Herbie Newell: LIFE
We spoke to six experts about how the church can be a redemptive voice and compassionate presence in front-burner cultural issues.
The following article on the topic of life is based on a conversation with Herbie Newell, president and executive director of Lifeline Children’s Services in Birmingham, Alabama, and author of Image Bearers: Shifting From Pro-Birth to Pro-Life (Lifeline Children’s Services).
The Christian stance on pro-life has to be bigger than just abortion. We are called to look at life as bearing the image of our Creator God. We are passionate about defending the sanctity of life, yes. But being truly pro-life means that we must do gospel-driven justice on behalf of the orphan, the widow, the single mom, the child with special needs, vulnerable families, the elderly, refugees, racial reconciliation.
Think of the young mom who has chosen life and she’s leaving the hospital by herself with her newborn—without any support. The pro-life advocates aren’t rallying around her, celebrating her decision and sharing services with her that can get back on her feet. Have we really been pro-life there? Or just pro-birth?
Being pro-life is both caring for children already in foster care, and caring for those families who’ve lost their children into foster care. It means encouraging men to own up to their responsibility when they have impregnated someone. It means defending the lives of those who are racially or culturally or ethnically different from us.
We must show the gospel to people by reaching out with hospitality, love, mercy and truth. That is as much of our pro-life stance as is our advocacy. I’m passionate about defeating abortion, but we can’t just end there. I believe we’re been called to something far greater. We’re here to care for all life.
I got a business degree and accounting degree from Sanford university, where I met my wife, Ashley. She was completely passionate for caring for women with unplanned pregnancies. She went straight from college to being the assistant director of a crisis pregnancy center, a very large one here in Birmingham. At night as we would just talk about our days, and basically her days would overcome the conversation at the dinner table! That passion was contagious from her to me. Then the Lord opened up doors for me leave the professional CPA / audit world to come lead an organization that would exalt the gospel but also show the gospel in acts of justice and mercy.
The organization I lead exists to equip the local body of Christ to manifest the gospel by working with vulnerable children and families. Everything we do is through the local church. Ultimately, we want the church to be the hero.
When we move into any location and we want to get engaged in foster care there, we look for churches where the Lord is already working in the area of foster care. We don’t want the community to say, well, Lifeline is in the city now. We want them to see the local church has come and helped them.
Here’s an example. Every county in our nation has what they call a waiting room. It’s where, when a child is just picked up out of an unsafe place, they wait there until a foster family can be found. I can’t describe how horrendous most of these rooms are. The state workers don’t have the time and energy to make sure the rooms are child friendly. So we approached several counties about redoing their rooms. The replies were instant. “Please!” “Yes!” “Anything you can do would be great!”
So we go to local churches in that area and say, “Hey, will you be the front line that’s interacting with this county office? If your church can’t afford it, we’ll help raise the funds, we’ll help you do it. But we want you to be the ambassador.”
In the end, that child protective services office sees this local church come in and meet some needs. And the beautiful thing is that they start to see other issues and think, “Hey, if that church cared enough to redo this room, maybe they’ll care enough to support this mom.”
If the first call they’re making for help is to a local church, we’ve done our job well. That’s what we want government offices, organizations around the world, communities to see. To look at its local church, because that’s the instrument by which Christ Jesus shows his gospel, his love, his mercy. The local church was his plan by which to bring believers together and to show his justice and mercy.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Complex
I would encourage any pastor that’s not doing something but that wants to, to realize it doesn’t have to be overly complex. Know what your limitations are, know what your capacity is and don’t over promise, but give it a realistic expectation of what your church can do at this point.
Instead of trying to provide foster parents, maybe you say, “We’d love to do a parent’s night out for some of your foster families.” There are a lot of little entry ramps for churches to get engaged and get involved.
One of the first things I would tell a pastor to do is to ask those he wants to help, “How can we help you?” A lot of times churches assess cultural situations from the outside but don’t realize their perception falls short. For example, a lot of modern local Christian ministries and churches go knocking on doors in the inner city. We start to see things that seem broken. We see families in impoverished areas and perceive them as single parent homes. Or the guy is always home from eight to five, so we think he’s a deadbeat dad. Or we don’t see him at all, so we think he’s abandoned his family. But what we don’t know is Dad’s working a night shift.
Likewise, what about when we go into a governmental social services system? I’ll tell you a dirty little secret. There are a lot offices that have a treasure trove of backpacks of school supplies in storage rooms because so many people have dropped those off. But when we asked them, what do you need?
Sometimes it’s a simple, “Our social workers, their morale is so low. Is there a way you could just bring them lunch one day?”
If you do that, what you just did is, you listened. You built trust. You didn’t talk, tell, and run. Next time, it’ll be a bigger need. And then once you start to meet those bigger needs, you start to be able to meet the systemic things.
Maybe something like this: We have a parenting class, designed to provide the state-mandated parenting training that every family needs in order to be reunified with their children. It’s all taught at local churches by local church members. There’s transportation, a meal, and a six-week course. Then mentors are offered to every participant, who are all from that local church. We have probably had the warmest reception to this program in what you would say are anti-churched areas because there’s a desperation for something that works. If you’re willing to stick with these families, they’re not looking to push away help.
What’s been happening is, the churches that get involved see how one easy it is and how revolutionary. They see how it is the work of the local church. We are having churches out coming out of woodwork. We’re able to offer more classes than the state can offer. You’ve got people that are coming to the church that would never darken the door because it’s offered more often and there’s transportation involved and there’s a meal involved and that’s the only reason they chose that class and they’re being exposed to the gospel of Christ Jesus.
And at the end of the day, if those families get to a healthy place, get to a place where their child can be reunified with them, the state doesn’t care where they learned parenting skills. They want something that’s going to truly help these families. And so if we can go with practicality and meet needs that are true needs, then we find that the secular systems aren’t bothered if we’re going to make the gospel known.
Pray, Know Your Neighbors, Volunteer
When it comes to individuals taking action, the first thing is to pray. That may sound trite and simple but all great movements of the Lord start with men and women are on their knees.
The second thing, again, it seems too simple, is get to know your neighbors. Get to know the people in the house across the street, the house to the right, to the left, the houses adjacent. The truth of the matter is, the pro-life battle is not on the other side of the railroad tracks and it’s not on the other side of the world. It’s right around our neighborhood. Even in elite neighborhoods. More abortions are happening in elite ZIP codes than any other part of our country.
And then third, look for those Christ-exalting, gospel-centered organizations that are doing something good and gospel-driven on behalf of life in your community, and do your part. Volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center. Volunteer at your local department of human services. Sign up to be a relief parent or foster parent, or maybe take a radical step to be an adoptive parent. Speak out against human trafficking. Find a safe home for women who have been rescued from human trafficking. Start volunteering there or do a Bible study there.
There’s so many entry ramps for what we can do. There’s pro-life ministry all around us.
For more: outreachmagazine.com/faith-and-culture