Tuesday, February 20, 2007

An Interview with John Ensor

Here is an interview I recently conducted with John Ensor, Director of Urban Initiatives for Heartbeat International, an organization for Christian communities establishing pregnancy help centers worldwide.

John, tell us a little bit about yourself--your background, family, writing, ministry, etc.

I grew up in a small town (DeKalb, IL), came to faith as a senior in High School during the Jesus Movement days of the early 70’s, and had the joy of seeing my mother and all my siblings come to Christ in the following year. Today my mother is on a short-term missions trip to Guatemala. She is 76. So my family carries a profound awareness of God’s life-changing grace.

My first date with my future wife was a study date for John Piper’s Greek class at Bethel College in Minnesota in 1977. We have been married for 28 years. We lived in Boston’s inner-city for 20 years and raised our three children there. I served as pastor of a small church and then led in the development of six pregnancy help centers.

Our youngest son is currently deployed on the Ronald Regan aircraft carrier, assigned to electronics on a squad of F/A 18 fighter jets. My daughter just graduated Wheaton College and is working in Securities as she prepares for a career in missions. My oldest son and his wife live in Atlanta, where they are preparing for our first grandchild in May. Last month, my wife and I moved from Boston to Miami to take up an urban initiative called Heartbeat of Miami. So we are among those thankful for email and cell phones.

I am, at heart, a pastor. But I do not lead a local church. Rather I speak, preach, write, and labor mostly to instruct and inspire the Christian community about the biblical mandate and practical opportunity we have to defend the weak and the innocent through the establishment of pregnancy-help medical clinics, otherwise known as pregnancy centers.

What exactly is a "pregnancy center"?

Pregnancy Centers are the Christian community’s most visible expression of their rejection of the shedding of innocent blood in their midst. They are commercial spaces set up at our own expense to provide life-affirming, practical assistance to women and couples vulnerable to abortion due to their difficult circumstances. Many of them are now equipped with ultrasound, offer parenting classes, abstinence education, and more. They rescue babies from a violet death by helping one woman at a time find the faith and resources she needs to parent or place for adoption.

There are about 2,200 pregnancy centers now in the U.S. and more developing internationally. Nearly all of them are the efforts of local churches working together. They reflect a gathering repentance of the Christian church over abortion; some turning their direct guilt regarding abortion into something life-affirming for others now in similar circumstances. Others, like myself, found it necessary to repent from passively accepting abortion. Both bring us into blood-guilt (Deut. 21:1-10). We find in the pregnancy center movement a practical and winsome way to faithfully answer the biblical call to “rescue those being dragged off to death” (Prov. 24:10-12). I think history will show them to be the dynamic equivalent of the “safe houses” on the underground railway. They provide direct help, at our own expense, to save lives, one woman at a time.

Tell me about Heartbeat of Miami. When and why did it start? What are its goals?

Heartbeat of Miami is a pilot project for a slowly emerging national strategic plan for steering the pregnancy help center movement into the major cities of America; and more specifically, into urban neighborhoods. It reflects the horrific reality that abortion is now firmly consolidated into our cities and disproportionately aimed at minorities. 94% of abortion facilities are now in urban neighborhoods. This is “de facto” racism. Nationally, Black women make up 12% of the female population but account for 36% of abortions. Latino women make up 13%, but account for another 20% of all abortions. Yet to date, the pregnancy centers are mostly set up in suburbs and small towns across the country where the “sanctity of life” has been addressed the most.

My prayer and future labor is going to go toward mainstreaming the pregnancy-help center into the urban Christian community. Since abortion is profiting most off the minority community, they hold the economic key to closing them down. When the Black and Latino pastors of our nation stigmatize abortion for what it is, the diminution of human dignity and a direct assault against the integrity of God as Creator, the abolition of abortion is in sight.

Miami is a city plagued with 37 abortion facilities. It has only one pregnancy-help center. In Boston, the Christian community, working together, started six pregnancy help centers over the last 15 years. We have seen hundreds of women and couples reject abortion on a yearly basis. We now have only six abortion facilities, and the abortion rate dropped 25% from the early 90’s.

