Skip to comments.What Abortionist Killers Believe: The Consequences of a Fringe Theology
Posted on 06/12/2009 10:05:34 PM PDT by bdeaner
The recent murder of late-term abortion specialist Dr. George Tiller cast a spotlight once again on the violent fringe of the pro-life movement. What motivates them? How do they differ from the law-abiding citizens who work and demonstrate against abortion?
Some critics of the pro-life movement have recycled the old charge that what sets the handful of violent pro-lifers apart is their moral seriousness. Unlike the hypocrites who content themselves with protests and lobbying, the argument goes, those who bomb clinics and assassinate abortionists have the courage of their conviction that abortion is murder. Writes William Saletan in Slate, "If a doctor in Kansas were butchering hundreds of old or disabled people . . . I doubt most members of the National Right to Life Committee would stand by. . . . Somebody would use force." The fringe who kill expose the mainstream of pro-lifers as frauds.
The reality is much more interesting. The best studies of pro-life extremism--notably James Risen and Judy L. Thomas's Wrath of Angels--make clear that what distinguishes pro-life bombers and assassins is not the degree of their moral conviction, but their fanatical commitment to a certain understanding of political theology.
When abortion emerged as a public issue in the 1960s, most of those who fought to keep the practice illegal were Catholics. Most Protestants, including virtually all evangelicals, stayed on the sidelines. The Southern Baptist Convention even tacitly blessed Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision by which the Supreme Court held abortion to be an individual right, overturning the laws of 50 states.
Roe divided the pro-lifers. Most continued to work through political channels, joining state affiliates of the National Right to Life Committee. But some concluded that either amending the Constitution or transforming the composition of the Supreme Court might not be achievable in their lifetime. In frustration, they began a campaign of sit-ins. Thus, Roe energized pro-lifers, pushing many activists into the streets.
From the beginning, their civil disobedience was shaped by their theology. The early Catholic activists came out of the antiwar left and were inspired by liberal Christians. John O'Keefe, the founder of the rescue movement (whose name derives from Proverbs 24:11: "Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter"), was deeply influenced by Martin Luther King Jr. and especially the Catholic monk Thomas Merton. O'Keefe wrote a recruiting pamphlet, A Peaceful Presence (1978), that encouraged pro-lifers to practice nonviolent civil disobedience (blocking clinic entrances, for example, and going limp when arrested) as a spiritual act and a symbolic sharing in the helplessness of unborn children.
Early rescuers asked their friends in the antiwar movement and other liberal causes to join them but were roundly rebuffed. Yet even as those pleas fell on deaf ears, conservative evangelicals were rethinking their own political theology in ways that would forever change the rescue movement.
Given the recent history of the evangelical right, it is easy to forget just how apolitical large numbers of conservative Protestants were during most of the 20th century. Evangelicals, in particular, tended to believe that saving souls by spreading the gospel should take priority over political engagement. Most also accepted a view of the end times known as premillennialism, which teaches that the world must fall even deeper into sin before Christ returns to establish his thousand-year reign. This eschatological view encouraged separation from the world and made social reform seem futile at best.
By the late sixties liberals were criticizing evangelicals for neglecting the great public questions of the day. The conservative Presbyterian Francis Schaeffer agreed. More than any other thinker, Schaeffer mobilized evangelicals to join the pro-life movement by changing the way they thought about politics. Contrary to the prevailing emphasis in evangelical churches, Schaeffer insisted that Christians had a duty to make the world better rather than barricade themselves in subcultures. He further taught that political quietism did not follow from premillennialism. As he put it, "Even if I knew the world was going to end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today."
Schaeffer advocated defiance of government in the matter of abortion. In A Christian Manifesto (1981), he concluded, "At a certain point there is not only the right, but the duty, to disobey the state." This was heady stuff for a subculture that had long insisted that any social movement was a distraction from the Great Commission, Jesus' command to his followers to "go and make disciples of all nations."
Nearly every evangelical leader who became prominent in the pro-life movement credited Schaeffer for clearing away the theological obstacles to activism. Among them was Randall Terry, an evangelical convert who turned the rescue movement into something big.
