The Proposed New Seventh-day Adventist Statement on Abortion: Twelve Brief Comments

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Published:
October 14, 2019

The three hundred or so global delegates to the Executive Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists will this week consider a statement on abortion which could supplement or replace the guidelines which it approved in 1992. Here are twelve brief comments from me. Please click here for the 1992 statement and here for the current, 2019, proposal.

Process

1. The General Conference asked its Biblical Research Institute to prepare a statement on the biblical view of human life with reference to the issue of abortion. The proposed statement is largely the result of its work.

2. A Committee of about two dozen specialists from around the world, three of whom were reportedly women, considered the BRI's work and other things when formulating this proposal. The result appears to be the BRI's statement into which, at strategic points, lines from the 1992 statement and other sources have been inserted.

3. General Conference declarations are either 1) Fundamental Beliefs, 2) Guidelines, or 3) Statements. I do not know which of these the present proposal is meant to be.

Commendations

4. The way that this proposal establishes that the Bible is pro-life is beautiful. I am using the word "beautiful" as mathematicians use the word "elegant" when describing formula which are surprisingly simple but profoundly significant.

5. It adroitly navigates through contending interpretations of controversial passages. For example, it rightly declares that Exodus 21:22-25 shows that biblical people valued the fetus; however, it stays away from the debates about how much they valued the fetus in comparison with how much they valued the pregnant woman.

6. It includes many biblical resources which I have never seen utilized in other discussions of abortion. These include the New Testament's references to living an "abundant life" and many others. The result of linking these biblical references to the consideration of abortion is illuminating. I would say brilliant.

Contradictions 

7. The proposal wavers between saying that whether an abortion will be performed is up to those who are closest to the situation in every case, on the one hand, or saying that this is so only in especially problematic and perplexing cases, on the other. Either way, the proposal makes all the easy decisions and leaves all the hard ones to those who are most involved without any help.

8. On the one hand, it underlines the importance of what the New Testament says about the "abundant life." On the other hand, it does not say that things such as rape, incest, a pregnant woman's serious but not fatal medical problems, or even her dangerous age can make an "abundant life" a complete and permanent impossibility for her. It doesn't relate the idea of an "abundant life" and similar biblical themes to the fetus and to the pregnant woman in a balanced way.

9. It makes exceptions to the Bible's pro-life orientation for especially difficult cases without biblically justifying them. Either this statement is exclusively biblical or it isn't. If it is, it should make no exceptions, not even one, without explaining how the Bible warrants them.

Observations

10. This proposal strikes me as a combination of different materials which are at odds with each other and need further integration.

11. It demonstrates why prima scriptura is better than sola scriptura. Statements like this proposal should be truly biblical but not exclusively so. They should also include insights from the relevant sciences and humanities as well as from common sense. The BRI handled the biblical materials but not the other ones which are also necessary and rightly so.

12. "Neither accept nor reject anything just because the General Conference says it. Examine everything it says very carefully. Keep what survives this scrutiny and shelve the rest. Don't make life difficult for others either way." (I Thessalonians 5:20-22, DRLV) 

 

David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University Health.

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Further Reading:

The Current Seventh-day Adventist Abortion Guidelines,” October 11, 2019

Proposed Seventh-day Adventist Statement on Abortion,” October 11, 2019

A Christian Woman’s Perspective on Abortion,” by Stella Oliveras, October 11, 2019

Primer on U.S. Abortion Law: Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Challenge to Louisiana Abortion Restriction,” by Michael Peabody, October 7, 2019

Geoscience Research Institute Calls for a ‘Biblically Sound Statement on Abortion,’” by the Geoscience Research Institute, October 4, 2019

An Open Letter Concerning the Adventist Church’s Abortion Guidelines,” by Mark B. Johnson, October 4, 2019

A Clinical Ethicist’s Perspective on Creating a New Abortion Statement,” by Mark F. Carr, October 2, 2019

"Abortion Rates and Ratios Continue Dropping in the United States" by David Larson, September 27, 2019

Our Abortion Guidelines Are Too Good to Replace” by David Larson, September 16, 2019

Abortion Law: Adventist Leaders Active Behind the Scenes” by Kent Kingston, September 18, 2019

Amidst Growing Criticism Adventist Church is Revisiting Abortion Position” by Michael Peabody, September 23, 2019

Adventist Church Works to Clarify Its Stance on Abortion,” Adventist News Network, August 30, 2019

The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Official Guidelines on Abortion, approved and voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive Committee at the Annual Council session in Silver Spring, Maryland, October 12, 1992.

This article originally appeared in the current Spectrum print journal, volume 47, issue 3, which includes several articles on abortion.

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