The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) partnered with Focus on the Family to host their second annual Evangelicals for Life Conference Jan. 26-28 in conjunction with the 2017 March for Life in Washington D.C.
The conference features more than 50 speakers and panelists, including ERLC President Russell Moore; Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family; Matt Chandler, teaching pastor of The Village Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and president of church planting network Acts 29; Jennifer Marshall, vice president of The Heritage Foundation; and many more.
Speaker and panel session topics will include legislative and judicial issues, human trafficking, foster care, adoption, crisis pregnancy ministry, pro-life church leadership and others.
The event schedule reserves a block of time for attendees to participate in the 44th Annual March for Life on Jan. 27. Organizers encourage participants to join tens of thousands of pro-life advocates for a rally near the Washington Monument at noon, followed by a march along the National Mall to the steps of the United States Supreme Court.
To offer a snapshot of the conference, the Biblical Recorder interviewed event speaker John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Below is the lightly edited transcript.
Q: Why does the Colson Center exist?
A: To help Christians think clearly about culture and act in a way that helps to restore the culture. This is one of the legacies of Chuck Colson. After spending so many years in prison, [the former special counsel to President Richard Nixon] wanted to start focusing on what was happening in the culture that was creating an alarming spike in the prison population. We carry on that part of his legacy, helping to bring clarity to the church on what’s happening in the culture through the lens of a Christian worldview.
Q: The title of your talk at the 2017 Evangelicals for Life conference is “Respecting human dignity through civil discourse.” When life or death issues like abortion and euthanasia are part of the current cultural conversation, is civility really that important?
A: The reason we care about these issues is because of what we believe to be true. The reason we ought to be civil is because of what we believe to be true. In other words, it’s not a strategy, it is a requirement because every person we meet is made in the image and likeness of God.
That’s not a negotiable fact in the Christian worldview. It’s central. It’s one of the central questions of any worldview – “Who are we? What is a human person?”
Every single person, as C.S. Lewis observed, is someone eternal who reflects the image of God, who bears inherent dignity of being an image bearer. So, civility is not an option. It’s not a strategy.
We need to understand, too, that when you start talking about the darker cultural moments throughout church history, and even some of the issues we’re dealing with today, you can be as civil as you want and it’s not going to work. There are few people more civil than Baronelle Stutzman, the florist grandmother [who was sued for refusing to make floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding], and yet she’s still called a bigot, intolerant and hateful.
Civility doesn’t win the day. You’re civil because of what is true about human people.
John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview
Q: Why do you think people are tempted to become uncivil in public discourse?
A: The mediums of communication we use lend themselves to incivility, or either a lack of caring about civility. For example, Twitter allows us to be anonymous. We feel like we’re talking to a handle instead of a real person. We say things on social media that we would never say to someone’s face. It’s mainly because of that illusion of anonymity. So, at some level, it’s the mechanics of what we use.
Another thing is that the cultural conversation has lacked civility for so long, we think it’s the rules of the game. We’re not thinking differently on how to engage the public square.
The public square is an uncivil place in many ways. That’s why the proverb, “A soft answer turns away wrath,” is one of the most familiar yet neglected. I mean, who does that? “A soft answer” – that’s a revolutionary thing to say.
In reality, most of what we do is respond with the same attitude as the person who is challenging us. The idea of offering a soft answer doesn’t even occur to us many times because of our human nature.
We’re now in a culture-wide discourse that lacks civility.
The third thing is understanding that we’re not just dealing with disagreements about specifics. We’re dealing with disagreements about universals. We’re not just talking about the color of a building’s paint job. We’re talking about the building’s foundation, to use that metaphor.
When we disagree on who gets into which bathroom or the definition of marriage, these are surface level indications that we’re disagreeing on the most important questions in human history – questions about the meaning of life, the purpose of our existence, morality and norms. These aren’t just small disagreements.
The public discourse right now is divided by opinions on the most important questions of any culture. We’re dealing with very deep rifts. And we’re dealing with them in a culture in which the discourse has already gotten out of hand, and we’re using tools that are inadequate to treat people well. What could possibly go wrong?
Q: Can you offer any practical tips on how to sustain civil discourse when we disagree passionately with someone over pro-life issues?
A: We don’t want to pretend like those deep rifts don’t exist. The answer is not just, “Well, be nice.” We’re dealing with issues in which there is an awful lot at stake, including human destiny, human value, dignity and so on. To pretend like there is really no disagreement is foolish.
We need to be clear. The level of clarity that we need is as great as ever. Part of that clarity, then, is understanding the difference between those things that are political divides and those that are theological essentials.
In an age in which the discourse has become so uncivil and politically divisive, it’s kind of all-or-nothing. There’s no room for people who agree on certain things but not on the whole package – the whole Republican package or Democratic package. Christians need to be clearer than that.
We can’t just go down the party line because that’s where the platform is. We need to have the ability to discern and distinguish between those things that are essential and those that aren’t.
The other thing is there’s just no substitute for relational capital. If you tend to know someone and know the names of their children, you’re probably less apt to send out a tweet that is uncivil.
We need to get past the devices that separate us into places where we can actually look each other in the eyeball and know each other’s name and think about what’s best for each other.
In our culture, there’s not always the opportunity to get to know people with whom you deeply disagree. We need to be razor sharp and laser clear on this idea that every single person is made in the image and likeness of God.
Now is the time for clarity, courage and conviction – and that should lead us to compassion. We’ve got to have it now, because the issues that we’re debating are so important.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Visit evangelicals.life/simulcast/ to register for a free simulcast.)