By Sharon Mager
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The third annual Evangelicals for Life Conference, Jan. 18-20, gathered pro-life leaders from around the country who rallied to worship and to hear testimony about how God’s people are reaching out to love all, from the womb to the tomb, the old, the young, and those with special needs from all people groups throughout the world.
The event, sponsored by the Religious and Ethics Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family, coincided with the National March for Life on Jan. 19 and broke to allow attendees to grab provided “Evangelicals for Life” signs and head out on the streets.
ERLC President Russell Moore, in a panel discussion, said, “The primary reason that we care about all of these people is because Jesus does … [T]he reason that we care about unborn children is because they’re human beings made in the image of God. If that’s the case, then we care for all people who are made in the image of God and who are threatened.”
Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the Gospel teaches that we cannot pick and choose which pro-life issue to address and get involved in. The Gospel demands we become comprehensive and holistic in our passion for pro-life issues.
“All persons bear the image of God. And I will be more specific there are no ‘s-hole ‘people in God’s perspective. All of them are valuable. All deserve dignity and respect,” he said.
The ballroom was filled to capacity when Joni Eareckson Tada was wheeled to the stage. Tada, founder and CEO of “Joni and Friends,” was injured in a diving accident in 1967 leaving her a quadriplegic without the use of her hands. She told the totally engaged audience that she recently commemorated 50 years in a wheelchair. She learned to paint with a brush in her teeth. Tada showed a photo of a charcoal sketch she drew shortly after her accident when she said she was “’suicidally’ despairing my totally undignified life.” Having to be fed, bathed, and toileted, her teeth and hair brushed, she wanted to convey her despair in the photo.
“For anybody, that would be beneath their dignity because when it comes to losing your autonomy for a lifetime of pain and paralysis and inconvenience, many would say that a person like that has a very small quality of life. And if comfort and convenience and autonomy is what determines your life value then your last straw at human dignity is to choose with what little autonomy that you have left to end your life.”
She shared that she indeed tried to do that, wrenching her head to try to break her neck at a higher level to end her despair. Some would say that taking her life would have been a “courageous, dignified, noble decision.”
“This is why 50 years later when I get up in the morning, I remember in whose image I am made. My body may be broken but I am, and all people with disabilities are, ‘God reflectors,’ and that’s what gives me human dignity not my ability to walk, or my ability use my hands which I cannot, not my ability to blow my own nose, cut my own food or toilet myself. Others might abuse me, others might take advantage of my physical weakness, there might be some who might diminish my human dignity by perceiving me as somehow less them themselves. But I can boast in the Lord and His image in me. I can’t do quadriplegia but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me and whose image I reflect each and every day.”
Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) Executive Director Kevin Smith served on a panel in a breakout session titled, “Becoming Pro-Life Parents.” Other panelists were Nathan Lino, senior pastor Northeast Houston Baptist Church; Joy White, a homeschooling mom and assistant professor of women’s studies at Cedarville University, Ohio; and Beau Hughes, lead pastor of The Village Church, Denton, Texas. ERLC Vice-President of Operations and Chief of Staff Daniel Patterson served as moderator.
Smith said that in addition to the basic commands in Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6, parents must put their children in environments where they see other human beings as image bearers of God.
“Ultimately, we shape how our children think about other human beings,” Smith said. For example, regarding racism, Smith said there were many young men in Charlottesville who learned hate from their fathers, grandfathers or uncles.
Smith also said parents must be careful about the words they use. “Home is the most relaxed place where you spit stuff out,” he said. There’s a difference between saying my cousin who struggles with drugs, or my cousin is a crackhead. Children in the formative stages of their life are picking that up.
White agreed with Smith. “We have to be aware of how we use our words,” she said, especially when it comes to racism, drug addictions, and the unborn. “We must model truth, “she said, “and be authentic.”
Lino said he and his wife use a combination of sit-down discussion and on the field training. Lino stressed that being pro-life is being pro-God, not pro-man. Loving God means loving others that bear His image.
When we realize someone is in God’s image, then, Leno said, “I want to look after it, and I definitely don’t want to desecrate it. “
Lino emphasized the importance of having kids “in the field.” When a young single woman gets pregnant, Lino said he and his wife insist on having the shower in their home, showing their teen that though they don’t advocate having sex outside of marriage, that the woman and her baby are made in the image of God and we’re to love and respect her.
Hughes said parents must know the issues, and know their children, letting them ask their questions, and even provoking their questions.
Programming is great, partnering with parents, and family equipping, but perhaps those conversations need to begin even before the baby is born‑perhaps during expectant parents’ classes.
“We’ll need to help each other,” he said.