Last year I turned 50. To celebrate my midlife crises I thought I should either buy a motorcycle or venture a new work in Miami. My wife agreed that Miami might be the better way. We are now working full-time to open 3-5 ultrasound-equipped, medically licensed, fully staffed, Christian-based pregnancy centers in the neediest neighborhoods of Miami. Our first effort is in Hialeah, a neighborhood with seven abortion facilities. We hope to open around Mother’s Day.

What happens when a pregnant woman considering abortion sees an ultrasound of her baby?

The data suggests that about 75% of women who receive an ultrasound exam and a consultation with a medical professional during the critical weeks that they are considering abortion, will never have one. The ultrasound allows a woman to see her baby and hear the heartbeat. She finds new reserves of strength and faith that she did not know she had. Or the ultrasound scan reveals that a miscarriage is pending and she needs to do nothing. I have seen women come in to our pregnancy center determined to have an abortion and start weeping when they see their baby is dying from natural causes. The ultrasound is truth. When backed up by the love--the direct, neighbor-loving, problem-solving kind--women choose life. And by the time it all works out, many times, the baby ends up saving the mother’s life. In the outworking providence of God’s life-changing grace, this crisis is the pivotal point in coming to trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins and for daily bread.

You've written about "abortion hot zones"--what does that mean, and where are they?

Abortion as a business, as a practice, is consolidating into our major cities and feeding off the minority populations which live there. And in particular, the highest concentrations appear to be in New York, L.A., Las Vegas, D.C., and Miami. That is why our defense of the innocents must go urban. The racial, theological, and political barriers between the Black and White Christian Church is significant and daunting. I tremble at the obstacles. Nonetheless, I have burned my ship on the shoreline of the city and am committed to learning my way forward.

Is it true that abortion providers are targeting minorities? If so, why?

One of the horrible effects of racism is targeted child-killing. As the Egyptians increased their oppression of the Israelites (Exodus 1:8) they not only instituted forced labor (1:14), they promoted child-killing (1:19) and eventually turned it into public policy (1:22). Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a eugenicist and aimed her “birth control” squarely at the non-European races. Today, the overt racism of Planned Parenthood is gone, but the “de facto” element is very real. Just ask yourself where the push is on to open contracepting, abortion-referral offices in schools. Disproportionately they are set up for the “poor” as if there is a condom for the heart and child-killing is a God-honoring solution to poverty.

What is the biblical basis for evangelical action to end abortion?

My full answer is written in my book, Answering the Call (Focus on the Family, 2003). There I provide both the biblical foundation and bits of the inspiring history, from the first generation of the church onward, of the Church faithfully and ardently defending innocent human life.

But three Scriptures have formed the foundation of my thinking and action. First, Deuteronomy 21:1-9 teaches us how to respond to the shedding of innocent blood. The point is that we are to respond. We are not to have business as usual (which would mean we have made peace with death). God calls the leaders to lead (shocker!) in insuring that the whole town feels the loss; by shutting down business, gathering the community together on a prime piece of commercial property and with expensive stock and going through a ritual that re-gilds the human heart with a godly responsibility to protect human life. Their leaders prayed, “We did not shed this blood nor see it done” (1:7). Too many leaders are silent, leaving the church vulnerable to abortion and acting as if they are helpless to stop it. I see the expense and time and teaching involved in opening pregnancy centers as one clear testimony of God’s people feeling the loss of the innocents and responding according to the law of love.

That law is succinctly stated in Proverbs 24:10-12. “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter; If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” I particularly love the fact that this calling has no context other than our rationalization to say, “I didn’t know.” This is the signal that not wanting to get involved is the sure sign that we should. God sees our intentional ignorance and avoidance and reminds us that faith, which boasts, “God is safeguarding my life” can risk and act courageously to defend the innocent when it is dangerous or unpopular to do so. If not, it is a puny faith.

