Spiritual Warfare at the Gates of Hell
Pastor Louis Prontnicki March 2016
From the minute I turned the corner at 12th and Locust and saw the four, yellow-vested Planned Parenthood escorts, I knew this was going to be a challenging morning. Lynn and I had volunteered to take two hours to pray in front of the Planned Parenthood building in Philadelphia, as part of a nationwide 40 Days for Life prayer initiative. I had done the same thing the year before in ten degree weather for four hours, but today was a balmy 38 degrees. However, last year there were no volunteer escorts. Perhaps it had been too cold for them?
Our intention in being in front of a facility where over five thousand abortions are performed each year was multi-pronged. In my mind we were there to worship and glorify God, and so I spent some of my time singing songs of praise, aloud, giving honor and thanks to our Triune God. I was there to ask God to intervene and show both his power and His mercy, so along with Lynn, we prayed for God for many things: to turn the hearts of those seeking abortion; for the Lord to bring this place of lies, death, and darkness to its knees; and for our Savior to reveal Himself to all the people both at Planned Parenthood as well as those walking by (including dog walkers, folks getting out of their yoga class, and people out for brunch).
To let people know what why we were there, we had smaller signs hanging around our necks (Lynn’s declared “Jesus heals and forgives”; mine proclaimed “Choose life for your baby.”) and we had signs on the sidewalk (“5,015 babies were killed here in 2014” and “40 Days for Life”). Furthermore, in order to rouse this bustling but spiritually apathetic neighborhood, I chose at times, to loudly read some passages of Scripture. One chapter that always seems appropriate in this situation is Jeremiah 19. It’s where the Lord tells the prophet to smash a clay pot in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, in the presence of the elders and the priests, as a demonstration of what the Lord was going to do to Jerusalem. Why? Because the people had “filled this place with the blood of the innocent, and they had burned their sons in the fire as an offering to Baal.” Therefore in the days to come the people would call this place the “Valley of Slaughter.” (I had actually smashed a clay jar in front of an abortion chamber many years ago, in conjunction with the reading of Jeremiah 19, but I had no pottery with me this day to enact a repeat performance.)
After reading a few sections of God’s Word, one of the female escorts said to me “Why don’t you read Matthew six?” to which I replied, “Okay. All scripture is good!” Her request tipped me off that she probably had at least some Bible background (which she was probably suppressing), and I wondered if she wanted me to read that passage because she thought I was a hypocrite (You know, as one of those who “stands on the street corners to be seen by men” Matthew 6:5) or she was hoping I would incriminate myself by getting to Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (This verse of Scripture is the one most thrown at any person seeking to proclaim God’s truth and light into a dark situation.)
At the same time, along with Laura and Bob (fellow servants of the One who is Light and Life), we all sought to give alternative, life-affirming literature to those women who were heading inside this abortion chamber. “We can help you.” “We will help you and your baby; please don’t abort your child.” The material we gave to these women and young girls included the phone numbers of centers where they could get free pregnancy testing, assistance and counseling if they were pregnant, as well as photos of what the unborn child looks like in the womb.
As we sought to hand this literature to those going into the clinic, some accepted it, others ignored it, while one man threw it to the ground in anger. “You should be protesting in front of a church, not here” he yelled at me with a reddened face. “It’s the church that’s responsible for the Crusades, the Inquisition, and abusing children! That’s where you should be, not here!” I smiled and told him that, “Yes, much evil had been done by the church, but a terrible evil is happening inside this building right now, and that’s why we are here,” but he wasn’t interested in hearing me at all.
It was the same with a number of people who happened to be walking by. “Don’t you have anything better to do?” someone asked Lynn. Well, trying to rescue women and children from harm and death seems like a pretty good thing to be doing, I think.
Others who didn’t appreciate our presence there would question whether we really cared about the women, and wondered who would take care of the babies when they were born. When we told them that we ourselves had taken many pregnant women and single moms into our home, as well as having cared for foster children, they refused to believe us. I guess that kind of radical hospitality just didn’t fit their stereotype of the radical anti-abortionist who only wants to impose religious values on others.
However, there was one man who stopped to read our signs, and I could see him staring at the one that said over 5,000 babies were killed here each year. “They kill babies here?” he asked incredulously. I told him the sad truth of what went on behind the orange brick walls, and he was truly shocked. “That’s just wrong, man.” Almost every time we stand up for the defenseless babies, we encounter people who have no idea that abortions are happening at a certain hospital or at this facility. That’s another reason we go out there.
