Earlier today, we reported on the sad reality that Ohio had voted to enshrine the right to murder babies into its Constitution, a seismic shift that was partially carried forward by an unlikely contingent—25 percent of white evangelicals according to exit polls conducted by the Washington Post. This alarmingly high minority within the evangelical community, by their ballot, have signaled a disturbing shift in the moral landscape of the Church.
In the face of such a vote, one must question the influence of evangelical leadership. Figureheads like Brent Leatherwood and organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), alongside the National Right to Life (NRLC), have been instrumental in steering the pro-life narrative towards a path of compromise and concession. Their stance has not been one of uncompromising resistance to the culture of death but rather a nuanced, and ultimately failing, attempt to regulate rather than to abolish abortion outright.
The approach taken by evangelical leaders and organizations, characterized by pragmatism over principled stances, has profoundly impacted the evangelical laity’s perspective on abortion. Influential entities—like the NRLC and the ERLC, under the guidance of Brent Leatherwood—have not only refrained from supporting measures that would criminalize abortion or hold mothers accountable but have vehemently opposed them, arguing for “compassion” rather than prosecution. This position was evident in their opposition to stringent anti-abortion bills, such as the one in Missouri that aimed to recognize abortion as murder, which these Evangelicals deemed too extreme and legally untenable.
At the 2021 annual meeting, Josh Wester, an ERLC employee at the time who later went on to work for former Southern Baptist Convention president, Ed Litton, argued passionately against a resolution that sought to eliminate any exceptions to abortion and criminalize it to the fullest extent possible. You can watch that exchange below:
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By articulating these positions at major venues, including state legislatures and national conferences, and through public statements and signed letters, these leaders have effectively weakened the once-unified evangelical front against abortion. Their actions have not only contributed to the defeat of bold legislative initiatives but have also sown seeds of doubt within the evangelical community about the immutability of life’s sanctity. This fractured evangelical response has undeniably played a part in the broader cultural acceptance of abortion, exemplified by the passage of Ohio’s constitutional amendment on abortion rights.
Leaders and organizations are supposed to set the moral compass, to guide the sheep as examples in paths of clear biblical morality for His name’s sake. Yet, we now find ourselves adrift, with leaders who, instead of standing as shepherds, act as gatekeepers for policies that dilute and pollute the biblical command to uphold life. When men treat the murder of innocent children as a matter for political maneuvering, they open the door for people who profess the name of Jesus to openly rebel against His dictates without fear.
It’s this leadership that has paved the way for the grim milestone marked in Ohio. With their endless compromises, they have made abortion seem to some as a negotiable matter, a decision that 25 percent of white evangelicals took to heart as they cast their votes for Issue 1. This group, poorly guided by the very shepherds entrusted with their spiritual guidance, likely tipped the scales in yesterday’s vote in favor of what is an undeniable affront to the sanctity of life as ordained by God.
Thus, the passage of this horrific amendment is not merely a failure of policy but a failure of pastoral and Church leadership. A failure that has led to a moment of reckoning for the evangelical community. As the culture wars rage on, the evangelical voice has been diluted by the very leaders who should be fortifying it rather than turning it into a circus.