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Pro-Life Champion Paul Schenck: A Watershed Odyssey

 

Rick Kern

Word Magazine
5/1/2004

   
 

It's a moot point, but at one time the Reverend Paul Schenck, (along with twin brother Rob), may well have run a close second to former President Bill Clinton's worst nightmare. While Newt Gingrich and the Republican Guard were finessing their "Contract With America," Sheriff Clinton and his posse seemed to have a contract of their own out on those meddlesome Schenck boys. And as the administration's peace keepers stayed hot on their heals, the media road shotgun serving up its version of a "wanted poster," with the Schencks' image repeatedly splashed across the national news in every imaginable form. Paul's even surged on to the cover of Life Magazine during Buffalo's now infamous "Spring of Life."

The 1992 "Rescue" offensive against the Western New York abortion enterprise found multiplied liberal media powerhouses converging on the Niagara Frontier like a plague of locusts. They spun garish accounts of legions of lawless pro-lifers, (whose leaders included the Schencks), as they blocked abortion clinics and stripped innocent American women of their bureaucratically endowed right to choose. Somehow, as they busied themselves breeding their "informative and unbiased" news reports, they missed the fact that Schenck and fellow rescuers were defending powerless babies from certain death. By placing themselves between these most vulnerable Americans and the sophisticated, government sanctioned slaughterhouses (acutely reminiscent of Hitler's death camps), where they were scheduled to be torn limb from limb, Schenck and untold rescuers paid a bitter price to commit not-so-random acts of kindness. And as they did, the Clinton administration pulled out all the stops to break the back of what had become known as the "Rescue Movement," imprisoning countless of otherwise exemplary Americans in the name of freedom, thus ensuring that the blood bath would continue.

Locally Schenck, a Messanic Jew, is perhaps best remembered in Christian circles for founding and pastoring New Covenant Tabernacle with his twin brother, the Reverend Robert Schenck, also a Completed Jew and credentialed Christian minister. The fellowship, now led by Reverend Dan Hamlin, is still a thriving pillar in its community and home to Covenant Academy, a primary school also established under Schenck's tenure.

But Schenck's resume doesn't stop there and his accomplishments, while too numerous to list, include a hand in the establishment of more organizations than most of us volunteer to help in throughout our lifetime. The roster is long and distinguished, and like the Apostle Paul, includes plenty of jail time. A soft spoken intellectual, the clergyman is passionately dedicated to making others' lives better and leading broken hearted, disenfranchised people to the One who alone can heal them. His life is rich with meaning because he has committed it to making the lives of others meaningful and managed to wield the double-edged sword of social activism and the gospel ministry without compromising spiritual fidelity, a problem that has plagued many like-minded Christian leaders.

He is presently co-founder and Chairman of "Faith and Action in the Nation's Capital," a Christian outreach whose mission is to bring the Word of God to bear on the hearts and minds of America's public policy makers through a variety of different ministries and outreaches. The not-for-profit organization's stated premise is evangelism in word and deed, a principle that has guided both Schenck twins from their earliest days as believers.

And guide them it has, straight into one lion's den after another. Among his most widely publicized battles was Schenck's seven-year struggle in the federal courts to reclaim the right of Christians to distribute Bibles, religious tracts, and pro-life literature on public sidewalks. His perseverance, integrity and commitment to principle provoked a vicious legal contest that had the minister in and out of federal prison, under house arrest and progressively incurring an outrageous $778,000.00 in legal defense expenses before it was over. The protracted struggle crested late in 1996 when amazingly, it led all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which takes only one out of about 10,000 cases submitted for review. "Arguing against me was the US Solicitor General representing President Clinton, a Yale Law professor, the State University of New York law school, the ACLU and the New York State Attorney General," Schenck recalled. "Arguing for me was Jay Sekulow of the ACLJ, Concerned Women of America, Focus on the Family, and, the AFL-CIO labor unions!"

Much to the chagrin and disdain of team Clinton and its pro-choice accessories, the nation's Highest Court essentially ruled in the cleric's favor in the highly publicized action. "Four months later I was at home when the phone rang," the clergyman reflected. "My brother was in the U.S. Supreme Court on February 17, 1997 to hear a religious liberty case when the Chief Justice announced that the Court had ruled in Rev. Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network. The court voted 8-1 to strike down the lower court's Order against me, but upheld a smaller part of a broader restraining order 6-3. That was the victory we were going after."

Having braved the forbidding conflict for the soul of America up close and personal, Schenck, his brother and their ministry team continue to forcefully strive to introduce Christian moral instruction on prevailing contemporary issues, into public discussion. From its mission base at their "National Ministry Center," immediately across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court, "Faith and Action," the nation's only Christian mission to the High Court, is uniquely positioned to minister to its nine justices and their staff. Its remarkable and greatly coveted location, augmented by the considerable favor the Schencks have cultivated inside the "Belt Way," have also enabled them to minister to countless representatives and senators in the nearby U.S. Capitol, as well as members of the Executive Branch. "We began evangelistic outreaches, Bible studies and Discipleship meetings," Schenck said, "and soon, high level staff from the Supreme Court, other federal courts, the Pentagon, the Congress and the White House were coming, and we've had wonderful occasions to proclaim Christ. We founded the Ten Commandments Project, presenting stone tablets of the Commandments to elected and appointed officials, which culminated in the battle in Alabama over the Ten Commandments monument in the Supreme Court there."

Prior to coming to the Washington area, Reverend Schenck served as Executive Vice President of the American Center for Law and Justice, (ACLJ). It was the ACLJ, the nation's pre-eminent public interest law firm, that spearheaded his defense through the oppressive litigation that eventuated in the U.S. Supreme Court overturning his conviction. The ACLJ provides numerous legal services for Americans whose religious and civil liberties are threatened and support for attorneys who assume their defense. They have established a national network of attorneys who share a common concern over the widespread erosion of our rights, and are committed to the defense of Judeo-Christian values.

They also cooperate with like-minded alliances that are similarly vested, and serve the public through educational efforts pertaining to First Amendment and religious freedom issues as well as pro-family and pro-life concerns. The group was chartered in 1990 when 700 Club founder Dr. M.G. "Pat" Robertson, a Yale law school graduate, religious leader, entrepreneur, and concerned citizen, decided to act to undo the galling damage done by almost a century of liberal thinking and activism. The net effect of Robertson's determination was the American Center for Law and Justice. Ironically, the Schenck twins both had a hand in the creation of the ACLJ raising a considerable sum of seed money to help jump start the venture which captured their imagination from the get-go. They never dreamed that the legal alliance would one day be mobilized to win Paul's freedom, and secure the consequential rights upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court decision bearing his name.

The same day that the Supreme Court announced its decision in Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network, the embattled clergyman received a call from the Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church. The spiritual leader asked him to pray about coming to Baltimore to pastor the 120 year old parish where Joni Eareckson Tada had grown up, and where her uncle had been pastor. Schenck asked Pat Robertson and Jay Sekulow, Chief Council for the ACLJ, for six months to pray about it, and at the end of that time, accepted the pastorate.

Somewhere in the midst of all this drama, Schenck has also become an adjunct professor of Religious Liberty at Reformed Episcopal Seminary founded in Philadelphia in 1882 and a Trustee of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, a traditional Catholic college in Merrimack, New Hampshire. In the winter of 1999, he was approached by the Exarch (Archbishop in exile) of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the oldest continuing church in the world. Originally Israelites, they came into being under King Solomon (when the Queen of Sheba visited him) and became Christian when the Ethiopian Eunuch described in the book of Acts returned from Jerusalem after being baptized by the Deacon Phillip. Subsequently, the Apostle Matthew sent pastors to Ethiopia and the Church there was born.

The Exarch had Schenck in mind to help soothe his growing uneasiness over the spiritual state of multitudes of Ethiopian believers that had fled to Israel to escape famine and persecution. There, however, they were being persuaded to forsake Christ and embrace their Jewish heritage, prompting the concern of their bishops and pastors. The Exarch entreated Schenck to go to Jerusalem and encourage them. He had scheduled a teaching trip to Egypt, and decided to stop in Jerusalem on the way and carry out the request of his distressed colleague. Once there, he enjoyed a fruitful period of rich fellowship and spiritual encouragement with his Ethiopian brethren. And later, when the Palestinian intifada broke out, he became instrumental in bringing several of their endangered children to the United States.

Schenck went on to a productive time of service among the saints in Cairo, Egypt until he received a call from the Eparch (Archbishop) of the Melkite Byzantine Church (the Catholic Church of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria), asking him to accompany the Archbishop of Jerusalem to Bethlehem to meet with Pope John Paul II, (along with the archbishops and the Christian leaders of the Middle East). Pastor Greg Cox of Newport News, VA (founder of Teen Challenge and New Life Assembly of God in Buffalo), accompanied Schenck and they met with the Pope and Palestinian leaders in March, 2000.

"It was a miserable, cold and dark day," Schenck recalled, "with Palestinians weeping and wailing, telling us that Arafat was running them out of their homes, jobs and towns." Sadly, his meeting with the Pope was overshadowed by the increasing savagery and hatred fueled by the Palestinian intifada, an escalating reign of terror that plagued the troubled region. However, the growing unrest that unsettled Schenck's heart with its ominous shadows, was displaced by the light of a new vision of the depth and scope of the church that was beginning to dawn. "It was in that cauldron of persecution and suffering that my deep appreciation for the breadth of the Body of Christ grew about as big as it has ever gotten," he explained. "I realized that the Church was universal - made of "every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation" it spanned East, West and the U.S. Put simply: the Body of Christ was far greater than evangelical Christians in U.S." He has not been the same since.

As the father of eight intrudes into mid-life, he remains philosophical about yesterday and hopeful about tomorrow. He has resigned his pastorate and is presently working on a lengthy pro-life project in tandem with Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life (PFL). PFL is a Catholic organization that provides assistance not only to priests, but to everyone who is interested in advancing the cause of the protection of human life. And while the sun may have set on his "rescuing" days, Schenck's efforts on behalf of the unborn are legendary and continue to absorb much of his time and energy. Additionally, he is the official Chaplain for the nationally acclaimed Kingdom Bound Festivals held in Western New York each summer at the Six Flags Darien Lakes amusement park. It is a deeply spiritual responsibility that he has assumed with his characteristic low profile and natural ease, as his concern for the festival's renowned luminaries allows him to look through the beguiling haze of fame into their hearts and needs.

His success at the festivals has led him to preside over a biweekly Bible study sponsored by Kingdom Bound Ministries as well (as if he needed a bit of diversion). The two-plus hour event takes place at the Park School in Williamsville, NY every other Thursday night, and continues to burgeon, attracting a wide variety of conscientious followers. Worship is led by the very gifted and capable Prior Family whose profound intimacy with God is reflected in their leadership, and frequently makes one wonder if the rapture hasn't occurred during the encounter. Schenck's teachings remain deeply insightful, intellectually stimulating and profoundly meaningful as lives continue to be challenged and changed by the way he opens the Word of God.

"These past seven years have been an odyssey for me and my family," he muses. "In many ways, we have been in exile ourselves, since our removal from Western New York began with imprisonment, led around the world during strife, persecution and famine, and has led to the US Supreme Court, where it all began. Now, it is in our hearts to return home, to our family and friends, and serve the Body of Christ teaching and preaching and working for the cause of Life. That is what we hope for."

   
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