Evangelicals for Life: Day 3

By / Jan 28

Panel: Death and Disease—Respecting Human Dignity Throughout All of Life (Daniel Darling—moderator, Scott James, Paige Cunningham, Benjamin Mast and Ben Mitchell)

Every human being will age and face death. And as Paige Cunningham pointed out during the panel, most people will have to make a bioethical decision—whether for themselves or for a family member. How should evangelicals equip themselves to deal with the inevitable? And how should pastors ready their congregations to embrace the elderly, the sick and the dying?

Here are a few thoughts from the panel:

Mast: There is a misconception that older people are sick or when they are confused or forgetful they are no longer a whole person. Instead of looking at them as a whole person made in the image of God, we fail to realize they have the same emotional needs as the rest of us. Alzheimer affects individuals, and the whole family,

Cunningham: How visible are the elderly in your congregation? It sends a message of how we view them. Are they wise or a nuisance? The church should not fear death and dying. We are called to die well to the glory of God to show to how to live through suffering, whether through disease or aging.

Mitchell: What we say at the beginning of life has application at the end of life. We say an embryo (not fully developed) is a whole, complete, human being. So when a person is aged or diseased and lost some faculties, that person is also a whole, complete human being. Also, churches should be more involved in hospice to care for and minister to people in the final stages of life.

James: Healthcare is a pro-life issue. Finding cures for disease is a pro-life act. We want people to thrive and flourish. Pro-life advocates should be involved in healthcare because it involves common good of our citizens.

Protecting Life: Pursuing Policies That Uphold Human Dignity (Jennifer Marshall)

How we can be focused on most important aspects of what needs to be done in this particular season? The Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshall is encouraged to see a declining abortion rate, but outlined what needs to happen for it to continue momentum.

  1. Permanently ending taxpayer funding of abortion. The taxpayer funding should not go to organizations, like Planned Parenthood, who perform abortions. A year ago Congress began an investigation into Planned Parenthood and the selling of human body parts. The results, released earlier this month comprise a 418-page document, showing they did, indeed, profit.
  2. Ban abortion of unborn children who can feel pain. Senator Lindsey Graham is working to bring awareness to this issue, citing that if a baby needs anesthesia for prenatal surgery, they can feel pain. The United States is one of seven countries who perform elective late-term abortion.
  3. Respect conscience. No one should ever be coerced to perform an action they feel is wrong. Congress can pass the Conscience Protection Act—to protect people from participating in or subsiding
  4. Repeal Obamacare. It dictates what employers must offer.

“While Congress works on repealing Obamacare, President Trump should act immediately to halt the Health and Human Services mandate,” she said. “And to stop the transgender mandate that requires doctors to offer transgender treatment.”

While Marshall is encouraged about the position of the current administration on these issues, she says the church should remain diligent. “Whether standing for life at the United Nations, passing common sense health laws, resisting assisted suicide, we need to redouble our efforts.”

Unexpected Advocates: Embracing Divine Opportunities to Save Lives and Protect Conscience (Kristen Waggoner)

Kristen Waggoner, a senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom who leads U.S. legal advocacy, gave examples of soldiers in the fight for freedom of conscience. Here are a few:

  • Kathy and Fay are nurses in different states. Both were told they would need to assist in performing abortions. Both wanted to “heal, not kill.” Their local governments got involved, and thankfully, they were able to keep their jobs without having to violate their consciences by taking life.
  • Rachel DiSanto, a doctor in Vermont, faces a violation of conscience issue. While there is an assisted suicide exemption law in place, the state of Vermont says doctors have to tell patience the drugs are available and counsel them on it. She and others have filed a lawsuit challenging the law.
  • The Stormanses, a family of store/pharmacy owners who found themselves in the midst of the controversy surrounding a Washington law compelling pharmacies to carry Plan B, are still in the fight. This controversy came to the surface more than a decade ago and they are still waiting to see if the Supreme Court will hear their case.

While most people will not be involved in conscience-related lawsuits, Waggoner urged the Evangelical for Life crowd to be faithful in their mundane daily lives.

“Christ Jesus has called us to do good work,” she said. “To be outwardly focused and be culture makers for his glory.”

Panel: Why Legislation Matter for the Pro-Life Cause (Andrew Walker—moderator, Michael Wear, Jennifer Marshall, Kristen Waggoner, Travis Wussow and Timothy Goeglein)

A panel of policy workers and attorneys gathered to discuss the role of policy in the pro-life movement. Here are some of their contributions to the conversation:

Wear: The repeal of the Hyde Amendment is a bridge too far it moves from whether abortion should be legal to whether it is a moral wrong.

