Thousands of pro-life activists gathered Friday for the annual March for Life on the National Mall. The event was heavily attended by members of religious institutions, Catholic school children, and evangelical Christians — but politics took center stage.
The Rose Garden event was part of a deliberate strategy to raise the visibility of anti-abortion protesters, who have complained they haven’t gotten as much attention as other Washington protests, including last year’s Women’s March — which specifically excluded women opposed to abortion.
Women's, LGBTQ rights, and other physician groups have expressed concern for the heavy implications on patients' access to abortion and treating LGBTQ patients.
“This is a system that is broken; we shouldn’t trust this system when we’re got the evidence to show that it doesn’t work,” said former Nebraska state Sen. Colby Coash. Nebraska was the first red state to abolish the death penalty.
With these words the pope is also reshaping what it means to be “pro-life.” He is moving it away from primarily opposing abortion and stressing that it means protecting life at every stage, from womb to natural death.
Donald Trump thanked conservative Christians for their votes, and promised to protect their values in his first commencement address as president, at evangelical stronghold Liberty University.
“In America, we don’t worship government, we worship God,” he said to raucous applause at the graduation, at the nation’s largest Christian university, on March 13, in Lynchburg, Va.
I went to the March for Life, mostly out of curiosity and a conviction to break out of my liberal bubble and some of my preconceived notions about pro-lifers. Instead, I was faced with a very bleak question: To be pro-life, do you have to support Donald Trump?
A week after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, throngs of anti-abortion marchers gathered near the White House to applaud his administration’s actions and his plans to support their cause.
Last week, organizers for the Women’s March on Washington encountered pushback on multiple sides for removal of pro-life sponsors, leading many to wonder if there was space in the movement for Christians or women who are opposed to abortion. But many who attended the march on Jan. 21 were driven there by their religious convictions — saying President Donald Trump’s positions “violate the gospel” by showing a lack of compassion for Muslims, people of color, and women.
A common misconception is that to be a pro-life Catholic, one simply has to be anti-abortion and anti-contraception. For years this “pro-life” definition has largely been unchallenged. That is, until recently.
A poll conducted in 2014 by the Public Religion Research Institute found a majority U.S. Catholics favor greater government involvement on economic issues via minimum wage increases, infrastructure investments, and universal healthcare. Furthermore, U.S. Catholics believe that to promote economic growth, the government should raise taxes. These aren’t just pro-growth policies, they’re pro-life policies.
Carl Anderson, leader of the Knights of Columbus fraternal order and one of the most influential lay Catholics in the church, has said that abortion outweighs all other issues in the presidential campaign and Catholics cannot vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights.
Abortion is not “just another political issue” but “is in reality a legal regime that has resulted in more than 40 million deaths,” Anderson told the Knights’ international convention in Toronto in a speech on Aug. 2.
The debate that began when students learned that Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards would speak at the nation’s oldest Catholic university continued when she received a standing ovation at Georgetown’s Lohrfink Auditorium. The media was not permitted inside, but students who heard her said she defended her organization’s stances and urged abortion opponents to respect those who think women should have choice in their reproductive decisions.
Donald Trump sparked outrage across the ideological spectrum with a call to punish women who obtain abortions if the procedure is banned. Later, however, Trump clarified his position, saying in a campaign statement that, if abortion is banned, “the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb.”
SITTING AT A DINING-ROOM TABLE full of fellow evangelical pastors, I asked how many were “carrying” (a euphemism for being armed with a concealed handgun). They all raised their hands. Then I asked, “What determines when you draw your gun and prepare to shoot another human being?” There was awkward body language and mumbling. After a few seconds passed, one older man said, “I’ll tell you what determines whether I draw the gun or not. It’s the man’s skin color.”
I was left speechless by the pastor’s jarring, blatant racism. Still, as respectfully as possible, I asked him to please clarify what he meant.
“Well, we got a big city nearby, and, you know, the black people there are always killin’ people. Now, if a colored man comes into this county, I know he means trouble because he knows he doesn’t belong here. That makes him more dangerous than a white man. That’s why I’d pull my gun.”
The man who was speaking, and the others nodding their heads in agreement, are my colleagues. I am one of them when it comes to a statement of faith—but not when it comes to race and guns.
