An Inauspicious Beginning
Bill Devlin was born a Catholic in Schenectady, N.Y His home was characterized by alcoholism. When Bill was 15, his father abandoned the family. A few months later, Bill's mother died.
At the age of 19, Bill found himself as a Navy sailor on the way to an unpopular conflict in Southeast Asia. His giving a ride to a hitchhiking Jesus freak, who shared with him a card with Bible verses on it, led to his conversion to Christianity.
Finding His Spiritual Way
After military service, Bill became a missionary for a year to Japan. He graduated from Florida Atlantic University, and, while at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, met his wife Nancy. In 1982, they moved to Pennsylvania and he worked as a psychiatric nurse while attending Westminster Theological Seminary.
It was also during this time that he became involved with New Life Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation in Philadelphia. The original New Life Church, now located in suburban Glenside, was founded by the late Dr. C. John Miller as a congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. New Life was distinct for several reasons: a less formal approach to worship than what characterizes traditional Presbyterianism; small accountability groups ("D-groups", short for "discipleship groups"); and diaconal ministry. Breathing the spirit of the late Francis Schaeffer, and following the example of founding pastor Jack Miller, members at New Life took seriously the Lord's commands to demonstrate grace and compassion to the down-and-outers of society. This "radical hospitality" resonated with Bill Devlin; and his subsequent labors have been informed by the New Life approach.
He and his family, which includes a wife, two sons, and three daughters, have taken in pregnant women who needed shelter. His commitment to living in the city (and being a salt and light influence there) led to his being knifed in 1987. Wounded in the head, he calmly pulled out the dagger himself.
Urban Family Council
In 1987, Bill Devlin became Director of the Philadelphia Family Policy Council (PFPC), a pro-life group. Since that time, he has worked to broaden its focus, both in terms of agenda and geographically. PFPC was turned into an inter-racial and pro-family organization, which adopted the name, Philadelphia Urban Family Council. When it opened an office in New York in 1998, the name became simply, Urban Family Council (UFC).
In accordance with its focus, UFC has encouraged Christians to be urban dwellers. According to Mr. Devlin, Muslims have taken over a number of neighborhoods in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and elsewhere. However, it is particularly homosexuals that are leading the gentrification today in Philadelphia and other major cities. He sees the "predilection toward alternative life-styles" in American cities as reflective of the same trend in Berlin and Amsterdam before the rise of the Third Reich.
The great need, says Mr. Devlin, is for Christians to become committed to living in the cities. He appreciates the young, single "starry-eyed urban pioneers" who "want to win the world." But, once they marry and start having children, their tendency is to move out to the suburbs.
The UFC's Director notes that, except for ministries geared toward minorities, most major ministries have their headquarters outside of major urban areas. "So, we don't see a whole lot of hope for the Christian church that we're going to become urbanized anytime soon."
Mr. Devlin is convinced that the assessment by nineteenth century evangelist D. L. Moody is correct: If you win the cities for Christ, you win the nation; if you don't win the cities, they will become cesspools that will infect the entire nation. Urban Family Council wants to foster strong families which will make strong communities and strong neighborhoods, which in turn will make strong cities and strong nations.
'Jesus is Lord of All'
What guides the Urban Family Council is a commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of life. Mr. Devlin cites numerous historical characters to bolster the traditional Reformed position of Christ being the transformer of culture. Sixteenth century reformer John Calvin, seventeenth century Scottish theologian Samuel Rutherford, and eighteenth century College of New Jersey President John Witherspoon (the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence) were among those who applied the Lordship of Christ to the political sphere.
Mr. Devlin is particularly indebted to the views of Abraham Kuyper, the theologian-statesman who served as prime minister of the Netherlands a century ago. UFC is implementing "twenty-first century Kuyperian sphere sovereignty in an urban setting across the racial spectrum." Mr. Devlin sees some of the minority churches integrating faith and culture. "They live in the city. They care about their neighborhoods. They want to do community development. They want to do after-school programs."
But Mr. Devlin believes that that world-and-life perspective is sorely lacking in much of the contemporary church. In his opinion, even in the Reformed community "this whole idea of all of life coming under the Lordship of Christ has really been removed from its Reformed roots." Even the Reformed church has manifest "the ghettoization of Christianity," as believers have retreated to private and home schools and to the boondocks. "People don't get it," he laments. "I think Reformed people have more of a Baptistic sense of 'Let's circle the wagons, and create our own little mission compounds, and not be soiled with the unwashed and the lepers of the world.' Historically, the Reformed community . . . has always [entailed] an integration of faith and culture." He bemoans the fact that many seminarians today apparently have never heard of Abraham Kuyper or even Francis Schaeffer, the twentieth century apologist who founded Switzerland's L'Abri.
to the Issues of the Day
Mr. Devlin senses a reluctance in Reformed churches to speak prophetically to controversial issues. "Today, we have this modality of seeker-sensitive churches." In his experience, pastors of PCA churches have said to him that they have a seeker-sensitive modality. "And if we take a position on any issue-education, school choice, sexuality, homosexuality, pan-sexuality, abortion, physician-assisted suicide-they would say, If we take a position on that, that will detract people coming to our church, ergo detract them from coming to the gospel. And I've just heard that so often in the last five years."
