On January 26-28, evangelical Christians from around the country who desire to be advocates for life will come together in Washington, D.C. for the 2017 Evangelicals for Life conference. Evangelicals for Life aims to educate and equip believers to be a voice for life—from the preborn to the elderly—in their churches, neighborhoods and in the public square.
Many respected experts and leaders will be featured as speakers at EFL. In an effort to get to know more about their ministry, we asked a few questions about their passion and work for the cause of human dignity.
Was there an exact moment in your life that awakened you to the need to advocate for the value of every life?
Matthew Soerens: As a small child—I'd guess that I was seven or eight, though I do not remember precisely—my parents took me to a local March for Life in Wisconsin, where I grew up. To the extent that my young mind could contemplate what it would mean to take the life of an unborn child, I was very troubled, and I've always since been an advocate for life.
Anne J O’Connor: While I was studying Roe v. Wade in Constitutional Law class in law school, I read right in the decision itself that the Court said, "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins." I raised my hand and queried whether this wasn't exactly the question the Court should have answered because once we find that life begins at conception, the rest would be easy to answer—the constitution protects life. Well, 200 other law students basically attacked me for even raising this issue. I knew then I was called to do something about this greatest injustice of our times.
Paul Martin: The moment our four-month-old son received a diagnosis of a genetic disability, we were suddenly faced with the question of value of human life. Was he less than human? Was he less valuable as a result? This began a deep search of the scriptures to try and understand why things like disability occur, what they say about sin and, more importantly, God. It was not until we realized that our son was made in the image of God, just as much as any other human being, that our eyes were opened to the value of all life all around us, from the womb to the old-age home.
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: My mother heavily guided me. She taught and modeled the importance of treating all people with dignity and respect (even when you did not agree, or if they did not respond in kind). My family also financially supports several organizations monthly: World Vision, Compassion International, and the International Justice Mission among them. These relationships give us the opportunity to pray for people across the world, and not be so consumed with ourselves.
Roland Warren: When I became a father as a result of an unplanned pregnancy at 20-years-old.
Kimberly Merida: During a trip several years ago to SE Asia, I was exposed firsthand to the horror of human trafficking. The experience began to stir in me a deep longing to flesh out what it would mean for me to, as Isaiah 1:17 commends, "learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause." Five months later, I found myself staring in the faces of our four children in a Ukrainian orphanage who had been born into abuse and neglect. The haunting memories of both the vulnerable and exploited of SE Asia, coupled with the weighty privilege of parenting children coming out of abuse and neglect, not only awakened me but continues to propel me to speak up for the mute, for the rights of the destitute, to defend the rights of the poor and needy—all of whom bear the image of our great God.
Ashleigh S. Chapman: When I was eleven, my parents brought home three young children who had been horribly abused in every way. It was my first introduction to the evils that exist in our world against little ones. For six months, I watched my parents fight a broken system to protect these children. I watched as these three little souls struggled to comprehend that they were finally in a safe environment surrounded by love and care. And during this same time, I was reading scripture after scripture about God’s heart for the oppressed and vulnerable, and his call to us as his children to fight on their behalf.
At the end of six months, the Lord worked a miracle to rescue these children, and they were all adopted by a wonderful couple in our church. And I knew then: the Lord's calling on my life was to be an advocate for the oppressed and vulnerable—a calling I have pursued every day since.
Tim Goeglein: I joined the pro-life movement in 1976 at the age of 12 because a pro-life leader in my hometown reached out and mentored me.
Sharen Ford: In high school, I volunteered at a school for disabled children and learned to appreciate differences. These children—with all of their challenges—needed care and support and a chance to thrive. Living in an institution wasn't enough; they needed and deserved more. I was reminded we all need help. These kids needed help in many ways. If I cared, I could help make a difference, one child at a time.
Scott Sauls: The moment I became a Christian.
Kelly M. Rosati: I remember learning in grade school that my mom became pregnant with me when she was 16 and unmarried. From that time, I always felt keenly aware that messy circumstances shouldn’t determine whether a baby lives or dies. I felt thankful she’d chosen life. Even as a college student with a partying major, I still felt passionate about the dignity of life and sparred with professors from time to time on the topic. The sparring continued into law school where my passion for life became part of what I felt called to do in life.
Cindi Boston: The moment I took a volunteer training for a pregnancy center in Ohio, it became real. The Silent Scream video, the fetal development information and the reality of abortion became clear. Having been involved in youth ministry for six years prior to that experience, I knew the struggle for women with unexpected pregnancies was real, the horror of abortion was significant and that as a Christian, God was opening a door to impact women, one at a time.
Todd Wagner: The exact moment that awakened me to the need to advocate for the value of every life is tied to my awakening to the reality of the gospel and my conversion at the end of my high school years.
Was there a particular book, talk or other resource that influenced your thinking on human dignity?
Matthew Soerens: As a freshman at Wheaton College in 2002, the rock star Bono came to our campus as part of a tour highlighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. I remember Bono reading from Matthew 25 and telling a packed-out Edman Chapel that this was Jesus begging us to care for "the least of these," including literally millions of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
At the time, most American evangelicals were doing very little to respond to the AIDS crisis, but that talk from Bono really challenged me to broaden my commitment to advocating for the value of every human life, and I became active on my campus in advocating for policies to provide access to life-saving medications for those suffering from HIV. Within less than a year, I had the opportunity to see how advocacy from students and faculty at Wheaton could help to push forward President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief—which was championed within the White House by Wheaton alum Michael Gerson and cosponsored in the House of Representatives by the conservative pro-life Congressman Henry Hyde after he met with some Wheaton College student constituents—and I became even more committed to the importance of advocating for those whose voices are not usually heard in our democracy.
