Editor’s Note: The following episode is a special edition presentation of TBMB President and Executive Director Randy C. Davis’ statement to the Senate Study Committee delivered in support of pro-life legislation proposed in SB 1236. Full news coverage of Davis’ appearance before the committee can be found here and the transcript here.
Chris Turner: Hello and welcome in to this edition of Radio B&R. I’m Chris Turner, Director of Communications at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. The following special episode features Randy Davis, President and Executive Director of the TBMB. Dr. Davis was invited to address a special Tennessee Senate Committee considering pro-life legislation. The address was delivered Monday, August 12th, 2019. For additional coverage, visit baptistandreflector.org.
Randy Davis: It was a shocking scene, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stood at the podium defiantly poking his finger toward the audience. The audience responding with enthusiastic cheers. He had just signed into law one of the most comprehensive pro-abortion bills in our nation’s history. I thought, “God, help us. That man has just signed the death sentence of thousands upon thousands of children.” I’ll never forget the disbelief, the disgust, the devastation that I felt at that moment. Have we sunken so low and devalued live so much that we rise to our feet and enthusiastically celebrate as your counterparts did in New York, the murder of unborn children, many of whom under normal circumstances would just be moments away from being placed in their mother’s waiting arms?
Randy Davis: I never want to see that moment in New York repeated, and I certainly never want to see that moment repeated in our beloved Tennessee. Esteemed senators, I believe that happened in New York woke a sleeping giant. Lovers of life, including nearly 1,000,000 Tennessee Baptists have just begun to rally for life. I come before you today representing those Tennessee Baptist, and we want you to know that we stand for life.
Randy Davis: Just three weeks ago, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board launched a petition initiative called I Stand For Life. Through that, thousands of Tennessee Baptist and almost a 1,000 pastors to date, have indicated their support for legislation protecting Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens. I believe the bill before you today does just that, and on behalf of those Tennessee Baptist living in your voting districts, from Memphis to Mountain City, and Dyersburg to Ducktown, I encourage you to move this bill forward to the next legislative session for approval and then to Governor Lee for his signing into law.
Randy Davis: As the chosen stewards of the great State of Tennessee, I encourage you to send a clear and convictional message to the people you represent, that you, too, stand for life. Bills like this one are gravely significant because they come down to two fundamental issues, life and our collective responsibility to protect it. The degree to which we, as a people, value life, all life, determines the strength of the society in which we live.
Randy Davis: Unfortunately, with Roe v. Wade, our society tipped toward becoming a culture of death. And let’s be honest, abortion is largely a violent form of birth control. Tennessee Baptist support the passage of this proposed legislation because it rightly acknowledges and protects life from conception. This fact is self-evident and finds its origins exclusively in the hands of God, our creator. The Bible’s very first chapter tells us, “God created life in his image.” In Psalm 39, “For you form me, my inward parts. You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” God told the preacher Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” And we know that God values all life, as he sent his only son to redeem broken humanity.
Randy Davis: The Bible testifies in its entirety that God is life’s ultimate and defining authority. Abortionists argue laws protecting unborn babies encroach on a woman’s right to choose. However, that argument exposes a strident desire to take the giving of life from God’s hand. For mankind to claim authority in determining when life begins and when it ends, is the pinnacle of arrogance. And the trend to redefine an unborn child, an ambiguous and impersonal language, only exposes the absurdity of our arrogance.
Randy Davis: Arguments for abortion are shallow and require the denial of facts. Evolutionists through the years have referenced science to support the idea that humanity was created someway, anyway other than by God. They’ve manipulated science to deny God and devalue life. The argument is that if we don’t acknowledge the unborn as a child, it is therefore not a child. To prefer the philosopher Descartes, the argument is, “I think, therefore it is not.” Isn’t it ironic that the more refined science and technology become, the more the two affirm the Bible’s declaration, life begins at conception, and conception results in a child.
Randy Davis: Honorable senators for too long and lawmakers have been more determined to pass laws that protect unborn animals than in passing laws that protect unborn children. In our misguided passion for self-autonomy, we have lost the perspective of common sense. We are culturally adrift and in desperate need of an anchor. Cultural stability begins when we recapture the value of life.