Lynn and I found it interesting that all of the four Planned Parenthood escorts were white, while almost all the women going in for abortions were people of color. It’s no secret that not only did Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, have racist views (her plan was to get a Black minister to persuade other Blacks to have abortions, so that they wouldn’t have so many children), but even today, African-Americans abort their babies at a rate three times higher than whites do. Ms. Sanger once said that “we do not want the word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.” (1939). Planned Parenthood usually locate their clinics in urban areas with a high percentage of minorities. Sometimes I would say to the women of color heading into the clinic, “This is a place of death and darkness. This is an organization that was founded on racism. Don’t go in there. We can offer you life and light in Jesus!”
Once in a while you can see the tears in their eyes and the fear on their faces. Some of these girls don’t want to go and have an abortion, but they think they have no choice. And while we were there, trying to give them a choice that they and their babies can live with, the escorts are telling them, “Just ignore these protesters. You don’t have to listen to them. Just come right in here.” Hmmm. Why are the escorts so afraid that these women might listen to us or consider an alternative? If the Planned Parenthood folks are so confident of what they believe, then why do they need to form a human shield, so that these girls can’t even receive information that might open their eyes, and truly give them a “choice”? That doesn’t seem very “pro-choice” to me.
Last year when Mark (from my church) and I were standing in front of PP in ten degree weather, a woman and her daughter approached the gates of hell, where the daughter was scheduled for an abortion inside. I was able to engage both of them in conversation (no escorts that day), and it turned out that the mother was not only a professing Christian, but also a minister. “I know this is wrong, but she’s got two kids already, and the father of this one is just no good. So we have to go through with it.” By God’s grace, I was able to speak the truth in love to the mother, and then to the daughter, when she came outside later on. You could tell there was a real spiritual battle going on in their hearts. But we were able to talk about the help and care that the daughter would receive, if she decided to keep her baby. When I finally had to leave after a few hours, the battle still hadn’t been decided, but I was able to introduce them to the next person who had come to pray and offer life in Jesus. “Lord, have mercy on people like that.” I got to thinking: if the escorts had been there that day, we might not have been able to offer this girl a choice for life.
Since the escorts don’t talk to us I can’t say for sure what they think of us, but it’s a fair estimation that they dislike us and wish we would go away. I tried to engage them in conversation, but without success. I really wanted to break through to these volunteers, and find out why they believed what they did, but they never gave me a chance. The only words they had for me were warnings about calling security. One time one of them claimed, “You touched me” as she moved her body into mine, when I was trying to give out literature. “I’m calling security,” she threatened, and then a few minutes later, the PP security man came out and gave me a warning. I smiled at him and gently reminded him, “It’s a public sidewalk. The truth is that she moved into me. If this had been a basketball game, the referee would have called a charge on her.” He wasn’t persuaded, but then again, he was being paid by the home team.
The escorts were also zealous to maintain their positions on both sides of the gates of hell, but after one of them left, they slacked off, and I was able to garner the right side of gate slot, which I think bothered them. It allowed me to offer literature just as people were about to cross the threshold of the property. Later I opted for standing in the center of the gate, about two feet in front of it, with my sign pointed to the building, so those inside could read it. This upset one of the escorts, so he placed his tall body in front of mine, to block the view. (We can’t have people inside exposed to another viewpoint, can we? After all, PP only makes big money if women choose to have an abortion. If they choose to keep their baby, they get nothing, and they also do nothing for the woman.) By the way, did you know that if you exclude the money that PP gets from your taxes and mine, 55% of their income comes from doing abortions? Remember that when PP tells you that abortion is a very small part of the services they offer!
Half way through our time at PP, a woman with a young child started talking to Bob, asking him for more of our literature, so she could give it to her friends. Then she approached me with the same request. I gave her a few pamphlets, but she insisted that I give her more. There was something about her that made me suspicious, and the thought came to me that she only wanted our literature so she could throw it out. Sure enough, it was obvious a minute or two later that she was lying to us, as she showed herself to be on the side of death. As Jesus warned us, “Be wise and serpents and harmless as doves.”
At one point a group of five college-age people gathered on the sidewalk, and then quickly two of them started to head to the gate. As I reached out to give them literature, I noticed that one of them had the name of a local Christian university on her sweatshirt, under her half-opened jacket. I said something to her along the lines of “If you are a follower of Jesus, you don’t want to go in there.” It turned out that these five people were social work majors at that university, and they were collecting information from a number of social agencies, as part of an assignment. We had a chance to tell them what we were there for, and challenge them as to the racist background of PP, as well as its murderous practices today. One of them privately told me the story of a young church friend who got pregnant outside of marriage, and she and her boyfriend chose to abort the baby, rather than bring shame on their families, who were both very active in a church. How sad that some professing believers opt for abortion, when there is great and wonderful forgiveness in the cleansing power of Jesus Christ’s atonement, and also when there are many couples who would love to adopt such a child. All the more reason to preach the gospel and its application to the abortion and fornication, both in the church and at the gates of hell.
