• Charlotte Oliva (left, on the stairs) telling those gathered the plans for the informal rosary procession in support of Sanctity of Life Sunday/Cassy Benefield - SpokaneFāVS

Two Jesus Followers Who Are Worlds Apart Choose to Speak for Sanctity of Life Despite COVID Restrictions

Two Jesus Followers Who Are Worlds Apart Choose to Speak for Sanctity of Life Despite COVID Restrictions

By Cassy Benefield

Charlotte Oliva and Pastor Ken Peters are worlds apart when it comes to how they worship Jesus Christ—Oliva, a gracious and contemplative conservative Catholic, and Peters, an affable and expressive Christian nationalist.

One of the two groups of the informal rosary procession led by Charlotte Oliva and her husband, Al Oliva/Cassy Benefield – SpokaneFāVS

However, they do share something in common that has also been the theme of sermons and homilies in some Spokane Christian services over the weekend: the belief that every human life is sacred, from womb to tomb.

Oliva is a member of The Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes parish and is the organizer of Spokane’s annual Walk for Life Northwest, which was canceled this year due to COVID restrictions nationally and locally.

Peters is the founder and pastor of The Church at Planned Parenthood (TCAPP) and is now a Patriot Church planter, having recently started one on the north side of Spokane in Colbert. He is also the former pastor of Covenant Church, and he recently moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, to plant another Patriot Church.

Each has a desire to be a witness of Christ by standing for life in the ways they feel called, and both were able to do that this last week in honor of what is known as Sanctity of Life Sunday.

Sanctity of Life Sunday’s History

Sanctity of Life Sunday is typically held on the third or fourth Sundays of January around the date of the anniversary of Jan. 22, 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade legalized a woman’s right to abortion in all 50 states.

Charlotte Oliva (right) with her daughter, Laura Kolbe (left), and her grandchildren.

It began in 1984 when President Ronald Regan issued the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day on Jan. 22.

Every Republican president since has followed in his steps, including President Donald Trump. One of his last proclamations in office on Jan. 17 was to sign his final Sanctity of Life proclamation, which said in part, “We celebrate the wonder of human existence and renew our resolve to build a culture of life where every person of every age is protected, valued, and cherished.”

This time of year, many Christians in their churches and in their activism participate in events and fundraisers that support that theme, especially by proclaiming their anti-abortion stands.

South Hill Bible Church (SHBC) is another local church that celebrated Sanctity of Life Sunday, which included a presentation by Life Services of Spokane Board Member Kim Heidinger during the bible study hour before the service. The Friday evening prior, SHBC also aired the documentary “Hush,” which is about abortion and women’s health.  

Life Services also uses this time of year to raise money for their non-profit pregnancy resource center and maternity home, along with their MyChoice Clinics, with their Annual Baby Bottle Campaign in which supporters fill baby bottles with their loose change, cash, and checks to support their ministries.

Walk for Life Northwest

Oliva has organized the Walk for Life Northwest event for six years now on or near Sanctity of Life Sunday. She was inspired to do so after she and her family attended a March for Life event in San Francisco eight years ago.

“It was such an encouraging experience to see the number of people who turn out for it,” said Oliva.

She added that the issue of being for life was not just a religious one as the San Francisco organizers gave a shout out to Atheists for Life.

“As we were experiencing the crowd at the walk for life, I thought this should be everywhere,” said Oliva.

Disappointed by not being able to have the Walk for Life Northwest this year, Oliva organized instead an informal rosary procession after the 11 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral to appeal to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to make intercession for the United States that its citizens and leaders would respect life.

“We do not accept abortion as a settled matter,” said Oliva. “So we want to be an example to our young people, and teach them the truth about the harm abortion does. Everyone is harmed, the child, the mother and family and our entire nation. We want to make that damage really understood by our political class and fellow citizens. We want to encourage pro-life people to vote for pro-life politicians.”

Planned Parenthood staff and supporters, however, see this differently, especially politically.

