Commentary: Rethinking our pro-life mission

What does the change in Washington mean for the pro-life cause?

By Maggie Karner

The mood was decidedly different at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., this year.  For instance, there were many more people than in previous years. A record number of Lutherans took part in the biggest “March for Life” ever, joining an commentary.gifestimated 300,000 pro-life supporters and taking a stand on behalf of the unborn.

However, none of those attending this year heard a message from their new president as in previous years, despite an invitation to do so. What I noticed most was a sense of urgency and a dogged determination to not let years of incremental legislative pro-life victories be slowly undone.  I might have been sensing some fear of the future as well. 

Indeed, the day after the march and only three days after his inauguration, President Obama repealed the Mexico City Policy, opening the door to government funding for groups that promote or perform abortions overseas.

The unsaid question on every concerned pro-life mind these days seems to be, “what now?”  I’ve had some people ask if I am discouraged with the seemingly hostile-to-life views of the new federal administration. “What,” they ask, “will this new political context bring to the pro-life cause?” As director of Life and Health Ministries for LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC), I’ve been giving this some prolonged thought.

Initially, this preoccupied me for quite a while after the election because I felt my work would be profoundly affected by these national changes.

But God has used this political change in the wind to remind me of some important truths. I’ve realized that for Christians concerned primarily with spreading the healing balm of the Gospel, nothing has really changed.  Of course, I understand the important place for civic action and our responsibility to speak for the vulnerable in the secular kingdom of the left.  However, I have never placed my faith in legislative change.  Instead, I have opted for a lasting change of heart. 

Let’s not forget that even with the former receptive ear in the White House for the last eight years, children are still dying at staggering rates.  During the last “pro-life” federal administration, abortion still remained legal for all nine months, and more than 1 million unborn children continued to die every year in America.  I propose that the sheer numbers should not be our motivation in pro-life efforts.  For the law can only motivate by fear, but the Gospel motivates us with grace, love and compassion.  That means our work remains the same.  This “work” is compassion that is motivated by the Good News with which we’ve been entrusted.

For that simple reason I find it profound that our Synod’s pro-life outreach has found its proper home under the umbrella of LCMS World Relief and Human Care.  For in this context, support for the sanctity of human life serves as a foundation for everything we do in our diakonic (mercy) outreach.  Life issues span a continuum from conception until natural death.  There is a lot of “life” between those bookends that needs God’s grace and mercy.

Complicated life decisions are made by people whose lives are affected by hopelessness, poverty, hunger, and need.  My personal mantra is that abortion is a complex issue and if we’re going to be pro-life, we had better be “pro-solutions” in every area of the life continuum. Whether we are sending doctors into the Nairobi slums to worm children, finding ways for mothers widowed by AIDS to earn a living, finding housing for single mothers in Brooklyn, or supporting a pregnancy center in Russia — these are all ways to proclaim loud and clear that all life is sacred and precious in the eyes of our Savior.  Rev. Matthew Harrison, executive director of WR-HC, has put it this way, “We shall bear witness to the value of life, and against abortion, in every act of mercy.”

After this year’s march, our LCMS Sanctity of Human Life Committee members (under the auspices of LCMS WR-HC) met to begin work on our immediate goal: helping the Synod strengthen the church’s pro-life witness in the public square.  This is important and visible work in the kingdom of the left.  But just as crucial are the educational efforts to teach and reach individuals who have been scarred by a culture of death.  This is Christ’s life-saving work of the Gospel.  This is the primary work of the church.

Under the umbrella of LCMS WR-HC, the Life Ministries program area also seeks to reach out to the millions of women who are grieving from decisions they have made. They need to know that God can forgive them, and He will.

That’s why I don’t think our pro-life mission has changed at all, despite the change in Washington.  Our work must still be one baby, one mother, one frightened and needy soul at a time.  That is what pro-life work is.  That is what Christian mercy does.

This perspective keeps me from discouragement and provides a sense of buoyancy to persist in this decidedly tedious work.  Furthermore, in commenting upon Psalm 139, Luther remarked that “Every human ability or power — how we live, what we do, speak, think, wherever and whenever, from where we come and to where we should go — it is all clearly God’s work and art.”  God’s art.  Not mine.  That takes some of the pressure off, don’t you think?

We are gifted with the privilege of telling the truth and caring passionately about something so fundamental to who we are as Christians and basic to who we are as humans.  In my view, this is a wonderful time to be exceptionally bold in our pro-life witness.  We know that even a small light shines more brightly in the dark. 

But the questions still remain, “How can we shine in a dark and death-infused world?”  “How can the light of truth make a difference in my little corner of the world?”

People often categorize “pro-life activists” as those who are praying in front of clinics or working in the crisis pregnancy center.  If a person has the inclination and calling to do that, great.  But simply living out our vocation with a pro-life mindset is powerful.  Being a good parent is pro-life.  Telling other people that they are valued and loved by God is pro-life.

Our baptismal identity as children bathed in Christ’s redeeming grace and compassion is our springboard to a genuine “activism.”  This is activism that receives a transfusion of strength and courage in the Word and Sacraments to apply compassion wherever nee

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