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When Others are Doing it Wrong

"Can you believe they're doing that?!"

"That's illegal. They can't do what they're doing!"

"Do they realize that what they do reflects on every one of us?!"

"They aren't following best practices!"

Yes, indeed others do it differently. Sometimes it's a difference of opinion and can be overlooked. Other times it might be a serious matter, possibly even a legal matter, which could threaten us all.

Or does it? Threaten us all, I mean.

We are, or should be, well-acquainted with threats, since they actually started happening the day each of us opened our doors (if not before). Our efforts to champion life are both defensive maneuvers and direct assaults on the kingdom of darkness, which tends to rile up our enemy a bit! It should come as no surprise when our enemy gets in on the action and stirs up those who oppose us – those who also happen to directly profit from or successfully rationalize their need for abortion.

When the opposition aligns with our enemy (please be careful not to assume the two are the same), the pushback on what we do (or who we are) is intense. And vicious. And nearly always without merit. The truth may be a great defense in the court of law, but attacks against us are mostly in the court of public opinion.

Actually, the number of legal actions against pregnancy help organizations is surprisingly small, considering the onslaught of relatively serious accusations including false advertising, impersonating a medical professional, and practicing medicine without a license.

This reality underscores the flaw in leaning too heavily upon legal principles to combat harsh, negative PR sound bites. To borrow a line from the movie Untouchables, it's a bit like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

The other side is serious about crippling our work, so they bring big weapons to the fight. Artful use of PR tools and political maneuvering is the only sustainable attack they have been able to use so far. The legal matters that concern us hardly concern them. If it did, they would have used the legal system to shut us down a long time ago. In fact, they've tried to do so, but found this strategy largely ineffective.

Instead, they've been launching state-by-state "Investigative Reports," badgering politicians to change the rules, manipulating the media to believing such things as Google pulling PHC ads and cyber-squatting on "crisis pregnancy center" entry in Wikipedia. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

And what do we do? Well, we aim at each other for "doing it wrong."

We exert "legal expertise," passing along what we've heard labeled "illegal" without really knowing if it is actually, well, against the law. The old "telephone game" has us repeating, sometimes in directors meetings and public chatter, what someone else said they believe to be factual. Dare I say, some of what we believe is actually conjecture from well-meaning friendly lawyers (or those who pretend to be).

While we need to hear – and usually heed – advice from our legal allies, we must be careful to discern between recommendations and requirements, between what is permissible and profitable.

We can even exalt "best practices" – doing things "right" – above getting the mission done. Forgetting for a moment that most "best" practices are usually not proven to be "best" relative to our mission, we can tend to create the self-repudiating expectation everyone across the entire industry is operating at "best practice" level.

Believe it or not, the mission can actually be done without equipment or professionals or credibility. Just like the gospel. Of course, good equipment and education can (or should) enhance the effort. But when outcomes – hearts touched and lives saved – become subservient to so-called "best practices," we are all doing it wrong.

Tweet this! When outcomes become subservient to so-called "best practices," we're all doing it wrong.

Certainly the "others" might be able to do it better. Maybe they should have better equipment, more focused marketing and more professionals.

Or, maybe "they" are highly focused on outcomes, but just lack the resources to it differently. Maybe "they" are doing all they can, with what the Lord has seen fit to provide. Not every community has an abundant supply of pro-life, medical professionals ready to staff a pregnancy help center for a full week, plus weekends. Not just rural locations mind you, but some huge cities in certain blue states struggle with recruiting medical professionals.

Maybe the budget isn't big enough to fully meet AIUM standards, or voluntarily submit to HIPAA requirements, or afford the ultrasound equipment for which any of that might (notice: might) matter. Maybe "they" counsel and hand out material aid for the very purpose of interacting with at-risk women in a caring and compassionate way. Sometimes "their" method is wrongly assumed to reflect a desire for pregnancy support alone and not intervention services.

It's all too easy to judge from a distance and, without really understanding their circumstances and assume that what "they" are doing is wrong. But, let's remember what happens when we assume.

