Southern Baptists of Texas Testifiers Go Off the Rails While Defending Incrementalism

James SilbermanAbolitionism

Southern Baptists of Texas deliberated on the Resolution on Abolishing Abortion in November, but decided instead to affirm a resolution regarding the heartbeat bill. The arguments made by incrementalist messengers were some of the worst we’ve seen from incrementalists anywhere (particularly Nathan Lino’s argument), but still persuaded a majority of the convention to oppose a demand for immediate abolition.

The convention’s Resolutions Committee offered the messengers a resolution celebrating the Texas Heartbeat Act, urging Christians to vote pro-life, and calling on them to “pray and work for the immediate and unequivocal peaceful and lawful overturning of the Roe v. Wade 1973 ruling.”

Pastor and abolitionist Aaron Wright motioned to amend the resolution by striking all of the language of the heartbeat bill resolution and replacing it with the Resolution on Abolishing Abortion. Abolitionists J.R. Haas (Abolish Abortion Texas V.P.), Joel Tope (First Baptist Church of Kingsland Pastor), Katherine Tope, and Wright argued well in favor of the resolution, but the purpose of this article is to respond to two of the testimonies offered in opposition to Pastor Wright’s amendment.

Nathan Lino

Lino is a Pastor of a large church in Houston and former First Vice President of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. His testimony against immediate abolition was as follows:

“We are pro-life. We have been very clear that we as an organization are against abortion. If my numbers are correct, we have passed at the national level 28 resolutions against abortion over the years as the Southern Baptist Convention. My church family has spent seven figures at great cost to ourselves fighting abortion and running a pregnancy clinic in Houston’s fifth ward. There’s no question that we are a pro-life people.

“However, when you read this amendment that is being presented in their own language, while I agree with the heart of it that we want abortion ended, it is harsh, it is mean, and it does not represent the spirit of who we are; that we are a people full of grace and truth. For example, using their own language, page five, sentence one, paragraph two, they are calling our president, and our Resolution Committee members compromisers of the Word of God. That is a big statement of our duly elected brothers and sisters, and I strongly disagree with it.

“Resolved number 16 out of their pamphlet, again proving the harshness and the mean spirit that is entailed here: ‘Resolved that we affirm that the murder of a preborn child is a crime against humanity that must be treated equally under the law as the murder of a born person.’ Many of us have young females in our youth groups. We have grandchildren and children who are females, growing up in a sex-saturated culture. Many of them will have the opportunity to have sex outside of marriage, and it’s possible…”

Lino was then cut off as his time ran out, which was a great blessing from God, and possibly the President, to Lino. Three issues here:

1) It seemed that he was on the verge of suggesting that it is unloving and mean-spirited to warn young, Christian women away from murdering their own children by calling abortion a crime against humanity that should be treated as murder. At least, that’s the best-case scenario. I shudder to think of some of the alternative points Lino might have been about to make, but want to assume the best.

Young women and men in today’s world desperately need to hear that preborn children are equal in value to themselves, and that to kill a preborn child is murder. Because of the many shepherds who are too afraid to preach this important truth into conflict with a sin that is ravaging their flocks, abolitionists see cars with church stickers and Jesus fish pulling into abortion mills on a regular basis. Surveys have found that upwards of 40 percent of American mothers having abortions are regular churchgoers.

Of course, a pastor should also preach that God can remove the sin of abortion as far from a post-abortive mother as the east is from the west; that though their sins are like scarlet, they can be made white as snow! But one cannot embrace truth while objecting to calling abortion “a crime against humanity” and opposing the idea that preborn children should be made equal under the law. To lessen of the severity of child sacrifice one iota is to fail to speak truly, and it is to dehumanize the most vulnerable and oppressed in our society.

To do so is unloving to post-abortive mothers because it denies them access to the gospel, and it’s unloving to possibly pre-abortive mothers because it makes them think abortion isn’t that bad.

