Anatomy Of A Pro-Life Mississippi Campaign — Round 2: Turning The Mid South Upside Down With The Full-Orbed Gospel of Life
“It would be much better for abortion to be legal and unacceptable than illegal and accepted” —Joe Foreman, Founder Missionaries to the Preborn.
“We plan on making it both illegal and unacceptable.” - Les Riley, Personhood Mississippi.
By Les Riley Sponsor, Mississippi Personhood Amendment
At the end of the first installment of this series - published on TAV last month, the content/ title of the 2nd installment was announced to be : “Coming up in Part II: Challenges Of The Coming Campaign.” However, I think to give a full picture of what we are doing in Personhood Mississippi - or rather what we pray God will do through the Personhood campaign here in Mississippi - there is another aspect of the effort that needs to be explained. Part II & III are going to be much more difficult to write, because it is much easier to look back and say “here is what God has done or what we have done over the last two years” than it is to look ahead and predict what God will do or detail what you will do when there are so many factors beyond our control and this sort of effort is so fluid that: a) things you expect to happen/ work or people you expect to help you never materialize; and/ or b) people that you don’t expect to help come along or a turn of events happen that totally change the direction the campaign or ministry effort needs to take.
This 2nd Article will not cover it but I think the known challenges on the political/ legal front need to be briefly outlined:
The other side has almost unlimited capital - We will be VASTLY outspend - They will not directly take a pro-abortion position, but rather use fear & misinformation- Possible legal challenges to the legitimacy of the amendment to try and torpedo us- But, the worst will be efforts by mainstream pro-life organizations to undermine & attack the Personhood Amendment (especially by out of state groups; we have pretty good unity or at least a good working relationship with other pro-life groups in Mississippi).Therefore, from this point on, I hope to explain how we hope to make this a effort like has been rarely seen in the political arena. With God’s sovereign help we hope to “Turn the Mid South Upside Down with the full orbed Gospel of Life” during 2010 in preparation for the 2011 vote. As I mentioned, we will likely be outspent about 10 to 1 in the political campaign, but “the weapons of our warfare [are] not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” - II Cor 10:4When we planned on launching the Personhood Amendment/ petition drive we looked at it as a three part campaign & battle:
-the petition drive - getting enough signatures to get on the ballot
-the political campaign - passing it at the ballot box
-the legal battle - winning in court/ challenging Roe v Wade
In conjunction with this, our goal, as stated in the previous article was to impact the culture/ educate/ do ministry through the petition drive and the campaign. However, that was when we were hoping to get the signatures in time to get the amendment on the 2010 ballot. (If we had gotten all the signatures by October 1, 2009 the amendment would have been placed on the ballot this year. But, since we did not make it until February of this year, it won’t be on the ballot until November of 2011).In doing so, it turns a two year petition drive/ political campaign into a three year process. Or better stated : a one year petition drive & a one year political campaign with a one year gap in between. (we plan on using this gap for the glory of God & the advancement of His Kingdom).
There was much media hoopla surrounding the last few weeks of the campaign because our Lt Governor, Phil Bryant, got behind the petition drive big and because much of our state’s media, political, & pro-life establishment thought we would never come close to making it.
But the real stories of the petition drive were:
the fact that grass roots Christians in Mississippi - most of which who didn’t know each other and would have never met each other were stirred by God to gather the signatures at the local & grassroots level.
that many people who had not been involved in pro-life ministry or had not been involved in a long time put feet to their faith and started going to the mills in Jackson, Memphis, Mobile, & New Orleans; as well as volunteering at CPC’s, considering adoption, and preaching the Gospel to their neighbors/ on the streets
As detailed in the first article, much unexpected happened and we learned much about our state, who our allies were, who our co-belligerents were, and who our enemies (and those of Christ, the unborn, & their Moms were/ are).
Which brings me to a bit of a confession and an “article within an article”. The American View audience was supposed to be reading this article about three weeks ago. When John Lofton & Michael Peroukta first talked with me about publishing the story of Personhood Mississippi, John asked me to write a series of three articles. The first of these three was published a while back.
John then sent me an email saying he was ready for part 2. I have never in my life struggled with “writer’s block”. On the contrary, I normally am guilty of being waaaaaay too long winded. However, I did, indeed “struggle” with part two. Originally planning on making it about the upcoming political & legal battle/ strategy; finally finishing it; telling John it was done; then deciding it was not what needed to be said and scraping it to start over.A couple weeks later, I sent John the first draft of this. He asked me to edit it. I did & sent it back. Then John pointed out some problems & asked me to “tidy it up” and send it back. I struggled with this for a couple of weeks, then sent it back only for John to have trouble opening it.
