The chief equity officer at Planned Parenthood is an ordained Christian minister who believes his work is a calling from God.
In an exclusive interview with Baptist News Global, George Walker made it clear that he sees his work at Planned Parenthood as a ministry.
“I’m an ordained UCC minister,” he explained. “When I was thinking about coming to Planned Parenthood, in the foreground before any other conversations, it was my faith that rooted me in thinking about what does it mean to look at a diversity, equity and inclusion journey. I came to Planned Parenthood as the vice president of DEI and was promoted after a couple years, and now I’m the chief equity officer.
“What that means for us is working with our board and our senior leadership, and particularly the president, in terms of the direction of how we think critically about putting equity in all of our work,” he continued. “Equity is in the foreground of everything we do, looking at race equity and other tactics around health equity, are all a part of the underpinning because you can’t talk about equity if you’re not actually practicing it.”
Walker earned a master of divinity degree from Duke University Divinity School and an undergraduate degree from Morehouse College. He was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the White House Initiative for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
As for the criticism Planned Parenthood receives? Walker said he understands that criticism, especially when it comes to being an abortion provider. Many evangelicals see Planned Parenthood only through that lens, he admits. While he won’t shy away from that aspect of the organization’s work, he also wants it to be known that Planned Parenthood does far more than that.
“We are the leading provider of health care with respect to abortion services,” he said. “We provide inclusive and comprehensive sexual reproductive health care services, contraceptives, STIs and STD testing and treatment, pelvic exams, cancer screenings, which are really important. And frankly, for a lot of folks, I’ve actually heard true-life personal stories of friends of mine who while in college actually went to get some information about birth control and, because of cancer screenings, learned they had something that fortunately was caught early enough to be dealt with. With respect to cancer and health medical services, we advocate for policies that protect sexual and reproductive health.”
Still, in many evangelical environments, Planned Parenthood is known only as an abortion provider. Asked why these critics will not recognize the holistic work of serving people from all backgrounds and walks of life, particularly in communities where health care service is difficult to access, Walker has a ready answer: “We could probably be here all day answering this question. Some people on the evangelical right weaponized Planned Parenthood.”
Walker seeks to make it clear the organization isn’t at odds with people in the evangelical community. But Planned Parenthood does seek to be inclusive. The organization works to reach out to clergy, including through a Clergy Advocacy Group.
“The advisory board leads our national and local advocacy efforts to communicate with communities of faith,” he explained. “When we talk about communities of faith, we aren’t just talking about Christian communities. It’s an all-inclusive board, representing very different points of view on faith. Our members serve a three-year term. New members join annually, reflecting those diverse religious traditions. Many of them are also very active at the state level, which is really important.”
The point of all this is to highlight the diversity of views in American life, he explained “What our advocacy group is really poised to do is to give education around the fact that there are different points of view and no one faith tradition is monolithic.”
Walker also doesn’t shy away from discussing the discriminatory past of Planned Parenthood and the views of its founder, Margaret Sanger.
“We’ve stopped apologizing for the fact that Margaret Sanger was absolutely a racist.”
“We all have a history,” he said. “My first experience was talking with a fraternity brother of mine about the opportunity of coming on board at Planned Parenthood. The first thing he said to me was, ‘Well, what do you do about the history of Planned Parenthood?’ And at the time, I frankly didn’t know a lot about it. But I certainly have learned. Listen, we’ve stopped apologizing for the fact that Margaret Sanger was absolutely a racist. In most organizations that are as old as Planned Parenthood, you have a history that through contemporary lenses will be seen as fraught, especially in the United States.”