Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mayor who called pro-lifers ‘forces of darkness’ tells seminarians to ‘save the earth’

by Ben Johnson

GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN, May 25, 2012, ( – The mayor who referred to pro-life activists as “the forces of darkness” told the graduating class at a Presbyterian seminary it has a duty to preserve the environment.

“Our hands, our actions are destroying the world, and our hands and actions must save the earth,” George Heartwell, the mayor of Grand Rapids and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, told graduates of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a school affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The Kentucky seminary invited Heartwell to give the commencement address, entitled “Faith for a Sustainable Planet,” on Sunday, the news website reported.

According to a news release from the seminary, the mayor “emphasized that God’s communication, revelation, blessing, and mercy are expressed in nature, and that humanity is called to be earth keepers who pay attention and respond with gratitude and praise.”

The seminary honored the mayor, in part, for his work bestowing the city’s “Champions of Diversity” awards, as well as his ecumenical work.

Another of Heartwell’s speeches provoked national backlash earlier this month.

On May 10, he delivered the keynote address at Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan’s annual fundraiser, where he warned “every year the forces of darkness” seek to deprive “vulnerable” women “the health care and reproductive education they get through Planned Parenthood.”

He asked “what’s not to love” about Planned Parenthood’s services. The press kit for the Planned Parenthood fundraiser included a condom.

Heartwell apologized five days later at a city commission meeting after receiving a flurry of phone calls and e-mails from across the country. “My comments were terribly insensitive and I regret them,” he said.

Heartwell, a former Planned Parenthood chairman, has held the mayoral office since 2004. In 2007, the United Nations touted the city as a “Center of Expertise” in sustainability.

In 1994, he monitored South Africa’s elections under the auspices of the World Council of Churches. He also served on the board of the National Urban League.

After adding “gender orientation” to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance as a city council member, he took a teaching position at Aquinas College, a Domincan school.

The Louisville school quoted Heartwell’s remarks as he explained the rationale behind his Champions of Diversity awards. “I want to honor ... individuals whose vision, creativity, and hard work have brought about this celebration of diversity of religious faith in our community,” he said. “Theologian Hans Küng wrote, ‘There cannot be peace among nations until there is peace among religions.’”

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