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Uniting for Life

Winter, 1999


Building a Ministry for Life Conference Provides Rich and Ongoing Challenge to Pastors

(Excerpts from some of the presentations are included in this newsletter.)

Pastors, theologians and pro-life leaders gathered at Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, October 21-23, to consider the theological and practical needs of pastoral ministry on human life issues. The conference, Building a Ministry for Life, was the first pastors' conference on life issues that the National Pro-Life Religious Council has sponsored.

Rev. Ben Sheldon, NPRC's executive director, said he was gratified by the conference, "both in the quality and depth of the presenters, as well as in the broad representation we had from the several denominations. We believe this is the beginning of a reawakening among many denominational clergy regarding the vital importance of rethinking the whole issue of abortion as well as euthanasia...."

National Right to Life Committee's Director of Religious Outreach, Ernest Ohlhoff, said that, "The diverse religious traditions represented at the conference indicate the critical importance of the life issues facing the churches today and their willingness to join together to protect life."

The continued hesitance of some Christian pastors to preach on abortion and euthanasia, and to provide active ministering to women and families in need of spiritual direction in these areas was one underlying problem that the conference considered. Another critical question was how to counter the scientific community's pressure to carry on destructive research using human embryos. Countering this pressure requires articulating a theologically informed understanding of the ethical considerations based on respect for the right to life of every human individual.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, president of the Institute on Religion in Public Life, pointed out that if Christians do not actively question the direction in which scientific/technological advance is going, many such efforts will proceed with a "why not?" attitude. The culture of life needs to be at the forefront, bearing witness persuasively to our moral obligation to protect each individual human life from conception to natural death.

"Ideas do have consequences," Fr. Neuhaus stressed. "We have to get our ideas straight." He also noted that how people stand on abortion and euthanasia are leading questions that often indicate where they are on a host of other questions facing our society. If you cannot say it is the desire of God to oppose the killing of innocent human life, you cannot move onto other questions.

"Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life, encyclical of Pope John Paul II)—this is the gospel. Life is God's creation," Fr. Neuhaus said. "This is what He sent His Son to die for."

Dr. Richard Land, president/CEO of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, offered practical advice about preaching the gospel of life, and addressed a frequently raised question: Can we legislate morality? The biblical answer to this question, he said, is in Romans 13, which describes the governing authority's role in punishing those who do evil and rewarding those who do good.

"If we take away the role of government to make moral decisions," Dr. Land pointed out, "we take away the reason God created government to start out with." Clearly, the United States legislated that slavery is wrong and that racial discrimination is wrong.

Law does change things. The South was the most segregated area in the past. The law changed, and now it is the most integrated. These changes give us great hope, Dr. Land said.

However, we know also that that while law can change behavior, only the light of the Gospel can change hearts. It is necessary for pastors to make these connections for people since secular society does not.

Dr. John Kilner, director of the Center of Bioethics and Human Dignity, exposed the fallacies in the utilitarian philosophy and the "reproductive freedom" rationales. He invited consideration of the long-range effects that would occur and which have not been sufficiently taken into account. Dr. Kilner stressed how important it was that ethics get out in front of commercial interests and not wait until after a decision is made, as happened with Roe v. Wade.

The great need for ministry to women who have had abortions was discussed by Dr. David Reardon, director of the Elliot Institute and specialist in post-abortion syndrome. There are at least 25 million women in our country who have had abortions, Dr. Reardon stated. Since there are fathers involved as well, this totals 50 million men and women, and this does not include the family members who are also affected. He said surveys show that 70% of women going into abortion clinics believe it is wrong, and are therefore making a choice against their conscience. Denial, submerged guilt, shame, self-blame, fear, defensiveness, resentment, anger, rage are the emotional and spiritual realities in the lives of post-abortive women.

Churches need to open the floodgates, to invite women to seek help. Abortion has a dramatic effect on women's spirituality. Pastors need to tell the whole congregation how important it is to love the women who have been hurt by abortion.

For those interested in the full text of these talks, a set of tapes is being made available through:

Make It Happen
9923 Natick Rd.
Burke, VA 22015
(703) 978-2948

The Cosmic Struggle for Life Against Death

By Dr. Carl Braaten

Dr. Carl Braaten is Executive Director of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology in Northfield, MN and co-editor of ProEcclesia. The following is excerpted from Dr. Braaten's presentation to the "Building a Ministry for Life" conference.

Could it be that we have lost the ability to discern the spiritual dimensions of the warfare in which we are engaged? I believe it is so.

To put it another way, we have largely lost the apocalyptic imagination to understand the language of the Spirit--to fix our "minds on the things that are above." (Colossians 3:2) The apostle Paul called it "discerning the spirits," realizing that "we are not contending against (mere) flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12) Without spiritual discernment we are unable to comprehend the magnitude and subtleties of the cosmic struggle being fought out on planet earth....

