Ready, willing to take the heat
A pro-life Democrat, Missouri Baptist refuses to budge
July 12, 2005
MORSE MILL – State Rep. Belinda Harris, a 30-year member of Morse Mill Baptist Church who chairs the 27-member Democrats for Life Caucus in Jefferson City, said that it is important for elected officials to be completely pro-life. Whether the topic is abortion or embryonic stem cell research, defending life is defending life, she said.
“This is a moral issue,” Harris told The Pathway as her longtime pastor, Jim Johnston, quietly, but firmly expressed his support during interviews in the central Jefferson County brick church nestled in a suburban/country setting near the Big River. “This is something that is a part of your being. If you are a Christian or a church-going person, it doesn’t matter what (political) party you are, this is really kind of instilled in you. To go against it is a destroying factor to you as a person and as a Christian.
“If you truly feel this way, then to buck your party is not the problem. You don’t want to buck God. You are ultimately responsible for your actions when your time has come. To me, honoring God’s wishes is more important than honoring any political party.”
Harris, a state lawmaker since 2002 who took over in January as Democrats for Life chair, regrets that her party was taken over by radical pro-choice activists in 1972 under liberal presidential candidate George McGovern. Subsequent party platform planks that have consistently read “pro-choice,” and layer upon layer of public policy that has tilted toward abortion on demand, have been mistakes that ought to be corrected, she said.
“I feel like on the state level we are winning more support as Democrats for Life,” Harris said. “I feel like the old Democratic Party was a good party. Before Roe v. Wade, it was not an issue of a party. After Roe v. Wade, the Democratic Party just kind of took that one side. I felt that was wrong. I’m even really strong on young girls that were raped or had incest to spare that child. The rape and incest is not the experience that’s going to be wiped away by killing this child.”
Johnston, who was called to the Morse Mill pastorate one year before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, said Harris has been a faithful church member down through the years. She served as Vacation Bible School director and children’s church teacher. She and her husband, Edward, own a 250-acre farm on the Big River in Ware, and the church has held men’s and boys’ outings there. Both of the Harris children, Racheal Ann and Benjamin, were baptized in the church.
“We’ve seen a consistency in Belinda’s life and in her family,” Johnston said.
A soul-winning deacon named Vernon Viehland witnessed to Harris at the feed mill in the 1970s. He got her to come to Morse Mill Baptist Church so that Johnston could baptize her. Harris, 54, has been active in the congregation ever since.
“I remember when she went to be a legislator and I was preaching on Esther,” Johnston said. “I said, ‘Belinda, I believe God has got you in Jeff City for this time, because of your commitment to pro-life.’ She has taken such a strong stand, and we are a pro-life church.
“I know it’s cost her. She shared with me that in her own party, people who ate with her wouldn’t eat with her anymore because of her pro-life stand.”
Harris said she does not aspire to a higher office. Consequently, she said she is free to vote her conscience on life despite being opposed by many of her fellow Democrats, including virtually all statewide office holders and high-ranking party officials who gravitate toward the pro-choice position.
Her goal is to defend even the tiniest embryo that contains a human being. The potential of curing a disease that is keeping someone in a wheelchair pales in comparison to the moral necessity of defending that embryonic soul, in her mind.
“I think they mix it up so much by putting in this emotional part of it, that you’re going to be helping people with Alzheimer’s and people that have Parkinson’s disease,” Harris said. “Those are terrible things, and we do need to have help with that. I’ve had these groups come up to me and really chastise me for taking a stand on this. I mean, I’ve had like six of them surround me and say, ‘How could you do this? If I die, my death is going to be on your hands.’
“A lot of this is education. It is very complicated. We are told that this is a way of helping those that have debilitating diseases, so people are torn. My mom was reading this article, and she said, ‘You know, I think the good outweighs the bad. I think we need to maybe support this.’ I said, ‘Mother! No, no, no.’ I had to sit down and explain to her that this is messing around with life.”
Harris is part of a national emphasis within the Democratic Party that aims to reduce abortion in America by 95 percent in 10 years. She stays in contact with a man in Columbia who is a national leader of Democrats for Life. Together they dream of a day when Democrats elected to state offices can band together, state by state, and convince their radically pro-choice national party leaders like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean to jettison pro-abortion policies.
One example of a Democrat who thinks like Rep. Harris is Adam Parish, president of Florida Democrats for Life. Parish, a member of Lake Buena Vista Baptist Church, Windermere, Fla., is profiled in a June 9 article in the Florida Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention.
“Christians who are Democrats should not be ashamed of their party,” Parish said. “Instead, they should be actively working to reclaim it.”
The pastor who baptized Harris some 30 years ago in the suburban/country church she has worshipped in most of her life is the same pastor who keeps on encouraging her to be a light in the state Capitol.
“During session, by the end of the four days that you are in Jefferson City, it can be pretty draining,” she said. “(Johnston’s preaching) kind of instills in me the strength to go back Monday and start all over again. He does not always know all the details that are going on in Jefferson City, but it seems like his message has some kind of guidance for me.”