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);
Over at Subversive Christianity is a great post on why even atheists should be frightened by Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. There have been skeptical challenges to Christianity at least since the 2nd Century and challenges to belief in God even longer. We should not fear them. Sometimes our apologetic responses have been brilliant–far too often they have been considerably less than that. But apologetics of all kinds can foster the intellectual equivalent of warfare rather than dialogue and debate. This is true whether the apologist is a theist or, as with Dawkins, an atheist. As a scientist, he is brilliant. As an apologist for atheism, considerably less so. And, as the linked post suggests, his crusading, anti-religious polemic is very intolerant and disrespectful. Atheists ought to worry, because, if that generates a like-minded response, well, they are outnumbered!
But we who are Christians should be concerned too, because the cause of truth will not be served by either an intellectual war or a social one. Let’s find a better way of dialogue–and even vigorous debate, a non-crusading path.