This is the full 37-minute conversation filmed at Renovation Church in Atlanta.
Read a summary of the conversation here.
What follows is a rough transcript of the full video.
Hip-hop is a very distinctive art form and you have used it to say some very painful race issues about your own life, about issues of public concern, particularly about abortion and sexual abuse as a young man that you underwent, and promiscuity. And all these things come together, particularly in your song “Good, Bad, Ugly” [off his Anomaly album].
Can you rap the first verse for us?
I remember back in ’02
I was in school and actin’ a fool
My soul got saved, my debt had been paid
But still I kept running off with my crew
Sex on my brain, and death in my veins
I had a main thing, we stayed up ‘til 2 (Smokin!)
Waking and baking we naked, my body was loving it
Soul was hating it,
And time and time after time, our bodies were close
The girl was so fine
We heard a heart beat that wasn’t hers or mine
The miracle of life had started inside
Ignored the warning signs
Suppressed that truth I felt inside
I was just having fun with this, I’m too young for this
I’m thinking me, myself, and I
Should I sacrifice this life to keep my vanity and live nice?
And she loves and trust me so much that whatever I say, she’d probably oblige
But I was too selfish with my time
Scared my dreams were not gonna survive
So I dropped her off at that clinic
That day a part of us died
And that is true?
That is a true story. I was a young man trying to figure out what I was going to do with life. Hadn’t finished school. I had met the Lord, but I was still trying to get my footing in terms of walking with Jesus. There was so much that happened. Literally in the middle of that relationship I was feeling the conviction, I felt like God was giving me opportunities to escape. We were doing drugs, we are engaged in sexual activity consistently.
At that time I had believed an urban myth that if you consume enough drugs you would become sterile. And so I just thought that we would never get pregnant, because of my ignorance at the time. And I remember we were both working at a call center, and we went out for our smoke break one day, and she hesitated to smoke the cigarette. I was just kind of like, what’s going on? And that is when she informed me that she was pregnant.
I will say, had it not been for the conviction of the Spirit of who I was suppressing with drugs and alcohol, I don’t know if I would have felt anything. I was so callous and so hard-hearted that it was almost second nature to say: “Oh, well, you ought to get an abortion.” And she was actually wrestling with the idea, and I could sense the Lord impressing upon me, saying, hey, that’s not okay.
But I’m so self-centered at this point in time, and not God-centered at all, it wasn’t even a question, it was just more of me convincing her that this was the right thing to do.
The part of the story that was so moving to me was that evidently there are stages along the way of getting breakthroughs about this, or getting over it, where you were going through some old pictures and you come to terms with your wife. What needed to happen in order for you to move forward?
So after the abortion, I really pretty much shut it out of my mind, literally to the point — it is shameful — I ignored all her calls. I quit dealing with her all together. The last time I saw her I remember she was curled up on a bed crying, and I pushed all of it out of my mind. And what I kept were pictures of her, as a memorial in some senses.
Years down the line I was going through premarital, getting rid of pictures of my ex-girlfriends, to say my mind and my heart is focused on this woman here, and I don’t need any reminders of anything. And I came across her picture and I couldn’t throw it away. And my wife was like, “Just throw it in the trash.” And I just broke down. I just literally broke over the guilt and the remorse and the shame of it all. And I think that was the beginning of the healing process for me.
Well, this song is a powerful testimony of the outworking of God’s grace. It sounds to me like the beginning of God’s work in your life started in terms of your awareness when you were a teenager, but really hadn’t taken root yet as a powerful force. But through this experience and other forms of growth you were able to come forth with the story, not only with your wife, or the truth with yourself, but then to be able to go to a song about it.
That is a pathway for a lot of people. I mean there are 45 million abortions every year. That means about 90 million people worldwide every year have this shared experience. And now for over 20 years, the guilt and regret of abortion is the most common human experience of our generation.
Wow. I think a lot of people don’t realize that that’s a common experience, or that other people wrestle through that. I know I did and some other people I have known just felt like it was them, alone in that isolated situation.