Anne J. O’Connor: The Bible!
Paul Martin: Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God, Kilner (Eerdmans)
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: I would recommend a few resources: The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor by Mark Labberton and The Just Church by Jim Martin. Also, read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. more holistically. I also have several articles on my blog: asistasjourney.com.
Scott Klusendorf: My speaking career bears the marks of two men who mentored my early development as a pro-life apologist.
Gregg Cunningham, Executive Director of the Center for Bioethical Reform, made the first investment, though I doubt he knew it the first time we met. The setting was a Saturday breakfast for pastors in November of 1990. At the time, I was an associate pastor in Southern California, and organizers from the local crisis pregnancy center and right-to-life affiliate invited me and 100 others to hear a pro-life message aimed at equipping church leaders to think strategically about abortion. Four of us showed up.
Undeterred by the dismal attendance, Gregg, with his background in law and politics (he served two terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives where he wrote the bill ending tax-financed abortions in that state) launched into the most articulate case for the lives of the unborn I’d ever heard. That was impressive enough. But then he showed the pictures. Horrible pictures that made you cry.
In the course of one seven-minute video depicting abortion, my career aspirations were forever altered, though it took a few months to realize it. Greg asked us to think of the two religious leaders in the parable of the Good Samaritan who, although they most likely felt pity for the beating victim, did not act like they felt pity. Only the Good Samaritan took pity, thus proving he truly did love his neighbor.
For the next several months, I followed Gregg to many of his Southern California speaking events. I memorized huge portions of his talks and devoured his writings. Six months later, I left my job as an associate pastor (with the blessing of the church) and hounded Gregg even more until he put me on staff as his understudy—a position I was privileged to hold for six years. Watching him dismantle abortion-choice arguments in front of hostile audiences, I lost my fear of opposition. Watching him sacrifice the comforts of this life so he could save unborn humans, I lost my desire for an easy job. Both losses have served me well.
Gregg’s signature quote haunts me to this day: “Most people who say they oppose abortion do just enough to salve the conscience but not enough to stop the killing.” That’s a staggering truth. Every time I tempted to quit, I remember it.
While Gregg Cunningham taught me courage, Greg Koukl taught me to be a gracious ambassador for the Christian worldview. Koukl is not only a top-notch apologist, he’s also one of the most winsome guys you’ll ever meet. His mission is to equip Christians to graciously and incisively defend truth. That’s refreshing, as too many Christians lack the diplomacy skills needed to effectively engage listeners.
I first heard Greg on the radio back in 1989. I thought, “Wow, this guy is really smart!” By 1993, his Sunday afternoon show was my personal clinic in clear thinking. In 1996, we met for the first time at a pro-life conference in Pasadena, where we were both presenters. In 1997, we met again, this time for lunch. Later that same year, I joined his staff at Stand to Reason.
Shortly thereafter, Greg taught me a valuable lesson that continues to payoff each time I write or speak. The setting was the University of Illinois (Champaign), where I was scheduled to debate author and political science professor, Eileen McDonagh. Campus abortion-choice advocates did not want the debate to transpire and tried numerous ploys to stop it. First, they claimed that debates only serve to legitimize the “anti-choice” position. If you won’t debate slavery-advocates, why on earth debate pro-lifers? When that didn’t fly, they went after me personally with a series of editorials in the school newspaper. Everyone of those stories falsely claimed I was associated with groups advocating violence against abortion doctors, while some even claimed that I hated gays.
In response, I typed out a heated reply that shot down each of those lies and sent it off to Greg for a quick review before faxing it to the school paper. That was a smart move. Greg graciously suggested that I tone things down a bit, or, a lot. Instead of anger, I should communicate sadness that a fine university committed to the free exchange of ideas would even think of censoring a debate over a legitimate public policy question. His advice saved the day.
I revised the letter and instead of looking like angry victims, the pro-lifers on campus now appeared reasonable and willing to debate, while the abortion-choicers looked like cowards out to suppress academic freedom. The school paper even hinted as much in a subsequent write-up after the debate was canceled. (I showed up anyway, and after making a defense for the pro-life view, took questions from critics—which made abortion-choicers look even more unreasonable.) The comic drawing alongside the story suggested those censoring the event were “pansies.”
From that day forward, I had a Koukl filter. Even if I’m hundreds of miles away, I hear Greg asking if the piece I’ve just written or the talk I’ve just given communicates in a winsome and attractive manner. When the answer is no, guess where I go? Back to his radio show. Back to the talks he's fine-tuned. Back to the commentaries on the Stand to Reason website. It’s there I recover my ambassador skills.
I thank God for both of these men. They are responsible for saving countless lives and equipping many others for effective Christian service. I am but one they’ve impacted for eternity.
Kimberly Merida: Good News About Injustice, by Gary Haugen. More recently, I have enjoyed Trilia Newbell's, Women on Life.
Ashleigh S. Chapman: A Practical View of Christianity by William Wilberforce
Tim Goeglein: Focus on the Family's broadcasts on pro-life matters influenced me at a young age.
Scott Sauls: Whatever Happened to the Human Race by Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop. Also, Martin Luther King, Jr's writings on the Image of God.
Kelly M. Rosati: Ironically, as an evangelical, I think the best work on the human dignity comes from Catholic social teaching and writings. I think it’s some of the most developed and important work on the topic.
Todd Wagner: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey
We hope these testimonies have stirred your heart to be a champion of the image of God in every individual. If you’re interested in joining us at Evangelicals for Life, in person or by live stream, visit evangelicals.life for more information.