IVF, religious liberty resolutions spark clarifications

NASHVILLE (BP) – A flurry of traditional and social media discussion surrounding two Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resolutions (one on in vitro fertilization  [IVF], the other on religious liberty) has provoked clarifications among Southern Baptists following the Convention’s annual meeting June 11-12 in Indianapolis.

Media reports on the IVF resolution have led Southern Baptists to underscore that they did not condemn the procedure. Instead, they urged thoughtful, cautious use of it, with Convention messengers holding a range of views on the emerging reproductive technology.

As for religious liberty, champions of that issue have noted that last week’s resolution – the latest among dozens of SBC statements on the topic – was necessary because threats to religious liberty have emerged in American culture.

IVF

Some news headlines made it appear the SBC denounced all uses of IVF. The New York Times declared, “Southern Baptists Vote to Oppose Use of I.V.F.” NBC News said, “Southern Baptists formally oppose in vitro fertilization,” while Politico warned that “Southern Baptists’ vote opposing IVF could change national politics.”

Such headlines are inaccurate, wrote Adam Groza, president of Gateway Seminary.

“The resolution does not call for an end to IVF treatment, as some have wrongly concluded,” Groza wrote in a column. Rather, “Southern Baptists have taken a biblical, measured, and charitable stand for human life.”

The resolution “on the ethical realities of reproductive technologies and the dignity of the human embryo” called on Southern Baptists “to reaffirm the unconditional value and right to life of every human being, including those in an embryonic stage, and to only utilize reproductive technologies consistent with that affirmation especially in the number of embryos generated in the IVF process.” It warned that IVF “routinely generates more embryos than can safely be implanted” and “often participates in the destruction of embryonic life.”

Jason Thacker, an ethicist who advised this year’s SBC Resolutions Committee, said the resolution articulates points of consensus among Southern Baptists amid a range of views on IVF.

The resolution “is trying to speak to where we are commonly agreed,” said Thacker, assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Applications of the relevant biblical principles “might be a little different” for various Southern Baptists. “Some support a more ethical use of IVF. Others say” that “because of the nature of the process” and “the realities at stake, it’s best not to pursue IVF at all.”

Ethicist Andrew Walker is among Southern Baptists to oppose IVF. He coauthored a 2019 article on the topic that stated, “There are serious costs to and from accepting technologies that separate [child bearing from] the ‘one flesh’ union of husband and wife. We think those costs are high enough that evangelical couples and pastors should say no to in vitro fertilization.”

Others have adopted the view of theologian Wayne Grudem that “the teachings of Scripture present no moral objection to a married couple using IVF (as long as no human embryos are destroyed in the process).”

Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler has taken a cautious approach to IVF, expressing “grave moral, biblical and theological concern” in a June 13 episode of his podcast The Briefing. Mohler warned that IVF can participate in the “commodification of human beings” and the “creation of massive numbers of human embryos that are absolutely headed for destruction.”

Mohler and Walker submitted the original draft resolution that eventuated the Resolutions Committee’s statement on human embryos and IVF.

The SBC resolution, Thacker said, aims not to tell Southern Baptist pastors which view they must adopt, but to assist them in helping couples ask the right questions and make informed decisions about reproductive technologies.

Pastors should “grieve and lament” with infertile couples, said Thacker, who serves as a senior fellow and director of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Research Institute. “This is an opportunity for pastors and ministry leaders not only to grieve and to walk alongside these couples, but also learn together, to ask questions, to dig deeper. This resolution is designed to start that conversation.”

Religious liberty

Why another religious liberty resolution and why now? Those were among questions addressed regarding an SBC resolution “on defending religious liberty.”

Matthew Millsap, a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and co-submitter of a resolution that was partially incorporated into the final religious liberty resolution, highlighted in his feed on the social media site X multiple challenges to religious liberty in America. He posted a video of one pastor claiming the Constitution doesn’t work anymore and the American system should be replaced with a more authoritarian form of government. Another Millsap post quotes a claim that “the principles the founders established” are “long gone.”

“In adopting Resolution 2 [on religious liberty] moments ago,” Millsap posted on X June 11, “Southern Baptists reaffirmed their longstanding commitment to religious liberty and, in so doing, sent an emphatic message to all actors who would attempt to permeate Southern Baptist churches with support for state religion: ‘No.’”

SBC Recording Secretary Nathan Finn said two “tendencies” among conservative Christians have threatened religious liberty. Some believers “amen religious liberty for Christians but may be a little less comfortable amening religious liberty for all.”

Other voices display a “theocratic” impulse that questions “whether the Constitution is still valid in post-Christian America,” said Finn, an ERLC senior fellow and professor of faith and culture at North Greenville University.

To uphold a society where missions and evangelism can flourish, Finn said, the SBC must reassert the historic Baptist conception of religious liberty.

“Religious liberty matters for the Great Commission. There are many Baptists in many places where there is not religious liberty that are trying to be faithful to the Great Commission. But there’s no doubt that in America, for as long as we can remember, we have had a good deal of religious liberty. It gives us the freedom to proclaim Christ and the freedom to make disciples and the freedom to make statements about ethics that are consistent with Scripture,” Finn said.

“Yes, it also gives freedom to unbelievers to say all kinds of things that are contrary to Scripture,” he added, “but as long as they have the freedom to be wrong, we still have the freedom to persuade them of what’s right.”

All this year’s resolutions are available at www.sbc.net/resource-library/resolutions/.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is a writer in Mobile, Ala.)

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