Evaluation of the BGCT Christian Life Commission's
Abortion and the Christian Life, 1994 revision

by Wm. Robert Johnston
last modified 24 December 2002

In 1992 the Christian Life Commission (CLC) of the BGCT released a pamphlet entitled "Abortion and the Christian Life." Harsh criticism of the CLC resulted; in the course of ensuing debate the CLC revised the paper and released a modified version in 1994. The revised version remains controversial among Texas Baptists. The following analysis will first review positive aspects of the paper and then examine negative aspects. Each review is followed by relevant citations from the 1994 revision indicating the source of citations by section and paragraph number (i.e. "An Ethic iv"). The last section sequentially lists major differences between the 1992 (old) and 1994 (new) versions.

In 1998 the pamphlet was rereleased, with minor textual changes from the 1994 version.

I. Summary of Points of Agreement with the CLC Position Paper

The CLC does not adopt a pro-choice position. The central tenant of the pro-choice position is that abortion on demand should be the societal norm: that access to abortion should be unlimited--including no limits on the reason for an abortion and no constraints on the availability of abortion. The CLC, on the other hand, condemns abortion as a means of birth control. Such abortions represent the vast majority of abortions occurring in the United States. The CLC also speaks of the "reverence of life" that is taught by the Bible and that should be held to by Christians.

At several points in the paper, the CLC acknowledges the humanity of the unborn child. The phrase "unborn child" is used. Among the fourteen scripture references are four pertaining to murder and several cited as calling for protection of the defenseless.

The paper declares all abortions tragic, states that abortion is not "encouraged", and discusses adoption as an alternative. It calls on the Christian community to support children who suffer from dehabilitating birth defects.

Importantly, the CLC affirms the Christian community in efforts to shape public policy, including legislation to restrict abortion. The CLC refers favorably to the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing states to place restrictions on abortion.

The CLC also addresses the sexual sins which underlie the societal tolerance of abortion. It calls for abstinence-based sexuality education in public schools, for example.

II. Citations from the CLC Position Paper Rejecting Abortion

The CLC rejects abortion on demand:

The CLC calls for sexual purity in the church and society:

The CLC endorses legislation restricting abortion:

III. Summary of Issues with the CLC Position Paper

The CLC position paper is not pro-choice: it rejects abortion as birth control and cites "a basic aversion to abortion." On the other hand, it is also not pro-life: it allows several exceptions to a rejection of abortion, and it uses language implying that the authors do not truly subscribe to a belief in "sanctity of life."

The CLC uses the phrase "sanctity of life" but does not grant it the same meaning that pro-life advocates do. In pro-life terms, the phrase refers to the unique value that human life has, as a gift from God, regardless of stage of development or physical health, from the point of conception to the point of physical death. The CLC, on the other hand, distinguishes a higher quality of life as being addressed by the phrase.

In several instances the CLC uses language consistent with pro-choice (i.e. pro-abortion) arguments instead of the pro-life language. The language in question, used by the CLC, is language that qualifies the value of life according to its stage of development, physical health, or impact on others. Such language, by qualifying the value of life, also allows for the tolerance of euthanasia.

A further example is terminology for the unborn. Pro-life advocates tend to use the term "unborn baby" or "unborn child", even from the point of conception. This recognizes and emphasizes that from the point of conception a human life is involved. Pro-choice language generally uses the phrase "fetus", which is technically correct but avoids the connection to a person after birth. More extreme pro-choice language will use phrases such as "fetal material" to carry this disconnection further.

The pro-life concern over the language of the CLC paper is illustrated by the fact that the paper uses the term "fetus" or "fetal life" 8 times, but only uses "child" or "unborn child" twice (once each). The unborn life is referred to as a "pregnancy" 16 times, as "life" 6 times, as the "unborn" 3 times, as "unborn life" 2 times, and as "developing human life" 1 time.

The CLC cites appropriate scripture in defending the value of life, condemning murder, and defending children and the disadvantaged. However, it cites none of the scriptures specifically addressing the unborn child--scriptures which are essential to the Christian position that human life before birth carries the same God-given value as human life after birth. Such scriptures particularly include Exodus 21:22-25, Deuteronomy 24:16, Psalm 51:5, Psalm 127:3, Psalm 139:13-16, Proverbs 6:16-17, Isaiah 49:1, Jeremiah 1:5, Luke 1:15, 41-44, and Galatians 1:15. The absence of these scriptures is noteworthy.

In the debate over abortion we see various exceptions under which abortion is proposed to be permitted. The following represents a list of some representative exceptions in roughly decreasing order of acceptance by Americans:

  1. to save the physical life of the mother
  2. in the case of rape or incest
  3. of a baby expected to die of congenital/developmental defects
  4. endangering the physical health of the mother
  5. of a baby with severe congenital/developmental defects
  6. endangering the mental/emotional health of the mother
  7. of a baby who will enter an abusive or poverty-stricken family
  8. of a baby of an adolescent too young to be a "mother"
  9. of a baby conceived out of wedlock
  10. for birth control
  11. of a baby of undesired gender

Many pro-lifers allow no exceptions, arguing that weighing one life against another should only be left to God. Most Americans accept exception #1; the Southern Baptist Convention has passed several resolutions making this exception, and at least one officer of the SBTC has made statements accepting this exception. Recent SBTC resolutions on abortion, if taken literally, do not condone this exception, however. Probably a majority of Texas Baptists accept exceptions #1 and 2. The CLC position paper accepts #1-6. Most Americans reject exception #11. No exceptions whatsoever is the trademark of the pro-choice (i.e. pro-abortion) position--and is also prevailing law in the United States.

