Standing for Life in the Church: Practical Pro-Life Strategies for Local Churches in a Post-Roe World

Human DignityImage of God

Melissa Kruger: Hi there, my name is Melissa Kruger, and I’m so excited to welcome you to this panel. We are going to be talking about standing for life in the Church, and we’re going to be looking at practical pro-life strategies for the Church in a post-Roe world. And that’s a little phrase that we’re so happy to be able to celebrate today, life in a post-Roe world. 

And we have this wonderful panel, and what I’d love to start by doing is just introducing you all to our audience. And maybe we’ll start at the very back. We’ll start with you and we’ll go down here and we’ll introduce yourself, and maybe tell us a little bit about what you do.  

Walter Kim: Great. Thank you. I’m Walter Kim. I serve as President of the National Association of Evangelicals. I live in Charlottesville, Virginia. Our offices are here in D.C. And we connect various denominations and non-profit Christian organizations.  

Samantha Golden: Hi, my name is Samantha Golden, and I serve on staff at Gateway Church and also on the board of Embrace Grace. 

  1. Lynn Smith: I am T. Lynn Smith. I’m the Secretary for the National Board of Trustees for the Church of God in Christ. Our headquarters is in Memphis, and I reside in Atlanta. 

Georgette Forney: Hi, I’m Georgette Forney, President of Anglicans for Life, and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. We work internationally with Anglicans worldwide, and I reside and our base operations are in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Melissa Kruger: Well, it’s so good to have you all. My name is Melissa Kruger, and I serve as the Vice President for The Gospel Coalition. And we work in a lot of discipleship in the local church. And so, this is definitely a discipleship issue in the local church. And we all love the local church, and we care about resourcing the local church. 

And what I love about what each of you are doing. It’s different. Everybody’s serving in unique ways, but it’s all for the same end, which is to encourage life, a culture of life in our world and in our churches. And so, Walter, I want to start with you. And I just want to ask if you can, you lead in a lot of different areas with a lot of different denominations with the National Evangelical Association. 

How do you see a collective effort among churches? How have you seen that in the past? How do you see that happening now? And can you give us some encouragement about ways that you’ve seen that working well?  

Walter Kim: Thank you, Melissa, for asking that question. So, within the NAA, there are 40 different denominations, and I’ve mentioned scores of Christian institutions, educational institutions, non-profits that are engaged. 

And one of the things that we do is to create a holistic ecosystem of life, not merely an ethic of life, that includes educational initiatives, biblical resources, sermon ideas that are shared within the network and between denominations and encouragement for the pursuit of an ethic that is deeply grounded in Scripture. It covers life from the womb to the tomb, and a whole life.  

But there’s also areas of advocacy that we are seeking to galvanize the Church. And in a post-Roe world, the job of advocacy is not done. And again, the advocacy needs to entail a whole life approach. It’s not simply what happens within the womb, though that is absolutely critical to a holistic understanding of the value of life, but what happens after birth. How are families being cared for? What kind of advocacy for the flourishing of family could we pursue?  

And so that’s part of the work that we do. But what we see in local churches, whether Pentecostal or Presbyterian, whether Baptist or Brethren or Anglican, the number of initiatives that are holistic, that includes adoption and foster care testimonies, support groups in churches, the development of collaborative efforts in Pregnancy Resource Centers, counseling that exists both pre and post-natal counseling that is essential to create this kind of ecosystem that supports life. 

Personally, I have a daughter with Down syndrome. And one of the most powerful ways in which churches create this ethic and ecosystem of life is, how do we treat the most vulnerable among us? And this issue of supporting families with disabilities is another very practical way that we see churches really moving forward in a more comprehensive approach to life that is both the ethics of it, but the ecosystem.  

