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A Short History of Presbyterians Pro-Life
Origin of PPL
Presbyterians Pro-Life probably had its origin in a discussion between Presbyterian Church (USA) ministers at a young ministers' conference at Montreat, NC in October 1976. The Rev. Bruce Davis, then of Thompson, Georgia and the Rev. Andrew White, then of Bristol Tennessee, discovered a mutual concern about the stance toward abortion then current in the Presbyterian Church, U.S. A third young pastor, the Rev. Thomas Warren, then of Memphis, Tennessee was also involved in this concern and sometime in the spring of 1978 a bank account in the name of "Southern Presbyterians Pro-Life" was established.
These young men discovered a concerned person by the name of Mrs. Eleanor Blizzard of Columbia, SC who sent a letter to the editor of the Presbyterian Survey expressing a desire to see a pro-life witness made in the Southern Presbyterian Church. The first official meeting of this group was held at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Georgia on March 21, 1979 where "Presbyterians Pro-Life" was officially chartered and formed. Present were Andy White (Bristol, TN), Tommy Warren (Memphis, TN), Eleanor Blizzard (Shandon Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC), Marilyn Fanning and Ken Thomas (Rivermont Presbyterian Church, Lynchburg, VA), Margaret Huff, (Meadowview Presbyterian Church, Bristol, TN), Bruce Davis, (Thomson Presbyterian Church, Thomson, GA), Dan Deaton, (South Aiken Presbyterian Church, Aiken, SC). The officers elected at that meeting were:
Eleanor Blizzard, Chairman,
Andy White, Vice Chairman,
Tommy Warren, Secretary, and
Bruce Davis, Treasurer.
First PPL logo developed
The first logo (the cross flanked by the alpha and omega within the circle of life) was adopted and the first statement of purpose was also drafted and approved. This early statement of purpose, although modified in places, is still carried by the organization.
The board met for its second meeting on September 3 and 4 at Pine Lodge, in Montreat in 1979 and the gathering of pastors and lay persons continued. It was decided then, September 1979, that the first annual conference of Presbyterians Pro-Life would be held April 12, 1980 in Montreat, and the Rev. Curtis Young of the Christian Action Council in Washington, D.C. was invited to come and speak. Meetings were held later that year at Columbia Seminary, at Chattanooga, TN, and Bristol, TN. In March 1981, a PPL conference was held in Atlanta with Dr. Harold O.J. Brown speaking. There were approximately 50 people in attendance. In 1982 and 1983, Board meetings were held in Thomson, GA, Lynchburg, VA, Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA. On March 3-4, 1983 the largest gathering theretofore was held at the Clairmont Church in Decatur, GA, with over 100 people present. With the reunion of the PCUS and the UPCUSA coming, it was decided to seek to expand the work of PPL to include people who were a part of the UP denomination.
At the 1983 General Assembly, PPL was granted permission by the Presbyterian Lay Committee to distribute its pamphlets from the Presbyterian Lay Committee booth at the Assembly. This took place again at the 1984 Phoenix Assembly. By that time it was decided that PPL would seek "Chapter XXCIII" status with the office of the General Assembly (later, "Chapter IX") and in time for the 1985 Indianapolis Assembly, PPL was able to have its own display booth in the exhibit area.
Early leadership of PPL
The Rev. William T. Wing, Jr. served as president in the early 80's and in 1984 the Rev. Ben D. Sheldon was asked to serve PPL as president as the base expanded to include persons from both the (former) Presbyterian Church US and the (former) United Presbyterian Church USA. Ben Sheldon was president continuously until 1995, except for a brief year's period when the Rev. Dr. Zoltan Phillips was president. Mr. Phillips' health necessitated his resignation and Rev. Sheldon was asked to resume the presidency. (Ben continues to serve on the board of PPL as President Emeritus)
What Presbyterians Pro-Life has sought to emphasize has been the historic stand for the sanctity of human life which was always a part of the witness of the Presbyterian Church. We believe that the documents finally adopted by the 1983 reunion Assembly in Atlanta (Covenant and Creation: Theological Reflections on Contraception and Abortion) represented an aberration and a departure from the historic stance of the church, a switch made with little consultation with the grass roots of the church and scarcely representing where the majority of Presbyterians were in their thinking about abortion. Above all the new position was without the support of Scripture.
