Life not a partisan issue, EFL speakers say
Participants at the fourth annual event sponsored by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) heard speakers and panelists Jan. 17 address not only abortion but such topics as adoption, Christian persecution, refugees, immigrants, criminal justice reform and racial reconciliation. The two-day conference was held at McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C.
This year's Evangelicals for Life (EFL) began the evening of Jan. 16 with a message by David Platt, pastor-teacher of the host church, and a concert by Steven Curtis Chapman to benefit the Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC's ministry to help place ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource centers across the country.
The conference took place prior to Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (Jan. 20), which the Southern Baptist Convention and many evangelical churches observed, and the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision (Jan. 22), which legalized abortion nationwide. Many of those attending EFL took part in the annual March for Life Jan. 18 in Washington.
Speaking on civil rights and the right to life, Karen Ellis asked in the conference's final address how a soul can "even fight for its own civil rights if they're never given the human right to exist in the first place?"
"Life is not a progressive issue nor a conservative one," said Ellis, who lectures and writes on human rights and religious freedom as president of the Makazi Institute. "It belongs neither to Republicans nor Democrats. It is an issue of respect for all of humanity.
"And for the Christian, especially the right to life, it is a biblical issue. And God will testify of Himself that His Word is not owned by any earthly political party or cultural movement," she said.
"[W]e belittle all of humanity when we forget that the affirmation of life from womb to tomb and every moment of life in between belongs to no political party or cultural movement but rather is a transcendent value that belongs to us all, affects us all and is the responsibility of us all."
Child advocate Kelly Rosati, a member of the March for Life board of directors, said on a panel that discussed a holistic perspective for pro-lifers, "We are not going to be able to convince the people in the middle who watch us that we are concerned about the dignity of every human life if we don't apply that all the way across the board.
"I think our success on abortion is inextricably linked" to a comprehensive outlook, she said.
Matt Lewis, a conservative columnist who appeared on the same panel, said including the "human rights of the unborn" with other vulnerable groups is "very appropriate and, I also think, it is probably smart politics as well." He told the audience "the pro-life movement is in very good shape when you consider the culture that we live in" and the obstacles it faces.
Dan Darling, the ERLC's vice president for communications, said, "[We need a fully orbed pro-life vision that fights for human dignity wherever it's compromised. ... And the world definitely needs the church to recover the Christian vision of human dignity."
The idea of human dignity comes from the Bible and is "part of the language of the Christian faith," said Darling, author of the recently published "The Dignity Revolution."
"Rejection of the Image Giver always results in injustice against image bearers," he said. "Without Scripture's definition for what it means to be human, we will succumb to the temptations of every generation to ignore or even justify injustice."
Speakers said Gospel proclamation, need-meeting ministries and policy advocacy all play a role in the cause for life.
Ellis -- whose parents marched with the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. -- told the audience, "We learned in the civil rights movement that legislation is indeed a powerful tool for saving lives, but we also learned that legislation cannot do what the Gospel of Jesus Christ can. Legislation alone cannot change lives."
Mindy Belz, senior editor of World magazine, said Christians "cannot neglect politics, even if we pursue mercy ministries," in advocating for the persecuted church overseas.
"In the United States, the pro-life community has long understood the connection and, in fact, has excelled in mercy ministries to help the unborn while at the same time pursuing political and legal strategies to protect unborn life in the wake of Roe v. Wade," Belz said.
"Yet, many in the same community ... have ignored the importance of policy and engagement when it comes to the persecuted, the refugee and to war victims," she said. "I would argue that God does not make a distinction whether the vulnerable are here or there."
Two pastors -- SBC President J.D. Greear and Dhati Lewis, vice president of the North American Mission Board's Send Network -- had a conversation about racial unity patterned after their five-week video series on the subject.
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area, said his church's goal is to be one that "reflects the diversity of the community and proclaims the diversity of the kingdom."
It is important to be guided by empathy and charity, Greear said. "Empathy means I am trying to understand something from your perspective even if I don't necessarily come from the same perspective. And charity means I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt as much as I possibly can."
Lewis, lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, said it is "critical for us to put on display and to show a church that is undivided."
The approach Blueprint promotes is to "reflect personally," "empathize corporately" and "pursue righteousness," Lewis said. "You can't have reconciliation, according to the Gospel, without justice."
Afshin Ziafat, lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, told the audience Christians are to love the sojourner, the immigrant, the outcast because:
-- "It is in the nature of God to love them;
-- "It is the natural overflow of the Gospel;
-- "It proves that we belong to the kingdom of God."
God "owns all the earth and therefore needs nothing," said Ziafat, whose family moved from Iran to Houston when he was a child. "So He is a God who shows no favoritism. Therefore, we should show no favoritism."
In an interview with ERLC President Russell Moore, Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman shared about their adoption of three daughters from China and the founding of Show Hope, which has helped more than 6,200 families to adopt children from more than 60 countries.
Steven Curtis Chapman offered parents struggling after adoption and those still waiting to adopt encouragement in "believing that God is telling an amazing story and trusting Him the story is far from over, even if it looks like a disaster." He urged them to continue "believing and knowing His promises are true, that He is going to finish what He started."
During one session, Joel Dillon described the ministry of Jill's House, which is located adjacent to McLean Bible Church. Jill's House provides respite to families who have children with intellectual disabilities.
The EFL schedule Jan. 17 also included breakout sessions on a variety of topics.
The ERLC and Focus on the Family launched EFL in 2016 as an effort to help increase awareness among evangelical Christians of the March for Life and motivate them to participate in it. Focus partnered with the ERLC to host the event in its first three years.
More than 600 people registered for the conference. The ERLC offered free registration to federal and contract workers affected by the partial government shutdown.