by Andrew J. Harris
In 2018, Scott Klusendorf of the Life Training Institute spoke in chapel at Cedarville University on the case for life. I had always been pro-life, but as Klusendorf spoke, I quickly realized I did not know enough about the pro-life argument to be a real defender of it. That day, all I determined to do was to find a way to teach a class in pro-life advocacy. Little did I know that today I would be working with Klusendorf to build something wholly unique in the academic world.
The result of our efforts is the Defending Life Summer Institute, a new endeavor aimed at providing university-level training in pro-life advocacy. The Institute fills an important gap in the pro-life movement by using the rigor of the academic classroom to fully prepare its students to shape the conversation around life in a post-Roe America.
Institute classes were designed by Klusendorf and his colleagues Marc Newman of the pro-life training organization Speaker for Life and John Ensor of PassionLife Ministries. All three are veterans of the pro-life movement and well respected among their peers as some of the most active and effective advocates for the unborn. When Cedarville students learn from these three guest lecturers, they not only develop quick wits and solid arguments but also a compassionate love for the children threatened by the abortion industry and the expectant mothers who are deceived by it.
Last summer, the Institute welcomed its first cohort. In a relatively short amount of time, the students entered as rank novices and left with the tools necessary to answer even the most daunting pro-abortion arguments. Michael Coleman ’23, a communication major, put it this way: “Although the science and metaphysical concepts were complex, the classes gave me the information in a digestible way. I went from knowing almost nothing about abortion ethics to being able to argue effectively.”
Biology major Autumn Sellars ’24 particularly appreciated Klusendorf’s class, Rhetoric of Abortion Ethics. “It was the best class I have taken at Cedarville so far,” she said. “Everything I learned in that class has been incredibly helpful as I think about how to defend the unborn.”
Coleman, Sellers, and their classmates are preparing for the most important cultural struggle of our time. Abortion is a tragic lie whispered by Satan into the ears of both men and women during moments of crisis and despair, encouraging them to discount the humanity of their own children. Because it is a popular and cunning lie, it will take a generation of extraordinary bravery and knowledge to end its legal practice.
As of right now, that generation begins at Cedarville University.Like all advocacy endeavors in Cedarville’s communication department, the Institute is founded upon two guiding principles: the aid of the helpless and the championing of truth. Each of these values flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
Regarding the first principle, a brief glimpse at history easily demonstrates that there are few creeds other than Christianity that treat unconditional love and service to the outcast as foundational tenants of the good life. Yet Christ tells us that ministry to the most oppressed and needy is service directly to Himself: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40).
James tells us, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27). Popular theology has a lot to say about the second part of that equation, but we often fail to take the first seriously. In the apostles’ day, orphans and widows had nothing of value to give back to those who ministered unto them. Thus, when Christians cared for them, they demonstrated the unconditional love of the One who was the Father of the fatherless and the Bridegroom of the church. Today, we can share the same kind of love with the millions of unwanted unborn children across the globe. To advocate on their behalf is to practice true religion.
Regarding the second principle, advocacy changes when we follow the One who calls Himself the Truth. Unfortunately, it has become standard advocacy practice to care more about winning than ensuring that truth prevails. This sort of view is shortsighted and fails to consider that immediate victories prove meaningless if they deny the objective truths that provide the long-lasting foundations of freedom and civility that Christ wants for us.
But this is why the Institute partners so well with Cedarville’s communication department. Here, we have both the passion to defend the defenseless and the tools that students need to build persuasive truthful arguments and shape the culture. As Eric Mishne ’08, Assistant Professor of Communication, puts it, “We study persuasion and advocacy in order to know how to ethically and biblically persuade people to consider and hopefully accept the message God has laid on our hearts. We work to change people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to make them more like Christ.”
Advocacy is not just a theoretical concept at Cedarville. Students have spent thousands of hours gaining hands-on experience in real nonprofit organizations in the pro-life arena as well as many other fields of ministry where the hands and feet of Jesus are needed.
The Defending Life Summer Institute continues that long established tradition at Cedarville of putting others before ourselves, and we are glad to be pioneers in pro-life education. Roe and Casey may be overturned, but now 50 state legislatures must be convinced that the child in the womb is one of us, a human being for whom Christ died and for whom life is therefore a basic human right.
This is why we love our neighbor. This is why we speak for the unborn.This is why we advocate.