Also, I am not supposed to be here. I am the product of two young people coming together outside of marriage. And in a lot of poor communities the thought process is: Man, you know, it is already hard enough for us to survive. Now we have got this other mouth to feed. But my mother survived. She made it and I’m here.
And you have a purpose.
The song. I am really struck by it, because I am obviously persuaded by the content that it is valuable, but the art form and how it is being communicated is also intriguing to me and I know you [Piper] have written a lot of things about saying beautiful things beautifully or truthful things in ways that arrest or convict or the word I like to use is sticky, comes from the marketplace. It sticks. I can’t get it out of my mind.
That is just true and that is what most people think of, is saying something in a way that sticks. I want to go a step further or deeper and say, if you are an artist, or preacher, or a person who wants to converse and discover truth, trying to say what you know at a beginning level, in an impactful way, doesn’t make it sticky, it makes you see more. For example, if a pastor or a song writer wants to feel and see the horror of abortion, one of the best ways to do it is not to stop and think: Okay, horrible, horrible, horrible. But rather, find a creative way to put the pieces together in a piece of rap music or in a sermon, put them together and you will see the horror more.
Well, can I give an example? Some years ago you preached a sermon on James chapter four addressing the sanctity of human life. And said something that was sticky for me. You said: “All abortion is a substitute for prayer.”
That helped me understand all abortion is a substitute for prayer based on James chapter four in which you were asked: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:1–2).
Well, here is a general thing I would draw out of that observation. I think a lot of teachers, pastors, artists don’t want to touch this with a ten-foot pole. One reason is what new can you say about this that is halfway meaningful? They don’t stop and say: What are the roots that are feeding this? And there are dozens of roots: fear and greed and lust and prayerlessness and unbelief and being unwilling to suffer.
And pastors can get all over that. Artists can get all over that. You don’t need more statistics up here and just talking about how bad the problem is. But rather, where is it coming from? And that is what the gospel and the Bible it is just all over the Bible — roots of these kinds of sins. Whether it is racism or whether it is abortion, if you go beneath the actual phenomenon it can be talked about forever.
And Lecrae, you asked me earlier about whether your experience was the narrow experience or the broad experience. And I can tell you having been involved directly in the startup of nine pregnancy help medical clinics in several major cities in this country and overseas, your experience is, by far, the most common experience. You recognize the truth on one side, but you suppress it because it doesn’t fit with “the plans.” And also the ambivalence that she felt: “I don’t want to do this; I do want to do this.” This is people’s human experience of abortion played out. And where matters of faith, then, come into play and matters of neighborly love, can make a big difference. It would be interesting to know in the sovereignty of God what would have happened if you had turned to a pregnancy help clinic at that hour.
I’m curious to know your perspectives on something. Some of the reason why I think of years, even after coming to grips with what I had done, not wanting to say anything or not wanting to speak about it to Darragh. I had to call my mother before I put this out to like let her know this had happened. She didn’t know.
And I didn’t even know what that was [a pregnancy help clinic]. Literally the abortion clinic was around the corner from her house in a disenfranchised, poor, urban community.
I think the reality is a lot of people are concerned about just their own personal future and how they are going to make it or, what people are going to think of them. A lot of the issues of self-interest that you bring up. But when I feel like I want to say I think this is the general consensus of what is happening and that is what I want to address there is always this push back: “Well, no there is issues of health complications.” As far as I’m concerned I in my experience of my friends and my own personal experience it has never been about a health issue. It has always been about my self-interest. It’s your life or mine. At the end of the day I think people will create [reasons like]: “Oh, well, it is not really a life or it is a fetus,” in order to keep themselves shielded from the issue of addressing I am really just choosing my life over yours.
I will just wonder from a spiritual or ethical perspective, you know, you all’s perspective on that as well.
Well, you are absolutely right that the health issues are a camouflage. That is a rouse. That is a cloud that is put up, because statistically giving birth to babies is safer than abortions. That’s not going to play out. The socioeconomic issues, the lifestyle issues, the education issues, the “my future” issues, carry the day.
