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Working Ecumenically Paves the Way For An Effective Pro-Life Witness.

For 10 years, I had the privilege to serve as the pro-life director for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. One of the many joys of my work in our church's pro-life apostolate was the opportunity to collaborate with people of different denominations and faiths who shared a deep respect for the sanctity of human life.

It is the belief of Christians that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a pattern for all life. We look, then, even at the most tragic events with an expectation that God will draw forth new life. I believe that one of the blessings that God has raised up from the tragic evil of legalized abortion has been to bring together people of many different faiths, working shoulder to shoulder, to restore a reverence for the sacredness of human life.

In working with dedicated pro-life people from a variety of denominations, there was often a common concern regarding the best manner to engage those pastors and rabbis who had not manifested much interest in pro-life issues. Most frequently, the clergyman in question belonged to a denomination that was supportive of efforts to recover a respect for human life. It was usually not a question that the pastor did not accept church teaching on the sanctity of human life, but rather that among all the other demands competing for his attention, pro-life rarely became a priority.

My first advice was to pray for the pastor that the Holy Spirit would open his heart to recognize the needs of his people in areas pertaining to pro-life. I also urged concerned pro-lifers to pray for themselves that the Holy Spirit enlighten them how most effectively to awaken their pastors.

After this period of prayer for the pastors and for themselves, I suggested that they approach the pastor with an invitation to take the lead on a particular pro-life project. Before extending this invitation, I suggested that the parishioners reflect on what aspect of pro-life ministry the pastor seems to have the greatest interest.

In my experience, most pastors are naturally drawn toward the more "pastoral" elements of the pro-life movement's work. Often, you will find that they are very eager to provide alternatives to abortion.

Several years ago, a Lutheran pastor who was a member of St. Louis Clergy for Life developed a model for congregations to publicly identify themselves as a place of "refuge" for someone experiencing a crisis pregnancy. Many churches might choose to link with a local Birthright or another crisis pregnancy center and through them "adopt" an expectant mother and her child. I find pastors and parishioners often become very energized when they become engaged in helping an individual through a crisis pregnancy. In the process, they become much more aware of the plight of those babies whose mothers do not make it to the crisis pregnancy center.

Similarly, many pastors and rabbis are very open when asked to become involved in an outreach to those who have participated in an abortion and who now deeply regret their choice. Helping post-abortive parents face honestly the truth of abortion in light of the reassuring truth of God's mercy is often an eye-opening experience for a pastor. The opportunity to participate in a "Project Rachel" training seminar, or similar post-abortion ministry program, makes him keenly aware that the child is not the only victim of the abortion. Working through guilt and grief of post-abortive mothers, fathers, grandparents, and clinic personnel makes obvious how the scars of abortion cut across the entire society.

Sometimes clergymen shy away from preaching about abortion because of their concern for the pain that their sermon might occasion in those who have had an abortion. But when pastors, priests, and rabbis fail to speak up this allows the young and the vulnerable in particular to assume that abortion must not be "all that bad," since they never hear about this evil in their place of worship.

Often after pastors have become involved with a post-abortion ministry, they are keenly aware how tragic are the consequences when pastors fail to teach clearly and effectively about the evil of abortion. It becomes apparent to them that a failure to preach boldly about abortion can make parishioners vulnerable to choosing the "easy" solution to a personal or family crisis.

Moreover, being involved in the lives of post-abortive men and women may remove a pastor's or rabbi's nagging concern that he doesn't have the "right" to preach about abortion.

Another way to bolster clergymen's confidence in their ability to provide pastoral leadership on the life issues is to invite them to join you in attending pro-life educational and motivational events within the community. Providing them with information that can help them become thoroughly conversant with the life issues is another important way to offer assistance.

Here, I would counsel to be careful not to overwhelm pastors with a large volume of material. Select the material that will be the most helpful and most informative for the rabbi or pastor. Look for information that is concise enough to be able to be included in church publications or material that could serve as excellent illustration in a sermon or homily.

As you become better acquainted with your clergyman, there may be opportunities to influence his preaching. Some ministers are very concerned about the turmoil that preaching about abortion may cause with some members of the congregation. Help them realize that if you extend the principle not to preach about sins that directly impact members of the congregation, it results in preaching only about other people's sins.

When pastors have gained experience in post-abortion ministries they tend to find new opportunities for spiritual healing and pastoral counseling. As a result of their post-abortive ministry, some will decide to invite congregants who have participated in abortion to pray that this day's sermon may help save others from going through the pain and sorrow they know all too well.

Many pastors, priests, and rabbis are least comfortable with the political dimension of pro-life. Yet most appreciate that they have a responsibility to help form the consciences of their parishioners. If a pastor is doing his job in this area, he will help his congregation understand the moral importance of the issue and the priority it should assume in their selection of elected representatives.

A clergyman cannot from the pulpit tell the congregation to support a particular candidate. If he has done his job in helping the congregation understand the truth and importance of the life issues, parishioners will be able to make the proper applications with the choices presented to them.

Helping any individual better understand the life issues is well worth the investment of time and energy. But assisting a pastor or rabbi appreciate the importance for society will have an even greater impact, for in helping him incorporate pro-life into his pastoral ministry, we have not only influenced him, but we have also indirectly touched the many lives his ministry touches.
COPYRIGHT 1999 National Right to Life Committee, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Naumann, Joseph F.
Publication:National Right to Life News
Date:Jan 22, 1999
Words:1163
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