Randy Davis: However, if we continue to devalue life, as we’ve seen in places like New York, where does it end? At what point are children with birth defects judged of no value and terminated? At what point are the elderly judged of no value and are terminated? And what about ethnic groups? History reveals that genocide has been the fate for these groups deemed of no value by others. What you decide here and in the future about this bill does not just affect unborn children. It has far-reaching consequences that define what Tennesseans say collectively about how we value life now and in the future.
Randy Davis: Senators, I appeal to you. From what I’ve read in the spring, and what you were up against, and what you’ve been threatened with, I beg of you not to be bullied by the treats of economic boycott. And I want to tell you on behalf of Tennesseans, Tennessee Baptist that we believe it is worth the risk and it is worth the cost to pursue this bill through the courts. You stand at the threshold of a most historic moment.
Randy Davis: The question facing you today is, “What will you do with what you know?” History beckons you forward and your legacy as a public servant is waiting to be written. How will posterity remember you and your colleagues? As those states women and states men, that stood for life when you had the opportunity, are those that were overcome by the risk it takes to change the laws, overcome too much by the threat of that economic boycott.
Randy Davis: Ladies and gentlemen, I stand with Tennessee Baptist and together we proudly stand for life. With all sincerity I pray that you, too, will stand for life. That is why I strongly encourage you to move this bill forward to become law. Send a clear message to all people everywhere and especially New York, that together Tennesseans stand for life. On behalf of Tennessee Baptist, thank you for the privilege and the honor of appearing before you today in testifying. And on a personal note, thank you for serving the State of Tennessee as our public servants. Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you, Dr. Davis. Any questions for Dr. Davis? Senator [inaudible 00:09:07], you’re recognized.
Senators: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you very much Dr. Davis. And I am a Baptist, so I was saying, “Amen.” I just didn’t have my mic on. But I do appreciate because your words have truth and wisdom. We greatly appreciate it.
Senators: As we’ve been talking about arguing for life, and when does life begin, medical books say it begins at conception. In the Bible it says, “I knew you as you were knit together in your mother’s womb.” And I was praying and asking after last April, “You know, Lord, why did you choose to say knit? Why didn’t you say sculpt, or crochet, or whatever?” And this was very meaningful to me at the time, and it was one day as the Lord, in his humor when he answers our questions, as we sincerely go before him.
Senators: All of a sudden, I realized he is the creator of the double helix, he knew about DNA when he did it, that life is in that and that life is in the breath, and that life continues from generation to generation, and after its kind. And those words are there, but DNA and the double helix that forms the DNA, if you look at it, it’s very much like a knitting stich. And in fact, it is that same stitch, that same cell, that same pattern that’s being repeated until that unique individual, unique in all the world, never one before, never one after, because that DNA is specific.
Senators: And that begins at the moment of conception. So thank you so much, and I would ask if, one thing that you were saying that I think is so important, to recapture the value of life because if life is arbitrary and the value of any given life is arbitrary, then abortion is just one end of a continuum, of a spectrum. And so where is the ability to deny killing the handicapped, killing someone that’s feeble-minded, killing someone, where is the arbitrary line to be drawn, if in fact it’s only a choice as a matter of convenience at a particular time to kill a unique person? Do you have anything that you could share with us on that?
Randy Davis: Well, the fact I think the most clear thing, question that I’ve heard asked today was by Senator Robinson, when she asked, “When does life begin and when does it end?” The state law and the annotated code 39.13.107, in our law it says that life begins at conception. Now in that law, there is a provision for an exception for abortion. A few weeks ago, the athletic trainer’s wife at Carson Newman University, one of our institutions in East Tennessee, his wife was strolling their two-year-old down a sidewalk, and a man that was mentally ill, hearing a voice in his head to say, “Run over the with a car, or hit them and kill them.”
Randy Davis: The young mother, the two-year-old, and the baby that was in the womb, that man was charged with three counts of vehicular homicide. How is it that a deranged man in a car can take the life of a baby in the womb and that is illegal, and then it’s legal for somebody else to take the life of a baby in the womb? I think there’s some inconsistencies with our law. I asked a good friend of mine, a lawyer that’s been practicing for almost 60 years about this difference. And he said, “Nobody ever said the law made sense.” Well, we have an opportunity to help it make sense.
Senators: Thank you, Dr. Davis.
Chairman: Thank you, Dr. Davis. Any further questions for our witness? Senator Robinson, you’re recognized.
Senators: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Dr. Davis, I just want to clarify. My question was about personhood and not life, just establishing in jurisprudence what was personhood. But I do have a question on behalf of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, what all do you all advocate for outside of this particular issue?