As another example, Mr. Devlin speaks of the huge youth workers convention to be held in Philadelphia in February, at which UFC will be represented. The event's organizer is Bart Campolo, son of Tony Campolo [one of President Clinton's recent spiritual advisors-Ed.]. According to Mr. Devlin, Bart Campolo has proscribed the distribution of literature "on political issues, like abortion and homosexuality." Mr. Devlin has responded that "the reason that those two issues [have become politicized] is because of the failure of the church to speak clearly to the issues. And this is true in nine out of ten churches that I speak in. People will say abortion is a political issue-we cannot touch it. And I say to them, 'Since when has the killing of children become a political issue?' And even if it was a political issue, we still have every right as American citizens, and more so as citizens of heaven, to speak on these issues." Mr. Devlin blames the failure of the church to speak prophetically for the reason why seven out of ten women receiving post-abortion counseling from crisis pregnancy centers, claim to be from an evangelical church and have made a commitment to Christ in that church. "Planned Parenthood even says that in their statistics. . . . Planned Parenthood is claiming that the women that are walking in [to get abortions] are from churches." Bill Devlin attributes this to "the absence of the pastor speaking both prophetically and pastorally, and parenthetically saying all of life [comes] under the Lordship of Christ." Even what "you do with your body" is of concern to God.
UFC's goal in this environment is "to be a stimulus to the Church. To say that we need to have a pastoral role, that we need to love people. . . . But then on the other hand, to say to church leaders, 'Let's stop clearing our throats on Biblical issues. God's Word is very clear on this. These are monumental issues that our culture is hungry for answers on.'
"Frankly, the news media don't call pastors anymore. I know-I've heard this from them. The secular news media people, whether it's print or electronic or radio, are saying, 'We can't get a straight answer out of these guys.' . . . I call it the Billy Graham syndrome. When our dear brother Billy was asked over the years, particularly over the past three years, about abortion, he says, 'I don't get involved in that issue.' . . . He was asked on Good Morning, America, 'When does life begin?' Graham's answer was, 'I'm not trained to answer that question-that's to be left up to the scientists and to the ethicists of our culture.' . . .
Ten years ago, Mr. Devlin had difficulty recruiting ministers to pray at peaceful rallies outside abortion clinics, as they gave the reason that they were paid only to pastor their own flock. Today, it's difficult to recruit ministers to speak out on the domestic partners legislation.
Insulation, Not Isolation
Mr. Devlin maintains that "instead of practicing isolation from the culture, pastors and parents need to practice insulation from the culture." Pastors and parents insulate parishioners and children with the Word of God. But insulating a house does not mean that a person always stays inside a house, refusing to venture out because it's too cold outside. Mr. Devlin rues the fact that parents are teaching their children that "urban areas are somehow unclean, and that is where the bad people are." In point of fact, the whole world is unclean; and to maintain an isolationists viewpoint is "kind of a radical Arminian, Amish, Mennonite concept." He encourages parents to bring their children to the subways, to the abortion clinic, to the gay pride parade, in order to let the children know what they are going to be dealing with.
Mr. Devlin sees this type of commitment "rooted firmly in both Old Testament and New Testament notions of the people of faith influencing the culture." This influence is "not only for the good of the individual person of faith," but also to benefit "the rest of society."
Making Common Cause with Others
This PCA elder does not hesitate to reach out to people with a different faith in order to present a united front of traditional morality. He has made common cause with Muslims and Jews as well as Roman Catholics and people from fundamentalist and liberal churches, seeking allies in fighting the Church's larger enemies: post-modernism, anarchy, and agnosticism. He delights to work with people that will be to a greater good in a civil society, and hopes that in the process they will be able to see the true gospel and perhaps begin to question a works salvation in which they might be trusting.
Indeed, his cooperation with Roman Catholics does not mean that he embraces Romanist teaching: "Just because I shake hands with Bevilacqua [Catholic Cardinal of Philadelphia], and I'm speaking with him at an event, it doesn't mean that I am endorsing the Council of Trent." Moreover, Mr. Devlin opposes efforts by Chuck Colson and John Richard Neuhaus to produce documents such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together. The UFC Executive Director contends that one cannot forget about theological issues. He cites his involvement in an evangelical-Catholic dialogue as a case in point: "We're coming out with a pro-life, pro-poor, pro-racial justice document that's about two pages long. But we have clearly said that we are leaving out of the document anything related to the nature of the church. We have said to one another, We are basically not here to convince us of our understanding of some of the finer points of Scripture. You know, you get Presbyterians and Baptists in the room, and there might be more blood-letting than if you get Catholics and Presbyterians! So, we have said, theology does matter. But we have said we're not going to focus on those [things], we're going to focus on what brings us together." He added: "I look at the fractures denominationally, and I think, No wonder the culture sits and laughs at us."
Working with Roman Catholics
Specifically, Mr. Devlin justifies his working with Roman Catholics on several grounds. One, abuses, including legalism, are present in many Protestant congregations as well as in Romanism. Two, he cannot read a person's heart, and there are many Catholics with whom we works who profess faith in Jesus Christ.
