Editor's Note: This column was co-authored by Scott Klusendorf.
Pro-life Christians should promote good and limit evil insofar as possible given current political realities, but the Southern Baptist Convention just passed a resolution that turns that truth on its head.
The resolution, forwarded by abolitionists, calls the SBC to be a “prophetic voice to abolish abortion” immediately and without exceptions. Incremental strategies – the resolution declares – are nothing more than “regulatory guidelines” for determining “when, where, why, and how” adults may intentionally kill innocent pre-born children. In other words, all pro-life work to date has done nothing more than promote evil. Any incremental strategy – rather than immediate abolition – is suddenly a shameful act of which leaders must confess, lament, and repent because it makes them complicit in abortion. Such a charge is scandalous, and factually untrue.
The SBC tried to soften the resolution’s tone by amending it to say that the SBC “…will not embrace an incremental approach alone to ending abortion…” Yet every other clause in the resolution condemns as ungodly all past successful incremental efforts to save the lives of as many unborn children as possible – all because these efforts didn’t achieve total abolition.
Though the resolution is non-binding, abortion abolitionists will wield it like a cudgel to weaken SBC support for any incremental pro-life legislation. To the extent abolitionists succeed, the SBC will find itself fighting against abortion restrictions; an unwitting ally of Planned Parenthood. The latter fights them because they want unrestricted abortion; the former will fight them out of a misguided sense of ideological purity. The result will be the same: more dead children.
Every pro-life advocate wants abortion abolished. But the abolition resolution conflates the laudable goal of ending abortion with the unfeasible tactic of immediate abolition. How, exactly, is immediate abolition to happen, given current political realities? The abolitionist response is a kind of magical thinking: just decree it. But in the real world there are two ways to win a war. If you command overwhelming forces, you crush the opposition swiftly and establish victory. If, however, you are outnumbered and outgunned, then you fight a war of attrition. You wear down the opposition. That’s precisely what pro-life advocates have done with the support of the SBC. The wording of the resolution alienates and slanders them.
The SBC should have looked deeper into the history of those promoting abolition before hitching its wagon to them. Even the current resolution reveals that disagreeing with abolitionists gets you labeled a promoter of evil. It’s not the first time. When Jill Stanek -- the surgical nurse who exposed the grisly treatment of infants who survive abortion procedures -- disputed abolitionist claims on her blog, abolitionist Michael Plaisted accused her of “misrepresenting” truth, “wicked endeavors,” and making “an idol out of the abortion fight.” He declared Stanek valued her career over her soul. “I pray she repents.”
Similarly, SBC pastor William Ascol—the resolution’s sponsor—used a 2020 sermon to say Baptist churches should summarily disfellowship politicians who don’t vote along abolitionist lines. Put simply, abolitionists falsely claim that if you’re not with them, you’re evil. What the SBC needed at the conference was more critical thinking and less label-shaming hysteria.
By insisting on “prophetic” purity, the abolitionist position trades actual lives that could be saved right now for hypothetical ones they hope can be saved at some undisclosed future date. Consider the 2015 exchange between pro-life leader Gregg Cunningham and abolitionist leader T. Russell Hunter. Cunningham held up Dr. Michael New’s research on the effectiveness of incremental bills and asked Hunter, “Should these babies saved by incremental legislation have been allowed to die?” Hunter repeatedly attempted to dodge the question, but Cunningham pressed him. Instead of answering, Hunter dismissed the question as a “charade.” But Cunningham was not playing games. He deftly exposed a bankrupt strategy.
If implemented as intended, the SBC resolution will neuter the ability of the pro-life movement to advance life-saving legislation. What they’ll get in return is a Pyrrhic victory where abolitionists feel good about their righteous intentions while sacrificing the lives of children at risk from abortion now.
This is madness. The resolution calls for immediate abolition of abortion – which is grandstanding, not realistic policy making. We live in a constitutional republic where people with opposing views also have votes. The pro-life movement must persuade, taking what gains it can. Rejecting incremental legislative strategies leaves all unborn humans unprotected.
Kevin James Bywater, Director of the Oxford Study Centre, clarifies that pro-life advocates who vote for incremental legislation aren’t voting for the lesser of two evils; they are voting to lessen evil. They aren’t abandoning children they were never in a position to save in the first place. But abolitionist strategies can, and do, abandon children who are savable right now. Abandoning savable children isn’t prophetic. It’s immoral. And Southern Baptist pastors and church members should call on SBC leadership to say so—immediately.
Dr. Marc Newman is president of Speaker for Life and author of Contenders. Scott Klusendorf is president of Life Training Institute and author of The Case for Life.