Photo courtesy of Eric Brown
By Tom Strode
NASHVILLE (BP) — The decision to protect Pearl Joy Brown as an unborn child with a debilitating disorder, as well as the joy of her life and the grief in her death, is told by her parents in a new documentary film produced by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“The Pearl Brown Story,” now available online, is Eric and Ruth Brown’s account of welcoming their daughter into the family despite a doctor’s recommendation they terminate her life. In the 17-minute documentary, they share how their Christian faith guided their decision-making and provided comfort as they deeply mourned the death at the age of 5 of the daughter they dearly loved.
For the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), telling Pearl’s story was an opportunity to proclaim the dignity and value of her life and the lives of all human beings because they are made in the image of God.
“We are always looking for new ways to remind the watching world about the intrinsic dignity of every life,” said Elizabeth Graham, the ERLC’s vice president of operations, in a news release.
“We believe this story about the precious life of Pearl Brown, and the journey her parents took, will show the humanity of the most vulnerable among us — a needed reminder at a time when so many believe life can just be easily discarded,” said Graham, who directs the entity’s life initiatives.
The Browns learned Pearl, their third child, had a brain development disorder known as alobar holoprosencephaly halfway through Ruth’s pregnancy. A maternal fetal medicine specialist advised them to go “across the hallway and terminate the pregnancy and go home and be thankful we have two other kids,” Eric recalls in the film.
While they were exceedingly happy with Brennan and Abbey, “Pearl was also our kid, and our job was to protect her,” Ruth says in the documentary. “And so that’s what we did. . . . To us, the only option was to support our daughter as long as we could.”
Pearl survived birth, but her disorder “affected everything about her life,” Ruth says. At the normal age of a toddler, Pearl, who had red hair, “would kind of babble and wave her arms at us,” her mother remembers. Brennan and Abbey would read books to and sing to Pearl, and Abbey would help with her sister’s therapy sessions.
When Pearl passed away a few days before Easter in 2018, “I’ve never felt a darkness like the darkness that I felt coming in waves that morning,” says Eric, a photographer in middle Tennessee.
“It was always she was going to have a short life. But when the grief hit, I was not prepared. . . . And so I knew that the only way forward was going to be Christ, and that’s only because He has promised to finish whatever good work He had started in me,” Eric recalls.
“I feel like I had a really robust theology, and I had a really big view of God, and I could clearly articulate the relationship between His sovereignty and suffering,” Eric says. “None of that was enough to carry me through that dark night of the soul — none of my big perspective on Him, none of my right theologies.
“I had a God who was bigger than my right theologies then. I had a God who was bigger than my wrong perspectives during that first season of losing Pearl. He was just so much bigger than even I know now. And that gives me so much confidence, you know? He’s good.”
It is okay to miss her daughter, Ruth says, “and being upset about that or sad or emotional about that doesn’t mean that I don’t know that God’s going to make it all okay again.
“It’s just not going to feel okay tomorrow or next week. But I have peace in the thought it will be okay in a thousand years, and the time I will have spent missing her will be just this little blip in this timeline of what God’s been doing. And that will make it okay.”
Jason Thacker, the ERLC’s chair of research in technology ethics and creative director, said in the news release, “Our team wanted to tell the story of Pearl Brown and her family in a way that honored her life and helped to shine a light on the pain of losing a precious child so young. Pearl’s life is a testament to the grace of God in dark times and the need to walk alongside families long after they make the counter-cultural decision against abortion.
“Even though Pearl’s life was always going to be short, God used her in amazing ways throughout her days on this earth to proclaim the value of every person and will continue to use her story to encourage the church to care for the most vulnerable among us regardless of their age or perceived value in society.”
The documentary – produced in association with VCE Productions — may be viewed below.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.