My welcome-to-ministry moment at the abortion clinic began with a haymaker.
It was fitting. Louisville is the city of Ali. Up to this moment, I had connected with the area’s boxing culture only by gazing at billboards along the way featuring the dashing young Mr. Clay. Now, I found myself in my own personal boxing ring. This one happened to be a four-lane street in the middle of rush hour. My erstwhile opponent was—I kid you not—a 4’10” woman with murder in her eyes.
How did I get here? I thought as I bobbed and weaved. The question, then and now, deserves an answer.
Pro-Life, But Not That Pro-Life
I grew up in a Christian home in Maine. I remember being passionately pro-life from childhood. Every once in a while, a pro-life activist came to my church, the First Baptist Church of East Machias. I recall being transfixed from an early age at the horrors of abortion. In high school, I wrote an essay for the Downeast Coastal Press, our county’s excellent local paper, on this same topic. In college, I had conversations with friends who did not share my convictions. This was fairly standard pro-life involvement for many people of God, I think.
After all, there was little I could do to change the face of the nation, to reverse Roe v. Wade. Plus, I didn’t feel prepared or situated to be the kind of pro-life advocate who popped up in NBC News clips, holding a sign and being arrested outside of a judicial building. So for years, I was pro-life. But I wasn’t that pro-life. I didn’t see any way this situation could or would change. Save for the miraculous and direct intervention of God, abortion felt so big and distant and cruelly inevitable.
The Jump: How the Lord Did a Fresh Work
This pattern continued throughout my 20s. I married a wonderful woman, had two children, and prayed intermittently on behalf of pro-life causes. Again, fairly standard (and good) stuff.
But something switched on for me when I turned 30. I trace it back to the presence of several Boyce College students in my systematic theology classes. These students were involved with a ministry called Speak for the Unborn (SftU). As Southern Seminary recently reported, SftU was started in 2010 by two members of Immanuel Baptist Church after pastor Ryan Fullerton preached a powerhouse sermon against abortion. The ministry was simple: members of Immanuel went to the Market Street abortion clinic and sought to do two things: 1. encourage abortion-minded women entering the clinic to choose life; and 2. share the gospel with these women, clinic volunteers (called “escorts”), and others. Later, Kenwood Baptist Church (where I currently serve as an elder) started a chapter of the ministry through the work of a member named Brandy Lee and the support of pastors Jim Hamilton and Denny Burk.
The students from Boyce stunned me with their bravery and desire to apply gospel truth. I tried to encourage them by praying for them. Fellow KBC members influenced me as well; Keith and Katie Christensen went week after week to the clinic, Katie strapping her baby to her back in order to stay involved. Then, one day, it hit me: I could go down to Market Street. I could join this work. It seemed surreal—me as a pro-life activist? Surely, I thought, others should take up the call. For my part, it might be better for me to help by praying, blogging, and encouraging others.
Dodging Punches and Sharing the Gospel
Fast-forward to the summer of 2013. I’ve been involved with SftU for a year, going when I can. Now, I find myself face to face with a 40-something woman who wants to hurt me. As she walked toward the abortion clinic with her teenage daughter, I had pleaded with her to not enter that place of death. She did not like my suggestion and so turned to face me down. She threw several punches even as traffic in four lanes stirred as the nearby stoplight turned green. I dodged her punches and backed away from her, trying to get her out of the middle of the road. Muhammad Ali I was not!
It was a strange, heart-racing kind of circumstance. I didn’t enjoy it. Neither have I enjoyed having the “escorts” swear at me, tell me they wish I hadn’t been born, or jump in front of me to trip me up. This is hard work. We don’t see many women leave the clinic and choose life. We are despised by the escorts and the couples who go in. We feel like fools, being brushed aside and shouted at and ignored while we plead with those sitting in the waiting room to leave and to taste God’s lavish grace.
You would think this response would be discouraging to me. But it has had the opposite effect, in God’s kindness. I found that the ministry is difficult, yes—but immensely worth it.
Suffering with Christ Is Good, Not Bad
You may be like me. My life is generally marked by relative happiness, comfort, and ease. I’m a typical American Christian. In other words, I avoid hardship. Like so many modern Christians, I risk-proof my life. Many of us breathe fire on our blogs about the prosperity gospel, but few of us see how tempted we are by a prosperity lifestyle.
I am not condemning wealthy Christians. Not by a long shot. I think it’s well and good to provide well for one’s family, to make money, to have SUVs and vacations and Keurig cups, to savor God’s good gifts. But I have found that suffering with Christ—even if only for a little while and in a small way—has deepened and enriched my faith. The cross seems nearer and more real to me.
I have felt portions of my heart come alive in this ministry, parts that were sleeping and unused. Too many of us pray and then lift our heads, looking around to see whom God will tap to go and suffer. Anyone but us! Too many of us are enthralled when we read about the world-defying boldness of William Wilberforce or Sojourner Truth, but in our daily lives are disengaged from the suffering unfolding around us. I in no way want the church to become a social agency. But I do recognize that the biblical exhortations to be “salt and light” and to love my neighbor as myself and to do good to all men are not aimed at other people (Matt. 5:13-16; Matt. 22:39; Gal. 6:10). They are directed, in the most Spirit-empowered way, at me.
Motivations for Pro-Life Ministry
Let me make a few things clear: my motivation in ministry is driven by the gospel and its supercharging power, not guilt or anger. Not all of us can do pro-life ministry. Churches should not confuse the preaching of the Word, their primary ministry, with social causes. But as Matt Chandler so powerfully said recently, I also believe there is an opportunity before us. Abortion can be overcome, both locally and nationally. Our involvement matters.
Thankfully, I have not only avoided punches at the clinic on Market Street. I and others have seen women leave the abortion facility, tears pouring down their faces as they comprehend the magnitude of their decision to save their child. I have witnessed Brandt and Heather Van Roekel, SBTS students and KBC members, holding a little baby born to a lesbian couple who left the abortion clinic because of the Van Roekels’s compassionate witness. I have talked with the boyfriend of a woman who was going to abort her baby because this man was caught up in the trap game, dealing drugs and headed for an early death. Several folks outside the clinic engaged this couple. Poleaxed by conviction, they got up from their chairs in that grim waiting room, clasped hands, and walked back into the morning light. They went to the crisis pregnancy center, got counseling and assistance from the sweet women who work there, and went home.
Stories like these, and ultimately the death-defying glory of God, are why you and I and our churches should not stay on the sidelines. We should pray down the heavens. And then—for God’s esteem, the promotion of the gospel of grace, the saving of human lives, and our growth—we should enter the front lines of pro-life ministry. It will be hard. The alarm beeps early, and the morning air is brutally cold. We might face punches. We might get arrested. We will almost certainly be hated.
In short, we will suffer. But that suffering will be good for us. It always has been. Jesus did not abandon us. He went to the place of death, and he offered himself as a ransom for us. In the power of his atonement, brothers and sisters, let us pray, vote, and blog. Then, let us go to the places of death in our communities. Let us suffer with Christ. Let us watch as he overcomes the world by the blood of his cross.