As Sanctity of Human Life Sunday approaches, Jan. 17, Christians across North Carolina are mounting an effort to elect public officials with pro-life values. The movement signals a resurgence in the political engagement once associated with the annual memorial.
Some evangelical congregations have allowed the day to become routine, but for many Southern Baptists in 2016, the phrase “Sanctity of Human Life” is a compelling call-to-action.
Three decades ago U.S. President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation designating Sunday, Jan. 22, 1984, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. In the statement he mourned the millions of unborn lives destroyed by abortion since Roe v. Wade, the Jan. 22, 1973 Supreme Court decision to legalize the practice nationwide – “a tragedy of stunning dimensions.” He also called on Americans to use the day as an opportunity to express thanks for the gift of life and reaffirm the value of all humans.
Ebbs and flows of ‘Sanctity of Human Life’
Since Reagan’s proclamation, the Sunday on or nearest Jan. 22 has fallen in and out of federal recognition, depending on the personal views of the presiding U.S. president.
Some churches and other pro-life organizations continue to commemorate the date each year with special events, sermons, literature and other resources, but the mobilizing power of the day in the life of evangelical congregations seems to have been waning.
Declining interest turned upward mid-2015 when graphic, undercover videos revealed that Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the largest abortion provider in the country, had been selling aborted fetal parts. People across the country reeled at images of Planned Parenthood employees haggling over prices and examining dismembered fetuses. The emotional jolt heightened the urgency for evangelicals to use political means to end the practice of abortion.
“The church of Jesus Christ should recommit ourselves to speaking out for human dignity,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in a blog post shortly after the videos were released. “It is time for the reborn to stand up for the unborn.”
Despite the recent uptick in attention, the value of human life is not a new idea for Christians. It has a rich theological foundation in Christian history, as some Baptist leaders have illustrated. The doctrine of the imago Dei – an ancient Latin phrase that means “image of God,” referring to the belief that all people are created in God’s likeness – provides the framework through which Christians understand human life, according to Tony Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh.
“Because God made all people, all people matter,” said Merida. “They are worthy of dignity, value and love.” It’s with that understanding that Merida goes on to say, “The unborn should matter to us – we should defend them and advocate for them.”
Pro-life advocacy as political engagement
Given the socio-political climate in America – 40 years after Roe v. Wade indefinitely attached legal issues to the abortion debate and only seven months since the provocative Planned Parenthood videos – many evangelicals think about defending and advocating for the unborn primarily in terms of legal and political restrictions on the widespread practice of abortion.
The United States will hold national elections in November, and the president of the country holds a position of influence in the cultural battle over abortion. Understanding the election’s importance, a group of Christians in North Carolina, including many Southern Baptists, is mobilizing to help elect a presidential candidate that shares their values regarding unborn children.
The North Carolina Values Coalition and the Susan B. Anthony List are organizing a team of paid field directors and canvassers to knock on 675,000 doors across North Carolina, asking voters questions and disseminating information about pro-life issues.
The North Carolina Values Coalition (NCVC) and the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) have joined together in an effort to rally a large number of North Carolina voters to cast their ballot in favor of pro-life candidates. They are organizing a team of paid field directors and canvassers to knock on 675,000 doors across the state, asking voters questions and disseminating information about pro-life issues.
The team is undertaking the mobilization effort in three phases, according to Kami Mueller, director of communications for NCVC. First, they’re using voting records and other information to identify households likely to describe themselves as pro-life. Canvassers then fan out across cities and neighborhoods, meeting residents and asking a series of questions to help determine whether or not the residents are indeed pro-life.
At time of publication, the group has already initiated the process, contacting nearly 70,000 North Carolina households.
After primary elections in early 2016, where voters will nominate preferred candidates from their respective political parties, the second phase includes public advocacy by the canvassing team to inform voters about the views of the two presidential candidates on the pro-life issue. The SBA endorses and supports multiple campaigns, which are listed on their website, sba-list.org/candidates.
The team of canvassers will return to neighborhoods across the state in the third phase of mobilization to encourage residents to exercise their right to vote.
Mueller said high voter turnout in North Carolina for 2016 will likely secure a pro-life candidate, but that doesn’t make the canvassing effort easy. Planned Parenthood is paying canvassers to blanket the state as well, she said. They held a rally Jan. 5 in Raleigh to encourage opposition to a congressional bill that could defund their organization. President Barack Obama vetoed the bill Jan. 8 that would have cut 90 percent of federal money allocated to Planned Parenthood.
Tami Fitzgerald, NCVC executive director and board member for the ERLC, said, “Informing voters so that they elect a pro-life president is one of our top priorities. And that is why our organization is out there knocking on doors of pro-life voters who don’t think their voice matters. As we meet with people at their doors across the state of North Carolina, we are seeing them get motivated to vote, realizing that they can make a difference.”
She continued, “As Baptists, we don’t often act on our belief that because our Father God is the Creator of all life, life is precious and sacred. We are offering opportunities for Baptists and all believers to act on their pro-life beliefs by knocking on the doors of their neighbors, so they will get out and vote in November. We do this in a strategic and highly effective way. We ask you to join us as we take proactive steps to protect the vulnerable unborn babies who are needlessly murdered in the womb.”
To make the pro-life campaign as effective as possible, field directors create strategies for canvassers using new technologies to streamline the process. “Everything is digital,” said Mueller. Canvassers use a smartphone app to input questionnaire answers and other logistical information.
Answering the call-to-action
Mueller emphasized that opportunities are still available for Southern Baptists to get involved. The group is currently hiring full-time and part-time field directors and canvassers from now until election day, Nov. 8.
There are other upcoming events organized by evangelicals to mobilize voters on behalf of the unborn as well.
The ERLC and Focus on the Family are hosting a first-annual pro-life conference for evangelicals Jan. 21-22 in Washington, D.C. The event will complement the longstanding pro-life rally March for Life that will take place Jan. 22.
Since 1974, the year after Roe v. Wade, Christians have marched in the nation’s capitol to advocate for the unborn. March for Life began with 30 concerned citizens but drew hundreds of thousands of people in 2015.
“The value of human life isn’t just an issue for Congress or activists or ethics professors,” said Moore on the Evangelicals for Life website. “It’s an issue for every single Christian and every single local church.”
One popular North Carolina Baptist, Franklin Graham, is touring the country “to challenge Christians to live out their faith at home, in public and at the ballot box” in a campaign called Decision America Tour. The tour aims to visit all 50 states, and has already stopped in Iowa, Florida and Louisiana.
The Culture Impact Tour (CIT) is a series of events organized by Mark Harris, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, that began in 2015 and will continue in 2016. The tour calls pastors and church leaders to spur Christians into action. Harris told a crowd in November about a tool CIT is offering that helps churches discover – using publicly available information – how many people in their congregation are registered to vote and how many actually voted in the last election.
NCVC and SBA have also organized a gathering Feb. 15 called the Carolina Values Summit to provide voters an opportunity to hear from state and national candidates. The event will be held in Halton Arena on The University of North Carolina at Charlotte campus. Visit CarolinaValuesSummit.com for tickets.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Seth Brown is content editor for the Biblical Recorder.)