I’m Warren Smith, and today you’ll be listening in on my conversation with Roland Warren. He is the president of CareNet, a network of more than 1,200 Pregnancy Resource Centers, the largest in the nation.
ROLAND WARREN, GUEST: So in a post Roe response, well, what should we try and be trying to do? Build strong families, right, as Christians, and then also help those strong families become disciples of Jesus Christ, which means this isn't an issue that's outside the church that the church cares about. It's actually the core mission of the Church.
One of the most persistent slanders against the pro-life movement is that pro-lifers care for babies in the womb, but abandon them when they are born. Roland Warren’s life and work is a powerful rebuttal to that false narrative.
As the president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, where he spent 11 years, and now as the CEO of CareNet, he has devoted himself to working for women and children in all stages of life. But, as you’ll hear today, Roland Warren is not satisfied. He will be the first to defend the great work of the church, and especially of the 1,200 Pregnancy Resource Centers associated with CareNet, but he will also be first in line to say there is still much left to do. Today, we talk about the road ahead for the church in the post-Roe era.
Roland Warren is a graduate of Princeton University and the Wharton School of Business. He is also the author of Bad Dads of the Bible and Raising Sons of Promise: A Guide for Single Mothers of Boys.
He spoke to me from his office near Washington, D.C.
WS: You know, Roland, when the Dobbs decision came down a couple of weeks ago, I thought of you first thing. What’s your immediate reaction? And what do you see in the CareNet world in particular?
RW: Well, I think, you know, certainly from our perspective, the overturning of Roe is, you know, obviously, it's very significant, certainly, from a legal perspective, a judicial perspective, whatever. And I think, really, from a cultural perspective, as well. I mean, I think, you know, it's kind of interesting, even though that the issue goes back to the states, what you find that happens sometimes in culture, not always, but sometimes in culture, that something is considered acceptable once it becomes legal at a federal level. And you see that in a number of different areas. Like, if you look at, you know, the people who agree with gay marriage, for instance, same sex marriage, for example, before, if you look at the trend lines, before it was became sort of, you know, codified in that way, more people based on surveys were probably against it, so to speak, and certainly based on the referendums that went on across the country. But then once it, once it became codified, then it's almost an exact flip of that. So, you know, same thing you see on things like marijuana or various other things, right? So, so, I think that, you know, from that it's an interesting cultural moment, in that, if it's no longer, sort of viewed at a federal level as being a federal right, which, you know, based on, you know, the decision and just how things came about, it's pretty clear that this is an issue that should have remained at the at the states, that the, that the, the courts really didn't have a dog in that hunt, so to speak, and just sort of created a law, which is not what the courts are supposed to do. They're supposed to interpret laws, but not not create them. That, you know, there may be a cultural moment that, you know, it's a longer time coming, but maybe generations may have a view that, you know, this is is not an acceptable practice, because it's not a legally acceptable practice at a federal level. Again, states, you know, some, some, you know, be for it, some may be against it, you know, that kind of thing. But I think that that's, I think that's an important perspective, if you if you have a view that maybe, you know, folks will start to view this differently that way. I, you know, I, I've kind of had the perspective that certainly the, in the aftermath of the decision, what's been what's been very clear is that many people have not overturned Roe v. Wade in their hearts and minds, even though it's been overturned at a judicial level.
WS: Well, you know, exactly, I was going to ask you about that, because there's, you know, there's been violence against pregnancy resource centers around the country. A pretty clear indication there, that Roe hasn't been overturned in the minds and hearts of at least those people. And, I mean, what are you telling the CareNet members about that? Are they, you know, juicing up or increasing their security? Are they doing more outreach to the local communities? I mean, I because I tend to agree with you, I think that maybe over time, you know, the law is a good teacher. You know, you can't legislate morality, as the old saying goes. But on the other hand, we have laws against stealing and murder, and those are moral issues, and the law does have a didactic impact. So I think you're right, in the long term. But in the short term, there's some upheaval, there's some uproar. I've, you know, we've even here covered some pregnancy resource centers that have been vandalized, that have had their windows broken and the you know, red paint, you know, really vile messages painted on them. What are you seeing, what are you hearing or what are you telling CareNet members?
