“I don’t want to see any fewer rosary beads at The March for Life, but I want to see more Evangelicals. Our absence is a shame,” said Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in his opening statement at the first “Evangelicals for Life” gathering on Thursday, January 22, in Washington D.C.
Hosted by the ERLC and Focus on the Family and held the morning of the 41st annual March for Life, whose participants are overwhelmingly Catholic, the group assembled a panel of key pro-life Evangelical leaders to tackle issues surrounding the sanctity of life. The panelists included Moore, Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Kelly Rosati, Vice President of Community Outreach at Focus on the Family.
All three panelists agreed that the biblical mandate to defend unborn children is based on every life’s identity in Imago Dei, or the image of God. Unexpected, was the panelists’ stress of a more holistic advocacy approach that no longer focuses on clinic protests.
As Pastor Rodriguez made clear, “Because we are pro-life, we’re addressing issues of poverty. Because we are pro-life we are addressing issues of prison reform. Because we are pro-life we are addressing issues of orphans and others that are marginalized and suffering.”
Focus on the Family’s Rosati added, “I think previously in the pro-life movement there was a sense of, ‘but if we do those other things it’s going to detract from our prioritization of speaking out for pre-born children.’”
She continued, “This comprehensive commitment to pro-life causes and the lack of bifurcation from justice over here and life over here and rather seeing it holistically from a biblical perspective is going to enhance our work on behalf of the unborn.”
Moore offered a thoughtful explanation of “holistic” by stressing that it is the pro-life protestors outside of abortion clinics who don’t stop their advocacy for life when they go home. “One of the charges that we often get is, well you pro-life people care about the child from conception to birth and then you don’t care about the child after that. That has never been the case.” Instead, pro-life protesters, according to Moore, are the people in their community who value life enough to outreach to women in distress, act as caregivers to the elderly or take in troubled teenagers.
Not every pro-life leader in attendance was content with every panelist’s definition of “holistic” advocacy.
During a Q&A session Ryan Bomberger, co-founder of the Radiance Foundation, an organization dedicated to affirming every life, raised his hesitance with the panelists’ holistic approaches, concerned that conflating the sanctity of life with the advocacy of fragmented social issues would undermine the urgency to defend unborn life. “So when we talk about this comprehensive approach, are we going to get into issues where we are talking about illegal immigration?” asked Bomberger. “Where obviously, we are talking about a difference of opinion and is that going to detract from focus from the fundamental issue of life and abortion?”
Offering a response was Rodriguez, a well-known supporter of immigration reform. “I think it’s not either/or, it’s both/and. It’s holistic, it’s comprehensive.” Still, the Sacramento, California pastor assured Bomberger that defending unborn life must always come first. Offering race relations as an example, Rodriguez pointed out that Planned Parenthood targets ethnic minority neighborhoods, “So if you are in favor of bringing about racial reconciliation, it behooves you to address abortion.”
In conclusion, Moore took time to address a more problematic pro-life approach. The side-step approach.
Some Evangelical pastors will address less controversial social issues, but omit abortion from their sermons for fear of causing offense or causing a woman in their congregation who had an abortion further guilt or distress. “That’s completely wrongheaded. If you don’t address it, you are leaving consciences in bondage. You are empowering the devil,” said Dr. Moore. “But you don’t leave it there. You come in and also say, if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation.”