A Conversation with George Grant
Reviewer Emily Whitten talks with author and pro-life pioneer George Grant about the history—and future—of the pro-life movement. Includes an in depth discussion of WORLD’s January Classic Book of the Month: ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments by Randy Alcorn.
EMILY WHITTEN: This January 22nd marks the 49th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision—effectively legalizing abortion in the United States. The result? More than 60 million babies destroyed. Millions more parents and abortion providers burdened with guilt. And a country demoralized by lies and distortions.
But this January also marks the beginnings of a counter-revolution—the pro-life movement. On January 22nd, 1974—a year after the Roe v. Wade decision—pro-life advocates held the first March for Life in Washington, D.C. This coming Friday, tens of thousands are once again likely to attend the annual march to show support for unborn babies.
So how did the pro-life movement come to be? Who were some of its founders, and what resources did they rely on, not just for legal fights, but cultural ones as well?
To answer these questions, I recently drove down to Franklin, TN to talk with author, pastor, and pro-life pioneer George Grant. As you’ll hear, his pro-life involvement grew out of personal loss as well as pastoral work in poor communities. Over the decades, he helped start a crisis pregnancy center, published books exposing Planned Parenthood, and worked to build political resistance to legal abortion. But for Grant, the gospel of Christ was always at the heart of his pro-life work.
GEORGE GRANT: I grew up in Dallas, Texas, where the Roe v. Wade case originated. Henry Wade was the district attorney of the city of Dallas. And Norma McCorvey was Jane Roe. And she was a Dallas native as well. So I heard about the case, before it was ever this huge national issue. But when it went eventually to the Supreme Court, and the various lawyers—Sarah Weddington and others—were making the arguments, Henry weighed in regularly. He did press conferences at the courthouse in downtown Dallas. And I heard about all of this.
I was a fairly new Christian—a senior in high school—when I decided to get a couple of my buddies and just go and hear Henry Wade speak. And when I did, I was deeply convicted. I almost immediately was able to piece together that this was a gospel issue and not just a political issue. That perhaps the future of freedom and of the American experiment in liberty might actually be at stake in this. Now, obviously as a teenager, I didn't have a whole lot to put all of that together. I had this gut instinct. And I think the conviction of the Holy Spirit that this was, this was really important. So I got involved in the prolife movement before Roe v. Wade was actually decided in 1973.
WHITTEN: Was it really a movement at that time? I mean, or was just, was it sort of isolated?
GRANT: It was very isolated, very disorganized, and primarily Roman Catholic at the time and remained so really up into the mid 80s. I, however, felt that this really was a gospel issue. I did not have a problem, as many of my peers—my evangelical peers did—working with Roman Catholics, because my family had a Roman Catholic background before my conversion. And so I just kind of fell into it in my last year and a half of high school.
When I went away to college, I just, you know, lost sight of all of that. I got involved in a campus ministry, but I was primarily involved in evangelism. And honestly, I didn't think about it and wasn't really all that aware of it even as an issue. But then I met the woman who would become my wife, and all of a sudden, all of the human sexuality issues, the questions of fidelity and faithfulness, what is a family? All of those questions really came to the fore.
I was leading several Bible studies. I met her because of the evangelism project that I was working on. And so I knew I didn't want to botch this relationship. And so all of a sudden, the pro-life cause kind of percolated to the top once again. And I began to read and study just a little bit. There wasn't a whole lot out there. But the one thing that I kept being struck by over and over again, was how much of the presentation of the gospel in the Scriptures revolves around the promise of life. The ‘fountain of life.’ The ‘prince of life.’ You know, this striking contrast between the ethos of death and the ethos of life was really powerful.
So, I quickly became involved in the pro-life movement. I was involved with the pro-life movement when I was in seminary just a little bit again. It was largely Roman Catholic at the time. But Karen, my wife, had, we lost our first child, late late late in the pregnancy, and we wound up having real struggles with each of our other children. So the whole question—
WHITTEN: What year would that have been? What timeframe was that happening?
GRANT: We lost our first child in ’76. And we had three more children after that. Most, about two years apart, each of them. And we were just wrestling with where does the gospel invade this? We wound up starting at our church in Houston—a church that I planted—the first crisis pregnancy center in the city of Houston and became just involved in the pro-life movement there.