RW: Yeah, no, that's definitely something that we've that we've seen. We certainly had some affiliates vandalized. And, you know, we've certainly seen situations where you know, pregnancy centers or pro life organizations have been firebombed, and various other threats have been connected to that. So, our our, you know, approach has been obviously to, you know, to certainly try to step up security in terms of in terms of what you're doing there. But we, we launched an initiative a couple of weeks ago called WATCH and PRAY, which was essentially sort of implementing a sort of a neighborhood watch type of approach to protecting pregnancy centers in a biblical context. You know, all through Scripture you, you hear those two things, you know, that, watch and pray. And I believe it's in Ezekiel there's talk about putting a watchman on the wall. So that when, when the the evil comes, that he can alert those. And so our view has been, you know, that that should be a strategy that we have at the pregnancy centers. You know, most of this vandal, pretty much all the vandalism that's happened, has happened at night. So they want to do it at night, when they can be under the cover of darkness. And what if there were just folks at the pregnancy center watching and praying? And this is, particularly from our standpoint, a call to men who are connected to pregnancy centers. So, you know, we've encouraged our pregnancy centers, and we're seeing, you know, many of them do this, which is to kind of set up, you know, sort of a schedule for for people to come over the course of the evening. And to watch and pray. Be in the parking lot with your lights on. Have a barbecue. You know, the pregnancy center lights are open, things of that nature. And I think that, you know, if we continue to do that, certainly through the summer, then I think that it dramatically decreases the impact of the violence that they're talking about, but also reduces the probability that someone would do something to begin with. And also, it's just an amazing witness of how, you know, Christians respond. So they're responding to the Roe decision with a night of rage or nights of rage. And we're responding to nights with watching and praying, which is what we're called to do as Christians. So yeah, you want to do the kind of stepped up stuff with the cameras and all those kinds of things that you can do. But at the end of the day, you know, having folks visibly there at the pregnancy centers is an amazing public deterrent. And we see that in neighborhoods all across this country. You know, people aren't armed or any of that stuff. You're just basic, you're out in your neighborhood watching, right? Well, the difference is like in a secular situation you watch, but in a Christian context, you watch and you pray. And so that's what we really encouraged pregnancy centers to do.
But I do want to loop back to something that you said just about the, you know, the the Roe decision. You know, we've been operating for a number of years under the perspective of, you know, Roe v. Wade, Roe v. Wade being overturned. One of the first talks that I gave when I came to CareNet about, you know, a little over nine years ago was, are we prepared to win? And, you know, my observation was in terms of kind of how the the pro-life ministry model was kind of structured and that we weren't necessarily prepared to win. And so we started building our ministry model from the perspective of what's what would should you do the day after Roe is overturned, right? What would you be doing the day after Roe is overturned? It's like, okay, here's what we'd be doing. Well, it's like that's the thing you should be doing the day before Roe's overturned. In other words, you know, you need to be preparing for the overturning of Roe beforehand. And so we started building our whole ministry model based on on that perspective. And there are really two pillars, which I think are what pregnancy centers in certain, in CareNet context, and what we're encouraging all pregnancy centers to do in terms of their role, are doing. The first thing is, focusing on God's design for family. And specifically, that means you have to be engaging men in this decision. We've done a number of surveys with LifeWay, and what we found was when we surveyed women who'd had abortions, and the men who participated in these abortions, there's a couple of things that we found. And two are significant. We talked to the women and we said, Who did you talk to about your abortion decision? We give them a long list of people, right? Number one was the guy who got her pregnant. And then we asked who was the most influential in your decision to abort? Number one was the guy who got her pregnant. So we did a follow up survey, and we surveyed a nationally representative sample, races, all that kind of stuff, all the demographics, and we did a follow up survey and we asked men, who did she talk to about the abortion decision? And the men said, well me more than anybody else. And then we asked, who do you think was the most influential in her decision to abort? And the men said, I was the most influential. So the women are saying he's the most influential. The men are saying, I'm the most influential. And yet, when you look at the response, over nearly 40 years, there's never there has not been an on ramp to engage men, even though he's the most influential in the abortion decision. So we