The first Evangelicals for Life conference will serve as a “call to arms” for evangelical Christians to address human dignity with the gospel of Jesus, says a Southern Baptist Convention ethicist.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family are partnering to present Evangelicals for Life Jan. 21-22 in conjunction with the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. The conference, which has several other evangelical and pro-life organizations as sponsors, will conclude in time for attendees to participate in the Jan. 22 march.
Evangelicals for Life “is really a call to arms to evangelical Christians to speak to these issues of human dignity and the sanctity of all human life from conception to death with a gospel voice, a gospel tone,” ERLC President Russell Moore told reporters in a telephone conference call Oct. 27.
The inaugural conference will cover the gamut of sanctity of human life issues from abortion to end-of-life care. It will follow in the wake of recent developments illustrating the scope of the issue – the series of undercover videos demonstrating Planned Parenthood trades in body parts from aborted babies and the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in California.
Since mid-July, the Center for Medical Progress – a pro-life, investigative organization – has released 11 secretly recorded videos that show various Planned Parenthood officials in different locations discussing the sale of organs from aborted children. The videos include acknowledgements by Planned Parenthood employees of their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve body parts for sale and use. The videos also display evidence of the dissection of live babies outside the womb to remove organs
The latest video, released Oct. 27, shows an abortion doctor at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Austin, Texas, describing her use of a procedure that is similar to, if not identical to, the partial-birth abortion method, which is prohibited by federal law.
The Planned Parenthood videos have provided “a moment of reclarification for many pro-life citizens that we still have much work to do,” Moore told reporters.
Viewing the videos has helped evangelicals and other pro-lifers “to see how the abortion culture damages the conscience,” Moore said. Videos showing people discussing baby body parts “with this calloused sense of distance ought to remind us of what a culture of death can do to the conscience,” he said.
When pro-lifers advocate for unborn children, they are “also working in the best interests of those who have bought into an abortion culture that we believe is deeply harmful to their own consciences,” Moore said.
Kelly Rosati, Focus on the Family’s vice president of community outreach, told reporters on the call that the videos have served “to actually change some minds, something which doesn’t actually happen particularly often.”
California enacted assisted suicide Oct. 5, raising concerns for the terminally ill, elderly and disabled in what is by far the country’s most populous state.
The conference will address assisted suicide, and evangelicals will continue to stand against the so-called “death with dignity” movement, reporters on the conference call were told.
“[T]he political realities right now are dire when it comes to issues such as assisted suicide, which buys into a notion of individual autonomy that separates the person from the rest of the community in ways that do much harm,” Moore said.
Evangelicals and other pro-lifers “increasingly face the understanding in American culture that a person’s worth is related to that person’s perceived usefulness,” he said. “And that is, as a Christian, something that I reject.”
On assisted suicide, pro-lifers need “to figure out how to cut through the euphemisms,” such as “death with dignity,” Rosati said.
“We need to continue to lead with our voices about the importance of palliative care, about the importance of access to hospice services,” she said. “We need to let people know as pro-life people that we care when somebody is suffering in unmitigated pain and that that is not okay, that is not good health-care delivery and that we can and must do better by people.”
Looking ahead to the conference, Moore said, “Now is the moment [for evangelicals] to speak with a unified voice.”
Moore said he hopes those attending Evangelicals for Life will return home “with a renewed sense of what it means to bear a pro-life witness.”
“For some people, that’s going to be preaching more coherently about issues related to human dignity,” he said. “For others, it’s going to be working and caring for women in crisis situations in their communities. For others, it’s going to be to foster or to adopt. And for others, it’s going to be to remember the elderly.”
The conference will address abortion and assisted suicide, but it also will deal with such issues as human trafficking and adoption.
While evangelicals will never stop speaking on behalf of the unborn, they care “about that orphaned child, about the modern-day orphan in foster care in our own country who needs a family, about that trafficking victim, about the lonely elderly neighbors that we are called to love,” Rosati said. “These are all part and parcel of a worldview that says every person is made in the image of God and is loved and has dignity.”
Roman Catholics have dominated attendance at the March for Life since it began in 1974, a year after the Jan. 22 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide.
Moore noted evangelicals “owe an incalculable debt to Roman Catholics in the pro-life movement because they were there before we were there.”
“They understood the stakes in Roe versus Wade before most evangelicals did,” he said.
While he desires no fewer Catholics at the march, Moore urged evangelicals to take more ownership of the event. “This is our issue too,” he said.
The march brings together many tens of thousands of pro-lifers – or a few hundred thousand, depending on estimates – to rally on the National Mall in Washington, then march up Constitution Avenue to Capitol Hill. Leaders from the diverse organizations that make up the pro-life movement typically gather for the march and related events.
The five keynote speakers at Evangelicals for Life will be Moore; Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family; David Platt, president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board; Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life; and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
The conference also will include TED talks, panels and breakout sessions.
Sponsors of the conference are Care Net, 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.
Registration for and information on Evangelicals for Life is available online at evangelicals.life.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)