By Cheryl Magness
Over 300 participants — including 200 registrants from around the state and 140 students, faculty and staff from Pacific Lutheran Junior/Senior High School in Gardena, Calif. — gathered in Gardena Sept. 6–7 for the Southern California “Defending Life” Conference.
The event, made possible in part through a $4,000 grant from the LCMS Office of National Mission, sought to offer a West Coast version of the LCMS Life Conference held biennially in Washington, D.C.
The theme of the conference, “Defend the rights of the poor and needy,” was drawn from Prov. 31:9. Conference participants were encouraged to defend the unborn as well as have hearts of compassion for those who have had an abortion or promoted abortion.
Keynote presentations by Abby Johnson (author of the book Unplanned) and Kathleen Eaton Bravo (CEO and founder of Obria medical clinics) provided a left-hand kingdom perspective on sanctity-of-life issues. Right-hand kingdom (Scriptural) perspective was provided by several LCMS pastors, including the Rev. Michael Salemink (executive director, Lutherans For Life), the Rev. A.J. Espinosa (host of the KFUO radio program “Thy Strong Word”), and pastor-evangelist Rev. Mark Jasa.
LCMS Pacific-Southwest District President Rev. Dr. Mike Gibson brought greetings from the district. The Rev. Blaise Marin, Lucas Fitzgerald (commissioned LCMS minister & principal at Pacific Lutheran High School), and the Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa (vice-chairman of the LCMS Board for National Mission) served as conference leaders.
Lora Horn, a member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Escondido, Calif., and content strategist for the conference, described it as “a beautiful time to come together” and a “truly Lutheran conference that was welcoming to other denominations” but “didn’t shy away from Lutheran theology or Lutheran worship.”
“What I liked about the focus of this conference was that it wasn’t about ‘We have to change this law, engage in this protest, or call our congressman,’” Horn said. “All of those things are good, but they focus on our vocation as citizens.
“The Southern California ‘Defending Life’ Conference branched out and asked questions such as, How do we show God’s love to our neighbor? How can we be prepared when this issue is on our doorstep because of a neighbor or a child? How do we show love that will prevent an abortion or help people heal from one?
“How do we prepare for the conversation when it comes up and be willing to truly engage the pain underneath the accusations we get rather than simply defend and attack?”
Post-abortion pro-life speaker Erin Maggard (firstname.lastname@example.org), a member of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rialto, Calif., presented a session on what to say to someone who has had an abortion or is considering an abortion. As an attendee at the conference, Maggard said she was most struck by the turnout.
“The media would have you believe that there are no pro-lifers in all of California. Yet in the very first year of an event, we had over 300 people give up their Friday and Saturday, many of them traveling from a distance, to come together with others for the cause of life. …
“It was announced that we had people representing 73 churches in 14 denominations. How wonderful is it that people of all creeds, colors and backgrounds can stand together as one body and voice for life, from conception to natural death!”
The “Defending Life” committee hopes to offer the conference every two years with the goal of addressing the cultural challenges related to the 2019 LCMS convention’s Resolution 1-06A on Marriage, Life and Family.
The resolution, for which Espinosa served as lead author, was passed on July 25. It calls for the LCMS to promote “the biblical and crucial relationship between marriage, life, and family by generating resources and strategies which counter the cultural assaults against these while also encouraging, uplifting and equipping the Body of Christ in all three areas.”
Posted Sept. 25, 2019