In this regard, he notes the opportunities he has had, because of his friendship with Cardinal Bevilacqua, to preach the gospel in Roman Catholic settings. According to Mr. Devlin, Bevilacqua, who is one of the seven American cardinals, "has said some things in private . . . that I've been shocked at." Mr. Devlin stated that the Romanist leader goes along with certain trappings because of the hierarchy of the Roman Church: "He's said to me, 'Forget the Cardinal title, call me Tony.'"
Three, there are many Roman Catholics who are doing what many Protestants are not doing, viz., engaging the culture "in every sphere in society, from government to law to medicine to you name it." When he asks these Catholics if they are by these means trying to work their way into heaven or to earn days off from purgatory, he says that "they laugh at me; and they say, No, Bill, we're applying the Lordship of Christ to all these different areas of life." He adds: "I would be a little bit more cynical if I only heard from one or two, but it's like the cardinals I've met with, the bishops, even the lay people", who are telling him that their activities are an expression of their Christian faith.
Discussions were held for two years before Urban Family Council opened its New York City office. According to Bill Devlin, it was the Roman Catholics, including Cardinal O' Connor, who were most supportive of the efforts and eager for him to come. "I didn't have to explain anything to them. I said, 'Urban Family Council is about applying the gospel in the daily life. . . .'" On the other hand, "I got together with people from Redeemer Pres and some other PCA congregations and it was like, 'Wait a minute-can you explain this to me again and how this all fits together?' I thought, 'Holy smokes! Have you read the Institutes [by John Calvin-Ed.]?!'"
Joining the Battle in the Public Arena
Under Bill Devlin's direction, UFC has become a significant force in the political and cultural wars, particularly in Pennsylvania's largest city. It has done so by joining forces across racial, ethnic, and religious lines.
The major battles have revolved around abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, no-fault divorce, pornography, and chastity. The arenas have ranged from left-wing churches to conservative ones; from City Hall to the civil courts; from major newspapers to pro-homosexual publications; from ecumenical banquets to PCA presbytery meetings. The tactics have included the revolutionary notion of loving one's enemy, and old-fashioned coalition building in a highly-diverse cosmopolitan city.
Opposing the Homosexual Agenda
But fostering traditional morality involves more than advocacy of ideals such as chastity and virginity. It also entails firm opposition to immorality. Perhaps most controversial has been the opposition to the homosexual lifestyle-opposition that has manifested itself in public debate, in political activity, and in a lawsuit.
In terms of public debate, the UFC has not been shy in maintaining its views in a hostile audience. It also has not been bashful in taking its message into the public arena of civil government.
In spring 1998, Bill Devlin joined Roman Catholic Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and black clergy in testifying before the Philadelphia City Council against domestic partnership legislation. That legislation, which passed on May 7th, came in three separate bills. The first allows homosexual city workers to share health and pension benefits, in the same way that married workers do with spouses. The second allows homosexual partners to enjoy the same visitation rights-to city jails, hospitals, and other public accommodations-as afforded to married persons and their spouses. The third grants exemption to the real estate tax for the transfer of property from one "life partner" to another, in the same way that transfer of property from one spouse to another is exempt from taxation.
For Bill Devlin, the legislation is not only immoral sexually-it is also immoral in terms of "economic justice." He notes that, taken as a group, homosexuals are very well-educated; indeed, the gay and lesbian community is "the number one demographic group in the nation" in such categories as graduate degrees and discretionary income. Giving a benefit to homosexuals worth a million dollars is unconscionable to Mr. Devlin, when that lost revenue could be spent on immunizing children, feeding the poor and infirmed elderly, and making sure that every police officer has a bullet-proof vest. "It is a moral decision where a city government or a municipality decides to spend its money," declares Democrat Devlin.
On August 14th, outside of Mayor Ed Rendell's office, Bill Devlin announced a lawsuit being brought by twelve plaintiffs, including himself, against the city legislation. The suit alleges that the amendment to the "Fair Practices" code amounts to a re-definition of marriage, and therefore violates the law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
So far, the court has granted the plaintiffs two victories. The first stems from the filing of a petition in late September, 1998, on behalf of four same-sex couples. Those filing that petition were the Philadelphia ACLU, the Philadelphia Center for Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights, and an "old, huge law firm." On November 2, the court denied this petition. A couple of weeks later, the same parties re-filed their petition. On December 28, this second petition was also rejected. Mr. Devlin's group issued a press release, entitled "David 2, Goliath 0," which stated: "The Fischer-Price toy brigade has turned back the First Armored Tank Division. . . ." According to Mr. Devlin, it is highly unusual for the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia to turn down this type of petition.
Trial is set for May, 1999. Mr. Devlin has vowed to fight on, even though the court battle may take years.
Pilloried by the Press
The testimony against the domestic partnership legislation brought national attention; and the subsequent lawsuit has brought special condemnation. The August 21-27, 1998, edition of the Philadelphia Business Journal gave thumbs-down to "Urban Family Council Director William Devlin, whose homophobic inclinations-yeah, that's a bit of hyperbole, but so what?!-caused him to file a lawsuit challenging Philadelphia's domestic-partner laws. Welcome to the 20th century, Bill. Now get a heart."
