A memorial for the iconic Dr. Jean Garton — co-founder and president emeritus of Lutherans For Life and the winsome pro-life voice of Missouri Synod Lutherans for decades — is planned for 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, at Friends of Christ Lutheran Church, 4305 Highway 5 N, Bryant, AR 72022.
Garton, 87, died Dec. 23 after a brief bout with pancreatic cancer, just two days after entering a hospice facility at which she had once volunteered not far from her home in Benton, Ark.
The memorial, “A Celebration of Life for Jean Garton,” is intended to “celebrate the life of our beloved friend, Jean Garton, and to celebrate the eternal victory won for her by Jesus Christ,” according to planners, and includes a luncheon.
Those who plan to attend are asked to RSVP to the church office at 501-943-7597 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. “But,” adds Friends of Christ Pastor Rev. Emil Woerner, “come anyway, even if you don’t get a chance to respond.”
Garton — who may have inherited her never-say-die spunk from her police-officer mother and police-captain father (who had once been a prizefighter) as well as her upbringing in Brooklyn, N.Y. — spent more than half her life fighting on behalf of unborn children for their right to life.
She opposed abortion because it “kills babies, hurts women and is a violation of every core principle that we believe in as Americans.” And she spoke out, she said, “because I cannot not do it. Jesus spoke a powerful reality when He said, ‘You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world.’ [Matt. 5:13-14] Being a speaker is my way of being both of those as I go ‘fishing’ for men, women and children who live in the darkness of despair.”
“Christianity,” she often said, “is not a spectator sport.”
Garton may have been particularly effective in her crusade because she once sought an abortion, was unsuccessful because it was illegal at the time, and so she joined an activist group to change the anti-abortion laws.
She was 40 then, married with three children already, and found herself pregnant with an “unwanted” child she hadn’t planned to conceive. But as she got more involved in the abortion debate — and learned more about it from those on both sides, including the use of manipulative language by abortion-rights activists — she became convinced that what she was fighting to legalize was inherently wrong.
“I spent six months studying the abortion issue from numerous perspectives in an attempt to find confirmation that abortion, as its advocates claimed, helps women, doesn’t take a human life and is a choice God allows us to make,” she said, but found none.
“I came out the end of that exhaustive research with a changed heart and mind and with a commitment to be a voice in defense of the unseen, unheard, unborn child.”
So, months after she had given birth to her unplanned baby, a boy, she switched gears and was, to quote C.S. Lewis, “ ‘carried kicking and screaming’ into the pro-life position ‘by the sheer weight of the evidence.’ ”
Perhaps providentially, that boy, as a 3-year-old, gave her the title of her most celebrated book when late one night he wandered into the room where Garton was studying abortion slides and, seeing the dismembered body of an abortion victim on the screen, gasped, and asked, “Who broke the baby?”
“How could this small, innocent child see what so many adults cannot see?” Garton writes in the book’s preface. “How could he know instinctively that that which many people carelessly dismiss as tissue or a blob was one in being with him, was like him?” (Who Broke the Baby? What the Abortion Slogans Really Mean).
Then, in 1979, as the Gartons were driving to a Lutherans For Life convention with their youngest son, “a tremendous joy,” in tow, they learned that their oldest son had been murdered.
It was a sobering realization: “Dean, our first son, our planned son, our wanted son, dead, while seated between us bringing great comfort was Donn, our second son, our unplanned son, our unwanted son, whom I had wanted dead,” she recalled in a Fall 2007 article for Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly titled “A Celebration of Life.”
Garton served as the first president of the Nevada, Iowa-based Lutherans For Life (LFL) from 1978 to 1995. LFL — with a nationwide network of state federations, chapters and “Life Teams” — offers resources to equip Lutherans to be “Gospel-motivated voices for life.”
She was keynote speaker at this year’s LFL national conference, Oct. 21-22 in Bloomington, Minn., and received the Dominus Vitae award honoring her “lifelong, Gospel-motivated labors to affirm God’s gift of life.” (See “LFL conference underscores imminent sanctity-of-life issues.”)
In a statement, LFL said it “mourns the death of our dear sister, Dr. Jean Garton” who “became a leader in advocating respect and protection for every human being following the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. She served instrumentally in the formation of Lutherans For Life in 1978 and accepted the position of its first president. … The entire nationwide Lutherans For Life community, even in our grief, gives enthusiastic thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for Jean’s faith, compassion, wit, courage and work.”
Garton also served two terms on the LCMS Board of Directors (1995-2007) and played a key role in the establishment of the Synod’s Office of Government Information in Washington, D.C., and its Commission on Women.
Garton was the first woman to serve on an LCMS board — the Board for Public Relations (1969-80) — and chaired the Synod’s Task Force on Women (1974-81), President’s Commission on Women (1984-94), Office of Government Information Advisory Council (1986-92) and Task Force on Ministry with Families (1987-88).
