After Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin denounced his Democratic challenger’s stance on abortion as an insult to Kentucky Baptists, ministers at two Louisville Baptist churches joined other faith leaders in a press conference defending both their faith and a woman’s right to choose.
“I am a Baptist preacher who is glad to stand here in solidarity with other religious leaders and those who support choice for women when it comes to abortion,” Jason Crosby, pastor of Crescent Hill Baptist Church said at the gathering outside Douglas Boulevard Christian Church.
“Now, according to Governor Bevin, I am not a Christian, because I believe that this is in tune with my theological understanding and my scriptural interpretation,” Crosby said. “However, I am here today to tell Governor Bevin I am not only a loud and proud Christian standing up for choice, I am a Baptist preacher as well.”
Bevin, a member of Louisville’s Southeast Christian Church who in the past has been a major financial donor to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently went on Facebook to criticize Attorney General Andy Beshear for mentioning in his first campaign ad that he descends from a line of Baptist preachers.
“My granddad and great granddad were Baptist preachers from western Kentucky,” Beshear, the son of former Gov. Steve Beshear, said in the ad. “Their faith guided them, just as it guides my work today in helping the lost, the lonely and the left behind, the victims of rape, human trafficking and child abuse and families worried about losing their health care. As governor, I’ll treat all Kentucky families with dignity and respect.”
Bevin, ranked in a poll earlier this year as the nation’s most unpopular governor, responded in a Facebook video to Beshear’s claim that “his views on abortion and his faith is informed by the Baptist traditions of his grandfather and great grandfather, who he says were Baptist preachers.”
“They may well have been,” Bevin said. “I’m sure they were, but I’m willing to bet they would not have taken money from abortion providers like Andy Beshear does. I’m willing to bet that they would not have gone to fundraisers by such people allowing them and NARAL and Planned Parenthood to come and raise money for them, to stump for them, to raise votes for them.”
“I think it’s insulting to the Baptist tradition,” Bevin said. “I think it’s insulting to people of the Baptist faith to try to couch what his father and great grandfather did as sort of covering for his pro-abortion stance.”
“The question I ask of you is which side are you on?” the governor said. “If you are a Baptist pastor in Kentucky in 2019, which side are you on? Do you stand on the side of life? Do you and your congregations stand unapologetically on the side of life? Or do you stand, as Andy Beshear claims, on the side of pro-abortion, the side of taking the life of a child and of capitalizing on it in the blood money that comes from it to be able to be funding political campaigns?”
“There is no middle ground here,” Bevin said. “I’m asking every pastor of every Baptist church in Kentucky, weigh in and tell us where you stand on this issue. On the issue of life, which side are you on?”
Lauren Jones Mayfield, a minister ordained in the United Church of Christ currently serving as associate pastor to young adults and missions at Louisville’s Highland Baptist Church, accepted the challenge alongside clergy from various traditions at the press conference opened by a representative of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky.
“The Baptists I know respect the dignity of all people, which includes the dignity of women who are entitled to safe, legal abortions, as well as their right to well-informed medically-based decisions made with their doctor and, if desired, with their family and their pastor,” she said.
Mayfield said for her, the governor’s misunderstanding of what it means to be a Baptist is beside the point.
“The point is he pushes us once again to choose a side, as if there is no middle ground on complex issues like abortion and comprehensive sex education and women’s healthcare,” she said. “Governor Bevin, there is always a middle ground, and to deny it is to rest upon your privilege.”
“I believe in life for all people, including women who have the autonomy, dignity and divine connection to decide for themselves their healthcare paths,” Mayfield said. “I believe your question further marginalizes people who need support in ways that differ from your own.”
“Please, Mr. Governor, stop shaming women,” she continued. “Stop making non-abortion issues about abortion. And trust pastors to have a difference of opinion in ways that bring us together rather than further divide us. We are Kentucky. I support reproductive rights because I am a person of faith, not in spite of my faith.”
Crosby said one hallmark of the Baptist tradition is freedom of the individual to worship freely without interference by the state.
“I find it very interesting that the litmus test for what it means to be a Christian or a Baptist in 2019, according to our governor and many other evangelical and fundamentalist religious leaders, boils down to sex,” Crosby said. “It boils down to the advancement of white, straight male hegemony, whether it’s abortion, whether it’s same-sex marriage, the litmus test time and time again is whether or not you are willing to preserve patriarchy.”
“In my mind, Christianity — when I read the Bible, when I look at what Jesus had to say — was all about deconstruction of powerful systems that were perverse and corrupt,” said Crosby, a second generation Kentucky Baptist minister on staff at Crescent Hill Baptist Church since 2008. “The patriarchal system in which we operate has proven to be powerful and beneficial for some, but oppressive for so many others.”
“If the litmus test for what it means to be a Christian is only how you feel about abortion or same-sex marriage, that is not at all kind of Christian faith that I find when I read the Gospels,” Crosby said.
Beshear’s great grandfather, Elder Eddie Beshear, served as pastor at Mt. Moriah Primitive Baptist Church in Marshall County from 1914 until 1942. He continued to preach at other Primitive Baptist churches across the commonwealth until his death in 1947 in Dawson Springs, Kentucky.
His two sons followed in their father’s footsteps to become Primitive Baptist preachers. Beshear’s grandfather, Orlando Russell Beshear, also owned a furniture store and funeral home and served as mayor of Dawson Springs. He died in 2003 at age 93.
Primitive Baptists, also known as Hard Shell or Old School Baptists, emerged in the 19th century as a recognizable group characterized by adherence to the Five Points of Calvinism and opposition to cooperative ventures like mission boards and Bible tract societies.
Candidate Andy Beshear — whose father, Steve Beshear, served as Kentucky’s governor from 2007 until 2015 — is a member of Beargrass Christian Church in Louisville, a congregation affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).