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Monday, March 14, 2005

Answering the questions: "Inside the Religious Right"

Little did I know when I wrote this article that people would still be reading and commenting about it a month later. Considering the provocative issues that I discussed, I gave little thought to the reaction that others would have to this article. My main concern was being as open and honest as possible. With one minor exception, I haven't been attacked for what I said in this article.

However, this article did raise some questions that I have decided to address. I would often prefer my articles to speak for themselves, but at the same time I don't want to be perceived as avoiding tough questions. My readers are honest and open and expect the same from me.

I also want to make sure that I have been fair to those that I mention in my writing. Some have objected to my mention of individuals in the same article as extremists. I didn't think that I had to say that Rep. John Linder or former Rep. Pat Swindall are in no way extremists in either action or words. Now I have.

Question: Isn't it a little much to use the word "terrorism" in conjunction with Operation Rescue?

Answer: This question has been asked of me in comments, in emails, and even in phone conversations with people who read the article. I agree that one should be very careful in the words they use, particularly ones so fraught with emotion. I'd like to give some additional details as to why I used the term "terrorism".

Let me first say that the vast majority of people involved in Operation Rescue were very peaceful, law-abiding citizens who would most likely feel guilty about receiving a parking ticket. The same could be said about most of the leaders. This may seem a strange statement to make of people involved in protests of this nature. However, during the Operation Rescue protests, the people I observed sat quietly, prayed, and were very respectful of the police officers who came to arrest them. I will not take the time to go into full detail as to why I think many of the efforts of Operation Rescue were misguided and even counter-productive; many others have written about this much better than I could.

While most people involved in Operation Rescue were peaceful, there were some who were not, most notably Jim Kopp, who also went by the moniker Atomic Dog. I met and got to know Jim very well during the summer of 1988 in Atlanta. Jim was a quiet guy and seemed rather mischievous. He would occasionally joke with me about blowing up abortion clinics. I didn't think much of it as I thought he was trying to impress me. (though I'm not sure why anyone would be impressed by such statements).

Unfortunately, Jim was not all talk. In 1998, Jim shot and killed Dr. Barnett Slepian in Buffalo, New York. Subsequently, Jim was on the run from authorities for a number of years. During this time, Jim was on the FBI's most wanted list. Jim was finally caught in France and extradited to the United States, where he confessed to the killing of Dr. Slepian in 2003.

Shelley Shannon was another involved in Operation Rescue who resorted to violence. Shannon set fire to multiple abortion clinics in 1992 and in 1993 she shot Dr. George Tiller in Kansas.

If killing people and burning buildings to further a political agenda doesn't qualify as domestic terrorism, I'm not sure what does.

One domestic terrorist group that was born out of the 1988 protests in Atlanta was the Army of God. A rather ironic name considering the evil intentions of this group. Certainly one can argue that the forming of the Army of God was an unintentional consequence of the protests in 1988. Nevertheless, the idea that Christians can and should break the law to stop abortion gained prominence because of the actions of Operation Rescue.

While Operation Rescue leaders such as Randall Terry and Joseph Foreman spoke out against violence, much of the rhetoric at Operation Rescue meetings attracted people with extreme beliefs. While I would never charge the leaders of Operation Rescue that I have met with being terrorists, I do believe that their rhetoric gave some justification to the more extreme measures taken by Jim Kopp and Shelley Shannon, among others.

Pastor Jeff Myers gives a very good summary of his concerns with groups like Operation Rescue in this paper that I recommend for those interested.

Question: Why do you seem to turn your back on politics in your statement, ‘I realized that politics could not heal this world of evil. As a result, I swore off politics completely’?

Answer: I suppose I wasn't clear in this statement. This statement describes where I was at that particular time in college. In a lot of ways, I have come full circle in my views as to how Christians should be involved in politics. By saying full circle, I mean that my views as a Christian should most certainly inform my voting and political involvement. But I don't think that the issues are so black and white as I once thought. Maybe a better way of putting it is that I am less confident that I can know the truth as I once thought.

I am a little put off when I hear some say that Christians shouldn't let their beliefs enter into their politics. This is complete nonsense and impossible. My entire worldview is informed by being a Christian. I can't think about anything (politics, art, literature, etc.) without viewing it through the lens of my relationship with Jesus Christ.

At the same time, I have become less and less willing to say what is the "Christian" position on various political issues, with a few exceptions. I think that Christians can confidently speak out against things such as slavery, apartheid, and poverty. However, there may be a variety of ways to approach these issues with varying pros and cons.

Once again, I very much appreciate the comments of my readers.