Object of Protest

As I drove into the church parking lot on Wednesday night I was surprised to be greeted by picketers. There were a dozen protesters carrying signs and yelling at the cars that came into our lot. I have never seen such a thing at church. I must admit my first reaction was to laugh—surely a defensive response to an absurd situation. As I got out of my car they began to yell at me, “Shame on you!” I stopped laughing.

They were here because we were holding a Planned Parenthood program that featured Dr. Kenneth Edelin, emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Boston University School of Medicine. He has recently published a memoir, “Broken Justice,” that recounts his arrest and trial for manslaughter by an anti-abortion district of attorney in Boston in 1973. I also found out when I met him that Dr. Edelin’s father-in-law is the Rev. Joseph Evans, former president of the United Church of Christ.

The protesters were, of course, anti-abortion zealots who were attempting to intimidate and harass us for hosting this program. Their signs were not aimed solely at Planned Parenthood, but also at our church. One sign said, “This church kills babies.”

The Planned Parenthood event organizers were very professional about the whole incident. They notified the Suffolk police who came to remind the protestors to stay off church property and to keep the driveway open. The protestors did stay on the sidewalk, none of them came into the program and they were gone by the time we had concluded the evening.

Prior to the event we had discussed the possibility of protests, but Planned Parenthood has held similar events for years with no pickets. They have a regular group that attempts to harass staff and patients at the medical center, but not at educational events such as this. But, then, they haven’t held at event at a church for years. We assume that the connection with religion is what sparked such a strong reaction.

That is why I have committed to the cause of reproductive choice. Pro-life groups think that because of their religious backing that they have the only faith-based answer to this issue. But they are wrong—completely wrong. The Bible doesn’t mention abortion; anything we believe or do is an extrapolation from the scriptures. The majority of church history has supported a view that we would label pro-choice. Almost all Jewish groups are pro-choice. Most major Protestant denominations are pro-choice. The United Church of Christ issued its first pro-choice stance in 1971. We trust women to make informed ethical decision on their own. Protesters, such as the ones who marched in front of our church, wish to stop them from following their own conscience just as surely as they would have liked to shut down our program through intimidation and harassment.

Even though I know that this is an extremist group, I can’t let their actions go by without comment—silence encourages fanaticism. What they did was certainly within their rights to free speech, but what they did needs to be seen for what it is—hate filled harassment. They will not hesitate to follow the ugliest of paths to serve their needs.

As I left the program (By the way it was a marvelous and inspirational speech attended by almost 100 people.) I noticed that the protestors had left signs propped up against the tree at the entrance to the church. As I went to remove the first sign I read it, it said, “Margaret’s Favorite Negro.” A reference to Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, and the fact that Dr. Edelin is African-American. It pains me to see such hate and racism in our supposedly civil community.

I was as appalled by their signs as I was proud of our church for hosting such a program. We not only say that we support of women who exercise their own conscience on such as personal matter as a pregnancy, but do what we can to support that right.

It is sometimes difficult to do the right thing. I know I can because I am supported by a loving group of Christians at CCH. Because of your support, your pledges and gifts, and because of your commitment to worship here we are able to share a message of God’s grace and mercy and justice. Thank you.

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