Last week, ARPA hosted the first-ever “God and Government Youth” event in Ottawa.
Almost 30 young people from Reformed churches across the country gathered to be educated and equipped for political engagement in their communities.
One of the presentations they heard was from Jonathon Van Maren from the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. His keynote speech was delivered at a dinner last Wednesday evening.
This week, a slightly edited (for length) version of that speech for the program.
When André (Schutten) asked me to talk with you guys tonight a bit about the way forward – and what you guys can all do as you leave here – what I wanted to leave you with first and foremost was a sense of perspective.
On Canada’s 150th anniversary, the federal government has been encouraging Canadians to consider what it means to be a Canadian. The current government wants to celebrate a legacy that began – more or less – with the current Prime Minister’s father, Pierre Trudeau. They want us to celebrate a legacy that leaves Canada as the only western democracy with no restrictions on abortion whatsoever. They want us to celebrate a cheap tolerance that suppresses freedom of speech and they don’t want you to remember that when we’re discussing Canada’s 150th anniversary, we suddenly start to see a heritage develop that looks very different from the thing that we’re being asked to celebrate in 2017.
For example, in 1869 – only two years after Confederation – Canada’s very first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, brought in Great Britain’s abortion laws, saying that “abortion saps the lifeblood of the nation.” And human beings were protected under law for fully 100 years, until 1969. That’s not the heritage and that’s not the legacy that they’re expecting you to explore and embrace when they ask you to revisit what it means to be a Canadian. They want you to look at the mere 48-year legacy that has attempted to do away with the legacy begun by Sir John A. Macdonald and lasting over a century.
And I want to bring up one really important point here, because a lot of abortion activists and a lot of progressives will say, “Well, we’re celebrating the fact that Canada has moved on from the dark ages when we didn’t follow scientific evidence when we created policy, and we did away with these religiously-based laws.” This is simply once again a misunderstanding of history. The reason history is important is because it’s your best friend and it’s the progressives’ worst enemy. When we start to look into history we discover that the reason, actually, (that) abortion laws were passed in North America in the mid-1800’s was because, as doctors began to study life in the womb, they started to realize that life didn’t begin at quickening, which was what many people had believed prior to that; when the baby first moved. And in fact, great theologians like Thomas Aquinas have actually stated that life began at quickening. But these doctors, with new medical evidence in the 1860’s and 70’s started coming forward and saying “Look. Actually, we have real evidence that life begins earlier than that.” In fact, our abortion laws were the very first science-based public policies that were actually passed.
Now pro-choice people instinctively know this. I have a lot of pro-choice friends from university still, and when one of their friends would say “I’m expecting”, they never asked their friend what they were expecting. They instinctively know that what’s in the womb is a baby. They don’t phone their friends after they give birth to ensure that it was in fact a human baby; because again, this is something they instinctively know.
And it’s very important that as we look at Canada’s legacy, we recognize who we’re supposed to forget. Because Canada’s 150th anniversary, in a nation where abortion has been legal since 1969, is in many ways also a remembrance day. Think about it for a moment. Since 1969, we have lost 4-million pre-born children. We have lost those people and on Canada’s 150th birthday, we’re not supposed to think about those 4-million because they never had a birthday. And even though they were here – physically present with us – we’re not supposed to acknowledge that they existed. But there’s a new generation now – the survivor generation – that lost a quarter of their peers. A new generation that did not choose this legacy. None of us, who were born after 1988 got a say. So when people say that the debate is closed, I ask them how that can be because we just got here. Nobody’s heard what we have to say yet. The country doesn’t belong to them. The country belongs to those who are willing to stand up and say, “No, they (the pre-born) are Canadians too and they deserve a birthday too.”
Now a lot of you might think that the pro-life movement began in 1969, when abortion was first decriminalized in the omnibus bill of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. But the truth is actually far more inspiring and far more dramatic. The pro-life movement actually started 2,000 years ago, when a man was crucified on a hilltop in the Middle East. Because the very first Christians, that same decade, exploded out of the Synod of Jerusalem across the known world and they fundamentally transformed every society that they impacted in a very real and tangible way. When the Christians left Jerusalem, they came into societies where abortion was common.
I’ll ruin a Valentine’s Day symbol for you for a moment. Do any of you know where the heart shape actually comes from? It’s the shape of a plant call silphium that once grew in Italy and Greece. It was a plant used as both birth control and (as) an abortifacient. And the reason most people haven’t heard of it is because the people of that day harvested it to extinction. That is how badly they wanted these abortifacients. This is the society that Christianity exploded into. In fact, in Roman times, you didn’t “have” a child, you “received” a child. As in the child was born and you decided whether or not it was a child entitled to your protection. If you decided it wasn’t, you could leave it on special “exposure walls” designed for you to leave your babies. People could face fines or even imprisonment for taking a baby home with them, but Christians did anyways. Basil of Caesarea – you should look him up – he launched a massive campaign against the abortion rings, resulting in some of the very first pro-life laws that finally declared the murder of children in the Roman Empire wrong. That was the first time around. Throughout the Middle Ages then, wherever a culture of death sprung up, it was stomped out by Christians who believed that it was their duty to love their neighbour as themselves.