Goeglein: “We have entered into the high water mark of the pro-life movement since 1973. The political class has followed what is happening in the culture” (citing the example of the Mexico City Policy executive order).

Waggoner: “There are challenges for pro-life movement, but we have to have the freedom to speak about our belief regarding life.

On the significance of Vice President Pence addressing the March for Life:

Wussow: “It’s extraordinary because it show Washington is taking note of the shift in culture. The young crowd (at the march) gave me hope. It’s helpful to have a visible advocate like Vice President Pence in the White House.”

Goeglein: “The way we shape public sentiment is important, and it begins in the White House.”

The Beauty of Diversity: Celebrating the Dignity of Every Tribe, Tongue and Nation (Jackie Hill Perry)

Artist and poet Jackie Hill Perry is “grieved and grateful” that God has shown the church her blind spots when it comes to diversity.

Perry highlighted several things that should happen in the heart before we celebrate diversity:

  • Repent. Sins of discrimination against people who are different from us is a sin against God. It’s a dangerous assumption that one’s own race or culture is the standard.  It’s hard to see beauty in a culture when you see it as lesser.
  • Remove fear. It promotes separation. “If fear is keeping you from loving people who are different from you, then fear is keeping you from God.”
  • Remember. Are we changed by the gospel? Have we remembered what Christ has done for us and that everyone is created in his image? Being created in the image of God means we were created to spread his glory—and that we are to love as he loves.  “It is with unveiled faith we must behold his glory and be transformed into his image … this faith will undo apathy.”
  • Invite. “The diversity of heaven exists because God wanted it to.” Do you have affection for every tribe, tongue and nation? Or it is a duty for you? God included everyone into the nation of Israel. We are not “a people,” but he has called us as such. He set his affection for us. He did send Jesus because he had to; he did so because he loves us. Pray for God to give us a brotherly affection for the nations and to invite them into our lives and churches.

Evangelicals for Life: Day 2

By / Jan 28

Are You Mentally Healthy Enough? Preparing for Adoption’s Hardships (Sharen Ford)

“The question is not if the battle is going to happen, but when,” said Sharen Ford, who opened Friday’s session with some words of caution for adoptive parents, or those considering adoption.

As the program director for adoption and orphan care efforts at Focus on the Family, and having worked for child welfare services at the State Department of Human Services, Ford has seen, firsthand, the devastation of not being prepared.

Challenging the audience, she asked, “Are you building resources along the way? Are you aligning with the right people to support you? Who is walking alongside you for the long haul?”

Further stressing the importance of community for adoptive families, she explained they need practical help from their extended families and the local church in order to win the spiritual battles —this may mean providing food, offering to run errands or helping with household tasks.

Or it may even mean babysitting so the adoptive parents may have some time together.

“Many adoptive families are in survival mode. The war is raging in their homes. Parenting children with trauma history takes a toll,” she said. “You will question your sanity. But God calls people to the mission of adoption.”

The Life-Changing Influence of Foster Care (Jim Daly)

Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, shared his experience as a child in foster care. Born to an alcoholic father and a mother, who, would later leave him with their five children, he ended up in the foster care system after his mother died from an illness when he was a child.

Daly himself was nearly aborted. His mother was 42 when he was born. In their state (before Roe v. Wade), a pregnant woman over 40 could legally have an abortion. As it turns out, it was his alcoholic father who convinced her to carry the baby to term.

“When I look on all that…that’s the motivation for me,” Daly said. “When people ask me why I do what I do, I tell them I do it for the kids.”

Later, as a married man with two sons, God called Daly and his wife to foster care. It came with hardships, but he learned one of the most important truths about the Savior through his experience: “The Lord is not about your comfort—he’s about your commitment.”

A Consistent Pro-Life Worldview: Confronting the Moral Blind Spots in our Everyday Lives (Albert Mohler)

Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered an address that outlined the importance of developing a pro-life theology, and the societal implications of a culture that does not value life.

“We can’t expect for any society who fails to see much as sacred will see the sanctity of life,” Mohler said. “Human flourishing cannot exist where human life is extinguished. God hates abortion. God hates every denial of his perfect gift of life.”

In a world where human flourishing was God’s intention, believers must, Mohler said, understand what Scriptures like Deuteronomy 30 say about seeing creation as a means for displaying God’s glory and advancing his Kingdom.

