I recently spent several days at the Evangelicals for Life Conference in Vienna, Virginia (held in mid-January). It was the fourth annual convening of the event that is hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) as a lead up to the March for Life rally.
These are both groups that I spent my childhood around and feel quite familiar with, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear just how much their messaging had evolved in recent years. Too often in today’s society, “pro-life” really just means anti-abortion, and groups professing to be pro-life do not grapple with conversations that extend past the birth issue, such as racial equality, how we treat people in our justice system, and the death penalty.
Not true for the ERLC and NAMB. The wide array of speakers at this conference covered topics ranging from abortion to adoption and fostering. Panels tackled criminal justice reform, immigration, and racial justice. Over and over I heard the top leaders in the evangelical world affirm principles that I have always known to be true, but have seldom heard my religious leaders speak to.
The driving message of the conference was human dignity, a concept that the ERLC has done a wonderful job delivering in recent years. A core belief of Christianity is that all humans have worth and dignity, that dignity cannot be taken away by their age, position in life, or even what they have done, because that value, that innate dignity, comes from being a child of God. It is not something you can earn or lose.
At Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, we also believe that every person’s life has value, even people who have committed harm. We believe that every person can be restored.
At the conference, several speakers delivered strong points on the subject of racial justice. One panel touched heavily on the overt racial bias found in the criminal justice system, and multiple panels discussed the need for white evangelicals to educate themselves on issues that burden their brothers and sisters in Christ of other races. True communion means being involved enough in the lives of others that we are not only familiar with their problems, but strongly empathetic towards them.
In my work, the presence of racial bias in the criminal justice system, and particularly in the death penalty system, is an issue that weighs heaviest on me. It is simply a fact that in this country, we value lives differently. We value the lives of those who commit a crime differently based on their social status, skin tone, and monetary means, and we do the exact same thing to crime survivors.
This is a fact that I often see conservatives and evangelicals shy away from, which is somewhat understandable. Talking about racial issues is difficult. But it’s also imperative that we do so. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to what our government is continuing to perpetrate against people of color.
As a Christian, I left the Evangelicals for Life Conference extremely encouraged and proud to wear the label of my religion. I also left with a renewed commitment to my work to fight for justice and equality for all lives, with the hope that the ranks of Evangelicals committing themselves to those same principles will continue to grow strong.
Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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