And then there are some pretty sophisticated justice issues that are brought up. I mean, the most moving thing I ever experienced was taking an abortionist out to lunch, named Bill Long, and prepared to tell him he is killing babies. He said: “I know I am killing babies.” And I said: “So what do we need to discuss?” He said, “My wife insists that I do this for justice reasons.” I said, “Explain.” And he said: “Look. Two people have sex. Guy gets off scot-free. She’s stuck with the baby. That’s unequal and unjust. One way to fix that injustice . . . abortion.”
It’s a justice issue for many people. So that is how complicated it can get in the justification.
The health issues aren’t really there. And beneath that is just really the man’s issue. You can’t walk away, we must not let that guy walk away. We don’t say it is your problem; it’s the-two-of-you problem. In fact, I was so moved just a few minutes ago when you were talking about your background you said “we had an abortion.” I almost wanted to cry at the rightness of that statement. So, yeah, I think you are right on. The kinds of excuses that are brought up are generally not the issue.
When this issue came up in my church in Boston, it became pretty clear to me that most women have abortions to please a man or because they feel the abandonment of the man in their life and are unable to go forward alone. But it is still somewhat man-dependent, which is the irony of what you are saying, John. More men favor legal abortion than women do, because we see it as a way to be sexually predatory and clean up the messes and walk away.
But, nonetheless, it affects men and women and leaves a deep scar and pain. And it is part of our job as salt and light in our culture to bring the gospel to the sin of abortion and to clarify what it is, and to offer practical help so people can escape it. So the church has been involved a lot in the last 40 years. We have got some areas that we have made some progress on. I want to go over a couple of those places that we have made some progress on.
Here is number one. Back in 1990 there were about 1.6 million abortions a year in America. The last year for which we have data, 1.0 million. That is a pretty significant drop in America even though the population is continuing to grow.
Number two. In 1990 there were 2,176 surgical abortion businesses operating in the United States. Today there are 551.
Number three. In 1990 there were about 700 pregnancy help ministries that had been started by the Christian communities around the country. That is my estimate based on my interviewing some of the leaders back in the early 90s. Today Heartbeat International says that they have records of 2,452 pregnancy help ministries or clinics operating in the United States.
And of clarification wouldn’t it be right to say most of those are Christian?
Yes, I don’t know of any that would identify themselves as secular. So these are predominantly Catholic or predominantly Evangelical, and in some cases collaborating together. But all of this is a reflection of a Christian response to the agony and the violence of abortion.
So that the people who they won’t say it anymore, but used to say it when I was on the streets they would say: “Why don’t you do something besides march. Why don’t you do something for mom? Why don’t you do something for baby? You are just out here putting your sexual ethic on us.”
And I take this statistic now. I mean, I have for years, and I say: “Look, it is the church that has cared for the mom. Churches care for baby.”
Yeah, wow, that is powerful.
But just like in the racial discussions you can talk about how far have we come, how far do we need to go — there is some how far do we need to go statistics I need to share also. Here is two of them. The way we stand right now African Americans make up 12.5-percent of the population. They suffer 30-percent of all abortions.
That is ridiculous. I have thoughts on that.
Our Hispanic or Latino communities they make up 13-percent of the population. They have another 25-percent of all abortions. The abortion industry has become an urban movement. That is why the one that was closest was right around the corner. That is why I went to Miami because he had 37 abortion businesses in Miami and almost all of them were in the predominantly black and Hispanic communities of Miami.
The best data that we have is from New York City. In New York 25-percent of the population African Americans, they have 46-percent of all the abortions. The Latino community is 28-percent of the population, they have 31-percent of all abortions. The white community is 44-percent, they have 12.5-percent.
What that really means to me among other things is that the pro-life movement, in practice, is also an urban movement. It’s working primarily with minorities more and more. And so when we talk about this convergence of racial issues and life issues, it indicates to me is that victory, or the end of the abortion business is over as soon as the black community stands out and rejects it the way the midwives of Egypt did.
Lecrae, you said 30 seconds ago you have thoughts about this. Can we hear one or two of them?