Beginning with the 1984 Assembly, PPL has had a vigorous presence at the G.A. and made significant inroads into the official stand of the denomination at the 1985 Indianapolis Assembly, the 1986 Minneapolis meeting, the 1987 Biloxi gathering (through that seemed to many within PPL as a "set-back" year), and finally, with the appearance of Mother Teresa under PPL auspices at the 1988 St. Louis Assembly, a major victory was seen in the decision of the G.A. to authorize a new study of the issue.
PPL's goal has always been to educate Presbyterians about the true significance of abortion, that it is the taking of a human life, and to seek through the enlightened consciences of the members' of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to bring about a change by constitutional procedures. Its educational ministries include the publication of a series of pamphlets, a series of occasional papers, and a periodic newsletter. Also at the General Assembly, it has produced a daily newsletter, Daily Delivery.
Executive brings new growth
At the board meeting held in Memphis in the fall of 1986 it was decided to invite Mrs. Terry Schlossberg of Minneapolis to become PPL's first full-time paid staff person. She was hired with the title of Executive Administrator, and under her guidance and leadership, PPL grew in its effectiveness and outreach. Dozens of local chapters were formed under her guidance, and PPL has a voice that is heard across the denomination with respect (and sometimes with trembling!). Mrs. Schlossberg has overseen the moving of the PPL offices and mailing address from Decatur, GA to Minneapolis and then to Burke, Virginia. Under her editorial guidance, the PPL News expanded to a mailing list of approximately 40,000 people. This latter figure may be compared with the number of approximately 40-50 people who were on the original list compiled by the group who met in Decatur, GA in March 1979.
From 1989 to 1992, PPL was actively engaged in monitoring the meetings of the task force studying abortion and in national dialogues held over the next 3 years. In 1992 the PPL GA team was active at the General Assembly in Minneapolis that adopted what is still the major policy document on abortion in the PC(USA), Problem Pregnancies and Abortion. The document attempts to incorporate all views on abortion. It says Presbyterians do not have agreement on when life begins, but lists five possible views of when human life might begin. It agrees that whenever human life does begin, it is a sin to take that life. When it comes to public policy, however the policy is clearly pro-choice. It states there should be no laws restricting abortion or abortion funding. The attempts to accommodate multiple views held by those within the denomination results in a confusion that continues to be the basis from which the denomination lobbies for abortion rights.
In the years since 1992, PPL has continued to be a presence and a witness for life at every General Assembly. The Rev. Don Elliott, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Corinth, Mississippi was elected president of the PPL Board of Directors in 1995 and served until June of 2007. Under the dynamic leadership of Don Elliott and Terry Schlossberg position papers were developed on euthanasia, stem cell research and sexuality. Ministry materials promoting adoption, abstinence, post-abortion ministry, and an adult curriculum on life were written and published. PPL's persistence was largely responsible for the Board of Pensions developing a Relief of Conscience plan for the PC(USA)'s Medical Benefits Plan so that the dues of pro-life churches and individuals would not be used to pay for abortions. Mrs. Terry Schlossberg and Dr. Elizabeth Achtemeier co-authored a book on abortion and the marks of the church, Not My Own.
In June of 2005, Mrs. Terry Schlossberg retired from her position as Executive Director of PPL, having established the organization as a well-respected renewal force within the PC(USA). Mrs. Marie Bowen was called as Executive Director and the office was moved to Pittsburgh, PA. At the 2006 General Assembly a statement on late-term abortion was approved that "the lives of viable unborn babies---those able to survive outside the womb if delivered---ought to be preserved and cared for and not to aborted."
With a genuinely representative board of men and women, both clergy and lay, from a wide spectrum of the denomination, north, south, east and west, PPL is poised for impacting this church for the cause of the sacred value of all human life and to continue to work for change until the Presbyterian Church (USA) embraces a position that truly regards all human life as sacred and worthy John Sheldon Photoof protection and other Reformed bodies are built and equipped to create a culture that cherishes human life. The Rev. John Sheldon, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Ocean City, New Jersey, serves currently as President of the Board of Directors.
In 2009 PPL celebrated 30 years of faithful witness in upholding the sanctity of human life from fertilization until natural death.