Randy Davis: We advocate for life. For over a 100 years, we’ve had the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home that’s been taken care of thousands of children through the years. We advocate for foster care. We have partnered with the State of Tennessee in training people in our churches for foster, to become foster parents. And right now, we have a 100 children that are in temporary custody of parents in our churches across the state. So we advocate a great deal for life, across the board, every chance we have an opportunity to do so.
Senators: Have you had the opportunity to experience some of the difficulties in the foster care system?
Randy Davis: By that, what do you … I’ve never had a child in foster care, so I’ve read a great deal about the difficulties of foster care. I know that our Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home have experienced those difficulties firsthand.
Senators: And when I say, “Difficulties,” I mean in terms of difficulty placing children, sometimes being overloaded with children in the system.
Randy Davis: We have had difficulty with some of the folks that are related to the State of Tennessee being willing to advocate for the members of our churches to have children placed in their homes. They’ve encountered some roadblocks there, but those roadblocks have been coming down gradually.
Senators: Do you anticipate that those roadblocks will disappear if we pass this bill?
Randy Davis: If you pass this bill, I believe Tennessee Baptist along with other Christians across the state, and people that are non-Christians, but just love life and love kids will do everything they can to take care of children that are born in unwed pregnancies.
Senators: And if you believe that to be true, then why is it not happening right now?
Randy Davis: Well, that’s what I’m saying, it is happening a great deal. You find folks in many of our churches and in Christian homes being the strongest proponents of adoption.
Senators: I understand that, but if we pass this bill, you indicated that people would step up to the plate and help the challenges that we’re experiencing in our foster care system. So if we’re experiencing those challenges right now without this bill in play, where are they?
Randy Davis: I was speaking from the challenges, from the state end of things. We have people that work for the state that are standing in our way of fostering these children. We have got many, many families right now being trained, we have to jump through the hoops, they have to be trained, and they’re going through that right now. So I have a very strong confidence that there will be people that are there for, that will be there for adoption and foster care.
Senators: Thank you.
Randy Davis: Thank you.
Chairman: Any further questions for our witness?
Senators: Dr. Davis, I do have a couple questions before you get up. And first, not a thing that you said that I would disagree with, take issue on about life and the importance of abortion, and what it means to us as a culture, as a state, as a country. I would ask, did the board, I know you, I think you said a 1,000 pastors has signed a letter.
Senators: Do you have a board that examined this issue and came to a conclusion to support this bill? And if you did, or was this something that you examined that came to a conclusion to support it, and if you did, did you consider I think we’re going to hear from a witness in just a minute, that this bill could be counterproductive to overtiring Roe. I think immediatism versus incrementalism. And there’s the biggest split in the pro-life movement probably since its inception at the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, is coming over this idea.
Senators: Do we continue to try to make incremental steps? Or, do we throw it out the window, and go for broke, and try to overturn Roe in one fell swoop and the legal ramifications of that, and possibilities of that? Was that any part of the discussion that the Baptist had?
Randy Davis: Well, my impetus for beginning this initiative that was started just three weeks ago that resulted in these signatures, was that on a number of occasions, the Tennessee Baptist Convention when it met has passed resolutions opposing abortion. The last one was in 2015.
Randy Davis: The second impetus for it was what I saw in New York.
Senators: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Randy Davis: And that was just so disturbing that I thought, “What can we do about this? We’ve got to be involved. We can’t sit on the sidelines and just assume nothing can ever be done about Roe v. Wade.” There have been other Supreme Court decisions that were made and in our history that were wrong and that were overturned, as time went on. And I believe this is one of those that needs to be overturned.
Senators: All right.
Randy Davis: So that was the impetus for it. In the body of the initiative of the petition, it speaks of this bill and it speaks of life beginning at conception.
Randy Davis: Did you have another question in those questions?
Senators: No. No. It was just, I just wanted to know that the Baptists, and I’m just saying if you’re here representing the Baptist, which I’m one of, considered both sides. Because I know that myself and there may be a couple others up here are still somewhat struggling with this question. The goal’s the same, overturning … And even if we overturn Roe, it’s just going to kick it back to the states. Those of us in Tennessee who want to go and we will immediately pass with the majority we have today, immediately pass hopefully would be the strongest bill in the nation.