That type of unflattering media comment is nothing new, however, for Bill Devlin. In 1994, Au Courant, one of Philadelphia's newspapers which caters to homosexuals, bestowed upon him its Ass-of-the-Year award. In the cover story, a picture of his face was surrounded by a toilet seat.
UFC's battle against homosexuals is more than about homosexuality. According to Mr. Devlin, what homosexuals are really fighting for is chaotic 'pan-sexuality'-that is, the position that any sexual relation is moral. Director Devlin stated that, in an interview with a newspaper, he argued that "what really the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered community wants is complete and absolute freedom to do whatever they want to do."
This I-want-to-have-relations-with-whomever-I-please-for-whatever-reason-anytime-anywhere attitude is just another manifestation of a deeper problem of rebellion. Utilizing the insights of the late Cornelius Van Til and his presuppositional apologetic, Mr. Devlin suggests that the fight over homosexual 'rights' is a clash of world-views between those advocating human autonomy and those who submit to God's rule in their lives. And what Mr. Devlin attempts to do is to drive his opponents to their logical conclusions, in order to demonstrate the folly of their revolt against Heaven.
Shining the Light in a 'More Light' Church
Bill Devlin's stance against homosexuality has brought controversy, but it has also earned him respect from some diametrically opposed to him. In November 1997, he received a phone call from a woman representing a union congregation of two liberal denominations: the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Church of Christ. Meeting on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Tabernacle Church is a so-called 'More Light' congregation-that is, a PC(USA) church which actively supports homosexual rights, including ordination without respect to sexual orientation.
The caller explained that the congregation knew all about Mr. Devlin and his advocacy of traditional sexuality. Why, then, did they want him to come? "Mr. Devlin," she explained, "you have loved your enemies-and we want to learn from you. We want you to come teach us how to love our enemies the way that you do."
In his December 1997 newsletter, Bill Devlin recalled that the folks gathered there listened attentively for more than an hour. He continued: "I was able to share Jesus Christ with them five or six different ways, painting different pictures and sharing self-disclosure stories from my own heart and life. I focused on my weakness and God's strength. I was vulnerable, transparent and sincere. I shared with them God's plan for sexuality-one man, one woman for life. Simple, yet profound. In the audience were homosexual, bisexual and transgendered people who identified themselves. . . . One woman, during the Q&A time shared with me and the group her pain when she was rejected by her church when she 'outed' herself as a lesbian. 'They rejected me and I am outraged at the entire Church for this.' I was able to share with her that someone else had also been rejected-by all of us-and that was Jesus Himself. And that all of us must come to Jesus. I said, 'We disagree on the issue of all people being children of God. . . . we are only children of God when we trust Jesus Christ as our only hope. . . .'
"I then concluded my remarks by saying, 'The reason that I can be here today and tell you that I love you is because that's what Jesus would tell you if he were here. He loves you . . . and I love you because in each of you, you bear the image of God.'"
Loving One's Enemies
Bill Devlin's attempts to demonstrate love were highlighted during a debate with a homosexual activist at Dickinson College in May of 1997. The audience had responded to him with jeers and laughter. A co-ed asked what he would do if his eldest daughter announced that she loved another woman. Bill stated that he would take her in his arms, declare his love for her, and tell her that she had made a mistake and must end the lesbian relationship. His homosexual debating foe stunned the room into silence when he quietly said: "I wish Bill Devlin had been my father." According to Mr. Devlin, that comment caused "every jaw" of the 250 people who had been jeering him to "hit the floor."
After receiving threatening phone calls, he changed the message on his telephone answering machine. The new message invited those who called to threaten, to come to dinner.
Tossing His Hat Into the Ring
But love for one's enemies does not imply a pietist aversion to politics. Having tried to influence City Hall from the outside, Bill Devlin has now decided to try to become an insider. On October 25, 1998, at the worship service of Deliverance Evangelistic Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, he announced his candidacy for an at-large seat on City Council. The 5,000 worshippers who cheered him on constituted what was probably the largest crowd for a person announcing his candidacy for a City Council primary race. David Boldt wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer (October 30, 1998), "As church members shouted 'Amen' and 'Preach it, Brother Devlin,' he said his theme would be the strengthening of the family, and closed by invoking an old gospel hymn. If elected, he said, he would not be just 'standing in the premises'; he'd be 'Standing on the Promises.'"
"Calling All Fathers" is the theme for the political campaign, reports Eils Lotozo in the Philadelphia Weekly, a newspaper which is friendly to the homosexual community. The November 4, 1998, article, "Make Room for Daddy," quotes Bill Devlin as saying: "There's a crisis of fatherlessness in the city of Philadelphia. . . . Fifty-three out of every 100 children born in the city are leaving the hospital and there's no Dad. And 80 percent of all men in Pennsylvania prisons come from a fatherless home."
