Sunday, May 12, 2013

Saturday at the Hilltop Conference: Faytene Grasseschi and Benjamín Núñez on Abortion

To read an introduction to the Hilltop Conference, click here. To read about George Otis Jr.'s talk on societal decline, click here. To read about Lou Engle at the conference, click here.

On Saturday, April 13th, I observed the Hilltop Conference at the Holiday Inn Rosslyn in Arlington, Virginia. The event was hosted by the anti-abortion group Bound 4 Life and the Justice House of Prayer D.C., combining ecstatic prayer and worship music with talks by religious leaders. In this post, I'd like to share what I heard on Saturday morning, when Faytene Grasseschi of TheCry and Benjamín Núñez of VENPRONTO took the stage.

The man introducing the session noted that D.C. is an oppressive spiritual environment, and that the conference was taking place near embassies where every principality has a representative. His comment was a reference to to Ephesians 6:12, in which believers contend against demonic forces or "powers and principalities".

After blue collection buckets circulated through the audience, Faytene Grasseschi of TheCry spoke at length about collective prayer and abortion in her native Canada. She shared a story about a woman who allegedly died at a Women on the Frontline conference in Canada. A volunteer at the conference went to the restroom "on word of knowledge", she claimed, and found an attendee dying. Some of the conference-goers prayed, while a nurse prepared the unfortunate woman for CPR. Grasseschi claimed that someone commanded the dying woman to live, and she gasped back to life at that very moment. When the ambulance arrived, its presence broke up the spirit of the gathering, and the ill woman succumbed to death again, she claimed, but when the entire Women on the Frontline conference was called to collectively pray as part of a "rumble", the woman allegedly returned from legal death. I'm not entirely sure why Grasseschi shared this story, but it's not the first time I've heard New Apostolic Reformation enthusiasts claim that believers can resurrect the dead (see here, here, and here).

Next, Grasseschi's talk turned to abortion and global politics. Grasseschi shared the story of how God allegedly spoke to her during a trip to Liberia, telling her that she could help orphans one at a time, or "touch the heart of a king". God commanded her to honor Israel, she claimed and to thank Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for allowing a "free vote on issues of moral conscience". Thus, she took a delegation to Israel to receive an award that she would later give to Prime Minister Harper. Grasseschi told listeners of how she secured a meeting with Harper on St. Patrick's Day and gave him the award for his support of Israel, thanking him for the "free vote" he respected.

Canada was hosting the 2010 G8 and G12 Summits, with maternal health as a topic of focus, Grasseschi said. She referred to calls to include abortion in the summits' agendas an "Elijah/Jezebel* confrontation", prompting a 3-day Esther fast by believers. Prime Minister Harper was reluctant to intervene on the issue, she claimed, but called an emergency caucus meeting on the matter. "But since I am committed to a free vote on issues of moral conscience," he wanted to hear the caucus attendees' input. Other members of Canadian parliament opposed inserting abortion into the summits' agendas, she claimed, and a vote soon took place.

Grassechi claimed that the "spirit of confusion" overwhelmed those who supported adding abortion to the summit agendas, and they unwittingly voted for the anti-abortion position. A pro-choice MP was stricken with an eye problem and couldn't attend the vote, she told listeners. The implication, it seems, was that God had a hand in these supposed obstacles. Ultimately, politicians voted against adding abortion to the agenda, and Grassechi was happy that "babies" were saved.

I'd like to offer some context for Grassechi's story. According to a 2010 CBC News article, Canada decided against funding abortion in its G8 child and maternal health care initiative for developing countries. Several aid organizations blasted the decision or worried that the abortion debate surrounding the G8 plan could derail an important global initiative, according to the Lancet and the Globe and Mail. Given the astronomical numbers of unsafe abortions worldwide -- the majority of which take place in developing countries and contribute significantly to maternal death rates -- the outrage surrounding the decision was warranted. Grassechi waxed poetic about "saving babies", but she had little to say about the dangers of unsafe abortions, infections, maternal deaths, and inadequate access to contraception in developing countries.

The decision reminded me of the Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, a U.S. policy that forbid aid organizations receiving U.S. funds from educating audiences on abortion or providing legal abortion services. President Obama repealed the Global Gag Rule in 2009, but reproductive rights advocates worry that a future president could reinstate it.

Anti-abortion enthusiasm crackled among the listeners, especially when VENPRONTO's Benjamín "Benjy" Núñez took the stage. Núñez, who heralds from Mexico, spoke of the controversy over whether the Mexican constitution should legalize abortion. Initially, he claims, public opinion supported abortion rights. Anti-abortion believers fasted and prayed against abortion, and God heard them, he claimed. When the abortion issue came to a vote, a key pro-choice supporter got drunk and signed the wrong bill, he claimed, drawing raucous laughter and applause from the audience. God was mocking pro-choice voices, he insisted. The abortion effort failed, and now even mentioning abortion in a hospital could result in a fine or prison time, he beamed, as the audience bellowed in delight.

Again, I'd like to put Núñez's talk into context. According to a 2011 article in Aljazeera, Mexico's Supreme Court upheld an amendment to the state of Baja's constitution which banned abortion, which is what Núñez might have been referring to. Mexico's legislation on abortion is a patchwork, with some states banning the procedure and other jurisdictions, such as Mexico City, permitting first-trimester abortion on demand.

As the audience laughed and clapped, I fumed. The pride, the utter lack of empathy for women with unwanted or dangerous pregnancies made my blood boil. These people genuinely believed that their anti-abortion crusade was sanctioned by God, and that only good could come out of opposing abortion. The fact that their crusade would interfere with women's lives, encourage unsafe abortions to proliferate, and have a negative impact on women's health never crossed their minds.

When the Hilltop Conference speakers spoke of demonic "powers and principalities", raising the dead, and bringing down a "spirit of confusion" upon their opponents, I knew I wasn't observing a very grounded bunch. However, Grassechi's and Núñez's talks showed me how little grasp they had of the messy complexities of abortion and the importance of reproductive rights. Blind to the harm caused by barriers to safe abortion, the speakers genuinely believed that they were doing God's work by opposing abortion worldwide. And that's what makes them scary.

Stay tuned for more dispatched from the Hilltop Conference! For more information on the 2013 Hilltop Conference, click here

* For an explanation of Elijah/Jezebel language used by New Apostolic Reformation preachers, see my summary of The Call of the Elijah Revolution here.

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