How Did Eternal Perspective Ministries Begin?
(Or, why I had to resign as a pastor—and the financial lessons we learned)
I’m often asked about the abortion clinic lawsuits that led to my resignation as a pastor, and the beginning of Eternal Perspective Ministries. I’ve been asked why I haven’t written more about this. I guess it’s because I don’t want to leave the wrong impression of self-congratulation. (Believe me, I’m aware of my own unworthiness.) I and others involved were in no sense heroes in this episode. In short, we were more than many people thought (those, Christians and non-Christians, who believed the newspapers) and a lot less than others thought (those Christians who pedestalize people who are simply and imperfectly trying to be faithful to God’s calling).
Still, I should probably tell the story because God has been faithful, and it’s about Him, not us. I want to testify of His grace and faithfulness.
Please realize that our family has never experienced anything that qualifies as persecution or hardship like our brothers and sisters throughout the world, and throughout history. The danger about talking about one’s own life is that it could leave the impression we think we’re martyrs or heroes. We’re not. Our sacrifices have been extremely small in comparison to those of others. We’re just people who have seen God’s grace and that’s the only value of telling our story.
“I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” — Martin Luther
When I came to Christ as a high-schooler in 1969, I read Foxes 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 get out the gospel in these countries. I started contacting missions organizations. Though no one told me to do this, I started buying money orders and sending them to Christian ministries.
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. I didn’t discuss my giving with anyone, because I didn’t think it was appropriate. My nonchristian father (he didn’t come to Christ until twenty-eight years later) found some of the money order receipts and was angry that I’d given away my hard earned money. Ironically, it would have been fine with him if I’d spent it on cars or sports equipment. That, at least, would have made sense to him.
Over the next few years, by God’s grace, Nanci and I and our daughters learned a lot about what’s close to his heart. In 1989 I had been a pastor of a large church for twelve years. I made a very good salary, and also received book royalties. I’d been a pastor since the church began and I had no desire to leave.
But then something happened. I’d been on the board of crisis pregnancy center and we’d opened our home to a pregnant girl and helped her give up her baby for adoption. (We also had the joy of seeing her come to Christ while she lived with us.) But year after year the babies kept dying. After soul-searching, Scripture-searching, prayer and counsel, I participated in a number of peaceful nonviolent rescues 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. On the positive side, our family had been living on only a portion of my salary from the church, and we’d just made our final house payment a few months earlier, so we were out of debt.
An Unforgettable Family Decision
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 would 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: $8.2 million. 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 called, with 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. We hadn’t hidden our legal problems from them. They’d been praying right along with us, and they’d prayed from across the street one of the times I’d been arrested for peaceful nonviolent intervention where children were being killed. (Nanci and I have always believed that if we shelter our children from life’s difficulties, we rob them of the opportunity to see God at work, rob them of the privilege of praying, and rob ourselves of experiencing the benefits of their prayer. God cherishes the prayers of children.)
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, it’s a good sign 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 my lawyer back and floored him by saying, “We’ve decided to stay on the lawsuit.”
An Amazing Month in Court
What followed was a whole month in court, in which we witnessed an ongoing series of lies and false accusations. We saw clinic employees testify that we screamed at women, grabbed them, spit on them and called them sluts and whores. The clinic manager testified that one of the defendants, a kind gentle elderly man had repeatedly used the “f” word with women coming for abortions. 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 buys and the clinic workers were heroes, selfless advocates of women.
As a side note, novelist Frank Peretti had taken an interest in the trial. He’d met some of the defendants while staying at our home and researching his novel Prophet. Because Frank had become a good friend, I called him a few times during the trial, to tell him some incredible things we’d seen happen in the courtroom. For instance, one day Tom Baker, a well-respected pastor of Portland Foursquare Church, had taken the stand to testify on our behalf. Tom hadn’t participated directly in a rescue. He’d never broken the law himself. But he’d come to pray for us and the women (and their unborn children) arriving to get abortions. While Tom was on the stand, the abortion clinic attorney, Harlan Jones, asked him a question. I don’t recall the exact question, but it wasn’t clear to Tom exactly what he was being asked. So he asked for a clarification. Suddenly the judge raised his voice, turned red and in a tone of outrage began to bawl out this pastor, telling him to just answer the question. Tom explained that he honestly didn’t understand the question, and the judge was furious. His utter disrespect for this fine honest pastor was shocking.
