John Fuller: Stephen Arterburn is our guest today on Focus on the Family and he shares a very difficult story about a past regret of being involved in an abortion decision.
Mr. Stephen Arterburn: As I looked back, I just saw I – I was so foolish…
Jim Daly: Yeah.
Stephen: …Because here would have been this whole, wonderful person that would have lived and had descendants and all of that. And – and I was the one that destroyed that.
End of Excerpt
John: Well, we’re going to be hearing more from Steve’s heart today as we share a message of healing and forgiveness and hope. Your host is Focus president Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, we went on the road to five different cities in five days (laughter). That was a little rough, wasn’t it?
John: It was exhausting, but great.
Jim: And that was last year to share a pro-life message, with a different guest in each night. And it was exciting to witness the enthusiasm that our friends showed for pre-born children and the mothers. It was awesome. And it was exhausting, but rewarding. In fact, I came down with a cold that first day and I thought, oh, Lord…
John: Mm hmm. (Laughter)
Jim: …How am I going to get through all of this? But we did it. And you were a great help, John, um, you know, in the recordings, et cetera. So, we wanted to share with you when we were in Dallas-Fort Worth. It was Stephen Arterburn and we had a great night and he was so open and vulnerable with what he had gone through, participating in an abortion and you’re going to hear that story today.
John: And you’ll also hear your cold in that conversation.
Jim: (Laughter) That’s so true. I’m sorry for that.
John: Yeah. Well, you pressed on and it was great. And we’re going to have that message in just a moment. Um, but we’re bringing it to you today as we lead up to our big, online pro-life event this coming September 26th. We’re calling it See Life 2020 and, uh, it’s going to be a great time with speakers and music and we’re going to say more as we close out today’s broadcast. And in the meantime, you can find details at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And I know you’re going to be encouraged in this conversation we had with Stephen Arterburn at Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas. We had a great audience and here’s how the conversation began.
John: Well, welcome to a special Focus on the Family broadcast from Dallas-Fort Worth.
Jim: Wow. (Laughter)
John: There is some energy in the room, and that’s the kind of excitement, Jim, we’re trying to build on, after last year’s really successful event in Times Square on May the 4 when we had about 20,000 people joined and jammed into Times Square to see a live ultrasound on the screen. It was an awesome experience, and we’re gonna try to recreate that in the next several months.
Jim: (Laughter) I mean, this is our moment in the pro-life community to demonstrate and kind of focus our energy to say, “We care about the woman and we care about that baby,” and that’s what we need to be proclaiming.
John: Yeah, there is some tremendous energy and momentum there, and we are really pleased for that. Mark your calendar. Go online. See the details. And please tell friends about this. We want a lot of people standing up, supporting life. It is our privilege to have Steve Arterburn with us here tonight. He’s the founder and chairman of New Life Ministries and is a teaching pastor at Northview Church with multiple locations. I think 12 locations. Is that right, Steve?
Stephen: Mm hmm.
Jim: Across Indiana.
John: And three others in special locations.
Stephen: Prisons – Indiana prisons – full-functioning church campuses in prisons.
Jim: That’s awesome!
John: It is great.
Jim: I didn’t even realize that.
John: Well, you’ve been a very popular guest. It’s our privilege to have you back.
Stephen: Thank you.
John: Thank you.
Stephen: Thanks for having me.
Jim: So glad to have you back. I so appreciate our friendship. You know, we have met sometimes at National Religious Broadcasters. And we just have fun…
Stephen: We do.
Jim: …Connecting. And I love your heart for people. And what I really appreciate about you is your transparency. And we’re gonna get that tonight…
Jim: …Because we have a really tough story. But one of the mistakes I feel like many of us who – I guess, as Christian leaders – it seems odd to even, you know, categorize yourself in that way. We’re not very vulnerable about our own shortcomings, our own mistakes. We try to project perfection and, uh, you know, people, I think they like models like that, that, you know, we can – okay, we can follow that. But the reality of the Christian life is brokenness. And I am so grateful to your heart. You’re so good by being vulnerable with your shortcomings, being a human being. So how do you like that?
Stephen: …It’s a humbling thing to talk about, especially this particular area. But, you know, I felt like – and I’ve told my wife this often – that I had a moment where I really felt like God called me to be a revealer of the truth of my life, even though…
Stephen: …That truth was not, uh, very pretty. And I hope and pray that by doing that, it would encourage others to open up about some of the things that really – well, as you’ll hear in my case, it – it made me sick. And I believe that our secrets make all of us sick. And God has such healing and hope for us when we can be open and honest about our lives, even the ugly stuff.
