Pro-Life? – The man next to me on the plane asked the proverbial question for such a setting, “So, what do you do?” This was in the early years of my service to LFL so I was a bit naive about such conversations. I answered, “I travel around the country sharing the pro-life message.” His body language spoke even before he said a word. He leaned slightly away from me as if I had just produced a chest-rattling cough without covering my mouth. He looked at me with furrowed brows and said with more than a hint of condescension, “Oh, you’re one of THOSE.”
These days I suppose we would say I had just been profiled. He saw me as the stereotypical pro-lifer—mean-spirited, angry, anti-woman, hostile, destructive, etc. You know the list. Strange as it seems, “pro-life” carries much negative baggage in the minds of many. The media adds to this by highlighting the bombings and murders by those they label “pro-life.” Unfortunately, a small minority of pro-lifers sometimes adds to this by fitting the profile! I know I have misdirected my anger a time or two.
Culture’s negative connotation of “pro-life” also creeps into our churches. There the stereotypical list contains words like “political,” “controversial,” “social,” and “divisive.” The pastor who welcomes the pro-family literature provided by his church body may react differently about the pro-life literature. “I don’t want to offend anyone.” “We should be preaching the Gospel, not getting into political issues.”
We may not like the fact that so many corrupt the positive phrase “pro-life” and turn it into something negative and fearful, but we do live in that reality. So, back to the proverbial plane-passenger question. “What do you do?” How do I answer it now? Something like this, “I’m with an organization that affirms the gift of life no matter how small or their condition of health. We produce resources that equip others to celebrate and affirm life.” No one has yet to give me the “one of those” speech to my response.
On the contrary, it usually leads to a “tell-me-more” kind of response. More often than not it gives opportunity to expand the thought and talk about God as the giver of life and how He affirms life, how He affirms their life and gives them value. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not some great evangelist that every time I get on a plane converts all the people in seats A-E in row 23! Honestly, I’m sometimes so tired I hope no one asks the question! But when they do, we enjoy a positive conversation rather than a negative “stand-off.”
Affirming Life in the Congregation
The same can be said about those who sit in seats A-E in pew 23. Talking with them about being a life-affirming congregation rather than a pro-life congregation can remove defenses and negative thinking. Think about it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most life-affirming message in the universe! There is nothing “political” about the biblical truth that life is created and gifted by God from the moment of conception. There is nothing “controversial” about the biblical truth that God loves the life He created so much that in order to pay the price to buy humanity back from sin and death, He was conceived in a womb so that He could suffer, die, and rise again. And remember, He suffered and died for every human life no matter how small or condition of health. There is nothing “social” about the biblical truth that God desires to call every human being through the waters of Baptism into an eternal relationship with Him. There is nothing “divisive” about the biblical truth that we are compelled to share the life-affirming message of the Gospel and apply it to the matters of the heart the people in pew 23 and every pew struggle with in their lives (See my article on page 3.)
What all this means is that, as Christians, we are not just pro-life because we live in a culture that isn’t. We affirm life because we serve a God who does. Certainly we want laws changed so that life is affirmed. We want life-affirming people representing us in government. But before there can be meaningful changes in laws or people, hearts must change. That’s what the Gospel does! That’s what we have to share. That’s why we affirm life!
What does that look like in a congregation? It means that instead of being “anti-abortion,” we affirm the life of the unborn and speak up for them. It means that instead of just teaching our young people to abstain from sex until marriage, we affirm their lives and teach them about purity and making good choices that flow from the purity given them in Christ. It means we neither condemn the unmarried pregnant teen nor condone the sin. We affirm her life, the life of the father, and the life of their child and do everything we can to help them. It means we do not condemn the broken hearted who have sinned against life. Rather we affirm their lives and share God’s means of grace and the love and forgiveness that flow through them richly and daily. It means we affirm the lives of the infirm and dying and point them to the meaning and purpose that God gives to life as long as He gives life.
How can this happen in a congregation? The ministry of a congregation obviously involves more than the life issues. But it nevertheless should involve them because (and I love repeating myself on this) the Gospel of Jesus is the most powerful and life-affirming message in the universe! It is a huge task. That is where LIFE TEAMS come in.
Life Teams are people passionate about affirming life. They are trained, equipped, and certified to be Gospel-motivated voices For Life. They are trained to equip others to be such voices and to reach out to those within their congregation and community in need of help and hope. LFL can provide the resources and guidance needed to start a Life Team in your congregation. For more information go to www.lutheransforlife.org/about/life-teams-renewal-for-life.
Are you “pro-life” or “life-affirming”? Undoubtedly your answer is “Yes!” However, I believe we will have a greater impact on our congregations and culture if we see ourselves as “life-affirming.” But this must be more than changing an adjective. It must also reflect a change in perspective—affirming life because that it precisely what the Gospel of Jesus Christ does!