WASHINGTON, D.C.—In conjunction with the March for Life this Friday, evangelical Christians will gather for the second annual Evangelicals for Life conference beginning today and running through Saturday (January 26-28).
An event partnership between the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Focus on the Family, the conference will host more than twenty leading evangelical speakers who will address issues regarding the dignity of human life, such as abortion, human trafficking, elderly care, the refugee crisis, euthanasia and disabilities.
Speakers include Russell Moore, Jim Daly, Kelly Rosati, Matt Chandler, Albert Mohler, and Jennifer Marshall. According to event organizers the conference will “equip evangelicals to stand for life in their communities and circles of influence.”
As part of the Evangelicals for Life conference, attendees will join the hundreds of thousands of pro-life activists expected to march on Washington D.C. as part of the March for Life, the largest annual gathering of pro-life supporters. Started in 1974, the March for Life protests the Supreme Court’s infamous Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion on demand.
Evangelicals for Life is significant because although it may come as a surprise, evangelicals—most notably Southern Baptists—have not always been pro-life. In fact, according to David Roach:
“Baptists and Roman Catholics had long agreed that life begins at conception, but Baptist scholars, unlike their Catholic counterparts, generally did not develop biblical and theological arguments regarding unborn children. By the mid-20th century, abortion rarely came up among Southern Baptists, and average church members had only a general feeling that abortion was wrong.”
Following the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973, most Southern Baptists affirmed their 1971 resolution that stated, “society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life… We call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, most Southern Baptists continued to affirm a largely pro-choice stance. In fact, in 1981, the Christian Life Commission (precursor to the ERLC) wrote: “It is questionable that Christian love and justice would be served by extremely restrictive laws which do not give conscientious people with proper medical advice the opportunity to choose when they are faced with very grave moral dilemmas related to abortion.”
However, attitudes began to change in the 1980’s as notable Southern Baptists figures including FBC Dallas pastor W.A. Criswell, Jerry Vines, and Richard Land became convinced of pro-life convictions. This coincided with the “conservative resurgence” within the Southern Baptist Convention, a movement that saw theologically conservative Presidents appointed by Southern Baptist church messengers. Beginning with Adrian Rogers, these conservative Presidents—including Charles Stanley and Jerry Vines—appointed resolutions committees that proposed pro-life statements. These began to effect how the average Southern Baptist church member thought about the issue of abortion. By the late 80’s and early 90’s, Southern Baptists and the broader evangelical world was thoroughly pro-life.
In fact, after he was appointed the President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s moral concerns and public policy arm in 1988, Richard Land made pro-life advocacy one of the leading issues of his administration (1988-2013). His successor, Russell Moore, has continued this advocacy, notably in the ERLC’s efforts in Evangelicals for Life.