Melissa Kruger: That’s a really beautiful way to say it, to have ecosystems that support life in the local church because I think about my church that I was involved in for so long. It had a really vibrant adoption, just group of women, just tons of families who had adopted children. And that came with needs that were different. So not everyone was called to adopt, but we were all called to help families that had adopted. And so, it was a, maybe I’m going to watch your kids while you go for two weeks to a foreign country, because that’s a big calling to leave and to bring a child home, but to say, I love life this much. And we’re going to be a whole church that does this, not just certain people in the church. But that we try to create those ecosystems. I love how you worded that.  

  1. Lynn, I’m going to move to you now. Is that okay? What would it look like in the Church for churches that don’t usually worship together necessarily, but what would it look like for them to come together and really be a force for good in the pro-life movement? How could we do that better as churches? So, we have individual ecosystems in our local church, but how can the Church universal come together and really work for good together? 
  2. Lynn Smith: As you were talking, my initial response is for some, it’s going to be amazing and for others, it’s going to be a nightmare.

But it’s not necessarily about us coming together physically, but it’s about us coming together with our resources. It’s about us coming together as a coalition to serve the greater good. And so what are some things that we can do?  

We can certainly educate our congregations on issues surrounding abortion, make sure they understand and they know what the downside is and that there are certainly alternatives. 

We could also encourage them to get involved in pro-life advocacy and volunteering at local pregnancy places so that, as you talked about, we have this ecosystem where we’re all participating in the life.  

The other thing is we can certainly, and we don’t hear much about this, but you actually did it. We can organize prayer groups and certainly because we are the church, we don’t necessarily talk about, let’s have prayer, but prayer can certainly move someone from one decision to the next. And so we can certainly organize peaceful prayer vigils and protests so that people understand this is where we are as the church, the local church. 

We can certainly provide support for pregnant women and families in need, such as in our offerings, in our coming together as the church, because oftentimes people just need to know that someone cares. And if I extend myself and let you know that, “Listen, I really care about what you’re going through,” that goes a long way and that will help me in my decision making.  

The other thing is, we can certainly speak life into every person, even though we’re not working or worshiping together physically, we can all speak the same language and that language is life. Christ came that we might have life and have it more abundantly, but at the same time, the life that you save is a life worth saving. 

Melissa Kruger: That’s beautiful, and there is human dignity in every life. And so, we definitely, we want to guard that in the womb, but you’re right. We want to treat others with the dignity that they are created in the image of a God. And so, that’s so important that just even in our daily interactions with people, as we go around, just our daily activities, going to the grocery store, doing whatever, that we treat one another with dignity. 

That’s how we can value life on a very practical weather, way, excuse me, as a very practical way as a church. And even in our interactions with each other when we disagree, to still look at someone as a wonderful, created in the image of God, and that’s really important  

  1. Lynn Smith: And remember, we’re supposed to love others as we love ourselves. And so certainly we love ourselves. And so, if that shows in how we treat others, then that goes a long way. And then we are certainly answering the call and doing what the command says, love others as we love ourselves.

Melissa Kruger: That’s so good. That’s good. So, we’ve talked a little bit about ecosystems within individual churches. We’ve talked about the broader Church.  

Georgette, I want to ask, can you share a little bit of this from a person, your personal experience and how that has impacted you? We’ve talked about it locally. We’ve talked about it broadly. And can we talk about it a little bit personally?  

Georgette Forney: Yeah, I’m happy to. It’s always a little awkward, but I was 16 years old when I had an abortion and it, it was just something that I didn’t want to do, but I didn’t want anybody to know I was sexually active. Everybody said this would make my problem go away. Sixteen year old, did not at that time in 1976 have to have a parental consent or anything. 

So, I had an abortion. And for 19, I remember immediately afterwards, it was a Saturday when I had my abortion. And I went to my sister’s, and I spent the night. And I woke up the next morning, and I was crying, and I couldn’t stop crying. But I was really relieved at the same time that my problem was gone, and I remember getting dressed. 