started a whole initiative focused on, well wait a minute, we need to be engaging men, and calling men into the process of stepping into that role, because they're the most influential. And so we have fatherhood initiatives that are linked to the core work of what our pregnancy centers are doing because frankly, what do you want to happen? I mean, if you're a, you know, certainly if you're Christian, you say, well, if a woman, you know, is facing an unplanned pregnancy and you can change everything except the fact that she's pregnant, what would you want her to do? Is it just, well, I'd want her to have the baby? Really? I mean, I mean, you should be wanting more than that. Well, you want the guy involved? Well, yeah. What do you want to be a be a baby daddy? Is that what you're looking at? Well, what would you want? Well, I guess I'd want him to be involved. I want him to marry her, honestly. I'd want them to build a high quality, low conflict, godly marriage and raise the child in that context. That's good. But if you're a Christian, what else do you want? Well, I want that child to grow up with in the fear and admonition of the Lord. So I want that perspective. And so we really started building our ministry model based on started doing that, and really modeling it, really after the birth of Christ, where Mary in her, in her humanity, was facing an unplanned pregnancy from a human perspective. And what did God do to make sure that Mary's unplanned pregnancy wasn't a crisis pregnancy? He went to the guy and what did he call Joseph to do? First, to be a husband to her, and then a father to the child growing inside of her. So you see that when you have in the birth of Christ, and God's response to an unplanned pregnancy, from a human perspective, is a father and mother united in marriage, loving each other, loving their child, and loving God. So, we started building our vision for what we think around this issue based on that. And what do you know? That's the same thing you should be doing in a post-Roe environment. Because we really, really want to build and build strong families. So that's the first piece of that perspective.
WS: Yeah, what's the number, what's number two? What's the second one?
RW: Okay. Number two, number two, is God's call to discipleship. So the first thing is God's design for family. And then the second thing is God's call to discipleship. And, and what that basically means is as Christians, every good work that we do should lead to discipleship, right? We do good works, not for the same reason that the world does. We do good works for the same reason that Christ did. So he did good works, and he always called folks into a discipleship relationship. So this guy has, you know, too many, this, this guy has too many demons. This one, this woman has too many husbands. This one has too much money, this one has too much pride. And in all those situations, he met those people at their point of need. And then he called them into a discipleship relationship. Now the challenge is because the life issue has been so politicized, that most Christians view the life issue, primarily, I think, through a political lens, or maybe even a material support lens, but not through a discipleship lens. And that was a transit, a transitional point, just an amazing epiphany that we had in the ministry. We said, wait a minute. Water for the thirsty. Food for the hungry. Clothes for the naked. Home for the homeless. I mean, Christians instinctively understand that, that those things lead to discipleship. So the reason we do those good works, or you support World Vision or Compassion or Samaritan's Purse, or any other myriad of nonprofits that are Christian, it's not just because they're they're meeting a temporal need, but you know, they have an eternal focus. Right? But I, what I realized was that most Christians aren't thinking that way about the life issue. They're thinking about it through a political engagement or material support, not looking at the woman facing an unplanned pregnancy and saying, she needs to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The child that's growing inside of her needs to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The guy that got her pregnant, needs to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. And when you view it that way, it doesn't become an issue that you think about every four years when you're trying to figure out who to vote for, or Sanctity of Life Sunday or something like that once once a year. Sanctity, it becomes sanctity of life every day, because then it becomes anchored fully in the reason why the Church of Christ exists. Because, what's the Great Commission? To make disciples for Jesus Christ. And so in a post Roe response, well, what should we try and be trying to do? Build strong families, right, as Christians, and then also help those strong families become disciples of Jesus Christ, which means this isn't an issue that's outside the church that the church cares about. It's actually the core mission of the Church, which is making disciples. And so a big part of our work has been really been trying to help Christians, and particularly pastors, view this as a discipleship issue, and then start speaking to the congregation in that context, to break through the political narrative, and all that, in order for folks to really anchor their pro-life beliefs, so to speak, in that context.
