While trekking across the country from Chicago to Philadelphia the last weekend in March for Life Matters Journal’s one-day Life/Peace/Justice Conference, I thought I was pretty devoted to the consistent life ethic. Looking back, that’s nothing, at least compared to the witness of the speakers present. Add the rapt attention of the roughly 150 conference attendees, and you’ve got a small movement on fire with activism.
Abby Johnson, an outspoken pro-life advocate who was formerly a Planned Parenthood clinic director, tried to reschedule her flight after she had to cancel her original one after fainting. She’s in her third trimester of pregnancy and still wanted to be there. With little notice, Jewels Green replaced Johnson and delivered a beautifully moving speech about her own journey from abortion clinic counseling and work to pro-life activism.
Reverend Patrick Mahoney of Christian Defense Coalition has been arrested 63 times and said it’s his goal to have more arrests than years to his age. Some of the speakers had been involved in political campaigns that influenced their views on human rights. Others were brought into the movement through situations that impacted their personal lives. Still more just saw a void in the pro-life movement, especially in secular circles.
Each of the speakers had his or her unique path of coming to embrace the consistent life ethic, and so did the conference attendees.
Just as the consistent life ethic breaks through political party and religious barriers, the conference broke down barriers between pro-life celebrities and their followers, beyond the regular, impersonal communication possible through social media. Real-time, real life communication abounded at the conference.
For example, I saw pro-life film producer Jason Jones speaking with a conference-goer after the man had asked a question during Jones’ presentation about drone warfare. Overhearing the two of them devotedly talking about the issue for several minutes in the hallway really inspired me. The conference was immersed in this dedication to in-depth discussion about life issues, and it was especially obvious in that scene.
Several perspectives were raised throughout the day. Some speakers argued for complete pacifism, even to the point of saying that World War II was not a “just war” and that it could have been prevented if the German churches had acted immediately. Professor Robert Arner of Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia argued that resorting to violence in combating evil is a “lack of creativity.” Some conference attendees argued back, saying that force is sometimes necessary to quell aggressors, like in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The speakers made several calls for action, both large and small. Jones said getting both political parties on board to provide the vulnerable full legal protection was critical, since it’s impossible to do it without both parties’ cooperation. Mary Meehan of Human Life Review argued that the President needs to make an executive order to the CIA to not overthrow other governments. Shane Claiborne, a founder of Philadelphia’s The Simple Way, recommended that we focus on what we are for instead of what we are against. And Mahoney said we need reach out in practical, tangible ways and make an effort to build relationships.
Regardless of the intricacies of various perspectives, life issues are interconnected. As the speakers stressed, we need to hold a consistent pro-life position on each issue of the spectrum of situations. And we need to work together across political party lines and religious traditions to honor the dignity of each human person.