists that will take a stand for life and adopt one of the first major statements on IVF to come from any Protestant denomination. This will not be the last moral witness we will need to make on this urgent issue, but it was an historic start.

Editor’s note: Managing Editor Andrew T. Walker and I authored the IVF resolution and submitted it to the Resolutions Committee. We deeply appreciate the work of this year’s SBC Resolutions Committee and the clarity and conviction with which the committee brought this resolution to the floor.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Albert Mohler is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College and editor of WORLD Opinions. He is also the host of The Briefing and Thinking in Public. He is the author of several books, including The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church. He is the seminary’s Centennial Professor of Christian Thought and a minister, having served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches.

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