WASHINGTON, D.C. (BP) — The first Evangelicals for Life conference, co-sponsored by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family, set out to boost increased participation by evangelicals as they joined thousands for the annual March for Life today (Jan. 22) on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
“Our burden was to see the reborn stand up for the unborn and for all of those who were created in the image of God,” noted ERLC President Russell Moore in opening remarks at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill. The predominantly young audience arrived days ahead of the march to select from presentations by nearly 40 evangelical pro-life leaders who taught how to extend their influence with a broader, more diverse base of support Jan. 21-22.
Focus on the Family President Jim Daly praised the creative ways younger evangelicals are illuminating “the difference in light and darkness.”
After years on the defense “constantly trying to keep them from scoring another touchdown,” the former football player appealed for an offensive strategy that recognizes “we have the best news in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest described the success of “an under the radar offense that has been very aggressive.”
“More abortion restrictions across the country have been enacted since the 2010 election than in the entire previous decade.” Yoest said, “We’ve had a tidal wave of pro-life laws sweep across the country,” she said, advocating a stealth agenda that has chipped away at the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
Yoest referenced feminists who believe legal abortion is essential to women’s equality and their equal dignity lest they fail to achieve personal successes. “Engage the culture where they are rather than where we want them to be.” she said.
With an opportunity to advocate for both the mother and the child, Yoest said, “The church is the vehicle for creating and defending the dignity that feminists are looking for.” She added, “Hold up that alternate vision of being able to be that woman of power as we are created in God’s image in a complementary way with our male colleagues in Christ.”
Focus on the Family’s vice president for community outreach turned to 1 Corinthians 13 to remind pro-life advocates to temper their message with love.
“A lot of time people who are in advocacy will talk about civility, kindness and even love, and it is done as a tactic,” Kelly Rosati said. “Nothing could be worse for us if we decided to embrace love as a tactic instead of having it come deep from our hearts.”
International Mission Board President David Platt turned to Matthew 13 to relate Jesus’ compassion toward children to his Great Commission that is recorded nine chapters later.
“Jesus has given his followers a clear commission that has everything to do with the sanctity of human life,” Platt told the evening audience. “Christ compels, calls and commands us to go into the culture around us,” commissioned to “run toward need, not away from it” and “to engage culture, not to ignore it.”
Platt said, “In a culture that devalues life and denigrates children, we don’t stay silent. We stand up and go wherever we live to women who are struggling to see how life even goes on if they have this baby. We go to men who are encouraging their wives or pregnant girlfriends to have abortions.”
As new believers publicly declare their faith through baptism, Platt said, “They proclaim the greatest news in all the world.” Ultimately, new communities are formed that embody Christ’s words as disciplemaking leads men and women to treasure the sanctity of life.
“Every child is precious. Every child is cherished by Christ,” Platt said. “Let’s show his love and spend our lives in obedience to his commission until his kingdom comes. On that day the murder of little children will be no more.”
Ministry in an abortion culture must keep the cross of Jesus at the forefront, ERLC’s Moore noted, basing his message on Hebrews 2. “What we have to offer the world is not our voting bloc, our cultural influence, or our philosophical argument. What we have to offer to the world is the Gospel of freedom from condemnation and if we lose sight of that we have nothing else to offer.”
He told ministry leaders to identify with the crucified Christ as they stand up for the unborn, the aged, the disabled, the persecuted, the immigrant, the orphan, the widowed, the addicted, those in prison and the poor. “The image of God is more significant and more important than anyone’s definition of usefulness,” he said.
While supporting efforts to reduce abortion through legislation and assisting unwed pregnant mothers with supportive programs, Mennonite ethics professor Ron Sider said he was “disturbed by what seemed like fundamental inconsistency by some parts of the pro-life movement” that fail to protect and defend human life at every stage of development.
He encouraged extending the discussion to address the impact on life and death from poverty, environmental degradation, smoking, racism and capital punishment.
“The evangelical pro-life movement is rightly and deeply committed to ending abortion,” Sider affirmed, urging “a completely pro-life movement that would profoundly reshape American society” by broadening the scope.
Samuel Rodriguez, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, warned attendees against separating their responsibly to God and nation by voting one way and preaching another, saying that consistency is crucial to steering the cultural landscape in America toward a greater respect for life.
“We must rise up!” Rodriguez said, saying that he will not approach the voting booth based on the color of his skin. “I am not first and foremost black, white, yellow, brown, Hispanic, charismatic or automatic. I am a Christian. I am a Christian above everything else.”
When approaching the voting booth, Rodriguez reminded that votes have consequences. “I cannot create a schism between what I vote and what I preach and what I believe. There must be continuity, and that’s what we call integrity.”
He added, “I am committed not only to seeing the emergence of the staunchest pro-life demographic in America, but I am likewise committed to building a compassionate, Christ-centered, Bible-based pro-life firewall.”
Moore and Daly welcomed the Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden whose undercover videos released last summer outed Planned Parenthood’s sale of aborted baby parts. Introduced by Moore as the man who “pierced the conscience of the nation,” the audience rose to offer a standing ovation. Please see related story.
Moore asked Daleiden if he was making morality relative by using lying and deception while undercover, a question the 27-year old considered valid.
“I think that undercover work is fundamentally different from lying because the purpose of undercover work is to serve the truth and to bring the truth to greater clarity and to communicate the truth more strongly,” Daleiden said.
“Certainly, in normal every life, we don’t always communicate the truth by a simple, one equals one, mathematical way of speaking. We often use poetry and metaphor and even pretext in order to communicate really important truth in a more clear way. Our Lord did that in the Gospels with the parables; it’s often done throughout the Holy Scriptures; and so I see undercover work in that same sort of vein, as a creative way of communicating and speaking that is in service of the truth.”
Daleiden noted, “At the heart of the whole baby parts issue there is this really cool paradox that I can never get over, and it’s part of what drove me to do a really specific study on it for two-and-a-half years. And it’s the fact that unborn children — the human fetus — their humanity is not considered to be equal enough to our own in order to be completely protected by law and order, to be completely protected from being killed by abortion. But at the same time it’s precisely that equal humanity that is identical to our own that makes them so valuable for scientific experimentation and makes Planned Parenthood and researchers and their allies hunt after their body parts like buried treasure,” Daleiden said.
“I think that contradiction throws the whole world of legalized abortion in America in to a really stark light, and it highlights that contrast between some of our deepest values about human dignity and human equality as people and as Americans,” he said.
In addition to keynote speakers and panel discussion, breakout sessions at the Evangelicals for Life Conference addressed adoption and foster care, disabilities and special needs, pregnancy resource centers, legislative issues, millennials and sanctity of life, church-based pro-life ministries, international threats to human dignity, and bio-ethical concerns.
Other sponsors of the conference include Care Net, The Gospel Coalition, 40 Days for Life, Alliance Defending Freedom, Embrace Grace, Christianity Today, The Heritage Foundation, the National Religious Broadcasters and the Institute on Religion and Democracy.