Introduction to the Resolution
On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court declared abortion a constitutional right for all women. The WELS noted this sad development. In the February 25, 1973, issue of theNorthwestern Lutheran an article read, “To approve of abortion as an expression of the right of a woman to have control over her body is not biblical. Neither man nor woman are masters of their own bodies. Both are responsible to God Himself for how they use them. . . . It is fervently hoped that no Christian woman will permit herself to be misled. Just because abortion may be legal, does not make it right.”
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, which had adopted its first pro-life resolution back in 1971, adopted another such statement in 1977. In 1978 the Evangelical Lutheran Synod adopted a resolution calling abortion a “grievous sin except in the rare instance of it being used to save a mother’s life.” That resolution resolved to “encourage its congregational members to confess publicly that the unborn child is a living person whose right to live must be protected.”
Such public and formal proclamations may appear to be a startling departure from traditional conservative Lutheranism. In the past the Wisconsin Synod hesitated to take any such action in fear it may be a first step into a diluted theology marked by social activism. While that concern is legitimate, significant external factors compelled WELS to be silent no longer.
First, the number of abortions had risen to a startling level. When abortion was legalized nationally in 1973, proponents suggested the abortion rate would not vary much from the expected 300,000 per year. Within a few years that number jumped to around 1.5 million annually and has remained at that level.
Secondly, the religious community appeared divided on the issue in the public forum. In 1974, one year after abortion was legalized, the U.S. Congress held public hearings on the prospect of a Human Life Amendment. Among those testifying were the following religious leaders: Bishop A. James Armstrong, president of the Board of Church and Society for the United Methodist Church; Mr. William Thompson, Executive Officer of the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America; and Rev. Sidney Lovett, Jr., Conference Minister for the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ. Each spoke in favor of the right to abortion.
Thirdly, sprouting from the United Methodist Church came an organization called the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR). A 1978 pamphlet produced by the agency contained pro-abortion position statements of its member agencies. Among those agencies were the following: American Baptist Churches, Disciples of Christ, Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church in the U.S., United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. Of particular concern is the prominent mention of Lutheran agencies in RCAR listings. Many publications listed the position statements of both the Lutheran Church of America and the American Lutheran Church as supporting a woman’s right to choose abortion.
These factors raised questions in the public’s mind concerning what God’s Word says concerning abortion. Some clergy within the WELS also admitted that unclarity existed in the minds of some WELS members.
It was a lay member of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, who assembled the original abortion statement in 1979 and submitted it for consideration through his pastor. In the committee and convention-floor discussion there were no voices speaking in favor of the right to abortion. The clarity of God’s Word on abortion was not questioned. There was debate, however. The debate involved the question of whether the WELS should adopt resolutions on social issues.
Ultimately, the committee rewrote the resolution, making improvements. Perhaps most noteworthy was to go beyond the simple proclamation against abortion-on-demand and to request WELS members to support abortion alternative programs. The action became an important catalyst for the formation of WELS Lutherans for Life.
As time passes and religious entities that have strayed from God’s Word cloud its truth in the public forum, WELS may again be compelled to adopt other resolutions on social issues. In the meantime, it continues the twofold approach of (1) encouraging the WELS ministerium to continue the faithful proclamation of God’s Word also when it addresses social issues and (2) encouraging the membership to be a positive influence in the battle against sin by their public testimony and vote.
Resolution on Abortion
the Holy Scriptures clearly testify to a reverence for the life of the mother and the life of her unborn child as both being equal in value, each being accountable for sin, each the object of God’s precious gift of salvation and therefore each being worthy of protection; and
the Holy Scriptures demonstrates its reverence for life by commanding its protection and condemning as sin the selfish and wrongful termination of life (see below); therefore be it
Resolved, a) that we acknowledge when an abortion procedure is performed with the specific intent not to preserve life but to terminate life, it is rightfully called sin and condemned by God; and be it further
Resolved, b) that we encourage the editors of our synodical periodicals, as well as our pastors and teachers, to continue fervently and faithfully testifying against sin and, in particular, the sin of abortion that involves the intentional and willful killing of any human life whether inside or outside of the womb; and be it further
Resolved, c) that in those extremely rare circumstances in which a pregnancy directly endangers the physical life of the mother, or the mother’s condition directly endangers the life of her unborn child, we call for action towards preserving both lives however possible or preserving at least one life when preserving both lives is not possible; and be it further
Resolved, d) that we encourage our membership to express its concern and compassion for distressed pregnant women by supporting all God-pleasing options in the face of unplanned pregnancies and that our congregations regularly review the teaching of Scripture on the high price of sin and of the inherent value of God’s gift of life; and be it finally
Resolved, e) that we more zealously pursue the pure proclamation of the Gospel of Christ which alone can change wicked hearts from sin to righteousness and then to practice Christ-inspired love as we seek to care for both the mother and her unborn child.
Resolution adopted July 2011