Opposing Right and Left
This elder in a conservative Presbyterian denomination is truly not easy to categorize, as he distances himself from both the religious right and leftist evangelicals. Mr. Devlin states: "As I have taught, the religious right has the absence of love. They are just basically saying, 'It's my way or the highway. Get right or get left. And if you don't get with the program you're going to hell.' That's basically their kind of convoluted message of hope. They leave out grace, they leave out the gospel, they leave out compassion and love. I've hung out enough with those people the last thirteen years to know that. In 1993, the Christian Coalition was kind of full-steam ahead here in Pennsylvania. . . . I wrote [to the Christian Coalition leadership, including Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson], and said, 'Brothers in Christ, we do not want you in Philadelphia. Your arrogant brand of Christianity is really not something that we need.' Here we are, six years later, and their state operation has collapsed.
"That's the bankruptcy of the right. The bankruptcy of the left, described by people like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis [Editor of Sojourners magazine-Ed.], . . . they end up being nicer than Jesus. You know, it doesn't really matter what you do, God will be pleased. And everything is going to turn out OK. And the church needs to repent of the sin of homophobia. And they really lost their prophetic voice.
"What I have attempted to say to people is that Urban Family Council is about is a third way. And the third way is a mixture of grace, of compassion, of the gospel, of the hope-filled message of Jesus Christ, and with that the message of repentance and new life. But it's also a message of truth with a capital 'T'. And we have spent a long time training people how to interact with the culture, and say, Look, there is transcendent truth, that you have to respond to it. But, you know, you can either ram that down someone's throat, or you can lead them in a loving way. That's why we talk about servant-leadership, principled persuasion, and the politics of childlikeness."
In Mr. Devlin's eyes, a balanced approach of both grace and justice is important for both church and state. More than that, he believes that the church must set the example for the civil government. He opines: "I mean how many of even Reformed congregations that we know that are Biblically applying church discipline? It's a rare bird that I talk with in the PCA and some of the other Reformed denominations that they actually excommunicate people and that they actually are suspending people from the Lord's table. So, you know, we're asking the civil magistrate to get really hard, and the church not to."
Judgment begins at the house of God. But today's church, he believes, has been relegating justice solely to the sphere of the state. Before asking a judge to garnish a man's paycheck for having abandoned his family, Mr. Devlin wants the church to exercise discipline, including the possibility of excommunication. Elder Devlin wants to "bring shame back into the public square: that it is shameful to have sex outside of marriage, that it is shameful to abandon your children, it is shameful to do any number of things."
Bill Devlin's Political Philosophy:
Bill Devlin has been described as a Democrat who favors gun control, opposes the death penalty, and supports leftish welfare spending. In reflecting on his political philosophy, he says that "a lot of it is based on what I would call urban expediency."
Utilizing the principle of urban expediency, Mr. Devlin is in favor of gun control. "I think that many suburban and rural Christians who would [adhere to the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms] don't understand is that gun violence is epidemic in our urban areas. And that children's lives are at stake. And I don't have a problem with limiting certain types of weapons that would be available to the general public, like the high-powered automatic and semi-automatic weapons. I think that, culturally, we just need to take a hard look at that. It's interesting because some of the same Second Amendment/Gun Owners of America/NRA people would say, Well, we need to limit how many children a woman on welfare has, and they were all behind that [denying a woman having an extra $67.50 per child per month for more than two children]. . . . They are obviously in favor of limiting some things. To move toward a civil society, you cannot have freedom running amok, meaning people doing whatever they want to do, in that twisted view of freedom. Well, within a free society, there has to be limits on people's total freedom. I'm not advocating, obviously, totalitarianism or communism or socialism, but I think everybody would agree that you cannot go through a school zone that has red lights flashing that say '15' and scream down there with your special utility vehicle at 80 miles an hour."
Against the Death Penalty
Regarding the death penalty, Mr. Devlin agrees with many Roman Catholics who maintain "that to a large degree the judicial system in America is unfairly and unjustly applied to people of color. And that people of no income or little income, if they don't have enough money to hire Johnny Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, and whoever else, you're going to go to jail. Unfortunately, that's the economic racial disparity that our culture currently lives in."
The possibility of class-based and/or race-based injustice in the judicial system does not lead him to the view that convicted felons should not be punished. However, "only God has the authority to take life." Mr. Devlin disagrees with many Reformed brethren who urge that the magistrate "has been given the authority to take life, and given that authority by God."
In taking his position, Mr. Devlin emphasizes a disjuncture between the administration of justice in the Pentateuch and its administration today. In his view, the lex talionis ("eye for an eye" principle) was implemented in "a very just system"-a theocracy whose Old Testament justice provisions "could be uniformly applied." Without God's direct revelation to the civil rulers, "we have to be careful with capital punishment, because it's basically an end-of-the-line for that one person." According to Mr. Devlin, the state's carrying out a death sentence would be to play God, and possibly limit the opportunity for that person to repent: "does the secular state know God's timetable on when men are going to repent?"
Bill Devlin does favor much of the very recent welfare reform. However, he is opposed to limiting the number of children for women on welfare. He cited a recent university study which concluded that the change in welfare policy had not led to increased responsibility, as the Family Research Council had contended, but to increased abortions.
"People who are in dire straits, we ought to be helping." According to Mr. Devlin, the reason for FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society was that the Church was not being a social service agency in helping the poor and needy, but rather abdicated that responsibility. The liberal churches did express concern socially, but their message became a social gospel approach rather than the true gospel. In Bill Devlin's opinion, many urban churches today have a good sense that the church must both preach the gospel and be involved socially.
