As we come to the close of an incredibly difficult year, I’m taking time to reflect back on all that took place. This year has been marked by unexpected loss. For many that looks like the loss of jobs, small businesses, housing and most importantly, loved ones.
On Christmas Day I lost a person I respected and admired, the Rev. John Rankin. Due to heart failure he passed away on the day we celebrate the Lord’s birth. Rev. John Rankin was the President of the Theological Education Institute (TEI) which he founded in 1986.
He was a brilliant man with multiple degrees including a Masters in Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Masters in Ethics and Public Policy from Harvard Divinity School. He was an author of multiple books and a descendant of Presbyterian ministers and leading abolitionists, most notably the Rev. John Thomas Rankin known as “the manager of the Underground Railroad”.
John grew up in West Hartford but later resided in Simsbury. As a child he attended an Unitarian-Universalist church where he had agnostic Sunday School teachers whose skepticism he was skeptical of. Later he encountered God’s presence in an Episcopal boarding school at 14-years old and became a disciple of Christ.
John met his wife Nancy Jean Gordon Rankin during her freshman year in college. They married on August 6, 1977, had four children and four grandchildren. Tragically their son Jeremy died from cancer in January of this year. John leaves a beautiful tribute to him on his site.
I first met John around 2004. I had just graduated college and was about to embark into pro-life work. In college my life changed when my mother confessed to trying to abort me and walking out of the doctors office. That confession set me on a journey to learn more about the negative impact of abortion. I started a pro-life group with a few friends called Stand for Truth. One of my desires was to witness to women as they entered abortion clinics. I wanted to help women and save children but I wasn’t sure where to start. Someone suggested I connect with John Rankin, letting me know he could be of help.
John created pro-life thought provoking questions to be used in outreach. He had the questions put on signs that we took with us to the now closed Summit Medical Center abortion clinic in Hartford, CT. Having a loving strategy to engage women helped me to mobilize people to the clinic.
I remember the women who choose life and the men who dragged their girlfriends in for abortions. I recall the Black female abortion doctor who told me she was “helping girls survive” and the white male doctor who drove by me laughing as I cried on the cement. I also remember the high school friend who worked there but left after confessing the environment was awful. I’ve been active in the pro-life movement for 16 years since that first foundational ministry. John’s witness and guidance helped give me the courage to take my faith to the streets.
One of the last memories I have of John is being with him at Wesleyan University to hear a talk by Senator Richard Blumenthal. Abortion was defended by Blumenthal and there was a time for questions and answers afterwards. John brought up the fact that abortion is a product of male chauvinism. He asked a question similar to ones found in his writings, “to what extent is human abortion driven by male irresponsibility?”
John believed that all we needed to know about the abortion debate could be summed up in one sentence. Human abortion rips off women, rips off the unborn and allows the male chauvinist to run free.
In one of his articles he states, “The man has treated the woman as property, and this is evil. But in abortion, the woman in turn passes this evil chauvinism on by treating the child as a piece of property — to be disposed of as she was disposed of. One evil is made worse by another evil, and in the end the woman suffers the violation of her womb and cervix, faces emotional trauma, and the child gets trampled in the dust. Abortion is the ultimate and most horrible form of male chauvinism. The woman and the child suffer the pain, the anguish, the death. And the man trots along.”
John’s pro-life witness included building bridges and putting the gospel before politics. In a world where leaders grow their audiences by enraging their enemies, John walked in humility and love. He didn’t treat those with differing views as less than. He believed, “Whatever is good humanizes, whatever is evil dehumanizes.” He was wise not to dehumanize the very pro-abortion opponents who are guilty of dehumanizing the unborn.
I was moved by John’s compassion, inspired by his steadfastness and intrigued by his personal history. Of all the things he could have done with his impressive education, he choose to teach people about Jesus and fight to save lives from abortion. Those who don’t share his values may think that is a waste of a brilliant mind. Jim Elliot, the famous missionary who died in service once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
John was a modern day abolitionist for the unborn. He has joined the “cloud of witnesses” spoken of in Hebrews 12:1. He is enjoying a reunion with the ministers in his family and his beloved son. I imagine they will have stories to share for eternity. Though we’ve lost a gentle giant in New England, I’m grateful he left behind a treasure trove of his teachings, writings and messages. One of the best ways to honor his life is to listen to his messages and join in the fight for women, children and families.
Thank you Rev. Rankin. Your labor was not in vain. We will fight on in the spirit of Christ’s love.
Christina Bennett, Communications Director