Somewhere in between the veteran pro-life movement and the grassroots millennial movement is where my job lies — and I sometimes feel stuck in that middle ground. There’s a gap between the generations that needs to be bridged if we’re going to be as effective as we need to be in creating a culture of life in our nation.
I’m the “sanctity of life” director for Focus on the Family. We’ve been a voice for life for decades, working side-by-side with veteran pro-lifers to care for abortion-minded women and their preborn babies.
“Whoever diligently seeks good finds favor, but evil comes to one who searches for it.”
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I speak with people who have been saving babies for longer than I’ve been alive, and the experience and expertise they bring to the pro-life movement can’t be exaggerated. Partnering with many of these pro-life veterans, Focus on the Family’s Option Ultrasound has saved more than 382,000 babies since 2004.
But I’m also a millennial. As I’ve talked with others of my generation and heard their big dreams and ideas for the pro-life movement, there’s a lot to like. Millennials represent the first generation to insist that pro-life isn’t at odds with pro-justice.
They seek a holistic movement that’s not strictly focused on abortion. Rejecting an either-or approach, they ask incisive questions about why race relations, poverty care and intervention, human trafficking, and immigration concerns aren’t more naturally considered pro-life issues.
I’m occasionally surprised, however, by the degree to which some millennial pro-lifers overlook the traditional function of long-standing pro-life ministries and want to start something new, all on their own.
Their passion is admirable. But when I ask them questions like, “Who are you learning from right now? Does your city have a well-supported pregnancy center? Have you ever volunteered there?” I am met with blank stares. And this is what concerns me.
A wealth of research suggests millennials are, among other things, suspicious of institutions and opposed to doing things the way they’ve “always” been done. While this can be good on the surface, it sets a dangerous precedent if it requires glossing over decades of hard-fought experience.
At the same time, skepticism of millennials (in general) exists among veteran pro-lifers. These veterans can easily be disheartened by new ideas and strategies that don’t take into thoughtful consideration the depth to which the movement has been — and still is — regulated and scrutinized. They’re hesitant to accept and fully support new ideas whose potential ramifications aren’t fully vetted.
This fractured approach is not the way forward for the pro-life movement. I hope millennials and pro-life veterans can face the challenges ahead with humility, embracing the opportunity to collaborate, organize, and learn from one another. Here’s my advice for each group.
1.) To millennial pro-lifers: Dream big, but don’t forget the giants who have gone before you. They aren’t perfect, and they might not be as cutting-edge as you’d like, but they have a wealth of knowledge and experience.
The pro-life movement is rich with authentic people who have lived in the toughest-fought years against abortion. These people have grit and deserve our respect. They have wisdom and understanding that we desperately need (Job 12:12). There’s no substitute for seasoning fresh ideas with the salt of experience.
Find out what God is doing and join Him there. Be willing to work with leaders and groups whose approach may seem outdated or irrelevant to you. It’s easy to see deficiencies and respond with a maverick, “I’ll do this myself” approach.
It’s less easy to submit yourself to pro-life veterans. But there’s so much to learn. If you’re committed to the pro-life movement for the long haul, I challenge you to place yourself under veteran leadership for at least two years. Be a positive impact in that space. Use your gifts and talents to enhance current programs and ministry offerings. Make it your goal to be a gracious and humble change agent within these organizations, instead of rushing to start something new.
2.) To veteran pro-lifers: Make room for new perspectives. Graciously accept challenges to your way of thinking. The quickest way to alienate passionate, pro-life millennials is to discount or squelch their ideas. Invite millennials to contribute and innovate. They need you to welcome them, teach them, and mentor them.
Create space for millennials. When you bring them on board, don’t automatically assume the best place for them is to run the social media accounts. Yes, millennials understand technology and can be a great resource, but they have so much more to offer. Also, as you focus on abortion and vulnerable mothers, embrace those who want to do something about poverty, race, immigration, and human trafficking. Not only can these issues co-exist under the pro-life umbrella, they must if we expect to gain traction with a generation that’s already accepted a broader definition of what it means to be pro-life.
3.) To all pro-lifers: Be humble. Embrace the opportunity to learn from others. Proverbs 11:27 says, “Whoever diligently seeks good finds favor, but evil comes to one who searches for it.” Anyone can find the dirt in a person or a movement. Be the person who finds the gold.
Work together. There is no movement without cooperation and collaboration. One opportunity to come together just happened in January at the largest pro-life gathering in our nation, The March for Life in Washington, D.C. In conjunction with that event, Focus on the Family and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission hosted Evangelicals for Life, providing renowned, veteran thinkers and activists as well as the best and brightest innovators from the next generation. Look around for chances like this to link arms with others committed to human life.
Passionate pro-lifers, you’re the best of what this movement has to offer no matter your generation. God is changing hearts and saving lives through all of us. Let’s fight the temptation to fracture. Let’s tap into each other’s strengths. Together, we’ll create an even deeper culture of life in our nation.
Briana Stensrud is director of church and community outreach at Focus on the Family and is based in Colorado Springs. She engages with pro-life advocates, oversees content and communication related to the sanctity of human life, and leads the ministry’s program to provide benevolent resources for pregnancy resource centers.