Now I finally know why I had so much trouble. It was Providential. Something happened at the abortion clinic last week that I feel compelled to share; that I hope will encourage readers to go out with boldness; that proclaims the glory of Christ; and that illustrates what I am trying to communicate here about how God is working through the Personhood movement to change our culture in a much bigger way than just winning an election:
“In nearly 20 years of being involved in every facet of pro life ministry I’ve never seen God work like He did on a recent Saturday at an abortion mill in Memphis. At least FIVE moms changed their minds after getting inside the clinic. Many more clear acts of God.”— Please read the rest here.
So where are we now? There are a few political/ cultural/ demographic realities here in Mississippi that this brings up that I think the readers from outside our state need to understand at this point.
Mississippi is among the most pro-life states in the nation. Polls taken among any group of Mississippians: Republican, Democrat, or 3rd Party/ Independent; Young or old; Black or White; etc have shown a pro-life majority. However, this is normally not a well thought through position. They have exceptions. They do not think that their pro-life views affect medical research, etc. So, the strategy of the other side will be to use scare tactics & misinformation. We MUST do a thorough job of education at the grassroots level to win this vote.
Mississippi has the highest black population in the country - percentage wise. In a normal election year, the black vote makes up about 40% of the vote, and you can expect an overwhelming majority to vote Democrat. That means, if a candidate is running for office as a non Democrat (be it Republican, Constitution, Libertarian, or independent) he can expect to start out around 35% in the hole. Most folks in this black voting block are also pro-life and this leads to many people getting elected in Mississippi as truly pro-life Democrats.
So, while in a “normal” election a “conservative” candidate just writes off most of this huge voting block. The Personhood campaign will not only reach out to these voters, fully expecting to win a majority among them, but we will also hope to impact their culture with the Gospel; with God’s Word; with truth &live the same way we pray to among whites or any other group.
The pro-life movement, has, in many ways, been successful in Mississippi at reducing the number of abortions, but we must recognize that incrementalism has carried us as far as it can/ will. As a former Constitution Party Presidential candidate once said: “We no longer have the luxury to do those things that we believe to be possible. We must do those things we know to be necessary”
A divide and conquer strategy and misinformation campaign has been used very effectively by pro-abortion groups in every state in the nation. We must work with other pro-lifers in the state - present a united front, if you will, in public; no matter what our disagreements are behind closed doors. We have made much progress on this front.
The state of the culture - Mississippi is the most religious state in the nation. But it is also has many pockets/ areas that Spiritual & moral wastelands (even in communities that have churches on every corner. Our teen pregnancy & illegitimacy rates are the highest in the nation. Crime. Divorce. Other issues that we used to think were problems for big, Northern cities have now become an unbearable weight here in the Magnolia State. The fault lies with the Church and with Christians who do not have any semblance of a Biblical view of life (or lives that reflect who our King is. There is “a form of godliness, but denying its power”.
This means as we head into the campaign we are faced with some other issues that we need to deal with:
I. The Personhood campaign will face incredible opposition from the Federal government and National Pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood, NOW, NARAL, & the ACLU
We are already seeing some of this. But, nothing like what we will. There are many in the mainstream media (and even some pro-lifers) who dismiss the Personhood campaign. But pro-abortion groups know that this effort could turn over the whole legal political structure that supports child killing in America (not just Mississippi or another state that might pass an amendment).
This is why NARAL nominated Personhood for their “Hall of Shame”
NARAL claims Personhood “… exists solely to establish legal rights for fertilized eggs and trigger legal battles over abortion that could go all the way to the Supreme Court. Not only could the strategy outlaw abortion, but it could even threaten birth control, stem-cell research, and in-vitro fertilization. Working to outlaw abortion makes Personhood USA a strong candidate for Hall of Shame of the year”
They understand what’s at stake. They believe that Personhood is a serious threat to overturn Roe and recognize abortion as illegal again (and also, could illustrate to people the illegitimacy of the Roe case & lead people to stand up for states rights and against judicial tyranny).And they also understand that Mississippi is one of a handful of states that has a legitimate opportunity to pass such an amendment. The statistics & polls we see - they see too. They know Mississippi is among the most pro-life states & that we have put these convictions into action over the past two decades - closing six of the seven abortion mills that were in our state at one time. Now we only have one struggling abortion mill left in the state. Having worked to protect all children by love, we can now protect them again in law.
Personhood Mississippi terrifies the pro-abortion movement, and they will spend whatever they’ve got to stop it (and they’ve got allot). Planned Parenthood alone generates around $1 billion from their global abortion business - and gets almost a million a day from us, the taxpayers.Thankfully, we have a Father that owns “the cattle on a thousand hills”.
II. The Personhood campaign can be misrepresented by our enemies and co-opted by those who have a different agenda.
I have been concerned from day one that this effort would be co-opted and used by politicians & other groups for an agenda much different than what Steve Crampton and I discussed/ prayed about for two years before launching this. I have come to the conclusion that we cannot control this any more than we can control what every person working on the petition drive or campaign might say or do in a statewide campaign with thousands of people — most of whom we’ll never meet - involved. But we can control what we do and what the “official” message and agenda is. We can set the tone.
Next year, when this gets ready to actually get on the ballot, you can bet that pro-abortion forces will do everything in their power legally to stop it and politically to defeat it. Likewise, there will be some (inside & outside the state) who will try to use the Personhood Amendment for their own ends. There will likely be over a million dollars spent by “our side” and several million by pro-abortion groups.
I also know that it will not just be the politicians trying to use this effort. In North Dakota last year a Personhood Amendment passed the state House and lost in the State Senate. A national “pro-life” group opposed the Amendment while it was in the House, but then switched (publicly) when it went to the Senate and used the “victory” in the North Dakota House and the need to get it through the Senate in a fundraising letter.
I’m sure similar shenanigans could happen here.
Which is why the next year is so important. The Republican & Religious Right establishment know how to turn out the white evangelical vote. They know how to fight this sort of campaign. And if we wait until then and let them take over, that’s all that will come of this. We want more.In the coming months it is so critical for us to get control of the educational and grass roots effort and define the message, the plan, the strategy, and the goals before someone else does it for us. I think having myself, the Personhood Mississippi board, and the folks who worked on the Petition drive for the right reasons (love for Christ and neighbors) leading a grass roots educational and ministry effort for the next year — laying the ground work for a truly Gospel-centered approach to speaking for the unborn and working for thorough Reformation between now & summer 2011 is more critical then having us work on the actual political campaign.
I have concerns about being co-opted and earnestly believe that having the funds to work on the effort from June 2010 to June 2011 (when the politicians will take over whether we like them to or not) may be the most critical part of setting the agenda and NOT being co-opted. We need to raise about $150,00 by the end of the year and $20,000 to $50,000 over the next few weeks. We need to build new coalitions & strengthen our relationships with those who helped on the petition drive (from organizations like AFA to political & religious leaders to the 1000 plus volunteers at the grassroots level in each of Mississippi’s 82 counties)
To some degree, this is where understanding the difference between allies and co-belligerents and knowing how to recognize/ work with each. There will be some who want to truly help us, but who have their own agenda. We can work with them to advance ours without compromise or being subverted, so long as we know who our real allies are and stay focused on Christ and His Kingdom through the process. You could almost say that we are at a point where the Personhood campaign will be on two parallel tracks. Working with political people (who may have ulterior motives) to turn out the vote and pass the amendment while using the grass roots campaign for a much bigger effort to advance the Kingdom and affect a thorough lasting reformation within our state.
There are difficulties even in working with established groups & pro-lifer who are & have been truly with us all along.
The media is going to try to twist things and impact public perception of who we are, what we’re doing, why we’re doing it. We cannot control that, we can only control what we do. For instance, there is a concern that this effort is seen as “religiously motivated”. For years, the pro-life movement and the religious right has allowed that charge to make them run for cover. I think we should embrace it. We can say that we welcome the support and votes of people who want to see the Personhood Amendment pass for whatever reason motivates them, but our reason is unappologetically that we seek to love Christ and love our neighbors (unborn children & their mothers).
The other charge is that Personhood is simply a Republican political ploy. And to some degree the Republican party & their candidates do stand to benefit from this and will use it to their own ends. We cannot, again, stop them from trying to use it to their own ends.
We cannot avoid working with them (nor do we want to). But we can do three things that will make it clear to us, them, and our supporters who will listen that this is not an effort to help Republican politicians and their agenda.
First, we must be willing to speak truth to power - even our co-belligerents. Not in a haughty way, but motivated by love for them and a desire to see Christ magnified (Psalm 2). We must be willing to speak to them as boldly from God’s Word when we meet with them as we do someone on the street who opposes us. This can be done respectfully, lovingly, and humbly as well as as a clear warning if we are walking in the Spirit and not fearing man nor trusting in the arm of the flesh.Thus far God has blessed us with the willingness, the courage & the wisdom to do this in the midst of the “princes” of our culture - political & religious leaders - without fear or compromise.
Secondly, we must be clear in our public pronouncements that this effort is not about Republicans or Democrats or 3rd Parties and that we have not and will not be endorsing candidates. We accept the help of all who will stand with us & the unborn in this effort. I think you can look at our web site, press releases, speeches we’ve made and things we have communicated along the way to see that this is indeed the approach we’ve taken.
Thirdly, we must acknowledge, whether we like it or not that we do owe a debt of gratitude to the people who have helped us, politicians or otherwise, but we do not need to allow them to set the price of our thanks before they help nor do we need to pay them more than is owed.
III. Finally, Personhood Mississippi recognizes that Electoral Victories are Short Lived (at best) if they are not preceded/ accompanied by a commensurate change in the culture; the hearts and minds of the people.
Revival and Reformation are what we desperately need - and what we must pray & labor for.
We must pray because we are unable to affect a move of God. Not only do we not have the strength, wisdom, etc to change our state - we do not even have the ability to change ourselves. God must do the work (beginning, end, and middle). Looking unto JESUS the author & finisher of our faith (not only for our personal salvation, but for the redemption of Mississippi).
Guided by God’s Word & empowered by His Spirit we must labor because He is pleased to use human means to accomplish His work.Yes, we have the verses that many pro-lifers have used as a guide (Proverbs 24:11 - “rescue those being dragged away to death”; James 1:27; Deuteronomy 10; the 2nd Great Command, etc)
But, we have much more because this is about so much more than just defining person and working to reestablish equal legal protection for the unborn. This is about the glory, honor & reputation of our precious Savior - and advancing the Kingdom of Christ through the vehicle of a initiative, political campaign, & referendum on abortion in one poor little Southern state.
Therefore our prayer is Psalm 119:126
Our hope is the promises of Psalm 110, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:19-22, Hebrews & Isaiah - OUR KING REIGNS & HE WILL REIGN.
Through and for His church our marching orders are Matthew 28:18-20
Our strategy is from Nehimaih & Matthew 16:24
We will warn the rulers of our & Nation as well as the voters & the whole populace of Mississippi based on Psalm 2 (Kiss the Son)
We will call the church to repentance based on II Chron 7:14
We will point Her to the true religion of James 1:26-27 & Romans 12:1-2
If the gates of hell itself will not prevail against the church victorious, why should we fear that the abortion industry, the death culture, and rulers who are placed on their throne by God (and who can have their hearts turned as God turns the course of a river)
So what will we actually be doing ?!?!?!
1Obviously, we need to raise money, but what practical things will we do?
- To some degree, the rest of 2010 & early 2011 need to be a repeat of 2009. Traveling around the state, visiting towns, county fairs, Meeting with existing pro life groups, church & political leaders. -Building coalitions -Outreach to existing volunteers; finding new ones — via personal visits, phone calls, emails, letters, etc
- Speaking in churches & to pro-life groups
- Reaching out to the black community & educating about the genocide in the black community. See: toomanyaborted.com. We plan on doing an educational-ministry-evangelism campaign in every black community from Memphis to New Orleans - and trust our Lord to send His Spirit before us
- Organizing events like the Conference that we have coming up in Jackson entitled “The Gospel & the Cry of the Fatherless - promoting adoption and a Biblical approach do deal with not only abortion, but the plight of fatherlessness in general. CryoftheFatherless.org -We need to do “big events” in every area of the state -try to do smaller ones in every county/ town possible
- Handing out literature & promoting Personhood at flea markets, county fairs, ball games, religious events, etc — and witnessing for Christ in the process as opportunities arrive. During the petition drive, our main goal was to get as many people to sign as possible - which meant we didn’t have the time to engage every person that come along.
- Speaking to the media; doing interviews
- Planning the campaign & carrying out plans
- Participating in and inviting Personhood volunteers to get involved in other pro-life activity : ministering at the abortion clinic: promoting/ supporting CPC’s/ adoption;
- Reaching out to those who are “on the fence” and making a concerted effort to evangelize those who oppose us. We call it the Sothenes Project. (see Acts 18:17 — I Cor 1:1)
- Promoting a Christo-centric, Biblical approach to adoption, orphan care, and caring for single mothers/ others in crisis. 12) Most importantly “doing” a pro-life effort radically different than one has been done — built on the understanding that the Gospel, not some political effort, is the hope to end abortion & change Mississippi.
1As my pastor put it, because we have a different theological foundation and a different ultimate goal, the glory of Christ & the advancement of His Kingdom (that even trumps loving the babies) “then Personhood Mississippi campaign should be as foreign to a typical pro-life campaign as it is to Planned Parenthood”
Obviously, this is not comprehensive. There is so much that needs to be done & this type of effort is so fluid that it is hard to determine what/ when/ how things will be done.
However, while our pathway is not completely clear, we start on this phase of the journey with boldness, because our King has already conquered!
May the Lamb who was slain receive full reward for His suffering!
Coming: Part III Winning in the Political & Legal Arena
Les Riley describes himself: Sinner Saved by Grace; Married 24 years; father of 11 children - 10 living; Part time Farmer & Tractor Salesman; Founder Personhood Mississippi/ Sponsor Mississippi Personhood Amendment; Chairman Miss Constitution Party since 1998;Candidate for Miss Commissioner of Agriculture 2007;19 Years involvement in Pro-life Ministry & Activism including: Rescues, Sidewalk Counseling, CPC’s, Educational & Political Involvement; Advocate of Christian Adoption & Orphan Care; Adoptive Father; Sons have been to orphanages in Africa.