EDITOR’S NOTE: Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, marks Sanctity of Life Sunday. Richard Land serves as executive editor for The Christian Post and is former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013).
WASHINGTON (BP) – I will always remember exactly where I was when the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was officially announced, overturning the Supreme Court’s infamous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Dobbs upheld a Mississippi law which severely limited abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation. Now individual state legislatures would be enabled to decide how the abortion issue would be adjudicated in each state.
I had prayed many times since 1973 that God would allow me to live long enough to witness Roe v. Wade and its virtual “abortion-on-demand mandate” being tossed on the ash heap of history. I had always been confident that God was going to answer my prayer affirmatively, but it was still indescribably special when it happened.
I was overwhelmed by intense gratitude to God on behalf of myself and the millions of pro-life advocates with whom I had worked and marched over the preceding half century. We owe so much to the tens of millions of pro-life Americans, living and dead, who gave generously of their time, talents, and finances over many, many years in defense of our preborn fellow human beings’ right to life. I praised God for giving us this great victory for the preborn, and I thanked God for the multitudes of fellow pro-lifers who God used to bring about this victory for a truly righteous and holy cause.
I have often trembled for my country when I realized how God detests abortions and how harshly He judged child sacrifice in the Old Testament. If God did not spare His chosen people, the Jews, from severe judgment for child sacrifice (Jeremiah 7:30-32), I knew He certainly would judge America for similarly heinous, pagan disregard for the sacred nature of all human life.
This year we also observed the 60th anniversary of the convening of the Second Vatican Council. The major reforms in Roman Catholicism initiated by that historic conclave helped forge the cultural rapprochement between American Evangelicals and Roman Catholics that resulted in that powerful pro-life, interfaith alliance. Without that “common cause” and interdenominational cooperation at the local, as well as at the national level, it is extremely doubtful that Roe would have been relegated to an example of truly egregious Supreme Court decisions in legal textbooks.
This has been a long journey for me personally. I have been consciously “pro-life” since my sophomore year in high school in 1964. It was in the spring of that year that I had my first “encounter” with what I now know was a 12- to 14-week-old human fetus. One of my classmates had done her biology term project on human fetal development. As part of her project, she had this undeniably human fetus displayed in a formaldehyde container. (Her father was an obstetrician and had provided the fetus.) I was shocked that this little baby boy’s body was stored just casually leaning against the classroom wall until it was time for her presentation.
From that moment on, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that each preborn child was a fellow human being and that his or her humanity was undeniable from the moment of conception onward. I believe God gave me that disturbing experience at that early stage of my life in order to help prepare me for the pro-life debate that He knew was coming. Interestingly, just six months earlier, I had committed my life to full-time Christian service and had been “licensed” to Gospel ministry.
The task ahead
After a few hours of praising God for allowing us victory in overturning Roe, I focused on the difficult and arduous task ahead. The words of Winston Churchill came to mind. Reflecting on the Allied victory at El Alamein in World War II, the great wartime leader observed, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
The pro-life movement has won a significant and necessary victory in returning the abortion issue to the people. Tragically, the last five decades of abortion on demand in America have greatly advanced what Pope John Paul II rightly labeled as the “Culture of Death.” The reality is that Americans remain deeply divided on the issue of abortion. Polling shows that nationwide, the majority of Americans reject abortion after the first trimester.1 Unfortunately, they do not yet see that, according to biblical revelation, and as reflected in the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolutions on abortion, the only exception to making abortion illegal is to save the mother’s life.2 (I personally believe that ultimately we must have a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution to protect all our preborn citizens. However, in a democracy, it will take a great spiritual awakening to accomplish that feat.) Complicating matters further, there are dramatic differences in opinion within the various states, with California, New York, and Massachusetts allowing abortion up to the moment of birth, as opposed to overwhelmingly pro-life policies such as those found in many of the southern and southwestern states.
Now, the pro-life movement must take up the cause in each state, understanding that it still, first and foremost, is a struggle for hearts and minds. The abortion issue is the leading edge of a much more fundamental debate between the culture of life and the culture of death, between a “sanctity of life” ethic versus a “quality of life” ethic, which inevitably is grounded in the answer to the question, “Who and what is a human being?”
