“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause
for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject,
I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation.” —Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, 1831
Recently, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) published its LIGHT Magazine 2022 Winter issue, Pursuing a Culture of Life. Therein, SBC President, Bart Barber, wrote an article entitled “Working Toward the End of Abortion: A Pro-Life Response to Abolitionism’s Critiques.”
President Barber kindled the keyboard against equal protection for all preborn lives and the abolition of abortion. Such a bold move should be accompanied by convincing Scriptural exegesis, so is that the instruction President Barber offered?
In what follows, we biblically weigh Barber’s overall argument and juxtapose Barber and the Pro-Life establishment’s definitions of “abolish” and “abortion” with those of the abortion abolitionists. Bradley Pierce also published a response that we commend, “Abolition and Equal Protection: A Response to Barber’s False Claims.”
For the record, we have made numerous offers to discuss these matters in person with Barber, but as of yet, to no avail.
Divergent Definitions of “Abolish” and “Abortion”
Our contention is this: ultimately, the division between Barber, the ERLC, and the Pro-Life establishment on one hand and the Abortion Abolitionists on the other comes down to different definitions and foundations of what it means to abolish abortion.
Pro-Life leaders, sufficiently represented by Barber and the ERLC, generally view abortion as an act performed by doctors and the pill industry. The mother involved is always a victim who is pressured or coerced in various ways. Some concede the mother may sometimes be culpable morally but still must never be held accountable legally. The Pro-Life establishment treats abortion as healthcare to be regulated until it somehow gradually ends, while the act of abortion should never be criminalized for everyone. While Barber claims “abortion should be abolished,” and the ERLC says it seeks to end abortion by creating a culture of life that “makes abortion illegal, unnecessary, and unthinkable,” neither approves of laws holding all parties, including the mother who murders her preborn child with malice aforethought, accountable.
Abortion abolitionists, on the other hand, define “abortion” as prenatal homicide performed by culpable accomplices and accessories who could include: doctor(s), medical staff, the pill industry, mothers, and all legally culpable parties who may pressure, coerce, or encourage a mother into an abortion. To “abolish” abortion is to criminalize the act of prenatal homicide, to grant all culpable parties due process, and to provide all lives from fertilization/conception the equal protection of the laws.
Biblically speaking, to abolish abortion is consistently to apply the Sixth Commandment to preborn lives, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). The Sixth Commandment requires giving equal protection from fertilization/conception by criminalizing the act of abortion as prenatal homicide (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 21:22-24; Proverbs 6:17). Stated another way, to abolish abortion would mean to demand the same treatments and protections under law, that you and I as born people enjoy, be extended to all preborn lives from fertilization/conception; using “equal weights and measures” and showing “no partiality” to establish justice as “righteous judgment” as God demands. Instead of treating the act of abortion as though it is healthcare to be regulated, God demands we treat it as murder to be criminalized, namely abolished.
As Christians, we affirm that life begins from the moment God combines the reproductive cell of a man with that of a woman and begins the process of forming the body of the child in the womb—biblically called conception, and biologically called fertilization. From fertilization/conception, all humans are fearfully and wonderfully created in God’s image by, through, and for Jesus Christ to the glory of God, and all souls belong to Him, thus are a sacred gift of God. Further, as God’s image-bearers, all humans display His divine worth, power, and attributes, and thus possess objective and equal worth not varying based on incidental characteristics; such as ethnicity, age, size, means of conception, mental development, physical development, sex (gender), potential, or contribution to society (Romans 1:19-20; Genesis 1:27; 9:6; Matthew 18:6).
Loving and protecting preborn children with just law is the way we fulfill the Royal Law and the Second Commandment: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
And actions speak louder than words. If we say we love our preborn neighbor as ourselves, but we show partiality by denying them equal protection of the laws, we deceive ourselves. As James says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9).
Any willing embrace of an approach to preborn life that compromises God’s holy standard of justice is an attempt to usurp God’s sovereignty as Creator, promotes God-hating partiality, and, ultimately, is an assault on God’s image and glory (Genesis 3:1; John 8:44; Rom 2:14-15; 2 Corinthians 11:3). For more study on the Biblical position of abolishing abortion see here, here, here, here, and here, and read the Norman Statement.
Barber and ERLC Double-speak
Though Bart Barber says, “abortion should be abolished,” and he, Brent Leatherwood, and the ERLC truly may want abortion to end somehow, they demonstrably do not want to abolish abortion according to the biblical and abolitionist definition.
