The Original Sacred Assemblies for the Unborn (SAU), 1989-1991

John C. Rankin

When “Operation Rescue” hit the national scene in 1988, it advocated a strategy of vigilante physical blockade of abortion centers. I argue elsewhere that is was unbiblical. For here, let me address how we sought to best protect the unborn in such a context during that season, where as many as 200 women walked away from their abortion appointments by their own informed choice.

Sacred Assemblies for the Unborn

In the spring of 1989, I initiated a Christian witness at New England’s largest abortion center, Preterm, in Brookline, Massachusetts, adjacent to Boston, which later I called the Sacred Assemblies for the Unborn (SAU). Preterm was then performing about 10,000 abortions a year. Over a two-year period we maintained a weekly presence on Saturday mornings. Usually we had from a dozen to three dozen people; on a number of occasions we had 50 or more, and several occasions we had large turnouts, including our first time on June 3, 1989, with some 225 participating. Activists from the Boston chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) were also there for the first nine months in equal numbers, but afterward called it off because, according to one of their leaders, we “were persuading too many of them.”

The Strategy

In these assemblies, we had several points of strategy. First was a visible presence augmented by banners and signs. Second was a peaceful and conversational presence where we sought to engage abortion-rights protestors, police, passersby, “escorts,” guards and others in honest dialogue. Third was worship, including song and prayer in various capacities. And fourth was the eventual development of The Jeremiah 19 Liturgy (see below). It all involved a specific embrace of spiritual warfare, where we were seeking to break the demonic forces present, and to see the Spirit of God touch the hearts and minds of all those involved with Preterm in any capacity, especially the women coming for abortions.

In the first element of our strategy, we had two large banners, each about six feet in width, and three-and-a-half feet in height. One banner was at the front of Preterm, on the sidewalk on Beacon Street, and the other on the side street near the rear entrance and parking lot.

The banners had white block letters against a green background (like a highway sign), and easily visible from quite a distance:

YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CHOOSE LIFE

We also had some signs (three by two feet in size) that said the same, with the same colors. Then we had ten (now twelve – #3 and #12 have since been added, with several also slightly edited, 18″ x24″) sets of yellow signs with black letters, that posed rhetorical questions, also designed to be clearly visible against any surrounding. These read:

  1. AREN’T YOU GLAD YOU WEREN’T ABORTED?
  2. WHY DO YOU FEEL NO CHOICE BUT ABORTION?
  3. IS IT YOUR CHOICE, OR HIS CHOICE, FOR YOU TO ABORT?
  4. HOW DOES HUMAN ABORTION ADD TO YOUR OWN DIGNITY?
  5. MIGHT YOU REGRET THIS ABORTION SOMEDAY?
  6. CAN ANYTHING GOOD BE SAID ABOUT HUMAN ABORTION?
  7. DOES GOOD CHOICE NURTURE OR DESTROY HUMAN LIFE?
  8. WHY DOES THE HUMAN FETUS FIGHT TO STAY ALIVE?
  9. WHY DOES “FEMINISM” ABORT UNBORN GIRLS?
  10. WHICH COMES FIRST? YOUR LIFE OR THE POWER OF CHOICE?
  11. CAN YOU IMAGINE JESUS PERFORMING AN ABORTION? WHY NOT?
  12. IS THE ABORTION INDUSTRY RACIST?

In the language of the banner, the first six words equal the centerpiece of feminist sympathies: “You have the power to choose ….” And pagan feminist thinking believes the concept of the power to choose is their formulation of an identity in stark opposition to a biblical worldview.

The words “you have the power” strengthens this language of acknowledgment, and in adding “power,” feminist yearnings find resonance. This is further symphonized with the addition of choice – “You have the power to choose ….” These six words are as central to all feminist theories as any summation can make. We know that the abortion choice is largely the result of male chauvinisms, and many feminists and abortion-rights activists are in painful reaction to having been so violated.

When the final four-letter word is added to the phrase, “You have the power to choose life,” the de facto feminist ethic of misinformed choice is revealed. The power of informed choice requires accurate definition of terms, it requires an acknowledgment of reality. When “life” is put in, the object of “pro-choice” is no longer amorphous. It takes on flesh, it becomes real in its consequences. The power to choose? The power to choose what? Are all choices equal (e.g., dualism), or are some good and some evil?

The questions were all designed to be intelligent and thought-provoking, and not accusatory. Over two years worth of Saturdays, we saw as many as 200 women turn away from their abortion appointments. Hundreds of honest discussions occurred with abortion rights activists and others who were there, and many anecdotes are relayed in Vol. 2 of First the Gospel, Then Politics…

The Power of the Banner

As an example, on September 30, 1989, I was not present at Preterm, but I received a detailed report from several witnesses to one of the most signal examples of the power of this slogan. At the rear entrance, two volunteers were holding up the banner, with other pro-life volunteers also present. One was Sue O’Connell, a volunteer who with her husband would travel nearly 100 miles from Amherst, Massachusetts, and they were as regular as any of our volunteers. That morning, Sue’s eight-year old daughter, Kelly, was also with her.

