MILWAUKEE — At age 17, he was a hard-core atheist. He hated Christians, and he especially hated Catholics, but he knew abortion was wrong. Today, 37-year-old Jason Jones, co-executive producer of the motion picture “Bella,” is Catholic and continuing his lifelong mission to end abortion – a journey that has, as he says, taken him “to Rome through the storm.”
“I was baptized Aug. 6, 2003 and that’s why I say it’s ‘to Rome through the storm,’ because that was the year that nobody, probably – I was probably the one person that came into the Catholic Church in 2003,” Jones said when he spoke at the Catholics United for the Faith-sponsored talk in May at Blessed Sacrament Parish. “It was at that time, before I became Catholic and I’d gotten into the habit of wearing my scapular pulled back and up, why? Because I wanted people to know I was not ashamed to be a Catholic despite all the scandals.”
That was after years of searching for the truth. Jones, who had been raised in a secular household, never wanted to become Catholic, because of the example of his girlfriend’s Catholic family.
“My (high school) girlfriend, how I got involved in the pro-life movement and why I hated Catholics kind of goes hand-in-hand,” Jones said in an interview with your Catholic Herald.
‘He killed my baby’
A few days before his 17th birthday, his girlfriend, who was raised in a prominent Catholic family in Illinois, told him through tears that she was pregnant. They made a plan.
“On my birthday, I dropped out of high school, joined the army,” Jones said. “For her part, she wore baggy sweaters and took vitamins.”
Jones’ girlfriend sent letters to him when he was in basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., and they talked to each other on the phone when they could.
“I remember one letter she told me that our baby was going to be a girl – that was a good letter to get – and in another letter we decided on a name and that name was Jessica,” Jones said during his talk.
But, just two weeks before graduation from basic training, his girlfriend called, crying. “She was crying like I’ve never heard a woman cry before since, and the only way I can explain it is that her soul was crying,” Jones said. “And she kept saying over and over and over again, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry – it wasn’t me.’ And then her father said over the other line, ‘Jason, we know your secret and your secret’s gone. I took (her) to get an abortion.’”
When Jones got off the phone, he recalled punching the drill sergeant, crying and saying “He killed my baby, send me home,”’ only to be surprised when his captain told him that abortion was legal.
“I did not know that in my country it is legal to destroy an innocent human person, and I wish the whole world could see abortion the way I saw it as a 17-year-old boy in Fort Benning, Ga.,” Jones said, explaining to your Catholic Herald that he’s been driven to talk to people about abortion since that day.
As he and his girlfriend discussed abortion, he made a promise to her that he’s kept throughout the years.
“I promised her that day, from Fort Benning, Ga., that if it took me the rest of my life, I will work to make abortion illegal.”
Pro-life work began door-to-door
After training, he went to the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii where he was in the 1st Batallion, 27th Infantry, and began his pro-life work knocking on doors that were many times slammed as fast as they opened, and asking if people knew abortion was legal.
Jones said his 19-year-old son Micah’s first memories are of him pulling him in a little red wagon around the neighborhoods in Hawaii, going door-to-door to talk to people.
“He said, ‘Dad, do you remember when people would slam the door in your face?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He’s like, ‘Now, people want you to come in and talk to them. They ask. They invite you over to speak. That’s strange.’ Well, it is kind of strange, but that’s how we started.”
Once he was out of the Army, Jones ran for chair of the college Republicans at the University of Hawaii, realizing that by running a campaign, he could do radio shows, issue press releases and attract journalists. “Step by step, I did all of this all the time I was an atheist, all the time,” Jones said, adding, “I remember thinking, ‘If these Christians would just shut up, I could end abortion.’”
He founded the atheist club and the Ayn Rand club on campus, but while he was an Ayn Rand objectivist, his college professors helped him realize that it was impossible to believe that there could be human dignity without a creator
Search led him to Christianity
Jones searched for the source of human dignity because of his studies, which led him to the Judeo-Christian understanding of a creator.
“You look at a person, you say, ‘OK, it’s self-evident, they are different than a tree, a kangaroo or a dolphin. I get it, it’s self-evident, but that’s not the source of the dignity … if there is no God, if they’re not created in an image and likeness of God, if they are just matter in motion, if they are really just a monkey a few days later, there is no real dignity … and so I became open to theism because it was necessary,” Jones said.
Jones read the Bible for the first time, with an open mind, and saw Jesus differently.
