By Michael Schuermann
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — “These Christians are not exposing their own children, and moreover they’re rescuing the other children. What should I do?”
Dr. John Patrick of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, began his keynote presentation at the 2014 Lutherans for Life National Conference here Oct. 24-25 with this quote from an ancient Roman governor’s letter back to Rome.
Patrick then told of a hypothetical Roman family: “Imagine this couple walks every day near the city gate, and one day they came across a baby girl exposed by her parents.”
The couple takes the infant in, caring for her and raising her. Later they decide to tell her all that happened. “We love you and you are our daughter, but God gave you to us in a very special way. When we found you, the love of God so moved us that we couldn’t do anything but take you in and raise you.”
His ultimate point? “Christianity took over because they cared about children.”
Patrick — a former associate professor in Clinical Nutrition at the University of Ottawa and current president of Augustine College in Ottawa — also addressed the ongoing divergence of ethics and morality in the western world today.
“The moral story that underpinned practicing medicine when I went to university was a single circle of a Venn diagram,” Patrick said. “Now they’re very separated, and soon they will be completely separate.”
“There are two competing moral-ethical worldviews in America; they’re polar opposites,” he continued. Patrick argued that to help form again a moral framework that considers life as valuable, the Church must continue to speak of a God-given natural law underpinning all of creation.
“If brotherly love exists, the ruling model appears to be Cain and Abel,” he said. “Only if the law is unnatural is it unchangeable. As it is, the whole thing is up for grabs.”
Some 200 registrants gathered at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids to hear Patrick speak — one of several presentations during the two-day conference organized around the theme “Matters of the Heart.”
One of the conference goals was to encourage Christians not to view life issues as merely political but rather as spiritual issues. The Rev. Dr. James Lamb of Marshalltown, Iowa, executive director of LFL, shared about the importance of that goal.
“We need to try to get [our fellow Christians] to see what God has done that gives value to human life,” he said. “That’s what makes them spiritual issues. We can argue secularly. That which is in the womb is not just something, but someone. Biology textbooks teach that; doctors teach that. But we can help people understand that it’s not just a human being, but a human being created by God; a human being for whom Christ shed His blood; a human being that Christ desires to wash in the waters of Baptism. This raises these above the politics and even above morality.”
In his sermon during the opening worship service of the conference, Lamb touched on all of the life issues that LFL regularly addresses, including “the death of countless babies, the men and women who made those decisions, our elderly and people with challenging medical issues — how can we consider them as political issues? All these are matters of the heart.”
Lamb then spoke to how life-loving Christians can address these issues. “When we rightly identify all these things as matters of the heart, he said, “then we have the good news of the grace of God in Christ to speak to those hearts.”
“The Gospel speaks to that pregnant teen: mercy, grace, compassion for her. The Gospel speaks [concerning] those babies who are aborted: their value is immeasurable, which raises them way up beyond being a political issue,” Lamb said in the sermon.
For the final plenary session of the conference, Lamb presented on the topic “Speaking to Matters of the Heart,” continuing along the same train of thought as his opening sermon. “This is more than just saving lives; this is about saving souls,” he said.
Lamb used the story of David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17 to illustrate the battle for life in which Christians are engaged. “We know that it wasn’t the stone that actually slayed Goliath,” he said. “The stone brought him down, and then David took Goliath’s own sword and whacked off his head.”
“If we’re going to defeat this giant of death,” Lamb said, “we’re going to need more than a stone; we’re going to need a sword. And we have that.” Lamb was alluding to a prior mention of Ephesians 6:13-17.
The Rev. Robert Fleischmann of Richfield, Wis., national director of Christian Life Resources, spoke during a third plenary session. Through personal anecdotes and stories, he reminded the attendees that coming to be life-affirming requires “growing up” into those beliefs, something that often takes time and much discussion.
The Rev. David Fleming of Grand Rapids was attending an LFL conference for the first time, and indicated that he finds great benefit in being involved in life issues.
“It teaches us to value our lives and our gifts all the more,” Fleming said, “and to recognize the immense kindness and love of our God toward us. All of these things put us at the end of ourselves. We can’t fix this society; we can’t fix people in all sorts of difficult situations. Only our Lord can. We’re not in control, and we have to rely on Him to carry us through it.”
Lauren Brandt, from Ann Arbor, Mich., also was a first-time conference attendee.
“I wanted to know how to discuss things from the beginning of life to the end of life from a Lutheran perspective,” she said. “It’s been helpful to hear from all the presentations to try and comfort people, not just by speaking platitudes but by speaking of living under the cross and pointing to the hope that we have in Jesus.”
Workshops for smaller groups were presented on the Saturday of the conference. Attendees were able to choose three of the workshops, with the option to purchase recordings of the others or to listen to them online at a later date.
Workshop presenters and their topics were:
- the Rev. Robert Fleischmann — “Matters of the Heart and Issues in the Family”;
- the Rev. Max Phillips of Woodward, Iowa — “Caring for the Infirm and Elderly”;
- Katie Schuermann, Sherman, Ill. — “Facing Infertility”:
- Diane Schroeder, Lombard, Ill. — “Reaching Those Wounded By Abortion”;
- Laura Davis, St. Louis — “Relationship Status: Content In Christ”;
- the Rev. Dr. James Lamb — “Stillbirth and Miscarriage”; and
- the Rev. Jonathan Fisk, Naperville, Ill. — “Not Until I Say ‘I Do.’ ”
There also was a pre-conference track which included a presentation by Fisk on “What’s a Life Worth? — The Human Soul in the (kind of) Infinite Cosmos.”
This year’s conference also included a pastors luncheon, a prayer vigil at Heritage Clinic (an abortion clinic in Grand Rapids), a Chapter and Life Team Summit with Lori Trinche, Westmont, Ill. (Mission & Ministry coordinator for Lutherans For Life), and a Christian estate planning workshop with Jim Schroeder, Laurel, Neb.
LFL holds a conference annually in various cities throughout the United States. The conference for 2015 has been set for Oct, 30-31 at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. The 2015 conference theme is “Created — Redeemed — Called.”
More details can be found on the LFL website at lutheransforlife.org.
The Rev. Michael Schuermann is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Sherman, Ill.
Posted Nov. 3, 2014