I told Frank Peretti that a number of times during the trial, having witnessed what was happening in the courtroom, people would say, "That was like a page out of This Present Darkness or Piercing the Darkness, Peretti's novels." I said to Frank, "If you wrote this in a novel as it actually happened today, you'd have to tone it down. It would be unbelievable. People would say, 'This novel is totally unrealistic—it could never happen that way in real life.'" But it did—I was there. I saw it.
I also watched as the judge opened and read his mail while my codefendants were testifying. One day he sat reading a newspaper, turning the pages in clear sight of the jury. His nonverbal message was, “I refuse to listen to these people, and you shouldn’t listen to them either.” When seeing this happen, people said, “His prejudice against the defendants is so blatant it’s clear grounds for appeal.” But someone pointed out, “Appeals are based on court transcripts. This isn’t on video tape.” The transcript doesn’t show his tone of voice, his aggression, his red face, or the volume of his words. It only shows the words themselves. From reading the transcript, you’d see hints of his prejudice, but nowhere near the full impact.
The time came for Judge Ellis, 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 final 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.”
Why did this suddenly happen that week, when it hadn’t before? I have a theory. We know from Daniel 9-10 that some demons are territorial, assigned to a certain place. Suppose the demons assigned to the abortion clinic, which daily blind and deceive both employees and those coming for abortions, relocated to the courthouse, a few miles away. (We certainly saw clear evidence they were there!) Since demons are finite, and cannot be two places at once, this could loosen their grip on the abortion clinic. Suddenly lights were turning on in people’s heads because the demonic stronghold was loosened. That’s just a theory, and I can’t be sure, but it makes sense to me.
So what actually happened? 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—and 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, helped us in any way they could. The worst case scenario we faced was much better than the best case scenario faced daily by 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 ministry and took that minimum-wage salary. All of our assets, including the house, have been and still are in Nanci’s name. (She reminds me I should be nice to her). Before any lawsuits were filed, I’d removed my name from bank accounts and checkbooks. 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).
I had written about God’s ownership in my book Money, Possessions and Eternity, which came out only months before I became involved in civil disobedience. Little did I know while writing that I would literally own nothing—including that book itself—within a year of when it came out. God was now teaching me that His ownership and my lack of ownership were not just nice theoretical things to say. They were literally true:
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)
“To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” (Deut. 10:14)
“The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” (Leviticus 25:23)
“Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (Job 41:11)
God was and is the owner of all things. I was and am simply His money manager. He has never revoked his ownership, never surrendered his claim to all riches and treasures. God didn’t die and leave this earth to you and me. He still owns it. The more I thought about it, the more real it became. Once I owned nothing legally, this became clear. I realized that the house that might be taken from us belonged to God, not to us. Why worry about what belongs to God? He could do fine without our house, and we knew He’d give us someplace else to live.
A distraught man furiously rode his horse up to John Wesley, shouting, “Mr. Wesley, Mr. Wesley, something terrible has happened. Your house has burned to the ground!” Weighing the news for the moment, Wesley calmly replied, “No. The Lord’s house burned to the ground. That means one less responsibility for me.”
Wesley’s response was not the pseudo-spiritual reply of a man who thought I would be quoting his words hundreds of years later. His reaction didn’t stem from a denial of reality. Rather, it was firmly rooted in life’s most fundamental reality—that God is the owner of all things, and that we are simply his stewards.
How many of our most agonizing experiences might be avoided if we’d just relinquish to God what’s his in the first place: ownership and control.
Speaking of ownership, it’s been many years now since I last owned anything. Of course, I’ve had use of all sorts of things, but I haven’t owned them. I’ve drawn a minimum-wage salary throughout that time (though I have some compensation and Nanci draws a salary) and never once have I written a personal check, nor can I.
God made real to me another concept: “Remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). My very ability to make money came from him. Suddenly I was making far less money than I had just a few months before. It was humbling. Little did I realize God was about to turn this around and generate a great deal of income through my writing.