Let's also remember Proverbs 18:17, "The first person to speak always seems right until someone comes and asks the right questions." (ERV)


by Jor-El Godsey, Vice President

 

 

Freedom of Association

by Jor-El Godsey, Vice President

It’s not every day Heartbeat International is considered among the likes of the Sierra Club, PETA, and the NAACP. While these groups focus on the rights of trees, animals, and a key minority people group, they rarely, if ever, find themselves publicly aligned with supporting the rights of the unborn.

So, how is Heartbeat like them at all?

Well, we are a “membership group” just like each of these, and the thousands of membership-based non-profit advocacy groups. Simple? Yes, but profoundly rooted in the fundamental principles of the United States.

And now, thanks to a recent subpoena from the Center for Reproductive Rights, we were reminded that our membership, which we refer to as “affiliates,” is founded in a Constitutional liberty—the Freedom of Association.

The Background

In the process of filing to quash the motion in response to the City of Baltimore’s ordinance infringing upon the First Amendment rights of the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc., our friends from Alliance Defending Freedom rightly noted that the “…subpoenas seek information violating the Organizations’ freedom of expressive association and protected by the First Amendment privilege.”

The right to freely enter into or leave an association arises from the First Amendment, and therefore stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the vaunted Freedoms of Speech and Religion.

The God-Ordained Right to Association

A few millennia before this right was enshrined in the Constitution via the Bill of Rights, the concept of association for a greater good was proclaimed by the Preacher:

Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it's just too bad, because there is no one to help him. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (GNT)

When your organization takes the step to affiliate—or associate—with Heartbeat International, we agree to share a common purpose. Together, we agree to live out our vision before the watching world in the way we decide—the very right attacked by the Center for Reproductive Rights’ (note the irony) subpoena.

Our Passion for Association

So when you reach out to us at Heartbeat, we in turn reach out to you. Your missional challenges—in various ways—become ours. That is the heart of our affiliation association. It’s joining together for something greater. 

While this powerful principle undergirds Heartbeat’s network and is critical for a free society, it is more important to note that association is the very center of the Gospel itself. When we associate with the Lord Jesus Christ, He in turn extends Himself to us!

We associate—in claiming ourselves Christians—with Christ and with one another! 

            For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. —Ephesians 3:14-19 (NASB)

We are family in Christ and fellow laborers in this great work of the Gospel of Life. Heartbeat is honored and privileged to be counted with our missional friends in Baltimore as they undergo persecution on account of their passion to bring life-affirming help to those facing life-and-death decisions.

 

Power Up This Summer With Heartbeat, NMHC

 

PowerConver4Thinking of conserving power this summer?

Well maybe it’s time to think again.

This summer, Heartbeat International is partnering with the National Maternity Housing Coalition to pilot six highly interactive strategy sessions we like to call “Power Conversations.”

Short, sweet, and packing a punch, these 30-minute conversations are a perfect environment for maternity housing leaders at all stages of development and experience.

Here’s what to expect from Power Conversations this summer:

  • July 10: Smooth Departures
  • July 17: Intake Methods
  • July 24: Outbreak Prevention
  • July 31: Difficult Departures
  • Aug 7: Transportation Norms
  • Aug 14: Chore Systems

All sessions start at 2 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time)

Call-in Number: (559) 726-1300
Participant Access Code: 705126 

 

Baby Daddies and the Treasure Hunt

by Mary Peterson, Housing Specialist

babydaddySomewhere along the line several years ago, moms started using the title “Baby Daddy” to refer to the man they had been involved with when they became pregnant.

“The ‘baby daddy’ went with me to doctor today.”

“Him? Nah, we’re not dating—he’s the ‘baby daddy.’”

When it was still a new term, I remember hearing it a few times. Soon after, I saw it used in a pop magazine and realized that the term wasn’t just a passing phase. A sign of our times, the phrase “baby daddy” has come to be commonly understood as referring to a specific situation and calling to mind attributes of a specific kind of man.