Sue and the others were positioned on the sidewalk next to the entrance to the parking lot, and from the lot people coming to Preterm would then enter the rear door. There were about eight “escorts” positioned by the door, many dozens of feet away from Sue and Kelly, each wearing aprons designating their escort status. These were women and men, serving as volunteers (I was told) to Preterm, to “guard” incoming “clients” from being harassed by “anti-choice zealots.” Since the parking lot was private property, our volunteers never went onto it from their public sidewalk positions.

This particular morning, a college-age woman walked down the street and was preparing to cross the lot to the rear door. As she did, she stopped, looked at the banner and pondered its words. Sue offered her some printed literature, and the young woman was preparing to receive it. But during those moments, the eight escorts saw what was happening and quickly came up and surrounded her, creating a human blockade around her with arms linked. This was a common practice such escorts developed to shield women when trying to break through an Operation Rescue blockade wall. Blockade against blockade, force against force, human angst against human angst. So it was tragicomical to witness their intensity of forming such a blockade where there was no physical interference to such women as they entered the abortion center. But they had a deeper fear – that abortion-minded women might intelligently reconsider their choice, and seek some informed input from a different perspective. Thus, these escorts started shouting and chanting so as to prevent her from hearing anything Sue might say, and especially to prevent any printed literature from coming her way. Thus they forced her into the doors of Preterm by such a surrounding tactic, being careful not to physically touch her and run afoul of the law.

One witness to the event told me that as much as he opposed the tactic of blockade, the sight of the woman being hustled inside made him so frustrated that he emotionally wanted to physically intervene. As he wrestled with these thoughts, eight-year old Kelly O’Connell started praying out loud and with the strength of child-like faith, as she rebuked the devil, his deceit and his influence upon that young woman, and commanded in Jesus’s name that she would come out of Preterm. And within minutes the woman did, shaken in countenance, making her way back to Sue and the others, where she received some materials and went her way. A triumph for the biblical power of informed choice. By God’s grace, not by answering coercion and lawlessness with opposing coercion and lawlessness – but by answering with prayer.

Thus the banner, in its summation of biblical theology, “You have the power to choose life,” has a power that abortion-rights activists are unable to answer. When Yahweh said to Cain that he must overcome his sin, and when Moses and Joshua told the Jews to choose between life and death, between the true God and the false gods, he was saying that they “have the power” to do so. Not the intrinsic ability within sinful humanity to overcome evil, but the broken remains of God’s image within them are sufficient by God’s grace to discern truth from falsehood, and to say “help me Lord,” at which point he sends his help. By acknowledging this “power” within hurting people, we serve the reversal of the reversal, and redeem the language of choice to serve human life, not to destroy it.

The Power of the Questions

Our ten signs also proved effective at having women stop and reconsider their intentions, and effective at catalyzing conversations with the abortion-rights activists. I conceived of them the day before our first chorus, and they remained almost unchanged for our entire two years at Preterm, and as we changed them from cardboard signs to more durable materials.

On September 9, 1989, as we began to be present every Saturday, and the numbers of people equaled about 40 on each side, I saw some of the fruit of how deeply these signs affected the abortion-rights activists. A woman representing the “Reproductive Rights Network” (“R2N2″ as her signs also said) had taken the time to make six signs, each numbered correspondingly to our signs (as then numbered, as in the meantime I have added a new #3, and the old #3 becomes #4 etc.). In each case they sought to answer the questions we had posed. I was delighted. She was trying to have other abortion-rights activists hold up her signs, but almost without success. So I went to strike up a conversation with her, and thanked her for having taken the time to answer our questions in such a fashion. I asked her if she were interested in talking about her answers, but she was very tense, distrustful, and did not want to talk. Yet she could not resist asking me some questions, and as I answered, she relaxed somewhat. I then asked her if I could copy down the words from her signs, and she was hesitant, and then allowed me to do so, as long as I did not harm any of her signs. So I sat on the sidewalk and copied their words down:

Question #1: Aren’t you glad you weren’t aborted?

Answer #1: My mother is pro-choice and I am glad that she was not forced to bear an unwanted child.

Question #2: Why do you feel no choice but abortion?

No Answer:

Question #3: How does human abortion add to your own dignity?

Answer #3: The right to abortion adds to every woman’s dignity because it allows women to control their lives. No religion can be allowed to limit or dictate choice!

Question #4: Might you regret this abortion someday?

Answer #4: No. Women who have been able to obtain abortions maintain that it was the right decision. They have put a lot of thought into exercising their right.

Question #5: Can anything good be said about human abortion?

No Answer:

Question #6: Does good choice nurture life, or destroy life?