Terry succeeded where O'Keefe had failed. He founded Operation Rescue in 1986 and built it into the largest campaign of civil disobedience since the anti-Vietnam war movement, engineering massive blockades of abortion clinics in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Wichita. The National Abortion Federation estimates that between 1977 and 1993, the movement was responsible for more than 600 blockades leading to over 33,000 arrests.
The success of Operation Rescue turned on the power of particular religious appeals. Terry approached independent fundamentalist pastors and told them that evangelicals had blood on their hands because they had stayed out of the abortion conflict. Critics who disparaged the rescue movement as self-righteous misunderstood it: It was a way for evangelicals to show repentance for their sins. As Risen and Thomas explain, "Terry would sell the church on Operation Rescue as a form of atonement."
The fundamentalists in Operation Rescue did tend to be more militant than the early Catholic demonstrators. Rather than simply go limp and let police officers arrest them, for instance, many resisted by grabbing onto whatever they could. Nonetheless, they were far from violent. (Many, in fact, complained of police brutality.) Not all participants, however, were persuaded by Schaeffer's insistence that their agitation be peaceful. A handful radicalized his teachings to justify and inspire violence.
There is little in Michael Bray's early life to suggest that he would become the spiritual leader of the violent fringe. At Bowie High School in Maryland, he was a football player and state wrestling champion. He was an Eagle Scout. Following in his father's footsteps, he earned a spot at the U.S. Naval Academy.
But Bray dropped out of the academy and hitch-hiked across the country seeking adventure and direction. In Orlando he attended a Baptist tent revival and began thinking seriously about a life of faith. His search for God included flirtations with Mormonism and the Conservative Baptist Association. Under the influence of Schaeffer's writings, however, Bray was drawn to major figures of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, especially John Calvin and John Knox.
Calvin emphasized the biblical doctrine of predestination, that God determined who would be saved and damned before the creation of the world. Not only are the "elect" chosen by God for salvation, but, according to Calvin, they should also govern. Only public officials, however, could legitimately use force to punish crimes.
Knox disagreed. He suggested that any member of the elect, not just public officials, could use force to achieve God's justice. As Risen and Thomas underscore, Knox's teachings convinced Bray that "it was appropriate for the godly man to take the law into his own hands, because his hands were the tools of the Lord." Indeed, Bray actually "came to believe John Knox was speaking to him across the centuries, telling him that it was his duty as a Christian to fight abortion by any means necessary."
Bray soon began orchestrating clinic bombings, for which he would serve time in prison. In 1984 he and his impressionable protégés Michael Spinks and Kenneth Shields (no relation to the author) helped set an annual record for bombings that stands to this day. Abortion facilities were bombed in six cities in the Washington, D.C., region. These early attacks, however, were successfully timed to avoid human casualties.
In the early 1990s, Operation Rescue collapsed under the weight of its participants' exhaustion and Terry's authoritarian leadership. Then in 1994, a new federal law increased the penalties for blocking access to clinics. Now isolated, the seriously violence-prone were left to their own worst impulses. Violence escalated. For the first time, abortion providers were targeted for execution. In the period 1993-98, six people were killed by four shooters, and a seventh lost his life in a clinic bombing.
The extremists coalesced in what they called the Army of God and declared war: "We, the remnant of God fearing men and women of the United States of Amerika, do officially declare war on the entire child-killing industry." Army of God manuals contained instructions on how to acquire explosives and bomb clinics.
For inspiration, the radicals turned to Bray's A Time to Kill (1994), a book that could not have been more different from O'Keefe's A Peaceful Presence. As Risen and Thomas report, Bray became the "national spokesperson for violence and retribution" and his book "must reading among extremists."
One of these was Paul Hill, a radical Presbyterian minister, a graduate of the Reformed Theological Seminary, who quickly rose to leadership in the Army of God. He was the author of the group's infamous 1994 "Defensive Action Statement," a petition endorsing violence that was signed by 29 radicals. Hill would be executed by the state of Florida in 2003 for killing an abortion doctor and a clinic escort.
