It wasn't a large crowd that gathered to hear a group of infamous clergymen share their prophecy at the last abortion clinic in the state last week. Their message: Abortion is "black genocide."
The four black preachers stood at a pulpit near the edge of the Jackson Women's Health Organization property, next to a fence decorated with signs reading "Don't Be A Dicktator" and "You Won't Defetus." Near the entrance of the bright pink building, women and men wearing eccentric clothing chanted "women's lives matter" and "my abortion saved my life."
Only one or two black protesters were in attendance.
The preachers, some called "outrageous provocateurs" by local clergyman C.J. Rhodes, were there as part of a demonstration by Operation Save America, a controversial Texas-based organization aimed at abolishing abortion in the United States.
Police cars lined the opposite side of the road. A group of policemen huddled around one of the black preachers wearing a "USA" T-shirt. It was the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, founder of Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny and Fox News contributor, and he had just been accused of shoving Michelle Colon, a JWHO escort who eventually pressed charges against the preacher.
Peterson, who calls himself a friend of Fox News' Sean Hannity, took the pulpit shortly after. "They're trying to get me arrested over there, but that's OK. I'll go to jail for the unborn child," he said.
From Parable to Prophecy
The preachers speaking in Jackson consisted of Peterson, Pastor James Manning, the Rev. Mychal Massie and Bishop Otis Kenner, all provocative and all opponents of abortion.
Manning told Operation Save America National Director Rusty Thomas that he was there to give the eulogy for JWHO and to say "it's over," Thomas told the JFP later. Unfortunately for Manning, a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel found that a law designed to close the clinic was unconstitutional in July, suggesting that it is not, in fact, over.
The preacher, who is from Harlem, N.Y., used most of his 14 minutes on the pulpit outside JWHO to tell a fictional story about how Beyonce, Jay Z, representatives from McDonald's, Nike and Essence Magazine and other businesspeople expressed concern to him about the decreasing marketplace of black people due to abortion.
Even though he eventually admitted that his story was a parable and that he was never told these things, he said the facts are true—that record labels and magazines that cater to black communities are losing customers due to abortion.
"In their secret board rooms, that's what they're talking about; they just don't invite me to come to hear it," Manning said. "But it's the truth, and it's the truth from almighty God."
When asked about the myths spread at the press conference, like the fact that McDonald's will cease to operate in three to seven years because of a shrinking black population, Thomas said that Manning's claims were prophecy, not necessarily based in fact.
Framing abortion in the context of genocide—defined as the intentional killing of a large group of people of a specific ethnic group or nationality—is not a new strategy in the anti-abortion movement. Those dedicated to abolishing abortion often compare abortion to the Holocaust and the KKK.
The delivery of the message lacked uniqueness as well. The four preachers were brought to Jackson by Thomas, a white anti-abortion organization leader, to speak to a group of mostly white abortion protesters.
"There have always been plantation preachers who have had to preach the truncated gospel that appeased white supremacy and sought to ameliorate the liberatory imagination of black folks," said Rev. C.J. Rhodes, Oakland Memorial Chapel clergyman and the Alcorn State University director of student religious life.
Thomas responded by saying: “It’s important that black people see black pastors make that connection and to get this message out ... I’m a white man. In other words, I have limited credibility when it comes to our black brothers and sisters simply because of my race. … I’m trying to get a specific message out to a specific people.”
But, Rhodes argues, these are not the voices that represent the majority of the black community, and they do more to hinder the dialogue than to promote it.
"That's not the way to get a message across to black folks. You don't call on some buffoon to come out and showboat and do this clown show for 15 minutes to get the attention of black women and men," Rhodes said.
One fact anti-abortion activists like to call upon is that Margaret Sanger—birth-control pioneer and founder of American Birth Control League, which became Planned Parenthood—recruited black preachers to spread the message of birth control in 1939.
Rhodes questions this similarity. "I wonder if there's a group of white conservatives who have, in essence, hired these particular preachers to be the conservative versions of a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton," Rhodes said.
"So, they have to dance to the puppet strings of Sean Hannity. ... When you pull back, what you recognize is that this conversation is predominately had by Peterson, by Manning, in contexts of very, very white conservative audience or black audiences that one would argue are self-hating."
Manning, Rhodes points out, has gone on record saying blacks have done nothing of note in history except with the help of white people. Manning has called Obama the son of Satan, the ultimate evil.
"I wonder if he's doing this as a real sincere sense of call, or is this a propaganda thing for him?" Rhodes said. "They almost sound like Uncle Ruckus," Rhodes said, referring to a self-hating African American character on the cartoon "Boondocks."
Even Massie, the creator of the Daily Rant blog, downplayed civil-rights concerns at the press conference.
"We have people saying, 'Oh it's so horrible,'" Massie said in his most exaggerated, mocking voice. "'Black children, black people are so mistreated. Black people can't get a break. Black people are disenfranchised. Back people can't get an education. Black people can't get a job. Black people can't get food.'"
"You can go without food. You cannot go without life," Massie said.
These seemingly deceptive preachers still speak the truth on the issue of abortion, Thomas said. “Obviously, no man is perfect. and I’m probably not going to agree with everything that everybody says,” Thomas said, but when it comes to abortion, these conservative talking heads have got it right—Roe v. Wade is a ‘demonic order’ and pro-abortion activists are possessed by the Devil.
'Womb to Tomb'
The preachers and many protesters wanted desperately to share their knowledge of Planned Parenthood's history. The reproductive health-care provider has ties to Sanger, who joined a shocking number of progressives, conservatives and early-20th-century intellectuals to support eugenics (forced sterilization) for poor women, as well the ability to choose contraception and abortion. Anti-abortion activists use this fact to claim that abortion providers are racist and target black families.
They do not tend to acknowledge the fact that eugenics (a forced procedure) and abortion (a chosen procedure) are two very different issues, even if the same woman supported both.
Colon, a "Pink House Defender" (the clinic is hot pink), said that Planned Parenthood and Jackson Women's Health Organization are not only unaffiliated—they're competitors. Planned Parenthood does not contribute funds to JWHO because JWHO is an independent provider. "It's like McDonald's and Burger King," Colon said.
At one point during the press conference, the speaker began "my question is ...." But he was drowned out by Colon.
"My question is: What have you done for the black children of Jackson, Mississippi?" Colon shouted.
Rhodes offered a similar sentiment. "To be pro-life is not just about caring for the child in the womb—it's womb to tomb. So if we're supporting policies that will, in effect, hinder the prosperity and flourishing of the child out of the womb, that's not really a pro-life position," Rhodes said.
Still, Rhodes—the new father of twins—considers himself "pro-life," but he takes a "pastoral care" approach. He counsels women and couples to find resources to make abortion a last option, instead of focusing on the procedure itself.
"If we have a community, if we've got resources around that couple, around that mother in particular, that could assist her in bringing this child full term and then giving birth to this child, loving and nurturing this child, then let's look at those options first," Rhodes said.
A focus on education and health-care policies is essential to solving the root of the issue, he said. The fact is, black communities are having discussions about abortion, but "when the face of the conversation becomes Pastor Manning, it really cheapens it," Rhodes said. "Automatically, ears turn deaf."