While leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention and Republicans in Congress called for defunding Planned Parenthood, more than 20 local faith leaders came together Jan. 10 to pronounce blessings on the organization’s newest health clinic in Washington, D.C.
Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington opened its new health center in the northeast section of the nation’s capital in September after outgrowing the downtown facility in which it operated for more than 40 years.
According to DCist, one of a number of metropolitan websites owned by the New York-based Gothamist LLC, the dedication service was organized by the Revs. Christine and Dennis Wiley, co-pastors of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, a predominantly African-American congregation listed as a member of the Alliance of Baptists and District of Columbia Baptist Convention.
Pastor Christine Wiley acknowledged that most of the religious voices in discussions of reproductive choice are in the anti-abortion camp.
“The conservative voices are big,” she said. “It drowns out the progressive voices, but it’s not that progressive voices aren’t there.”
People attending the event represented Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Christian traditions.
“I’ve been a Christian longer than I’ve been an abortion provider,” said Dr. Willie Parker, a professing Christian whose work as a medical doctor performing abortions has been featured in Esquire and the New York Times.
Founded in 1945 as an all-white Southern Baptist congregation, Covenant Baptist Church began its racial transition in 1969. That’s when the church, still predominantly white but numerically declining, called the Rev. H. Wesley Wiley as its first African-American pastor.
Wiley, appointed by the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention as director of metropolitan missions in the nation’s capital, originally took the job for no salary, seeing it as an opportunity to save the church for the community.
Dennis Wiley succeeded his father as pastor in 1985. In 2004 his wife joined him as co-pastor, making Covenant the first black Baptist congregation in the Washington metropolitan area to call a husband and wife team to serve together as pastors, sharing equal authority and responsibility.
The congregation joined the United Church of Christ in 2010.
According to press clippings, Parker didn’t perform abortions for his first 12 years as an obstetrician and gynecologist because he felt they were morally wrong. Over time he grew increasingly uncomfortable about turning away women who needed help.
“I see women who are crying because they are Christians, and they are torn up by the fact that they don’t believe in abortion but they’re about to have one,” he told a group of patients in a speech quoted by Esquire in 2014. “What I tell them is that doesn’t make you a hypocrite. You can never say what you will do until you’re in the situation, and Christians get in jacked-up situations, too.”
Inspired by a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. about the Good Samaritan, Parker gave up obstetrics to do abortions full time on the day that late-term abortionist George Tiller was murdered in his longtime church in Kansas while handing out worship bulletins in 2009.
“My concern about women who lacked access to abortion became more important to me than worrying about what might happen to me for providing the services,” he wrote about the decision in a New York Times op-ed in 2015.
The SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission identified elimination of all federal funding for Planned Parenthood as one of six “pro-life priorities” for the president and Congress in 2017.
Agency head Russell Moore has called the 100-year-old nonprofit a “force for the culture of death.”
The Biblical Recorder, newspaper of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, endorsed House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to defund Planned Parenthood as part of a bill to repeal Obamacare in an editorial Jan. 9.
The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood in 2008.
According to the Washington Post, the $20 million, 27,000-square-foot health facility — which also houses the Planned Parenthood administrative headquarters — is expected to serve more than 12,000 people in its first year.