By Tom Strode
Editor’s note: Jan. 16 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention. Resources for churches are available here.
NASHVILLE — Many Southern Baptists will observe Sanctity of Human Life Sunday this year in their churches with the hope the court decision that legalized abortion nationwide may be only months away from its demise.
The 37th annual observance of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday on the Southern Baptist Convention calendar will be Jan. 16. It will arrive less than seven weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation.
The state of Mississippi and many pro-life organizations, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, asked the high court not only to uphold the law but also to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that made expansive abortion rights legal. The oral arguments offered some optimism the justices might grant those requests when an opinion is issued, which is expected this summer.
While Southern Baptists await the Supreme Court’s decision, they will continue to serve women in need and their unborn children through multiple ministries, especially pregnancy resource centers and the work of the ERLC and other SBC entities.
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday – located in proximity to the Jan. 22 date of the Roe opinion – “is an incredible opportunity in the SBC to reflect on the importance of the image of God in all persons, especially our preborn neighbors,” said Elizabeth Graham, the ERLC’s vice president of operations and life initiatives.
“It is crucial that, in our convention of churches across the nation, we pray that God would bring a swift end to abortion, and that it would become unthinkable and unnecessary in our day,” she said in written comments. “Let us intercede before the throne of God for those most vulnerable among us this Sunday.”
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, which is the third Sunday in January on the SBC calendar, was first observed by the convention in 1986. Messengers to the 1980 meeting adopted the first SBC resolution to call for a ban on abortion except to save the life of the mother. In the more than four decades since, the SBC has offered a potent pro-life voice in the United States.
Messengers to several SBC annual meetings have adopted a series of resolutions affirming the dignity of all human beings because they are made in the image of God. These have included the unborn, the disabled, the elderly and other vulnerable people.
Many Southern Baptist pastors have preached sermons on the sanctity of human life, and many churches have promoted a pro-life ethic and supported pregnancy resource centers. In the wake of the Conservative Resurgence, Southern Baptist seminaries and other entities defended the sanctity of unborn children and/or conducted pro-life ministry.
For instance, Send Relief – a collaborative effort of the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board – operates ministry centers in North America that serve vulnerable children through foster care and adoption.
On the basis of its assignment from the convention, the ERLC has advocated strongly since a leadership change in 1988 for the sanctity of unborn babies. Its friend-of-the-court brief asking the high court to reverse Roe was among multiple ways the entity advocated in the last year for the dignity of unborn children. These included:
- The Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC’s ministry to help provide ultrasound technology to pregnancy centers and train staff members in its use, placed 25 machines. This included its first international donation in Northern Ireland and seven ultrasound machines in Tennessee as a result of a grant from the state government. The ERLC plans to place 25 more machines before the 50th anniversary of Roe in January 2023.
- In multiple letters, the ERLC called for Congress to continue to include the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life riders in spending bills. The Hyde Amendment has prohibited federal funds in Medicaid and other programs from paying for abortions in every year since 1976.
- The commission opposed the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would bar federal and state regulations of abortion now permitted by the Supreme Court, and actions by the Biden administration that rescinded pro-life rules.
- The ERLC hosted Evangelicals for Life for the sixth consecutive year last January, this time by live streaming because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Graham explained to the entity’s trustees a new church engagement strategy the ERLC is leading. “The Road to Roe50” is a collaborative effort that will culminate in a Washington, D.C., event next January.