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“There is No Southern Baptist Position on Abortion”

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So said a Southern Baptist Convention newspaper on January 31, 1973, soon after Roe v. Wade was decided.

Question: What is the Southern Baptist position on abortion?

Answer: There is no official Southern Baptist position on abortion, or any other such question. Among 12 million Southern Baptists, there are probably 12 million different opinions.

Question: Does the Supreme Court decision on abortion intrude on the religious life of the people?

Answer: No. Religious bodies and religious persons can continue to teach their own particular views to their constituents with all the vigor they desire. People whose conscience forbids abortion are not compelled by law to have abortions. They are free to practice their religion according to the tenets of their personal or corporate faith.

The reverse is also now true since the Supreme Court decision. Those whose conscience or religious convictions are not violated by abortion may not now be forbidden by a religious law to obtain an abortion it they so choose.

In short, if the state laws are now made to conform to the Supreme Court ruling, the decision to obtain an abortion or to bring pregnancy to full term can now be a matter of conscience and deliberate choice rather than one compelled by law.

Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.

It would take time for the Southern Baptist Convention to become a tool of the conservative movement. As Seth Dowland detailed in a 2009 article in Church History, it was not until the late 70s that evangelicals spoke out strongly against women’s rights, abortion, or gay rights. Carter won with significant evangelical support and even fervor in 1976. In 1980, he lost those voters. What happened? A core of conservatives connected with evangelicals over the decline of the family and helped people make connections between these core values we see as inherently evangelical today and other problems they felt in the 70s. Jerry Falwell himself made no statement at all about abortion until 1975. In fact, the Catholic response against the Roe decision made many anti-Catholic evangelicals see Catholic anger as a reason to support the decision. The journal Christianity Today strongly supported feminism in a 1974 editorial and most evangelicals openly supported the Equal Rights Amendment in its early years. The success of people arguing that both of these things were attacks on women and the family turned people fairly rapidly, it is true. The anti-gay campaign led by Anita Bryant was far more about fear mongering about its effect on children than any biblical basis that was only stressed later. But this earlier history can’t be erased, no matter how much evangelicals would like to

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Dowland argues that was the threat of these three issues to the gendered order evangelicals held dear that turned them to political conservatism, but also suggests a top-down manipulation by Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly, Tim LaHaye, Anita Bryant, Francis Schaeffer, and a relatively few other major figures.

In other words, all of this is way more complicated than the pat media narratives suggest.

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