Answer #6: Good choice nurtures the lives of women.

Question #7: Why does the human fetus fight to stay alive?

Answer #7: A fetus is not a human being. It is dependent on a woman’s life and cannot survive outside her womb.

Question #8: If feminism = human care, why destroy the unborn human?

Answer #8: Feminism = freedom from oppression and harassment. Help women exercise their right to accessible, legal abortion. Save women’s lives.

Question #9: Is not all law based on a prior definition of human life?

No Answer:

Question #10: Can you imagine Jesus performing an abortion? Why not?

No Answer:

When I composed our signs, I had certain words underlined, words which were meant to quickly touch a point of response of the image of God in the readers. As well, the signs made no negative statements about or caricatures of any people, groups or political affiliations, but instead sought to get women to think in terms of their own dignity and power to make the right choice.

In reviewing this woman’s selective responses, I had opportunity to reflect upon words which she had carefully chosen, and cared about deeply enough to commit to public language. And in her words, I see a reflection of the motivating pain behind the abortion-rights movement – the nature of male chauvinism.

In my first question, the focus was on you, getting women to think about their own humanity, their possession of life and gratefulness for it. With the R2N2 woman’s response, I see aversion of the question. She did not say she was not glad to be alive (unaborted), but rather focused on her mother’s dignity being preserved in resistance to being “forced.” 2N2 woman must have been hurting enough to deflect the purpose of the question.

The R2N2 woman did not answer the second question. Perhaps she did not have time to prepare answers to all ten, and she chose the six she felt most interested in, or for which she was most able to give some answer. Or perhaps she, like many abortion-rights activists, was a woman who once had an abortion, one where she felt no choice as the father of the child refused any responsibility. Then in her pain at such chauvinistic treatment, she conflated an attempt to rationalize some dignity on her part by saying she had a choice to have an abortion, although her boyfriend actually gave her no choice. Maybe this was not the case with the R2N2 woman, but her answers indicate much pain, and such a scenario I have proposed has been true for too many other women.

(The new question #3 builds on question #2 with more specificity about the male influence, and hence his chauvinism.)

In her answer to (the original) question #3, the argument that “the right to abortion” adds dignity because “it allows women to control their lives,” again seems to be a reaction against the chauvinistic treatment by men. And then her answer reflects an emphatic fear of impositional religion, which is a subject not even in view in this question. As well, all our signs, along with the banner, along with our non-blockade presence, equaled the opposite of limiting or dictating choice.

Even yet, though we try our best to succeed at the metaethics of language, some people have been violated too much by organized religion to see through their own pain to the substance of what we are trying to say. Our mere presence was interpreted viscerally on their part as a shoving of unwelcome religion down their throats. At times like this, gentleness in spirit, preceded by prayer, and augmented by eyeball to eyeball respect for her dignity as an image-bearer of God, is all the more important as we seek to hurdle these obstacles. As she relaxed a bit in my brief conversation with her, hopefully this was due to something of the goodness of the true Gospel touching her.

In the R2N2 woman’s answer to question #4, the “no” answer seems defensive as much as it does personal. Most women do regret their abortions, modestly or completely, and the reality of post-abortion trauma is real and pervasive. And for many who say they do not regret it, a legitimate question is raised as to what extent a denial mechanism is in place to help salve the emotional pain. This woman may have had an abortion herself, and put much thought into it, though her sign put it in the third person. (And my experience leads me to view this as the likely scenario.) And having done so, no regrets are possible without an identity crisis such as the subconscious might suggest. And whereas she might have put much thought into it, many women being hurried off to an abortion appointment have not, and they are the ones that such a sign can reach at the last moment.

Question #5 went unanswered. Human abortion is an act of intrinsic destruction, and very hard to rationalize as “anything good.” In the ten signs, the choice of what words were underlined sought an overall balance in focus, and this is the only one that actually focuses on the word abortion itself. In so doing, it focuses on the human nature of its object. It is all in an attempt to help focus on the humanity of the unborn child, which only in the touching of the mother’s humanity, can we help to serve his or her rescue.

The answer to question #6 is again selective and defensive. It gives a true statement, but perhaps a false implication. Namely, the choice of human abortion does not serve womanhood’s intrinsic nature, and only rarely is it necessary to actually save her life from an otherwise septic condition coincidental with pregnancy. If such rare cases were the sole focus of “abortion-rights,” there would be no political turmoil. Good choice does not deliberately destroy human life.

In the answer to question #7, the denial of the unborn child’s humanity is the only recourse. Interestingly, the Latin word fetus simply means “young one” in the personal and human sense. And yes, the fetus is dependent upon mom’s womb, and indeed we are all dependent consistently upon the womb of the earth’s ecosphere for daily survival. The R2N2 woman could have been asked, rhetorically in response, “And upon whom is a woman’s life dependent? Her mother, father and the ecosphere, et al. and etc.? Who is not in some sense always dependent upon others?” And the R2N2 woman avoided the question of the fight. Namely, regardless of the semantics employed to dehumanize the unborn, we are all genetically programmed from our conceptions to be eager for life, to fight to live.

