During the early days of the so-called "culture war" between proponents of life and promoters of death, those who argue for elective abortions accused those who defended the right to life of only caring for the infant in the womb. For centuries Baptists around the world have been caring for children of every age. Southern Baptists are part of this caring tradition. What follows is a "Top Ten" list of ways individual Southern Baptists invest themselves in Life.
1 Since 1973, Southern Baptists have used the power of relentless influence to encourage elected officials to defend and promote life. Richard Land and The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) have taken the initiative in keeping this topic ever before us. Though some have grown weary in defense of life, the ERLC has not wavered from its support and promotion of life from conception to natural death. It has not stood alone. Across the nation, millions of individual Baptists consistently vote their convictions and advocate for life in the congressional districts in which they live.
2 The North American Mission Board provides ministry support for local churches that have pregnancy care centers as part of their ministries. Many other Southern Baptist churches are not financially strong enough to maintain their own centers, so they solicit support from like-minded believers from many denominations in thousands of cities and towns to provide centers of hope in their local communities. Given the decentralization of Baptist life, there is no way to quantify how many Southern Baptists serve as volunteers in these centers, but evidence points to a sizable army of men and women who give of their time, talents, and financial resources each week to promote life.
3 Many of our state conventions maintain children's homes for children who need a safe haven. While the age of the "orphanage" is largely a thing of the past, many children are "orphans" by divorce, dysfunction, or despair. Baptists have stepped forward to provide ministries for children of every age, from preschoolers to college-bound young adults. These ministries offer residential care, promote adoption, and work to place children in loving foster-care environments.
4 In his 1991 volume Acts of Compassion, Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow chronicled the phenomenon of the millions of Americans who choose helping careers as a vocation. His subtitle is intriguing: Caring for Others and Helping Ourselves. His basic premise dovetails with a statement we frequently hear — "when I helped that family, I received more of a blessing than I gave." Tens of thousands of Southern Baptists find tremendous fulfillment through their work in community-based programs that promote children's health such as WIC, Healthy Start, and Head Start. Others work with the government through children's services or the juvenile justice system. Still others work with independent and faith-based adoption agencies.
5 Another area where Southern Baptists directly impact and influence children is through public and private education in our nation's school systems. Our educators strive to radiate the joy of the Lord and the fruit of the Spirit on a daily basis in some of the most difficult surroundings imaginable. Given the strictures against actively testifying of the grace and goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ, these educators nevertheless daily demonstrate life-changing compassion.
6 Hundreds of Southern Baptist churches provide church-based education services for families, including affordable daycare programs, mother's day out programs, and Christian schools. Many of these employees work at great financial sacrifice, performing these acts of service as investments of love and worship as they seek actively to influence the next generation for Christ.
7 One of the greatest evangelistic tools ever promoted by Southern Baptists is Vacation Bible School. VBS could not exist were it not for the willing volunteers that prepare lessons, teach crafts, provide refreshments, drive buses and vans, ferry neighbor's children, lead worship, and organize recreational activities. To look at a VBS volunteer is to see what an individual who values the life of each child looks like!
8 Nursery care in the church setting is perhaps the most unsung ministry a local church offers. Most churches would come to a screeching halt if nursery volunteers rose up and said, "I will no longer serve." One long-time pastor observed that many mothers and fathers take advantage of the nursery service as an entitlement. What they fail to realize is that when they choose not to volunteer, they take advantage of the goodwill of others who willingly give of themselves to watch over and care for children who are not their own!
9 It has been said that the greatest gift a parent can give a child is to provide a stable home environment. It has never ceased to amaze me how some homes are "kids magnets." What a wonderful blessing to be the home where your children's friends want to congregate! Parents who intentionally create this kind of home environment demonstrate the love of Christ and their desire to protect children throughout life.
10 Very few churches do not have an active age-graded ministry of some kind. In the small church, the youth and children's ministries may overlap and be led by volunteers. In larger churches, ministers with specialized training in preschool, childhood, middle school, and high school ministries provide oversight and guidance; but, even here, the ministries would end overnight if thousands of volunteers did not make the ministries a priority of their time and commitment.
I could go on. Simply put, Southern Baptists are involved in the lives of children throughout their childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Churches, ministers, and members alike care for children. They rejoice over the strong and successful. They receive the fallen, seeking to restore them with gentleness and love. The Convention partners with states, associations, and local churches to provide resources to protect the innocent from sexual molestation and abuse.
On this 36th anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court, let us recommit ourselves to promote life, protect the innocent and unborn, and provide ministries and services that will give each child the best possible opportunities to see Christ, hear Christ, and receive Christ. The ethic of life is, ultimately, about more than mere biology. Jesus put it this way: I am come to give them life; and to give it more abundantly.
Roger S. (Sing) Oldham serves as the vice president for Convention Relations with the SBC Executive Committee.