Then we have the time of the Renaissance, where they returned to the old pagan ideas. And with those old pagan ideas came a new acceptance of infanticide and abortion. And abortion rates and infanticide rates shot up so high that in some countries – in some cities in Spain and in France and in Italy – almost a full one-third of children were aborted or killed through infanticide. Abortion rates at that point in major European cities (were) very similar to the abortion rate here. And again the Christian response surged up. A missional movement spread across the world. Organizations like William Wilberforce’s “Society for Affecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade” sprung up. He also was fundamental in starting 70 other organizations that addressed evil in every segment of society and suddenly you see the re-Christianization – the return to the belief that all life is sacred and that attacks on those rights violate something essential to the health of every single society. The second time around.
What we are in right now is the third time around. And you are at the crest of the third wave. Again our society has rejected the idea that all human beings are valuable. They’ve rejected the idea that human beings in the womb are actually people. They’ve rejected the idea – the fundamental idea – that suicide is self-harm. But we’ve been here before. Christians have been here before. Christians have been here twice before, and each time – with God’s help – remaining consistent to their principles, they have saved the lives of millions and they have transformed the societies that they interacted with. You are at the crest of the third wave. You are responsible for carrying that torch on. A torch that has been passed from Christian community to Christian community, from pro-life activist (to) pro-life activist. From the Synod of Jerusalem just after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ all the way until the present day.
I hope that does make you a little bit awed. To realize the footsteps that you walk in and to realize that we have these examples to follow. To realize that when we stand here at Canada’s 150th anniversary, we not only have a full century of a Canadian heritage that valued human life, we also have a 2,000-year tradition of Christians who fought for every single life even when everybody else in the society not only said that these human beings were worthless, but in the case of rescuing orphans in Rome, would actually be penalized for attempting to save those lives.
The reason we’ve been able to accept evils like abortion for so long is we don’t have to face it; we never have to talk about it, we’re never confronted with the victims. And at the end of the day – and I know some of you have probably heard this – I’ve heard this from many, many Christians; they’ll say: “Why don’t you care about the real orphans? Why don’t you do something about real kids?” And I want to tell you a story for a moment that really helped contextualize that for me.
In the American pro-life movement – what they’ve done for several decades – is certain pro-life activists will go into dumpsters behind abortion clinics, and they will collect the broken bodies of discarded children so that those children can have a formal funeral and a burial. (So) that at least in death, their lives will be respected. When you look at an example like that and the 2,000 years I just talked about, the one thing that is consistent is that when children become trash, Christians are called to become trash collectors.
A couple of years ago, I was in the US and I was giving a speech at a conference about how we needed to reach out to the public and (how) we needed to show what was going on. And an older man came up to me after my presentation, and he said: “I have something you need to see.” And so he took me to his place, and then he took me to his garage, and he said “I took this out of a dumpster behind a clinic.” And he handed me a little jar; it was about this big. And it was filled with formaldehyde. And inside that jar was a perfect little boy. He was completely white; his skin was translucent. And it’s really hard to explain how strange it is when you look at that, because your brain doesn’t even compute the sentence “a baby in a jar.” It’s not the way things are supposed to be. And at first, I turned the jar over, trying to figure out why he wouldn’t wake up. Because he looked like he was just sleeping. And then as I turned it, I saw two puncture wounds in the back of his skull; that’s where they’d killed him. And I put the jar down – because my hands were shaking – and on the top of the lid, I saw two things on a label. And it was the place where he was killed, and the name of the abortionist who killed him. And I thought to myself, “Is anybody in our society more orphaned than this little boy? Is there anybody in our entire society that is so orphaned and so cut off from every natural living relative?” We don’t know who this little boy’s father was. We have no idea who this little boy’s mother was. We don’t know what his first name would have been, what his last name was, who his grandparents were, why they didn’t want him. The only thing we know about this little boy is the name of the person who killed him, and the location where he was killed. Don’t let anybody ever tell you the pro-life movement isn’t about orphans. Because it’s about the most orphaned group of people in our society today. They need our help more than any other child in this society today. Other children at least have recognized rights. These children don’t even have the right to have a name.
Christians for 2,000 years have done something that the rest of society thought was a joke; they thought it was a waste of time, they couldn’t understand why people would take financial risk, political risk, personal risk, to speak up for those babies. These are the orphans that need our help, and these are the orphans that Scripture commands us to reach out to.
