Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Frank Schaeffer on Anti-Abortionist Responsibility for Tiller’s Murder

I urge everyone to read this article by Frank Schaeffer.  I don’t support any claim that ALL pro-life groups support anti-abortion violence.  Just the opposite.  Nor do I want to infringe on the civil liberties of anti-abortionist groups.  I supported the Free Access to Clinic Entrance legislation, but I do not want to oppose silent (or even noisy) vigils outside clinics where abortions are performed.  Even if you are very pro-choice, far more than I am, please consider the consequences–we don’t want to lose the right to protest peacefully outside military bases or recruiting centers, right?  Free speech, even offensive or violent free speech, is to be protected.

But there is a far-right network of groups that supports anti-abortion terrorism that operates on the fringes of the pro-life movement.  Groups like Operation Save America, Operation Rescue, Missionaries to the Unborn, etc. celebrate people like the murderer of Dr. Tiller as HEROES–comparing them to those who tried to assassinate Hitler in order to stop the Holocaust or to John Brown who tried to incite a holy war against slavery.  They are NOT trying to persuade citizens to change the laws.  They are not trying to create the climate in which most abortions are rejected because babies are welcomed.  They are not trying to prevent unwanted pregnancies or make adoptions easier.  They are not, as Feminists for Life and others do, connecting abortion to the second class status of women, to male sexual predation (including date rape, incest, and much more).  They are not even trying to get <i>Roe v. Wade</i> overturned.  They are, instead, trying to create an atmosphere of fear in which women fear to seek abortions because of threatened violence, doctors and hospitals fear to provide abortions because of threatened violence, and even churches and other faith groups fear to welcome pro-choice members like Dr. Tiller because of threatened violence.  They are advancing their goals by means of terrorist violence–and it is working.

Frank Schaeffer shows that while most Religious Right leaders did not directly participate and usually condemn the murders, they contributed to the atmosphere that encourages this violence.  I remember reading Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto in 1980–it encouraged the overthrow of the American government by force if all else failed in saving “Christian civilization.”  It justified violence against abortion providers and pro-choice politicians if all legal and nonviolent means failed.  The Religious Right still has members and even leaders who promote this–and far more who give ambivalent voices.

Dr. James Dobson gave away 100,000 copies of Frank Schaeffer’s A Time for Anger which counseled anti-abortion violence as a last resort.  During the 1990s, I engaged via the email list of  the Society of Christian Philosophers, a young student at Jerry Falwell’s school, Liberty University.  I was a seamless garment, consistent-ethic-of-life person at the time and, in dialogue with me, this student became one, too–eventually going to Duke Divinity School to study with famed pacifist theologian Stanley Haerwas.  But the student also revealed to me that the “bomb the clinic/kill the abortion doctor” view was widely held among both faculty and students at Liberty University.  When Jerry Falwell himself retreated from this view after a series of bombings in the ’80s and ’90s and called on Christians to use ONLY LEGAL MEANS to end abortions, the student (before I became his friend) led a petition drive among students to reverse this policy, calling it a sell-out to the unborn.

There are websites where rightwing anti-abortion groups make heroes out of the assassins of doctors who perform abortions–getting others to write to these assassins in jail, and even to emulate their actions.

If terrorism is the use of violence and the threat of violence to intimidate others for political gain, then this is terrorism.  And if al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah are terrorist groups who promote terror tactics using warped forms of Islam, then many of these anti-abortion groups are terror networks who appeal to warped forms of Christianity for their justification.  They are Christian terrorists.

Suppose I am wrong in claiming that while all abortions are tragic, some are the lesser of evils.  Suppose the pro-lifers are right that all abortions are the moral equivalent of murder.  Then they are right to oppose this and to try to change this.  But they cannot do so by adopting violent means.  Violence just begets more violence in a downward spiral.

I have seen this before.  In the early 1960s, I saw the assassinations of the brothers Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many more martyrs in the struggle against segregation.  By the late ’60s and into the early ’70s, the Left in America (including factions of the peace movement and the student movement, along with the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement) had adopted the same kinds of violent terror tactics that the White Citizens Councils and KKK and John Birchers had done earlier.  The bombings of black churches led to the bombings of ROTC buildings and National Guards barracks–until by 1974 one had police in many cities as practically occupying armies.  The very fabric of our society threatened to unravel.

