By Paula Schlueter Ross
URBANDALE, Iowa — There’s “no other way” to outlaw abortion, says radio host and life activist Steve Deace, than to acknowledge what it is: killing children.
“If we want people to think we’re killing children, then we have to say we’re killing children” — some 4,000 a day, said Deace, a plenary speaker at the Lutherans For Life national conference, held here Nov. 8-9.
“Every bit of scientific evidence is on our side” and those who are “pro-abortion” — his preferred wording over “pro-choice” — “don’t have a leg to stand on,” he told a packed room of some 300 conference-goers. “Yes, it will offend people,” many of whom “think [abortion] is icky, but they don’t think it’s wrong,” he said.
The annual conference was held at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, in this suburb of Des Moines, under the theme “L.I.F.E. — Living in Faith Everyday” and was the first to be held at a church. Other “firsts” included servant events in a separate program for high school- and college-age youth — including praying on the sidewalk outside the local Planned Parenthood facility, the rollout of LFL’s Life Team initiative and a visit from Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.
Oh, and LFL Executive Director Rev. Dr. James Lamb — and Laura Davis, LFL’s director of Y4Life and development counselor — kissed a live baby pig after a challenge to raise $3,000 in donations for LFL overnight was met ($3, 900 was received). A second challenge — which raised another $3,200 — was met with a good-natured “roast” of retiring LFL President Diane Schroeder by the fictional Scandinavian couple “Ole and Lena.”
In his presentation, Deace played an audio recording of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court justices discussing the case. “If it were established that an unborn fetus is a person, within the protection of the 14th Amendment,” Justice Potter Stewart told the plaintiff’s attorneys, “you would have almost an impossible case here.”
So the only question that would get the Court to reconsider its position, Deace said, is “Are these [the unborn] people?,” and he urged Christians to “make them say” yes.
Deace — the son of a teenaged, unwed mother — said his wife wouldn’t like it if he were “pro-marriage fidelity — with exceptions,” and, similarly, there’s “no such thing” as being “pro-life, with exceptions.”
Unborn babies are souls made by God, he said — “each of them has a name and a purpose” — and “there are no exceptions to God’s plan and purpose.”
Deace said there are children alive today because of the pro-life movement, and Christians have an “obligation to oppose” laws that violate God’s laws, such as abortion.
“Is it a person or not?” he asked in reference to the unborn. “Shouldn’t all of the arguments we make begin and end there?”
In his sermon at the opening worship service, Lamb focused on the L.I.F.E. conference theme, using John 14:20, where Jesus says to His disciples: “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
As Christians, we “live in Christ” and “His righteousness,” Lamb said, which does not mean we should point the finger, judge, or condemn others for their views. Rather, we should speak out about “wrongs” such as abortion, but “do so in love” and “as fellow sinners.”
He shared “just a word” with those who have had abortions or made wrong end-of-life decisions: “Welcome,” he said. “Welcome into Christ’s righteousness in which we live.”
That righteousness — Christ’s victory over sin, in His suffering, in His promises, in His eternal life — is much like a womb, “a safe place,” living under the water of Baptism, with the Word and sacraments as “God’s umbilical cord,” he said.
“If it weren’t for abortion,” Lamb said, “the womb would be the safest place in the universe.”
He encouraged Christians “to remember who our enemies are” — not those who disagree with us, but “Satan and sin.” Still, because of Jesus, those are “defeated enemies,” he said, and “we are striving in a victory that’s already been won.”
Asking all of those in the youth track to stand — some two dozen young people — Lamb thanked them for coming to the conference and apologized “for the way we adults treat you sometimes.”
Lamb told worshipers that “living in Christ every day … is not a bad way to live. It’s like being in the womb every day.”
Some $1,800 in offerings from the service were given to the Agape Pregnancy Center in Des Moines.
In his keynote address, LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison spoke of the courageous Christians who publicly denounced the atrocities of Nazi Germany in their day and who, like today’s “biblical Christians,” knew that “every life is prized by God … every life is purposeful.”
He and his wife, Kathy, are godparents to an unwed mother’s unplanned child, he said, and “that child is a blessing.”
Citing “challenges in the church” — where some put more emphasis on “witness,” some on “confession” — Harrison said “there’s no confession if you don’t act, get it out there so somebody can hear it.”
He urged attendees to model “the compassion of Christ,” which “always acts” and is “loving” and “welcoming” to all.
