Some shouted out, others cried, everyone stood. The “Life is Beautiful” event on Saturday, April 13 in Gainesville, hosted by Free Chapel, drew out lamenting emotion in just about every way possible as speakers stood on stage, calling for churches in the area and across the nation to come together in an effort to end abortion.
“If America is going to be destroyed, it will be destroyed by the silence of the pulpits and the silence of the righteous minority called Christians, who are failing to lift their voice to say with great passion, ‘We are going to protect the life of the unborn,’” the Rev. Jentezen Franklin said to the 4,400 in attendance and the 35,000-plus watching through live streams.
Later, in an interview with The Times, Franklin laid out the mission of the event and why he finds it so important, even though to many, it’s a controversial issue.
“Hopefully the right tone was struck today,” Franklin said in his Southern drawl while sitting on a blue couch in the chapel beside the church. “We’re not a bunch of mean, angry Christians. But we want people to know that we really do care and we really do understand that it’s a complicated issue. I don’t want to push my religion on anybody. I want people to know that they’re loved and they’re valued. And I want every life to be loved and valued. That’s our heart.”
Franklin said he recently saw the movie “Unplanned,” based on the story of Abby Johnson. Immediately, he knew he had to find a way to get her to the event.
Johnson was one of the youngest Planned Parenthood clinic directors in the nation, taking part in thousands of abortions over the eight-year period she was there. After being awarded Planned Parenthood’s employee of the year in 2009 and being instructed to double the clinic’s abortion quota, Johnson began to feel uneasy and eventually left the clinic after feeling even more uneasy when she was called in to help with an “untrasound-guided abortion procedure.”
On Saturday, Johnson, pregnant with her eighth child, was at Free Chapel to share her story.
“I knew then that what I had seen was a grave injustice,” Johnson said. “I told God that I would spend every day of my life fighting for the justice for the unborn.”
And that’s what she has done. Johnson — even after having two abortions of her own — now holds an anti-abortion stance and believes God changed her heart, which in turn, changed her beliefs, little by little.
“God hates abortion,” Johnson said. “God abhors things that are evil and abortion is evil. It is an act against our creator.”
Now, she speaks to people all over the nation about it and hopes her words will change minds.
“Let us work, let us be the hands and feet of Christ,” Johnson said. “Let us sacrifice. Let us be evangelists of his gospel and the gospel of life. Let us do everything that we can, not just to make abortion illegal, but friends, to make abortion unthinkable in our society.”
Shortly after Johnson left the stage, Gianna Jessen, with the help of two others, made her way to the microphone. Jessen was born with cerebral palsy at just 29 ½ weeks and 2 pounds, 8 ounces after an attempted, late-term “saline abortion.”
“I’m here for one reason and one reason only,” Jessen said, grabbing onto the arms of the men beside her, helping her to stay balanced. “I was saved by the power and the authority and the name of Jesus Christ.”
She said the lack of oxygen to her brain during the attempted abortion caused the cerebral palsy, but she’s using it in the same way Johnson is using her experience: to share her anti-abortion stance.
“I am not here to condemn one living sole,” Jessen said. “I am here to preach the gospel.”
That’s why Franklin was there, too, and why he wanted to host the event in the first place. He said it takes churches and people of every denomination coming together to make a change, and that’s the effect he hopes the “Life is Beautiful” event had.
“Everything big in God's kingdom starts very small,” Franklin said. “And it starts once somebody says, ‘We can do something.’ And that’s kind of where we are. But we sense the momentum and the breath of God on this, because he does love these babies and he loves these mothers, too, and we want to be able to champion that cause.”
Franklin said even to those who have had abortions, the church welcomes them. Free Chapel offers free counseling services at the church and works closely with organizations in the area like Choices Pregnancy Care Center. The church is also in the planning stages of “doing something much bigger in the community.”
“With just as much passion and just as much fervency, we are going to extend grace and compassion to anyone who has experienced an abortion in any way,” Franklin said.
He’s added that he’s proud to live in Georgia where the “heartbeat” bill, which would prohibit abortion once a heartbeat is detected by a doctor, was recently passed by legislators.
Even with contrasting legislation being passed and proposed in other states, Franklin hopes the church’s role in conversations about abortion becomes commonplace in the United States. It’s an urgent issue he hopes will one day not be an issue at all.
“I just hope it becomes normal for the message of Christians to not come across as mean and ugly on controversial issues like this,” Franklin said. “That we are not seen as a bunch of religious bigots who look down on and judge other people, but we are firm in our stance for the protection of the unborn and just as firm in extending grace and compassion to anyone who has participated in an abortion.”