The choir sang "Children of the Heavenly Father" as the congregation entered the church one January morning. Each person was handed a card and then ushered to his seat. Most cards displayed stars, while others had a check mark on them. When the music stopped, the deacon requested those with cards bearing check marks to stand. The bewildered congregation was informed that stars represented life, while check marks meant death for the bearer at the hands of the abortionist. More than one-third of the congregation stood, representing the proportion of those slaughtered since abortion became legal. The pastor looked down at his card. It had a check mark. He no longer would remain silent at the pulpit; it was time to speak.
Twenty-seven years and four million deaths later, some clergymen are determined to take a public stand in defense of life issues. "They are continuing in the spirit of America's early church,"1 says Dr. D. James Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, who spoke strongly on several social issues of the day.
"The church spoke out on issues such as child labor laws, wives being beaten and abused, prison reform, and reform of asylums for the insane. Two-thirds of the members of the Abolition Society in New England were Christian clergymen," explained Dr. Kennedy. "Down through the centuries, churches have been the ones who have moved to get rid of most of the great evils of our world," he added.
Attorney John Whitehead, President and Founder of the Rutherford Institute, gives a similar account, "Back in the 1770s when America was fighting for independence, pastors would preach their sermons and then go out on the front steps of the church and give their political speeches."
Today however, in spite of the brave few, many twenty-first-century clergymen remain strangely silent. Why?
Undoubtedly, there is a risk for those willing to stand for life issues. An angry parishioner with large financial pull might leave and render the church budget temporarily crippled. If a majority of the congregation disagrees with the pastor, he may be asked to resign. At the very least, cards are often sent to pastors from disgruntled parishioners.
This hasn't stopped pastors like Dr. Kennedy who are focused on getting the message across. He often speaks boldly to his congregation from his Fort Lauderdale pulpit, calling his members out of their comfort zone. "A Christian must have a greater concern than simply for peace and prosperity ... for a Christian there must be more. In fact, if that is all we are concerned about, it is very unlikely that we are truly Christians at all."
For those willing to count the cost, Dr. Kennedy asks, "I wonder if some of our grandchildren aren't going to say when Roe v. Wade is overturned ... 'Granddaddy, what were you doing during the time of the American Holocaust? What did you do to stop it?'"
Not surprisingly, Dr. Kennedy gets his share of mail. "The only thing those cards tell me is that people do not understand what the Word of God is supposed to be accomplishing," he says.
Dr. John Huffman is another clergyman not afraid of bad reviews. In 2000 he boldly spoke from his pulpit at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church on the controversial Proposition 22 initiative, barring gay marriages from official recognition in California. He argues that to avoid these kinds of moral topics "is to turn the discussion over to those who are strongly committed to a position that is non-biblical and in fact anti-biblical."2
Pastor Mickey Creed, pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Stafford, Virginia, believes our nation's decline is directly related to relinquishing our biblical convictions. "I think the immorality we are dealing with in our country today goes right back to the sanctity of life. When we headed down the road to legalizing abortion it introduced a pattern. We now see children killing children. After all, how can you legalize death and then try to teach a society to respect life?"
So, where does a good pastor go to get resources on teaching life issues? Helping pastors educate themselves is what Pastor Paul T. Stallsworth and the National Pro-Life Religious Coalition had in mind, when they published The Right Choice: Pro-Life Sermons (Abington Press), and Thinking Theologically about Abortion (Bristol House). These books provide sermons and papers written by leading pro-life clergymen.
Pastor Stallsworth points out the best resource might already be sitting in front of the pastor on Sunday morning. "One of the keys is to let the people in the congregation step forward and become witnesses. In this way the pastor becomes the one who empowers the people to witness and speak to their experience, with Christ and abortion."
Giving your pastor a pro-life lift
Pastor Mickey Creed relies on one of his members to assist him with getting out the pro-life message. "He helps me keep up with an issue that would be easy to lose, because of everything else I deal with as a pastor. It also gives me someone in my congregation who shares my conviction and wants to see it happen."
How about you? Here are 10 ways you can be a "life buddy" for your pastor:
Keep your pastor on the cutting edge. Clip news articles on life issues and send them to your pastor.
Send web sites that have information on life issues.
Become a liaison with your local Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC), reporting special events and opportunities to serve.
Introduce your pastor to fundraising opportunities for your local CPC.
Host baby showers for moms in crisis pregnancies.
Pray with him on a regular basis regarding life issues.
Assist him with scheduling pro-life speakers to visit your church.
Take baby items donated by the congregation to your local CPC.
Help your pastor plan a special service in January for Sanctity of Life Sunday.
Read monthly reports regarding pro-life issues during the announcement time on Sunday.
Some clergymen worry about breaking the law and paying hefty penalties for taking a stand on political/ moral issues. Attorney John Whitehead from the Rutherford Institute gives these suggestions for avoiding political attacks:
You can educate but you can't advocate.
A tax-exempt organization cannot do anything on behalf of or against a candidate.
The pastor can have an opinion. He can say, "Right now I'm giving you my personal opinion, not my church's opinion."
Do talk on moral issues. Don't talk about particular legislation.
Be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. Teach moral principles and change the face of the world.
Be careful. Churches entering the political arena take a risk. An IRS audit can last one to five years, costing several thousand dollars.
American Life League: www.all.org
Baptists for Life: www.bfl.org
Concerned Women for America: cwfa.org
Lutherans for Life International: www.lutheransforlife.org
Orthodox Christians for Life: www.stmichael.org/OCL/OCL.html
Presbyterians Pro-Life: www.ppl.org
Lynne Thompson is a freelance writer. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
1 Quotations by Dr. D. James Kennedy are from a pamphlet entitled The American Holocaust by D. James Kennedy, published by Coral Ridge Ministries, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
2 The Bible, Homosexuality, and Proposition 22, by Dr. John A. Huffman, Jr., published by St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, California.