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Pro-Life and the Pandemic

I am pro-life. That is why I wear a mask during this Covid-19 pandemic. The Bible teaches that life is God’s first gift to us. He calls us to accept it, to protect it, to nurture it. That understanding guided my teaching, preaching and writing about life for nearly five decades. It caused me to be involved in efforts to pass state and federal legislation protecting and nurturing life.

When Jesus said He came that we “might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), I believe it. That is why I worked to end hunger, to increase access to health care and to safeguard the elderly. That is why I championed public schools, served as a volunteer in correction and worked for Pre-K education as well as prison reform.

Yes, I concentrated on spiritual life, sharing “there is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved” than Jesus (Acts 4:12).  The Bible calls Christians to be concerned about spiritual life as well as every part of physical life.

Being pro-life has always been more than being pro-birth.

That understanding makes some reactions to the current pandemic confusing. Early on, a few political voices seemed to advocate older people risking their lives in order to restart the economy and keep it going. It was as if these voices believed lives of older people had less value than the lives of others.

Some do believe that. In fact, it seems that belief is moving from theoretical discussions in journals and books and making its way into social policy discussions. Basically, the argument is that older people (or disabled people) should not be allowed to consume precious resources so more can be available for younger, healthier ones. Economic wellbeing tops life, they conclude.

That is not a pro-life position. Life is a gift from God. It is not to be worshipped as an idol. But that does not devalue God’s first gift to the point that society can sacrifice life on the altar of economic wellbeing. The life of each person, young or old, is precious in God’s sight. For the believer, life is more important than the economy, not the other way around.

The economic argument brings another worry. What will those of us who believe life of the unborn is precious in God’s sight say to the young woman who contemplates ending her pregnancy because she cannot afford to have the baby? If society values economics more than life, if society is willing to sacrifice the health, even the lives, of some for economic wellbeing of others, can the young woman make a similar decision? Is she not free to choose economic stability over life?

Mask wearing produces a similar conundrum. People from many walks of life protest mandates to wear facial coverings even though authorities say masks slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus. You see them in pictures of crowded beaches, pool parties and bars. You even see them in churches where they ignore masks and social distancing guidelines.

Frequently you hear their voices loudly touting their personal freedom, their right to control what they wear and what happens to their bodies. Sadly you sometimes see videos where people obsessed with their personal rights violently attack people who ask them to obey store policies or government mandates about wearing masks.

Evidently some people believe the pandemic is a hoax, some kind of political ploy. I don’t. Two of my family members contracted the virus. Thankfully, both recovered. Many who were infected with Covid-19 were not as fortunate. The U.S. death toll from this new virus is more than 180,000 and climbing. Worldwide the number is north of 825,000. No matter where it came from or whatever its supposed purpose, this pandemic is real.

If our reaction is about personal rights and freedom, how does that evidence a concern to protect life and nurture it? How does it demonstrate value for life, one’s own life and the lives of those whose paths we cross?

Treating health and life recklessly, carelessly, evidences a “me and mine” attitude valued above God’s gift of life to us and others.

And, again, what does one with such values say to the individual contemplating an abortion? Can the woman not argue the abortion decision is hers? It is her body and her decision. Can she not repeat the same arguments said emphatically in declaring one’s right not to wear a mask during this pandemic? If she does, she will only be reflecting the “me and mine” attitude so strongly voiced by those who refuse to wear masks during today’s health crisis.

Should Christian believers not be consistent in their support and actions for life whether it is for the unborn or those whose wellbeing we impact through daily contact?

Consistent? Some people dismiss that as the product of small minds. I prefer to think of it as faithfulness to God’s word — to accept, defend and nurture His first gift of life. So because I believe in pro-life I hope to continue working for life abundantly for the unborn all the way through old age. And because I believe in pro-life I will continue wearing my face mask during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Will you join me in accepting, defending and nurturing God’s gift of life?

