Rev. Rob Schenck: Why I Wasn't at the March for Life | Sojourners

Rev. Rob Schenck: Why I Wasn't at the March for Life

Activists march with banner thanking President Donald Trump for his support during the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 24, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

When I joined the pro-life movement over 30 years ago, I did so because its passion was for the sanctity of every human life and the dignity of every human person. I stood outside abortion clinics offering help to desperate women — from free diapers, medical and child care, to legal help adopting out babies. A number of women took up the offers with great gratitude. In that era, I believed the true heroes were these brave mothers and the people who helped them so selflessly. Over time, though, all this began to change.

For me, and for too many of my fellow pro-life activists, the excitement of social and political victories overtook our original sense of mission. We turned our focus to the courts, to the legislative chambers, and to the ballot box. Fighting a court case about our constitutional rights, passing a law restricting abortion access, and winning campaigns for “pro-life” politicians overshadowed everything. Desperate women and their babies faded into the shadows.

That wasn’t true for the whole movement, though. Day after day, month after month, year after year, armies of quiet, caring, and remarkably resourceful people labored to provide friendship, health care, babysitting, and legal services to women who, despite their impossible circumstances, gave birth and committed themselves to providing as best they could for the children they loved. And these good souls continue this work today without fanfare or media attention.

Meanwhile, my friends and I went to Washington and got drunk on political influence and reveled in our increasing triumphs at the highest levels of power. I soon forgot the women coming and going from abortion clinics and the people helping them. Instead, I saw only the next election, the next Supreme Court decision, the next news conference. It took a personal crisis for me to wake up to this reality and to set out on a path toward correcting it. The experience changed my views on the movement, the crisis of abortion, and even Roe v. Wade.

Then came 2016.

With the campaign of Donald Trump, the movement I once devoted my life to was swallowed up by a political leviathan. In Trump’s craven pursuit of power, prestige, and the adulation of the crowds, the once poster boy for a lifestyle of pleasure-seeking and self-absorption that required legalized abortion for its own preservation, offered a deal to pro-lifers: Sell out to me and I’ll sell out to you. You’ll get everything you want if you give me everything I want.

Many pro-life leaders I know entered into this Faustian pact — and that’s why they giddily cheered Trump when he took the stage at Washington’s annual March for Life. Joining him on site was one figure who, back in my day, was rarely seen at a pro-life event: Franklin Graham. I remember when my colleagues and I were furious with Graham and other national evangelical celebrities who couldn’t have cared less about the child in the womb. But at the march, Graham was feted as a hero only because of his sponsorship of Trump.

In the end, though, what really grieved me was how little this will do for the desperate women and children — born and unborn — and for the quiet, unassuming helpers who stand with them. At the same time, it will only advance Trump’s cruel agenda that includes separating families at the southern border, deporting people who have only known the U.S. as their home, cutting back social programs for the poor, and, now, interrogating pregnant women seeking tourist visas. It will also give Trump a false moral cover for his exposure during his impeachment trial. Trump’s shameless exploitation of the pro-life movement, his crass transactional abuse of the sacred, and his quid-pro-quo terms for the movement’s leaders (Give-me-religious-cover-and-I’ll-give-you-your-judges) will continue to cheapen and contaminate what was once pure, holy, and human.

Trump has used the March for Life for his own ends. The pro-life leaders who ceded the stage to him did a supreme disservice to the people for whom that stage was built. If life really is sacred, then everything around it should be kept sacrosanct.

I’m glad I sat out this march. I’m praying for a better day when we won’t rally around a flawed and cynical political master, but around our one and only Lord and Savior, Jesus, the Author of Life, who warns us:

“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and did not help you?”

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” — Matthew 25:41-46