For those of us in the pro-life movement, there is no question concerning the fundamental answer to that most consequential question. The Bible has made it clear that every human being is of incalculable value to God because He sent His Son to die for them (John 3:16). Our Heavenly Father oversees and superintends the process of the formation of each new life so that every one of us, from the moment of conception, is the unique, never-to-be-duplicated, human being that God made each of us to be (Psalm 139:13-16).
It was God’s revelation of Himself to the Jews in the Old Testament that resulted in the Hebrew civilization being the only culture in the Mediterranean basin that did not routinely practice both infanticide and abortion on demand. This biblical understanding carried over into the New Testament as evidenced by the fact that early in the post-apostolic era (circa A.D. 130), The Didache – a type of early church manual with catechisms and doctrinal teachings – condemned abortion as unacceptable for Christians in the midst of a Greco-Roman culture where abortion and infanticide were routine.
The pro-life movement in America is at a hinge point in its spiritual and cultural history. “Time” in the historical sense is not equal. Certain times are more important than others. The apostle Paul said it clearly when he instructed the Ephesian Christians: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16, KJV).
In Greek there are two words for time. One word, chronos, denotes time in its chronological, 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week sense. The other word, kairos, is the one the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle to use here, which signifies time in its strategic, opportune moments. Paul instructs Christians to seize upon these propitious moments, “redeeming” each one for good, because the days are “evil,” which is not kakos or evil as a state of being, but poneros, which is active, aggressive, pernicious evil.
As we in the pro-life movement go forward, we must understand that we are engaged in spiritual warfare as we seek to rescue as many babies as possible at every step in the process. While our ultimate goal must be to radically reduce legal abortion to the single exception of saving the mother’s life, we should never allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. In the interim, if we find ourselves, by political necessity, having to temporarily compromise by accepting laws that allow abortions at up to 6 weeks’ or 9 weeks’ or 12 weeks’ gestation, etc., then let us covenant together that we will save all the babies we can and then continue in the struggle for hearts and minds, coming back again and again with ever more protections for the unborn. The final goal must always be to rescue as many babies as possible.
Over the past five decades, those of us in the pro-life movement have learned some important lessons. First, our God is a God of righteousness, but He is also a God of forgiveness and redemption, and we should always couple our condemnation of abortion with the message of forgiveness and healing at the foot of the cross. We must understand that in every abortion there are at least two victims, the baby and his or her mother. We should do our best to always minister to both victims our Savior’s redeeming, healing love.
We must ask God to give us the spirit of the prophet Jeremiah, who, while he condemned the grievous sins of the people, did so with a catch in his voice and a tear in his eye, as he wept over the sins of the people and the terrible consequences which inevitably followed in the wake of their idolatry and wickedness.
Also, wherever possible, we should promote and support Christian women as leaders and spokespersons for our movement. I learned early on that when pro-abortion advocates are forced to debate pro-life leaders who are women, they lose at least half of their arguments when they can’t engage in bashing males for “wanting to control women’s bodies.”
A picture is worth a thousand words, and we should do everything we possibly can through sonograms and other audio-visual media to present our fellow citizens with the undeniable humanity of preborn babies. One tremendous evidence of this is the astounding success of the Psalm 139 Project, which affords pregnant mothers the opportunity to see sonograms of their babies. We know from those who serve in pregnancy resource centers that the ability to see ultrasound images is extremely important in helping mothers to choose to carry their babies to term. Everything we can do to promote the ministries of pregnancy resource centers across the land should be done. I hope and pray that Southern Baptists will make it our goal to have at least one pro-life pregnancy resource center in every Baptist association in every state in the Union.
And we must do everything we can in word and deed to refute the libel that the pro-life movement is only pro-life from conception to birth. We should make it clear that we are pro-life from conception to natural death and everywhere in between.
Finally, we should always remember that Jesus commanded us to be salt and light (Matthew 3:13-16). The salt of the law can severely restrict abortions in our country, and we must do so. However, there is a limit to what the law can do. We must also represent the light of the Gospel, which transforms hearts and minds. The salt of the law can change actions. Only the light of the Gospel can change attitudes. The salt of the law can change behaviors. Only the light of the Gospel can change beliefs. The salt of the law can change habits. Only the light of the Gospel can change hearts.
Our pro-abortion opponents are not the enemy. They are under the influence and sway of the Prince of Darkness, who is our true enemy. Let us resolve in our hearts to demonstrate the redeeming love of our Savior to all our opponents. As Dr. King so often reminded us, those whom you would change, you must first love!