Candidate Devlin is not in favor of unbridled welfare spending; and he supports new welfare reform which forces people with the ability to be gainfully employed to go out and get a job. "I think that that's grace, I think that that's compassion. Otherwise you just have people living off the dole, and not contributing to the culture and to society."
He continued: "One of the comments that I gave to the press and they've floated it around lately is, 'Better to put the clamps on the dad, rather than the caps on the mom.' It's kind of a Jesse Jacksonism. . . . You know, it's always left up to the mother. We're going to put the caps on how many children she can have. But, hey, what about the fathers, because of the epidemic of fatherless in our culture? It's even endemic within the church: the divorce rate in the church is almost equal to the general population. We only have to look at our Christian leaders who are dumping their wives left and right, because of their pursuit of their ministry or their careers."
Encouraging Responsible Fatherhood
Urban Family Council has a huge program on sexual purity and abstinence, and the organization has lobbied against unfettered contraceptive distribution in both urban or suburban areas. But when irresponsible behavior leads to the birth of children, Bill Devlin wants to implement workable programs to get fathers to be more responsible for the children which they parent. Not surprisingly, the theme of his political campaign is 'Calling All Fathers.'
"We talk about 'legislation of the heart.' It's difficult to command men to love their children. What we can command them to do is to provide for them financially. And we can publicly embarrass and shame them by putting their name in the newspaper, as some municipalities have done. You know, you're $20,000 behind in back child support.
"In the feminization of our culture, where Gloria Steinham's prediction of twenty years ago has come true, that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle, that we need to recapture that whole idea that men are necessary in the development of children's lives. . . . Eighty per cent of men in prisons in Pennsylvania are from fatherless homes." Supreme Court cases which have mandated that fathers have no say in abortions have helped lead to the disappearance of the American male in our culture.
The Candidate's Career
Political pundits give Bill Devlin a good shot at winning a seat on the Philadelphia City Council; and a recent development may enhance his chances. The front-runner for the mayoral Democratic primary-the winner of which would almost certainly win the general election-is the current City Council President. John Street, a Seventh Day Adventist, could benefit from the contacts which Mr. Devlin enjoys among black clergy and among ethnic Catholic voters. A campaign aide of that mayoral hopeful recently approached Mr. Devlin about the two candidates supporting each other in the May, 1999, primary; and already there is talk of a Street-Devlin ticket.
But no matter the outcome of the political race, Bill Devlin apparently will be a major player in Philadelphia for a long time to come. For he intends to continue to apply the Lordship of Christ to the city, using a unique blend of loving one's enemy while contending for righteousness.
Bill Devlin's Rainbow Coalition of Love
In asking Bill Devlin about the Rainbow Coalition of Love, P&R News with tongue-in-cheek noted that this sounded like something Jesse Jackson would come up with. Mr. Devlin responded that he had come up with the name, as a way of emphasizing several points.
First, the Urban Family Council is "inter-racial and . . . urban-based", which is an anomaly "in pro-life, pro-family circles, because again the pro-life, pro-family, pro-virtue movement for its entire history, since the mid-sixties, has always been a white, suburban, rural, Republican, conservative, right-wing phenomenon." Accordingly, UFC has tried "to re-define the whole notion of what it means to be pro-life/pro-family, and to be a Christian in favor of God's precepts and His commandments."
Secondly, Mr. Devlin says "that we wanted to take back some of the language which the other side took from God. We all know who the creator of the rainbow was. Ten years ago, the lesbian/bi-sexual/transgendered community basically took that idea to practice their multi-cultural arrangement. You know, it's like anything else: the enemy of the church always uses something that God creates and then perverts it. . . . We wanted to portray to the people of Philadelphia-and now we're developing this up in New York City as well-that those who love marriage, those who love family, those who love children-and particularly on this issue, those who believe that marriage is defined as one man and one woman for life-it's not just suburban, white, rural, Republican right-wing radical conservatives. It's African-Americans, it's Asians, it's Cambodians, it's Vietnamese, it's Koreans, it's Haitians, it's Colombians, it's Puerto Ricans. . . .
"And 'Campaign of Love' [is] using a God-authored word, 'love.' We said this is our campaign of love: love for our city, love for family, love for marriage, and love for those who oppose us. And it was amazing, because the press here, both the mainstream press and the homosexual press, was quoting Urban Family Council's 'Campaign of Love.' Well, we did that deliberately as well. Because the man or woman on the street who reads the newspaper-I mean, how can you argue with love? You can't! The man or woman on the street sees the believing Christian as lemon-suckers. You know, these are kind of the prudish, you know, wrinkled-up, prune-faced church people, stereotypically painted in Saturday Night Live's church lady.
"And I just think that when we engage the unbelievers in the public square, we need to do so with love, with compassion. Because we forget: even those people that hate the church, why do they hate the church? Well, they're relying upon the stereotypes-you know, that pastor that did them wrong when they were a kid, or that televangelist who looks like a fool with his poofy hair on Sunday morning, or whatever negative caricature about the church.
