A series of programs at Samford University April 22-23 provided dialogue on topics of sanctity of life and what it means to be Catholic and Evangelical.
Visiting lecturer Francis J. Beckwith, author of Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion, led a public forum on the sanctity of life and participated with Dr. Timothy George, dean of Samford’s Beeson Divinity School, in two discussions on being Catholic and Evangelical.
Sanctity of life is one of three issues addressed in the Manhattan Declaration, said George, who was one of three initial signers of the document last Fall.
The document, now signed by more than 440,000 persons representing many faith groups, also speaks in defense of the dignity of marriage and religious liberty for all people. Those topics will be addressed in future programs at Beeson, said George, but sanctity of life was chosen for the first forum because it so clearly “cuts across all communions and disciplines.”
While sanctity of life involves issues other than abortion, it is abortion that is the basis for the others, Beckwith told the forum audience in Hodges Chapel on Friday, April 23.
Identifying reason, law and nature as key aspects of abortion dialogue in the public square, Beckwith said that “Every popular argument for abortion rights fails,” citing economic inequality and prevention of child abuse, among others.
A main question in the abortion debate, he said, isn’t just about abortion, but is about human beings. “At the end of the day, the abortion debate is about who and what we are,” said Beckwith, professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University.
The forum included remarks by respondents David M. Smolin, professor and director of the Center for Biotechnology, Law and Ethics at Samford’s Cumberland School of Law and Jacquie Stalnaker, executive director of Ignatius Productions, a Catholic media production apostolate.
Smolin said one thing the pro life movement has learned since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion is that the focus cannot be only on the unborn child.
“It must also be on the mother and father, and others connected to the child,” he said, adding that the decrease in abortions in the decades since the decision was accomplished by focusing on those relationships.
Smolin said he believes adoption has proved to be a failure as an alternative to abortion, and that women who have given up a baby and then changed their mind about abortion are a “neglected population.”
“If we use adoption as an alternative, we must re-think it in that a woman who gives up a child is always a mother, and churches need to understand that,” he said, calling for a greater pastoral approach to such issues. “God is teaching us that pro-life is a pastoral issue.”
In losing, such as he believes to be the case in the Roe v. Wade decision, he said, “Sometimes we have the greatest opportunity to do God’s work.”
His concerns about the long term effects of mother’s decisions were echoed by respondent Stalnaker, who shared her personal story of an unwed pregnancy and abortion 22 years ago.
She recalled the long-lasting emotional pain that followed before she sought counseling and participated in a program called Rachel’s Vineyard, which helped her come to grips with her grief.
“I have grieved 22 years for a child I don’t have,” said Stalnaker, now 44, who feels a need to help women understand the alternatives to abortion, which “changes life forever.”
The forum was sponsored by Beeson and Cumberland’s Christian Legal Society.
In two “Exploring Christian Faith” programs, Beckwith and George addressed the topic “Can One Be Both Catholic and Evangelical?” by sharing their personal faith testimonies with undergraduate students and speaking in more theological detail for Beeson divinity students.
Beckwith, who was raised Catholic but became an Evangelical Protestant as a young adult, made news in 2007 when he announced that he had re-joined the Catholic church.
“When I returned to the Catholic church, I didn’t consider it as a prodigal son returning after years of sloth. Rather, I saw it as the completion of a journey I began as a youngster,” he said. “When I learned as an Evangelical Protestant made it possible for me to return to the Catholic church, and it was important to my formation as a Christian.”
George told of growing up in a Baptist church and his early curiosity about other religions, which he feels God has used in his formation as a theologian.
“It’s important to recognize that God has children outside the vineyards of our particular denominations,” said George, a respected author and specialist in church history who has been active in Evangelicals and Catholics Together.