Churches and pastors are to stand for vulnerable people because of the image and glory of God, speakers told participants on Jan. 26, the first day of the Evangelicals for Life conference.
The conference—the second-annual event co-hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family—continued Jan. 27 with a schedule built around the afternoon March for Life, which also took place in the country's capital. Evangelicals for Life (EFL) attendees were to join tens of thousands of others on the National Mall for a rally and the march to Capitol Hill.
Vice President Mike Pence was to speak at the rally in a first for the March for Life, which has been held annually, even in the snow, since 1974—a year after the Jan. 22, 1973, legalization of abortion by the Supreme Court. Pence's appearance marks the first time a president or vice president has spoken at the event, according to March for Life staff.
At a dinner on Jan. 26, the 2017 Evangelicals for Life awards were presented to four leaders. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., received the pro-life public official award; Dallas-area pastor Matt Chandler the pro-life ministry leader award; March for Life President Jeanne Mancini the pro-life, faith-based partnership award; and Focus on the Family Vice President Kelly Rosati the pro-life leader award.
ERLC President Russell Moore opened the conference with a message on how the Gospel of Jesus provides a framework for addressing human dignity.
During the Jan. 26 evening session, Chandler told EFL participants Christians value life "from the unborn to the disabled to the dying," because they value what God values. The lead teaching pastor of The Village Church described what it means for a church to be "a community of life," saying such a church:
• "[B]elieves and declares that God is the author and sustainer of all life from the womb to the tomb;
• "[L]ive[s] compassionately for the welfare of the cities that our lives play out in;
• "[A]ctively fights for the oppressed, the vulnerable and the voiceless."
Todd Wagner, founding pastor of Watermark Community Church in Dallas, urged pastors to speak for the sanctity of human life and to equip church members.
"If we don't speak up, then what's going to happen is that the voices that are speaking will intimidate others into silence," Wagner said, urging pastors to speak "gently and with reverence."
Scott Klusendorf, president of the Life Training Institute, told participants they must be prepared to "make a case for life."
"From the earliest stages of development, you were a distinct, living and whole human being," Klusendorf said.
"We're all equal because we equally and fundamentally bear the image of God. We have a human nature that reflects the nature of our Creator. And you either have that nature or you don't. It doesn't come in degrees like self-awareness does, like physical abilities do."
Glenn Packiam, lead pastor of New Life Downtown in Colorado Springs, said diversity among different people groups is a pro-life issue not only because of the Genesis message of each person being made in the image of God but the Revelation message of people giving glory to God.
Christians care about this issue not just because they are pro-life, he said.
"The truth is we're in this because we're pro-the glory of God," Packiam told attendees. "Every life matters because every life has the capacity to bring glory to God."
He also said, "The Gospel does not erase our differences and make us bland or vanilla or neutral. The Gospel actually takes our differences and our different ways of belonging and gives us a truer identity and a deeper sense of belonging that somehow fits together people ... who would not otherwise be together were it not for Christ."
Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, urged evangelicals to value racial reconciliation and unity the way Jesus does.
"[A] lot of times we don't want to press into the sweat of Christian unity," Smith said, adding people say, "That's too much work. It takes time to get to know people."
"So I would just really press us to put the same sweat into unity that we put into personal holiness and sound, biblical doctrine."
In a prerecorded video interview with Moore, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias said he thinks "it's a long road" to the restoration of the value of human life in American society.
"If the churches rise to the occasion, I'm optimistic," Zacharias said. "But right now, it's pretty grim ..."
Panelists discussing how churches can serve families with special needs members encouraged pastors to start by listening to them.
It is difficult for such families to think of belonging to a community, said Scott Sauls, senior minister of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn. He said it is important for churches with special needs individuals "to recognize that these aren't just people to be ministered to. They are also people to minister alongside and to be ministered to by."
Paul Martin, senior pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto and the father of a special needs son, said a pastor needs to remove from his thinking and the thinking of his church the idea that a disability is a "cause-and-effect punishment thing."
"We don't live in a world of karma," Martin told the audience. "We live in a world of grace, so we want to rejoice in that."
On a panel on human trafficking, Ashleigh Chapman—president of the Alliance for Freedom, Restoration and Justice—acknowledged the pressing needs of both foster care and trafficking. When churches ask her which issue they should tackle, Chapman said she tells them, "Don't make that choice. You won't resolve either one by ignoring the other. And we don't need to. So it's in every way connected and must be stopped."
Chapman said of the link between pornography and trafficking, "When you objectify a human being—and that's pornography—it's wildly easy to take that next step from objectification to commodification."
The conference will conclude with a morning session on Jan. 28.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.