On the first Friday in May 1990, an envelope came to the door of Randy Alcorn's semi-rural home in Gresham, Oregon, east of Portland. Inside the envelope was a copy of a writ of garnishment for Alcorn's wages. The writ required Good Shepherd Church, where Alcorn was pastor of missions, to surrender a portion of his wages.

Alcorn understood instantly what lay behind the writ. In 1989 Portland police had arrested him several times for blocking the doors of several abortion clinics. One of the clinics had sued him and other "rescuers," winning a small judgment plus attorney's fees. Alcorn had refused to pay, believing it would violate his conscience to write a check to an abortion clinic.

Some time before the suit, Alcorn and his wife, Nanci, had placed all their assets in her name—house, car, and bank account. Alcorn had given away or sold the copyrights to his five published books. At a debtor's hearing he was able to state truthfully that he owned nothing of value. An opposing lawyer went so far as to ask about the gold band he was wearing on his left hand.

Alcorn held up the ring, milking the drama of the moment. "I'm not sure what it's worth today, but I paid $12.50 for it at Kmart four years ago."

Alcorn had not anticipated having his wages garnished, however. This implicated not just Alcorn's conscience, but also that of his church. If the church refused to pay, serious legal complications could follow. Many church members had grave doubts about the wisdom of Alcorn's protests. Now they were sucked into the backwash.

A quick visit to the church offered Alcorn slight relief. By some glitch no legal papers had yet reached Good Shepherd. The church office would be closed for the weekend. He had until Monday.

After a flurry of ...

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April 2003

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