‘Surrendering my life to Christ’
When I speak of evangelicals, I am speaking of my own. I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ as my lord and savior 42 years ago. I attended an evangelical Bible college and seminary and was ordained as an evangelical minister. I poured myself into evangelism and disciple-making. Today I’m a missionary to top government officials in Washington, D.C., and I chair one of the oldest associations of evangelical clergy in the country. I love my Lord, I love his people, and I love doing God’s work.
AT FIRST GLANCE, Abigail Disney’s documentary The Armor of Light seems straightforward: It’s about guns and escalation of mass shootings in the U.S. But at its core, the film looks at the complicated relationship between evangelical Christianity and this country’s gun culture. It is just as much about theology as it is about politics.
The film follows the story of Rob Schenck, a conservative evangelical minister whose strong pro-life views about abortion are at the center of his work and advocacy on Capitol Hill. But with each instance of gun violence he hears about, Schenck becomes convinced that calling himself pro-life rings hollow without a critical look at our gun culture. He can no longer ignore the association of guns with evangelical Christianity.
Schenck’s story intersects with that of Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. In 2012, Davis, a black teenager, was shot and killed at a Florida gas station in a dispute over the volume of his music. The man who fired the shots, a 45-year-old white male, tried to justify his actions by the “stand your ground” law, explaining he felt threatened by the presence of Davis and his three friends. In response to the death of her child and the following legal battle, McBath became involved in gun-control advocacy.
Coming to the issue from different paths, McBath and Schenck find themselves both allies and foils. McBath, the mother whose son was murdered for being black and present, identifies as pro-choice, while Schenck gained national attention for protesting women’s health clinics in the early 1990s in Buffalo, N.Y.
This already has the makings of a compelling story, but the film hits its stride not in character development but in the theological questions it poses. In addition to discussing the effects of gun violence on those who are killed, Schenck questions what this pervasive gun culture does to those who defend it.
He pushes against the platitude “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” asking who can definitively categorize others in such black-and-white terms. Likewise, the film asks why so many Christians seem to place more trust in a piece of metal than in God. McBath tells Schenck, “We have replaced God with our guns as the protector.”
For the past five years, Catholic priest Bill Carmody led a weekly Mass in the parking lot of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility where a gunman killed three people Nov. 27.
In fact, Carmody had been in the parking lot with a handful of protesters that very morning, and he learned about the shooting after he’d left, when people texted him to make sure he was not hurt.
“I am absolutely heartbroken about this,” he said on Nov. 30.
“I’m against all violence, and whether you’re in the womb or outside the womb, killing’s wrong.”
More than half of churchgoers who have had an abortion (52 percent) say no one at church knows it. Nearly half of women who have had an abortion (49 percent) say pastors’ teachings on forgiveness don’t seem to apply to terminated pregnancies.
“That tells you the environment of the church,” [Scott] McConnell [of LifeWay Reseach] said. “You can’t say you’ve had an abortion, you can’t say you’re considering one — it’s completely taboo to discuss.
“But when a woman is willing to publicly acknowledge she’s had an abortion in the past, she will sometimes be approached by several other women in the church who’ve never been willing to share with anybody that they too have had an abortion. It’s incredibly freeing for them.”
Nearly a quarter-century after its last major ruling on abortion created a fragile balance between women’s rights and government restrictions, the Supreme Court appears ready for a rematch.
And like the last time, the debate would unfold in the midst of a presidential election.
The first act could play out as early as Nov. 13, when the justices may decide whether to hear a challenge to tough new limits placed on abortion clinics and doctors in Texas. The restrictions — forcing doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and requiring clinics to measure up to outpatient surgery centers — threaten to leave the state with just 10 clinics clustered in four population centers and along the Mexican border.
Schenck, the Washington-based leader of the Faith and Action ministry, has been known for his anti-abortion work for three decades. In the new documentary The Armor of Light, which releases Oct. 30 in more than 20 cities nationwide, he is first seen as many know him: carrying a preserved fetus in his hands at a rally in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1992.
But after personally seeing the bodies of the Amish schoolchildren prepared for a funeral after being gunned down in 2006, he began to realize he needed to care more about life outside the womb, too.
Schenck, 57, credits two other catalysts that led him to devote half his time to the issue of gun violence. He lives in the neighborhood of the Washington Navy Yard, where a shooter killed 12 people in 2013. And he was encouraged by Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, an unarmed black Florida teen killed in 2012, to speak out.