EDITORS’ NOTE: Sunday, Jan. 21, is Sanctity of Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.
JACKSON, Miss. (BP)–Alone, the penny is the least of U.S. currency. Few things, if any, can be bought with it. The U.S. government has proposed no longer producing it, feeling it insignificant and often unused.
But Baptists all over the state of Mississippi now pay attention to pennies even on the sidewalk or in a parking lot, knowing that each one has value.
These Mississippi Baptists don’t pocket the pennies for themselves. They have been bagging the pennies and shipping them in bulk to the Baptist Building in Jackson. Or they may even tape a few pennies to a piece of paper and send them through the mail. Each penny will go to a special place because it represents something -– rather, someone -– special.
However they are shipped, the pennies will find their home among millions of others at a special “Memorial to the Missing,” the Baptist convention’s tribute to the nearly 50 million children aborted in the United States since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the landmark Roe v. Wade case in 1973.
To date, Baptists in the state have contributed more than 26 million pennies to the project toward the goal of 50 million. Dropping the pennies in the 12-by-16-foot covered, bullet-proof glass enclosure that makes up the memorial is their way of showing the world that no life is insignificant.
“It’s not the 50 million pennies that are important,” said Jimmy Porter, executive director of the convention’s Christian Action Commission. “It’s the 50 million children.”
And though the number of abortions has declined annually in recent years, it is almost impossible to keep up with them. “There is an abortion in this country every 20 to 22 seconds,” Porter said.
The effects of abortion on children are well-known. But since the Supreme Court legalized the practice in all 50 states, it has also wrecked the lives of countless women who have had them and their extended families as well, said Jim Futral, the state convention’s executive director-treasurer.
“I received a letter from a couple from out of state that was particularly moving,” Futral said. “They were visiting Jackson and heard about the memorial. The letter said they came by and just stood there in awe for a while at the number of pennies inside. This couple had two daughters who between them had had three abortions. The wife asked her husband if he had any pennies. He had three pennies in his pocket and he went to put them in, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t let them go because they represented the three grandchildren they’ll never get to hold. Eventually they had to put them in together.”
When Futral conceived the idea for the memorial, the families of those who have abortions may not have been first and foremost in his mind. But today he is happy that the memorial is magnifying the problem beyond what was originally intended.
“But the true weight of the problem and the weight of the loss – there is no way to calculate that,” Futral said.
The Memorial to the Missing itself is weighty. When Mississippi Baptists finish contributing 50 million pennies -– $500,000 -– to it, it will weigh 156 tons or 312,000 pounds, roughly as much as 100 automobiles. Pylons driven 15 feet into the ground support the glass structure, built free of charge by a John Laws III, a Presbyterian layman who owns a construction company in Flowood, Miss.
“We received bids of more than $150,000 to build the memorial,” Porter said. “But God laid the project on Mr. Laws’ heart, and he contacted us telling us that he would build it for free if the Mississippi Baptist Convention supplied the materials.”
Ironically, neither the idea of a Presbyterian working with Baptists to combat abortion or the memorial itself -– located across from the state capitol — has attracted much attention in the media or outside Mississippi. William Perkins, editor of the Mississippi Baptist Record, has written about the memorial from its inception. Though Mississippi is regarded as one of the strongest pro-life states in the country, Perkins said the secular media have not focused on the memorial because it is “politically incorrect to remember dead babies.”
“It’s been very troubling that the media have totally ignored the memorial as if they were afraid of it -– and they are,” Perkins said.
But the memorial hasn’t been totally ignored by everyone. During an “abortion rights” rally last summer, protestors inserted condoms and coat hangers into the Memorial for the Missing. The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) has long argued that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, women would be forced into back alleys where illegal abortions would be performed with coat hangers.
That response to the memorial, however, surprised no one with the Mississippi Baptist Convention. And if the assembled pennies change someone’s heart, then the memorial will have accomplished its purpose. “We want people to know when they see the memorial that these children are not out of sight and out of mind,” Futral said.
The Memorial to the Missing will remain in front of the offices of the Mississippi Baptist Convention until Baptists in the state reach the goal of 50 million pennies. The pennies then will be collected and invested with the Mississippi Baptist Foundation to create a permanent endowment fund for pro-life projects, such as assisting with the operations of crisis pregnancy centers and other efforts for women with unwanted pregnancies. No salaries or administrative costs will be paid for with the pennies, Porter said.
Baptists in Mississippi will collect a special statewide offering in remembrance of the unborn Jan. 21. Officers with the state convention said they hope the collected funds will provide enough pennies to complete the memorial.