The Personhood movement is a pro-life strategy being waged on all fronts throughout the United States. We are advocating for state constitutional amendments that would recognize the personhood of all human beings from the beginning of life to natural death. We are evangelizing, educating and changing hearts. Thus far almost 40 states have begun a Personhood strategy through legislative and voter initiatives.
Georgia Right to Life president, Dan Becker, recently shared with some of us here in Florida the “before and after” data on how the pro-life movement in the whole state has been activated and energized. Since the Personhood initiative began in Georgia ten years ago, every prong of the pro-life movement has been reinvigorated — from the street activists, to public opinion, state government and every pro-life ministry in between. We won’t “fail” if we don’t get Personhood initiatives passed on the first try. We will only make forward progress toward an eventual long term victory. As John F. Kennedy said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
One of the co-sponsors of the Personhood voter initiative in the state of Florida. Patricia McEwen of Life Coalition International (LCI), recently told us a story about her pro-life missionary work in Africa. LCI went to train sidewalk counselors among the Zulu tribe. The problem, of course, is they have no sidewalks in Zulu territory, so they decided they were “Eleventh Hour Counselors.” When the time came to bring the volunteers to the clinic, they had to turn people away because there were too many people to fit on the school bus. They crowded into the bus three to a seat for the two hour drive to the abortion clinic with no air conditioning in the African heat. A few months later after returning to Florida, Pat asked them how the counselors at the abortion clinic were doing. She was simply told, “There is no abortion clinic.”
Abortion is legal in South Africa. But the Zulu people are warriors. When they become Christians, they understand that this is now spiritual warfare. Now they are being trained to shut down all the abortion clinics in the continent of Africa and beyond by going directly to the gates of hell and confronting the powers of darkness through prayer, acts of compassion and preaching the Gospel.
At the moment, the Catholic Bishops, Steve Ertelt, Phyllis Schlafly – and a few others who are usually solid on the pro-life issue – are engaging in negative publicity claiming that the Personhood initiative would be a setback for the pro-life movement if it fails. They are simply not seeing the forest for the trees.
Eventually, the battle will be won at the clinics on the ground where the killing takes place through imprecatory prayer, evangelism and acts of mercy. More abortion clinics have been closed directly due to street activism than by any other means. The legal battle is a secondary outcome that will be naturally affected by evangelistic efforts toward individual regeneration, ecclesiastical revival and societal reformation. It’s not rocket science. A famous Oscar winning director once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” When the church community simply shows up and does its job, abortion will stopped in America.
In other words, when we really start seeing that kind of forward motion in the churches, by the time we get a Personhood Amendment or a reversal of Roe v. Wade, most of the abortion mills in America will already have been shut down.
Jesus himself assures us, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.” A gate is a defensive weapon that does not attack anyone. The image here is of a militant church knocking down the gates. Yet we have people who are afraid to fight because they fear the gates of hell might go on the offensive. We cannot lose the long term struggle if we understand we are warriors and abortion is a gate of hell. Pro-life street activists closed the clinic in Melbourne, Florida because several church groups led by their pastors each came out to pray one Saturday a month to cover the ground with prayer each week. This went on for several years.
When Aware Woman abortion clinic finally closed (partially due to an eminent domain highway widening that took their property) another clinic bought their business and reopened in another location. The few churches with their small bands of prayer warriors followed and continued to pray, preach and engage in daily sidewalk counseling. Eventually their lease was cancelled. They moved to another location and the church followed. Eventually they were forced to move out again. That was almost ten years ago. Since then there has been no abortion clinic in all of Brevard County. Abortion is a business and clinics can’t stay open if they can’t make money and if no one will lease to them. No fledgling abortion clinic should ever get to the point where it is profitable enough to buy a building. If the church just did its job, there would not be room for an abortion clinic and a church in the same city.
If the Catholic Bishops of America wanted to stop abortion in our country, they could do it in a short period of time. If the Southern Baptist Convention wanted to stop abortion in America, they could do it. The same goes for the Assemblies of God or any other network of evangelical churches who oppose abortion in word. We know what we believe. Now we simply need to add deeds on a consistent basis.
In Brevard County, Florida, this occurred with limited participation of about 40 people and about four or five pastors who took leadership of prayer gatherings at our only out-patient abortion clinic. If there were hundreds involved — as there should have been on an ongoing basis — then it probably would have taken months rather years. We should not be disheartened to know we need to fight in the long term with a “Gideon band.” But we need to be certain of one thing from the outset. This is all-out-war. It’s no Sunday school picnic.
We do need to work on all types of strategies — legal, political, education, sidewalk counseling, CPCs, and so on. There are many battlefronts. However, like any war, the conflict between the church and abortion is going to be won on the ground by our foot soldiers. By the time we get the support we need to pass the Personhood Amendment in Florida, there will likely be no more abortion clinics in Florida — or very few — because they will all be shut down by the Church. This is the strength of what a voter initiative can do. The legal solution will follow practical change on the grassroots level. This change must begin in the churches.
Once we have the support to pass Personhood, there won’t be a lack of volunteers for other vital ministries.
The advantage of having one individual sign a petition is that it takes almost no sacrifice of time or effort on their part. But in the process, we are identifying some who are dedicated to a greater level of commitment. Every time we circulate petitions, we are meeting potential activists. In 2007, I attempted to call together a “Central Florida Pro-life Network” with the idea that a new wave of pro-life activism was coming. Now it is here. Simply what we need to do is network with other pro-life activists throughout our region and state and harness the energy of this burgeoning move of God. It is revival that we are after, not simply man-made political strategies. Our goal is to see a change of heart on the mass cultural scale through another Great Awakening.
Don Kazimir, coordinator of the diocesan Respect Life Office for the past 14 years, who has been in the pro–life movement since 1976, recently said, “I have never seen so much stuff going on all over the nation. The Obama election has energized the pro–life movement.”
There will be many new volunteer “foot soldiers” coming into the Personhood movement. What we need to do now is to set a big net to catch all the new fish. But the church still needs to be evangelized on the abortion issue. That was the number one mistake of the pro-life movement in the 1970s and ’80s. We asked people to get involved, but we didn’t take the time to make sure that everyone agreed that abortion is legalized murder and therefore the church must act like it is murder.
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