Jim: Yeah. And I so appreciate that. Years ago – uh, and we’ll get into it. You spoke at your alma mater.
Jim: …which is Baylor.
Jim: You shared some very surprising and difficult things in that message with the students. What was it that you shared? And they must’ve just gone, “Wow.”
Stephen: Well, there are a lot of things I wanted to share. But I felt like I needed to tell them what had happened. And I said, “You know, years earlier, I came here to get a Christian education, but what I got was I got a girl pregnant. And when I found out, I just quickly did what you did. I just paid for her to have an abortion” – is what I told them. And I shared with them the results of that. I ended up, uh – you know, when you – when you pay for your own child to be destroyed, uh, even – even an atheist has some kind of intrinsic guilt. But with me, it was total shame. I had to drop out of school. I had about 80 ulcers that were just killing me inside. In fact, I was on these heavy sulfa drugs, had to be hospitalized and moved back home. And it was just the – the guilt and shame of this secret. There was no body to grieve, you know, when I woke up to what I had done. There was no funeral. There was no one I could tell. I couldn’t tell my parents.
Stephen: And so, in this shame, I was dying. And, uh, I was so fortunate that I found grace, you know? I heard Chuck Swindoll on Christian radio say, “Your past just ended one second ago. Why would you live in it?” And I had felt like God wanted me to – to show Him no one ever felt more shame, more guilt over this horrible thing. And so, then, I felt a different call, that God really did do a lot so I could be free of that shame. So, I shared this with these students, and then I returned home after sharing it.
Jim: Um, that girlfriend, uh, contacted you afterwards.
Stephen: She did.
Jim: I don’t know how many years it had been.
Stephen: Well, it had been, um, more than a decade. And, um, I had talked with her at another time when I asked for her forgiveness, but I hadn’t heard from her since. And so, when I returned home, uh, she called me, and she said, “I heard that you told our story.” And I said, “Yes. And I did it in a way that I don’t think anybody would ever know that it was you.” And she said, “Oh, no. That – I know.” And she said, “I heard you tell them that you paid for the abortion.” And I said, “Yes. I wanted them to know that I – I was part of this.” And she said, “Well, you know, next time, you tell the story, you should be more honest.” And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” And I didn’t have any idea what she meant. She said, “Well, you didn’t just pay for it, but you pressured me.”
Stephen: “And you made sure that I knew that you would not be there for me and our baby.” And she said, “I felt I had no other choice but to go through with the abortion.”
Jim: And that’s the first time you had that realization.
Stephen: So, a whole other wave of shame and – and just to come to grips with what a coward I had been in the face of my baby needing me and this wonderful young woman needing me to be a man – and I had been that. And so, it was, uh, pretty traumatic after all those years.
Jim: Steve, you know, so often when we’re talking about this issue of abortion – and this is one of the great, I think, outcomes of having you on the program – we’ll hear from women and men who will say, “You’re not talking enough about the male side of this.” And so, we’re doing that now. I mean, this is your story. Did you ever backtrack in how she may have felt that way and where you’ve failed to, uh, make sure that there may have been more options? Or were you guilty as charged?
Stephen: Well, at the time, there weren’t big billboards; there weren’t big movements – pro-life movements – call this number, things like that. And so, it just seemed like, um, we just – or I had just moved to do that and it’s just what you did. And I knew where to go to get it done. And so, I just think that it was one of those situations where I was not going to have my plans interrupted. I didn’t really understand that this was a life, that this was – you know, I knew it was alive. I didn’t know it was a life. That was the difference. And that’s a big difference, just that one letter. And so, I, um, as I looked back, I just saw I – I was so foolish…
Stephen: …Because here would have been this whole, wonderful person that would have lived and had descendants and all of that. And I – I was the one that destroyed that.
Jim: Steve, speaking to men that are listening right now who may have that secret or, you know, for whatever reason, they’re saying, “Man, that’s exactly where I was at” at whatever point they were at – whether it was college or later or whatever – talk to men directly right now about our responsibility in this. It seems like the formula typically goes, “It’s all on the woman.”
