How did Eternal Perspective Ministries begin? part 1
This month marks the 20th anniversary for Eternal Perspective Ministries, the nonprofit ministry I founded in 1990. Some of you who read my blog might not know much about EPM, so thought I’d share in two blog posts about the abortion clinic lawsuits that led to my resignation as a pastor and to the beginning of EPM.
When I came to Christ as a high-schooler in 1969, I read Fox's Book of Martyrs, Richard Wurmbrand's Tortured for Christ, and Brother Andrew's God's Smuggler. I was deeply touched by these stories, and wanted to do what I could to help persecuted Christians and reach these countries with the gospel. I started contacting mission organizations and sent them money. There's no way to describe how central to my Christian growth my giving became. The more I invested money in these ministries, the more my heart followed the investment.
In 1977 a group of people started a church and asked Stu Weber and myself to be their pastors. In the early 1980’s, when our first daughter Karina was only two and our second, Angela, was on the way, Nanci and I opened our home to Diane, a pregnant teenager, and helped her place her child for adoption. (See a video from earlier this year of Diane, Dan Franklin, and me talking about the prolife issue.)
Over the following years, by God's grace, my wife Nanci and I and our daughters learned a lot about what's close to His heart. Among other things, I served on the board of the first crisis pregnancy center in the Pacific Northwest. By 1989 I had been a pastor of a large growing church for twelve years. I made a very good salary, and also received book royalties. Having been a pastor since the church began, and loving the ministry, I had no desire to leave.
But then something happened. It troubled me deeply that year after year the babies kept dying. After soul-searching, Scripture-searching, prayer and counsel, I participated in a number of peaceful nonviolent rescues (civil disobedience, blocking entry) at abortion clinics.
Like many others, I was arrested on a number of occasions and went to jail for a couple days. An abortion clinic won a court judgment against me and a few dozen others. I told a judge I would pay anybody anything I owed them, but one thing I wouldn't do was hand over money to people who would use it to kill babies.
On the first weekend of May in 1990, I found out that in two days my church would receive a writ of garnishment demanding that they send a fourth of my wages each month to the abortion clinic. To keep the church from having to face the decision to either pay an abortion clinic or defy a court order, I had to resign from a ministry I loved. I'd already divested myself of book royalties and the only way I could avoid garnishment was to make no more than minimum wage.
In February 1991, nine months after I had to resign from the church, we were set for a major courtroom trial that had been looming over us for a year. Given the political climate, it seemed almost certain that we would lose this case which could mean losing our house and any assets we had. Likely, we would have to remove our girls from the Christian school they loved. Though there was no violence and no property destruction, it was the largest judgment ever against a group of peaceful protestors. By all appearances, and certainly by the world's standards, our lives had taken a devastating turn. Right?
Wrong. It was one of the best things that ever happened to us.
The night before the trial began, my attorney calledwith amazing news. He said, "Randy, I don't know how to explain this, but I just received a fax from the abortion clinic. They want to drop you from the lawsuit."
I felt immediate relief. Suddenly the house was no longer in jeopardy. The girls could continue in school. We'd be saved the burden, tension and glare of the spotlight. But I was confused. "Why would they drop me?" I asked my attorney.
"The only thing I can figure out is that because you were a pastor and you're an author, you've been getting a lot of press. You've been explaining why you feel compelled to stand up for unborn children. Maybe they think they're better off taking the heat off you."
"Do I have a choice?" I asked.
"That's the interesting part. If they'd dropped you a few days ago, you wouldn't have any choice. It would be a unilateral decision. But because they've dropped you at the last minute, the law requires you to agree. Obviously, you should. This is a gift. Nobody wants to stay on a lawsuit with this much at stake."
I told him I'd call him back. I sat down with my wife and daughters, who were then nine and eleven years old. I explained to the girls what the lawyer said, and asked "What do you think we should do?" Karina, our eleven year old replied, "Daddy, if the abortion clinic thinks they'll be better off without you on the case, then probably God wants you there." Angela, our nine year old, instantly nodded her agreement.
"Remember,” I said, “if we lose the case, and we probably will, we could lose our house [we had no way of knowing what would happen] and we might not be able to afford for you to stay at your school." They understood perfectly. As much as Nanci and I wanted to climb out of the pressure cooker, we fully agreed with our daughters. We prayed about it together and separately over the next hour or so. We sensed God's clear leading. I called our lawyer back and floored him by saying, "We've decided to stay in the lawsuit."
What followed was a whole month in court, in which we witnessed an ongoing series of lies and false accusations. We knew it was totally false, but the jury didn't. We knew that people who kill children for a living won't hesitate to lie when it suits them, but the jury didn't. To them, we were the bad guys and the clinic workers were heroes, selfless advocates of women.
The time came for the judge, who had been so overtly hostile toward us during the trial, to give his final instructions to the jury before sending them away for deliberations. His last words were "You must find these people guilty and you must punish them sufficiently to insure they'll never do this again." For our totally peaceful nonviolent actions, the jury awarded the abortion clinic $8.2 million dollars.
While we were in this thirty-day trial, several amazing things happened at the abortion clinic. Three employees quit. One explained to a prolife protester outside, "I don't know what happened. It's like I suddenly woke up and realized we're killing babies here. That's not what I want to do with my life."
To give you the short version, the clinic never got our house from us, and an anonymous donor paid our children's tuition to get them through school. God faithfully provided. But even if we'd lost it all, He would have been faithful.
Don't get me wrong. We weren't martyrs or heroes. Not even close. Our lives were never in danger. Even if we'd lost all our possessions, we have many friends who would have given freely, opened their homes, and helped us in any way they could. The worst case scenario we faced was much better than the best case scenario faced daily by many of our brothers and sisters across the globe. While our sacrifices were tiny compared to those of countless others, the point is, God showed himself faithful.
What others intended for evil, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20). We began a wonderful new organization, Eternal Perspective Ministries, and received a minimum-wage salary (along with a few benefits) that couldn’t—and still can’t—be garnished by an abortion clinic. All of our assets, including the house, have been and still are in Nanci's name. Before any lawsuits were filed, I'd removed my name from bank accounts and checkbooks (a totally legal action, by the way, with the hope that child-killing clinics would not be funded by the assets God entrusted to us). By the time we were done, legally I owned absolutely nothing. And for the first time I began to understand—to truly know—what God means when He says, "Everything under heaven belongs to me" (Job 41:11).
In part two, which will be my next blog, I’ll share more about the lessons in stewardship God taught us through this process.