Every congregation and family, he said, have people who are in need, and “it is vital” that we “reach out to them physically and spiritually.” He added that “it’s important to be intentional” as we touch others as “Jesus people” through our blessed-by-God vocations.
“Thank you for your work. Don’t give up,” he told conference-goers.
Honored at the conference banquet was LFL President Schroeder, who is retiring after nine years in the post. Addressing guests, Schroeder recalled how hurt she was when she was not invited to the baby shower for the unwed daughter of a good friend from church because the planners knew Schroeder was involved with LFL and weren’t sure if she would approve.
“Why would we not welcome a child of God?” she mused, and she urged the audience to “err on the side of compassion,” letting “the light of your compassion shine in all that you say and do for life — it will make a difference.”
Schroeder, fighting tears, introduced her husband, Carl, and all four of the couple’s adopted children, plus a fiancée and girlfriend, onstage. The Schroeders got involved in life issues and LFL after struggling with infertility and having their first two children practically dropped in their laps when friends called to see if they were interested in the babies who were being placed for adoption.
“So when that happens to you, when God directly hits you like that … you just look up and say, ‘OK, God, what do you want me to do?’ And it was very apparent that He was directing us into a ministry,” Diane Schroeder told Reporter in an interview. The couple later initiated the adoptions of their two younger children, born in Korea.
Schroeder also introduced her successor, Lynette Auch of Lesterville, S.D., who will take the reins as LFL president in February.
With 28 years in the “for-life arena,” Auch, an obstetrical nurse, shared what she called “God incidents” — circumstances in her life that strengthened her passion for the sanctity of life: having two children in spite of having a hormonal disorder, the “miracle of birth” she sees every day as a nurse, her son’s survival after a head-on vehicle crash and her daughter’s “miraculous” recovery from multiple sclerosis that struck at age 15.
“As if these God incidences have not been enough, God has so beautifully ‘spoken life’ to us through the holy interruption in the life of the Virgin Mary becoming pregnant with God,” Auch said. “This holy interruption brought us the ultimate God-incident of God, Himself, on the cross.”
Auch used the phrase “speak life” several times in her talk, and she read a stanza from the Toby Mac song “Speak Life” that included: “Look into the eyes of the broken-hearted, watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope, you speak love … you speak life.”
That life, she said, is “the love of Jesus Christ. We have been given and forgiven much. How can we not speak hope, speak love, speak life?”
She encouraged Lutherans to “speak the truth in love,” and she pledged that LFL “will work as diligently as ever to equip for-life pastors, life advocates, Life Teams, congregations and communities across the nation and around the world.”
At a pre-conference workshop Nov. 8, the Rev. Doug Merkey, a Presbyterian pastor in St. Louis who directs the five-year-old Churches for Life organization, led participants through the Life Team concept and its related Tool Box training.
Life Teams — which are endorsed and promoted by LFL — are designed to help congregations become life-focused: not just on abortion concerns but the wide array of life issues, including parenting, medical ethics, sexual integrity, reproductive technologies and end-of-life decisions.
Life Teams are less structured than LFL chapters, which typically have bylaws and elected officers, and their members work alongside the pastor to meet each congregation’s needs in the life arena. A Life Team might arrange for a local lawyer and doctor to address the congregation — and community — about end-of-life issues, for example, or help support a local crisis-pregnancy center.
LFL has about 40 Life Teams (and some 150 chapters) in operation nationwide, but its goal is to see a Life Team in every Lutheran congregation. For more information about Life Teams and resources for getting started, visit getintolife.org.
Conference-goers also heard about resources — many are free — that are available on the LFL website at lutheransforlife.org. They include worship and “Life Sunday” resources such as prayers and sermons, resources for starting congregational Life Teams and Y4Life groups for young people, videos and articles on life issues, a speakers bureau, resources for post-abortive healing, a list of LFL chapters and life news.
The conference included seven workshops that related to the L.I.F.E. theme “as male and female,” with youth, after abortion, with technology, at the end of life, on suicide and on religious freedom.
In a workshop titled “Life After Abortion,” speaker Jenny Farrell told of her struggles with anxiety and her experience as a nurse manager at a pregnancy center. According to Farrell, one in four women will have an abortion in her lifetime, and at least 60 percent of abortions are coerced.
Abortion, she said, “is a very violent act against a woman’s body” and “you can’t be untainted by abortion, it’s just not possible.” The hardest thing for post-abortive women to do, she said, is “forgive themselves.”
