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The toll escalated from nearly 750,000 legal abortions in 1973 to about 1.5 million in 1979, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
“[T]o find out Southern Baptist people were giving their tithes and offerings to the Cooperative Program, which was supporting among other institutions ... the Christian Life Commission, and then they were using the money that we gave to them to further a pro-abortion posture, this became a great source of tension,” Sutton said.
SBC messengers finally adopted the first of several pro-life resolutions in 1980. That resolution—introduced by Larry Lewis, who later became president of the then-named Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board)—called for legislation or a constitutional amendment to ban abortion except to save the life of the mother.
In 1984, Southern Baptists for Life was started outside the SBC bureaucracy to advance the pro-life cause in the face of opposition at the institutional level. The organization helped place a Sanctity of Human Life Sunday on the denominational calendar each January.
Land’s 1988 election by a CLC trustee board controlled by conservatives helped further a transformation that proved complete at the national level in the 1990s, when the denominational leadership uniformly became pro-life.
The SBC “was still pro-choice at the institutional level and was seen so by the Supreme Court and others until I came to the commission,” Land said. “They were listing the Southern Baptist Convention as a pro-choice organization.”
In 2003, SBC messengers passed a resolution regarding Roe five months after its 30th anniversary. In the measure, messengers said, “[W]e lament and renounce statements and actions by previous Conventions and previous denominational leadership that offered support to the abortion culture.”
Sutton pointed to two “defining moments” in the ascendancy of the pro-life cause in the SBC: (1) The approval of Lewis’ pro-life resolution at the 1980 meeting,and (2) Land’s election at the CLC.
Land has announced he will retire in October upon the completion of 25 years as head of the convention’s ethics entity. He gave the following assessment of Southern Baptists as legalized abortion’s 40th anniversary and his retirement near.
“I feel good that Southern Baptists are the most pro-life denomination of any size in the country,” Land said, “but I don’t feel good in the sense that I think we should always be doing more to help people understand the pro-life issue and how it relates not only to abortion but to euthanasia and end-of-life issues, which, of course, are going to become a more and more compelling issue in the immediate decades ahead.
“I won’t feel ‘good’—in the sense of good with quotation marks around it—until every Southern Baptist is pro-life,” he said, “and honors the Baptist Faith and Message commitment to defend ‘the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.’”
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