Yeah. Obviously you have to look at the history as well and just seeing how there was an initial target on these communities to rid the country of ethnic minorities. Now there is work to be done on in terms of an educational process. I think there is a lot of people in the black and Hispanic communities, like myself, who were just unaware of any other method or any other program or any other way out other than [abortion]. It was an easy “fix” and there is not a lot of education.
I really did not think at the time, outside of the implication internally that this is not okay, it was easier for me to say: Well, I don’t know if this is a person. I don’t know the facts or the science behind this is. I just know that this is what is offered here. And there were pamphlets and stuff that, you know, to ease our internal debate.
But the least adopted children in America are black babies. I know because of the financial situation in the urban communities it is kind of like, man, what I am supposed to do here? How do I handle this? I have scores and scores of family members who are single women. And I think it is a bigger issue of men and standing up and saying: I am going to be a dad, and I am going to take leadership, and I am going to be a force in my community to break a lot of these cycles.
The church holistically, we can’t just say we are one body, one race, when it is controversial. We have to be one body, one race, and go to every end of the earth and every community to do this kind of work and not just say, we are one race when one side of us is being indicted — when it is your problem, then it is your problem. Right? Like it is all of our issue as the Church.
And that is why I wanted to speak out. That is why I wanted to say something, because I think there is a lack of leadership. There is a lack of visible leadership saying this [abortion] is not okay.
Well, thank you for your effort in the song. I can tell you the reason that I was so personally moved by it, was it gave me hope. Here’s a young, rising voice within the urban community speaking confessionally, but clearly about the sanctity of human life, and a heartbeat was destroyed. And under the larger umbrella of your testimony of God’s grace.
The stand for life movement needs to become more and more of an urban movement, because that is where the problem now is focused and concentrated, and some people will say historically it started out that way, growing out of a eugenics movement. I get all that. But wherever the problem is the greatest we need to bring the greatest resources. And they need to come externally, but also within the community.
And your voice comes from within the community. It comes naturally. It is not contrived. Not forced. It is your testimony. But it is prophetic and it is an encouragement, because it gives opportunity for many other young men to say: “Yeah, I walk that path. Now tell me: How did you get past it?”
And so now you are married and you are committed to your children and you are standing tall as a godly man. You have a vision for being a husband and father and you represent where I need to get to. That is powerful stuff.
Yeah. It is possible stuff. It is very feasible. It is what God has called you to be. And if he has called you to something, he will equip you to be what he has called you to be. He has called you to be a responsible, faithful, diligent leader, as a man. And he will equip you to do that, and he has equipped me to do that. I never would have imagined I would have the resources, the understanding or any of the things that I have now. But by the grace of God I am here.
Yes. And by the grace of God all three of us are here.
And just so you know, I was converted at 17. The week before I was converted I attended my first real party where there were a lot of drugs, alcohol, and some pairing off. I think I was kind of scared. I was a little shy. I didn’t know what was going on. Another two or three of those and you get past all your inhibitions, you are “in.”
I was right there. I was ready to dive into all of the sins of my time. And Christ got hold of me and one of the first changes I experienced, I perceived my attitude toward woman was a little different. It was not so predatory in its thinking process. And one of the first messages I ever heard as a brand new believer was Josh McDowell coming to my town and talking about maximum sex and giving us a vision for waiting until marriage and being faithful in marriage. And I said: Okay, Lord, that is what I will do. And by God’s grace that is what I have done. That was 37 years ago.
John, the last thing I want to really mention is, you know, there is a lot of discussion going on right now in the country about racial justice and the events that happened in Ferguson and New York City. And it is ongoing. And it has caused a lot of demonstrations and a lot of quiet conversations. Where does the sanctity of life issue and the racial issue come together for you? Where are the cross points?
I am tempted to go in three or four different directions. You must start with the fact that if Jesus is Lord, he is Lord over life — life lived relationally, horizontally, with every tribe and tongue and people and nation for whom he bled, and life related to your children that you beget which you should love with all your heart. So the gospel trains us in godliness in those horizontal and family and community relationships. There is a message of wholeness and life and peace and justice and beauty. It is rooted in who Christ is in living and dying and rising for us. That is the necessary place to start. The gospel is the foundation of racial harmony, racial peace, reconciliation. And the gospel is the foundation of overcoming all the selfishness that tempts me to take my child’s life.
