For the first time, Anglican Christians have presented a conference timed with the national March for Life aimed at mobilizing U.S. and Canadian churches to address sanctity of life issues.
Warning of a “tsunami” of state legislation and court rulings legalizing physician-assisted suicide “just over the horizon,” conference speakers sought to equip local churches to address problems like abortion or euthanasia in, or coming to, their communities. Unlike the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide in 1973, the Church is more aware of the perils of euthanasia and is better positioned to push back against laws allowing people to take their own lives, speakers argued.
“People care about abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide, but many do not know what to do about them or where to get started,” explained organizers Bishop John Guernsey of the Anglican Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic and Deacon Georgette Forney of Anglicans for Life.
Guernsey and Forney have organized groups of Anglicans and Episcopalians to participate in the annual March for Life for several years, but the conference, “Summit 2016: Mobilizing the Church for Life” broke new ground for Anglicans on January 21 with over a dozen teachings aimed at equipping local congregations. Registrants from more than 15 dioceses participated in the suburban Washington, D.C. event.
Guernsey and Forney cited the biblical mandate found in Isaiah 1:17 as central to the event: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
Beginning of Life
Conference speakers were encouraged by the direction of the Pro-Life movement and the increasing traction that they were witnessing in the public square.
“I don’t think there is a better example of Christian cultural engagement,” declared Summit speaker John Stonestreet of the Colson Center. Stonestreet pointed to statistics showing the Pro-Life movement getting younger and younger and to the development of ministries to assist post-abortive women. “The idea that no one will care for these children, or that Pro-Life people only care about life before birth, has been proven wrong.”
Stonestreet, a member of St. George’s Anglican Church in Colorado Springs, proposed that Christians do not operate issue-by-issue but present the Gospel story of life, “which is better than the secular story chapter-by-chapter.” Human equality, he argued, is based on something inside rather than exterior things — an understanding that is rooted in Christian teaching.
Summit participants heard from Carol Clews, the director of apregnancy center near Baltimore, and Dr. Kirsten Ball, a physician who operates a Pro-Life mobile medical clinic offering free ultrasounds to women in unplanned pregnancies near abortion facilities and college campuses.
Ministries to women who have experienced miscarriage and abortion were also highlighted.
“I’m a miracle — that the Lord could take the person I was and make me the person I am,” shared Rev. Peggy Means about God’s “transforming grace” working in her life to heal her following an abortion she sought as a young woman. Means, clergy at St. James Anglican Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, framed abortion aftercare not as a cultural or political issue, but more as a spiritual one.
“You’re a sinner with that big scarlet letter on your chest, and it doesn’t matter; we’re going to love you anyway,” Means said of her work withRachel’s Vineyard and the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.
Participants were encouraged to begin their efforts with prayer. David Bereit, with 40 Days for Life, told of building relationships with workers at abortion facilities.
“When they are ready, they come to you and that begins their journey out of the abortion industry,” explained Bereit. Since the mid-2000s, Bereit’s campaign has chronicled more than 11,000 unborn children scheduled to be aborted and ultimately spared from that fate.
Zina Hackworth, founder of a Pro-Life abstinence workshop for black adolescent girls, told of her conversion from an abortion proponent to Pro-Life educator, while Julie Kresal spoke about pregnancy loss through miscarriage and stillbirth.
“Nobody knows better what someone is going through than someone who has walked through it,” shared Kresal, who experienced infertility and miscarriage.
End of Life
Summit participants addressed physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia, hospice and palliative care.
“Assisted suicide denies the dignity of the person who is killed,” declared Summit speaker William L. Saunders, Jr., Senior Vice President for Legal Affairs at Americans United for Life (AUL). Saunders noted that autonomy and compassion are cited to justify physician-assisted suicide, but there are unintended consequences.
“Patients may feel not the right to die, but the duty to die,” predicted Dr. Allen H. Roberts II, Associate Medical Director at Georgetown University Hospital. “This is neither autonomy nor dignity.”
Roberts, who testified before the Washington, D.C. City Council against a proposed physician-assisted suicide bill, portrayed cost and convenience as the actual motivation to enact such laws.
Christen Krebs of the Catholic Hospice of Pittsburgh also shared about growing concerns over the cutting of services by for-profit hospices.
“This is the greatest moral issue of our time, and we must not remain silent,” insisted Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America. Beach spoke at a pre-March prayer service held at The Falls Church Anglican in Falls Church, Virginia, on January 22, the day following the Summit. Beach decried the “sacrificing of children to idols of materialism, convenience and sex.”
Beach also declared that “God is restoring a prophetic voice to Anglican Christianity” on life issues and spoke on Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow in Luke Chapter 18. In the parable, a widow persists in seeking justice from an unrighteous judge who eventually grants her request after tiring of her appeals. Christ explains that if the judge will give justice, surely the Lord will give justice to his elect “who cry to him day and night.”
“Let us not stop knocking on the unrighteous judge’s door,” Beach called on Anglicans.
Forney offered her testimony as a post-abortive woman.
“I could not stop the hurt, so I had to numb it,” Forney explained of her coping strategy following her abortion as a 16 year old. The Anglicans for Life Executive Director is one of several women who speak annually at the March in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building about regretting their own abortion. “For 19 years, I had denied what abortion had done — denied the life of my child.”
“There are those here who have had abortions,” said Beach. “God wants to heal and forgive you.”
First published at Juicy Ecumenism, reprinted here by permission of the author.