This eagerness is pre-conscious, and it energizes our self-awareness as it comes into full flower. The abortionist’s scalpel must literally chase the unborn child inside his or her sanctuary in order to kill. The unborn child instinctively fights to stay alive, a point of identification which may help some abortion-minded women reconsider. But for the R2N2 woman, her pain of being hurt by religiously chauvinistic imposition may have been too great for her to be willing to so identify with the unborn – even an unborn child as she was once herself.

The answer to question #8 is theologically most revealing. In the prior seven questions, I focused principally on the women coming in for an abortion appointment, seeking to empower them to choose life. Question #8 was aimed at the feminists present, asking them to consider the meaning of their own self-defining term of feminism. Feminist theory in its many permutations says specifically that if the world were run by women, and not by (chauvinistic) men, then we would have a more peaceful and ecologically friendly planet. Feminism is thus advertised as equaling “human care,” and I sought in this question to link that assertion with caring for the unborn human. The R2N2 woman avoided this linkage and stated that feminism equals freedom from harassment. Amen – and only the power of informed choice can provide such freedom. But only because of the prior reality of Yahweh’s power to give. Here the contrast between Genesis and all other sources for human identity is clear. The highest view of freedom outside of only Genesis is a negative freedom, a freedom from violation. But until violation is understood, freedom from it is not possible. Unless the order of creation, the reversal and the reversal of the reversal are understood, true freedom cannot be grasped.

Question #9 was designed as the one legal question, for any lawyers, government officials or even police officers who might take notice of it. As I describe my strategy for winning the legal protection of the unborn, the centrality of this question will be more fully understood. The question was phrased differently at the outset, changed slightly later, and she was reacting to the earlier phrasing.

Finally, question #10 addressed a theological concern, and the only one which I simultaneously answered, in this case with a rhetorical question. Given the R2N2 woman’s response to question #3 where she imported the question of religion, this might seem like a question that would have sparked a response on her part. The reason it did not, I suppose, is that it is one thing to castigate “religion” as an institution or force that oppresses people, and another thing to castigate Jesus as a person. In all of history, very few if any people have ever said anything negative about Jesus as a person, other than the religious and political elitists who opposed him when he was in the flesh – and as they did so knowingly without just cause. Even such elitists today are most hesitant to do so. His reputation is so singular, and also, who can honestly imagine the Son of God, who healed the lame and the blind, delivered the demonized and raised the dead – who could imagine him giving countenance to the surgical or chemical destruction of an unborn human child, on the ostensible grounds of the “right to choose”?

Once when I was holding this sign at Preterm, a woman abortion-rights supporter approached me and said how she resented me “forcing” religion on her. I asked her how I was doing this, and she pointed to my sign (original #10). I then asked how the sign “forced” religion on her, and she said that the mere introduction of the name of Jesus into such a political issue equaled such a “forcing.”

She was receptive to dialogue, so I explained how the posing of the question was exactly that – a question. It required nothing of her and made no demands of her attention or action. It was one of ten questions we were posing, and the only one with explicit religious content. In fact, she was free not to read it or any of the other questions, and I was exercising my freedom of political expression in the use of such a sign, just as the abortion-rights supporters were doing with their own signs. She was at Preterm by her own volition, and no force was being applied to her to make her read the signs. As well, I noted that the question only has as much influence on people’s thoughts and actions to the degree that they regard Jesus as someone whose person and teachings matter to them. If they believe Jesus is Lord and Savior, then the question raises a critical issue; if they regard Jesus as a mere human teacher, then the question raises concerns proportionate to how they view his teachings; if they do not give a whit about Jesus, then the question means nothing. I explained that many women coming in for an abortion have been raised with some sort of Christian teaching, and that my question might affect them positively as they intelligently reconsider their plans – that this equals the power of informed choice, the opposite of forcing religion on someone. For those abortion-minded women who do not care about what Jesus might think of abortion, the sign poses no force against their decision. Then I briefly profiled the nature of the power of informed choice, and her freedom to disregard the question if Jesus meant nothing to her.

Her response was lovely. She apologized for having misinterpreted the purpose of the sign, and thanked me for my explanation. I left it there. I did not probe about her opinion of Jesus Christ, nor was it appropriate at that juncture. The ethics of a biblical evangelism at this point is concerned with letting the Gospel be seen as Good News, and from there to trust the Holy Spirit to work in her heart and mind. She did not follow through with other questions, so I did not press her. But it was obvious that she thanked me for a gift given – an explanation for her gut level reaction to the question, and therefore I could see how her mind and emotions were happily catalyzed into considering what Jesus meant to her.