“If we are going to have a consistent pro-life theology, ethic and worldview, we will see abortion as an assault upon God’s glory, sovereignty and will.”

Respecting Human Dignity Through Civil Discourse (John Stonestreet)

“People last year were announcing the end of the prolife movement. They were wrong,” said John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center. “The ball is getting ready to roll downhill. The pro-life movement has gotten smarter.”

While we should celebrate the wins in the battle of life, we should guard our attitudes toward those who antagonize or oppose us, as they are God’s image bearers.

“We have to treat other people with respect,” he said. “The greatest temptation to not treat them with respect is not when you are losing, but when you are winning.”

Stonestreet said there are two key things to remember about civility when engaging in discourse with people on the other side of the pro-life and other divisive issues.

First, civility has nothing to do with reciprocity. “We’re not civil to people because they are civil to us,” he said. “We’re always tempted to respond with the tone they are using with us. In today’s heated climate, it is a revolutionary act to respond to wrath with a soft answer.”

Secondly, Stonestreet explained that civility is not a strategy. “We’re not civil because it works,” he said. “We don’t treat others with respect because it helps us win…or get ahead. Civility is an expectation of anyone living out the grand story of redemption. We do it because it’s right. We do it whether it works or not.”

There is, however, a clear distinction between civility and tolerance.

“Civility is not tolerance,” said Stonestreet. “The worst thing you say to someone who is in grave danger, that they are not.”

Social Justice, Human Dignity and the Gospel: A Comprehensive Pro-Life Stance (Eugene Cho)

Founder and pastor of Seattle’s Quest Church, Eugene Cho guided Evangelicals for Life participants to reflect on how to live out the embodiment of the whole gospel.

“We need men and women who believe in the gospel story to open their eyes (to the injustices) in their cities neighborhood…awake to the injustices in our world,” he said. “We can’t cherry pick. We must embody the whole gospel.”

And, he said, we need to reject the notion that the work in the trenches should not be left for leadership.

“The work of justice is not just for ministers and prophets,” Cho said. “It’s for the whole church. Truth telling is incredibly important justice work. The good news is God has a long history of using broken, falling people to be his mouthpieces and storytellers. It’s the only kind of people who exist. “

He then offered several things to consider when living out the whole gospel.

First, he said, the church needs to begin operating out of theology taken from the Scriptures rooted in justice. “Justice reflects the very character of God,” he explained. “You cannot read the Scriptures without justice being pervasive throughout. “

Next, he said, theology tells us all life is sacred and every single human being bears the image of God.

“We can’t just be anti-abortion. We should be for the sanctity of life from the womb to tomb,” Cho said. “Not just American lives, but Syrian lives. Not just Christian liberty religious lives, but Muslim refugee lives.”

Cho also said we must humanize justice: “Jesus performed miracles. Regardless of how busy he was, he always stopped and looked people in the eye. When we do that, we say, ‘I see you…you bear the image of God.’”

If we are to be about a comprehensive pro-life ethic, he said we shouldn’t be loyal to political parties: “We must resist the idea that Jesus is a republican or a democrat. And we need to have the courage to speak prophetically on all of these issues.”

Welcoming Sojourners: How the Gospel Urges Us to Love the Immigrant (Samuel Rodriguez)

Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, explained that loving the immigrant is not a political, but a prophetic biblical issue with political ramifications.

“We need a political solution, but driven by a prophetic impetus,” said Rodriguez. “Scripture not only delivers an admonition but an exhortation to address the stranger.”

He also suggested the church should “stop creating evangelical silo…evangelicals want to protect the baby in the womb.” There must be one continuum of life—the immigrant has the same inherent value as the pre-born baby.

Rodriguez explained that immigration has definitive kingdom implications, since the fastest growing segment of many denominations is coming out of the immigrant community.

“They stand at the precipice of a new awakening of America. Deportation equates to deporting the future Christianity of America…We need to look at immigration as Christians, and not republicans or democrats.”

Panel: Ministering to Refugees and Immigrants—Hard Questions, Complex Answers and Loving Our Neighbors (Travis Wussow—moderator, Bryant Wright, Jenny Yang, Matthew Soerens, Samuel Rodriguez and Stephanie Hammond)

This panel, composed of pastors and workers for relief organizations, discussed the current political climate and how it will affect refugee care, as well as suggested ways individuals and the local church can be agents of change. Here are their thoughts:

Rodriguez: “The same evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump have an obligation to serve the least of these.”