WS: Well, Roland, that is an enormously helpful way of thinking about and framing this issue. I really appreciate you saying it, you know, sort of so plainly. But let me ask sort of a follow up question to that. And I'm an obnoxious journalist, so I ask obnoxious questions, right? How's it going? How's that message being received by the church, by pastors that you're interacting with, and by the pregnancy resource centers who, you know, on any given day, you know, they've got people showing up at their door and wanting diapers and, you know, wanting cribs and wanting strollers and those, those physical needs are real. They won't go away. So so how how's it, how's it going? How's it working?
RW: It's been, I tell you it was, it was a heavy lift, for sure. Because you can see there's many paradigms that have to be shifted here. The first paradigm is that this is a women's issue. And we're focused on saving the baby and helping the woman so to speak, which is love them both, which is a pretty strong narrative in the pro- life community, to love them all, which is what I'm talking about. And so one of the first things that we did to really kind, kind of break through all of that is just sort of recast what I'm talking about is. It's actually not being pro-life. It's actually being pro-abundant life, based on John 10:10, where Christ said, I came to bring life and then to have that life abundantly. And in that context, he's talking about physical life, bios, where we get the word biology. But he's also talking about zoe, a unique type of spiritual life that only comes from a relationship with God. So in other words, he came to link our bios to his zoe, so that we might have abundant life, which is what he wants for folks inside and outside the womb. So, once we started talking about it in that context, it anchors it. So if I was kind of creating a picture for you here, they get a roof. It's held on by two pillars. It's the pro abundant life roof. It's held up by two pillars: God's design for family and then God's call to discipleship. And, and, you know, I think, you know, in terms of your context of, of these physical needs that need to be met, thinking about it this way doesn't stop you from meeting those physical needs. And in fact it empowers you and motivates you to meet those needs more because you're anchoring it in the call of Christ. There's this story in Scripture, where Christ was given a coin and and they were, was asked, well, should we pay taxes? And he said render unto Caesar, what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. Well, so what do you think about? I mean, what do you think about that? I mean Caesar, what was he concerned about? Physical, you know, material wealth and political power. So Christ was saying, there's a higher thing that should anchor how you think about material wealth, right, and political power. In other words, it's a high, there's a higher calling. Now, here's the thing, and this is what motivates you more to kind of do those physical need things that people need. You can't be a disciple maker without meeting people’s physical needs. First, John 3:17 says, If your brother and sister is in need, and you have no pity, then the love of God is not in you. In other words, you're not a disciple maker. So you can meet physical needs, which is social services, without being a disciple maker. But you can't be a disciple maker without meeting physical needs. And the same happens on the other side, the political side, right? We, we're called to, to protect the vulnerable. And the overturning of Roe v. Wade was a government construct, and we as people of the book should call and challenge our government to be just and merciful. Especially unjust and unreasonable to whom? The most vulnerable. And so we as people of the book should be challenging in that way. But again, you can be involved in that without being a disciple maker, but you can't be a disciple maker without being involved in that. So it actually motivates you around political engagement, because you see that through the lens of discipleship. It motivates you around providing material support, because you see that through the lens of discipleship, which is the call of anybody who's a follower of Christ. So as we started to talk about the issue that way, it actually motivates you more.