Street-Level Engagement

When we first arrived at Preterm on June 3, 1989, it was the result of much groundwork, so that we had about 225 people come down, many for part of the morning, and some for all of it (7 a.m. to noon). The abortion-rights supporters were present in roughly equal number. We then came down several more times that summer, and finally by the autumn, we had a presence every Saturday, though the numbers at each event were more modest. Boston NOW and their allied organizations were organized almost like a para-military organization. They had cell-phones (when they were expensive and comparatively rare) and walkie-talkies, and a very distinct hierarchal structure, where we could identify their chapter president who was in charge, and various “lieutenants” (as I called them) underneath her, coordinating other NOW members, and the larger core of college students. The NOW recruits were told that we were Nazi-types, and were in reality trying to catch them off guard and “rush” to blockade access to Preterm at an unguarded moment. Thus, psychologically, most of their recruits were poised the whole time, awaiting a “rush” that never came.

In preparation for this fiction, the NOW lieutenants were frantic as they moved about the perimeter of the crowd, watching for any “signal” on our part that would indicate the coming “rush.” During the first hour-and-a-half on June 3, we essentially worshiped in song and prayer, and NOW et al. chanted slogans until they tired of it (it was much harder for them to yell slogans to try and drown out our worship, than it was for us [on our lungs] to joyfully, peacefully sing). During this time, the detail of Brookline police officers were keeping us and the NOW contingent separate, even though we had written them beforehand outlining our planned conduct. After NOW et al. tired of their chants, we later brought our worship to a close for a time. It was hot and sunny, on its way to temperatures exceeding 90 degrees. We were equipped with plenty of ice-cold spring water, and NOW apparently was not. We began to distribute it to Christian and pagan alike, and in the process it naturally served an important priority, which was to engage the NOW activists in honest dialogue at street-side. Most of the NOW activists, especially the college students, were grateful for the water. I was told of one encounter, however, that was as tragic as it was comical. As one of our volunteers was passing out the cups of water, a woman reached out to take it, then hesitated and looked at the person offering the water, and queried, “Which side are you on?” When she learned his Christian identity, she refused the water. But she was the exception as it turned out.

Very quickly, dozens of ad hoc conversations broke out, involving groups of two, several or up to fifteen people from both sides engaged with each other in discussion about our presence, abortion and the Gospel. Prior to that June 3, I had come down once myself to gain a sense of the territory, and had engaged in conversation with some pro-life picketers whom I knew. One, as best I remember, was a member of OR and had been a supporter of my ministry on college campuses. When I spoke to him about my strategy to engage the abortion-rights activists in honest dialogue at street-level, he told me how impossible it was for such a goal to be realized. He profiled for me their antagonistic nature, and how what I did on the campuses was great, but in front of an abortion center it was a different reality. But I felt otherwise, and to see it come to pass was a joy. At its height that Saturday, some 100-200 people from both sides were involved, and the din of conversation was so great, that it competed well with the street noises and passing trolleys, cars, buses and trucks – almost like the din which precedes an event in a concert hall when the lobby is packed with people awaiting the opening of the doors. It was exceedingly fruitful, as I participated in various discussions, and in the intervening times, circled about to gain a larger perspective.

After one such circling, as I made my way back to the center of the discussions nearest the doors of Preterm, I stopped to look around and gave an ear. As I did, I noticed the president of Boston NOW about ten feet away. As I did, a sudden panic came over her as she observed what was going on about her. She then spoke to one of her “lieutenants,” and said, “What’s happening here? We are not in control. We must put a stop to this!”

She then gave instructions to have the conversations forcibly broken up, and the lieutenants and others actually grabbed their own people, shoving them away from our people, and commanded them to cease talking with us. Even yet, about half of the NOW recruits ignored these commands and continued their conversations. So, for our first several times down to Preterm, we saw large numbers and much interaction with NOW recruits, and increasing frustration on the part of the NOW leadership and its lieutenants. They were not “in control” in their censorship of informed choice. We had the godly control based on the power to give, the power to live in the light, the power of informed choice, the power to love hard questions, the power to love enemies and the power to forgive.

In one of those early assemblies, one of our volunteers heard one of the NOW recruits ask one of the lieutenants how to respond to our slogan, “You have the power to choose life.” The NOW leader responded, “Well, that’s their language, and we tell our people not to use it anymore.” They forfeited the language of choice, and thus we saw the reversal of the reversal. They tacitly acknowledged that their “pro-choice” rhetoric is dishonest, and that the power to give and the power of informed choice, as rolled into our slogan, redeemed the language of choice to protect the unborn.

It was very frustrating for these lieutenants. There was one young woman in particular, a “lieutenant” with NOW, with whom I crossed paths often. We never spoke, but she knew who I was. Her energy level was very high. One time we had a remarkable morning at Preterm, where worship was powerful, witness was engaging and where we noted seven women turning away by the power of informed choice from their abortion appointments. Afterward, I saw her sitting on the sidewalk as most people had left, her head buried in her hands. We were gathering up our signs, and in my only interaction with her, I stopped as I walked past. She looked at me, and I said, “God bless you.” I cannot now remember her exact words, as I must not have written them down at the time. But it was something like, “Yes, I need it.” In that moment I saw the Holy Spirit working on her heart, as she had come to know what our true agenda was – to show equal love to women and their unborn, to show the power to love enemies, to state with conviction that “You have the power to choose life.”

On September 30, 1989, I was not present at Preterm, but I received a detailed report from several witnesses to one of the most signal examples of the power of this slogan. At the rear entrance, two volunteers were holding up the banner, with other pro-life volunteers also present. One was Sue O’Connell, a volunteer who with her husband would travel nearly 100 miles from Amherst, Massachusetts, and they were as regular as any of our volunteers. That morning, Sue’s eight-year old daughter, Kelly, was also with her.

Sue and the others were positioned on the sidewalk next to the entrance to the parking lot, and from the lot people coming to Preterm would then enter the rear door. There were about eight “escorts” positioned by the door, many dozens of feet away from Sue and Kelly, each wearing aprons designating their escort status. These were women and men, serving as volunteers (I was told) to Preterm, to “guard” incoming “clients” from being harassed by “anti-choice zealots.” Since the parking lot was private property, our volunteers never went onto it from their public sidewalk positions.

This particular morning, a college-age woman walked down the street and was preparing to cross the lot to the rear door. As she did, she stopped, looked at the banner and pondered its words. Sue offered her some printed literature, and the young woman was preparing to receive it. But during those moments, the eight escorts saw what was happening and quickly came up and surrounded her, creating a human blockade around her with arms linked. This was a common practice such escorts developed to shield women when trying to break through an Operation Rescue blockade wall. Blockade against blockade, force against force, human angst against human angst. So it was tragicomical to witness their intensity of forming such a blockade where there was no physical interference to such women as they entered the abortion center. But they had a deeper fear – that abortion-minded women might intelligently reconsider their choice, and seek some informed input from a different perspective. Thus, these escorts started shouting and chanting so as to prevent her from hearing anything Sue might say, and especially to prevent any printed literature from coming her way. Thus they forced her into the doors of Preterm by such a surrounding tactic, being careful not to physically touch her and run afoul of the law.

One witness to the event told me that as much as he opposed the tactic of blockade, the sight of the woman being hustled inside made him so frustrated that he emotionally wanted to physically intervene. As he wrestled with these thoughts, eight-year old Kelly O’Connell started praying out loud and with the strength of child-like faith, as she rebuked the devil, his deceit and his influence upon that young woman, and commanded in Jesus’s name that she would come out of Preterm. And within minutes the woman did, shaken in countenance, making her way back to Sue and the others, where she received some materials and went her way. A triumph for the biblical power of informed choice. By God’s grace, not by answering coercion and lawlessness with opposing coercion and lawlessness – but by answering with prayer.

Thus the banner, in its summation of biblical theology, “You have the power to choose life,” has a power that abortion-rights activists are unable to answer. When Yahweh said to Cain that he must overcome his sin, and when Moses and Joshua told the Jews to choose between life and death, between the true God and the false gods, he was saying that they “have the power” to do so. Not the intrinsic ability within sinful humanity to overcome evil, but the broken remains of God’s image within them are sufficient by God’s grace to discern truth from falsehood, and to say “help me Lord,” at which point he sends his help. By acknowledging this “power” within hurting people, we serve the reversal of the reversal, and redeem the language of choice to serve human life, not to destroy it.

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The Jeremiah 19 Liturgy

By the spring of 1990, I developed a more concerted worship strategy, revolving around what I called The Jeremiah 19 Liturgy, and we were able to use it on various occasions. Our worship in song was a central element of the strategy; and service to the ministry of the sidewalk counselors was the fourth element.

Essentially, we began with guitarists who led us in contemporary choruses and classic hymns – choosing songs where the theology was strong, the melodies delightful and the appeal wide in terms of the cross-section of the believing churches. When we did not have a guitarist on hand, we sang a cappella. In the best scenario, there were always people worshiping in song and prayer, while others were conversing with abortion-rights advocates, while sidewalk counselors were doing their work, and while the banner was being displayed and the signs with their questions being held. Some people only engaged in the worship element, and never held a sign or engaged in conversation with the abortion-rights advocates. Some people concentrated on the signs and witness elements. People participated at the level they chose. And at singular times, we would gather as a whole group for worship, with the signs being held in the assembly, the banners being maintained at curbside and at the rear entrance.

The Jeremiah 19 Liturgy

Leader: We gather here today to seek God’s mercy, to stop the killing of the unborn in this place. Hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

People: This is what Yahweh says: “Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I tell you.”

Leader: The Valley of Ben Hinnom in 600 B.C. was used for places of Topheth, where infant children were burned alive to the Canaanite god Ba’al. Topheth means a fireplace for child sacrifice. Today we stand in front of an abortion center [or political institution] where human life is destroyed [or mocked]. It is a modern, updated Topheth shrine.

People: “Say, ‘Hear the word of Yahweh, O kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what Yahweh Almighty, the God of Israel says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle.’ ”

Leader: Judah faced Yahweh’s judgment in 586 B.C. with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple they made into an idol, and thus the destruction of the nation, followed by their exile to Babylon. To the extent that this nation sanctions and continues the practice of human abortion, we invite Yahweh’s judgment.

People: ” ‘For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods, they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent.” ‘ ”

Leader: In the idolatry of Ba’al, the Hebrew people were seduced into believing that by burning their infant children alive they could gain fertility, peace and prosperity. Today we see an “idolatry of choice” where “choice” becomes a false god used to destroy unborn human life, instead of true choice which nurtures all human life. And it is overwhelmingly rooted in the choice of men who get women pregnant, only to then flee responsibility and true manhood.

In a life disrupted by a crisis pregnancy, human abortion is sold as a means to regain a lost sense of peace, order, stability and hope. But human abortion does not restore these shattered remains of God’s image. Rather, it only fractures a woman’s life more deeply yet, and lets the man off the hook. This is idolatry, and we Christians are just as vulnerable to idolatry apart from God’s grace.

People: ” ‘They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal – something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. So beware, the days are coming, declares Yahweh, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.’ ”

Leader: Here, at a modern Topheth shrine, we have a signpost to our own nation’s judgment, of our own pending Valley of Slaughter. The victimizers become the victims, and one day human abortion will be remembered not as a woman’s freedom or empowerment, but of her and her nation’s slaughter. A slaughter not only of the unborn, but of women’s dignity and men’s dignity as life-nurturing humans.

People: ” ‘In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who seek their lives, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. I will devastate this city and make it an object of scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh during the stress of the siege imposed upon them by the enemies who seek their lives.’ ”

Leader: Jerusalem’s idolatrous sacrifice of her infant children led to a literal cannibalism. This  nation’s destruction of her unborn progeny cries out for a modern equivalent. All the hallmarks of Sodom’s lawlessness only grow – sexual anarchy that leads to social anarchy and the trampling of the poor and needy.

The harvesting and cloning of human embryos for research and transplants is its own form of human cannibalism. And why do we presume that we are above the descent into literal cannibalism one day? From the ground beneath our feet there cries out the blood of millions of unborn U.S. citizens. We will reap what we have sown, apart from God’s mercy which triumphs over judgment for those who seek him.

People: “Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching, and say to them, ‘This is  what Yahweh Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired.’ ”

Leader: The jar Jeremiah used was similar to those used to bury the charred remains of the sacrificed children. And the parents truly wept as they buried them. This is the terror of idolatry. But today, the idolatry of human abortion hides the terrible act of its destruction within the machinery of the suction apparatus, at the edge of the scalpel or through the assault of toxic chemicals. There are no coffins, no tombstones, and too often the grief remains hidden and festering.

As surely as Jeremiah’s breaking of the symbolic clay jar signaled Yahweh’s impending judgment, we believe Yahweh Elohim, the Lord Jesus, pronounces judgment upon the sites and apparatus of human abortion, upon its political and economic enablers, and upon those who cling to its idolatry while mocking the Lord and Giver of life. As Jerusalem became like Topheth, so too will the ethos of human abortion kill the culture that enshrines it.

Therefore I break this jar as a prayer for Yahweh Elohim to bring an end to the evil of human abortion, and the male chauvinisms that undergird it. We thus proclaim God’s love to the women and their unborn children so victimized. I also break this jar as a symbol to break the powers of darkness which govern the abortion mind-set. In the name of Jesus Messiah, Yahweh Elohim incarnate, let it be.

[break jar]

People: ” ‘They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. This is what I will do to this place and to those who live here, declares Yahweh. I will make this city like Topheth. The houses in Jerusalem and those of the kings of Judah will be defiled in this place, Topheth – all the houses where they burned incense on the roofs to all the starry hosts and poured out drink offerings to other gods.’ ”

Leader: When Jeremiah broke the clay jar, he declared that he was not the Judge. He trusted Yahweh Elohim as the only righteous Judge, and faithfully called on King Zedekiah and the other leaders to put an end to the shedding of innocent blood. To do so, they had to first put away the sins of sorcery and worshiping the stars, also of sacred prostitution, which together leads to human sacrifice.

Likewise we trust in the one true Creator and the power of honest persuasion in the public arena. No people are our enemies, even those who perform or support human abortion. Only the devil and his demonic host are our enemies. Thus we appeal to men to become true men and honor all women as equals and complements, and we appeal to the hearts and minds of all people of good will – stop the killing,

People: Thus we affirm:

• Yes to the marriage of one man and one woman for one lifetime.
• Yes to loving and faithful fatherhood.
• Yes to women and their unborn.
• Yes to the image of God in all people – born and unborn.
• Yes to the power to give in face of the pretension to take.
• Yes to informed choice which serves human life.
• Yes to the power to bless in face of the pretension to curse.
• Yes to the power of love in face of the pretension to hate.
• Yes to the Good News of Jesus the Messiah.

People: Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where Yahweh had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court Yahweh’s temple and said to all the people, “This is what Yahweh Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.’ ”

Leader: We are all stiff-necked apart from God’s grace, and we who are believers welcome the deepest and most challenging questions from abortion supporters, in the prayer that they are seeking the same grace in the midst of their broken lives.

People: Jeremiah also says, “See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.” And Moses says, “Now choose life.” So listen to the words of Jeremiah spoken to King Zedekiah, “This is what Yahweh says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood.”

Leader: Jeremiah promised peace for Israel if King Zedekiah were to obey. The same promise is before us today, if we as a nation, beginning with our leaders, would turn away from the slaughter of unborn human children. Forgiveness is offered to all who seek it, and it is complete in its healing of past sorrow and guilt for those who dare to believe.

People: We say to all who would listen:

  • You have the power to choose life, if you dare to believe it and ask God for it.
  • If you do not have this power, what power and choice do you have?
  • If you have power and choice, why not use it?
  • Courageous and compelling choice always nurtures human life, and in Jesus Christ, such courage, power and choice is uniquely available.

Amen.

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We used the liturgy perhaps a dozen times, and it was powerful. On June 16, 1990, we had a Sacred Assembly for the Unborn with about 50-60 Christians present, mostly from one church, including some fifteen young children. About a dozen abortion-rights activists were also present, in one of their rarer appearances those days, and these were people mostly from ACT-UP (“AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power”), the militant homosexual group. During that morning I was able to share Christ with one of the ACT-UP leaders for about two hours.

When it came time for gathering and reciting the liturgy, some six or eight of the abortion-rights activists stood by observing. One of them was trying to mock it with taunts and laughter, but her compatriots did not follow suit. Instead they were listening attentively to each word. When the jar was smashed on the sidewalk, as on the other occasions when we conducted the liturgy, its symbolic power merged with true spiritual power. There was complete quiet for several moments before I continued with the liturgy, and the one mocking woman was also silenced, not to resume her taunts again. The children were specially intrigued as well.

In the smashing of the jar we are imitating Jeremiah’s use of the symbol as Yahweh commanded him. In the smashing dynamic, the visual encounter with this destruction conveys to the mind the larger prospect of the destruction of a city or nation, as Babylon in particular ravaged Jerusalem and Judah in 586 B.C. It causes people to become more pensive in considering God’s prerogative and promise to judge sin – and such reflection is on the side of the angels. The catalyzing of thought is our radical goal, necessary before actions can be reformed. This we witnessed here and in other instances, though this may have only been one of several times when there were any abortion-rights activists present apart from the escorts. Thus I was eager to gauge their response, as I would love to see hundreds of counter-protestors every time we were to be present at an abortion center. I am eager for them to encounter the word of God in all its truth and beauty, and I know how such a liturgy conveys God’s judgment upon human abortion while extending mercy to those who would repent.

After the liturgy was concluded that morning, we began to sing a praise song, and I squatted and began picking up the pieces of the broken jar. Within moments at least six of the children, ages two to seven, were all around me, spontaneously picking up whatever pieces they could find, reverently and in absolute quiet, and placing them into my hand.

The strength of childlikeness had been catalyzed to crush the works of the devil. After the song, I addressed the group for two minutes, conscious that I also had the undivided attention of the abortion-rights activists. I spoke of what a profound parable this seemed to me:

“Here we are, in front of an abortion center where adults use technology to break little humans into pieces. And here we are, observing little children, who in seeing brokenness, respond with shock, and instinctively desire to pick up the broken pieces and put them back together.”

I spoke of Jesus’s words in Matthew 18, how we must become as little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. As I did, I looked straight at the abortion-rights activists, and I saw the convicting power of the Holy Spirit begin to penetrate past the pain and defenses. The natural reaction of the little children spoke reams about the nature of the Good News, of shalom coming into a broken world through the work of the Messiah. “Come to me,” says Jesus, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The Jeremiah 19 Liturgy portrayed the judgment graphically and in biblical order, so that the mercy which triumphs over the judgment could be grasped. In this one moment of time, of theological kairos (a specific and significant moment in time), the liturgy served the proclamation of the Gospel to people who would not be willing to stop long enough to otherwise consider it. We need to see this power released as often and as widely as possible. An abortion center is a place where the devil tramples hopes and dreams, a place where the Gospel sorely needs to be proclaimed.

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