WASHINGTON — The Red Envelope Project was so successful on Valentine’s Day that a second surge of letters to the White House is planned.
In mid-February, the White House began receiving tens of thousands of red envelopes, but they had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day. The grassroots pro-life effort started by a New Hampshire man is being undertaken to try to change the heart of President Barack Obama on the issue of abortion. March 31 has been set as the second Red Envelope Day. More information is at RedEnvelopeProject.org.
The idea for the project first came to Christ Otto (his first name rhymes with wrist) during prayer on Jan. 23, the day after the March for Life in Washington.
“That morning, as I was saying my prayers, I had this image of red envelopes flooding the mail room of the White House,” said Otto, a freelance missionary living in Amherst, N.H.
In response, Otto sent the idea to an e-mail list of 120 friends, as well as a couple of pro-life groups, including Bound 4 Life and the West Coast Walk for Life. Within a week, a Red Envelope Facebook group had been started by someone other than Otto, and he was receiving e-mails from people across the country.
Since then, the project has gained tremendous attention and momentum, resulting in at least four separate Facebook groups — one with more than 10,000 members — and at least three separate websites.
As originally conceived, Otto suggested that individuals address a red envelope to the president. On the back of the envelope, Otto recommended writing a message such as the following:
“This envelope represents one child who died in abortion. It is empty because that life was unable to offer anything to the world. Responsibility begins with conception.”
“There are those who aren’t comfortable standing outside an abortion business protesting,” said Otto. “This gives them a simple gesture that they can do.”
“If the 54% of Americans who feel abortion is wrong each sent one envelope, we’d easily reach 50 million — the number of babies aborted in this country since legalized abortion,” said Otto. He himself has sent approximately 20 envelopes.
The effort has inspired others to get involved, as well.
Otto says that some churches in the San Diego area began handing out envelopes to parishioners. Iowa Right to Life did something similar.
“I purchased 150 red envelopes and made them available at our Prayer for Life event on Feb. 9,” said Kim Lehman, president of Iowa Right to Life. “We typed up address labels and put the message on little slips of paper that we put into the envelope and gave them to people.”
To Change a Heart
Lehman said that what often happens with good ideas is that people get hung up on the execution. “We took the idea and ran with it,” said Lehman. “We got the envelopes into the hands of people.”
Brad Miller, the owner of a Web development company, heard about the project while listening to an EWTN program. Putting his talents to use, within two days, Miller had created the website RedEnvelopeProject.org, which is tracking the number of envelopes sent.
“I had the site up about an hour after I started it,” said Miller.
As this story went to press, it was estimated that about 138,000 envelopes had been sent to the White House.
“It’s like a wildfire,” said Otto. “Every day I’m discovering a new thing that someone is doing in relation to the project.”
Otto said that his goal isn’t political.
“We’re sending the envelopes with the desire to change the president’s heart,” said Otto.
Medium Is the Message
While many pro-life organizations are supporting the Red Envelope Project, Otto said that he has received some criticism.
“A couple of folks have criticized the semantics of the message on the envelope,” said Otto. In response, Otto said that the project has gained such momentum that at this point it may not even be necessary to print a message on the envelope. “The White House has received so many that even an empty blank envelope sends the message,” said Otto.
The website AbortionAbout.com criticized the effort as “well intended, but … a huge waste of much-needed money and time.”
Citing the price of stamps, the blog said that sending 100,000 envelopes would cost $42,000.
“Red envelopes are not going to change Obama’s heart,” said the site. “It’s a nice thought and all, but if the war against abortion is ever going to be won, it won’t be by mailing a boatload of empty envelopes to someone like Barack Obama.”
Saying that the envelopes will only end up in the trash, the blogger One Dove said, “This is why pro-lifers don’t win.”
Kim Lehman disagreed.
“I don’t know anyone who believes we cannot change the heart of the ‘king,’” said Lehman. People who believe in prayer know what can change a heart. Ronald Reagan used to be pro-abortion until an article he read changed his mind, and he became a pro-life governor. The Red Envelope message is prayerful. We’re supposed to pray for our president.”
In fact, since his original e-mail message, Otto has decided to add another step to the Red Envelope Project — a prayer. Otto said it’s a prayer he has used on prayer walks, praying it while using a small finger rosary.
He’s encouraging those who send an envelope to pray, “Jesus, I plead your blood over my sin and the sin of my nation. God end abortion and send revival to America.”
Tim Drake writes from
St. Joseph, Minnesota.