It is this man who is often connected to the women of our homes.

More and more, I hear pregnancy help organizations reflect on how to better engage men. For maternity homes, this question is framed as, “How do we help ‘baby daddies’ grow into fathers?”

In the maternity home setting, this can raise the question, “If they are choosing to parent, how do we help single mothers—fatherless families—to invite the right type of men into their lives and raise children in the context of authentic masculinity?”

It’s a difficult tension—wanting to honor the role a man plays as a father and simultaneously, wishing a new mom would finally sever a destructive attachment to a man who is just using her, abusive, manipulative, or in and out of jail.

Hope Mansion in Cedar Hill, Texas, led by Angie Hammond, has developed an interesting program to address this tension.

The program, still under development, uses communication with the women as the leverage point. In order to be able to spend time with the mother residing in the maternity home, the man must walk through a variety of steps in a process they refer to as a “Treasure Hunt.”

One of the first steps is to require a formal letter from the “Baby Daddy,” in which he must explain his intentions regarding the resident in the Home and the baby. Once the Home receives the letter, he is provided with the workbook, “The Me I See,” from Loving and Caring. Next, he makes a request to meet with the House Dad, giving the opportunity to engage in a deliberate conversation.

Calling upon his masculine drive to take action, the intent is for the man to realize the mother of his child truly is a treasure—a woman worthy of his sacrifice. If he fails to take the simple steps required, then he is not allowed contact, and the house parents encourage the woman to think deeply about what it means that he was unwilling to make such small gestures in order to stay in her life.

“We are pleased by the level of conversation that has opened up,” Angie says. “The Treasure Hunt puts the initiative and the consequence into the hands of the man. And thus, provides an opportunity for real growth.”

Has your home, like Hope Mansion, discovered effective strategies for engaging men and teaching fatherhood? We would love to hear (and share!) more.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or post to the National Maternity Housing Coalition Facebook page. Who knows, maybe this is the beginning of a longer conversation we can have via conference call or through the Heartbeat Academy. Let’s learn from one another!

For more information on Hope Mansion, visit: https://www.hopemansion.com.

 

A home for the Housing Coalition

 

nmhc finalbw 
by Mary Peterson, Housing Consultant

As maternity housing providers, we regularly welcome women into our homes at a time when they are most vulnerable. Perhaps an even greater challenge, we also welcome these women into our hearts.

As I speak with homes across the country, so many within our portion of the pregnancy help movement are quick to point out, “We aren’t a shelter… it really is a home we are trying to create,” or, “These women really experience love in our homes.” These statements capture what it means to be a home with a heart!

Over the past two years, leaders of maternity homes have been strategizing how to best unify maternity homes across the country, in order to speak collectively, support fledging homes, learn from one another, and help every maternity home to be more successful in facilitating the transformation we hope to see in the lives of the women we serve.

The results of this on-going discussion has been the formulation of the National Maternity Housing Coalition (NMHC), which is now reaching out to the more than 450 U.S. maternity homes to provide support and resources for the unique work of providing housing to homeless pregnant women.
Heartbeat International has been a great partner every step of the way. With its extensive history of supporting life-affirming organizations, Heartbeat has given the newly created NMHC a home.

In partnering with Heartbeat, the NMHC is tapping into a wealth of resources, including Heartbeat’s Annual Conference, the ability to host webinars through the Heartbeat Academy, and the opportunity to have more maternity homes take advantage of Heartbeat’s existing resources, such as the Sexual Integrity™ Program, The LOVE Approach™, and Healing the Effects of Abortion-Related Trauma (H.E.A.R.T Manual™).

Heartbeat unites Christ-centered ministries from across denominational dividing lines, and has a deep cultural sensitivity shown by their 1,800 affiliates from across the country and around the globe.

The Coalition is blessed to have such a loving place to call home!

To make sure the Coalition starts off on the right foot, I am now working with Heartbeat as a Housing Consultant. I bring over 14 years of experience in the work of maternity homes, having co-founded and helped to guide Maggie’s Place in several stages of growth since 2000.

