EFL speakers promote 'womb to tomb' dignity

WASHINGTON (BP) -- The sanctity and dignity of human life require Christians to care not only for the unborn but for all people at all stages of life, speakers said on the final two days of the Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington.

The phrase "the womb to the tomb" was heard during several addresses to describe the extent of the sanctity of human life and to call for protection and compassionate care from evangelical Christians.

Evangelicals for Life (EFL) -- the second annual event co-hosted by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family -- addressed such issues as adoption and foster care, ministry to refugees and immigrants, caring for the sick and dying, public policies to protect life, and diversity in the church.

The Jan. 27-28 conference -- held in conjunction with the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. -- broke midday Jan. 27 for attendees to join what turned out to be possibly hundreds of thousands of others on the National Mall for a rally and the march to Capitol Hill.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told conference participants God "created a world in which human flourishing was His intention," but today there are "across so many fronts so many assaults" on human life and dignity.

"We are missing the fact that a consistent pro-life ethic requires us to see that anything that diminishes life as the Creator intended it [for His] creatures is an assault upon God's glory and God's sovereignty and God's will," Mohler said.

Christians' responsibility "to be the defenders of life cannot be localized in the buildings of government but has to be taken into every local church and every Christian heart, translated not only into right thought but right action," he said.

Seattle pastor Eugene Cho told EFL attendees evangelicals should support the sanctity of life "from womb to tomb, not just our lives but their lives, not just American lives but Syrian lives, not just Christian ... lives but Muslim minority refugee lives."

Christians should seek justice for all human beings because it "reflects the very character of God," Cho said. "We need to be awakened to the injustices in our world."

In the conference's final address, poet Jackie Hill Perry said Christians should repent as the first step in developing a heart for seeing beauty in diversity. They need to repent of pride and fear, she said.

"We have sinned against people when we have spoken to them, judged them, looked upon them, thought about them or treated them in a dishonorable way because of the color of their skin, the language that they speak or the culture they embody," Hill Perry told attendees. "And these sins against people are first and foremost sins against God."

She warned Christians against seeing their "race or culture as the standard."

"We must turn from this pride and see that Christ is the standard of goodness and beauty; we are not," Hill Perry said.

She urged conference participants to invite people from different ethnic groups into their hearts.

"Do you have an affection for every tribe, tongue and nation? Or is the work of diversity only a duty? It was in God's will to invite every tribe, tongue and nation into His love, and I beg you to make it a part of yours," Hill Perry said.

Other conference speakers addressed a variety of issues during the event.

"Civility is not a strategy. We're not civil because it works." -- John Stonestreet
John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, said civility demonstrates respect for the dignity of those on the opposite side of issues.

"Civility has nothing to do with reciprocity. In other words, we're not civil to people because they're civil to us," he said.

Also, Stonestreet said, "Civility is not a strategy. We're not civil because it works.

"Civility is an expectation of anyone living out of the grand story of redemption" in Scripture, he said. "We do it because it's right. We do it whether it works or not."

A panel discussion on ministry to refugees and immigrants came only a few hours after President Trump signed an executive order halting the refugee resettlement program for 120 days and blocking refugees from war-torn Syria indefinitely.

Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Johnson Ferry now is responsible for nine Muslim refugee families from Syria and one Christian family from Iran.

"It has been a rich blessing to Johnson Ferry," he said, adding the church has a different role than the government. "We're to share the love of Christ with all of our fellow man."

The ministry has given the church "the opportunity to witness in a rich way," he said, adding of his church's involvement with refugees, "We get our guidance from the Word of God, not from talk radio, not from different political winds that are blowing."

On the conference's first night (Jan. 26), Matt Chandler, lead pastor for teaching of The Village Church in the Dallas area, urged churches to not miss the opportunity they have as the nations come to them.

"The church must not buy into the fearful rhetoric around refugees, but be willing to welcome, to help, to come alongside and to serve," he said.

Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, shared about being a foster child and now doing foster care with his family.

"Everybody needs love and acceptance," he said. "It is such a beautiful thing to do. ... You look for a field white unto harvest. You don't have to go very far. Is it easy? No, but God has not called you to easiness."

A Jan. 28 panel addressed the need to foster human dignity among the sick and dying.

C. Ben Mitchell, a bioethicist and provost at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said the church has a long history of helping people die well, but now has "outsourced death. We don't do a very good job of caring for the dying."

"I think churches are going to have to become more invested in hospice, and that may mean starting your own church-based hospice program to partner with pro-life physicians to help us with the dying," he said.

"We've convinced ourselves that we are in the land of the living on the way to dying," Mitchell said. "And in reality, the Christian worldview teaches us we are in the land of the dying on the way to the land of the living."

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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