by Victoria Sherwood
On Millsaps campus, it is normal to hear the buzz of a hedge trimmer, students talking and laughing before class… and pro-life advocates yelling, chanting and singing? It was mid morning on Nov. 5, when more than 20 pro-life supporters walked onto Millsaps campus. They panned out to spread their message, delivering pamphlets and cards to anyone who would partially open their hand. Pro-life advocates were spotted by the bowl, the bell tower and near Murrah Hall before security rounded them up and escorted them off Millsaps property. They then gathered on the sidewalk and across the street, in front of the Weems house and the storefront next door. A pro-life leader began to “preach” his word via loudspeaker. Asking questions like, “Do you even know John Wesley?” and “Are you a sinner?” he made broad claims that the Wesleyians would not approve of Millsaps College teachings, and that our professors are “happy to direct women to the abortion mill.” The pro-life supporters refer to the women’s clinic as a “mill.”
In the pamphlets they distribute, pro-life supporters also equate abortion to mass holocaust. They state that life begins at conception and abortion “violates the personhood of a child… It violates family, fatherhood and motherhood.”
Michael Sugar, a 21-year-old pro-life supporter from North Carolina, said that Wesleyian teachings would expect Millsaps to uphold Christian values. Sugar was in Jackson with his parents protesting the state’s only abortion clinic, or “abortion mill.”
“Most people are not educated about abortion and, in most instances, a teacher will teach the students that it is not a human life, that it’s just tissue, using dehumanizing words to make it seem less like a human,” Sugar said.
Another pro-life supporter, Sam Schrock from Nebraska, said he was here to
preach the truth about abortion. He stated that Millsaps had “lost their way.” Many pro-life groups target Jackson because it is one of the few states that only has one abortion clinic. Schrock said he was there protesting in hopes that the abortion clinic will close, leaving Mississippi with no medical centers that are licensed to perform safe abortions.
Both Sugar and Schrock were not surprised that they were “kicked” off campus. “I believe this protesting is the only way. We went in peacefully with pamphlets to distribute to students and we were forced to leave,” Sugar said.
Protestors entered Millsaps campus armed with pamphlets reinforcing their cause and large images of both aborted fetuses and grown babies. “We come out here with pictures; a picture is worth a thousand words, you look at those pictures and can’t deny that that is a baby,” Sugar said. “We show the difference between life and death.”
Katherine Henry sat cross legged in front of John Wesley’s statue, and dialed a number. “Will you meet me? I’m in front of the John Wesley statue.” The pro-life supporters were escorted off campus, but their voices could still be heard, singing hymns. Tears swelled in her eyes.
“This statue comforts me,” Henry, a freshman from California, said. “I am sitting in front of John Wesley because the people across the street are trying to use scripture and John Wesley in a way that is contradictory to my beliefs.”
Henry was one of several students affected by the pro-life advocates, though not in the way the advocates would have wanted.
“I don’t want to be just like them and say ‘you don’t know anything about Jesus.”
“Being a Christian is really important to me. Being a United Methodist is really important to me and I believe that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ,” Henry said. “I know that it’s not perfect and there are things that piss me off, but I think of it [the Methodist Church] as a church that tries to be loving and accepting. It doesn’t always succeed, but it tries.”
Several students stood and watched the protestors, even reacting to their claims. The event sparked conversation on campus through social media and within student organizations. On Nov. 7, the Millsaps College Multi-Faith Initiative provided students with cups of coffee and hot chocolate in an attempt to spark a positive conversation between religion and students social views.
Chaplin Christopher Donald spoke about the Methodist Church, Millsaps College’s position within the church and its teachings in relation to abortion and reproductive rights. “The United Methodist church is affirming of open access to health care of all kinds to all people, and knowing that there are particular emotional elements that go along with the decision to have[an abortion], and even after the abortion, the church seeks to respond to those issues compassionately,” Donald said.
In a statement released by the United Methodist Church, the church clarifies its position on reproductive rights and abortion: “Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion… We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers.”
Several of pro-life supporters’ statements targeted Millsaps’ affiliation with John Wesley and how, as a campus, we have “lost our way” and are not upholding the Wesleyian beliefs. Donald responded to those accusations. “John Wesley is a figure, someone standing with a foot in both worlds, in the church and in the university. He sought an authentic way to bring those two things together in conversation,” Donald said. “Millsaps doesn’t feel that way. We see faith and reason as partners.”
This partnership between faith and reason allows professors to have academia’s freedom to ask any questions even those that confront and criticize faith.