I don’t want to see this repeat–by either the right or the left.  Yet. the first reported arson on a clinic offering abortion goes all the way back to 1976.  Since that time there have been over 200 arsons or bombings of clinics and hospitals where abortions are provided.  Beginning with the assassination of Dr. David Gunn in 1993, there have been at least 10 assassinations and attempted assassinations in the U.S. and Canada of health personnel connected with providing abortions. (Dr. George Tiller himself was shot in both arms in 1993 and now has been killed in his Withita, KS church.)  Both clinic personnel and women seeking abortions have been attacked with acid in over 100 cases since 1993.  From 1998-2002 over 500 letters containing or threatening to contain the deadly virus Anthrax have been mailed to clinics and health care providers connected to abortion services.  Women seeking to enter clinics offering abortions have been punched, kicked, beaten (all the while people yell, “We love your baby!”), given abusive speech, and much else.

The result of this terrorism has not been to change the laws–but it has reduced greatly the number of places where women can seek legal abortions in this nation.  U.S. Marshals are having to provide protection to vulnerable doctors and other clinic personnel in the wake of Dr. Tiller’s murder.

If you and your church oppose abortion without making clear your opposition to all such violence, then you are part of the problem.  If you use terms like “Tiller the killer” and make comparisons to Nazis or talk about the the murder of abortion providers as “justifiable homicide,” then you are part of the problem.  You are contributing to an atmosphere of violence.

But you aren’t ending abortions, but merely driving them back underground.  You are not creating the kind of culture which can welcome life.  And, like the Left wing zealots that bombed ROTC buildings or the Rightist racists which bombed black churches, you are threatening the fabric of our democratic society.

Vigorous debate, yes.  Political organizing, yes.  Peaceful protests, yes.  Creating alternatives, yes.  In all issues of conscience this is our duty.  But violence, no.

Christians in this nation have been shocked by the recent Pew Report showing that all churches are declining and that “none of the above” is a growing religious category.  I’m not.  When the German churches backed Hitler, the next generation grew disillusioned with the churches–and they have never fully recovered.  When the American churches of the 50s and 60s supported segregation and the Vietnam war, they lost the next generation.  Now we have a generation which has seen huge church support for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, for torture, for the demonization of Muslims and gays, and for anti-abortion violence.  So, we look to lose another generation. 

U.S. Christians,  it is time we took a long look in the mirror.  In the words of the famous Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

 Operation Rescue is a group that constantly tries to have it both ways.  It always bemoans clinic violence, but spends more time saying that the doctors like Tiller had it coming (Randall Terry,”He reaped what he sowed.”).  They also tend to share membership overlaps with the crazies in the fringe groups.  For instance, it seems that people in Operation Rescue helped Dr. Tiller’s assassin track his victim’s movements.

Groups encouraging anti-abortion terrorism in the name of being “pro-life” include:

The Army of God; American Coalition of Life Activists; 34 signers of the “Justifiable Homicide” statement celebrating the murder of Dr. David Gunn in 1993.  Operation Save America; Missionaries to the Unborn (has deck of “black heart” cards with “death merchants”–doctors who perform abortions–on them; rebukes pro-life groups for denouncing Tiller’s murder or for offering to aid the police in capturing those who would commit clinic violence);


June 2, 2009 - Posted by | abortion, assassination, atheism, Christianity, civil liberties, human rights., terrorism prevention, violence


  1. Michael,
    You write:

    They are NOT trying to persuade citizens to change the laws.

    This is not a viable alternative and you know it. The courts have sealed off that possibility. That is as much to blame for the violence.

    Comment by Mark Olson | June 3, 2009

  2. I respect the right of people to favor and oppose abortion. However, I do not favor violence of any kind. To murder an abortion doctor is “MURDER”. Only Jesus can judge abortionists and murderers.