And I couldn’t stop crying and I thought I’ve got to get it together because I’m going home to see my mom and she didn’t know anything about any of this. And I thought yesterday was just a bad dream. It didn’t really happen. And for 19 years I lived in that layer of denial.  

And it was a very just bizarre experience 19 years later that broke me out of my denial because I knew in my head that I had an abortion, but I never allowed myself to think about what I aborted, who I aborted. And it was like the Lord just allowed me to finally come face to face with the truth that it was a child. And while it was awful, it, in breaking me out of my denial, that was the start of the healing. And that allows you to start grieving. And once you start grieving the humanity of your child, you start to allow yourself to feel all of the emotions.  

Fortunately, I had a dear friend who had told me that she had an abortion. And I remember we were with a group of women and we were doing a Bible study. And I said, “Oh, I had an abortion when I was 16. It was no big deal. Get over it.”  

And I thought I said something really brilliant, and the rest of the women kind-of exchanged looks. But what I didn’t know is they started praying for me that day. And it was six months later that I broke out of my denial.  

So, one of the things people always say to me is, “You know, I have a sister who had an abortion, and I know it’s really bothering her, but what can we, what can I do for her?” 

So, I always say pray, because God works through our prayers to help people. And then it was very interesting because my friend who had said that she had an abortion and I told her to get over it, she was going through a healing program. So now here I am, six months later, crying my eyes out. 

I call her, she shows up at my house, and she just wept with me and she gave me permission to cry and to grieve. And that’s what I needed because I felt guilty because I had made that decision myself. So, I needed that permission. I needed somebody to say, “It’s okay to cry for your child. It’s okay to grieve.” 

That led me to sharing my testimony at my church. I was shocked by the number of women and men for weeks sent me cards and notes, would hug me and whisper in my ear. And I realized it was very common, but nobody was talking about it. So that’s why we ultimately started the Silent No More Awareness campaign because we knew we had to talk about it.  

And in the church, what’s hard is that everybody has a fear of judging, of being judged by one another, and 2, while we all know we’re sinners, nobody wants to identify our own particular sins. So, to stand up, and Silent No More is about publicly sharing our testimonies. We do it to help others know that healing resources, healing programs that walk you through the emotions, that walk you through the grieving, they are available nationwide, worldwide to help people.  

And what’s great about them is they’re all founded in the gospel. So, when, at the end of the process, you have a believer that’s been discipled, that has dealt with some critical issues, and oftentimes it will unpack other critical issues that need to be dealt with. 

And so, we have a believer who is now getting healing and being restored to all that they, God was, God had created them to be. That is the real miracle to watch happen. And so that’s what we get to be a part of. And as the Church, we need to be promoting the abortion… we call most of the programs abortion aftercare programs, abortion recovery programs. So we need to be promoting them.  

If you know of a group in your area, put signs up in the ladies bathrooms, or put a note up with a picture frame that says, “If you’ve ever had an abortion, call support after abortion.org. Check out the resources for help.” We can do very simple things. 

But if we stand up in the pulpit and proclaim that abortion is wrong, we also need to remember to proclaim that those who had abortions are wrong, that it is a forgivable sin. I remember thinking on Sanctity of Life Sunday, when I became a Christian and I started attending a church and they would do Sanctity of Life Sunday, I would want to melt into the carpeting somehow or another become invisible. 

But what did I do? I would go home after church and start drinking to numb that pain that had crept up. I think that the Church has an awesome role to play in upholding the sacredness of life. And I believe if we all came together and we all got people every day doing something to uphold the sanctity of life, we could show the world, change the world, to show what we really can do. 

God’s Church is supposed to be changing the world, and in essence, the world is changing God’s Church, and it’s time for us to stop, and it can really happen on the life issue.  