These "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" are not floating in the air beyond distant clouds; they are rather the spiritual heart and soul of earthly institutions that conspire against life and the Giver of life....

This motif is so important for us caught up in a struggle in which we seemingly have been losing ground. We are to struggle with all our might and mane for the coming of the kingdom of life over the reign of death, but we cannot make it come. The conditions of its coming are not subject to our power. We are not asked to save the world; only God can do that.

Meanwhile, the only way to live as Christian disciples is to resist death and the Devil in whatever earthly forms they appear. And we can do so with hope and confidence because paradoxically we can already celebrate the victory of God over the Enemy, the unholy trinity of sin, death, and the devil. In Christ, the decisive battle has already been won.

Although we are called to continue the struggle for the dignity of life against the defilement of death, the outcome is no longer in doubt. We shall overcome! We are more than conquerors! This is the ground on which we stand, in light of the apocalyptic vision of the triumph of God over evil in this world.

Abortion: The Crisis in the Churches

By Rev. Leonard Klein

Rev. Leonard Klein is Senior Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, York, PA. He was editor of Lutheran Forum 1993-1996. The following is excerpted from Pastor Klein's presentation at the "Building a Ministry for Life" conference.

The crisis in the churches is that virtually every mainline denomination has fallen prey to an ideology of choice that is absurdly foreign to the biblical mind set. It is God who is the Chooser, it is God alone who is ultimately free. We exist by his choice, from conception. None of life's sorrows or ambiguities can change that, though they are greatly lightened when we remember by whose choice we live....

To be sure, these denominations fuss and moan a bit about the value of human life.... But this shows that any nods in the direction of the value of human life notwithstanding, the mainline churches are fundamentally pro-legal abortion on demand, so long as the woman and the doctor worry about it first. The human actors have become the primary choosers, not God. Modernity has pushed us, not God, into the center of too much church discourse.

But why and how have they fallen so quickly to this position? Plainly because the lively sense of God's choice, election, commandment, and embrace of our lives has faded. But that only sets up another set of questions? What powers, what influences, what weaknesses, what sins, what misjudgments have brought this change about?

The forces that have infected the mainline churches include these:

  • They have long suffered the erosion of biblical authority and with it the traditions of biblical interpretation through the centuries.... Therefore its guidance and the Church's strong tradition of reading Scripture as anti-abortion simply was not available.
  • The last couple of generations have seen the radical alteration of pastoral care from spiritual and soteriological to psychological concerns. When I was in seminary the non-directive counseling methodologies of Carl Rogers were regnant, and that was, not surprisingly, the time when the memory that abortion was a sin started to fade.
  • The sociology of denominations has contributed to the problem. Denominations are for the most part loose coalitions. That's why they like to call themselves inclusive or democratic. Their institutional survival depends on holding often contradictory interests together. This means that any well-organized interest group is likely to get what it wants.
  • Feminists have been an especially vocal and well-organized group, and this has very much been part of their agenda. Fear of the charge of sexism silenced some leaders. Others, being good Pietists and always ready to plead guilty, discovered their sexism and patriarchalism and decided that they could no longer be party to anything so oppressive to women as moral and legal restrictions on abortion.
  • Modernity of course also relativises marriage, giving it second place to individual fulfillment. Thus it weakens the necessary link between marriage and child-bearing that has in saner times seemed both natural and sacred for Christians.
  • The sixties, let us remember, was the time when the mainline unraveling on the question took place. Church leaders lost their footing. Their traditional liberalism did not serve them well, nor did it quell the raging of their children. Concern for conscience in the context of resistance to the Vietnam War and for individual rights in the context of the Civil Rights Movement made it hard to impossible for many Christian leaders to see why similar claims could not be made for abortion.
  • Since the end of the last century the old pietistic intensity of the old Anglo-American churches had gone liberal. So piety tended to run where the good causes seemed to be. "Abortion reform" and "women's liberation" were where it was happening in the late sixties and early seventies. The moralism still remained of course.... The moral absolutism of the pro-choice movement, so visible in the defense of partial birth abortion and unlimited access for minors, makes most of us look moderate, for we can combine fierce opposition to abortion with compassion, understanding, the forgiveness of sins, and awareness of degrees of culpability, as Pope John Paul II has done so well in "Evangelium Vitae." But for the pro-choice party an earnest liberal intensity fits perfectly into the ideology.
  • We must not forget that this Pietistic intensity did include serious and genuine compassion for women with problem pregnancies and horror at some of the grimmer cases and at the consequences of illegal abortion. There were good intentions that simply lacked clear moral thought. We must not take second place to the pro-choice party in that area of compassion.
  • Protestants, all apart from the numbering of sacraments or belief in sacraments at all, had increasingly lost any idea of the sacramentality of marriage over the last period of time. This sacramental sense endured and thrived during and after the reformation, but the role of marriage in a holy life, in the way of salvation, has become, increasingly, secularized away.
  • The collapse of authority eroded the original vision of Calvin, Luther, Wesley, and their heirs. Every pastor became less a bearer of the tradition and more a religious professional and spiritual expert. Thus operating without a net and thrust de facto into the situation not of pastor but of guru, many understandably backed off of volatile issues that would get them into trouble. This is true even for those of us with sturdy egos and backbones. And all of us in mainline denominations have been deprived of the ability to say "the church teaches." Definitive teaching on doctrinal and moral issues is pretty much gone.
  • Finally, let us not forget the one whom Luther identified in his best know hymn as "the old evil foe." Where God builds a church the devil builds a chapel.