1) Bart Barber, here, elsewhere, and in his ERLC article, argues, “Should abortion laws mandate the prosecution of women who seek or obtain an abortion? I think not. I think it is unjust, unnecessary, and unwise to include in abortion laws the prosecution of women who seek or obtain an abortion (emphasis mine).” Take Barber for his word. Perhaps his goal is an equal protection-less abolition, but he may as well argue for married bachelors.
2) Elsewhere in his article, Barber uncaged a bald red herring to divert attention from what truly transpired in Louisiana. Many Christians and Southern Baptists had a problem with the fact that over 75 Pro-Life organizations, led by Roman Catholics and the ERLC, with Brent Leatherwood at its helm, torpedoed LA House Bill 813, an abolition bill that would have granted equal protection of the laws to all preborn from fertilization in Louisiana.
Together, they swiftly published an anti-equal protection letter on May 12, 2022, at the exact moment HB813 was being argued on the Louisiana House floor. The letter asserted, “We state unequivocally that we do not support any measure seeking to criminalize or punish women and we stand firmly opposed to include (sic) such penalties in legislation.” They argued, “women are victims of abortion and require our compassion and support,” and that “turning women who have abortions into criminals is not the way.”
Obstinately, Leatherwood defied the will of the Messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville, who had passed the Resolution on Abolishing Abortion asserting, “The messengers . . . state unequivocally 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. . . . We affirm that the murder of preborn children is a crime against humanity that must be punished equally under the law.” Also, “we will engage, with God’s help, in establishing equal . . . protection for the preborn according to the authority of God’s Word.”
3) Further, from the platform at the SBC 2022 Annual Meeting, Leatherwood argued, “Here’s the reality, you’re not going to get me to say that a woman who has willfully had an abortion should be behind bars. . . . That’s not the view of this entity. That is not the view of this convention. It is not the view of the Pro-Life movement that was proven yet again today.”
Presidents Barber and Leatherwood are firmly situated in the Pro-Life establishment when they affirm the long-standing Pro-Life rejection of the criminalization of prenatal homicide. Neither Barber, nor the ERLC, by their own words, has any interest in truly abolishing abortion, adding it to or removing exceptions in the homicide codes, and granting equal protection for all preborn lives.
Do not be fooled by Big Pro-Life’s use of “abolish.” The goalline of the Pro-Life Establishment football game is never the establishment of justice through criminalization for all parties involved in murdering the preborn child. Big Pro-Life will not abolish abortion because they will not stop thinking of abortion as healthcare instead of homicide. If we really want to make abortion unthinkable, our motto must become, “Make abortion something only murderers would do.” How does a nation do this? By criminalizing the act of prenatal homicide–for everyone.
Obedience requires more than platitudes.
“People of the Book” Offered Bookless Instruction
If readers of President Barber’s article came with a Berean’s nobility, eager to examine the Scriptures alongside President Barber “to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11), they would search in vain for “instruction in sound doctrine” and biblically saturated exegesis (Titus 1:9). Barber spends around 3,500 words lobbing numerous charges at the abolitionist movement, scarcely referencing God’s Word.
How long shall Southern Baptists, a “people of the Book,” listen to those who do not speak according to God’s Word? We get the leaders we deserve, and this article is just as much an indictment on us as any of our leaders. Let us mourn and repent and declare, “To the teaching and to the testimony!” as our response to the Scripture-less opinions and inventions of men (Isaiah 8:20).
This battle opposing the horrendous cultural evil of child sacrifice is not against flesh and blood, so we must not use puny, pragmatic reasoning. We must fight the Lord’s battles with the spiritual weapons He has put into our hands—and leave the “success” to Him (Ephesians 6:10-20). We must wield God’s Word by His authority and power as a necessity, not an add-on.
Prayer for Repentance and Revival
Our hope and prayer for the SBC is repentance and revival—for God’s glory and for the rescue of millions of preborn children from being led to slaughter (Proverbs 24:11-12). As abolitionists, we believe that a new day has dawned in the battle for justice for preborn children. The Sword of the Word of God is being wielded as the God-given weapon for establishing justice and equal protection for all image-bearers of God.
Barber’s LIGHT Magazine article and his Twitter tirades, are gross slander, malignment, obfuscation, and demonization of equal protection of preborn children from fertilization and the abortion abolitionist movement.
Fidelity to God’s Word is always a winning position, no matter the opposition. Opposition will arise. It must. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, emphasis mine). So, for the glory of our Lord, and the burning zeal for justice for our preborn neighbors, we will continue confronting the detestable arguments devised by Pro-Life establishment leaders like President Bart Barber and promoted by the ERLC with Brent Leatherwood at its helm.
Three things to do!
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