Among other LCMS service, she was a member of the Social Concerns Committee of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (1973-85), the Board for Communication Services (1980-90) and the Working Team on the Ministry of the Laity (1990-92).
She gave testimony during U.S. congressional hearings on the Human Life Amendment (1974 and 1976) as well as at Pennsylvania and New Jersey state-legislature hearings on abortion and parental consent.
Garton served on numerous other boards and committees, authored dozens of articles in some 30 publications (including Reporter and The Lutheran Witness) as well as chapters in books on abortion, family life and youth ministry.
She recorded daily commentaries, “Speaking of Life,” on the Jubilee Radio Network (1991-96), and was a popular guest on “Focus on the Family” with Dr. James Dobson.
She also chaired the Declaration Committee for the World Congress of Families when it was held in Prague (1997), Geneva (1999) and Mexico City (2004).
Garton held honorary doctorates from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (1977), and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. (1978); received the Aeterna Moliri Award from Concordia College (now University) in St. Paul, Minn. (1986); was named “American Churchwoman of the Year” (by Religious Heritage of America) in 1985; and in 1978 was among the “Ten Most Influential Lutherans in the U.S.”
She received many pro-life and leadership awards, and was the focus of Resolution 6-09 adopted by LCMS convention delegates in 1995, “To Give Thanks to God for the Ministry of Dr. Jean Garton.”
As an international voice for protecting life, Garton made more than 50 trips to at least two dozen countries (her favorite was Germany), and met such notables as President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Dolly Parton, the Prince of Monaco, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
In the “what-you-probably-don’t-know-about-Jean-Garton” category, she was a braille transcriber, spent years teaching at various grade levels (she liked kindergarten best), flunked golf lessons at the Dallas Country Club and the charm course at John Robert Powers, earned 32 Girl Scout badges, was a medal-winning swimmer, danced on skates and in stage shows (she wanted to be a Radio City Rockette), couldn’t sing a note, didn’t like board games, enjoyed reading mysteries and, like most of us, loved chocolate and cookies.
Numerous tributes and comments have been made about Garton since her death, including:
- “We give thanks to God that at a time when the Synod was emerging from a surprisingly ambiguous view on abortion, Dr. Garton was willing to step forth with a clear and certain voice.” — LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison
- “One of the gifts that Jean left with me was her fierce insistence on doing the right thing, no matter the opposition or the cost. She grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and knew how to be a bit of a scrapper when she realized that it would take some fierceness for good to triumph. Ever principled, Jean was not afraid to speak up and make her best argument for what she believed was right. Ever gracious, she knew that right did not always triumph in the short term, and she was willing to be a member of the ‘loyal opposition.’ Jean’s fierce commitment to doing the right thing earned her the respect of many on both sides of an issue. She was singled out by young adults and leaders of all ages as a person who provided a brave and steadfast leadership example.” — Ruth Koch, a mental-health educator/speaker/consultant and close friend of Garton’s for some 25 years
- Jean Garton was “the ultimate pro-life warrior. Her ‘weapons’ were her faith … her unwavering commitment to the cause of the little ones and her magnificent capacity for friendship.” — Dave Andrusko, National Right to Life news editor (see “Pro-life Heroine Dr. Jean Garton, Author of the Classic, Who Broke the Baby?, Passes Away”)
- “She was a true pro-life champion!” — Nancy Carlton, author and close friend who was co-writing with Garton the third edition of Who Broke the Baby? Carlton told Reporter she plans to continue work on updating the book, “as it is part of [Garton’s] legacy,” and hopes to have it completed by next summer under the title Who Broke the Baby? Pro-life Sense in a Nonsensical World.
In 2008, Garton told a Little Rock, Ark., newspaper that she “never could have envisioned” where the abortion issue would lead her. “I have found that if you let God open doors and don’t knock them down to get in them, there are all sorts of surprises on the other side, and you get to have things you never thought you’d have … you get to do things you never thought possible.”
Survivors include three children: Dale (George) Hetzel, Dru (Paul) Filiberto and Donn Garton; seven grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Her husband of 62 years, the Rev. Horace “Chic” Garton, died in 2012, and their son Dean died in 1979.
Memorials may be made in her memory to:
- the Dean Paul Garton Memorial Endowment Fund (which primarily benefits married seminary students in need of financial assistance), Concordia Seminary, 801 Seminary Place, St. Louis, MO 63105.
- Friends in Christ Lutheran Church, 4305 Highway 5 N., Bryant, AR 72019.
- Saline Memorial Hospice, 1 Medical Park Drive, Benton, AR 72015.
Posted December 29, 2016 / Updated January 26, 2017