Southern Baptists Vote to Oppose ‘Willful Destruction’ of Life through IVF

By Jules Gomes Published on June 17, 2024

America’s largest Protestant denomination voted last week to oppose the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF) because it results in the “willful destruction” of human embryos “wantonly created” in the process.

In a 700-word resolution, the Southern Baptist Convention, which has almost 13 million church members spread across 45,000 churches nationwide, committed itself on June 12 to uphold its historic moral teaching affirming “the value of every human life” and opposing “the use of technology that disregards the sanctity of human life.”

“Biblical creation order portrays the embodied union of husband and wife as the singular normative expression for procreation (Genesis 1:27–28),” the resolution categorically asserted.

Titled “On the Ethical Realities of Reproductive Technologies and the Dignity of the Human Embryo,” the SBC warned that “not all technological means of assisting human reproduction are equally God-honoring or morally justified.”

IVF: Destructive and Dehumanizing

The statement explains how the IVF process “routinely generates more embryos than can be safely implanted, thus resulting in the continued freezing, stockpiling, and ultimate destruction of human embryos, some of whom may also be subjected to medical experimentation.”

In Vitro Fertilization most often participates in the destruction of embryonic human life and increasingly engages in dehumanizing methods for determining suitability for life and genetic sorting, based on notions of genetic fitness and parental preferences.

Between 1 million and 1.5 million human beings are currently stored in cryogenic freezers in an embryonic state throughout the United States, with most unquestionably destined for eventual destruction.

An overwhelming majority of the nearly 11,000 delegates, who had gathered in Indianapolis for the denomination’s annual meeting, approved the resolution in a vote by raised hands, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee said.

The Bible Affirms Life in the Womb

The resolution cites biblical verses highlighting the dignity of every human being as created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27–28), as well as the divine mandate to governments to “safeguard human dignity and promote human flourishing at all stages of life (Genesis 9:5–6; Romans 13:1–7).”

While expressing solidarity with “couples who experience the searing pain of infertility,” the SBC reminded them of numerous biblical examples of infertile couples whose “lament [was] heard by the Lord” (Genesis 16:1–16, 25:21; Judges 13:2; 1 Samuel 1:11; Luke 1:5–13).

“All children are a gift from the Lord regardless of the circumstances of their conception” (Psalm 127:3), the resolution affirmed.

It further encouraged Southern Baptists to promote adoption as “one way God may call upon couples to grow their families and to consider adopting frozen embryos in order to rescue those who are eventually to be destroyed” (Proverbs 24:11–12).

Lobbying the Government to Restrict IVF

Explaining the political implications of its resolution, the SBC then called upon Christians to press “the government to restrain actions inconsistent with the dignity and value of every human being, which necessarily includes frozen embryonic human beings.”

On May 23, Frederick Brent Leatherwood, the president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote to the U.S. Senate, protesting the newly introduced IVF Protection Act for placing no ethical or legal limitations on the practice.

The bill, introduced by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Katie Britt (R-Ala.), is designed to ensure that states do not prohibit access to IVF services. Additionally, the package would expand IVF insurance coverage, making it more accessible and affordable for millions of Americans.

“There is no limit to the number of embryos that may be created at any one time or a minimum standard of care for embryos who are being stored indefinitely,” Leatherwood noted. “No political justification should prevail over preventing the destruction of innocent life.”

The SBC’s ethics spokesman also expressed alarm that the bill has no protection for faith-based organizations that do not wish to provide insurance coverage for IVF, especially given “the current administration’s propensity for minimizing conscience protections or downplaying religious liberty.”

Inconsistency in the Christian Pro-Life Movement 

A day before the vote, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., acknowledged the hypocrisy among Republicans and some evangelical Christians who claim to be pro-life and anti-abortion but who supportive IVF.

“I’m very frustrated. A lot of them are responding out of political expediency, not out of moral principle. You can’t say on one hand, ‘Life begins at fertilization’ and then on the other hand say, ‘But now we’re not so concerned about that in this other arena,’” Mohler told Politico.

“I want to do more than nudge Republicans who are against us on this. I want to call them out for their error and inconsistency.”

In a May 21 statement, the SBC said: “Though it does not necessarily occur in the womb, the willful destruction of fertilized embryos conducted in the typical practice of IVF is not theologically different from abortion procedures.”

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After struggling for seven years to conceive, Erick Sessions, a pastor at Graceland Church in New Albany, Ind., and his wife decided against IVF because of ethical concerns and opted instead to foster children. Nearly 15 years later, they have four adopted and five naturally conceived children.

“Anytime you get outside of the normal means within which procreation occurs, the more foreign you get or the more alien you get from that, the more you have to consider its moral implications,” Sessions said.

However, he said his congregation was not ready to hear sermons about IVF, and one of his pastors has conceived a child through IVF.

“The silence in evangelical churches on IVF, much like abortion, is leading to the death of countless lives,” Ruth Rawlins, head of communications for the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform UK, told The Stream.

“The world still looks to the church for moral guidance whether it admits it or not, which is why they are quick to report on these issues that clash with mainstream culture,” Rawlins said. “I hope other churches will be challenged to make similar clarifications on how IVF is not in line with the Bible.”

Alabama Supreme Court’s Revolutionary Ruling

Leatherhead’s appeal to senators comes months after an Alabama Supreme Court decision in which a majority of the justices ruled that frozen embryos in test tubes should be considered children.

“Unborn children are ‘children,’” Chief Justice Tom Parker declared. “Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.”

In a concurring opinion, Parker, an evangelical Methodist, explained that “human life is fundamentally distinct from other forms of life and cannot be taken intentionally without justification” since it “has deep roots that reach back to the creation of man ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1:27).”

Parker, a fervent critic of same-sex marriage, also cited Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and Petrus Van Mastricht, a 17th-century Dutch Reformed theologian and professor at the University of Utrecht.

“Man’s creation in God’s image is the basis of the general prohibition on the intentional taking of human life,” Parker wrote, quoting Genesis 9:6 from the King James Version: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

“The doctrine of the sanctity of life is rooted in the Sixth Commandment: ‘You shall not murder.’

“It is as if the People of Alabama took what was spoken of the prophet Jeremiah and applied it to every unborn person in this state: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, Before you were born I sanctified you,’” Parker noted, quoting Jeremiah 1:5 from the New King James Version of the Bible.

The Roman Catholic Church has categorically rejected IVF in its declarations Donum Vitae (1987),

Evangelium Vitae (1995), Dignitas Personae (2008), and Dignitas Infinita (2024) due to the massive destruction of embryonic life, the assault on the meaning of the conjugal act, and the treatment of the child as a product rather than a gift.

“The practice of keeping alive human embryos in vivo or in vitro for experimental or commercial purposes is totally opposed to human dignity,” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) declared in 1987.

The mainstream media has expressed alarm at the SBC vote, with Politico explaining that the move signals “the beginning of a broad turn on the right against IVF, an issue that many evangelicals, anti-abortion advocates and other social conservatives see as the ‘pro-life’ movement’s next frontier.”

 

Dr. Jules Gomes, (BA, BD, MTh, PhD), has a doctorate in biblical studies from the University of Cambridge. Currently a Vatican-accredited journalist based in Rome, he is the author of five books and several academic articles. Gomes lectured at Catholic and Protestant seminaries and universities and was canon theologian and artistic director at Liverpool Cathedral.

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