The process of liberalization which has weakened the Christian witness in so many ways, especially in the mainline, is very much part of all our lives. Spiritually and intellectually, every communion is under pressure from the culture of death. We can all benefit from looking at the historical forces that have created this situation.


Only 30 years ago the position of the United Presbyterian Church ran as follows:

The fetus is a human life to be protected by the criminal law from the moment when the ovum is fertilized.... As Christians, we believe that this should not be an individual decision on the part of the physician and the couple. Their decision should be limited and restrained by the larger society. (General Assembly 1962 and 1965).

God Is Bothered

By Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Achtemeier

Dr. Achtemeier is a Presbyterian theologian who writes, preaches and lectures throughout North America. The following is excerpted from her presentation to the "Building a Ministry for Life" Conference

You and I live in a society where belief in the rule and lordship of God has been almost totally lost.... The fact that God is sovereign over human life and death, that he is the King, Master, Lord, who rules creation--that is language that we're not supposed to use any more, because it might injure somebody's sensitivities. And even pastors are pressed to omit such terms for God if they want to be seen as caring pastor. But the omission of the rule of God from our language in the church is not just a pastoral attempt to be sensitive. Rather, it is a reflection of an entire world view that has invaded our churches.

God is no longer understood as sovereign in our time, because the individual has become sovereign. The autonomous, self-willed, self-directed, self-fulfilling individual reigns supreme, and God has taken a lower place....

That is the world-view and life-style that has fostered our epidemic of abortion. An unwanted pregnancy upsets an individual. It interrupts her life-style, imposes unwanted demands, makes the pregnant woman or her partner responsible for someone beyond themselves. And yes, the threat of an unwanted pregnancy puts a damper on the free exercise of sex. The radical feminists have even gone so far as to say that children are those who oppress women because children interfere with individual autonomy and self-rule....

[But] we're dealing with God's creation of what belongs to him aren't we, when we're dealing with abortion. And no supposedly self-willed person has the right to rob God of his work of art that inhabits the womb.

Malachi talks about the...Israelites who were robbing God by not bringing their full tithes and offerings. But how much more do we rob God when we destroy a child he has created. It's grand larceny, on an unbelievable scale, to the tune of 36 million children....No action, no word, no thought is indifferent to God, fellow Christians. And our idle acceptance of easy killing has to account to the Lord, who alone is the sovereign over all life and death.

How to Work with Your Pastor

Practical strategies for lay people to help their pastor provide pro-life leadership to the church have been developed by members of the National Pro-Life Religious Council. This guide comprises a comprehensive list of suggestions based on experiences of pastors, pastors' wives, and active church leaders.

If you would like to obtain a copy, please contact the NPRC.

Sanctity of Life Materials

Those who would like materials to distribute on Sanctity of Life Sunday may obtain some from the Southern Baptist Convention, Lutherans for Life or NOEL. Brochures, bulletin inserts, posters Sunday school lesson, and suggested sermons are among the resources available. To order, write or call:

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

901 Commerce St., Suite 550,
Nashville TN 37203-3696; (615) 244-2495

Lutherans for Life

1229 South "G" Ave.
Nevada, IA 50201-2717
(515) 382-2077 Fax: (515) 382-3020


405 Frederick Ave., Sewickley, PA 15143
(412) 749-0422; 1-800-707-NOEL

NPRC Seeks New Members

This is your opportunity to join with other Christian pro-life leaders to help restore legal protection to the unborn child.

The National Pro-Life Religious Council, Inc. (NPRC) is a Christian pro-life coalition which acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and is called to witness to and affirm the biblical standard of the value, dignity and sanctity of human life.

Associate membership is open to any individual, church or group who subscribes to NPRC's principles.

NPRC currently has members working within pro-life groups associated with the following denominations/churches: Conservative Congregational, Episcopalian, Evangelical, Lutheran, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist.

Please join NPRC today and help us end the tragedy of abortion!

Click here for a membership form.

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