By Sarah Schafer
WASHINGTON — Despite cold and rain, more than 120 Lutherans marched among more than 250,000 pro-life advocates in the 39th annual “March for Life” here Jan. 23.
Trying their best to avoid the mud, Lutherans from 12 states and Germany marched beneath the Lutherans For Life banner down the National Mall and Constitution Avenue, past the U.S. Capitol to the U.S. Supreme Court building in protest of the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion during all nine months of pregnancy.
“After all these years, abortion remains an important issue,” said the Rev. Robert Koehler of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, Va., who participated in his 15th march. His wife, Ann, and several other members of Redeemer joined him at the march.
This year, it is crucial for pro-life supporters to speak out, according to Maggie Karner, director of LCMS Life Ministries. “It’s an election year … there is no better time to make your voice heard.”
Lutherans began the day with Divine Service at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Va.
“I’m glad you’re here for the March for Life. I’m going too,” said Immanuel’s Rev. Christopher Esget in his sermon, “but in the long term, we don’t need to storm Washington with signs and slogans, but storm the gates of hell with the confession of the Creed.” (Read the full sermon here.)
Esget, who also serves on the LCMS Sanctity of Human Life Committee, called on LCMS congregations to welcome unwed mothers, unexpected or unwelcomed children, and welcome women who suffered abortions in love and forgiveness.
“Love must accompany words shouted in slogans,” Esget said.
LCMS Life Ministries Coordinator Ed Szeto added that Lutherans can offer the “proper distinction between Law and Gospel” to the fight against abortion. “We need to apply the Law to those who are secure in their sin yet receive with welcome arms those who repent of their sin. That kind of compassion is sometimes missing in the pro-life movement.”
After a complimentary brunch at Immanuel, the group travelled into D.C. for the pre-march rally and the march.
John and Amy Hinz, also members of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, said they marched to celebrate the lives of the newest additions to their family: Sonya and Dusty, both 6, whom they adopted last year from a Ukrainian orphanage. Both children have Down syndrome.
“Nine out of 10 children with Down syndrome don’t get the chance to be born,” said Amy. “Families are missing out on blessings.”
First-time marcher George Price spent his day off from work to march with fellow members of Peace Lutheran Church, Scranton, Pa. “It’s more than I ever expected,” he said, looking at marchers ahead and behind him as far as he could see.
Youth comprised the largest showing among Lutherans at the march.
“We’ve lost a third of our generation because of abortion,” said senior Julie Gray, one of 36 students from Lutheran High School of St. Charles County, St. Peters, Mo., at the march.
“We are the generation that can change this,” added senior Rachel Cooke.
Concordia University Wisconsin’s (CUW) Students for Life brought 17 people — its largest gathering at the march in recent years.
The group is active in pro-life activities throughout the year, but the march is their biggest event.
Many CUW students grew up pro-life and can be apathetic about the fight against abortion, according to sophomore Bethany Janssen, the group’s president. The March for Life captures the student body’s interest and helps them understand the urgency of the issue, she said.
“I’m very passionate about life,” said Janssen. “Life begins at conception and no one has the right to say otherwise besides God.”
CUW freshman Michael Ersland marched in honor of a cousin lost to abortion. “It’s sad to realize that I never got the opportunity to get to know him. … I came to voice my sorrow that there is abortion.”
Long-time pro-life advocates were heartened by the youths’ energy.
“This bodes well for the future and gives us encouragement that a healthy respect for the sanctity of human life may be restored in our nation, not only through laws that protect human life, but also in how it’s reflected in society by our actions towards each other,” said Szeto, who was participating in his 11th march.
Participation of Lutherans in March for Life activities has slowly increased over the years.
“When we had our first organized LFL worship service before the march in 1998 we had 40 people in attendance,” said Dennis Di Mauro, president of the Lutherans For Life Northern Virginia Chapter. “About two years ago when we had a packed church for the same service, I looked over at my daughter Lucy and said, ‘Look what God has done.'”
To continue sanctity of life ministry long after the march, Di Mauro asked Lutherans for prayer, and suggested congregations invite a pro-life speaker to their church or to volunteer at local crisis pregnancy centers. Karner encouraged congregations to set aside one Sunday to recognize the sanctity of life.
To view full LCMS coverage of the March for Life and more information about LCMS Life Ministries, visit www.lcms.org/marchforlife. For information about Lutherans For Life, visit www.lutheransforlife.org/.
Next year, LCMS Life Ministries will be hosting the 2013 LCMS Life Conference in the Washington, D.C., area on Saturday, January 26, the day after the 2013 March for Life — planned for Friday, January 25. The theme of the conference, based on 1 Tim. 2: 1-4, is “Lutherans and Pro-life Advocacy: Good and Acceptable Service.” For more information, visit www.lcmslifeconference.org.
Sarah Schafer is a freelance writer based in Fairfax, Va., and a member of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Springfield, Va.
Posted Jan. 24, 2012/Updated Feb. 1, 2012