WHITTEN: When you founded that, how did you get the idea of it? Was there another one that you could go and look at and find out how to do it? Or did you just have to invent it?
GRANT: Yeah, there were a couple of other crisis pregnancy centers around the country. It was the beginning of a movement to plant crisis pregnancy centers. But we had already started a ministry to the poor. We became very aware of the need of young moms or pregnant moms who were in dire straits. And so it sort of grew out of our care for the poor but then quickly took on a life of its own. So we separated the two ministries. And we were involved in sidewalk counseling early on. We didn't really know what we were doing, or how to go about it. And sometimes we did things pretty badly.
WHITTEN: And how would you get these ideas? I mean somebody had to have the idea, ‘Let's go down to the place where the abortions are happening.’ And then, what do we do when we get there? Well, some people would throw eggs. Or some people might… you know, how did you think though, like, what are we trying to accomplish here?
GRANT: Well, we made every mistake in the book. And we, you know, experimented with it all. But because at our church and in my own experience, the conviction about the cause of life grew out of our Gospel convictions, rather than political ones, we never really had a revolutionary impulse. It was always a kind of reformational, ‘What does the gospel look like in this arena?’
I started to meet a lot of pro-life leaders and particularly young guys coming out of seminary who saw that this was an essential expression of our witness before the world.
WHITTEN: And it wasn’t really a political issue at that point, was it? Was anybody championing…?
GRANT: Well, there were political aspects, sure. You know, National Right to Life had come into existence. So Jack Wilkie is out there and I got a chance to meet him. I was a part of a consortium that met in Washington DC, once a quarter leaders of all of the major pro-life organizations. So Judie Brown and Joe Scheidler and Jack Wilkie and Randall Terry and… So I was a part of that consortium. And we tried to compare notes and we tried to figure out okay, ‘What should we be doing?’
The Pro-life Action League and Tom Glessner and all of those guys, were just really wrestling. So there was a political arm. But there was also the, you know, a direct action arm. Joe Scheidler, Randall Terry, and there were the crisis pregnancy centers.
We found ourselves as a kind of a gospel driven, church based sort of ministry. We found ourselves sort of in the middle of all of those. So we had some of our folks who were involved in rescues. We had some of our folks….
WHITTEN: Explain what a rescue is for somebody who doesn’t know.
GRANT: Yes, a rescue. The rescue movement began when a group of people like Joseph Forman and Randall Terry came under the conviction that if this was murder, murder had to be stopped. So they literally would go in and chain themselves in abortion clinics to shut them down. Besieged them in a sense. And the rescue movement was
WHITTEN: The goal was just to keep somebody from being murdered today, right now.
GRANT: Stop the killing today. And … but the secondary aspect of it was now the people that get arrested because they are, you know, chaining themselves to the operating table or whatever. Now their court case brings the whole issue of abortion before a wider audience and there's media attention and everything. So there's stop the killing now. Plus, there's the court case. Plus, there's the media opportunity. So the rescue movement was multifaceted. And so we had some of our folks that were involved in that. I was involved in some of that.
But our primary focus was really evangelism and discipleship through the crisis pregnancy center. Through things like the Morning Center which we started in Memphis, an outreach to the poorest of the poor. Things like, you know, trainings for all of the big crisis pregnancy centers. We put together some training sessions for those training sidewalk counselors, training evangelists.
WHITTEN: And what is a sidewalk counselor?
GRANT: Sidewalk counselor is someone who goes to a Planned Parenthood or other abortion clinic and is there hopefully to talk to people that are going inside to persuade them that there are other options. That they can get help. That they need not proceed to this level of extreme termination of their crisis pregnancy. But also to share the gospel, to bear witness to people driving by. To draw attention to the fact that this inconspicuous looking building here is actually the center of a storm of controversy.
WHITTEN: A good way to study any movement is to look at its resources. Randy Alcorn’s 1992 book ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments remains an excellent guide for pro-life advocates even today. That’s one reason I chose it for WORLD’s January Classic Book of the Month. But the book also serves as an artifact of its time. Its encyclopedic presentation gives a sort of polaroid snapshot of the early ’90s pro-life movement, as it grew beyond its largely Roman Catholic roots.
