Uniting for Life
Building a Ministry for Life Conference
Provides Rich and Ongoing Challenge to Pastors
(Excerpts from some of the presentations are included in
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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
- 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,
- 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
[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
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
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.