The CLC paper rejects those exceptions which account for the vast majority of the abortions in America. The exceptions they do make, however, pose two problems from a pro-life stance. First, it establishes a position for the CLC which is not truly pro-life. Second, the exception #6, while specifically worded, can and has been misused by the pro-abortion advocates. Specifically, state laws which have tried to ban abortion but made exceptions for the "health of the mother" have had those exceptions become loopholes for pro-abortions to legitimize most abortion on demand.

A separate concern is the support the CLC gives to sexuality education in the public schools. The goal of producing responsible youth is laudable and the paper does call for teaching of abstinence. However, a valid concern is that this support should be more carefully qualified, given the prevailing tendency for the secular public schools to, through sexuality education, preach humanistic and/or immoral attitudes about sexuality. The language used in the CLC is vague enough to differ little from that used by organizations such as Planned Parenthood in promoting curriculum for such instruction.

IV. Citations from the CLC Position Paper Tolerant of Abortion

The CLC accepts abortion in many circumstances:

The CLC equates the weight of the mother's interests with the life of the unborn child:

The CLC does not ascribe unique value to life independent of development:

The CLC uses language which is consistent for euthanasia:

The CLC expresses insufficient qualification for support of secular sexuality education for youth:

The CLC does not acknowledge that some contraceptive methods may result in abortion:

V. Major Revisions in the 1994 Version from the 1992 Version

1992 version (old)1994 version (new)
"There is no social issue more divisive than abortion." (i, opening statement) "Because the Bible teaches a profound reverence for life, Christians share a strong aversion to abortion. Yet, it is clearly the case that even among Christians no social issue is more divisive than abortion." (i, opening statement)
"There are many reasons why abortion is so divisive: the vulnerability of the fetus, the enhanced awareness of the fetus evoked in part by advances in neonatal medicine and fetal imaging, the agonizing dilemma of the crisis pregnancy which invites conflicting opinions about competing values and choices, the inextricable relationship between abortion and the changing roles of women in family, church, and society." (ii, entire paragraph) (paragraph deleted)
An Ethic for ChristiansAn Ethic for Christians
"...the biblical narratives teach us to reverence every life involved in a crisis pregnancy." (i) "...the biblical narratives teach us to reverence every life involved in a crisis pregnancy: the unborn, the mother, the father, the extended family, the whole of society." (i)
"Abortion as birth control is not compatible with the gospel's call to reverence life." (added to ii)
"Aborting the life of the fetus should be regarded as an extreme act undertaken under extreme circumstances." (end of iii) "Aborting a developing life should be regarded as an extreme act undertaken only under extreme circumstances." (beginning of iv)
"In these and other cases of extreme fetal abnormalities, abortion might be chosen as the lesser of evils." (v) "In these and other cases of extreme fetal abnormalities, abortion might be chosen as the lesser of tragedies." (v)
"By similar logic, the users of intrauterine birth control devices, which prevent the implantation of fertilized eggs, are generally not accused of perpetrating abortion." (end of vi) (sentence deleted)
"While we reject the practice of abortion, there may be rare circumstances described above in which Christians prayerfully choose abortion as the least tragic choice." (added to ix)
The Community of Faith and Children
(no separate section; these paragraphs included in previous section) (separate two paragraphs into new section)
"...children as the property and sole responsibility of biological parents..." (i) "...children as the property and sole responsibility of natural parents..." (i)
Underlying ResponsibilitiesUnderlying Responsibilities
"As Christians, we are faced with responsibilities which reach beyond the decision not to practice abortion except in extreme circumstances." (i) "As Christians, we are faced with responsibilities which reach beyond the decision to shun the practice of abortion." (i)
"Churches must effectively become safe havens for women and families facing crisis pregnancies if the decision not to terminate these pregnancies is to become a broadly viable option." (v) "Churches must effectively become safe havens for women and families facing crisis pregnancies." (v)
Public Policy ImplicationsPublic Policy Implications
"Because of past and pending U.S. Supreme Court decisions, it is probable that Texas Baptists will have the opportunity to participate in the shaping of abortion legislation in the state legislature relatively soon." (i, opening statement) "Christians, of course, have the opportunity to shape legislation regarding abortion at both the state and federal levels." (i, opening statement)
"...considerations such as...political possibilities." (i) "...considerations such as...political realities in a diverse society." (i)
"...to convey a societal message concerning the value of fetal life." (iii) "...to convey a societal message concerning the value of unborn life." (iii)
"...the first arena for Christians to deal with abortion is in the body of Christ." (v) "...the first arena for Christians to deal with abortion is in the Christian community." (v)
"...more rigorous than can be realistically imposed on the larger, pluralistic society." (v) "...more rigorous than can be realistically imposed on the larger society." (v)
"Reverencing competing lives and interests is no simple task." (i, opening statement) "Reverencing life is no simple task." (i, opening statement)
"Let us pray for the humility and grace of God as we struggle to deal with this divisive and difficult issue." (i, concluding statement) "As we deal with the issue of abortion, pray for humility and wisdom. As we minister to those who face crisis pregnancies, walk with them through painful decisions and share the grace and forgiveness of God. As we struggle through the challenge to fellowship presented by this difficult issue, act toward and speak redemptively to everyone." (ii, new paragraph)

Note: This review was written as part of the work of a study committee at First Baptist Church, Brownsville, Texas. It was an appendix to the committee's report, which itself is copyrighted © 1998 by First Baptist Church, Brownsville, Texas. Version dates: 15 February 1998, 6 January 2001, 12 April 2001, 24 December 2002.

Last modified 24 December 2002.
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