Melissa Kruger: I just love the image of your church coming around you in so many ways. Even the Sanctity of Life Sunday that led you to an unhealthy way of dealing with it. But at the same time, the church surrounding you led you to a good way of dealing with it later with lament. And that’s kind of a forgotten thing, I think, sometimes in our churches. We don’t just lament that hard things happen. We lament our wrong choices. We lament, when you look at the prophets of old, they lamented the sin. 

David came before the Lord, “Against you, and you only have I sinned, Lord.” That’s something we all need to be, we need to be all, on a regular basis, lamenting and confessing before the Lord. And the Church has words for that. Our culture doesn’t have words for that, but our Church does because we have the mercy and grace of Christ to meet us in our lament. 

Georgette Forney: Amen.  

Melissa Kruger: And so we have good news. We have good news to share, but we also have good ways to process grief. And I think that’s sometimes lost in the larger culture, we just stuff things because we don’t want to deal with them.  

Georgette Forney: And I think that is even something that we need to think about at end of life. Right now, we have ten states that have legalized assisted suicide. North of us in Canada, we have medical aid in dying, that now is for anyone over the age of 21, I believe. And not just for the terminally ill. And so, we have to be talking about death. Think about the fact that as the Church, we have the greatest product for death! Eternal life! So, we have to be both at the beginning of life and at the end of life, proclaiming the truth. That the gospel is real, Jesus forgives, and you spend eternity somewhere, heaven or hell. We want you to spend it in heaven. And we want our elderly to know that’s for them as well as for our unborn. 

Melissa Kruger: Yeah, we have rich good news. Yes, where, oh death, is your sting? We have rich good news. We have rich good news.  

Samantha, I loved getting to go on the website of Embrace Grace and see a little bit about the work that you’re doing. Can you share about the love boxes and what Embrace Grace is doing for women and to help the Church care for women?  

Samantha Golden: Yes, I would. This is one of my favorite things to talk about. Love Boxes are an amazing way for the Church to get involved. They’re, you can do events that are called Share the Love. And you get these boxes and you get to assemble them as a community. But the beautiful thing about these boxes is there’s a onesie in it that says Best Gift Ever. 

And then you also get a book that’s called, A Bump in Life, which is just testimonies of women that were facing an unplanned pregnancy and how God showed up for them. And just like you were sharing, when we tell our stories, when we tell our testimony, it breeds faith in the air to say, “Do it again, God.” 

And it just, it gives you hope. So, reading that I’ve heard so many girls saying, reading that book is what inspired them and gave them the courage, and then you also get to write a letter to and it’s called, A Brave Girl. And so, you’re cheering this girl on for choosing life, and then praying over them. When you have these parties after you assemble the boxes you pray over them and then you donate them to local pregnancy centers. But also in each box is an invitation to an Embrace Grace group, and an Embrace Grace group is a 12 week group where these moms are coming together. 

It’s a, it is just a beautiful picture of the heart of the Father the whole way through. You’re loving them. You’re taking them through freedom and they’re getting, it says, ” It’s grace and truth over time that leads to change.” And what we’re getting to do when we host these groups is we’re creating an environment of grace and truth. And As believers, we’re responsible for the environment we create, but it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to show up and bring the transformation. 

And it’s trusting the process and trusting that the Lord, He is good, He sees these girls and His heart is for them. And when you encounter love. That’s what changes you. We can share the Scripture, but if we’re not sharing the love, the Scripture doesn’t it, it falls on deaf ears. 

And as a church, setting these environments to really love, and knowing that it takes time. I’ve been doing Embrace Grace at Gateway since it started. I was our single parent pastor at the time, so Amy Ford was doing the group on Monday nights, which we had a single parent night. And some of these girls have come through it twice. 

And I have had members say, “Are you going to let her go again?” And I’m, every time I say, “Yes, every child is a gift, and we will celebrate every birth.” And if she came here three times, four times, we’re going to celebrate every baby’s birth because every baby’s worth celebrating and at the same time continue to discipleship the woman. 