Shelly Shannon also found inspiration in Bray's writings. A housewife, Shannon bombed clinics in four states before wounding George Tiller in an attempt on his life in 1993. She is now in prison. In her diary, Shannon described her religious experiences just prior to various acts of violence. Hours before she bombed a clinic, for instance, she wrote: "If I die doing this, I die in Christ, walking obediently in a work He gave me." And hours before shooting Tiller, she reflected, "This morning in bed it seemed God asked, Is there any doubt?" "No, Lord. Please help me do it right."
Others, whether or not they were directly influenced by Bray's writings, shared his disregard for the legitimacy and authority of the American government. Scott Roeder, who has been charged with Tiller's murder, is a member of the Montana Freemen, a Christian organization that has declared itself outside the authority of the government and engaged in an armed conflict with the FBI in 1996.
Whatever the shades of difference among them, virtually all the radicals have cherished a bellicose reading of a handful of Old Testament verses, especially Genesis 9:6: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man." The fringe seemingly ignore the New Testament, particularly the passages enjoining respect for civil authorities.
In the aftermath of Tiller's shooting, pro-life organizations were quick to denounce vigilante justice and reaffirm their well-established fidelity to American democracy. As post-1960s activism goes, the pro-life movement is unusually patriotic. Its many Catholic and Protestant participants, moreover, obviously do not understand their faith to require them to kill doctors or nurses--or mothers or fathers--involved in the great evil of abortion. On the contrary, their behavior is generally consonant with orthodox Christian teaching on murder ("Thou shalt not . . ."), civil government ("Render unto Caesar . . ."), and the duty of believers to do good and resist evil by all legitimate means.
Jon A. Shields is assistant professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and the author of The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right (Princeton University Press, 2009).
We have got away from thinking of abortion as an act of violence. Even for most pro-life people, the unborn child is not really thought of as a person.
“I was just wondering where the idea that Protestants were indifferent to the issue until sometime after Roe vs. Wade came from.”
Many Protestants this very day are actually in favor of legal abortion on demand. Remember the location where Tiller the Killer was exterminated.
It's also true that many Protestants are deeply pro-life.
But when folks talk about the delayed Protestant response, I think they're talking about abortion in the modern era. Certainly, going back a century or more, all Christians were very much united on the issues of life, on abortion, and on contraception.
For us Catholics, we view the first breach in the dam as being when the Anglicans accepted artificial contraception in 1930. To us, it then seems a logical progression through the ensuing decades of increasing acceptance on the part of many Protestant communities of the incipient culture of death.
And those Protestant communities that were most politically engaged were usually also those that ultimately took a pro-abortion stand.
It is primarily evangelical (or fundamentalist or “conservative” - to me these groups all roughly belong together even though amongst yourselves, a “fundamentalist” may bristle at being called an “evangelical,” or vice versa - to me, it's easiest to call you all evangelicals) Protestant Christians who have joined us Catholics on the front lines for life. Even pro-life Protestants from mainline Protestant communities that are pretty much pro-abortion often think of themselves as evangelicals within their larger communities.
And although there may have been evangelical Christians who were pro-life going back to the abortion wars that began in earnest in the mid- to late-1960s, this was still a time when most evangelical communities viewed political involvement with some suspicion or concern.
It isn't that evangelicals weren't individually or corporately pro-life. It's that it wasn't until well into the 1970s that many understood that to press their pro-life beliefs, it might be necessary to become deeply involved in politics and public life.
Nonetheless, it is true that the Southern Baptist Convention, from 1971 to 1977 that started out as being rather faintly pro-life but by 1977 could easily be read as "personally we're against it but,..." "Be it further RESOLVED, that we also affirm our conviction about the limited role of government in dealing with matters relating to abortion, and support the right of expectant mothers to the full range of medical services and personal counseling for the preservation of life and health." [from the 1976 and 1979 resolutions of the convention concerning abortion]
But before the 1970s were out, there was clearly a broad and growing movement throughout these Protestant communities to join in the battle for life, to become politically active in the fight.
Nonetheless, it is not unfair to say that this broad-based corporate evangelical response came after the Catholic Church's own response to the modern war over abortion.
I used to work with a Protestant pro-life group, and learned this from the folks who ran the group. What they told me was that the Catholic bishops had actually privately assisted them in setting up their pro-life group, because, well, they were a little late to the game, and needed a little help.