The Church, especially in states like Texas and Oklahoma, could abolish abortion with the snap of their fingers. If every Bible-believing Church repented of apathy, got engaged in the battle, and announced that any legislator who refuses to do justice by supporting the Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act would face Church discipline, abortion would be abolished. The daily slaughter of image bearers continues because of Christian leaders who are too “nice” to adequately defend their preborn neighbors and speak truthfully about the sin of child sacrifice.

2) Notice how Lino begins with his and the convention’s pro-life credentials. This is the same tactic we see from virtually every politician standing in the way of abortion’s abolition in Oklahoma, Missouri, and most places pro-life politicians are opposing abolition. Greg Treat “got into politics because of the life issue.” Greg McCortney “is 100% pro-life.” Jeff Leach got the “Courageous Defender of Life” award the year he killed the Texas abolition bill. Bob Onder received the “Statesmen for Life” award the same year he killed the Missouri abolition bill. According to the pro-life groups giving out these awards, what makes someone a great pro-life politician is fighting against the immediate abolition of abortion.

Being super pro-life is how the pro-lifers at the top get away with keeping abortion legal. This is why it’s important to be suspicious of anyone calling themselves pro-life. Being pro-life can mean anything or nothing at all. What you need to listen for is a promise to fight for the immediate abolition of abortion.

3) Lino said, “they are calling our president, and our Resolution Committee members compromisers of the Word of God.” Well, sort of. Page five, sentence one, paragraph two (which I was privileged to write) reads: “Compromise is the language of worldly politicians, not of the bride of Christ.” It continues “When it comes to child sacrifice, Texas Southern Baptists’ message to the world must be as unequivocal and steadfast as scripture itself. We have no right to retreat a single inch from God’s holy standard.”

It’s not nearly as hostile or crazy an accusation as Lino makes it out to be. The standard is “you shall not murder.” It is undeniably true that to support legislation inconsistent with that is to compromise from the standard. You can argue that compromising in order to “do as much good as we can” is a good thing, but you can’t argue that it isn’t compromise.

Bart Barber

Barber, a Texas pastor and former member of both the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee and Resolutions Committee, had this to say in opposition to Wright’s abolitionist amendment:

“I don’t believe there’s a person in this room who is not in favor of the abolition of abortion totally. And I believe that Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned. When it does, we’re going to celebrate that. We’re going to be excited about that. And when it does, Texas will revert to law which criminalizes all abortion. But when that day comes, and when we celebrate that victory, we’re going to be thankful for every baby that we saved one-by-one through incremental means along the way.

“And when the allied soldiers were marching across Europe to end the Holocaust — because abortion is a Holocaust — when they were marching across Europe to end the Nazi Holocaust, we all know the stories of Anne Frank and Cori Ten Boom and Oscar Schindler, it would be insane to got to them and say ‘Shame on you for simply saving Jews one-by-one when you could have been a soldier to come and accomplish the abolition.’ Why not do both? Why not applaud those who are saving babies one-by-one while also working toward the abolition of abortion.

“So I’m against this amendment because it gratuitously slaps down these efforts to save babies one-by-one in the name of a goal that we all embrace.”

My first question here is whether Lino would accuse Barber of being mean and hard hearted. He is saying the exact things Lino accuses us of being mean spirited over: namely that abortion is a holocaust, and it should be criminalized. I don’t think Lino would and it’s not much of a secret why: “aBoLiTiOnIsTs aRe mEaN” has been a favorite talking point of the Pro-Life Establishment for years. They believe it works, so they keep using it specifically against abolitionists.

Three notes on Barber’s testimony:

1) Like Lino, Barber begins with his anti-abortion credentials, but Barber actually goes a little further and says that everyone in the room wants abortion totally abolished. The problem is that — like most pro-lifers who say this — Barber doesn’t appear to have lifted a finger for the bill that would have abolished abortion in Texas.