Now the reason I don’t lose hope after having seen things like that is because I’ve also gotten to hold in my arms a little boy whose mother had an abortion scheduled for him, but because she saw what abortion looked like, decided not to do that. In my head there’s a contrast between what a baby looks like when that baby had no one to speak for him – nobody who tried to stop the abortion from taking place – and a baby where Christians decided to just speak out. To let her (the mother) know what was going on. To let her know what was happening. To speak for the orphan. Now he’s not an orphan. That’s our job. And that is what the job of Christians has been for 2,000 years. That is what it means to be a Canadian. And to be part of a century-long legacy that a lot of people want you to forget. They want that history down the memory hole. You never think about it. “It’s a new day now.” It’s not for everybody though, because whenever people talk about a “new day” and a new way forward, somebody’s always getting left behind. We know who’s getting left behind. And it’s our job to make sure they’re not. It’s our job to make sure their voices are still heard. It’s our job to make sure those orphans aren’t orphans, and those orphans who are, are never forgotten.
Four million is a very big number. How much bigger it gets depends on every single one of you in this room. Every single one of you has a calling. You were supposed to be at this conference. Nothing happens by accident, we all agree with that.
I know it’s hard. I saw some of you guys out on the streets, you guys looked nervous. I was pretty nervous the first time I went out too. It’s hard to believe now, maybe, but the first time I went out I had a stack of pamphlets and I was going to talk to somebody about abortion and a girl walked by and I handed her a pamphlet and said, “What do you think about abortion?” She said, “Well, I had one three weeks ago.” And I froze. And I had no idea what to say. I knew how to explain to her that her baby was a human being; I knew how to explain to her that a baby was a person. I didn’t know what to say to somebody to whom those arguments were completely irrelevant. I was standing in front of a huge sign, and I said to her “What do you think of my pictures?” And she said “Why didn’t anybody show me that before?” She’s like, “Why didn’t anybody tell me what abortion would do to my baby?” She stopped. She took her sunglasses off. She started crying. She said, “My baby paid for that with her life.”
That’s when I realized that her sin of commission was my sin of omission. Because in a country filled with people who call themselves pro-life; filled with people who call themselves Christian, the only person who had talked to this girl was an abortion doctor who took her money and killed her baby. She stood there in front of the sign. I spent an hour with her. Our conversation still led her to actually reach out and get healing and get counseling. She tattooed the name of her baby girl across her womb where Raven had lived out her short life. And so we still managed to provide hope and help and healing. But at the end of the day that never left me. That very first conversation I had out on the street. Somebody told me they’d had an abortion 3 weeks earlier. And by the end of the conversation I realized that it was because we were three weeks too late. Nobody should ever have an abortion in Canada because Canadian pro-lifers and Canadian Christians didn’t talk to them in time.
I have seen hundreds of people change their minds on abortion with my own eyes. I’ve gone door to door, and at every door we find people saying “Really? Abortion is all the way legal? Really? They don’t respect human rights? Really? This is happening?”
One of the things you guys need to remember is that you guys are the young up-coming generation. You’re the generation that survived abortion. You’re being sold right now, by the Canadian government, an idea of what is supposed to be Canadian. Forget our century-long Canadian heritage of respecting all human life. You are part of a 48-year legacy that resulted in four million of your peers being missing. That’s the one you’re supposed to remember. But just remember, we never got a say. We weren’t there. We didn’t get to vote about it. Nobody asked what our opinion is. When they say the debate’s over, tell them we weren’t there. If they say the debate’s over, then we say, “You know what, we started without you. If you don’t want to be part of it, that’s fine; I don’t think your opinions are particularly compelling anyways. We will talk to other Canadians.” But each and every one of you, you’re here for a reason. I think you all know why you are here and I think you all know what kind of a responsibility you have. And yes it is an awesome responsibility. Yes it’s scary. Yes you’re gonna do a lot of hard things that you might not want to do, but at the end of the day, Christians have been doing this for 2,000 years, and it worked. Millions of lives have been saved. What we have to recognize is that Christians present the Gospel message.
Have you ever noticed that when the abortion activists chant, it’s just the reverse of the Gospel message? “This is my body.” “My body, my choice.” What are they saying? “This is my body, and I can break anybody who interferes with its autonomy.” What was the message of Jesus, the Man who founded the pro-life movement 2,000 years ago? It was very, very different. “This is my body which I have broken for you.” You’re part of that movement.
And I was watching you guys on the streets today, and you were scared, and you were still walking up and talking to people anyways. As somebody who’s now talked to hundreds upon hundreds of people on the streets, it keeps on getting easier. And just know that not only do you have the truth on your side, but you walk in the footsteps of people who did amazing things, and most of them started doing them when they were your age. Things might seem scary, but they’re not. And I can tell you, the first time you realize that what you’ve done has made some small difference, it will make everything worth it.
Thanks for listening.