Senators: If this is an issue to us, we’re going to have to go start working other states because it won’t ban abortion nationwide, it’ll just throw the question back to the states. And so, again with the goal being the same, again, I think we’re getting ready to hear from another witness who’s going to come at this from a little different direction, the goal being the same, overturn Roe, saving baby’s lives, throwing this back to the states and letting them decide. Was that even part of the discussion?
Randy Davis: Yes.
Senators: Did y’all have that at all, that there may be another strategy out there that could get us there quicker?
Randy Davis: Absolutely.
Randy Davis: Over the last few weeks, I’ve had about a dozen what I call listening sessions across the state, where we talk to our constituency and we thought one of the things on the agenda was this particular bill. And in those conversations, in most of the conversations, that came up about the difference between the two, the difference between the Heartbeat Bill and the different between this bill, which even though we have commonly referred to it as heartbeat every chance we have gotten, we have attempted to explain it like you did, that there is a difference. And I think if we have a shot to go back to identifying that birth begins at the point of conception, we ought to take it.
Senators: Well, and you’re still not getting my question. I’m not comparing the Heartbeat Bill and this bill. I’m talking about the-
Randy Davis: The risk.
Senators: The idea that the court is not going to overturn Roe in one fell swoop, but that this chipping away that’s been going on for years, and has allowed us to put certain restrictions into place, would eventually get us there. And that this, again, this argument that we’re going to hear, that this strategy is just going to be like a wave crashing against a solid wall, and it’s just going to dissipate and go away.
Randy Davis: Here’s what I know, Senator Bell. We are for anything you can do that would diminish abortions taking place in the State of Tennessee. We are for any of it. What we do know is that you folks have access to a great deal of resources in your positions that are provided by the people of Tennessee. And we believe that you guys, between now and the spring, can come up with a bill if made this bill even better than it is. And we trust you with that. Quote one more scripture, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Senators: Yeah, yep. All right. Thank you, Dr. Davis. Senator Rose, quickly.
Senators: I’ll make it quick. Thank you, Dr. Davis for being here. A couple things. It’s been over a 128 years that the Tennessee Baptist have and my colleague from Memphis let you know that providing foster care, residential care, and adoptive services have pledged over a million dollars in the [inaudible 00:23:21] Foundation for foster care. So we applaud Tennessee Baptist.
Senators: You mentioned a 1,000 pastors you have. Three weeks you’ve been garnering signatures. How many do you have to date?
Randy Davis: To date, we’ve got over 16,000.
Senators: And that’s inside of three weeks?
Randy Davis: And that’s inside three weeks. And that is with our staff carefully going through those signatures to make sure there’s nothing that would impugn the integrity of the process.
Senators: Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you, Senator Rose. Senator Robinson, you’re recognized.
Senators: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just want to ask for the record, how many women executive pastors do you have in your convention?
Randy Davis: How many women executive pastors?
Senators: Or senior pastors?
Randy Davis: None.
Senators: So is it the same ideology that restricts access to women being able to lead a congregation that leads you all to support women not being able to make the medical decision about their body?
Randy Davis: I don’t think the biblical interpretation of the leadership of churches has anything to do with the question before us. I know that in these documents, about 60 to 70%, well, 60 to 65% of the signatures are from women.
Senators: Thank you.
Randy Davis: Okay, you’re quite welcome.
Chairman: Senator [inaudible 00:24:41], you’re recognized.
Senators: Thank you. I was a reformed Baptist, I’m now a Presbyterian-
Randy Davis: It must have been predestined.
Senators: That’s just what I said. We already know the outcome of this. You mentioned that abortion in some people’s opinion is another method of birth control. Is there any, the Baptist, any methods of birth control that you all approve of or would sanction?
Randy Davis: I think abortion is the only one that we have a focus on. My sweet wife was raised Catholic, and of course, the Catholics have what they’ve referred to as the rhythm method. And my wife was, her mother gave birth to 12 children, so that didn’t work.
Chairman: All right, moving on. Dr. Davis, thank you very much for being here today.
Randy Davis: Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you for coming.
Chris Turner: Thank you for listening to Radio B&R, a podcast production of the Baptist & Reflector, the official news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. This and other episodes can be downloaded at baptistandreflector.org/radiobr. The ministries of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board are supported through the cooperative program and gifts received through the golden offering for Tennessee Missions. For more information, visit tmbaptist.org.