A Letter to My White Christian Pro-Life Friends, Part 1: My Story

Dear White Christian Pro-Life Friends,

If you from time to time have second thoughts about what the pro-life movement is doing to our country, our faith, and your own soul, this four-part series is for you. I only ask that you read it prayerfully and thoughtfully, with an open mind and heart. I hope you will feel that I show you and your sincere involvement in the pro-life cause the respect you deserve, and if nothing else, I hope this series will help you participate in the movement more wisely and lovingly going forward.

I’m a family-oriented person, the father of four wonderful adult children in their thirties and the grandfather of five amazing grandkids ten and younger. I’ve been married to my college sweetheart, Grace, for 41 years. Grace was raised Roman Catholic, and she went to Catholic schools from birth through college. We met through a campus ministry.

I also grew up in a loving Evangelical Christian family in the Plymouth Brethren tradition. My parents were of Scot, Irish, English, and Dutch descent. For me, childhood was enriched by memorizing Bible verses, going to Bible camp in the summer, attending Bible studies, and having a daily quiet time with Bible reading. My whole life has been shaped by Scripture and the rich resources of the Christian tradition, and I am deeply grateful for my heritage.

In my teens, I became part of the Jesus Movement and the charismatic movement. For twenty-four years, I was an Evangelical church planter and pastor, and now I work as an author, speaker, teacher, and activist. I am especially dedicated, because of my faith, to working for the poor, the planet, and peace.

Grace and I were part of the pro-life movement near its founding, and I have many good friends active in the pro-life movement today — both Evangelical and Catholic, and I hope you will graciously give me the chance to share my story with you.

Because I was born near the peak of the baby boom (1956), I am old enough to remember when conservative Evangelicals didn’t intentionally involve themselves in politics. Back then, we saw involvement in politics as a “worldly” distraction from our only real work in the world before the Rapture: saving souls bound for hell.

I’m also old enough to remember the early 1970’s, when Evangelicals widely supported abortion rights, including well-known Southern Baptists like W. A. Criswell, who believed that Genesis 2:7 definitively answered the question of when human life begins: at the first breath. (Even the Lausanne Covenant of 1974 never mentions abortion. Fifteen years later, the Lausanne movement included it in Article 4 of the Manila Manifesto – where it was mentioned, not to the exclusion of other issues, but as one among many.)

Back then, most Protestants considered abortion a “Catholic issue.” Abortion certainly wasn’t a litmus test for Evangelical orthodoxy.

The first time I heard of abortion wasn’t even in church: it was in my senior year of public high school, in a philosophy class. I was assigned “legalizing abortion” as a topic for a research paper on ethics. I don’t remember which side I took, or even if I took a side, but I do remember that I felt the issue was complicated, with good points on both sides.

When I became part of the Jesus Movement in the early 70’s, and then was involved with the Charismatic Movement in the mid 70’s, I don’t ever remember abortion being mentioned. Not once.

Then I remember how quickly that changed in the late 70’s and early 80’s. For me, it was Francis Schaeffer’s and Ron Sider’s writings that won me over to the pro-life cause.

For several years, I attended the annual March for Life with a sign in my hand, my wife by my side, our baby in a backpack, and a toddler or two in a stroller. I felt politically awakened.

I was taking a public stand for something for the first time in my life! Ironically, this didn’t make me feel conservative, because, as I said, all the religious conservatives I knew stayed away from any “secular” or “political” issues.

Marching and carrying signs and attending rallies for a cause I believed in made me feel dangerously liberal!

In the 1980’s, as a young father and the pastor of a nondenominational church, I was concerned about the sexualization of children by advertisers and entertainers. I was concerned about the breakdown of healthy families and the prevalence of “latchkey kids.” I was concerned about cavalier attitudes that cheapened sex and empowered predatory men. I was concerned about the startling rise in pornography addiction (even before the internet – remember video shops?). I was concerned about a general loss of reverence and respect, a rising tide of sleaze.

Pro-family, pro-life Christians, I knew, cared about these things as well, so I was glad to be counted among them.

But I gradually began to realize that I was being inducted into something bigger and more complex than I had expected.

I hit a “come to Jesus moment” one Sunday morning at the church I co-led. An unmarried woman in our church got pregnant and had an abortion. In our tradition, we followed a process of “church discipline” that was outlined in Mathew 18, and in the end, we removed her from membership. An older woman in our fellowship came up and handed me a folded over piece of paper. She didn’t say anything; she just smiled, gave it to me, and walked away. On it she had written these words from another chapter in Matthew (23):

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees … tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.”

I am sad to say that I was defensive at first, but later, her gentle confrontation broke through and I saw myself in her words. I thought of the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery (in John 8:1-11), where a woman was publicly shamed by religious leaders while a man got off scot free. I had played the role of the judgmental religious leader, and I felt truly, legitimately ashamed.

My desire to do the right thing had led me to do something that I felt ashamed of.

But I kept marching, reading pro-life literature, and supporting the cause as I was able, even as my misgivings grew. I’ll describe those misgivings in more detail in Part 2.*


* Thanks for reading Part 1. I know how difficult it is to read things that don’t fit in with our existing commitments and convictions. Let me just say that I’m grateful to you for reading this far, and I will only be more grateful if you stay with me through all four parts. Again, thank you.