"What we at Urban Family Council like to do is we like to smash those stereotypes and those negative caricatures. We didn't say that we were against gay marriage, we said we were for life-long monogamous heterosexual marriage. We didn't say what we were against, we said what we were for. . . . Within that campaign of love, I met individually with a number of gay and lesbian leaders, just over coffee. We invited them to our home, the Devlin home, for dinner. And I just wish more leaders in the Christian community would do that."
In His Own Words: Interview with
Tell us about your mugging.
"My wife and young children and I had moved into Philadelphia to minister to the poor and to make a difference in the city. We, in fact, as an expression of our pro-life commitment, had moved into the city in order to have a large home, where we could bring in drug-addicted, HIV-infected pregnant women and their children into our home, in order to minister to them. These were women who had decided not to get an abortion and needed a place to stay. And so we moved into this huge home, in probably one of the roughest areas of the City of Philadelphia. We didn't really know that-we were a little naive. But we moved into the neighborhood in 1985, and lived there quietly and peacefully for two years, and did a lot of ministry there amongst the poor. One night I was returning home from an elder's meeting, got out of my car, and there was a guy hiding in the bushes. He came out of the bushes in front of our home, and asked me for money. And I said I didn't have any money. He then produced a large kitchen knife out of the pocket of his winter coat. And he said, "Look, you give me your money!' And I began to run. And he chased me and caught up with me and used me for a human pin cushion. I broke loose, and ran up on the porch of our home, jumped off the porch. He had doubled back. And as I was running, now deliriously calling out the name of Jesus. . . . We didn't know this, but there was a drug house that opened up just two doors down. . . . This guy probably thought, what was an Anglo person doing there late at night? He obviously didn't realize that I lived there. And I had a total of about seventeen cents in my pocket. I was running around, he caught up again with me and gave one last stab to the head. And he stabbed me right in the back of the head. I fell face first onto a car, then off the car into the street. And I thought I was going to wake up and be in heaven. But I woke up and I was still only in Philadelphia. After about five seconds, I kind of got my bearings and stood up and I saw this guy running down the street. I saw his figure underneath a street light. And I said, 'Well, you know, I'm going to take the Biblical admonition, Do unto others as they would do unto you.' Well, little did I realize, I took a couple of steps, and I felt something in the back of my head and I reached back there and this huge knife was sticking out of the back of my head. I yanked it out and I started to run after him. I took another few steps, . . . and I just felt heavier than I usually do and I looked down and I was standing in a pool of my own blood. My sweater had been soaked with my blood. So I went up to the house, knocked on the door, and the unwed mom who was pregnant-and she had a one and a half year old with her as well-she came to the door, and I said, 'Get my wife.' By that time, . . . someone had called the police, and so a cop car had showed up. Very unusual in Philadelphia-a cop car actually on the scene of a crime. So they threw me in the back of the police car and they drove me up to the nearest emergency room. And they stitched me up.
"But you know, we really had to struggle with that, Frank, frankly, because we had felt God had called us to the city. And now we said, 'God, what are you doing?' That was March of '87. And in July of '87, our youngest child at that time, eighteen months old, was diagnosed with leukemia. And so, 1987, we look back on as a year that was just a real hellish time. Between my youngest son being diagnosed with leukemia and very close to death, and on top of that my father died of a brain tumor. And then I was also picked to be a PCA elder that same year, at New Life Presbyterian in Philadelphia. And on top of that, it was the year that I was hired to be the Director of the Urban Family Council. In fact, I was stabbed the week after I was hired as the part-time Director. And I directly said, 'Hey, I guess the enemy did not want me in the position.' He certainly did everything he could do to distract me from that. And then a month after our son was diagnosed with leukemia, my wife discovered she was pregnant with number four. But, you know, I look back on that time [as one in which] God really strengthened our marriage, strengthened our resolve to stay in the city, to minister in the city. You know, as the expression goes, 'Trials either make you better or bitter.' And I obviously had to struggle with what am I going to do now. I'm going to have four young children . . ., under the age of ten. And am I going to stay
in a violent city like Philadelphia? And so we decided to stay!
"I was one of those people who was raised as an urban kid. . . . Pretty much between living in Miami and Chicago and Tokyo, I had always been a city guy. It was only that short hiatus when I started at Westminster Seminary we lived out in the country. We lived there for three years, and then God clearly called us into the city.
"At the Urban Family Council, one of things we do is we attempt to encourage urban dwelling. Just simply because that's where we feel that Christians can really make a difference, because it's the crossroads of the marketplace and ideas. Christianity has always been an urban religion from the very beginning. If you look at Jerusalem, Antioch, Thessalonica, Alexandria. The Latin word for pagan, 'pagano', is 'country-dweller.' So the pagans were out in the sticks, and the Christians were in the cities. Now, it's been kind of reversed!"
You've stated (with tongue-in-cheek) that you're a Democrat because "Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not an elephant." Is that the only reason?
"No, in fact, I was scolded by my Christian friend and fellow pro-life advocate Alan Keyes [a Republican who has run for the U. S. Senate and for the Presidency-Ed.]. He did this in front of about 400 people at our banquet in September. He said, 'Brother Devlin, please remember that Jesus has encouraged us to ride on donkeys, not become one.' And he just brought the place down!