As the Housing Consultant, it is my task to listen deeply to the needs of maternity homes and to support the efforts of the Coalition, bringing about unity, resources, and support for maternity home leaders.

Maternity homes are a key response to the questions, “What about that child?” “What about that mother?” “What are you doing to help them?”
Housing ministries provide the pregnancy help movement with a valuable response to these concerns.

By their nature, maternity homes meet a wide variety of needs, providing genuine choice and practical aid to mothers and mothers-to-be. Some of these precious women need help meeting immediate needs such as homelessness, while others need help formulating a long-term plan for success.

Aren’t we blessed to be smack dab in the middle of this wonderfully challenging and wonderfully beautiful work?!

For more information about the National Maternity Housing Coalition, please visit our website here.

You can read more about Heartbeat International’s role in the Coalition here.

 

Better Together is God's Idea

by Betty McDowell, Heartbeat Director of Affiliate Services

From Take Heart | Vol. 2, Issue 6

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly.  You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

But that doesn't mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift.  The text for this is,

  • He climbed the high mountain,
  • He captured the enemy and seized the booty,
  • He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ's followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ's body, the church, until we're all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God's Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ (Ephesians 4:4-13 The Message).

It is awe inspiring to think about how this scripture points out how much we have in common and how we are so much better together.  We are not to be a threat to each other.  But what a threat we can be to the Father of Lies when we are united in heart and purpose!

Each of us has but one Master who has given us many gifts and callings.  What a blessing and an honor to grant each other the freedom to be who God made us to be, to develop our talents in ministry, and to recognize the calling on each other’s lives.

Today you have a choice.  You can  look around and feel threatened or insecure about your position or future in ministry or you can bless and acknowledge those around you who have the same heart, who serve the same God, who are part of the same body, who desire, like you, to be fully alive in Christ.  We are better together because this is God’s idea and He desires unity for us and with us.

Back to Take Heart | Vol. 2, Issue 6

Developing a Thriving Team

team medium1

by Debra Neybert, Training Specialist

Since building an effective team will ultimately affect the women and men you are trying to serve, board members and directors looking to strengthen and nurture their team need to take specific steps to positively impact their staff and volunteers.

The Board of the organization is responsible for creating an environment that puts people first, that solves conflict in a healthy and biblical way, and that also allows people to develop and ultimately use their God-given gifts and talents to bless those they minister to.

A healthy leadership team (Board and Executive Director), can be a source of nourishment for an entire organization as they model servant leadership and provide professional development opportunities.

Pursuing Godly Servant Leadership

One characteristic of servant leadership comes prioritizing your relationship with the Lord, which then leads to pursuing a particular God-given mission. Board members should have a calling to follow the mission of your organization. The mission energizes and creates a passion for leaders to take on the responsibilities and jobs that come to Board members. It will also draw others to get involved and energize their passion for the mission.

Servant leaders should value their relationship with fellow members of the leadership team. These relationships must be characterized by love. In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul describes the kind of love that God would have us exemplify. Servant Leaders are sensitive to the needs of those they work with (fellow leaders on the team), and to those under their direction. Servant leaders also lead by example and are willing to doing small jobs as gifts to others.

As the Cross drew near, Jesus introduced his followers to servant leadership as a radically new form of leadership, such that the world had never seen.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5)

Another characteristic of a servant leader is peace. It is always easy to remain peaceful when nothing is rocking your boat, but remaining peaceful is more challenging when struggles begin to surface, whether in relation to finances, personnel, internal or external challenges, transitions or attacks.

A peaceful environment is the result of effective servant leadership. This is an atmosphere of peacefulness that nourishes the organization when conflicts are handled in a biblical way. One extremely helpful resource Heartbeat recommends and uses is Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, a practical handbook for peacemaking based on Matthew 18. When this kind of conflict resolution is modeled by a leadership team, the entire organization benefits.

Cultivating a Professional Environment

Another way the Board can encourage and nurture its team is by proactively investing in professional development opportunities.

A good working environment is crucial, including space and equipment. It is the Board’s responsibility to see that those under their care, especially the Executive Director, are treated with dignity and respect. When dignity and respect are modeled, these virtues also filter down to the whole organization and bear much fruit.

A good salary and benefits for the Executive Director and staff are some of the ways that dignity and respect are shown, and it is always wise to plan ahead and make provision in the budget for continuing education and training for the Executive Director and staff.

Continuing education can be provided in many ways: through the Heartbeat Academy, one-on-one mentoring of the Executive Director by a Board member, community workshops provided by local foundations, a line item in the annual budget to send the Executive Director (and at least one Board member plus other staff and volunteers) to one of the Heartbeat International training events (Annual Conference, Executive Roundtable, Institute for Center Effectiveness).

A commitment to the on-site or online training of Board and/or staff every few years is also a tremendous way to nurture your center, while a prayer retreat for the Board and/or staff is a blessing that can be provided by a local pastor or priest (or both).

Training events also provide an excellent networking opportunity for Board Members and the Executive Director (and staff) with other nonprofits in the local community and, in the case of Heartbeat International events, with similar ministries all over the world.

Order Heartbeat International’s GOVERN WellTM today to find out how you can become a more effective leader in your life-affirming center.
Also, don’t let the chance to invest in your leadership excellence through the 2014 Heartbeat International Annual Conference, March 24-27 in Charleston, S.C.

God's Love Language

 "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."

1 John 4:9-11

 handsholding.102822

“In this the love of God was made manifest…..” We have all heard it said, “Actions speak louder than words.” This is a true saying! God’s love language manifested louder than words….because in John 1:14 it tells us The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God with us, Emanuel!

So much of God’s love is communicated through His loving actions toward us. First and foremost He gave; He gave what was most precious to Him, His only Son.

How do we comprehend such love? God’s covenant love for us includes all His benefits. He is absolutely 100% committed to us, desiring for us to enjoy all the blessing that are ours in Christ. Those in relationship with God in the new covenant have many spiritual blessings as new creatures in Christ Jesus. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 1:3

Those spiritual blessings express God’s love for us, and some are listed in Ephesians 1; we have been chosen, adopted, and accepted in the beloved. We are redeemed, forgiven, and have become part of His perfect plan and purpose. In addition, we are laborers together with God (1 Corinthians 3:9); we are ambassadors bringing the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20); we are the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2).

We have peace which passes understanding (Philippians 4:7); we prosper in every way and keep well, even as our soul keeps well and prospers (3 John 1:2); and we have the assurance that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39).

The word for "covenant" in the Old Testament comes from a Hebrew root word that means "to cut." The death of Jesus ushered in the new covenant under which we are justified by God's grace and mercy. Jesus' sacrificial death served as the oath, or pledge, which God made to us to seal this new covenant.

In 1 Samuel 18 we are told that Jonathan makes a covenant with David because he loved him as his own soul. In verse 4 it tells us that Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his apparel, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.

Similarly, Jesus in covenant love for us, stripped Himself of His robe, His majestic apparel (John 13), and laid down His life for us. There was a divine exchange. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3:13

The Father gave us His only Son, and now we have the ability to live, and to love through Him, to love others because He first loved us. Let our language and speech become a conduit of His love.

  • “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
  • “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
  • “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13


by Debra Neybert, Training Specialist

 

The House, United

By Jor-El Godsey, President

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

 
These are words spoken by Abraham Lincoln in 1858 about the demonic and divisive issue facing the United States—slavery. These words, of course, echo those of our Lord as He confronted the demonic and divisive issue facing Israel—Pharisaic legalism (Matthew 12:22ff).

As Lincoln’s historical heirs and as joint-heirs with Christ, we inherit this time-tested statement as we face the demonic and divisive issue of our time—abortion.

These same words should inspire those of us in the pregnancy help community to recognize how, together, we make up “a house”. Certainly, we are Christ-followers and part of His Kingdom, the House of God.

But in a parallel sense, we are part and parcel of each other, like the picture of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, united by a uniquely common mission of compassion.

Our opponent, Satan, is as intent upon aborting our efforts as he was upon keeping an entire people group in the shackles of American slavery. This same zeal was present in the death of Christ, which Satan sought as his ultimate victory—which turned out to be his ultimate demise.

So, how do we stay united, and keep from becoming that divided house on the verge of collapse? Here are three profound things we can do, starting today:

First, stop comparing ourselves to each other.

We are much more than our “nickels and noses” (to borrow slang from church leaders/planters). Budgets, client numbers, and staff sizes are poor metrics for evaluating mission effectiveness. Subjective things like degree of professionalism, purity of mission focus, and client outcomes are also weak indicators for people setting out to participate in the Lord’s life-giving work.

Second, major in the majors.

We can all agree that Jesus inspires us to champion His Gift of Life and Him as the Giver of Life. With some 33,000 denominations (World Christian Encyclopedia by Barrett, Kurian, Johnson (Oxford Univ Press, 2nd edition, 2001), the reality of total doctrinal alignment is an illusion. But as Saint Augustine encourages, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

There are some essentials that divide us on Sunday in the pews—such as whether or not we refer to Saint Augustine or just Augustine—but these need not divide us while we seek to help those women and families who are making life and death decisions every day.

Third, saturate our care for one another.

Apply the same love and grace to fellow staff members, board members, and peers as we would for clients/patients. The misty-eyed woman who can’t say which of her partners might be the father of her child needs the love of God to flow through us to her. But so does that fellow minister on our team, or across town, or on the national stage.

Love should always be our language whether we are in the counseling room, the classroom, the conference room, or at the convention.

Unity amid diversity, and the certainty of victory

Our pregnancy help “house” is a diverse group spanning cultures, vocations, and denominations. Abraham Lincoln saw something similar in 1858 as he addressed the crowd in Springfield, Illinois. When we look back on our victory over slavery, the moral crisis of that day, we should realize its similarities with our day.

Listen one more time to Lincoln’s eloquent words, and see if, just maybe, they can apply to us.

Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy.

Did we brave all then to falter now? -- now when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered, and belligerent? The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail -- if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise counsels may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later, the victory is sure to come.

From the Birmingham Jail... to the pregnancy help movement

by Jor-El Godsey and Jay Hobbs

In 1963, writing while in a Birmingham jail cell, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned a stirring response to local clergy leaders who had publicly criticized his part in non-violent protests against racial inequality.

King’s words spoke powerfully to the commonplace injustice of his day. But his prose echoes throughout the decades to underscore the pro-life argument today.

We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

The greatest strength of our life-saving efforts today is to continue with “tireless efforts” and “persistent work” as we remain “co-workers with God” in the great work of championing the sanctity of life.

It’s almost as if Dr. King was speaking directly to the questions surrounding the pro-life movement as a whole, and even the pregnancy help movement in particular, as the letter progresses.

His audience was Southern clergy who, while sympathetic to desegregation to some degree, had not yet become emboldened to stand for the equality of their black brothers and sisters. It was not the infamous Ku Klux Klan or other rabidly racist groups who presented the greatest challenge, frustrations, or disappointments to Dr. King. Another group posed deeper issues:

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Far from a mere indictment or dismissal of the church, Dr. King wrote as a minister, who proudly proclaimed himself “the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers” who spoke to the church as a loving son or brother might lovingly—but earnestly—address his parents or siblings.

What an excellent example for those of us in the pro-life movement. We want to invite our churches into the good work of ministering to women and families who are vulnerable to abortion. We do best to address our pastors, priests, leaders, and clergy from a humble—“purified” in the words of Dr. King—position.

At the same time, we also do best to follow Dr. King’s example of relentless urgency:

By their effort and example [early Christians] brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are…

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Take some time this week and read through the Letter from the Birmingham Jail. You’ll be thankful you did.

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