Stephen: Well it isn’t because, um, you know, our role ends at conception in the development of a child, and then we’re to provide and protect for the life we created. That’s what men are for when a life is created. When you don’t do that, uh, you will eventually experience the guilt and shame from destroying that life. And it’s not just the – the man that’s involved with the woman. There’s often a physician or a minister or a father. Uh, other men get involved and pressure the person. And one of the things that I’ve said to many women over the years, you – you might be feeling horrible that you had an abortion, but a lot of women, they didn’t have an abortion; they had an abortion done to them. At age 14, you’re not exactly deciding to go down and have an abortion in every case. Somebody’s saying, “This is it.” Or someone like me is pressuring you. And so, us men have to step up and be the man. And you know, I feel a- like an arsonist, speaking to a bunch of firefighters. You know, I’m the worst of the worst. But I’m hoping that somebody could hear how I felt afterwards and then decide maybe to think differently about that decision.
Jim: Yeah. Steve, the part that really intrigues me is how we as men need to – to do things differently. When you look at the issue of abortion, where can we go for different outcomes? Where can that young man go today who’s 20, in college? How can he help lead in that situation rather than help destroy what God has created?
Stephen: Well, almost every pregnancy center I know of or speak for, they have a ministry for men. They want to support the man. And when the woman comes in for the sonogram, you know, they’re supportive of him, too. And so, if a guy could just say, “I need to go ask some questions, and I need to be the one to call the resource center. I need to go find out about this sonogram thing” – because you – as you know, once they see the sonogram, it’s most likely not gonna happen.
Jim: Right. And being engaged is a big part of that decision.
Jim: Let’s camp there for a minute when it comes to the abortion industry, because one of the profound things that catches my attention – and I’ve met with people in Planned Parenthood. I have gone out of my way to try to understand them. I’m not going to agree with them, so don’t worry. But it’s important that they can hopefully hear a well-articulated position on the pro-life side, too. So, I do. I have met with, uh, people from Planned Parenthood and people from NARAL, the National Abortion Rights League. And, you know, one of the things that catches my attention is the simple fact, it’s cash flow. And I remember saying to one woman that was from the industry – I said, “You know, I – I’m not a seminarian. I have an MBA. I come out of a business background. Tell me what the model is.” And she said, “Oh, yeah. It’s all about cash flow. We get $600 for an abortion. We get 0 for an adoption placement.” Isn’t that amazing? You know, my initial thought was, “How can we double your money? What if I could pay you $1,200 for adoption placement? Would you do it?”
Jim: She said, “I would do it.” So, we’re still working on that idea. Pray for us.
Jim: I mean…
Stephen: Well, I think – I think there are people in the, um, in the industry that it is cash flow for them. I think others, they’re just very confused. They think this is better for the mother. And then when they come to some new information and they meet with the person that’s running the pregnancy center, sometimes they have a change of heart, because…
Jim: Well, that’s what’s happening.
Jim: You know, Abby Johnson with the Unplanned movie – boy, when we did our New York event a few months ago, she told me that over 500 abortion workers had already contacted her to see she they could get out of the industry. That’s phenomenal.
Jim: So, you got that…
Jim: …You know, that sense of I don’t want to be doing this, but this is how I’m making my living.
John: You’re listening to a special Focus on the Family broadcast. Uh, recorded at an event at Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas with our guest Steve Arterburn. You can get a CD or download of this conversation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And if you need to speak with a caring Christian counselor, uh, we’d be happy to set up a consultation for you. Just call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Steve, let me, um, hit some of the stats. I mean, these are close numbers. 60,000,000 children have lost their life due to abortion since Roe v. Wade, 1973.
Stephen: Satan intends to rob, steal, kill, destroy. And this is one of those things where he is able to blind people to the reality. Certainly blinded me, but I’m not blind anymore. I – I want to help people to wake up.
Jim: Right. Yeah.
Stephen: And here’s – here’s another perspective. Hitler destroyed, some people say, maximum 20,000,000 Jews. We’ve killed 60,000,000. Hitler is dead and finished. We’re still killing babies. The number is still going up and up every year. In fact, 120 babies an hour is what I’ve heard are being destroyed.
Jim: Well, that’s one of the things. As we’re taping this, 120 babies will lose their lives.
Jim: While we’re taping this program together.
Stephen: And so…
Jim: I mean, that should be jaw-dropping for us in the Christian community. But, you know, I want to also say one of the difficulties – and I – I agree with this criticism, frankly, of us – is, we need to be helpful toward these women who are desperate.
Jim: I mean, and again, I don’t mean to put a load on your shoulders, but that girlfriend that you got pregnant at Baylor. I mean, it would have been good for her to have a support group around her, maybe a Christian community who could have said, “There’s a better way,” even if you were pressuring her.