The organization we founded, Eternal Perspective Ministries, is a nonprofit ministry supported by contributions. It’s also the recipient of all the royalties from my books. 100 percent is given away to missions, famine relief, prolife work, and other ministries.
Do I go to bed each night thinking, “It sure is a big sacrifice giving away all that money”? Not at all. I go to bed feeling joy, because there’s nothing like the thrill of giving to God’s purposes and His people. It’s participating in God’s grace. It’s exactly what we were made for.
I often think about my daughters’ responses that Sunday evening when they were eleven and nine. Every time I do I have to wipe away tears. Why? Because those little girls intuitively understood something that I had to really work at—that in life there are things far more important than money and possessions. My girls acted like what they were—followers of Jesus.
It was said of the early Christians, “you joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Hebrews 10:34). Our family’s house and other possessions were never confiscated. But by his grace, we learned to focus on those better and lasting possessions, which couldn’t possibly be taken away.
And together we experienced a joy that money can’t buy.
The Lottery Test
In 2001, the ten-year statute of limitations expired on the judgment from the second abortion clinic. It seemed our legal obligation was over. Anticipating this event, the board of Eternal Perspective Ministries had told me, “Randy, you don’t need to earn minimum wage anymore. You should start taking your book royalties again.”
Nanci and I talked about it. We prayed about it. And we decided that we don’t want to touch those royalties, which for all these years have been funding the work of God’s kingdom. We don’t need a higher standard of living. We don’t need a better house or car. We don’t need a better retirement program or more insurance.
Besides, they’re not our book royalties—they’re God’s. Nanci and I have a certain amount we’ll live on—we’re doing just fine—and the rest will go to the kingdom, to our ministry and to many others. We don’t need a million dollars or a hundred thousand dollars. We do just fine on a lot less, and God will provide for us every step of the way.
Nanci and I have never bought a lottery ticket, and we don’t plan to. But what if someone bought us a ticket and we won? Or what if we won the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes? What would be the first thing we’d do? Well, we’d laugh and smile. Then what? Call our accountant and find a tax advisor and ask how we could give it all away without having to pay taxes on any of it.
Am I kidding? No. Am I sure? Yes. Why? Because we’re already doing the same thing, just on a smaller scale. It wouldn’t matter if it was a million or ten million or a hundred million. We’re already keeping what we need and giving away the rest. We live comfortably. We don’t need any more than we have. (In fact, we could live on less—and that’s something we need to bring before the Lord, to ask him if he wants us to give more.)
We believe in a sovereign God. So if he entrusted a particularly large amount of money to us, we would assume he didn’t intend for us to spend it, but to give it. If we thought it was God’s will to raise our standard of living we could do that now.
Do I feel smug about this? No. If God hadn’t taken us through the lawsuits and having to resign and me not owning anything, we might have handled things a lot differently. Do I have any regrets about what we’ve chosen to do with the money? Are you kidding me? See, it’s not just others that are coming out ahead, we are too. All the houses and boats and vehicles and real estate in the world would just give me more to worry about or feel guilty about. I’d rather give it to God’s work, let him take care of it, use it to help people, and enjoy present satisfaction and future treasures in heaven. Of the options before us, we’re choosing the one we want, the one that will bring us greatest joy and reward.
If you live on a small salary, don’t minimize the amount entrusted to you, and the importance of how you handle it. Jesus said, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21). If few things have been given us, our handling of those things is the basis on which Jesus will reward us.
(March 2013 Update: Randy's wages have increased as of 3/2013 to make up the supplemental salary of his wife's work since she is no longer being paid as an EPM employee and the 20-year judgment [10 years, once renewed] from the lawsuit came to a close in 2000.)
The question isn’t “What would you do with a million dollars?” but “What are you doing with what God has entrusted you already?” What you are doing with what you’re making now shows what you would do. That’s why those who don’t give when they make small incomes usually don’t give when they make large ones.
The only way to fireproof money and possessions is to give them back to God. It’s at that point that we experience the greatest freedom and joy.
Nanci and I thank God for bringing us such freedom and joy in a way we never saw coming and never would have chosen, but which—if we had it to do over again—would do nothing to change.