Interestingly, if the black-robed tyrants hadn't ruled as they did on Roe, but had left it to the states, the abortion "rights" movement had already pretty much peaked politically by 1973, and the abortion "rightists" were on the run almost everywhere that abortion had previously been made legal.
It is likely that had Roe not been thusly decided, the mentality of the culture of death and of abortion on demand would have lost its toe-hold in America, and abortion would be legal in few places, likely under much more restrictive circumstances.
This is why the pig liberals took the issue to the judiciary, because they knew they were losing democratically.
The seven tyrants who voted for Roe probably burn in a much nastier place in Hell than even Tiller the Killer likely burns.
You're right. As much as the Catholic hierarchy have done for life, they have also done many stupid things that have worked against life. Regrettably, many of our bishops have been and are feckless.
Which is why we should remember to pray for them even more.
My wife and I have had five children...all grown now. We now have six grandchildren.
I was very involved through each pregnancy with talking to, feeling, and interacting with the children in the womb as soon as my wife began feeling their movement.
I found, at a very early part of the pregnancy that those moving little children interacted with me, if I took the time to try. And they were each different in how they interacted and moved and responded to my touch and voice.
They are living and they are living human children.
When a child is born, it reacts to the spanking because it feels the pain, and thus starts to breathe.
The horror of late term abortions is a gruesome, bloody business with fully formed, live children...who you can bet are feeling and reacting to the violent way they are killed.
But it is the same for younger babies during pregnancy as the movie, "The Silent Scxream" attests.
Abortion is murder, plain and simple...and it has turned into a genocidal holocaust that is being conducted under color of law. It is being done for convienence for the vast majority of the poor wretches of woman who choose it for that reason, and it being done for profit by the butchers mascarading as doctors.
56,000 were killed in Buchenwald...and the world justifiaby, and understandably condemned it and hunted down and executed the perpetrators.
By his own admission, Tiller butchered 60,000 and more, and yet a corrupt law, that has protected the practioners in this gruesome holocaust, protected the man from the true rule of law.
Anyone blind to the sick, evil irony of that have accepted a deparved set of circumstances and strong delusion. We should continue doing all in our pwer to end this sick, depraved genocide. But each and every day we are unsuccessful, another 3,300+ die...and die horribly.
We may find, that because of the depravity, and the sick, tainted, and cauterized consciences of the people involved...that we will be unable to end it peacefully, as our forefathers tragically discovered over slavery.
I mourn Tiller's family at the loss of their father and grandfather. I doubt seriously that they knew the full and graphic nature of what he was involed in.
But I absolutely refuse to mourn the fact that he, Dr. Tiller, a bloody, gruesome killer of fully formed babies...who were alive, who could FEEL THE PAIN of being literally ripped asunder, will himself murder no more.
THE GRUESOME TRUTH OF THE ABORTION HOLOCAUST & THE DEATH OF DR. TILLER [Warning: A graphic photo of death & dismemberment]
It is the grimmest of ironies that one of the most savage, barbaric acts of evil in history began in one of the most modernized societies of its time, where so many markers of human progress became tools of human depravity: science that can heal, used to kill; education that can enlighten, used to rationalize away basic moral impulses; the bureaucracy that sustains modern life, used as the machinery of mass death, a ruthless, chillingly efficient system where many were responsible for the killing, but few got actual blood on their hands.Barack Obama April 24, 2009, Holocaust Remebernce Day, Chicago Sun Times.
I’ve known a multitude of Protestants who don’t fit your storyline.
“Ive known a multitude of Protestants who dont fit your storyline.”
I doubt it, but it wouldn’t even be relevant if you did. Remember, what really counts is ProtestantISM, not Protestants. In other words, you can find Protestants who believe anything and everything. What you need are Protestant “churches” that are pro-life. There are some small quasi-pro-life Protestant sects out there (i.e. they oppose abortion in most circumstances, but not across the board and they see nothing wrong with contraception), but I don’t know of a single Protestant denomination in America OF ANY NOTABLE size or age or influence that is ENTIRELY pro-life.
Doubt it all you want. Denominational labels mean nothing to me.