Farrell introduced Lindi Kernan, a county government official who characterized herself as “the face of the post-abortive woman.” Kernan, who was brought up in a loving, Christian home with seven siblings, said she had an abortion in 1977 at age 17 and kept it secret for 35 years. She was only able to talk about it — and find peace — last year at the age of 52, she said, after taking part in a Bible study designed for women who’d had abortions.
Contrary to popular belief, she said, abortion does not solve anything but “creates a bigger problem,” a “pain for life.” She called abortion “a painful choice,” and said that “by saving the life of the child, we’re actually saving the life of the mom” as well as others in her life.
As a volunteer at a crisis-pregnancy center before admitting her own abortion to others, Kernan was shocked to learn that another woman who worked at the center was afraid to disclose her abortion because she thought Kernan would think she was “a horrible person.” Kernan said it’s important to be careful how you talk about abortion because “I had no idea I was causing that kind of pain, and I should have.”
She encouraged Christians to “speak in a loving, caring, passionate way” about abortion. “I’m a sinner like you — I just have a different scar than you do,” she said. “And you won’t see that scar.”
Today Kernan — who once feared that God wouldn’t give her another child — is the mother of a blended family of six children (three are biological) and 16 grandchildren.
She said she believes that legalized abortion can be overturned if people support their local crisis-pregnancy centers (help them get ultrasound equipment if they don’t have it) and help post-abortive women find healing.
If the “millions of women” who have had abortions are encouraged to speak out about the pain it causes, it could change how people view abortion, she said. “What’s more powerful than God using our pain for His gain?”
In a question-and-answer session, Farrell said “someone you know is a post-abortive woman,” and she urged conference attendees to reach out to them. “It’s time to drop the judgment,” she added, and “embrace” those who are hurting.
Lamb, who also led a “L.I.F.E. Around the World” slideshow that showed how Lutherans in other countries are addressing life issues, told Reporter that LFL is becoming more intentional about getting Lutheran congregations actively involved. That’s important, he said, “because dealing with the life issues is not the responsibility of Lutherans For Life, but of the church. These are spiritual issues, and the church has what it takes to deal with spiritual issues: the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” which is “the most powerful and positive life-affirming message in the universe.”
The conference youth program was “a big highlight,” Lamb said, since the young people “offer great hope to our life-affirming movement.”
Hilary Murray, 21, president of Bulldogs for the Unborn at Concordia University Nebraska, Seward, asked older conference-goers to “teach compassion, show love” to their children and grandchildren every day. “Tell them that you love them no matter what happens,” she said, so that if there is a crisis in their lives they will know they can come to the older generation for help, not judgment.
Murray told Reporter that praying outside the Planned Parenthood facility during the conference “really opened my eyes to the fact that these women [seeking abortions] probably don’t have that support … that compassion from their families. And I just wanted to say to the older generation, ‘This is what we need from you, first and foremost.’ ”
Naomi Kuddes, 20, a junior at Concordia Nebraska, said she “absolutely” thinks young people should be involved in life issues. “We’re the generation that’s coming up, and we’re also the generation that has been aborted,” Kuddes said. “I think I heard a statistic that one-third of our generation isn’t here today. And to hear that, it really hits you — I mean, they could have been our friends, our family, our neighbors, our significant others.”
Y4Life Director Laura Davis said students from a high school (in Council Bluffs, Iowa) and two pro-life college groups were at the conference: in addition to Concordia Nebraska, registrants included members of Concordia University Wisconsin’s Students for Life group.
Davis said their experience at the conference “is helping them become more passionate about” life issues, and they are taking information and ideas back to school, which is “really encouraging, to build that network.”
LCMS South Dakota District President Rev. Dr. Dale Sattgast — who said he and his wife, Debbie, have been involved in the pro-life effort and LFL for his entire ministry — was sporting a “Precious Feet” pin on his lapel. The pin — in the size and shape of a 10-week unborn baby’s feet — often sparks conversations “about God’s creation of life from the very first moments of conception,” he said.
Sattgast said he has given away “hundreds” of the pins over the years. “I always carry them in my coat pocket and [tell people] they can have it if they wear it and also be an advocate for life issues.”
Peter Klinge, a 21-year-old from State Center, Iowa, and a junior at Concordia Nebraska, said he was “very glad” that he attended the conference, which opened his eyes to a “really cool” viewpoint: “Christ saved us when we were helpless in our sin. The unborn are helpless, [so] it’s very important that someone steps in and helps the helpless, who can’t speak for themselves.”
The “only way this problem is going to change,” Klinge added, “is if people speak out about it.”