SBTS Photo - Martin Luther King Jr.

Changing a Nation

By 1961 the nation had been in the troughs of the civil rights struggle for six years. In truth, the nation had struggled with civil rights since its founding, but the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott started an unprecedented chapter in this on-going struggle.

On April 19, 1961, Martin Luther King stood behind the pulpit in Alumni Chapel of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, to deliver the J.B. Gay Lectures on Christian Ethics. Southern Seminary was the oldest and most prestigious seminary sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention. Much of King’s work the past six years had been centered in places where Southern Baptists formed the largest religious group. It is an understatement to say many Baptists were not pleased with him.

King’s appearance caused a stir among some at the seminary. A few dignitaries invited by other seminary departments to participate in the lecture series withdrew after hearing of King’s participation. But the faculty and administration would not back down. They stood with Henlee Barnett, the seminary’s most distinguished Christian ethicist, who had nominated King for the lectureship.

So on April 19, the nation’s leading civil rights advocate stood to address the leaders of Southern Baptists’ most distinguished educational institution at a time when tensions about civil rights were about to erupt across the nation and especially in the South.

King did not back down either. In clear and unmistakable words he declared,

“Segregation is a moral evil which no Christian can accept. The church must make it clear that if we are to be true witnesses of Jesus Christ, we can no longer give our allegiance to a system of segregation.”

He called segregation more than a political issue. It was a moral issue, he said. “Since the church has a moral responsibility of being the moral guardian of society, then it cannot evade its responsibility in this very tense period…” he declared.

Listen to the audio tape of that address and you will hear previews of themes made famous in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the Capitol Mall in August 1963. You will hear King utter that famous line “Let justice roll down like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” The quote is from Amos 5:24, a fact King acknowledged in his seminary address.

In 1961 and, more famously, in 1963 King used the Bible to lay the foundation for his moral crusade against segregation and Jim Crow laws. He fought for the Voting Rights Act based on the Bible’s teaching that in Christ there is no Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). For the Apostle Paul, that teaching was so important he made the same point again in Colossians 3:11.

King crusaded in behalf of the poor, the hungry, the disposed of, because that is what Jesus followers do. Christians demonstrate their Lord’s compassion through such acts and they offer a hand up by working for a society that cares for “the least of these.”

King’s appearance at Southern Seminary created a firestorm for the seminary.

Baptist bodies passed resolutions condemning the school for inviting King whom many labeled a trouble maker. Some stopped supporting Southern Seminary through the Cooperative Program – the primary financial support channel of the denomination. Donors canceled pledges. One church wrote Barnett, who initiated the King invitation, attacking him with such viciousness that Barnett looked up the church’s Cooperative Program giving and calculated the amount of money that eventually found its way to Southern Seminary. He then figured what portion of that money went toward his salary. With that information, he sent the church the amount of their money that went toward his salary – four cents.

Today Southern Baptist seminaries teach that King is a “Christian Hero” according to a January 18, 2019 press release from Baptist Press, a news outlet for Southern Baptists. The release quoted Jason Duesing, provost for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, saying, “I classify him (King) as one of seven chief theologians in the Baptist tradition.”

Leroy Gainey, who teaches education leadership at Gateway Seminary in California, said, “At least during my lifetime, there is no greater Christian or Baptist leader that I can see than Martin Luther King.”

It takes the eyes of history to see how the appraisal of Martin Luther King by Baptists in the South has changed over the years. And history shows that some once prominent leaders who used tortured reasoning and twisted theology to oppose equality and civil rights for all have faded into oblivion.

What has not changed is the church’s commission to be “the moral conscience of the nation” as King said in 1961. That is what Jesus followers do. They demonstrate God’s compassion for all and they work for a society that does the same.

Every time one prays the Lord’s Prayer, every time we say “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we affirm that mission. The prayer is not for “pie in the sky by and by.” It is for now.

