One man calls it a church service. The other, an extremist protest.
On Wednesday, more than 400 people gathered in the grassy area across from the Planned Parenthood on Indiana Avenue. They sang several worship songs, a pastor spoke, and they closed with a prayer. People attending lay roses in the grass in remembrance of aborted fetuses.
For months, a group called The Church at Planned Parenthood has been meeting there. Ken Peters, Covenant Church Spokane pastor, describes it as “taking the church to the gates of hell.”
Paul Dillon, Planned Parenthood spokesman, said this is a protest to intimidate patients and workers, not a church service.
“There hasn’t been any physical altercations, but there is certainly violent rhetoric,” Dillon said. “What we’ve seen carried out around the country, that connection between how hateful rhetoric fuels hateful acts.”
Duntika Washington, a parishioner at Covenant Church, said some people didn’t understand how she could participate in this event because she had three abortions within a marriage of domestic violence.
“I have two kids, I would have had five, but not knowing Christ and not understanding what the sacrifice meant, I didn’t have value for human life,” Washington said. “Being here and supporting what Pastor Ken is doing and trying to save these babies is the best that I can do to show people there’s always the way out. No matter what, you’re already forgiven.”
In line with Washington’s story, Danny Green, Family of Faith Church pastor, spoke about his struggle with addiction and his experience when he and his then-girlfriend, now-wife got an abortion.
“If we can help somebody maybe change their mind a bit about abortion, that would be good,” Green said. “If somebody changes their mind, but not by beating them up or yelling at them or screaming at them or what some people are doing. Jesus was not about violence, he was about love.”
Dillon said the event has created issues of noise and pedestrian safety.
The Church at Planned Parenthood had a safety team in orange vests who made sure that attendants did not cross over into the area of the sidewalk chalked to give pedestrians room to walk. Several cars driving down Indiana honked, some in support and others not. A passenger in a car leaned out of the window and shouted expletives during the middle of the event.
Clay Roy, The Church at Planned Parenthood director, works on the logistics of the event. He said though the organization coordinated with Spokane police, he did not need to get a permit because of the sidewalk accommodations, and because the event would not go over 90 decibels. While the attendants were singing worship songs, the event reached 94.3 decibels.
Sgt. Terry Preuninger, Spokane police spokesman, confirmed The Church at Planned Parenthood coordinated with the police.
Dillon also said he worried about the event because of participants such as Jake Eakin, an anti-abortion activist who frequently speaks in front of Planned Parenthood clinics and attends city council meetings throughout Washington.
Eakin volunteers through Operation Save America, which seeks to make abortion illegal. He believes that once it is made illegal, those still involved with it should be charged with murder.
“We believe that (life) starts in the very moment of conception,” Eakin said in an interview earlier this month. “So what we’re saying is that if a mother murdered her 6-year-old child, she would be charged with murder, and so if we’re going to have equal justice and treat pre-born children as equal to born children, then the only just way to do that is to treat it like it’s actually murder.”
At age 15, Eakin was convicted of the second-degree murder in the death of Craig Sorger, a developmentally disabled boy. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to 14 years and released from prison three years ago.
“As a Christian I think that it’s important to talk about those things to show the contrast between my past and who I was, and who I am today,” Eakin said. “It was during the last six months that I was in prison that I was converted to Christianity, and then I decided that I was going to spend my life attempting to glorify God.”
Eakin said he had a lesser role in the crime, and that he mostly witnessed his friend, Evan Savoie, commit the act, though he did participate at the end of the crime. He said he did this because he was afraid of Savoie.
“Savoie just wanted to murder somebody pretty much,” Eakin said. “There was no reason or anything behind that, as horrific as that sounds. He had told me that he wanted to do that, but it never dawned on me that he was being serious.”
Eakin split from The Church at Planned Parenthood due to theological differences, mainly concerning the speaker, Joshua Feuerstein, who was brought in for the March service.
“I’m more orthodox Christian, I believe that there’s non-negotiables in the faith like the Trinity is one of them and Joshua Feuerstein, even though he’s a professing Christian, doesn’t believe in Trinity,” Eakin said.
Peters confirmed this was the cause of Eakin leaving the organization, and did not have concerns about Eakin’s past.
“Jake has a past for sure, but the only Jake I’ve ever met is the new Jake, the saved, born-again Jake, and so I’ve only met the God-loving, God-fearing, Christian Jake, so I was never concerned for him at all because I know who he is,” Peters said.
Peters said he wished Eakin would return. However, he is unwilling to bend to the exclusion of speakers like Feuerstein, because Peters wants the organization to have a “big tent” mentality.
“I’ve gone outside of those boundaries, and I’ve gotten some flak for it,” Peters said. “… the way I look at it is the enemy of my enemy is my friend, so if you’re fighting against abortion and you believe in Christ, then that’s all the requirement I need as far as me fighting together with you against this evil.”
The fact that Eakin was no longer involved did not change Dillon’s view of the event.
“I can’t speak to the inter-dynamics,” Dillon said. “It just seems like it’s different branding to me, it’s the same ideology.”
The March speaker, Feuerstein, became a well-known Christian speaker for a viral video called “Dear Mr. Atheist” as well as his objection to Starbucks’ red cups for the holiday season. He praised Peters’ inclusive approach to The Church at Planned Parenthood.
“I love the fact that The Church at Planned Parenthood is changing the way that Christians approach the issue of making their voices heard,” Feuerstein said. “We’re being vocal about the atrocity that is Planned Parenthood, and the millions of little innocent babies that are being sacrificed at the altar of Planned Parenthood, just like those that stood up against slavery.”
When Feuerstein spoke in March, he also shared a Facebook video of the event, which had over 125,000 views. While preaching, he referenced the Battle at Gettysburg, specifically the culmination of the battle known as Pickett’s Charge.
“Pickett’s Charge was a battle of hand-to-hand combat that was of two opposing forces as they came together and began to fight for what it was they believed in,” Feuerstein said at the event in March. “There was one side that believed in slavery and that humans weren’t really humans. Tonight we fight the same battle.”
Feuerstein has also compared the fight against abortion to the Holocaust and referred to Planned Parenthood as an “abortuary.”
Gabe Blomgren, an associate pastor at Covenant Church who led the singing at the event, also drew comparisons to the Holocaust.
Between songs, Blomgren likened the event to if a church had been able to hold a service outside of Auschwitz. At one point during his singing, he said “Somehow, God’s just let me do this,” and he appeared to be on the verge of tears.
He said he was feeling “an overwhelming sense of a consciousness that every life matters, even inside the womb,” Blomgren said. “Just also seeing the people out there, and their hearts.”
Blomgren said the issue of abortion is personal for him. He is the only child of a single mother, and he said that when his mother was pregnant, many of her friends suggested that she have an abortion.
“My mom got saved at a concert,” Blomgren said. “It was music telling her that she was loved and she was precious.”
Kaden Valdez, an 11-year-old congregant of Covenant Church Spokane, said his favorite part of these events is “trying to get Planned Parenthood shut down.”
In attendance on Wednesday was City Councilman Mike Fagan. State Rep. Matt Shea was not there, but was prayed for twice in the service, and praised for his support of a bill to abolish abortion in Washington. Peters said he participates in a small Bible study group with Shea.
Following Spokane’s lead, The Church at Planned Parenthood is popping up all over the state and the country. It is now in Everett, Yakima, Indianapolis, Chicago, Oklahoma City and Appleton, Wis. The next Spokane event will be May 22.
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