The Doctrinal Trajectory of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in the First Thirty Years, Pt. 7 – Sanctity of Life

Read Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Four, Part Five, and Part Six.


            Just as the understanding and application of the CBF’s core doctrines has evolved, so has the CBF’s understanding of biblical ethics. Two of the most contentious ethical issues of the last forty to fifty years, in American culture and the church, are the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage.[1] Though the CBF typically does not issue official statements on any doctrine or issue besides the four core values, there is still abundant evidence as to where the CBF currently stands on these issues.

            The sanctity of life encompasses both the abortion and euthanasia debate while the sanctity of marriage also includes LGBTQ+ issues. The CBF entered the already heated conversation on the sanctity of life in 1991, while the conversation regarding same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ issues became much more prominent in the twenty-first century. Despite the lack of resolutions on these issues (with one notable exception we will examine below), statements from affiliated organizations and individuals demonstrate the understandings of these issues that the CBF allows and promotes, and in some cases endorses.

Sanctity of Life

            The CBF does not have a formal statement on the issue of abortion, making it impossible to definitively state whether the fellowship as a whole is for or against abortion, due to their determination to unify around mission regardless of various interpretations of this issue in their churches and among their pastors and missionaries. However, when examining a number of organizations and people affiliated with the CBF, an acceptance and promotion of the pro-choice position consistently emerges.

            In 1997, John M. Swomley, Professor Emeritus of Christian Social Ethics at the Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, wrote an article for Christian Ethics Today, an ethics agency funded by the CBF, entitled “Abortion and Public Policy.”[2] In this article, he sought to “demonstrate that abortion per se is not morally wrong” and argued that “the Bible’s clear answer is that human life begins at birth with breathing.”[3] Ultimately, his argument was that “public policy in the United States … should be guided by scientific considerations rather than theological claims that are inconsistent with medical research.” [4] Obviously, Swomley holds the view that human life does not begin until birth, which is contra the pro-life argument that life begins at conception.

            Good Faith Media, a website resulting from a merger between Baptists Today (CBF-affiliated) and Baptist Center for Ethics (CBF-affiliated), retains an article from 2013 by Aaron Weaver, now the current CBF Director of Communications, asking if moderate Baptists will break their silence on abortion.[5] He writes, “Baptists – specifically those of us of the moderate and progressive persuasion – have attempted to steer clear of the abortion debate whenever possible.”[6] He questions why “justice-seeking” Baptists “do not insist on greater limitations on abortion rights in the same way that many of us urge restrictions on gun rights.”[7]

            Bob Allen reports in 2016 that “individuals aligned with the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and progressive Alliance of Baptists say a woman’s religious views – not those of legislators – is what matters most in reproductive choice.”[8] Those who filed a friend-of-the-court brief from a pro-abortion stance included “Marie Allen, a member of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-affiliated Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, and Jorene Taylor Swift, minister of congregational care at CBF-aligned Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.”[9]

            Finally, Kathy Manis Findley, a pastor from 1992-2001 at the CBF-affiliated Providence Baptist Church in Little Rock, AR, argues that “overturning Roe v. Wade would put more than 25 million women at risk of losing access to abortion.”[10] Her concern is for “the girls and young women who absolutely do not have the support they need to give birth, nurture an infant or raise a child.”[11] She continues by stating that if abortion is any more restricted and no longer paid for by the government, marginalized women and girls will face greater harm, as they would face certain poverty, though “women and girls with adequate financial resources always have had access to safe abortions and probably will continue to have that safe access, regardless of the law.”[12] Yet one month prior, she wrote another opinion piece for Baptist News Global arguing that Christians must become advocates for vulnerable children.[13] Comparing the two articles, it seems that she does not consider children vulnerable until after they are born.

            While none of these articles represent official resolutions on the sanctity of life, or claim to be representative of the CBF as a whole, they are statements from CBF affiliated churches, pastors, and most significantly, funded entities that receive money from all churches and individuals that give to the CBF, that articulate a pro-choice perspective. Though there are some frustrations on both sides that the Fellowship has never stated anything dogmatically about the sanctity of life,[14] the trend of permitting and promoting pro-abortion stances from a theological perspective is apparent. At the same time, those who are pro-life are told, “Of course, responses [to abortion] are always personal decisions based on each person’s faith, scriptural interpretation and moral/ethical considerations.”[15] On this important issue, the CBF uses the doctrines of soul freedom and Bible freedom to promote relativism in the Scriptures about life in the womb.  However, life in the womb is something the Word of God consistently affirms (e.g., Ps 139:13-16; Luke 1:31).  

[1] The 1969 “Stonewall Riots” mark the advent of the LGBTQ+ movement and the 1973 Roe V. Wade Supreme Court decision marks the beginning of the Pro-Life movement.

[2] John M. Swomley, “Abortion and Public Policy,” Christian Ethics Today, 1997, accessed September 2, 2021.

[3] Swomley, “Abortion and Public Policy.

[4] Swomley, “Abortion and Public Policy.

[5] Aaron Weaver, “Will Moderate Baptists Break Silence on Abortion?,” Good Faith Media, June 4, 2013.

[6] Weaver, “Will Moderate Baptists Break Silence on Abortion?

[7] Weaver, “Will Moderate Baptists Break Silence on Abortion?

[8] Bob Allen, “Baptists Take Sides in Texas Abortion Case,” Baptist News Global, February 5, 2016.

[9] Allen, “Baptists Take Sides in Texas Abortion Case.”

[10] Kathy Manis Findley, “Roe v. Wade in Real Time,” Baptist News Global, September 23, 2021.

[11] Findley, “Roe v. Wade in Real Time.”

[12] Findley, “Roe v. Wade in Real Time.”

[13] Kathy Manis Findley, “Another Reminder Why Christians Must Become Advocates for Vulnerable Children,” Baptist News Global, August 2, 2021.

[14] To date, there has not been an official statement by the CBF General Assembly on the matter of abortion.

[15] Findley, “Roe v. Wade in Real Time.”

Note – This article was co-written by Terry Delaney and Dr. Gary Shultz, Jr.

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