To Taylor Eugene Moore,
You certainly made last Sunday memorable.
I was just about to preach when I noticed your mother wasn’t in her normal pew at our church. I slipped out during the offering and found her in the foyer. She told me she was in labor, but planned to wait until I preached to let me know. I thought that was insane, asked our minister of music to preach, and whisked your mother away to the hospital. A few hours later, you were here.
As you grow older, you’ll notice that your four brothers all have biblical names: Benjamin, Timothy, Samuel, Jonah. You won’t find your name in the Bible, but, still, it’s really important to us. You were named for former United States Congressman Gene Taylor of the great State of Mississippi, a man for whom your Dad used to work a long time ago. There are all sorts of reasons we chose that name.
For one thing, you probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for him. I was working on Gene’s 1992 re-election campaign when my cousin suggested I pursue a high school senior named Maria Hanna (I was only three years older so it’s not as creepy as it sounds). I thought I was too busy, but the congressman thought otherwise. He liked her, and goaded me along to ask her out. I did, from our campaign headquarters in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi.
My courtship with your mother took place in a whirlwind of campaign events as I stumped with Gene through VFW halls and seafood festivals and county fairs all over south Mississippi. Gene was re-elected (63 percent of the vote) and your mother and I married. The congressman was right about her, more than I could have ever predicted.
But, more importantly, your name is about something we thought was true about you.
Early on in your unborn life, a doctor told us he thought you would have Down Syndrome. He turned out to be wrong, but we didn’t know that until you were born. Sadly, you probably won’t meet a lot of kids with Down Syndrome because so few of them ever make it to birth these days, so you might not even understand what that is.
When the doctor told us this, your mother and I looked at each other and knew right away that you would be a gift: Down Syndrome or not. Your worth and your value wouldn’t be in whether or not this age saw you as having “power” or “success,” but instead based on your bearing the image of the God who made you and who loves you.
Now, this is all bound up in what your mother and I believe about the gospel. We believe that the kingdom long promised came to us in a Son who took on human nature, was executed in weakness, and was raised by the power of God. He has put together a reign made up of people who don’t meet this world’s expectations of what it means to “count.”
But that basic Christian conviction crystallized for me, in a unique way, while working with Gene Taylor. He consistently and holistically believed that human dignity matters, matters for the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the unborn.
We were part of a political party with a great old heritage of “standing up for the little guy,” but that often lost its way in doing so: on slavery, on Jim Crow, and, ultimately, on legal protection for the unborn.
A generation ago, people from our state were “pro-choice” on whether states could oppress people because of the color of their skin. A man named Hubert Humphrey famously said there could be no state’s right to dismantle human rights. There’s a long fall from that to today, when candidates for national office pledge allegiance to Planned Parenthood in doing the same thing to people based on their stage of development.
I hope, by the time you read this, that you don’t “get” that, any more than I could “get” separate water fountains for black and white people. I hope, by the time you read this, that there are two pro-life parties, though I fear it might be two “pro-choice” parties instead.
I remember some folks offering Gene a lot of money to change positions on that awful injustice called “abortion.” Gene said, “Well, I’m not going to do that and, if I did, I’d go into this campaign with a lot of money but my wife wouldn’t vote for me, and she would be right not to.”
I left politics a long time ago for something I think is more important: preaching the kingdom of God. But I’m still shaped in all sorts of ways by Gene Taylor. He didn’t fit into easy categories of ideology, and he never sold out his conscience. He just did what he thought was right and didn’t care how “eclectic” that made him. I’ve tried to be the same way.
Last year, your mother and I went (and you, too, in the womb) back to our hometown to see your namesake lose his re-election campaign. But I was proud to see him, all the way to the end, saying the same things he said from the start of our little grassroots effort back in 1989, “liberty and justice for all, including the unborn.”
I suppose I would always have been pro-life, because that’s how I was raised and I’m part of a tribe of evangelicals that haven’t lost the commitment to that, at least as it pertains to abortion. But I think my time with that Roman Catholic Blue Dog congressman taught me to cherish human dignity in a way I never would have if it had just been part of some checklist of ideas. For him, it wasn’t just that taking life was wrong; I knew that. There was something though about the exuberance with which he talked about all life as gift.
And that’s what your life is.
You don’t have Down Syndrome, that’s true. The doctor was wrong, just like the doctors were wrong when they told us we’d never have children.
But maybe some day you’ll have something else. Maybe you’ll get sick or get hurt, or maybe you’ll wander away from what your mother and I will try to teach you. You’ll still be loved, and you’ll still have a place to come home to. You’re accepted for life.
You interrupted our Sunday, but you haven’t interrupted our lives. Every time we call your name, Taylor Eugene, we’ll remember one important place we learned how true that is.
Dr. Russell D. Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.