“A lot of young Christians conform to the campus culture, so they’re Christians who become moral relativists and so when I read the New Testament, Jesus Christ was nothing as I saw him represented in the mass media or by people who I knew that were Christians,” Jones said. “So, I fell in love with Jesus Christ and I said, ‘OK, I’m a Christian.’” He was set on a Judeo-Christian understanding of a creator, but now searching for the true church.
Starting with the church that was the most pro-life, he attended Calvary Chapel, an evangelical church in Hawaii. He would have never thought to walk into a Catholic church at this time because it would have felt “like moving to Rwanda,” because he saw constant internal fighting, not a whole united church against abortion that supported political leaders who believed in the dignity of life. But something was still not right.
Job choice leads him to Catholicism
When Washington, D.C.’s Christian Coalition and Human Life International offered Jones positions as national youth director, he had to decide.
“I wanted to choose Christian Coalition, but, in the end, I decided on Human Life International, and I thank God for that,” Jones said, because that’s where he met Catholics united in the pro-life cause.
Jones considered the Orthodox and the Catholic Church and studied the Schism which, along with the examples of a priest and his friends, led him to Catholicism.
“It was their example, their courage of standing up to why that I came into the Catholic Church, and I thank God for that,” he said.
His battle against God is over, but he continues fighting abortion, now as a Catholic who believes that the Catholic Church is the only group powerful enough to stop the abortion industry.
“And I still believe the most important thing we can do is speak in church basements, because we, as Catholics, are responsible for legal abortion in this country,” he told your Catholic Herald, “We, as Catholics, are responsible that there are two political parties – one party is trying to throw the pro-life plank overboard; the other did this three decades ago.”
Bella’s pro-life message close to his heart
Jones’ work as a co-producer in the Metanoia Films production of “Bella,” winner of the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice Award, is work close to his heart because of his experience with abortion, but also because he can relate to becoming a father at a young age.
“What I loved about ‘Bella’ was it didn’t shortchange being in that situation,” Jones explained. “It didn’t make it look like an easy circumstance and it was very empathetic and I know because I had my son when I was 18, so I know what it’s like to work 60 hours a week, go to community college and try to make up for 12 years of education … but to me it was the greatest gift – every blessing I’ve had in life is because of my children,” whose names weren’t originally planned to be, but are, ironically, biblical: Micah, 19, Marion, 17, Maximilian, 2 and Jacob, 1.
Jones’ wife, Alexandra, whom he married in 2005, and who was agnostic when they met, became Catholic after he gave her Peter Keeft’s book, “The Journey,” on the day he met her and “Peace of Soul,” by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen on their second date.
“I wasn’t even Catholic yet when I met her,” Jones said of meeting her in 2002.
Jones said his sister recently came into the church, as did his father, but “my mother we’re still praying for,” he said.
The impact that “Bella” has had on families has been an inspiration to Jones because of the impact it has had since it came to theaters, giving them a forum in front of Communist Party officials in China, Muslim leaders in Darfur, royalty in Europe, White House officials and Vatican officials.
Movie’s message spreads
The movie is available on DVD and Netflix and has been on Lifetime.
“It’s been all over the world – it’s absolutely amazing to see the impact that it has,” he said.
The movie has also resulted in the development of programs like: “Bella HERO,” which has the mission of providing “Bella” movies to pregnancy care centers throughout the United States to be handed out to any woman in an unplanned pregnancy; “Bella On Campus,” a project from the Human-Rights Education and Relief Organization (HERO) that pays for public screening fees of Bella on college campuses, in the hopes of preventing unplanned pregnancies; and the most recent program, “Jose in Jail,” which will partner with prison ministries in paying for screenings in jails to show how Jose had a second chance and turned his life around.
“Everyone’s affected by it,” Jones said, explaining that some men and women who view “Bella” change their minds and views on abortion.
Jones continues to travel with his family, and hopes to get back to their home in Hawaii, but is currently in California for the production of six films. He said that the work he does is worth the traveling and sacrifices they make.
“There’s nothing better in the world than to wake up every morning knowing you have a mission and you have friends who share that mission with you who you trust. And that’s what we do, whether it’s going to Darfur, whether it’s raising money for pregnancy centers or water wells, or homes for the poor in Mexico or speaking at Catholic schools about the faith … I think it’s going to continue to impact people around the world and for a very long time.”