And there's another thing which is significant here, which is the difference between being transactional and being transformational. If you're pro-life, and a woman comes in, and she's facing unplanned pregnancy, and then she decides to bring her child into the world, you're like, yeah. But what if she comes in, I don't know, two months later, with a new pregnancy and a new guy? Well, you want her to bring that child into the world too, right? Yeah, what about the next guy and the next guy? And what do we see, right? So a woman with four kids with four different guys from a pro life perspective, like check, check, check, check. But is that really what we call, are called to do? Is that really ministry? That's actually, that's more Burger King, Wendy's, Chick fil-A, Walmart. I mean, that's retail transactional. And Jesus didn't do retail. He called people to come as they are, but not stay as they came, but to be transformed by the renewing of their lives. So when you think about the issue through this discipleship perspective, and what you see that you need to do is that you need to meet her at her point of need, yes, but you, like the woman caught in adultery, you need to say, neither do I condemn you, but go and sin no more. And that's why you need to build up these God-honoring institutions, these covenant institutions, like marriage, fatherhood, motherhood, that God designed. Like discipleship, and God's design for, call to that. It actually puts you in a mode that you're like well, it's not just about her saving the baby, as God-honoring as that is. It's not even just about her raising the child. It's about all of that in the context of God's design for family and God's call to discipleship. So it really is a comprehensive way of thinking about the life issue that anchors it firmly in the first chapter of the first book of the New Testament, which is the birth of Christ, and God's design for family, and the last chapter of the first book of the New Testament, which is God's call to discipleship. And what we found is that, as we've communicated that, and our pregnancy centers are implementing that, that vision, that pro-abundant life vision, you're more motivated than ever to meet folks at their material needs, because you're actually trying to transform lives as opposed to provide just transactional material support.
WS: Yeah, well you know Roland, I know, a couple of pregnancy resource centers here in the Charlotte area where I live. And I can say unabashedly that I think that they operate based on those principles. They, you know, I have seen them, you know, sort of up close and personal. And I just think that it's fantastic, what they're doing. And to kind of land the plane, I want to kind of drill down to that level, if I could. You know, I know, I've got a couple of pregnancy resource centers within, you know, like I say, within miles of my house. CareNet, within the CareNet network, how many do you guys have? How many 100s, or is it in the 1000s?
RW: Well, we have 1,200 affiliated pregnancy centers connected to CareNet. So we, you know, we, we're just delighted to be serving them. Yes.
WS: And so, 1,200 means that, my guess is that the folks listening to us probably have at least one within five or 10 miles of their house. I mean, there might be some folks listening in rural areas where that would not be the case. But what word do you have for them? Somebody that, you know, has maybe been hearing the news for the last couple of weeks and, and committed Christians even, that might have heard that. And, but they're hearing what I think is a slander, what I think is a falsehood, but nonetheless, it's a falsehood that has been getting some traction in the media, which is that you pro-lifers, you care for the baby whenever it's in the womb, but you do nothing after that. What you have said, Roland, in the last 20 minutes or so, really gives the lie to that particular narrative. But for that worldview, for what you've been saying, to have real hands and feet, I think a lot of our listeners are going to have to get involved with their local pregnancy resource centers. So how would they do that? How could they do that?
RW: Yeah. It's actually again, it's actually, it's a couple of things. I mean, the reality is that pregnancy centers alone cannot be the response to overturning Roe v. Wade. I mean, let's just be practical. There's about 3,500 of them across the nation. So that was another part of our vision. Are you prepared to win? You hear commentators say, well, the answer is pregnancy centers. Pregnancy centers are part of that. But a woman who's making a pregnancy decision is making her decision from conception to birth, which is where pregnancy centers focus, but she's making the decision about the support she has after birth, where pregnancy centers are not focused by and large. That's actually the call of two things. One, it's men. In other words, if a woman has a guy who says, I'll be a husband, to you, and a father to our child growing inside of you, she's much less likely to have an abortion because she's much less likely to struggle with the missing support. And that's why 86% of the women who have abortions are unmarried, and why we focus on God's design for family, which includes marriage. But if there's not a guy who says I'll be a husband to you and a father to that child growing inside of you, that's a very significant role for the church to step into that missing support. So the other piece here, for folks who are listening to this, what needs to happen is that there needs to be armies of folks in churches who are coming alongside people who are facing pregnancy decisions, to walk alongside them through this whole process and view it through a discipleship lens. So regardless of what decision she makes, right, whether