By Bob Allen
An adviser to the Southern Baptist Convention’s public-policy arm joined abortion-rights groups and political leaders including presidential candidates Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders in urging abortion opponents to tone down their rhetoric in the wake of a deadly shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood.
Karen Swallow Prior, a Liberty University English professor and research fellow with the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a Christianity Today blog Dec. 1 it would be easy to dismiss charges that extreme anti-abortion rhetoric feeds domestic terrorism, but Christians, if anyone, should recognize the power of words to bring both good and ill.
Prior said it isn’t “inflammatory rhetoric” to call for defunding of Planned Parenthood or “yellow journalism” to secretly record Planned Parenthood officials speaking self-damning words.
“On the other hand,” she said, “referring to abortion providers as ‘abortion ghouls,’ clinic volunteers and workers as ‘deathscorts’ or ‘bloodworkers’ and women who obtain abortions as ‘murderers’ is worse than inflammatory: it is unchristlike.”
Furthermore, calling legal abortion “murder,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “the crime of deliberately killing a person,” she said, “is to say what isn’t true” at least in a civil context, because abortion in the United States is legal.
Prior’s reference to “abortion ghouls” links to a 2013 commentary by former Family Research Council leader Ken Connor discussing Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia physician sentenced to life in prison for murdering three infants who were born alive during attempted abortion procedures.
ERLC President Russell Moore used similar words in a more recent controversy over undercover videos alleging that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal body parts harvested by abortion, describing such acts as “murderous in the most ghoulish way imaginable.”
Moore penned a commentary Dec. 1 conceding “that pro-life (or any other kind of) rhetoric should never dehumanize or encourage violence against anyone.”
At the same time, he continued, “We in the pro-life movement cannot avoid speaking of what abortion is, and the injustice of it.”
Moore said it isn’t enough for pro-life Christians to have a public policy to restrict abortions and ministries for women in crisis and children who need homes.
“We must have a word for those who have aborted, or who have paid for abortions, a word even for those who practice abortion,” he said. “This word doesn’t minimize the violence of abortion, and it certainly doesn’t seek to combat this violence with more violence.”
Numerous Southern Baptist Convention resolutions over the years have condemned abortion, sometimes in strong terms.
A 2015 resolution on the “Sanctity of Human Life” denounced “the genocide of legalized abortion.”
A 2008 resolution on Planned Parenthood quoted Scripture to describe “God’s abhorrence of those who murder the innocent.”
A 2000 resolution “On Human Fetal Tissue Trafficking” called elective abortion “an act of violence against unborn human beings.”
A 1996 “Resolution On The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban” denounced a “particularly grisly procedure” described as “more akin to infanticide than abortion.”
A 1982 resolution claimed, “Social acceptance of abortion has begun to dull society’s respect for all human life, leading to growing occurrences of infanticide, child abuse and active euthanasia.”
A resolution adopted at the 1980 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis said “all medical evidence indicates that abortion ends the life of a developing human being.”
Prior said while she personally believes that abortion is murder “according to God’s law,” as a pro-life activist she was trained not to use the word “murder” in trying to persuade women in crisis to choose life for their babies.
Prior said the truth about abortion “needs not the props of exaggeration or distortion” and “demands no inflammation or embellishment.”
She said it’s important for Christians to use temperate language when it comes to the abortion debate not because of “unintended consequences,” as Bernie Sanders suggests, but rather “because Scripture teaches that temperate words are good in and of themselves.”