Search engine and social media searches for “Bart Barber HB3326,” “Bart Barber HB896,” and “Bart Barber Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act” all turn up no relevant results. Searches for “Bart Barber abolition” turns up only various videos of Barber opposing abolitionism. We would love for Barber to join us and Texas abolitionists in supporting total abolition in the state, but he thus far hasn’t. If he really does support immediate abolition, Barber can always reach out to us or Abolish Abortion Texas if he wants to know how to get involved.

2) This war analogy is one of the worst arguments incrementalists have offered in response to abolitionism. As we have explained ad nauseum on the blog and podcast, abolitionism is not overnight-ism. Abolitionists are not under the impression that the culture and politics will drastically change overnight, nor is our objection to the Pro-Life Movement that they did not abolish abortion overnight.

Abolitionists understand, as our 19th century abolitionist predecessors did, that the fight to abolish a great societal evil is a struggle that will likely take years of toil and faithfulness. As William Lloyd Garrison wrote in the August 13, 1831 edition of The Liberator, “Urge immediate abolition as earnestly as we may, it will alas! be gradual abolition in the end. We have never said that slavery would be overthrown by a single blow; that it ought to be we shall always contend.” The abolitionism-incrementalism debate does not revolve around how long the battle takes (though the abolitionist strategy will certainly achieve the desired end more quickly). The debate revolves around what our demand should be.

The abolitionist demands the immediate abolition of the evil; calling the evil what it is, watering nothing down, and grounding our demands in God’s Word. The incrementalist asks for a compromise with the evil. The tragic consequence of this is that the incrementalist cannot ground their argument in anything substantial.

For instance, the abolitionist demand for abortion to be abolished can be grounded in God’s Word (“You shall not murder”) and in the U.S. Constitution (“[No state shall] deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”). An incrementalist’s demand for a 20-week abortion ban or a heartbeat bill cannot be defended from God’s Word or the Constitution, as these laws – by implying the legality of abortion prior to the arbitrary standard they set for who counts as fully human – violate both.

Because incremental laws and the incremental arguments made in favor of them cannot be grounded in anything substantial, they are weak and impotent to change culture and politics. In some cases, these bills and arguments actually serve to move the needle in the wrong direction by dehumanizing the preborn children left unprotected or classified as non-humans by the arbitrary law (see point #3 of this article).

Compromise bills and arguments mean compromised foundations; compromised foundations mean no powerful prophetic witness from our demands; and no powerful prophetic witness from our demands means no positive cultural change from our demands. This is one of the many reasons immediatists demand the immediate, not the gradual, abolition of the evil. Abolitionists set a high bar with strong, principled demands, and the culture gradually moves toward us.

The heart of the abolitionism-incrementalism debate is about the difference in the demands we make. The SBC professors’ citation of the invasion of Normandy to argue that cultural and political change happens over time is granted, but has absolutely nothing to do with abolitionism.

Fixing the analogy on The Liberator Podcast, J.R. Haas of Abolish Abortion Texas pointed out that Barber is mixing categories between taking territory over time and passing unjust laws. Abolitionism is the strategy of a good general: completely freeing the hostages of the Nazis from one town to the next (just as abolitionists work to abolish abortion from State and country to the next). Incrementalism is like taking a town and only freeing some of the hostages because it’s “pragmatic” to do it slowly.

3) Barber again mixes categories when he talks about Oscar Schindler and Corrie Ten Boom. They were heroes. They risked life and limb to save as many Jewish people as they could from the slaughter. Abolitionists are working to save as many preborn children as they can from the slaughter at abortion mills around the country (sans any significant risk to life and limb). But there is a huge category difference between saving children one-by-one through individual action, and passing unjust laws while using the end to justify the means. (See this article for an explanation of why we oppose incremental pro-life bills).

With Haas, who was in the room arguing for the abolitionist amendment, we addressed these issues and more regarding what went down at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention meeting. Watch it if you haven’t already and make sure you’re subscribed to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss important analysis like this, in addition to news about legislation, events, and other important abolitionist information!

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