Wright: “We get our guidance from the Word of God, not talk radio. People were floored by Johnson Ferry’s (his church) work with refugees and sent donations. That gives us a witness for Christ.”

Sorenson: Familiarize yourself with what God has to say about the foreigner in the Scriptures. Listen to the stories of refugees themselves.  

Yang: If you haven’t contacted elected officials, call them. Write them. “Our response to refugees is not a test of our politics. It’s a test of our faith.”

Hammond: Elected officials need to hear positive stories from Christian involvement with refugees. Go to town hall events and ask question about these issues.

Evangelicals for Life: Day 1

By / Jan 27

“Your presence makes a great statement to the culture that we are willing to defend life,” said Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly as he—along with ERLC president Russell Moore—welcomed hundreds to Evangelicals for Life.

Before the speakers and panelists ascended the platform for the afternoon and evening sessions, he reminded the attendees, “We’re on the winning side… remember we should have a heavy heart for those in the abortion industry…. No one is beyond the reach of God. We, ourselves, are sinners are saved by grace. Pray that the light and truth of God’s word will reign in their hearts.”

Human Dignity and the Gospel: The Framework for a Lasting Mission (Russell Moore)

“We have a different view from the rest of the world about what it takes to matter,” Moore said in the first address, imploring the hundreds in attendance to examine, biblically, what it means to matter and to understand the role of “power” in the Kingdom of Christ.

Debunking the widely-believed myth that children are a burden, Moore described them as an integral part of Jesus’ mission—a mission for which he will equip those he calls.

“We are a church of crucified sinners who know the way of the cross is a hard and different way,” he said. “Loving someone and looking outside of oneself will bring risk, pain, hurt and worry—and it is worth it.”

Pro-Life Apologetics: Arguments from Reason that Align with Scripture (Scott Klusendorf)

“All of us need to be prepared to make a case for life, said Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute, who presented the basic pro-life argument and addressed three key questions Christians should consider when defending the sanctity of life.

This basic pro-life argument included the following points:

  • It’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings
  • Abort intentionally kills innocent human beings
  • Therefore, abortion is wrong

Here are the three key questions the pro-life community should be able to address when explaining their position:

  • Who are the unborn? Whole, distinct, living human beings.
  • What makes human beings valuable? We (born and unborn) equally share the image of our Maker. There are four differences between these two groups: Size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency.
  • Why are we prolife? Because the science of embryology says at the earliest stage of development we are distinct, whole and living human beings. None of these distinctions are good reasons for killing the unborn.

A Voice for Human Dignity: The Church’s Pro-Life Mission (Todd Wagner)

“We have church leaders who have not carried out their charge from God to be a truth telling voice … If there is a problem in our country, there is a pulpit problem,” said Todd Wagner, founding pastor of Watermark Church, explaining that society is often reflective of church leadership.

While Wagner addressed the state of our nation in terms of valuing life, he cautioned against leaving human dignity to legislation: “Our country will not be changed by politics; it will be changed when people (hearts) change.”

In order this to happen he said the church must “be full of loving kindness as it seeks justice.”

Panel: Leading Congregations Who Advocate for the Weak, Vulnerable and Voiceless (Trillia Newbell—moderator, Kevin Smith, Todd Wagner, Tony Merida, Glenn Packiam)

This panel, comprised of pastors, explained why it is important for church leaders to facilitate a culture of advocacy within their churches. Here are a few of their thoughts:

  • Merida: “Advocacy is one way we do neighbor love—it’s basic Christian discipleship. We need to teach or people how to love well. Also, as pastors, we have influence, which means we have an obligation to speak up for those who have no influence … and for those who don’t have a voice.”
  • Pakiam: “We need to ask ourselves if the church’s presence in the community is good news for the community. Does our presence mean good news for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable?”
  • Wagner: “We must be equipped to equip the saints. We need to speak up winsomely and well. Some of the ones who aren’t silent speak in a way that hurts the cause more than help it. We must speak gently and with reverence.”
  • Smith: “As followers of Jesus Christ, we must value the things He values. The Body is composed of every type of person. We must endeavor to keep the unity of spirit, valuing Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that we might be one and the world may know God sent the Christ.”

Unwed Pregnancy and the Grace of God (Amy Ford)

“I felt so alone,” said Amy Ford of her unplanned pregnancy at 19 years old. “I was afraid to talk to my parents; I thought they would disown me.”