But what we have to understand is so many of these women have backgrounds of trauma. And we have to have… One of the things that you said that I felt like is so true is, when we share our stories, the thing that have kept us in bondage, the shame that has kept us silent, shame cannot survive once it’s received empathy. And we have to create safe environments for people to share their story because once they receive empathy, once they receive the love, that shame loses the power that it’s had over their lives. 

So Embrace Grace is a wonderful tool to help create those environments and everything you need is online. Embrace Grace comes alongside when you start a group. They actually have group coordinators that call and check on you. They coach you through, they have ongoing training so it’s not like you just start a group and you’re on your own. They’re going to get in the trenches with you.  

Georgette Forney: I can testify. We have a number of Anglican churches, because we had Amy come and speak at one of our events. And I, it’s so fun to get calls now, because they’re saying, “Oh, we’ve started a group, and here’s what’s happening.” And you get this encouragement. I love being able to cross over and work with you guys on that. Churches love it. It’s a great program.  

  1. Lynn Smith: And let me add something as well. As we embrace the young women, whether they come once, twice, three times, how can we judge them or say no when Christ forgives us 20 times, 30 times? And so we just have to model, like you said, the love. It’s all about the love. If we are the Church, and we are, then we’ve got to model the love that Jesus modeled.

Melissa Kruger: And one thing I have to say to myself a lot because I don’t know, I think we all have faced this. We all find ourselves caught in sins that we feel like, “I should have outgrown this by now.” And I remember just one day having to confess again to the Lord about things that, I’ve been walking with the Lord for 30 years and I’m tired of my sin. 

And it was just this wonderful, Spirit-led moment where I just felt the Spirit saying to me, “You do not outgrow your need of grace.” And I want to not need Jesus. And I will always need Jesus from the womb to the tomb. And so will everyone. And so, I think we treat them with that love. 

And I love what you said just this week. I was just reading again. What’s the greatest commandment? Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and soul and strength. And what’s the second? Love your neighbor as yourself. And I was thinking, the command is to love God and love my neighbor. Both are rooted in love. And can we, as the church. 

Georgette Forney:  And remember J. I. Packer, a great theologian said, “When you have a pregnant woman, you have two neighbors.”  

Samantha Golden: And the truth is when we love that woman and we love her child, we’re seeing generational change. And one of the things that I’m very conscious of is some of these women, they may not get to where I would love for them to be. 

But what I want is for their kids to remember church is where they felt loved. And when they grow up and they find themselves in a place that they never thought they would be, that church would be the first place they think about going to, not the last place. We get to change generations. That’s what’s so beautiful about the work that we’re doing. 

Georgette Forney: And Lifeway Research Institute did a study back in 2015 of women who had an abortion but had been in a church within 30 days prior to having the abortion. And the question was, “Why didn’t you ask for help?” And fear of judgment was the number one reason.  

So I think that helping our churches check judgment, and Embrace Grace is such a great example of how to do that because you educate the church community about the needs of the woman so they stop looking at her and start seeing her as a mom and not looking at her as a woman that’s gotten pregnant out of wedlock.  

Samantha Golden: Yeah, and I think it’s easy to judge someone that you haven’t sat down and had a conversation with them. And when you sit down and have a conversation with someone, the one that you previously had judged, you now have compassion for because they’ve become human. It’s not just something, it’s not just a people aren’t statistics, correct? 

Melissa Kruger: Yeah, we tend to look at statistics and we’re like, “Oh, we need to stop this,” but we just, we need to love people in a lot of ways.  

One last question for you, Walter. I want to just ask again, as the pro-life, and we’re going to be moving to a more state and local level, how can denominations that are so diverse come together? Now we’re going to have diverse fights almost in different states with different things going on, how can we learn from one another and still work together, even though the landscape might be a lot more diverse now as we’re looking at different states and different laws and that’s, there are 50 of them now. How can the Church still work to equip people in the local church as we think through these larger issues on a different scale now?  

