By Gerald Korson
Rev. Walter Hoye, executive elder of Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Berkeley, Calif., recently served 18 days in prison after his arrest outside an Oakland abortion clinic. His crime: Violating a new city ordinance protecting women's access to abortion that defines harassment to include holding a sign, offering literature or conversing within 8 feet of anyone entering the clinic. He is on a mission not only to educate the public about abortion, but also to encourage all clergy, especially African-American pastors, to speak out courageously against abortion from the pulpit.
Planned Parenthood is "as racist as the day is long," Hoye says, which is why the abortion rate is disproportionately higher among African-Americans than it is among other races. He has appealed his misdemeanor conviction and has filed a civil suit challenging the constitutionality of the city's "medical safety zone" ordinance.
Hoye, who since his release has resumed his sidewalk counseling outside the Family Planning Specialists Medical Group clinic, recently spoke with Our Sunday Visitor about his pro-life efforts.
Our Sunday Visitor: How and when did you begin your pro-life witness at the clinic?
Rev. Walter Hoye: I was frustrated with the church not addressing the issue, and I was concerned about the impact of abortion in the African-American community. Around 2006, some very dear Catholic friends called and said they needed an African-American presence in the clinic because so many African-Americans were going in.
We began our presence in front of the clinic on Tuesday mornings because that fit into my schedule. I came with a 90-year-old woman and an 84-year-old woman from our church, and we were just reaching out to women coming into the clinic.
OSV: What led to your arrest?
Hoye: At first, when the police would come, they wouldn't do anything; in fact, they were helpful to us. They kept coming at the request of the abortion clinic. The clinic started employing escorts who were much more aggressive. . . . They'd block me with their bodies and their signs, and I couldn't move left or right or walk forward without bumping into them. They were that close to me. You can see the video clips in the media room on my website (www.issues4life.org). But the escorts didn't stop us from coming, either.
Then [the Oakland City Council] passed this new law. Harassment is now defined to include sidewalk counseling, and counseling is defined as holding a sign, having literature, conversing with or approaching someone within 8 feet. It was a law that said "you better not do what you're doing, or you're going to be arrested."
When women walk by, I say, "Good morning. May I talk to you about alternatives to the clinic?" I'm asking for their consent. I have literature in case they want anything. But as soon as I step within 100 feet [of the clinic], I run the risk of being arrested [due to the terms of sentencing]. Whether you're within 8 feet of the women or not, it's up to them, and it doesn't matter if you have videotape and witnesses. It's what I call a "no-Christ zone." You can't witness Christ there at all. This law is horribly unjust.
So, on May 13, 2008, I finally did get arrested. I had about six pretrial hearings, a 13-day trial with a jury, and I ended up being convicted and went to jail.
OSV: Initially, you were sentenced to probation and a stay-away order, but you refused those terms. Why?
Hoye: The reason I refused probation was that I refused to stop helping women, particularly my people, who were going into the clinic. The judge with his probation order was asking me to give up three years of my life for literally no reason. I refused to voluntarily do that.
When I first got arraigned, they slapped a restraining order on me. Two of the [clinic-hired] escorts said they were afraid for their very lives, and I didn't even know who they were. It took us two or three pretrial hearings just to get them on the stand. No clinic client ever accused me of harassment.
So we get the escorts on the stand, and they testify that I haven't used force or threat of force; one escort actually testified that "he was nice."
I got convicted of two counts of harassment. At my Feb. 19 sentencing, I spoke in front of the judge for the first time. I hadn't said a word because I had four hours of videotape shown in court proving there was no harassment, and I didn't think I could testify any better than that. So when I turned down the probation, I told the judge that I believe this is an unjust law and that an unjust law isn't a law at all. It stunned the court. . . . You literally could hear a pin drop. The judge didn't know how to handle it. He ended up rescheduling my sentencing.
On March 20, the judge asked me if I had changed my mind about serving probation. I had not. So I ended up going to jail. I'd rather serve the time and then be entirely free so I could continue to do what I'm doing outside the clinic.
OSV: Have you been able to reach many of the women going into the clinic?
Hoye: We've had some who stopped, even while we had escorts out there. They're seeing a black pastor with a sign saying, "God loves you and your baby, let us help you," wearing a hat that says, "Got Jesus?" As soon as they see me standing on the sidewalk with my sign, the sisters know exactly why I'm there. There were some who would get angry; they weren't harassed, threatened or blocked in any way. They kept right on going. And then there were those who just couldn't do it, so they would reschedule or change their minds. Some of them would talk with me. But just my standing there was a powerful witness, and much of it was because I'm an African-American pastor.
OSV: Why is your presence there especially disturbing to the abortion clinic?
Hoye: The abortion clinic knows that if even one African-American pastor is standing against them, he has the potential of waking up other African-American pastors. I spend a lot of my time doing that, because African-Americans are the No. 1 consumers of abortion.
In the African-American community alone, a baby is aborted every 72 seconds. Between 1882 and 1968, the Klan lynched 3,446 black folks. Abortion in the African-American community kills more of us in less than three days.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the former research arm of Planned Parenthood, 37 percent of all abortions in the United States come from the African-American community. But African-Americans are only about 12 to 13 percent of the population. The truth is, it's not 37 percent. When we took the statistics, we found that 56 percent of abortions come from the African-American community.
According to a 2006 U.S. census report, African-Americans are no longer replacing themselves. In other words, there are more deaths in the African-American community than there are live births.
When I explain to the brothers that abortion kills more of us than heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS and violent crimes, they begin to realize that this is the No. 1 issue facing the African-American community. I'm not using "holocaust" and "genocide" just to get a response. We're literally killing ourselves. We've killed half of our race since 1973. We've done the math: If nothing changes, there are not going to be any African-Americans left by the year 2100.
My goal is to reach the African-American community because this holocaust is threatening our very existence.
OSV: Did you have mixed feelings about the election of Barack Obama as president?
Hoye: I didn't have mixed feelings about it. I was horribly disappointed. Ninety-five percent of African-Americans in this country voted for Obama. The reason why so many of us did, at least the ones I talked to, was simply the color of his skin.... Essentially, the black folks were racist. They hated white folks so much that they were willing to put their Bibles down when it came to this election.
[Obama's] done nothing to reduce abortion. In his first 100 days, he did nothing but increase abortion. I can't tell the difference between what he's doing and what someone would try to do if he wanted to increase abortion.
OSV: Have you had much success building support from pastors?
Hoye: I've gotten more support and more recognition after I came out of jail, but it still has been a real struggle. Many pastors are not going to admit that this is something they ought to do because they are compromised on it. If they do talk about it, they run the risk of losing their job. You see, in the Protestant community, you can get voted out of your pulpit the same day you preach, particularly in the Baptist church.
So when I talk to these pastors, I know what I'm asking them to do: I'm asking them to risk their jobs.
But in America today, if you're a Christian leader, you've got to do more than preach about the cost of discipleship: You've got to be willing to pay the cost of discipleship.
I'm challenging all the pastors. I'm challenging everybody to join me and take a stand. The answer is not in the White House, it's in the church house -- and judgment is going to begin in the church house.
The root cause of abortion is a sin issue. Until we stand up as Christians and look at this in terms of a moral issue, we're not going to be effective in taking a stand against this issue.
Gerald Korson writes from Indiana.
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