My interaction with Planned Parenthood goes back to the late 1970s, shortly after Mr. John Stanton, the grandfather of the Pro-Life movement in Philadelphia, came to our church’s discipleship group meeting. He showed a film strip by Dr. Jack Wilke, exposing the fatal horrors of abortion in America. Tom, his wife Lisa, along with Lynn and I (living in the same house in the Logan section of Philadelphia) started the Philadelphia chapter of the Christian Action Council (CAC), an evangelical, pro-life organization.
One of the things we did was to meet with Mr. Doug Jackson, the executive director of PP in Philadelphia, in his office. As I see in the notes I took from our meeting that day, he tried to take the focus of our discussion off of abortion, and constantly accused the pro-lifers of “coercing” women. Furthermore, Mr. Jackson attacked what he saw as single issue politics, especially abortion, and saw abortion rights as the key issue for two reasons. One was the right of the woman. The other was that abortion was the flagship issue for people like us imposing their religious morality on behalf of other issues. (It is interesting that the reverse has been true: abortion has become a flagship issue for people imposing their immorality on others, in matters such as homosexual marriages, euthanasia, and infanticide.)
However, Mr. Jackson said that we could continue to picket and protest PP if we think that abortion is murder, and added that he was appreciative of our concern for him. I took him at his word and have continued to make the Good News of Jesus known at PP and other abortion chambers for nearly 40 years now.
Of all the occasions I have had to proclaim life and light in Jesus Christ at Planned Parenthood, the most memorable one was in 1993. I was part of an Operation Rescue plan to close down PP. Since the building was heavily guarded by the police, who thought we might try to enter the building and force the stoppage of abortion, our plan was for scores of pro-lifers to blockade the street intersections around PP. These sit-ins in the middle of busy intersections caused all the traffic to come to a halt, and no one could get near to PP for an abortion. The police eventually hauled all of us away and processed us in the Police Roundhouse on 8th street, but we had succeeded in closing down a major center of death for that day.
Did you know that Planned Parenthood used to teach that abortion was wrong? In their 1963 booklet, Plan Your Child for Health and Happiness, they said that “Abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun.” In fact their founder, Margaret Sanger, wrote that “(Abortion) is dangerous to your life and health. It may make you sterile so that when you want a child you cannot have it.” Their slogan was “Every child a wanted child.” Of course the corollary to that slogan is “And if not wanted, then eliminated.”
Getting back to our time in front of the gates of hell, we had a number of people passing by who questioned why we were there. Most of them let us know through their unfavorable gestures or facial expressions that they thought we were idiots – or worse. But I tried to smile as I quoted Proverbs 24:11 “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.” I told them that helpless and innocent babies were being led to death inside this building, and we were there to offer the mothers hope, and a way out of their crisis. We knew that about a dozen women had turned away from their intended abortions during these 40 Days for Life at this abortion chamber alone, and over 400 women had changed their minds and decided to keep their babies across America in these 40 days. Even that morning, Laura was texting a young woman who was inside PP, as she had given Laura her cell phone number before going inside. She came that day planning on having an abortion, but God was softening her heart, and eventually she came outside, requesting assistance in reversing what she had intended to do. So that woman was one of the reasons we were there that morning, willing to take the insults, mockery, and threats of others, for the sake of perhaps rescuing those being led to the slaughter.
Upon reflection, I wonder what would happen if every Saturday morning, a different church would send a worship team, or a choir, to 12th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia. Imagine if 10 or 20 men and women were praising God on the sidewalks in front of the gates of hell, singing “Behold Our God,” “The Lord Reigns,” or the Hallelujah Chorus. Imagine singing the praises of God in front of the stronghold of Satan!
Or what if some of our African-American brothers and sisters lined up along Locust Street with signs hung around their necks proclaiming “Black Lives Matter; Planned Parenthood Kills Black Babies,” “Margaret Sanger was a Racist,” and “PP will take your baby and your money; The Lord will give you peace and life.”
Or could we imagine pastors, elders, deacons and laypeople from our churches proclaiming the Gospel and reading Scriptures aloud, so that everyone who walked by or entered might hear His Word, and some would come under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and repent?
Is the church of Jesus Christ serious about the over 1,000,000 babies who are slaughtered in their mothers’ wombs each year? Are we in reality just nominally pro-life, but won’t lift a finger or raise a voice to stop abortion?
May the Lord raise up more of His children to do spiritual battle at the gates of hell. Our Lord Jesus Christ promised that “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)