But here is something that I think is almost as immediately relevant. I think if the church doesn’t speak with conviction and with power from the pulpits about both of these issues, then neither of them will make the progress they should. And when I talk to people about why abortion is not addressed, and I did recently at this confab we had in Nashville, which was on race and yet abortion came up, and some people said we do fine with abortion but we don’t do well with race. And I thought: Excuse me, we don’t do well with either of these.
And when I asked some young pastors who have thriving churches: So why aren’t the pastors around you addressing this like you do? And there are reasons: Abortion is kind of a white, middle class, Republican issue. Race is cool. It is more PC. So to address that, it would be exactly opposite depending on where you are, but there are some young pastors who don’t want to touch abortion for that reason, others who don’t want to touch race for that reason.
What I tried to do for 18 years is take that providence of Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 19, 2015) and Sanctity of Human Life Day (January 18, 2015) happening back-to-back. God did that. So here you have a Republican issue and a Democratic issue. A pastor can free himself from any kind of partisan accusation — Oh, you are just right wing, you are just Republican, or you are just a Democrat, you just lock step in the black community. No, no, no, no, no, no. I am going to offend one group one Sunday. I am going to offend the other group on the other Sunday. I am a kingdom guy.
So I just long for those two issues to go together in the preaching. I just think it would give incredible authenticity to many churches and many pastors if they got serious about both issues together rather than choosing to be an anti-abortion church or an anti-racism church. Let’s just be pro-life wholeness relationally and pro-life wholeness with our little ones in our wombs.
Well, thank you both for finding ways to live out that commandment to rescue those who have been dragged off to death and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter (Proverbs 24:11). And for finding ways through your art, through your preaching, teaching, writing.
And I suspect that you are going to be involved or are already involved with other outreaches in the community, but all of this is the outflow of the fact that God has changed our lives and called us to the good works that he prepared for us, to do with the hope that we get to contribute to the advancement of the kingdom in which life thrives and develops in his kingdom. So I want to thank you for your courage and your compassion.
Well, I appreciate you as well. Thank you for the opportunity. You know, I think my prayer is that people will not being ashamed to know that confession is not the end of the world and it actually brings healing.
So I am sitting here whispering my prayer to God. Help us to end on this note, because you said something so powerful a few minutes ago in the other room and you echoed it that a confession of what happened is such a liberating thing for others to come forward. And if they don’t come out of the darkness then they can’t have the sweetness of forgiveness. And the gospel does teach us how to live, but it rescues us when we fail to live the way we are supposed to live. And that is what makes it sweet. And so the fact that you have been so public and to call your mom on the phone and to throw away an old girlfriend’s picture, and to have to weep in front of your wife, that story should release men and women from a lot of shadows that are so enslaving, because the gospel is healing.
Years ago — you won’t remember this — but when you [Ensor] were leaving your pastorate to go to build pro-life agencies, you said to me: “I have worked in this church for a long time and we have seen fruit, but in my experience over here, this is the most fruitful evangelism I have ever done.” In other words, a pastor who may feel like, I’m not one to get swayed by a social gospel, I want to save people from hell and get them to heaven. And your testimony has been over the years you not only don’t you have to choose between those two, but if you care about the brokenness that comes from abortion, people are open to life, everlasting life, not just preserving life.
And in these 2,452 centers across America, a complete stranger walks in the door and in three minutes in that counseling office they are weeping and telling you about their sex life. You are in. You are in. You can ask questions about where is God in this picture. Where is your family? Where is the boyfriend? You are into their whole lives and all you have to do is help them, help them think, help them practically and share your hope with them. So that’s why I am proud of the pregnancy help movement in the country and seeing it grow, but I am particularly excited about the individual stories and testimonies that continue to filter out and affect so many small families and couples.
So thank you so much, both of you.