One example of what faithfulness to Proverbs 24 looks like is in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which calls us to be a death-defying, life-saving people. In the context of abortion, that means drawing near to pregnant woman in turmoil, and making their problems, our problems. That is what compassion means. Just today I was on the phone with a Christian woman who is working with a 15-year-old girl in foster care, who is nearly 15 weeks pregnant. This teen is being pressed to abort by people who want her problem to go away in the simplest way. But loving this teen means intervening, looking at what this abortion will do to her young body and her psyche. If she aborts, she becomes vulnerable to further sexual exploitation and the lifestyle that will eventually destroying her. Loving her means helping her think and change and consider this event as the pivotal opportunity to change her life, trust in God, and prepare to parent or place for adoption. It is work! But it is the labor that neighborly love calls us to do!

Pro-life critics sometimes say that we only care about babies in the womb, but our concern ends when babies are born. Is there any truth to that? How do you respond?

It is the same charge made against the church that we care only for people’s soul’s and care little for their physical well-being. Since the hospital is an invention of the church (Basil of Caesarea), that alone should be enough to dismiss the charge. But it is made by those who actually dismiss the value of preborn children. Saving them is legitimate, even if that is all we did. After all, we don’t say to those who work with prisoners, “You only care about them when they are in prison, but not when they get out.” We don’t say to those engaged in feeding the starving, “You only care about their bellies. What about their housing needs!” Stopping babies from being violently killed is a legitimate work, by itself. But it never ends up being “by itself” any more than those who work with prisoners confine themselves to the prison. They often end up working with transitional ministries as well. And those ministries responding to starvation, do what they can to provide shelter and eventually education and micro-finance, etc. Every pregnancy center in the country, given the resources that it has, is seeking to help young mothers find the long-term help they need to parent well, or place for adoption. Most also work at prevention (abstinence education) and restoration (post-abortion ministries).

You've written an excellent exposition on The Great Work of the Gospel (Crossway, 2006). Another criticism of the pro-life movement is that it's "social gospel," and that instead we should just preach Christ and him crucified. In your mind, what's the connection between the gospel and working to end abortion?

It is no small lesson that that the great missionary, William Carey, who labored to bring the Gospel to India, who translated the Bible into three languages over 40 furlough-less years, and portions of the Bible into some 30 dialects, also labored to end child-killing in India. The prolife legislation that finally outlawed the practice of throwing babies into the Ganges River to be eaten by alligators is called Carey’s Edict. The Gospel saves the innocent and proclaims good news to the guilty. They are not at odds with each other or Christ would not have pointed to the Samaritan and said, “Go and do likewise.” When we preach Christ and him crucified, we are proclaiming the extreme end to which God proves his love of human life; body and soul. That is why when Amy Carmichael (again in India) rescued an innocent young girl from a cult temple of prostitution, her ministry was transformed. She soon was rescuing dozens of young girls, opening orphanages and schools, and her gospel message rang with authority to the glory of God. But prior to this, she was one fruitless missionary.

So if I am sitting in a café sharing the Gospel with a lost friend (soul), and a car accident outside leaves a baby and a mother pinned in a car (body), and I stay seated doing my evangelism (soul), my message is distorted and unconvincing. But if while rescuing the young mother and baby (body), the car blows up and I am killed by shrapnel (body), my guess is my lost friend will weigh my gospel (soul) with great care. It is sophistry to make it more complicated than that.

What can readers of this interview, who care about the cause of life, do to help?

Repent for navigating around death and pretending it is not happening in our homes and churches and neighborhoods. Then resolve to do something where you feel the pain and loss of the innocents in our midst. I think for most of us, and our churches, that means doing something sacrificially to support a pregnancy center. And if you don’t know of one, help me start them in Miami, then L.A., then D.C., etc.

What books do you have in the works?

My latest effort is coming out this spring from Crossway Books entitled, Doing Things Right In Matters of the Heart. I am really jazzed about it. It is my contribution to those looking for guidance in establishing an healthy, tender, long-term, mutually satisfying relationship.

Thank you for your time, John.

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