"Can you imagine what our country would be like today if our churches did everything they could do?" That question came from Karen Cross, executive director of West Virginians for Life, at the 2004 National Right to Life Convention. She was speaking in one of several convention workshops on how to increase pro-life activism in the churches.1
Many Christian churches are already doing a great deal to save lives from abortion and euthanasia. They find shelter for pregnant women who need it; they send volunteers and donations to pregnancy aid centers. They help desperate people who might otherwise turn to suicide or euthanasia. Their ministers and priests address life issues from the pulpit. They lead their people on vigils at abortion clinics, lobbying trips to state legislatures, and the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. Some run voter-registration campaigns in their churches and urge congregants to vote for pro-life candidates only.
But Cross and her colleagues know that many pastors are uninvolved, that some are hostile to the pro-life cause, and that some are active on the other side. One of the convention workshops was called "We Are the Sheep ... Where Are the Shepherds?" Dennis Di Mauro of Lutherans for Life had many ideas for reaching the shepherds. Take your pastor to lunch, he advised; tell him why you are "passionate about pro-life"; and "suggest ways for him to get involved." Di Mauro stressed the importance of giving talks at regional church conventions and placing articles in denominational magazines. Involving church leaders in pro-life events, he remarked, is sometimes "as simple as asking them-and they're not asked."2
Rev. Frank Pavone-"Father Frank" to those who know him as leader of the Catholic group called Priests for Life-stressed the need to avoid busywork and to ask, "What needs to be done here to get us to the goal"-that is, "bringing down this abortion empire that we have in the United States?" Activists, he said, should target the abortions done in their own community. A church's first question should be: "Is there a killing center in the boundaries of this parish? And if not, where's the nearest one?" The surrounding parishes, he said, should work together against it.3
The pages that follow will describe Christian teaching against abortion and then show how, despite that tradition, abortion gained a stronghold in mainline Protestant churches. While officially "pro-choice," though, they include dedicated members who work to change their positions and are having some success. We will explore their work at length. In Part II, we will consider denominations officially on the pro-life side (Catholic, Orthodox, Southern Baptist Convention), whose local churches vary greatly in the attention they give to life issues. We will also take a look at historically African American churches and the Quaker community, whose members often feel pulled toward a pro-life stance by much in their tradition, yet pushed away from it by profound disagreement with conservative pro-lifers on other issues. And we will consider some things the pro-life movement might do to make more progress among the churches without being, in fact or perception, a wholly religious movement.
Faith of Our Fathers
The Christian tradition is strongly pro-child and anti-abortion. This is the ancient heritage of Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike. The ancient Psalmist prayed, "Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made" (Psalm 139: 13-14).4 The Scriptures say that the prophet Jeremiah, while still in his mother's womb, was chosen by God for special work: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you" (Jeremiah 1:5). There are similar passages about the prophet Isaiah and St. Paul (Isaiah 49:1 and Galatians 1:15). Both in the Old Testament and the New, people welcome children as gifts from God and signs of hope. …