Last week, Students for Life of America welcomed its third class of Wilberforce Fellows. The year-long fellowship trains promising pro-life college, law, and medical students in leadership skills. The goal, of course, is to ensure that the next generation of pro-life leadership is up to the task.
But there is also another goal: the promotion of pro-life unity. As part of the first class of Wilberforce Fellows myself, I recall that day one involved receiving a powerful history lesson. We learned how the pro-life movement suffered serious setbacks in the 1980’s, largely due to a tactical disagreement– should we focus on legislation, a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution, or both– which got personal and created massively counter-productive division. The Wilberforce Fellowship is meant to be a uniting force; if most of the leaders of pro-life groups ten years from now have gone through the program, we will have the skills necessary to get along (and understand the importance of doing so).
For many years, pro-life groups have relied on religion as a means of maintaining unity. That won’t last long, since the current generation of college students is both the most pro-life and least religious since Roe v. Wade. Students for Life of America has wisely gotten ahead of this issue by teaching its Fellows about the similarities and differences between the religious and secular pro-life positions. To do so, it recruited Christian pro-life apologetics expert Scott Klusendorf, and Secular Pro-Life’s own Phil E. Phil, an atheist and a member of the SPL leadership board, has been active in SPL from its inception.
The discussion with Klusendorf went well, and he wants to do something
like that again. We discussed the basis for morality and whether a
grounding in deism or atheism was stronger. It was more of a discussion
than a debate, and things didn’t get heated or contentious. Most of
the students seemed very receptive to what I had to say.
Some of the Fellows had broader questions for Phil about atheism in general (e.g., in Phil’s words, “the idea of not being completely depressed about a finite existence.”). Again, these were not contentious questions, but questions that reflected a genuine concern for understanding the non-religious point of view. These Fellows realize how vital cooperation between religious and non-religious activists will be for securing the right to life. I am confident that they will be excellent pro-life leaders.