“What we’ve seen with the new (Biden-Harris) administration is we really have a mandate to expand sexual and reproductive healthcare,” said Paul Dillon, the vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. “So, we’re working to not only reverse the attacks of the past four years (of the Trump-Pence administration), but to really expand care for the rights of all people.”

Spokane’s Walk for Life Northwest events will be held on the fourth Sundays of January moving forward once COVID restrictions lesson or go away.

The national March for Life rally will take place virtually on Friday, Jan. 29, at 2 p.m. Those interested in seeing it need to RSVP online. Tickets for the March for Life Rose Dinner Gala, which features guest of honor Tim Tebow, are also available online.

The Church at Planned Parenthood

Peters shares Oliva’s desire to be a similar witness with a similar message about the sanctity of life. However, his witness and his message have been more controversial than Oliva’s for at least a couple of reasons. One, the majority of his fellow worshippers do not wear masks nor do they social distance, and, two, TCAPP is being sued by Planned Parenthood for breaking the noise barrier levels allowed by the city and state.

Pastor Ken Peters leading The Church at Planned Parenthood’s “Justice for All” service, Tuesday, Jan. 19.

Despite TCAPP’s website saying that they are “not a protest,” Dillon said what TCAPP is doing is not only protesting but also intimidating patients.

“It’s a relief when there are not protests,” Dillon said. “It makes the patients and staff and the community safer.”

Dillon said that the safety of not having these protests refers to both physical safety from COVID exposure and the emotional safety from “intimidation and stigma to reproductive healthcare” Planned Parenthood patients’ experience from groups like TCAPP.

Despite being sued and being given an injunction to move their church services across the street from Planned Parenthood, Peters—acknowledging that many of the folks he worships with are known for not wearing masks—flew up from Knoxville to hold a “Justice for All” TCAPP service Tuesday on January 19, 2021.

The service featured guest Pentecostal preacher, Abraham JT Harris, known as “The Black Conservative Preacher.” Harris, lead pastor of Faith Awakening Ministries in Dallas, Oregon, spoke on justice in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and on abortion in light of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. TCAPP has combined these dates for a service since it began in 2018.

“The two dates are just so close together and it just makes sense to have what we feel are two of the greatest evils now that our land has made (abortion) legal, with slavery (being legal) 150 years ago,” said Peters. “And we continue to treat (African Americans) horribly, so it’s been a terrible sin. We’re still paying for it to this day and we feel that abortion is the equivalent. It’s the destruction of life for money.”

Two Worlds, Same Message

Peters’ TCAPP Tuesday evening outdoor service was a stark contrast to Oliva’s solemn and reverential mass and following rosary procession.

Harris’ aerobic preaching and message that “God does not give us the Holy Spirit and the weapons of prayer and worship to sit on our blessed assurance” to fight abortion was met with a lot of amens from the roughly 325 people who showed up that evening.

Oliva’s Mass service was packed in a COVID-restricted, socially-distanced manner, filled with a people who spoke only when they were supposed to, minus some children noises and cries, and who were for the most part somber and reverential while the choir sang their hymns and the attendees received the Eucharist.

Both services and both actions, however, carried the same message that was summed up by the Most Rev. Thomas Daly, Bishop of Spokane, when he quoted Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston.

“When the Church raises a prophetic cry, ‘Choose Life’, we are performing a great service to all society,” Daly said. “Life is sacred. Life is a mystery. Life must be protected, nurtured, respected. The Gospel of Life is the centerpiece of the Church’s social teaching.”

About Cassy Benefield

Cassandra Benefield mostly goes by Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a 'y'). She is a wife and mommy, who married at the age of 37 and had her baby girl just shy of 39. She has moved around all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer to Romania where she taught Conversational English, Modern Literature, Creative Writing, U.S. Culture, U.S. Geography, and U.S. History (the last two subjects she was so not qualified to teach!). She is a Journalism major from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a Bible nerd who is prone to buy more theology books than she is ever able to read. Morro Bay, California, is her favorite place on earth ... with the exception of being in the center of God's will. From time to time, you will find her writing devotions on her blog underhisshadow.blogspot.com.

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