In this next section of my interview with Grant, we take a deep dive into Alcorn’s book. We analyze what made it work, but we also see how Grant (and others like him) used this kind of book to train a new generation of volunteers.
GRANT: Well, one of the things that Randy Alcorn did was he tackled every single one of the questions that were being raised in the media that we would encounter as we did sidewalk counseling. That we would hear from the pro-abortion advocates. That would be thrown in our face during debates or confrontations, or, you know, the kinds of things that politicians would raise as we would, you know, visit with them in their offices. What Randy wanted to do was say, ‘Well, okay, let's, let's examine every single one of these questions honestly, and give substantive, Biblical, gracious answers to all of them.’
And so in the first edition, he has 38 questions. He expanded them in later editions. But he tackled everything from the question of the morality, the religious basis, the imposition of values, all the way across the board to medical questions, questions about circumstances like rape or impoverishment. You know, a whole host of political issues. So, he just wants to tackle all of them. He wants to tackle the statistical questions, do abortions actually make society better? Can we look at the empirical data and see if that's the case? Does contraception actually reduce the demand for abortion? Let's look at the numbers. When he does all of that. He does it in a simple fashion, quick answers that provide the kinds of tools that you need for soundbite responses to the accusations that come from pro-abortion advocates.
WHITTEN: So how would you have used this book when it first came out? When would it be helpful for you?
GRANT: I used this book primarily as a tool for my leadership. I wanted to make sure that if they weren't going to plow through a huge pile of books, they had one handy resource that they could turn to quickly. One of the things that I love that Randy did was, he actually made sure that in the table of contents, he surveys the whole answer that he gives in the table of contents. So you can quickly find exactly what it is that you're looking for.
So, I used it in leadership training for our deacons and for our elders. To help them understand, we made this available to our crisis pregnancy center volunteers, whether they were counselors and they worked in the clothing closet, or they were a receptionist, or a greeter at the front door. We wanted to make sure that they had those good solid soundbite answers. We don't want people to shoot from the hip. We want people to do their homework, so that we can really, truly help those families that are in the midst of a crisis.
WHITTEN: Okay, I'm gonna ask you one more question about that book. And then I want to go back to Randy. Um, one of the things he said was, ‘Do your homework. The other position can afford to be ignorant of the facts, you can't. The other position is dependent on diverting attention away from the central facts, yours is dependent on drawing attention to them, and to do so you must know what you're talking about.’ So, you know, I think sometimes we can make a really hard line between the facts and heart. And you know…So, how do the facts fit in with the total Christian witness on abortion?
GRANT: Jesus came as truth. And He declares the truth shall set us free. The truth is our ally in any of the cultural battles that we face. And particularly when it comes to these life and death issues, to be able to speak truth demands that we know the facts. We have to do our homework. And so it's really important for us to never try and draw a, you know, a hard and fast line between heart and head. We always want to make sure that the facts that we have, are spoken as, as we're commanded in Scripture, to speak the truth in love. So we want to make sure that we do that. But in order to genuinely love, we've got to have that truth. And in order to have the truth, we have to have the facts. So what Randy really has done for us is, he's given us a kind of encyclopedic and yet abbreviated approach to know enough facts to speak the truth in love.
WHITTEN: Do you think somebody who has access to the internet, they can go online, there's lots of places they can get information about pro-life arguments? Why would it be helpful to have this book?
GRANT: One of the problems with the internet is that it is scattered, it is vast, and it is unreliable. What we have here is something that is concise. It has been thought through carefully, it has been amalgamated in a way that it is a useful tool. This is the Swiss Army knife of the pro-life movement.
WHITTEN: That’s a great line. So, um, do you think, do you have any idea of how he put it together?
GRANT: Yeah, you know, he talks about it a little bit. You can see it in places like the acknowledgments where he talks about, you know, the de Parys who were in Portland and others, the list of organizations, and the resources—all of those he consulted with. He was able to be a part of some of those conversations like in D.C. and drew from that experience. But anybody who’s read any of the other of Randy Alcorn books, they…then you will know that Randy does his research. And he's a great writer. He's encyclopedic in his knowledge. And so, I would imagine that this began as a whole bunch of Post It notes. Here are some questions. Here some issues that have to be addressed. And then he just buckled down and did the research and, and produced this really useful tool.
