On January 22, 2015, I will be walking the National Mall in Washington D.C. with thousands of others in support of the Right to Life. Forty-two years ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, and abortion became legal in the United States. I have done the march once before. It is an amazing ecumenical event with banners, ecclesiastical garb, and lots of regular people dressed for the weather. The number of youth filling out the crowd is impressive! There is energy, passion and commitment. It’s awesome to be there.
I don’t believe I took notice on January 22, 1973 when the ruling came down, but when my new wife and I arrived in Springfield, IL following my seminary vicarage/internship, there was plenty of conversation on campus about abortion. A symposium was planned, arrangements were made and Dr. Jean Garton made the case for the “right to life” for all, even the unborn. Jean is the wife of a pastor, mother who once considered abortion for a 5th unexpected baby, and an ardent advocate for the unborn. She still is. Jean spoke to churches, conventions, in state houses and congress and even at Youth Gatherings. She’s eloquent, articulate, and faithful. Energy, passion and commitment were her hallmarks – not to mention her sense of humor.
The LCMS has always been passionately pro-life. It’s a part of who we are. At the 1989 LCMS Youth Gathering in Denver, we had two young women speak to the entire assembly one morning. Their topic was meeting the challenges of life with God’s help. Following the first speaker who talked about how a “bad hair day” can be such a challenge, Denise Shipler was introduced. Denise was born with a congenital physical condition. She has one arm with a kind of hand and one leg. She also has spunk and joy and faith and a glorious voice . . . an amazingly, glorious voice. When she sang, there wasn’t another sound among the 17,000 people gathered in the McNichols Arena. Denise spoke of her purpose in life “to share and fervently go out into the world and protect and defend the sanctity and the sacredness of life from conception to the time that God calls us home.”
Today, her mom could have had her aborted without any fuss. Denise asks her mom, “Would you still have had me?”
“Without a doubt. Absolutely,” her mother says.
Denise speaks of one of her favorite Bible passages, Psalm 139:13-16:
“For you formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Denise still sings, and she’s still filled with energy, passion and commitment.
Maggie Karner is currently Director of Life and Health Ministries. She advocates for the unborn. She spear-heads sanctity of life programs and resources. She promotes health mercy outreach projects and reminds us not to define life too narrowly. And, Maggie has a tumor – a stage four, glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor “that will likely kill her.”
Brittany Maynard also had a tumor, the same kind of tumor Maggie has. Brittany decided that her life was not worth living. So, she made a choice and moved to Oregon where assisted suicide is legal, and she took her own life. Maggie reminds us that concern for the right to life is not just about abortion. She wrote and then recorded her thoughts on YouTube for Brittany.
“Death sucks,” Maggie says. But despite the tumor, Maggie lives with energy, passion and commitment. “As for my cancer journey,” she says, “circumstances out of my control are not the worst thing that can happen to me. The worst thing would be losing faith, refusing to trust in God’s purpose in my life and trying to grab that control myself.”
Jean Garton, Denise Shipler and Maggie Karner. Three women who are heroes to me for speaking for life in the world that demands a choice. Maggie speaks of trying to grab control. That grab could be called “choice” whether for abortion or assisted suicide or something in between. All “choice” isn’t bad, but some “choice” IS about us trying to grab control. When that happens, it can get really messy.
Yet, in Jesus’ name, we offer life. Our God is faithful through whatever comes to our lives and, by Christ, we shall live forever. Therefore, we speak for life with energy, passion and commitment.
For the record,. . . the 2013 Lutheran Youth Fellowship Youth Poll, taken at the LCMS Youth Gathering reports that 73% of LCMS youth consider themselves pro-life, 18% trend toward pro-choice, 5% say they are unsure and 4% admit to not caring about the issue very much.