King unapologetically used Bible teachings to influence national policies and to change a nation. So should we.

Dr. Bobby S. (Bob) Terry serves as an Advisor to the President of Samford University for Faith Networks. A native of Alabama, Dr. Terry holds degrees from Mississippi College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was involved in state Baptist papers for more than 50 years beginning in 1968 and retiring at the end of 2018 from The Alabama Baptist newspaper after serving for more than 23 years as it’s President and Editor.

Follow him on Twitter at @drbobterry.

To contact Bob Terry, email [email protected].

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How Ethical is the Clergy?

It may not be surprising to learn that non-Christians have a lower view of the clergy than self-identified Christians. What may be surprising is how low an opinion of the clergy both groups hold.

According to a study released by Gallup on December 26, 2017, only 25 percent of non-Christians rated the honesty and ethics of clergy as very high or high. That was far behind other professions such as nurses (83 percent), grade school teachers (71 percent), pharmacists (63 percent), and medical doctors (62 percent) to mention only some.

Non-Christians ranked the honesty and ethics of clergy behind newspaper reporters (31 percent) and even with local politicians (25 percent).

Obviously, the public perception of the clergy is not high among non-Christians. That may not be surprising since non-believers may not have much personal contact with Christian ministers. Their image of God’s vocational servants may be formed more by news reports and public media than firsthand experience.

If that is the case, the reports of clergy sexual abuse, religious hucksters on the airwaves and the negative depiction of clergy in media may have all contributed to this negative image. Few films and fewer news stories chronicle the self-sacrificing service of most ministers for the good of their parishioners and communities.

One would expect the appraisal of self-identified Christians, those who should have firsthand experience with ministers, to reflect a high appreciation for the honesty and ethics of clergy. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Fewer than half of the self-identified Christians in the Gallup survey (48 percent) rated the honesty and ethics of ministers very high or high. Again, these are the people who interact with pastors and other ministers and still, the ratings are low.

More self-identified Christians said nurses (82 percent), military officers (74 percent), grade school teachers (65 percent), medical doctors (65 percent), pharmacists (62 percent) and police officers (59 percent) have very high or high ethical standards than clergy.

When the two groups were combined, 42 percent of Americans view honesty and ethical standards of clergy as very high or high. That is the lowest rating in the 33 years Gallup has polled on this issue.

Ministers may never be able to change the opinions of those whose paths they seldom cross, but something can be done and should be done about the views of self-identified Christians. That this group expresses so little confidence in the honesty and ethics of their ministers is a tragedy that deserves focused attention.

In 1 Peter 5:3 the Apostle Peter writes to pastors urging them to “be examples to the flock.” He urges pastors not to do this from selfish motivation. He warns them against acting greedily for money or lording authority and power over others. Peter tells them they should “be eager to serve,” understanding that rewards come ultimately from Christ in glory.

In many places, the Bible outlines the kind of example ministers are to be. For instance, 1 Corinthians 4:2 declares, “It is required of those who have been given a trust to prove faithful.” That “trust” could be a position of leadership and influence. It could be responsibility for money. It might be privileged information. Whatever it is, the minister is not to use the information selfishly but is to be faithful to the one who gave the trust, whether it is a group or an individual.

Jesus addressed the issue of trust in Luke 16:10 when he said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can be trusted with very much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will be dishonest with much.” Honesty and ethics do not apply only to momentous situations. They are demonstrated most clearly in everyday experiences.

Writing to young minister Timothy, the Apostle Paul urged him to set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12). There must not even be a hint of sexual immorality, Paul adds in Ephesians 5:3a.

Integrity, honesty and ethical behaviors are required for all who follow God. That applies to leadership, to personal relations, to finances, to sexual conduct and more.

Perhaps the Apostle Paul summed it up when he wrote to the church at Corinth, “Men ought to regard us as servants of Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:1). When that is the case, honesty and ethics of the servants of Christ will go without saying.

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