    Comment by Paul | June 3, 2009

  3. For some reason Frank Schaeffer’s mission has become en masse stereotyping-and-tarring of the religious right and Republicans. (E.g., he wrote an open letter to Pres. Obama helpfully explaining that “the Republican Party is controlled by two ideological groups… the Religious Right [and] the neoconservatives…Between them there is no Republican ‘center’ for you to appeal to, just two versions of hate-filled extremes,” and literally advising Obama not to cast his pearls before swine.)

    But Schaeffer aside, violence does not beget a culture of life. Probably the answer is something really obvious, like prayer.

    Comment by K Gray | June 3, 2009

  4. The Islamic terrorists aren’t out to kill people just because they hate them either, they’re attacking the west because of the sinful culture we have. Because we have abortions, usury, sexual promiscuity, etc, etc. All the same moral items Christians agree with (mostly), yet the extremists feel they have to take the world by force to impose morals on them (like they’re doing in Somalia right now).

    It’s the same with these anti-abortion terrorists (let’s use this terminology from now on). Even if they have pure motives, it is their actions that are wrong.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | June 3, 2009

  5. I find that Schaeffer’s testimony fits with my experience. He was there, behind the scenes, when much of the modern Religious Right formed its incestuous union with the GOP. I saw similar actions as he describes take place in the Southern Baptist Convention when the Right took over. I was a seminary student during that takeover. I worked in a place that gave me access to documents that were supposed to be destroyed. I kept some and made copies–they show much that the fundamentalists deny was true.

    So, I believe Schaeffer, who tells his full name, rather than someone who won’t identify himself/herself, K.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 3, 2009

  6. IMO Frank Schaeffer can apologize for himself however he wants (what he actually did or said, I’m not sure), but his father Francis Schaeffer died 25 years ago, and Frank continues to blame him — in books, columns and on TV — for all that Frank dislikes about evangelicalism, the religious right, Republicans, and the anti-abortion movement including specific murders. There’s something odd about the way he pops up regularly to take and spread blame for so many things. And as you probably know, some of Francis Schaeffer’s friends and contemporaries sharply disagree with Frank’s conclusions.

    Re operation rescue, I’m no big defender but, “people in Operation Rescue helped Dr. Tiller’s assassin track his victim’s movements”????

    What the article says is that Roeder called Operation Rescue to ask about Tiller’s court hearings. That is much different. It is the difference between co-conspirators planning a murder and a guy calling PETA to ask about Michael Vick.

    Comment by K Gray | June 4, 2009

  7. Actually, Mark, that’s not strictly true. They could push for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade. But they would have to persuade the majority in Congress to pass it and 2/3 of the state legislatures to ratify it. The problem is that the majority of Americans (according to every poll since 1973 except 1 last month) want to uphold Roe–and the pro-lifers have done a very poor job of persuading people otherwise.

    Also, even if it is difficult to persuade enough people to make overturning Roe by constitutional amendment practical in the short run, one can work for legal restrictions and test how they hold up in the courts–which are far more conservative now than in 1973.

    Finally, I was not referring to mainstream pro-life groups which ARE trying to persuade citizens to change the laws, but to the radical extremists. Blaming the courts for the violence is despicable. The violence is SOLELY the responsibility of the anti-abortion terrorists–and the groups like Operation Rescue which encourage them and then try to wash their hands of the blood of doctors persuing legal activities.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 4, 2009

  8. Before people fall on the sword and celebrate Franky Schaeffer as some apostle of truth, read this:


    He has a vendetta against his parents that has been going on for decades and pretty pathological in its dishonesties and misrepresentations of particularly his father. And he takes the cake in hateful and angry rhetoric himself. People who want to use him as some source for truth on religious right better think again.

    Comment by Punisher | June 7, 2009

  9. http://www.verumserum.com/?p=5973

    Comment by Punisher | June 7, 2009

  10. One more thing…Franky has been on this smear campaign against his parents since he became Eastern Orthodox and thought apparently that this was acceptable within his newfound faith to trash those of his former Protestant faith, especially his parents. Fellow Orthodoxs (as well as Catholics) find him a very disturbed human being long before he said anything about abortion or politics on the liberal side.

    Comment by Punisher | June 7, 2009

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