"Here's again my urban expediency line. The chief reason why I became a Democrat is because Republicans don't exist in urban areas. . . . To a large degree, Republicans have left Philadelphia, like they have every other urban area. . . . This is where sphere sovereignty comes in. I basically see both the Republican Party and Democrat Party as corrupt, and they are in vast need of reform. They are in need of the incarnation of the gospel. . . . I believe that [some] people can hold their nose and become Democrats and wade through the sewage . . . [to practice] the incarnation. . . . Instead of isolating ourselves to the mountaintops, what we need to be doing is incarnating the gospel. You know, we need to be taking a page from the life of Jesus. He didn't have to come to earth, but He did, and He was born in humble circumstance. I think that that is a clarion call for us to be infiltrating corrupt institutions, whether it be the political ones like the Democratic Party and the Republican Party; infiltrating the legal profession, the medical profession, the educational system. We need to infiltrate them with the gospel. God be merciful, we will not be influenced by it, but we will be influencing them. It's the old notion of salt and light-the preservative. When we enter these institutions, as we sprinkle salt, it not only preserves them, but when people take a bite out of them, it'll taste good-that's the other purpose of salt. No mold or mildew can grow on those things that have direct light on them.
"One of the notions of the Democratic Party is that we're for the little guy: you know, the unions; we're not like those rich country club Republicans, who only worry about feathering their own nests. And as I have said to one Democrat after another in this city, Well, now, that's fine, you worry about the little guy, but you've forgotten about the littlest of the little guy, and that's the unborn child, and why is your party pro-abortion?"
And what have they said?
"Oh, they're speechless. They're just absolutely speechless. The last person I said it to was a female mayoral hopeful. Her name is Happy Fernandez; she was a City Councilwoman. I said, 'Happy, you've done a great job of advocating for children, . . . but there's one group of children that you've forgotten.' And she was aghast! And she didn't know what I was leading up to. And I said, 'Happy, you've forgotten about the unborn children.' 'Well, we have too many children now that we can't take care of'-which is a racist statement. And I said, 'Well, Happy, if you ever come across a woman that doesn't want her child, I live about six blocks from where we're standing right here on this city street. You have my home address, you know where I am. Direct that woman or if that child is born bring them to our home and we will care for that child.' And you know what she said? She said, 'Mr. Devlin, it's going to be a very interesting campaign!'
"Christians should not be afraid to enter institutions, to reform them, to influence them. Infiltration leads to influencing. We need to take a page from the book of the homosexual community. They have done this par excellence. Look at how they've infiltrated, whether it's the Clinton administration, the medical community, the psychology community, academia. Why do all the Ivy League schools now have gay and lesbian studies centers? You wouldn't find a Christian studies center. Because they [the homosexuals] have gone in there and they have said, We're in this for the long haul. Even we Reformed Christians have bought up this notion of, We're going to be caught up someday in the rapture. . . ."
In his view, it is important to have the "Old Testament notion of the ministry of presence-the geographical commitment that the people of God need to make to where they are. I look at the people of faith nationally who are having the most impact in the urban areas-they've been in ministry for ten, fifteen, twenty years, they've lived in their neighborhood. They're not living on a high and holy hill somewhere, but they're integrated with the people. . . .
"I'm not only a Democratic committeeman, but also the volunteer President of one of the oldest civic associations in the City of Philadelphia. So, when it snows up here on Saturday, and I put my thirteen old son on the community snow plow and he does about five miles of plowing the sidewalks, I believe that that's glorifying to God! And it's creating civil society. Because some neighbor's going to say, 'Hey, why do you plow the streets or the sidewalks?' 'Well, because we love people.' 'Well, why do you love people?' 'Well, because Jesus died for people.' . . . Why should we be encouraging our young people to be journalists, to be physicians, to be trial lawyers, to be politicians, along with being pastors and nurses and clerks-it's because all of life comes under the Lordship of Christ. . . . Let's [demonstrate that Lordship] with gusto, and to the glory of God."
It's taking dominion.
"Yeah, it's taking dominion. Exactly right. It's cultural dominion. And again, in a loving, compassionate, grace-filled, reasonable, rational way, instead of shouting from the mountaintop, saying, 'Hey, all you sinners and lepers and unwashed down there, get it right or God's coming in with a hurricane and He's going to suck you up in His wrath and spew you out.'. . ."
Is there anything I should have asked you that I didn't?
"To encapsulate it: Our passion here at Urban Family Council is to use the issues of the day to share the gospel with people." He believes that this in contrast to "a lot of the public policy organizations that are out there, like the ones that Focus on the Family have created," who have told him that their job is not to share the gospel, but to act as a public policy/civil society organization alone. "If we convert America to pro-life, pro-family conservatism, there's going to be a lot of those people in hell. Because you need Jesus to get into heaven, not if you're in favor of heterosexual marriage. It's a combination of using the issues of the day in order to get open doors to share the gospel and apply the Lordship of Christ to all areas of life, and doing so in an urban, inter-racial setting, and in the process loving people."
Urban Family Council
PO Box 11415
Philadelphia, Pa. 19111