Sony Music stirred up controversy during the 1996 Christmas season when it released the recordings O Come All Ye Faithful and Just Say Noel, which were described as alternative Christmas music designed to raise money for the pro-abortion organizations Rock for Choice, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and Planned Parenthood.
The controversy continued into the 1997 Christmas season, when Sony was poised to distribute O Come All Ye Faithful again. That development prompted the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, to write the president of Sony, calling the distribution of such a recording during one of Christianity’s foremost feasts “appalling.”
“This mockery of Christmas is offensive to every Christian and to Christianity itself,” the Cardinal wrote. “In the very season in which Christians celebrate the birth of the infant Jesus and his mother Mary’s ‘yes’ to life under most difficult circumstances, Sony markets music promoting a right to destroy children before birth.”
Such protests seemed to have had an effect. Sony decided not to distribute the recording, and issued an apology, stating, “Sony Music had no intention of re-releasing or marketing O Come All Ye Faithful this Christmas. We apologize for this mishap and regret any upset resulting from this inadvertent error.”
Among other things, Rock for Choice supports the repeal of U.S. laws requiring parental consent for teen abortions, and they oppose restrictions on federal funding of abortion. The group also supports “massive pro-choice community organizing.” It describes legal abortion as “the most spiritual of gifts.”
The good news is that on the other side of the ledger, Portland, Oregon-based Rock for Life has quietly been going about the business of bringing a life-affirming message to the rock music scene while raising funds for pro-life causes since 1993.
Rock for Life is committed to bringing the truth about life issues to young people, assistant director Erik Whittington said in a telephone interview with The Interim.
“Young people are being deceived and manipulated by the music industry and many of the secular rock bands who play concerts to raise money for pro-abortion causes,” he said. “They are feeding our youth with the lie that abortion is not only an answer to their problems but a right they must fight to protect.”
Whittington said Rock for Life is bringing together many bands who stand on the truth that abortion is the killing of a human being. “We are dedicated to help educate and provide an alternative to young people who are faced with crisis pregnancies. We will not stop this fight until abortion is abolished.”
Rock for Life’s efforts have drawn the attention of noted media outlets like The New York Times, which ran a major story last January, “Rockers lead new wave of anti-abortion fight.”
The article covered a Rock for Life concert in Stroudsburg, Penn., one of 15 concerts held across the U.S. last year. It described the event as “the new wave of the anti-abortion movement.”
“Teenage boys in spiked hair and girls in nose rings stepped into the church basement carrying their admission fee of $4 and a jar of baby food,” wrote reporter Laurie Goodstein. “When the concert started, the punk and hard-core bands unleashed deafening waves of sound. But in breaks, the rockers preached against abortion.”
Goodstein said a pro-life youth subculture is emerging across the country in schools, churches, and camps—a subculture remarkably free of experimentation with sex or drugs. “The only thing the band members and fans are passing around between breaks are Bibles. They say they do not believe birth control works …. and the only way to avoid … pregnancy is abstinence. They insist they do not have sex, and will not until they are married.”
The seeds of Rock for Life were planted when founder and current director Bryan Kemper staged a series of pro-life rock concerts in southern California during the early 1990s. Whittington joined Kemper in Rock for Life about two-and-a-half years ago.
“I was involved in pro-life for about a year, and played in a couple of Christian bands,” said Whittington, a composer and guitar player. “Whenever I played or toured, I would take pro-life literature with me …. I found it very effective to hand out literature at concerts.”
Whittington first met Kemper during a concert in Washington state. “We had the same kinds of visions, ideas, and goals.” The two moved to Portland about a year ago, where Rock for Life now has its office. Both work full-time as what they call “pro-life missionaries.”
The organization now boasts an affiliation with 110 bands and a mailing list of about 3,000. Rock for Life does more than just stage concerts to raise awareness and funds for the pro-life cause. The organization has put together No Apologies, a compilation CD of Christian bands that donated their music to the cause. “We put that out a little over a year ago and we distribute it ourselves,” said Whittington. “It was recorded live at the Tomfest ’96 music festival. There’s a spoken-word portion by Norma McCorvey (“Empty Playgrounds”) that’s been very effective.”
Rock for Life also has a line of pro-life stickers and T-shirts, and is collecting signatures for a pledge that will be presented to U.S. President Bill Clinton. “In the summer of 1999, we plan for a huge rally in D.C.,” said Whittington. “We’re going to have some bands play, and representatives from pro-life groups will meet with the president to give him all the pledges. Our goal is 100,000, and we may get the Vatican’s backing, so that number may not be that hard to achieve.”