Stephen: Well, she couldn’t tell anyone because she would have been asked to leave the school.
Jim: Well – and this is the – okay, this is the point.
Jim: How do we in the Christian community uphold our obligation for that baby and for the well-being of that mother so we can say, “Listen. You know, we want to provide help for you. We want to provide job training for you. We want to get your job in a Christian company, you know, some business owner”? How do we do what the first-, second-, third-century church did, and that is to engage the brokenness of the culture and bring God’s shalom to these desperate people?
Stephen: Well, you know, one of the great things that I’ve seen happen over the years is that women’s resource centers, uh, they – they’re not there to save babies. They’re to minister to women, and they want to bring babies into the world. And so, one of their greatest ministries is a post-abortion ministry for the mother who went ahead and had an abortion – because the statistic is something like 60% of abortions are done by women that have already had a child. And so, after an abortion, when you minister to that woman and try to help her heal, you’re really preventing the next abortion. So, abortion clinics are interested in abortion. Women’s resource centers and pregnancy centers are interested in the woman, the man, the baby, the family. They want restoration. And that’s something that’s really evolved, uh, over the years. And it’s – it’s so great that…
Stephen: …They have seen that need and are meeting it.
Jim: And they’re doing such a great job.
Jim: And – yeah. Give them a hand – the pregnancy resource centers.
Jim: You know, Focus on the Family we have partnered with them over the years, the last 15 years. And through the generosity of the listeners – you – uh, you know, we’ve been able to send about $25,000,000 to help them with ultrasound machines and, uh, nurses’ training and getting them equipped.
Jim: So yeah.
Stephen: Well, then there’s a – there’s a whole other movement of not just being pro-life but being pro-abundant life.
Stephen: …Beyond – not just that we – “Well, we’ve saved the baby.” No. Let’s – let’s help this person mature and grow so they can raise this child up.
Stephen: That’s where Focus on the Family comes in.
Stephen: And what you’re doing.
Jim: Right. Well, and that’s one of the criticisms, you know, those that support abortion would say, “Oh, you don’t care about the woman. You know, that just, uh, you know the line you give – the throwaway line you give.” I’ve been there. I’ve seen these pregnancy resource centers. They care.
Stephen: Oh, they care so much.
Jim: They’re doing so much. And I’m telling you, in your local community, get involved. The church isn’t about national spokespeople being on radio and talking.
Jim: I mean, this is fun. The action is in your community.
Jim: And we need churches, we need pastors to wrap themselves around these pregnancy resource centers who are doing an amazing job to not only save these babies, but also to help these women. I would love to see in these states that have passed heartbeat bills the Christian business community…
Stephen: There you go.
Jim: …The Christian medical community coming around these pregnancy resource clinics to deliver a full set of services that will help these women rise above. And wouldn’t it be interesting if the Christian community could do that? And then these states that support death until the point of birth – and in Virginia, the Virginia governor wanting to support death beyond birth – infanticide – this is where we’re headed. And it is our obligation as Christians to step up and to deliver help…
Stephen: That’s right.
Jim: …And God’s shalom to these people.
Stephen: Yeah. So anything that we can do to support restoration and healing, but also, when a person is in trouble, for them to know – and so any message, any billboard, anything that comes across on social media that says, “Call this number,” uh, that – that is so valuable. And those are the people we need to support also, those that are getting the message out.
Jim: Steve, I want to kind of – as we wrap up the next couple of questions here, I – I’m thinking of the person either sitting here – right here in Fort Worth, where we’re recording this tonight or the person listening to this when it airs on the Focus broadcast – um, they were like you. They participated in an abortion. Uh, speak to that heart that maybe has never opened up about it. What can they do? What should they do to get that healing that they so desperately need?
Stephen: Well, the first thing would be to be willing to step out of the denial, which is a – it’s just a reaction to protect yourself – and to see what really has happened, and then to open up. You know, James 5:16 says, “If we could confess our sins to one another and pray for each other, we could experience healing.” And so, you find someone safe, uh, to be open with. But the other thing is to understand that God doesn’t want you to live in that shame, doesn’t want you to walk around in that kind of guilt. And, you know, um, in my, uh, marriage after that experience, uh, we were an infertile couple. And Christians would say to me, “Do you think this is because you paid for an abortion?” Seven years of infertility. And I said, “No, I don’t. I don’t think that at all. But thank you for…”
Jim: Yeah, no, I’m just puzzled.
Stephen: It’s just…
Stephen: Yeah. It’s horrible. And so then, um, in 1990 – you mentioned adoption – um, my publisher introduced us to a 16-year-old girl. It was the daughter of his best friend. And the boy was 16, and she was 16, and they decided not to have an abortion. And on Christmas Eve, 1990, Madeleine was born, and I became Madeleine’s dad. I, um…
Stephen: So, when we – we went to Atlanta, and they put this baby in my arms – God giving back to me what I had destroyed. That’s the message of grace that God has for every person that’s been involved in an abortion.
Stephen: And when she filled out her college essay – entrance essay, she said, “I was adopted at birth, but it seems like it was always meant to be.” And it absolutely was.
Jim: Wow, that is a good place to land. Yeah.
Stephen: So that’s the grace that God has.
Jim: And it’s so exciting. When we, as believers, um, live to the standard God has called us to, good things happen. Like John 10:10, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I come that you might have life and life more abundantly.” When we live to that standard, to try to help our neighbor – to try to help our neighbor, to love our neighbor in that way, good things happen, don’t they?
Stephen: They do. And I’m so grateful that you guys aren’t just interested in happy little families that go to Sunday school together. You’re really interested in helping people that are in trouble, that are struggling. And I just hope and pray that more will support you and all that you’re doing for life.
Jim: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you, Steve.
Jim: Let’s proclaim life. Let’s really do the things we need to do. And thank you again for your vulnerability and your willingness to talk about where you were at and how God has healed the ulcers.
Jim: I mean, the physical – but also healed your spirit. And thank you for demonstrating and being a great example for us.
Stephen: Thanks to you guys, too.
Jim: Well, appreciate it.
Jim: Steve, uh, knowing people are hearing you and – their hearts are heavy. You know, this might be the first time. You know, John, so often people write, they were spinning the dial; they were looking for a podcast, and they came across the Focus program. And we’ve even had people say, “I was about to commit suicide, and we heard the program, and I decided not to take my life.” I am sure there are people right now that are – they’re crying in their heart, because they did participate in that abortion. Can you pray for them?
Stephen: Sure. I’d love to.
Jim: Let’s do that.
Stephen: Dear God, you are such a God of love and mercy and grace. And I pray that anyone who is hurting over a choice, that they would choose to accept Your forgiveness and Your mercy and Your grace and rather than continue to live in shame and self-condemnation, that they would turn to You and have You embrace them and experience Your love. And Lord, help us to reach our arms around those who are hurting and let them know that we don’t offer shame; we offer hope and help and healing. And that’s what we want each person who’s struggling to experience. And in Your name, I pray this, God. Amen.
Jim: Amen. Thanks again, Steve, for being with us.
Stephen: Thank you guys.
John: Well, despite having a cold and, uh, some other issues the night was full of energy and encouragement with so many of our Focus listeners who braved the cool weather – the chilly weather – in Fort Worth, Texas. They came out, uh, to hear Steve and on behalf of pre-born babies. And, Jim, that was really a memorable time.
Jim: Yeah, what a fitting way to close with that prayer from Steve Arterburn. If this discussion has inspired you to make a difference in the lives of pre-born babies, I hope you’ll contact us today and make a donation. Let’s do this together. You know, more than 459,000 babies have been saved through our Option Ultrasound program and it’s been running now for 15 years. And I hope to see a million or more babies saved over the next few years. Please contact us. The only thing that keeps us from doing more are the financial resources to get it done. We have a plan to get to that 1,000,000 babies saved. Be a part of it. Let’s do this for the kingdom of God.
John: Yeah, your ongoing gift of $60 saves a baby every month so sign up today to be a sustaining member of our support team here at Focus on the Family for Option Ultrasound. You can save that baby right now by donating when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: And Focus on the Family is committed to protecting pre-born babies and helping woman, and may I say men, choose life. And we hope you’ll take part in our very special, online event this fall called See Life 2020. There is a little pun in there…
John: There is.
Jim: …If you’re catching it. Uh, we’re building a pro-life movement that will culminate online September 26th. Speakers with include Candace Owens, Benjamin Watson, Alveda King, Mike Singletary and many more. And the highlight of the event, of course, will be the live ultrasound of the pre-born baby in the third trimester. A clear picture of human life in the womb.
John: Yeah. We hope you’ll join the movement by getting all the details at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And again, let me reiterate, this is all about saving the lives of precious, pre-born babies and your gift of $60 does that. Donate through the website or when you call 800-A-FAMILY. Well, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today. I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time. as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.