Two United States senators urged those attending Evangelicals for Life Jan. 18 to practice honest, loving persuasion in the effort to defend human dignity.
Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Ben Sasse of Nebraska delivered keynote speeches on the first day of the third annual conference in the country’s capital. The three-day conference – hosted by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family – coincided with the annual March for Life Jan. 20.
Attendees of Evangelicals for Life (EFL) participated in the march with tens of thousands of others on the National Mall three days before the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Jan. 22, 1973 ruling by the Supreme Court that legalized abortion throughout the country.
At least two significant, pro-life actions took place on the day of the march:
- President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life rally by video. Trump spoke to the crowd via satellite from the White House Rose Garden. Some previous Republican presidents addressed the rally by phone or recorded message, according to USA Today. Vice President Mike Pence became the first holder of his office to address the rally when he spoke in person last year.
- The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Born-alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act in a 241-183 vote before the March for Life. The bill protects children born alive during an abortion procedure.
Lankford, a Republican, told the EFL audience he thinks “many people have flippantly chosen words like ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ and have never really thought about the next step. And there is something valuable about having honest, caring dialogue.”
Photo by Rocket Republic
Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma (pictured) and Ben Sasse of Nebraska delivered keynote speeches Jan. 18 on the first day of the third annual Evangelicals for Life conference in the nation’s capital.
He often asks people, “Where is your boundary with where life begins?” Most people have never considered that question, he said. Those who identify as pro-choice typically say they believe life begins at birth. He asks them about abortions in which the child is born alive or late-term abortions in which the child could survive outside the womb, Lankford said.
The United States is among the tiny number of countries that permit late-term abortions, he told attendees. While 191 countries do not allow abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, only seven do, and just four of those permit abortion after 25 weeks, he said before naming them: China; North Korea; Vietnam; and the United States. “What an elite group we are in – the worst human rights violators in the world,” Lankford said.
“You see, I’ve found the more that I have honest dialogue with people and get past pro-choice, pro-life and actually begin to press on them and say, ‘I want you to think about this – What does this really mean?’ – the more we get into honest dialogue,” he said.
“You see, there’s something very powerful about just the simple act of conversation when you are right,” Lankford said, adding it must be done with love. “They are arguing about esoteric issues about a woman’s right or freedom of choice and things, and we’re arguing about the child.”
Sasse, also a Republican, said the center of the pro-life movement “is actually in affirming and celebrating a really basic truth, which is: ‘We believe in universal human dignity.’”
While laws need to be changed, “the fundamental thing we need to do is we need to change hearts and minds,” he said. “[W]e are winning in this movement by love, because love is compelling, love is persuasive and ultimately love is what’s really true here.”
“And be of good cheer that a movement based on love will ultimately win.”
Sasse reminded the EFL crowd the line between good and evil does not run between groups of people.
“[U]ltimately, as evangelicals, you know the line between good and evil runs through your heart, it runs through my heart,” he said. “So when I’m going to persuade somebody about the dignity of babies, I’m going to start by thinking about them as a whole person, not somebody who’s wearing a tribal jersey” for the other side.
ERLC President Russell Moore said he looks forward to the day when there is no need for EFL.
“I pray that our future children and grandchildren won’t have any idea why we’re here today,” he said. “I pray that when they look back and see Evangelicals for Life that they will say, ‘Well, what other kind of person is there?’ But until then, we stand and speak.”
Joni Eareckson Tada, the popular author and disability advocate, explained her view of human dignity as a quadriplegic for more than 50 years.
“When I get up in the morning, I remember in whose image I am made,” she told the audience. “As difficult as quadriplegia is, I recall and rehearse to myself time and again whose image I bear.
“I am [a God reflector], and all people with disabilities are God reflectors. And that’s what gives me human dignity.”
She said in her keynote speech, “I get up in the morning, and I live for God and I live for other people who live with disabilities who have yet to understand that they bear the image of God.”
The disability community “needs heart,” as well as help, and to know whose image they bear and that Jesus loves them, said Tada, founder and chief executive officer of Joni and Friends International Disability Center.
“Tell everyone that you know that as the moral fabric of our society grows, then no one is in more jeopardy than those who are too weak, too depressed, too small, too old or too medically fragile to speak for themselves,” she told the audience.
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, encouraged EFL participants regarding foster care and adoption during his keynote address.
As a child who was in foster care, Daly said, “I was desperate. I was so desperate. Would somebody love me? I have felt that pain as a child. I cried myself to sleep into a pillow.
“I can’t express to you the depths of loneliness,” said Daly, who is caring with his wife for two children in foster care. “And I think when I peel it back, that’s why I have a heart for foster adoption. Because I know that pain of not having anybody at the end of the day to come home to [who would] say, ‘I love you, well done.’”
More than 100,000 children are waiting in the U.S. foster care system for adoption, according to Focus.
Daly encouraged attendees to speak to the clergy in their church about preaching more sermons on adoption. He also urged them to become a foster family or to help a foster family.
Several speakers offered reasons for encouragement to pro-life advocates:
- Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, said states have enacted about 400 “life-affirming measures” since 2010 and the country has a president who has fulfilled his commitment to appoint judges who do not believe the Constitution grants a right to abortion. These developments help make “reversing Roe even more attainable,” she said. In addition, Waggoner said the abortion rate has fallen by 50 percent since 1980 and there are four pro-life pregnancy centers for every abortion clinic in the country.
- Tim Goeglein, senior advisor to Daly and vice president for external relations at Focus, applied President Lincoln’s words about slavery to abortion: “It’s unjust, and it’s bad policy.” Speaking on a panel about pro-life legislation, he said his sense is “this generation and the one after it have the remarkable sense of justice and they’re fairly practical. They’ve determined it’s bad policy.”
- Anne O’Connor, vice president of legal affairs with the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, said on a panel regarding pregnancy resource centers, “Roe versus Wade will be overturned. When Roe versus Wade is overturned, it’s not going to solve our problems, because there’s still going to be women in crisis pregnancies, there’s still going to be men who don’t know how to be partners.” She said, “Pregnancy centers are a beacon of hope. I’m not sure what our culture would be like if they didn’t exist.”
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the gospel of Jesus informs his pro-life passion in three specific areas:
- The gospel reminds him “that all persons are worthy of value, worthy of dignity and worthy of importance.”
- “Nationality and ethnicity are never an issue for how I should care for people or how I should treat people.”
- “Socio-economic status [is] never to be an issue either.”
Eric Brown, a Nashville, Tenn., photographer and father of three children, spoke about his 5½-year-old daughter Pearl, who has an acute brain disorder, while photos of the family and her were displayed.
Pearl “was given these afflictions by the loving hand of her Creator, who knows her intimately and crafted Pearl for her good and His glory,” Brown told the audience. “God is with Pearl, and he has not left her to her own devices. … He carries her as she bears His image, and she, like all of us, is completely helpless otherwise.”
Of the trials, Brown said, “It is better to have His presence by way of tremendous heartache than to have frivolity in the midst of spiritual oblivion.”
A panel about foster care and adoption closed the Jan. 18 sessions.
The conference will conclude the morning of Jan. 20.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)