Walter Kim: Yeah, as the situation moves to regional and local areas, then the dynamics of the Interpersonal relationships that’s already been described become all the more important, because you have the opportunity now to localize the effort. 

And that means working across denominations, churches, because, again, coming back to the ecosystem, while there might be moral clarity about what we believe the value of life to be in the womb, or at the end of life, or at every stage of varying abilities, while there is moral clarity, there’s exceeding complexity on how to support that family, the differences between suburbia and communities of color and what might be happening in an urban 

location, they’re quite different. And the challenges and the expressions of what it means to support issues of life manifest themselves quite differently. I think of a school project that a church in Boston that had the privilege of working with this local school on helping them with their science fair. 

And one of the projects entailed hearing stories of students in fourth grade share about their lifelong ambitions. And one student would share about how one had become a basketball player, another wanted to become a doctor, and I distinctly recall hearing this one story of a student who said, “I want to go to college,” but what the student said next was so heartbreaking. “I want to go to college so I can get a job so I can have enough to eat.”  

How could this be in America? How can we create the conditions in which parents can bring a child into this world with support, economic support? What are we doing to support family leave policies? What are we doing to support early education? How are the social workers being supported in our neighborhood as they’re having to care on the front line, Christian and non-Christian, on the front lines with families in crisis making critical decisions?  

And what might appear to us as, okay, that’s an issue over there. It’s disconnected to the pro-life movement. It really isn’t, because what we’re talking about is creating a network, an ecosystem, support, and it takes a village to support the raising of a child. That’s the essence of the Church. That’s why God gave us this metaphor of family. We are brothers and sisters. He’s communicating something very essential of human identity, not only created in His image, created in His image to live in community, best represented by being brothers and sisters in Christ, His fatherhood, the deep nature in which we are contextualized in this.  

And that requires us to represent Jesus to the world as a person not of hostility and shame, but of profound hospitality. How He can say to the one caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. But go and sin no more”? How he can say to Zacchaeus, “Salvation has come to this household” and yet call him to a life of restitution? 

This is extraordinary. This combination of truth and grace. And we’re going to need all of us in various ways engaged with one another recognizing that God has given the Church multiple gifts. And when we’re, when we look at a nail and we’re the hammer, we think that’s the only tool that’s needed in the toolbox. But you need screwdrivers, you need wrenches, you need all, sandpaper, you need all, then you need the interior decorator to come in and design. You need it all.  

And that kind of full toolbox in the pro-life movement is absolutely necessary. We spend too much time criticizing the screwdriver when we’re the hammer, recognizing we need to recognize that the whole body of Christ, the whole toolbox needs to be employed. 

Samantha Golden: I love what he says because the hand of government can never do what the heart of God can. And what people need, it’s heart transformation. And that’s something only God can do.  

  1. Lynn Smith: And, what you described is, this is not a one-stop shop, that every community needs something different. And as we go into it, we have to go in recognizing that this community may need this, but this community might need something different.

And so don’t go in thinking that I can fix it with my church because we’re in this community, but more so allow the hand of God, allow the mind of God to lead us so that we’re open to seeing what the community needs and then providing what the community needs.  

Melissa Kruger: I’m gonna take that as just a wonderful way to end things, and I think what I hear from what all of you are saying is this is a real call for discernment. 

And how do we get discernment? We begin by praying. And so, I think wherever you are in whatever church context you’re in, we can pray that the Lord would give us wisdom in our particular context to know how should we live this out before the watching world. And it really is a witness to say, every life matters. 

Every life has dignity, and we are going to do everything we can to love our neighbor as ourself. And so that’s what we’re hoping to do. And it’s, I think it’s a beautiful array of watching the way the Lord does it through lots of different churches and lots of different ministries. And we can just rejoice in that and pray and ask God to lead us to love life and to share that life with the culture around us. 

Thanks for being here.