Rev. John S. Sheldon, President of PPL Board of Directors
I don’t know when it became popular to raise awareness about various social or health issues by designating a particular month of the year for any given issue or heritage. In a quick online search, I counted over 100 different causes spread over the twelve months of the year. The month of October will be significant for the readers of this article since for the past several years it has been designated by the Roman Catholic Church in the United States as Respect Life Month.
Presbyterians Protecting Life (PPL) applauds this October designation. You might think such an emphasis is unnecessary. Do we really need to be told to respect human life? Sadly, we do. Human life, indeed, the human person is too often disrespected and devalued. As the 18th c. Scottish poet Robert Burns famously wrote,
“And man, whose heav’n-erected face The smiles of love adorn, Man's inhumanity to man Makes countless thousands mourn!”
Every generation needs to hear the revealed will of our Creator God so clearly given at the beginning of the human race: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27), and “… for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it’” (Gen. 9:5-7). Our Creator God commands us to value, respect, cherish, and nurture the human persons he creates and gifts with life!
PPL’s mission statement reads, compelled by the Gospel, PPL equips Presbyterians to champion human life at every stage. How can we champion, cherish, and value human life? Especially vulnerable human life like the developing embryo in his mother’s womb? Even though we can think of countless other ways to show respect for human life, surely respecting our tiny, embryonic neighbor in the womb is foundational. The Lord Jesus taught his disciples, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). It is not enough to refrain from doing harm to others. Jesus wants us positively to do for others what we wish they would do for us. When have we ever done for others all that we might hope others would do for us? None of us have ever measured up to this Golden Rule. We need God’s grace! Undeserved grace is exactly what God in Jesus Christ gave us in our Lord’s incarnation and atoning death for us on the cross. That is the gospel. Our response is gratitude. That is why PPL is compelled by the gospel to equip Presbyterians to champion human life—and especially vulnerable embryonic life—who need to hear the gospel someday, too.
October is Respect Life month. Start small, start personal, but just start respecting life. And then pray for God to multiply your efforts so that more Christians in our families, churches and networks of influence will champion life at every stage all year long!
How Can We Champion and Respect Life?
1. Begin with repentance to God for past disrespect of human life in whatever way God’s word defines disrespect. Remember God’s grace and forgiveness is far greater than your sin.
2. Ask Him to give you greater love for Jesus. In compassionate love he heals us and sets us free from our infirmities. Like the paralyzed man at Bethesda’s pool, Jesus mercifully commands us to get up and walk. So, we get up and keep in step with the Holy Spirit as he guides us through life. Respect for human life at every stage is keeping in step with the Author of life. The Evil One seeks to destroy human life and subvert the plan of God to give life and redemption. But Christ’s sovereign power in us is greater than the death-dealing works of the Devil in the world.
3. As you practice respecting human life, even beginning with the unborn, show patience with those who disagree with you. Remember it took you a while before you came to your pro-life conviction. Be confident in the truthfulness and authority of Scripture. Learn and practice the winsome ways to make the pro-life case.
4. Look for ways you can support efforts to care for mothers and their pre-born child. Mothers who are alone and unsupported feel helpless and often desperate but, when they know someone is willing to help them, they are capable of showing great heroism in defending life, especially the life of their child. You may feel your efforts to respect life are small and inconsequential. Offer your gifts anyway, in the Lord’s name, and leave the results to him. Remember how the Lord multiplied the small gifts of two fish and five loaves.
5. Be faithful in your calling to be a contributing citizen to your community by staying politically informed. Though there is no perfect policy or candidate out there, try to vote for candidates who will respect and cherish human life. It took almost fifty years for the Supreme Court to reverse Roe in the 2022 Dobbs decision. We think of all those pro-life citizens who never saw that great legal reversal, but they died faithfully working to build a more pro-life society. The present generation follows their example by faithfully working, persuading, and standing up for human life!
6. Be committed to your local church. Local churches are where the little platoons of Christians are equipped by the preaching of faithful pastors and the prayers of the saints to fulfill their various vocations in the world. And as the church members do their weekly work, trusting in the providence of God, their example of respecting human life—even the unseen unborn human life—will glorify God and bring hope to the discouraged.
7. Pray for your pastor and the leaders of your local church. Encourage them to publicly speak out against the sin of abortion and proclaim the grace of God to forgive and restore those involved in making the wrong choice. Defend and support your pastor if and when he does speak out. Have his back and let him know that a missional church will respect and cherish human life at every stage—especially the initial stage of fertilization, implantation, and embryonic development in the womb. That preborn baby and his mother need to be the object of our mission outreach, as well as those already born. We all need to be born again! Ask your local church’s mission/outreach committee to make a regular financial contribution not just to the local crisis pregnancy center but also to Presbyterians Protecting Life (ppl.org) as they seek to encourage and equip pastors, elders, congregations throughout our Presbyterian and Reformed communion to become champions for life!
"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere." (2 Corinthians 2:14, ESV)