Southern Baptists: I Pledge Allegiance Against IVF

Southern Baptists: I Pledge Allegiance Against IVF June 12, 2024

While the Southern Baptist Convention is always a convention, it also holds conventions for pastors and an annual meeting at which business is conducted. For those who don’t know the history of Baptists, it may not be apparent just how much the SBC is prone to veer from the historic characteristics of Baptists. On one subject, however, they proved more Baptist than many of us expected when push came to shove at this year’s business meeting. They took a vote on a motion to completely ban women pastors from the denomination and the motion was voted down, even if by a slim margin.

In Vitro Fertilization

On the topic of in vitro fertilization (IVF) on the other hand the discussion (as well as the ultimate outcome of the vote) was what one would expect from the Southern Baptists. One speaker proposed an amendment and in the process tried to explain to those present that most fertilized ova are not viable and could never develop into human beings. The explanation fell on deaf ears. Hearing the discussion made me even more aware than I already was of how this topic, introduced among Evangelicals (along with the term Evangelical itself) in order to bolster support for the Republican party, has thoroughly twisted the outlook of those who have fallen for it. There are Southern Baptist women who are willing to subject themselves to great hardship in order to save embryos from remaining frozen, that would not make similar efforts to better the situations of those who are clearly fully developed human beings. While I appreciate the discomfort fundamentalists feel about the ambiguity of when human personhood begins, the solution is to learn to live with ambiguity, not to pretend that “the Bible is clear.”

When Life Begins

If personhood begins at conception then presumably a 27 year old embryo being implanted would lead to one giving birth to a child that was 27 or even 28 years old. If personhood begins at conception then identical twins are a single person rather than two.

Note that I have not spoken about life beginning at conception. That terminology is unscientific and confuses the issue. The sperm and egg are alive and so life begins before conception. As I already mentioned, a fertilized egg can become more than one person (identical twins, triplets, etc.) and that also problematizes the idea that individual personhood begins then.

The Southern Baptists and Biblical Authority

None of that is dealt with in the Bible. For a denomination that is supposed to be congregationalist and respect not only congregational autonomy but individual soul freedom, and that claims the Bible is its ultimate if not indeed sole true authority, to even adopt a stance on IVF shows what is really going on. The Southern Baptist Convention’s leaders are seeking to control, to mandate, and to enforce. It would be much more useful if topics like these could be discussed in ways that reflect not only the seriousness of these matters but the fact that there is ambiguity and thus people who respect the “sanctity of life” and the authority of scripture may nonetheless differ, and not just because one of them is backslidden, worldly, or whatever else.

At the meeting there should have been more consideration of the way that IVF can be viewed as a tool towards accomplishing something that those who subscribe to “biblical values” often appreciate, namely bearing and raising children. In the Bible this often required a miracle. I wonder how much of the discomfort that conservative Christians feel may be due to the notion that providing children to the infertile encroaches on God’s activity in a way that science has been prone to do. For those who hold a “God of the gaps” view this is always unsettling and the reactions rarely lead anywhere good.

Leaving Things on a Lighter Note

It is often helpful to turn to humor when coping with frustrating news. I thus offer two memes that I think get at some of the ironies of this Southern Baptist Convention meeting and the proposals and votes that took place. If you missed it, the first meme reflects the fact that there were discussions about whether to adopt the Nicene Creed and whether it should be part of their meetings to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

And this from Zach Lambert who grew up with the Veggie Tales.

Have you followed these discussions? If so, what’s your take on them?


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