She recalled the day she showed up at an abortion clinic. Out of panic, she hyperventilated and ended up leaving the abortion clinic still pregnant. She ended up keeping the baby—a son, who is now 18.

Out of this and subsequent experiences, she formed Embrace Grace, an organization that ministers to women with unplanned pregnancies through giving, serving and discipleship.

Citing the story of the prodigal son, Ford explained that the church should welcome unwed mothers into their lives and communities, serving them out of love: “We have an opportunity to be the church.”

Bearing Burdens: Serving Special Needs Families in Our Churches (Daniel Darling—moderator, Scott Sauls, Sharen Ford, Paul Martin)

“People with special needs offer a mirror to us,” said Scott Sauls, senior minister of Christ Presbyterian Church, explaining why people with special needs a vital members of the local church. “We are a people with deep needs, who, if they aren’t met, will struggle a great deal.”

Sauls—along with Sharen Ford, Focus on the Family’s program director for adoption and orphan care efforts—said the church should be composed of listeners and observers of the needs of not just the children, but of their parents.

“When you touch the life of a (special needs) child, you touch the life of a parent,” Ford said. “To be the church is to go outside the ‘walls’ of the church—to be an advocate for the child and the parent.”

Paul Martin, senior pastor of Grace Fellowship Church—and parent of a special needs child—said that pastors should set the tone in building a culture of dignity around the special needs community.

“As church community, we understand they have limitation they are not their fault …  they have limitations that require us to adapt,” he said. “God said in Scripture that it is not good to be alone, so cultivating belonging is essential.”

Race and Human Flourishing: Embracing Diversity for the Good of All People (Glenn Packiam)

Glenn Packiam, lead pastor of New Life Downton, explained how the book of Revelation offers four ways to speak of diversity: nation, tribe, people and language.

“The gospel takes our differences, different ways of belonging and gives us a truer identity,” he said. “It fits together people who remain distinct and diverse.”

Christians, who believe in the hope of resurrection, he said, should also recognize that our bodies, which will also be resurrected, reflect nations, tribes, peoples and languages—thus reflect the workmanship of our Maker.

“It isn’t just that souls matter. Bodies matter. If bodies matter, our sense of identity and belonging matter,” Packiam said. “As long as we keep being fixated on souls, we will miss the beautiful design of creation and the glorious hope of resurrection.”

So what role does diversity play in affirming the value of human life?

“We’re pro-life because we’re pro-the glory of God,” he said. “After all, that’s why diversity was built into creation… to reflect the glory of the Lord. And every life has the capacity to bring glory to God.”

Church as a Community of Life (Matt Chandler)

Matt Chandler, lead teaching pastor at The Village Church, spoke of the need for local churches to be communities of life, serious and active about the things God cares about.

He highlighted three criteria for a church to thrive as a community of life:

  1. A community of life believes and declares that God is the author and sustainer of all life, from womb to tomb. Because we believe this, we must be unapologetic in testifying God values all life, from the unborn to the disabled to the dying. And if he values it, we value it.
  2. A community of life displays compassion for their city. For the individual believer, this means getting to know our neighbors—ask to help them with a project, share a meal or host a block party. Local churches should engage the community: adopt first-year teachers, visit senior citizen homes and engage with ministries to the poor.
  3. A community of life actively fights for the oppressed, vulnerable and weak. This means the unborn, the disabled, the poor, the immigrant and any other marginalized group in the community. It is also vital that the church not buy into the fearful rhetoric around refugees.

Panel: What Can I Do? Confronting the Evil of Human Trafficking Around the World (Matthew Hawkins—moderator, Ashleigh Chapman, Kimberly Merida, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson and Travis Wussow)

A panel of several experts in the trenches of anti-trafficking work discussed international and domestic issues facing the church, and what individuals and groups can do to get involved and caring for this vulnerable—and large—group of people.

Key challenges identified:  

  • Human trafficking is widely seen as an international issue, but there are more than 100,000 Americans trafficked on American soil, by American citizens.
  • Many trafficking victims don’t see themselves as such, as it is common among these victims to have already endured abuse, manipulation and coercion. When it’s all they’ve known, it’s hard to them to identify.
  • A broken immigration system can allow immigrants to fall prey to traffickers.

Ways the church can engage:

  • Pray consistently.
  • Be prepared—have the phone number for the National Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) stored in your mobile phone.
  • Invest in the Engage Together church toolkit; devise a strategic action plan for your community.
  • Give financially to organizations in the fight against human trafficking.