Knoxville, TN (LifeNews.com) -- Tennessee is the "buckle of the Bible Belt," the home of country and Christian music and headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention and yet it has "the most pro-abortion state constitution in America," according to the Rev. David Shelley, pastor of Smith Chapel Baptist Church in Knoxville.
Rev. Shelley made his remarks Oct. 15 at the opening night rally of the second national Pro-Life Freedom Ride organized by Priests for Life.
The Knoxville-to-Chattanooga route was chosen not to highlight the state’s abortion access but to acknowledge its link to the civil rights Freedom Rides of 1961 and to point to Chattanooga, an abortion-free city and a site of healing and hope.
During his remarks at the rally at The Tennessee Theater, Father Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, called the Pro-Life Freedom Rides “a symbolic ride, a simple ride, and yet so profound, representing the pro-life movement in all its dimensions.” The first ride, from Birmingham to Atlanta, took place in July.
The theme of this second ride was twofold: “Freedom of Justice,” focusing on mobilizing voters for the elections, and “Freedom of Healing,” focusing on healing after abortion.
“This is a national effort,” said Father Pavone. “Thousands of people have signed up to be Freedom Riders for the Unborn. Along with the events in Tennessee, people are carrying out Freedom-Ride activities, related to the elections and to healing, simultaneously in their own communities.”
Dr. Alveda King, director of African-American outreach for Priests for Life and co-leader of the Freedom Rides, explained “we ride for the babies whose most fundamental civil right, the right to life, is trampled.”
Two other members of the King family took the occasion of the Freedom Ride to speak out about abortion. Mrs. Naomi Barber King, sister-in-law of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, declared, “The number of abortions among African-Americans is staggering, and it's time for us all to pay attention to the damage abortion is doing to our people.”
Rev. Derek Barber King, nephew of Martin, said, “Life is life, and we are called to defend it. We speak for the victims of poverty, crime, discrimination, and oppression. We cannot exclude the victims of abortion from our concern.”
At the opening rally, Knoxville Bishop Richard Stika reminded people about the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, which declared that slaves were not human beings deserving of human rights. Making the comparison to the Roe vs. Wade decision that stripped the unborn of their human rights, Bishop Stika said it’s “the Lord Himself who invites us to stand, to speak. The challenge for all of us is to stand firm in our faith.”
The opening night rally, attended by more than 500 people, included prayers for repentance, a “Litany for Life,” spirited singing – including a performance of “The Least of These,” an anthem for the pro-life movement – and testimony from a young woman who got pregnant at 15 and was so afraid to tell her parents that she waited until three months had passed.
Finally, with her mother in the next room, she sent a text message with the news. With her toddler daughter Leah in her arms – and occasionally scampering across the stage – the young woman acknowledged that her decision to become sexually active was a bad one, but “Leah was not a mistake.” With the support of her parents and help from a pregnancy resource center, the young woman was able to choose life.
The morning after the rally, the Freedom Bus and its 27-car caravan rode to True Vine Baptist Church, located across the street from a Planned Parenthood facility in Knoxville. Surveying the crowd of more than 100 – from as far away as Indiana, Texas and California, the Rev. Cecil Clark, pastor of True Vine, said “We've got to come out of the cave and see the light.”
Father Pavone noted that in the short distance from the church to the killing center, “a dramatic conflict is ensuing…the True Church is confronting the false church. It is no less profound and dramatic as that.”
Pro-life leaders from all over the country took part in the Pro-life Freedom Ride, and echoed its dual theme in their remarks.
Armed with the shocking statistic that for every 100 live births in the black community there are 77 abortions, the Rev. Walter Hoye, of Oakland, California, said the bad news is that “the African-American community is no longer replacing itself.”
“I've got good news for you,” he continued. “When all of God’s children come together, we can end abortion.”
Catherine Davis of Georgia Right to Life also expressed confidence that abortion will end “and it won't take another 37 years.”
As much as it focused on fighting abortion in the political arena, the Freedom Ride also sought to extend a hand to women and men who have been hurt by their own abortion experiences.
Outside True Vine, the Rev. Arnold Culbreath, director of urban outreach for the Life Issues Institute, spoke of the abortion his wife had before they met and how, when she told him about it before they were married, “it was almost a deal-breaker.” Instead, they recently celebrated their 25th anniversary and two years ago, she completed a healing program and found the courage to tell her pastor-father about her abortion.
“Anyone who believes the Church is exempt from abortion’s reach is wrong,” said Rev. Culbreath, who traveled from Cincinnati to be part of the Freedom Ride.
Members of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign played a prominent role throughout the Freedom Ride weekend as they held signs proclaiming “I regret my abortion.” In Chattanooga, after a dozen women spoke of the reasons they sought abortion and the regret they have felt ever since, they had a chance to place plaques with their aborted babies’ names at the National Memorial for the Unborn.
“For every plaque there’s a mother who regrets her abortion and a father who regrets lost fatherhood,” said Janet Morana, co-founder of Silent No More.
The history of the National Memorial is itself a tale of victory. It stands where an abortion mill ended the lives of 35,000 children. When the center closed in 1993, a group of dedicated pro-lifers raised more than $300,000 and were able to buy the property, despite the efforts of another abortionist to gain access to the site and continue the killing.
Father Pavone described the Pro-life Freedom Ride as “the beginning of a new wave of healing,” and said pro-life leaders from around the country have expressed an interest in having the Freedom Bus come to their cities to spread its message of hope and redemption.