“Now, therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Sunday, January 22, 1984, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon the citizens of this blessed land to gather on that day in homes and places of worship to give thanks for the gift of life, and to reaffirm our commitment to the dignity of every human being and the sanctity of each human life.” — Presidential Proclamation 5147
With these words, President Ronald Reagan instituted the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day 11 years after the monumental court decision, Roe v. Wade. Thanks to the initial efforts of a pro-life organization — Southern Baptists for Life — Sanctity of Human Life Sunday has remained a consistent emphasis on the denominational calendar.
Thirty years later, the need for SHLS remains. In 2013, pro-life proponents celebrated victories with some state legislatures, banning late-pregnancy abortions. The past year also saw the conviction of Kermit Gosnell in a trial that drew attention to the horrors of abortion. Unfortunately, in spite of some successes, the average number of abortions in the U.S. still hovers well over 1 million per year. Obviously, Baptists must continue to denounce the evils of abortion. However, in order to fully embrace the meaning behind SHLS, Baptists must do more than simply proclaim; they must also address particularities.
Meaghan Winter’s article in New York magazine, “My Abortion,” records interviews of women who had abortions. In the introduction to her article, Winter observed that “abortion is something we tend to be more comfortable discussing as an abstraction; the feelings it provokes are too complicated to face in all their particularities.” Winter reports on the particularities related to the women involved in her interviews. The church must also learn to participate in the particularities of women and children impacted by the possibility of abortion. Too often, the church revels in rhetoric related to this issue rather than engaging in real-life opportunities for ministry.
Christians in general, and Baptists in particular, have a reputation for allowing words to overshadow actions. Many in the world believe that Christians have big mouths and small hands. Christians proclaim truth but fail to offer accompanying action. Christians condemn sin but refuse to offer a hand of help to the sinner. Remember the old adage: “Actions speak louder than words.” Unfortunately, Christian inactivity threatens to drown out truth.
Christians rightly proclaim the sanctity of human life. We correctly communicate that life begins at conception and that aborting a baby is murder. We share these views in any public forum we find: church, bumper stickers, Facebook and Twitter. However, are Christians willing to combine belief and action? Based on the testimonies in Winter’s article, most women have numerous voices shouting instructions from the periphery, but few individuals are willing to walk with them in the midst of their ordeal. While continuing to proclaim the horrors of abortion, Christians should offer tangible assistance to those who find themselves contemplating abortion.
Christians could provide tangible assistance by offering funds to help an expectant mother raise her baby. Couples could partner with a young woman who needs help raising her child. Christians could even adopt the child and raise the baby. While these actions might seem extreme, they certainly seem to embody the admonition from James 1:27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
God worked in a powerful way to call my family into the needed ministry of orphan care. While my wife and I were still dating, we both agreed that two kids would be perfect. God blessed us with the two children that we wanted and even gave us one of each, a girl and a boy. We had these children at the right time, so that we would not be too young or too old as we raised them. Then, out of the blue, God spoke to my wife about our plan.
I was completing school at Southwestern Seminary, waiting on God’s direction for our next place of ministry. We attended worship at a local church. I hate to sound critical, but the whole service was out of kilter. The music wasn’t quite right, the video didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the service, and the sermon meandered with no particular direction. My then 9-year-old daughter said, “That preacher sure was chasing rabbits!” Ironically, in the midst of this service, God spoke to my wife, forever altering our plan. In a still but certain voice, Kelly heard the Lord reveal that we had two extra places at our dining table and that He intended to fill those places with children who needed a home.
When she told me what God had said, I was stunned. The idea of bringing more children into our home through adoption had never been a remote possibility. In fact, the year before God revealed His plan to us, we had been visiting with some friends. They informed us that they felt led to adopt when their kids got older. After that conversation, Kelly told me privately, “I am happy for them, but we could never do that!”
Our biological children were a bit surprised by this turn of events, as well. My daughter asked, “Couldn’t we just a get a smaller table?” Her practical question presented a much easier alternative. However, God’s command was clear, and it demanded obedience. Over the last several years, we have obeyed by pursuing adoption through the Department of Social Services in South Carolina. We have hosted four children in our home through foster care, and in the next few months we should finalize our first adoption. We are also pursuing infant adoption through Bethany Christian Services, attempting to provide a tangible alternative for an expectant mother contemplating abortion.
Our exposure to adoption care has revealed the enormous need for Christian families to engage in this ministry. South Carolina DSS has approximately 3,600 children in foster care; 1,200 are legally eligible for adoption. Imagine the impact Christians could have by providing homes for these children. Then, South Carolinians could hear and see that Baptists believe in the Sanctity of Human Life.
— Kristopher Barnett is associate dean of the Clamp Graduate School of Christian Ministry and associate professor of Christian ministry at Anderson University.