WHITTEN: So and he, what do you see his role in the movement being?
GRANT: Yeah. Well, by the 90s, we started to see the beginnings of a real resurgence of evangelical involvement in the pro-life movement. And there were just a handful of us who are at the time writing for the evangelical world. Randy's book comes along in ’92. My book on Planned Parenthood was in ’88. So they're among the earliest of the evangelical books on the subject.
WHITTEN: Was it hard to convince publishers to take on that topic?
GRANT: The big publishers did steer clear, and a lot of the big ministries steered clear of the issue. There were a handful of really courageous evangelical leaders—D. James Kennedy, R.C. Sproul, great heroes of the faith. I, you know, I was involved in the publication of R.C.’s book and wrote the foreword to the 20th anniversary edition of it. He was incredibly courageous in stepping out. And so there were a handful of great heroes that stepped forward. And that eventually made a huge difference.
WHITTEN: In his book, Randy Alcorn’s warns, “Those who look to the Supreme Court to grant us an abortion-free America will be disillusioned….The jobs of personal intervention, education, and political action will continue for decades to come, requiring great perseverance.”
In this final section of my interview with Grant, we discuss the kind of perseverance and wisdom needed to continue the pro-life fight in 2022 and beyond.
GRANT: A lot of people think that the primary challenge of our day is political. That it's court cases. It's, you know, these restrictive laws that various states are passing. I believe that the primary battle still remains the church and the culture. Judgment begins with the house God. Our culture is in the mess that it's in because our church is in the midst that it's in. Lack of courage and the lack of leadership that we see on the national scene is a reflection of the lack of courage and the lack of leadership in the church. And so I think that the battle begins at the pulpit. And the battle proceeds through the congregations that are raised up. If evangelical and Reformed churches in America were uniformly committed to the abolition of child killing in our nation, it would be over. It's not over, because we're still not stepping up.
WHITTEN: What are two or three ways we need to step up?
GRANT: When our children get into trouble, we can't run to the world for solutions.
WHITTEN: You mean pregnancy?
GRANT: Pregnancy, sexuality, gender issues. We're constantly running to the world, instead of running to the Scriptures and the ordinary means of grace. We also need to be much more forthright in our culture. Christians have been so concerned about being nice and being liked that they've stepped away from enabling their neighbors to understand the issues that really shape our world and that are vital for our children and for our future. Third, I think that one of the most important things that we can do is make sure that we are discipling the next generation faithfully. The fact that we have given over our children by outsourcing our parental responsibilities to others—on a regular basis—to others who hold radically contrary worldviews to ours is an indication of why we're in the mess that we're in.
WHITTEN: Well, alright, so we've got this resource here that can help people think clearly about this issue. And like you said, you have to have truth before you can get to a solution or make any progress. Let's see, let's just talk quickly about one particular issue and that is the issue of whether a child in utero is a baby or a fetus or just a clump of cells.
GRANT: And one of the problems that we're facing is that the people that are constantly exhorting us to listen to the science, to pay attention to the science, aren't listening to or paying attention to the science. When you have a child in the womb, you have a separate human being with separate DNA, with all of the indicators of human life that his or her mama would have. This is scientific fact.
One of the things that we see in the scriptures, in the early chapters of Matthew and Luke, is that Mary, who has an embryo in her womb, visits Elizabeth, who has a fetus in her womb. And the fetus leaps for joy in the presence of the embryo. That's the gospel.
GRANT: That's the truth.
GRANT: Psalm 139 tells us that it is God who weaves us together in our mother's womb. So we can look at the scriptures, we can look at the science and it is irrefutable. A child in the womb is a child, not a blob of tissue.
WHITTEN: So how did you come to that understanding personally?
GRANT: I think that from that first time I heard Henry Wade, I had sort of a visceral understanding that we're talking about human life across the board. However, when my wife and I were married, we struggled with our first pregnancy, and eventually lost that child. And I was present, we, her water broke, or in the eighth month. We rushed to the hospital. The baby was born and did not survive. And I was present. We couldn't get the doctor or the nurse there. So I was there. I saw this baby. It was a baby. This is not a lump of tissue. And it was one of the things…three of my however many pro-life books I've written are actually dedicated to that daughter that we lost.
