AUSTIN, Texas (BP) —- The spiritual and ideological chasm in the Texas abortion debate was evident at the close of a pro-life rally July 8 that drew an estimated 2,000 pro-lifers and, by one media account, about 1,000 pro-choice activists.
The sprawling pro-life crowd, mostly dressed in blue to signify their pro-life stance, gathered near the south steps of the Texas Capitol where former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee headlined a group of pro-life activists, politicians and pastors.
The rally lasted an hour and a half, ending around 8:30 p.m. After the closing prayer, led by Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, many in the crowd headed for nearby buses while others spread out around the Capitol grounds to talk or take in the moment. A smaller group gathered near the Capitol steps to hear the praise band from Bannockburn Baptist Church in Austin. Some bystanders raised their hands in praise or dropped their heads in worship.
But once the blue shirts spread out, an orange sea of pro-choice activists pressed toward the front of the crowd, only stopping at a barrier erected by Department of Public Safety troopers.
Based on the climate at the Capitol in recent weeks over abortion legislation that finally passed the legislature on July 12, Joseph Bolin –- Bannockburn Baptist’s worship pastor — thought pro-choice activists may make an appearance at the pro-lifers’ rally. He had even planned for it.
Bolin said he intentionally chose songs such as “Mighty to Save” that speak of God’s love, power and ability to change situations, knowing the clash of blue and orange was probable.
Several weeks before, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told a National Right to Life convention in Dallas: “We’re not exactly in a polite conversation with our opponents who don’t believe in the sanctity of life. Instead, we’re in the midst of an epic struggle for the very future of this state, this nation and our civilization.”
The moments following the rally gave validity to Dewhurst’s statement.
The pro-choicers’ chants and signs — some with vulgar slogans — defied the affirmations of the pro-life messages that evening. But the band played according to plan.
“Everyone needs compassion,” the band sang, “love that’s never failing; let mercy fall on me.”
The blue-clad pro-life activists, many of them with signs citing Scripture and mentions of God, tried to focus on the music as the orange-clad activists pressed for attention.
The pro-lifers sang loud, their hands raised in worship, while the pro-choicers shouted in vain to drown out the Bannockburn band, who played on, fighting through the tense moments with a redeeming message.
“Everyone needs forgiveness, the kindness of a Savior; the Hope of nations,” the band continued.
As the blue shirts sang, abortion activists took it up a notch.
A cart appeared out of the orange sea that was wired with a range of colored lights and its own reverberating speakers and thumping bass.
For a few moments, the flashing cart became the grand marshal for an impromptu parade of pro-choice demonstrators who were forming behind it. What was emanating from the speakers was indistinguishable over the sound of the praise band and worshippers’ singing. But the sign atop the structure — raised on a stand above everyone’s heads — was clearly visible.
“This machine kills fascists!” was the handwritten message in black on a white background.
As Bolin watched two worlds collide, he noted the demeanor of both.
“I was proud of our people,” the worship pastor said. “There was a lot of hatred that seemed to be spewing from the pro-choice group. [The worshippers] did not engage in the heckling.
“It was a salient moment of spiritual warfare,” Bolin added. “It was very illustrative of the cultural divide in our nation and the spiritual divide as well.”
Huckabee and the pro-life speakers repeatedly had addressed the inherent value of all humanity, explicitly noting the worth of abortion-rights advocates who were skirting the edges of the rally.
Dewhurst spoke directly to the pro-choice activists who were shouting occasional taunts.
“We love you,” he said to cheers from the pro-life crowd. “As Christians we love you as much as we love that unborn baby.”
The messages seemed lost on the pro-choice advocates, as their passion for abortion rights spilled into contempt for pro-life activists and the God they represented.
“Not the church. Not the state. Women must decide our fate!” the angry faction shouted.
The signs also declared their defiance.
“My body. My choice,” some read. Others were obviously meant to shock the “churchy” crowd, as many signs were sexually explicit or otherwise obscene.
The pro-choicers continued to push forward; their chants of “We won’t go back” became a counter melody to the band’s worship music.
But their attempts to drown out the singing with shouts and chants failed.
“Our goal was to send [God’s] message to whoever was listening,” Bolin said. “God’s Word does not return void.”
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.