Q&A with Jess Barfield of #StandforLIFE
Interview by Angela Roe // Images by Rachel Whyte
Every year, on the third Sunday of January, Christians come together to celebrate Sanctity of Human Life Day. Ever since President Reagan issued a proclamation in 1984 to acknowledge this day (initially observed on January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade), Americans have spent Sanctity of Life Sunday recognizing the gift and Giver of life (Ps. 36:9) and honoring the lives of abortion victims through church gatherings and public discussions. I had the privilege of speaking with Jess Barfield, the founder of #StandforLIFE, an organization that seeks to change the trajectory of the abortion discussion in America, but also be vessels through which the Lord changes the hearts of women as they decide whether to choose life for their child. You may have seen a #StandforLIFE watermark on Facebook or Instagram photos, but as Barfield shares, there are Kingdom-minded goals for this group that go much deeper than sharing a visual online.
How did the idea for Stand for Life come to fruition? What is your heart behind it?
Since childhood, I've always viewed unborn babies as the most innocent and vulnerable among us—their lives being tiny, but full of inherent value. I grew up in a Christian home, went to Baylor University, started a successful photography career, married my middle school sweetheart and had two precious (yet energetic) little boys. I was grateful the Lord had given me a full and comfortable life. After the release of the Planned Parenthood videos in the summer of 2015, God called me out of that comfort zone I had so easily settled into.
I had seen a few of the undercover Planned Parenthood videos and felt a slight tug on my heart. I pushed it away immediately, telling God I was too busy to do anything to help these babies. I had too many responsibilities, my kids were too young (one and two at the time), I was too middle-class. I would help make a difference when my kids were older and my life settled down a bit. Then I saw the 7th Planned Parenthood video, which was the most horrific and heart-wrenching of all the videos released so far. It was like God said, "What else do you need?" The tug on my heart became a weight on my chest that I couldn't shake. Driving back to Dallas from my grandparents’ home in the Texas hill country, my family fell asleep in the car (a miracle!) and as I drove, I told God I would listen. I would listen to what he had for me. The word "grace" was what I heard. In a world where the word "pro-life" is so historically connected with shame and judgment, God urged me to change the conversation into one of grace (James 4:6).
As soon as we arrived home, I got on my laptop and designed a very simple photo filter with the word LIFE over a white overlay. I wanted to create a way to beautifully express my conviction for life on social media in a way that was full of Christ's love, abounding in grace and hope. Being a creative, I understand the value of design and beauty and I knew my generation would be more open to seeing and reading words if they were shared in an aesthetically pleasing way. I shared an image of me and my newborn son on my social media pages, just as a way to share with my friends and colleagues my heart for LIFE. Within the first hour, 100 people had requested the same overlay for their profile pictures. I gathered about 25 fellow photographers and designers, and we created approximately 2,500 filtered pictures within the first 24 hours. A developer friend of mine hopped on board, created a website, and within the first 24 hours of the website, over 18,000 LIFE filters were created. People started pairing the pictures with stories of and hearts behind choosing life. We were overwhelmed with thousands of stories of individuals choosing life in difficult circumstances and within a few days of me posting the first picture, #StandforLIFE was created. We knew God was working and it was just the beginning of something incredibly beautiful.
What does #StandforLIFE mean to you personally?
The creation and evolvement of #StandforLIFE has completely changed my walk with the Lord. I used to seek the Lord's will, asking how he could conveniently fit into my life. I had a lovely life, a successful business, didn't really like change, and I definitely didn't want to ruffle any feathers. Then God showed up in an unexpected, beautiful way. He showed up, and the acknowledgment of his power, provision, and perfect timing ruined all my selfish ambitions and plans for my life in the best way I could have imagined. He showed me, in a very humbling way, that his ways are far above mine.
The abortion discussion has always been a hot button one in our culture, but in the last year or so it has really intensified. What is the believer's role in the discussion? What can we do to share about the sanctity of life in a way that peacefully engages the non-believer, glorifies Christ, and also does not shut down conversation?
Since the recent legislation and release of the undercover videos, the topic of abortion has again been brought to the forefront of national debate. If you glance back over the past four decades, you'll see waves of support for the pro-life movement. I genuinely believe this wave is different because people's hearts are being heard, not just rhetoric and statistics. Believers need to address abortion with God's goodness and grace. I believe the majority of women do not make the decision to have an abortion lightly. They are scared, confused, and ashamed. If we as the Church want to change the abortion statistics in America, we need to step up and serve these women and families. Let’s approach unplanned pregnancies with grace, not judgment. Let’s open our homes to orphans who need loving families. Let’s drop off diapers and baby clothes at local crisis pregnancy centers. Let’s be the Church to these men and women faced with unplanned pregnancies (1 Tim. 4:12).
#StandForLIFE is more than Facebook profile photos. What all does your ministry do?
We have evolved into a storytelling movement that seeks to change the discussion of abortion into one of grace and inspire readers to action. Sharing individuals' stories of choosing life can change people's hearts, start conversations, and inspire service. The stories are shared in three ways: 1) Through social media images 2) Through our newly-launched videos, and 3) Through the #StandforLIFE book, which is a compilation of 15 life stories. The book is being placed in crisis pregnancy centers around the U.S. to inspire women to choose life for their babies.
What plans do you have for #StandforLIFE in the future?
The #StandforLIFE video ministry was just started and we are excited to watch where God leads it. As funding is available, we hope to launch films with notable individuals who share our conviction about choosing life.
Campaigns like "Tweet Your Abortion" and moves by Planned Parenthood can make the believer discouraged, though we know to "rejoice in the hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5). What keeps your vision for #StandforLIFE going?
Many believers look at the ingenious marketing ploys by Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice activists and get discouraged. Who wouldn't? They have millions of dollars at their disposal and the best of the best working for them as they desperately try to craft an illusion that women’s rights and abortion are synonymous. The enemy is at work but we can respond with the gift God gives every believer: our testimony. These life stories are testimonies of God's goodness, wisdom, and provision. We are confident that the Lord is the author of every life. Every life, no matter how small, inconvenient, or sick, is valuable (Ps. 139:13–14).