And those were the days when ultrasounds were still very, very rudimentary. That technology has advanced dramatically. My youngest son just had a daughter and the ultrasounds are astonishing. You almost expect the baby to start talking to you. It's just amazing. But with our next three pregnancies, the ultrasounds got better and better.
And every time I was just thunderstruck by the marvel, the miracle, the scientific reality, that in my dear wife's womb was my child. That is a conviction that is so overwhelming and so life transforming that I became an early advocate for getting ultrasound machines into crisis pregnancy centers. And then I've been a part of helping to launch mobile ultrasound ministries. To park a van outside of a Planned Parenthood and offer people free ultrasounds is one of the most powerful inducements for people to realize this is not a blob of tissue. This is my child, this is my son, this is my daughter.
WHITTEN: I have wondered if that was, ended up being God's answer to the problem of people going and standing outside and trying to get people to look at pictures of aborted babies, you know. And no one wants to see that. But God just said, okay, you don't want to look at it this way. And you'll want to see it this way. And he sort of flipped it on its head.
GRANT: One of the great horrors of the fallen world is that a fallen man is predisposed to death. It's what Freud called the Thanatos syndrome. We are attracted to death. The Bible talks about the fact that we are drawn to death. There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. So I have no illusion whatsoever that any technology, any picture, any conversation, any book is going to end the specter of child killing.
Every pagan civilization in the ancient world—every single one of them—practiced child killing. The only time we see any civilization rest itself free from those chords of death has been when the Gospel has shaped civilization. So in the end, the battle that we have is a cultural battle. It is a spiritual battle. And we want to save as many lives as we can. We want to have as many good laws as we can. But what we really must do is change hearts, change lives. And that's where the battle is for our day. It's not in the Supreme Court, although I'm rooting for good court decisions. The truth is is that we still have a lot of work to do in our neighborhoods, in our churches, with our communities, and around the world.
WHITTEN: If you had one of your books, if you could put one sort of up to the screen and show a listener, what which one of your books would you recommend? What were you trying to say that other writers didn't say?
GRANT: One of the things that I have focused on is history. What I wanted to do with third time around was to show that the issue has been an issue throughout all time, every civilization. And the Gospel is the answer. So the pro-life movement and the church are parallel movements.
But probably if I were to recommend any book, it would be Killer Angels. It's sort of a shortened summary of my big book, Grand Illusions. But it's a biography of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. And for me, what this book attempts to do is to show what the ideological roots of the pro-abortion movement really are, why they're so dangerous, and how we can overcome them with the truth.
WHITTEN: So tell me just briefly one of the things this..this bleeds into the topic of race, critical theory.
GRANT: Critical race theory, BLM, and all these things that have sort of come back into fashion. Absolutely. Gender questions, eugenics.
WHITTEN: The roots are back there. What's one thing we might learn in here about that?
GRANT: One of the things that we have seen is that there is a concerted effort to transform Western civilization to erase certain aspects of our history to reverse things based on emotional arguments rooted in a Marxist kind of ideology. That's been true from the beginning. Margaret Sanger was a part of a communist insurgency. And she was a part of the IWW, the International Workers of the World. She was influenced by Emma Goldman and Hammerlock Ellis. And as a result, it's a very predictable sort of trajectory that that we see.
WHITTEN: Okay, well, that's good. That's good to know. I'm glad to see 25th anniversary edition of that. That's cool. All right, well, let's see, is there anything else you'd like to tell me about or to tell our listeners about Randy Alcorn’s book and how it might help them?
GRANT: I have loved Randy's writing. His book on heaven. His book on money. His little book on strategies in the pro-life movement. And, of course, this wonderful encyclopedic work. I think that one of the things that is necessary in our day is for discerning reading. For each of us with the, you know, the torrent of information that we have from the internet, from publishers, we need to be more discerning. And what I love about Randy is that he worked really hard to speak clearly, courageously, concisely, and lovingly to all of the major issues of our day. And so I think the main thing that I want to say about Randy is, I commend him to our listeners.
WHITTEN: Okay, great. So get reading.
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