Wisconsin Ev. Lutheran Synod’s Resolution on Abortion
NOTE: At the July 1979 convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) meeting in Watertown, Wisconsin, the church body adopted this position against the killing of babies in the womb. This 1979 position on abortion is found below. On July 28, 2011, the WELS Convention delegates unanimously adopted a resolution on abortion that was submitted by Christian Life Resources. Click here to view this most current resolution.
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 the Northwestern 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 the 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, the 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
1) the Holy Scriptures clearly teach that the living yet unborn are persons in the sight of God and are under the protection of His commandment against murder (Job 10:9-11; Ex 20:13; Mt 5:21; Ge 9:6; Ps 139:13; Ps 51:5; Jer 1:5; Lk 1:41-44); and
2) our hearts are grieved over the millions of unborn who are being murdered each year through the sin of willful abortion; and
3) our synod has historically testified against abortion, except when it is medically necessary to save the life of the mother; therefore be it
a) that we encourage the editors of our synodical periodicals as well as our pastors and teachers to continue fervently and faithfully to testify against abortion; and be it further
b) that we continue to urge our membership to make God’s will in this matter known to our fellowmen whenever the opportunity presents itself; and be it further
c) that we encourage our membership to express their concern and compassion for distressed pregnant women by supporting the development of alternatives to abortion programs which are consistent with God’s Word; and be it finally
d) that we more zealously preach the Gospel of Christ which alone can change the wicked hearts of men and turn them from sin to righteousness.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you!
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