“Doubt it all you want. Denominational labels mean nothing to me.”
Really? Then why did you just use one: “Ive known a multitude of Protestants who dont fit your storyline.”
Make up your mind. Do they matter or not? If they don’t matter, then don’t use them. If they do matter, then fine, they matter. In either case, no one knows a multitude of Protestants who believe contraception to be a moral evil - because no such “multitude” exists - and no one knows of a single sizable Protestant sect that teaches contraception is a moral evil - because no such sect exists.
Protestant sects of any notable size have made their choice: they are squarely in the pro-contraception, and by default, pro-choice under certain circumstances corner. Period. That may change, but it will change only when Protestants rediscover Natural Law and Church History. I think that may be happening now, but we’ll have to wait and see.
A bizarre, baseless claim. Any Christian who does not accept your pope is Protestant by definition. That includes quite a broad swath of ardently pro-life people, who do not participate in any "denomination." As far as sects, I take it you are unfamiliar with Baptists. Or Pentecostals.
And, magesterium aside, there seems to be quite the heated debate ongoing, pertaining to abortion, within the Catholic church hierarchy, let alone the laity. And yet you suppose that these same people are declining to advocate use of other birth control methods?
So, what was your point, beyond mere partisan cheerleading?
“A bizarre, baseless claim. Any Christian who does not accept your pope is Protestant by definition.”
No. Eastern Orthodox are not Catholics nor are they Protestants. Mt claim was not at all bizarre or baseless. Notice how you are not actually contesting it with an example that would disprove it?
“That includes quite a broad swath of ardently pro-life people, who do not participate in any “denomination.””
No, actually it doesn’t. I said “Protestant sects”. If they’re not in a sect, a denomination, but are individuals then they’re not who I am talking about. You do know the difference between a sect and an individual, right? Which word did I use?
“As far as sects, I take it you are unfamiliar with Baptists. Or Pentecostals.”
Nope. I know that they are only quasi-pro-life. The larger Baptist and Pentecostal sects all support use of contraceptives and many of them believe in limited abortion (i.e. for rape, incest, woman’s life).
“And, magesterium aside, there seems to be quite the heated debate ongoing, pertaining to abortion, within the Catholic church hierarchy, let alone the laity.”
Nope. There is no debate at all among the bishops. None at all. There never has been and never will be. I am sure you can find a dissenting bishops somewhere who flouts Church teaching, but there is no “debate”. This has been a settled “debate” for 2,000 years.
“And yet you suppose that these same people are declining to advocate use of other birth control methods?”
I don’t even know what you mean there.
“So, what was your point, beyond mere partisan cheerleading?”
My point was to point out the truth. I did that and you have not been able to overthrow that so far.
It has corrupted our political system and even our Church, much like slavery did in the 19th Century. It may even bring judgement down on the nation, because we will not have enough children to maintain our polity.
In fact, it may be too late to avoid it in any case. 50+ million babies slaughtered in a free nation.
Ah, yes. You of course mean smack dab in the middle of the one of the most fundementalist Catholic Dioscese in the nation, one whose Bishop has issued press release after press release for years now, about how he is punishing and shaming errant Catholics, and naming them by name.
Until the 1840s, after the development of cell theory, no one knew how a child was created in the womb. Largely because of the vagueness of the science, the law was vague, But where it was aware that an abortion was being indued, the law forbade it. Roe V. Wade is totally dishonest about the history of law of abortion. The law itself did not develop along with the science of fetal development, and is still not. Too many people still think that the child is born a blank slate, when it is clear that the womb is a much more active place than we once though, that he is/she is sensible very early on in his/her development. Consciousness is perhaps no more than the integration of all that the child is already experiencing and it appears to “part” of the child long before the “quickening.” IAC. the law is at bottom nothing more than what happens among lawyers and judges, and they seldom had cause to reflect on what they could not, after all, see. Not until the last 20 years have we literally been able to see the unborn in the environment of the womb. If we spent as much time trying to communicate with the human fetus as we do to trying to talk to apes, who know what we might find out.
Interesting word “fundamentalist.” It is one that “progressives” use to trash anyone who takes the Catholic faith seriously.