A Southern Baptist Convention publication's interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice includes discussion of administration policies promoting a "culture of life" but avoids mention of her own position on abortion, which she has in the past described as "mildly pro-choice."
Rice, a daughter and granddaughter of Presbyterian ministers, received a heroine's welcome June 14 at the SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C. A reference to the killing of Iraq militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi brought the house down in thunderous applause. "When possible, we are bringing terrorists to justice," she said. "And when necessary, we are bringing justice to the terrorists."
SBC president Bobby Welch introduced Rice as "definitely a woman of faith" and asked God to bless her. "You know how we have longed and yearned for such leadership as this, and we are grateful for it," he prayed.
While in Greensboro, Rice gave an interview to SBC Life, a promotional newspaper published by the SBC Executive Committee. It appeared in the August issue. Questions focused on her faith and the role it plays in her daily responsibilities and on policies about religious freedom and the "sanctity of life."
"We very actively oppose, in international conventions and in U.N. resolutions, any language that would not be consistent with the President's policies on the culture of life," Rice said. "Also, at one time American aid was permitted to be used with groups that openly advocated abortion, which was wrong. The United States no longer does that. We have been very aggressive in [addressing] issues like human trafficking, which of course is support for the dignity of every human being. And so we do actively oppose international conventions or resolutions that might imply that we should not as a country pursue our own policies consistent with culture of life."
Rice didn't mention, and the interviewer didn't ask about, her own views on abortion, which appear to conflict with the staunchly anti-abortion stance of SBC resolutions since 1982. A 2003 resolution on the 30th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade renounced a 1971 statement that allowed for abortion under conditions including rape, incest, fetal deformity and health of the mother.
In 1993, the convention passed a resolution separating Southern Baptists from President Clinton's support of homosexual and abortion rights. At the same meeting an effort came to prevent seating of messengers from Clinton's home church, Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., but a credentials committee rejected the plea, ruling the convention cannot hold a church accountable for beliefs of a single member.
In a wide-ranging Washington Times interview in 2005, Rice described herself as "kind of Libertarian" on the abortion issue, "meaning by that that I have been concerned about a government role in this issue."
"I'm a strong proponent of parental choice, of parental notification," she explained. "I'm a strong proponent of a ban on late-term abortion. These are all things that I think unite people and I think that that's where we should be. I've called myself at times mildly pro-choice."
"What I do think is that we should not have the federal government in a position where it is forcing its views on one side or the other," she said. "So, for instance, I've tended to agree with those who do not favor federal funding for abortion, because I believe that those who hold a strong moral view on the other side should not be forced to fund it."
Some conservatives have said those views could become a major stumbling block if Rice decides to run for president in 2008.
"While conservatives would certainly relish voting the first African-American woman into the Oval Office, her support of abortion-rights policies stands as a prohibitive factor in terms of her converting evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics into her camp," opined Jerry Falwell.
Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily.com said Rice's position on abortion makes her "wholly disqualified" as the candidate to beat Hillary Clinton. "To me, 'pro-choice evangelical' is a spiritual oxymoron and 'mildly pro-choice' sounds to me like the political version of 'a little bit pregnant,'" he commented.
Rice, who describes herself as a "deeply religious person," grew up as a preacher's kid at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Ala. While she never doubted the existence of God, she said in a 2002 interview, she didn't attend church regularly for a number of years before moving to California in 1981 to join the faculty at Stanford University.
Playing piano at an African-American Baptist church in Palo Alto got her back into the habit. After about six months, she said, she decided to return to Presbyterianism, joining Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. When in town, she now reportedly worships at National Presbyterian Church in Washington.
A Southern Baptist blogger contrasted the convention crowd's wholesale positive response to Rice's appeals to patriotism with an immediately preceding nasty debate over whether the Bible supports total abstinence from alcohol.
"We are, it seems, no different than the German Church at the close of the Weimar Republic. Nationalism is our religion," Texas pastor Benjamin S. Cole wrote at Baptist Blogger. "The Gospel is now emptied of its power to set the captives free."
Cole, who supported the election of SBC president Frank Page, said he "could have stomached two years of the runner-up much easier than to stand in the convention hall and watch my fellow messengers rise to their feet when the death of Al-Zarquawi is announced.
"A soul is sent to hell, and we do not grieve. We cheer."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.