it's abortion or not, the reality is, is that she needs support. She's similar to James 1:27 where it talks about religion that God our Father finds pure and faultless. When we care for the orphans and widows in their distress. Well, when that was written, what was an orphan? Well, it was a child without a father. And what was a widow? It was a mother without a husband. So when a woman doesn't have that, then that's a specific role that the church has for these cultural orphans and widows. So we developed a ministry platform called Making Life Disciples. Making Life Disciples. You can go there, go to makinglifedisciples.com, which is a ministry kit specifically designed, that we partnered with actually Dr. Tony Evans to develop, to mobilize small groups in the church to come alongside folks who are facing pregnancy decisions. Both inside the church, where a lot of women who are facing pregnancy decisions are inside the church, there's no ministry onramp inside the church that if a woman wakes up Sunday morning and it's it takes a pregnancy test, and it's positive, and it's not good news, who she's supposed to talk to in your church? And if you get this from different people, then that's part of the problem. She was, if you asked a bunch of Planned Parenthood people, they tell you exactly who she's supposed to be talking to at Planned Parenthood. So we need a ministry response there. And we have all these small groups that are in churches, and often our small groups are about us loving us. What if our small groups got trained and became us loving them? And so you contact your local pregnancy center and say, I'm trained in makinglifedisciples.com and here's what I want to do. When you have someone who's facing a pregnancy decision that's in the zip code of our church, I want you to be able to pick up the phone and call the coordinator at our church to say we have Janie here who's facing a pregnancy decision, will you come alongside her? And then she transitions from the pregnancy center to the church for ongoing support and discipleship. That's the comprehensive model that we've been talking about for years. And that's the response to a post-Roe environment. And I'll just, I'll just maybe kind of close this up here with this. There's only one institution that is ideologically aligned and structurally capable of dealing with the post-Roe environment in a God honoring way. And it's the church. Now, we have a social services network that maybe structurally can deal with some of these issues. But the reality is that that network is transactional. In other words, if you go into WIC or some other social services entity as a pregnant woman with two kids that you're struggling to take care of, they'll give you support. And if you come back, you know, six months later, and you're pregnant with a third kid, they're not asking you how you're living. It's transactional, not transformational. So it's structurally capable, but it's not ideologically aligned. It's not it's not transformational. The same thing with pregnancy centers. Pregnancy centers are are ideologically aligned. Absolutely. But the pregnancy center support mechanism is primarily conception to birth and maybe a little bit further. So if you walk into a pregnancy center with a 10 year old, ain't much we can do for them unless they wear diapers and drink, use formula. So who's supposed to step into that? Well, that's the role of the church in order to do that. So the church is this institution that should be ideologically aligned, and structurally capable. And that's why the post-Roe response is not just the 3,500 pregnancy centers. It's the 400 over 400,000 churches and whatever subset of those would be pro-life, right? 400,000 churches and the people in the pews who are that missing support. Life decisions need life support, and that life support needs to come from pews. So I encourage folks to go to makinglifedisciples.com. Get your your small group trained. You can do it by yourself, or with your small group. But I encourage you to do that. It's really easy to do, and they'll give you a ministry response to the life issue that includes, you know, the political engagement is a whole another piece in another world. But this is really talking about a discipleship approach. So you can help those who are facing pregnancy decisions have the life support that they need.
You’ve been listening in on my conversation with Roland Warren. For the past decade, he has led the nation’s largest network of Pregnancy Resource Centers, CareNet.
My conversation with Roland Warren is the last one we’ll have for a couple of months. We’re going to take a short break for the rest of the summer, but we’ll be back with you with another season of 14 episodes, beginning in September. So I hope you have a great rest of the summer, and if you’re new to the program, check out the Listening In archives.
Among the more than 450 programs in the archives, you’ll find a 2015 conversation I had with Roland Warren. That was a conversation in which he laid out in even more of his vision for CareNet affiliated Pregnancy Resource Centers, and he expressed his hope and prayer that one day Roe v. Wade would be overturned. That conversation, bookended with the one today, is a powerful reminder that God is at work in the world, and—as Dr. Martin Luther King once said—the arc of history bends toward justice.
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The producer for today’s program is Leigh Jones. Johnny Franklin is the technical producer. And Paul Butler is executive producer for WORLD Radio. I’m your host, Warren Smith, signing off until September, reminding you that you’re an important part of this conversation, too, because you’ve been… Listening In….
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