Rock for Life circulates a boycott list, naming bands that have performed in order to raise money for Rock for Choice, Planned Parenthood, or other pro-abortion groups. “A lot of them are very big, like Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and Sarah McLachlin,” said Whittington. (See the comprehensive list on this page.)
On the other hand, the organization also has a list of artists that support the pro-life cause, and encourages young people to back them. It provides speakers and gives literature to bands to take on tour with them. It sometimes works at street level by passing out literature in front of high schools before and after classes. Prayer sessions are held in front of abortuaries and porn shops.
As a follow-up to No Apologies, Rock for Life plans to release another CD this summer consisting of studio-recorded tracks. The organization hopes to get national distribution for the recording.
Whittington plays guitar and writes songs for the bands Twin Sister and Tragedy Ann, the latter of which is on the Organic records label. Tragedy Ann released its first CD about six months ago and about 10,000 copies of it have been sold so far.
Whittington said his current pro-life views are a far cry from the outlook he had on abortion during his years as a secular rock musician. “God put pro-life on my heart, for some reason. Before I became a Christian, I was very pro-abortion and lived a promiscuous lifestyle. I always had a threat of pregnancy in my life through girlfriends, so I’d always push the notion of abortion on them. Luckily, I never had to go through an abortion, but that was always my response.”
Whittington said his conversion to pro-life came suddenly, amidst the placards of a Life Chain in his hometown. “I cried that day while driving (past the demonstration) and converted to pro-life then and there. It was the truth and I admitted it.”
A few months later, Whittington had a conversion experience that brought him to the Christian faith. It wasn’t long before he found himself manning pro-life tables at concerts and speaking out on the issue during performances. “The Christian music scene is exploding … Our singer preaches on stage and our lyrics glorify God. There is a lot of bands doing that these days.”
As with any pro-life organization, Rock for Life is facing challenges. A cable TV show the group started earlier this year stirred up a lot of controversy in the Portland area, to the point where cable operators moved to take the show off the air. Kemper said it was the hottest thing on cable TV, generating the most phone calls. After a short hiatus, the show survived the opposition and returned to the airwaves April 1.
Kemper said the group’s band boycott list also draws some negative responses from fans of the groups that are targeted. “I was told that I am being hateful and Hitler-like for asking people to boycott bands for supporting the abortion industry …. I put this list together because of requests from people who do not want to support these bands. I have never told people that they have to do this, it is strictly voluntary. I personally do not listen to these bands because I do not want to take enjoyment from music that has gone to help raise money to kill babies.”
Kemper recently became a target of the U.S. government when a lawsuit was launched against him for his pro-life activity in Dayton, Ohio last year. “I am being charged with civil charges and possibly criminal charges for a sit-in at clinics including the main partial-birth abortion clinic in Ohio. The lawsuit includes an injunction stopping me from coming within 100 feet of these clinics and from encouraging others to take part in any activity that interferes with abortion.”
Kemper said it’s the second part of that injunction that frightens him the most. “The second part of this scares me because of how vague it is. They can try to stop me from speaking out against abortion. I, however, will never do that. As it says in our pro-life pledge, ‘You will not silence my message.'”
Despite the obstacles, Rock for Life intends to move forward on a number of fronts. Whittington said plans include developing an alternative to the secular, pro-abortion Lilith Fair tour of female rock artists. “We want to take three or four female artists on the road and call it the Esther Tour, sponsored by Rock for Life. We know how effective women can be on stage, speaking for life.”
“Esther was asked to go to the king to save the lives of her generation,” said Kemper, recounting the Biblical story. “She knew that going to the king uninvited meant death to that person unless the king reached out his gold scepter and spared her life …. Esther went to the king and saved her generation.”
Rock for Life is also raising funds toward the purchase of a van, and is looking to expand its roster of affiliated artists. It plans to be present at a number of Christian music festivals. Another possibility is an expansion into Canada. “We have about a dozen chapters throughout the United States, but none in Canada. It’s something to look into for sure,” said Whittington.
Rock for Life may be reached at P.O. Box 82714, Portland, Ore., U.S.A. 97282-0714, (503) 238-0457.
Rock for Life’s boycott list of pro-abortion bands: