Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rob Schenck: The Armor of Light, or the Disarmer of Right

I haven't been invited to a screening. Nor have I been provided an advance, review copy on DVD of the Disney documentary, "The Armor of Light." These days -- when the choice is lights, water, food vs. movie tickets for a documentary that is, frankly, a preposterously stupid attack on good people exercising Godly discernment, well, I'm sticking with food, lights, water.

If Rev. Rob Schenck​ wants to send me a copy of his documentary, I'll provide an updated commentary. In the meantime, I'm simply going to respond to Rob's publicized comments on the topic.

To put things in perspective, I became acquainted with Rob and his identical twin brother, Paul, when I served as counsel for Operation Rescue back in 1992, when local abortion businesses sued for an injunction to prohibit the nonviolent antiabortion group from conducting sit-ins at Buffalo, New York, abortion stores. The Schenck brothers were, at the time, co-pastors of a Buffalo church.

I have assisted Schenck, his brother, Paul, and co-laborers of theirs, such as Reverend Patrick Mahoney​, in numerous matters.

Among those matters, I convinced the Marshal of the US Supreme Court to discontinue a long standing practice of prohibiting small groups to pray on the Plaza at the Supreme Court. The Schencks and Mahoney would have the benefit of that decision from then to today, allowing them to gather and pray for the Court, its work, its justices, its decisions, annually on the National Day of Prayer. When the District of Columbia threatened regulatory enforcement action after Faith and Action set up a Ten Commandments Monument in the front yard of the ministry's office across from the Supreme Court, I corresponded with the District and the threats were withdrawn.

So, frankly, there is a history with Rob. Not a deep one, as I had enjoyed, for example, with Pat Mahoney, who seemed to have me on speed dial to assist with legal aspects of pro-life and pro-religious liberty activism, but a history nonetheless.

Nothing about that history would have led me to suspect the Brutus knifing proffered to pro-life Evangelical and Catholic Christians performed by Rob. Allow me to elucidate.

That's what the lead screams in a recent Religion News Service article about Rob Schenck and the upcoming release of the new documentary. Of course, I would gladly welcome Rob's correction of this lead from the Religion News Service. Does he, in fact, oppose Christians owning guns? If you have the chance to converse with Rob when he visits your church, you might ask him, "Do you oppose Christians owning guns?" That question, by the way, is one capable of a simple "yes" or "no" answer. Of course, the theology supporting his view, whatever it is, would be a welcome addition to any answer he might provide.

In that same Religion News Service article, Rob is either badly misquoted, or badly informed. 

Consider this assertion Rob makes, apparently when visiting churches to talk about the issue of gun violence:
Every person who carries in your congregation is prepared to kill someone today. Are you helping them with that decision as a Christian?
That is an ill presumption not formed well on the facts or informed well of the minds and hearts of those who go about bearing arms. Why does Schenck say that such people are going about "prepared to kill someone today"? How perverse that is to another truth, one that is actually informed by the thoughts and intents of good, but well-armed, people. That other truth is this: 
Every person who carries in your congregation is prepared to save lives today. Have you encouraged them in good work they are prepared to do?
Mere semantics?

Well, I suppose.

We could ask the millions killed by the Third Reich, who, unarmed, could not engage in the blessed ministry of life, saving others, themselves, women, children, the elderly, from savage brutality and murder. We could ask them but, alas, they are dead. Disarmed before the opportunity to engage in the life-saving ministry of the exercise of Godly discernment and Godly force, they cannot now tell us whether there is a difference between being prepared to go about killing, and being prepared to go about saving lives.

Rob has had the opportunity to be challenged in his newly found views by others.

He says that "pro-life colleagues say to me, ‘More babies are aborted than adults are shot, so why are you taking this on?’” Well, no one has to be a one-note Johnny, so I suppose the question is a bit silly as stated. One can be working daily at their job, developing skills in their ministry, relating to family, friends, neighbors, and engaged in a host of other activities. So being criticized for "taking this issue on now" seems, at least to me, silly. You see, the problem is not Rob's timing. It's Rob's thinking.

He offered this explanation for taking the issue on: “[E]very life is of equal value.” Well, at the level of generalities it is true enough. But the failureto recognize that an nine-year old boy's life, taken in a murderous act in anurban alley, is of equal value to the gang-banger's, prevented the continuationin this life of Tyshawn Lee. So, honestly, it is an unhelpful truth to say that "every life is of equal value."

Indeed, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian killed by the Nazis for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler, testifies contrarily. Bonhoeffer's actions testified that Hitler's life was not equal in value to the lives of Jews, Gypsies, the handicapped, the prisoners of war, and the millions of others that were going to continue to be killed by Hitler's blood feud against Europe. Bonhoeffer, no doubt, struggled in coming to his fatal conclusion, that Hitler's life was worth-less.

Bonhoeffer might well be a kind of model for Rob, but the effect of that model is a mirror reverse. Bonhoeffer came to the crisis of Nazism's rise and dominance on the continent a pacifist. He left it a conspirator seeking the assassination of Hitler and the overthrow of the Nazi regime. Here is a brief excerpt from a wonderful National Review article, republished on the 70th anniversary of Bonhoeffer's excommunication and exultation to glory:

Rob, as portrayed in the article, is fond of rephrasing well-known aphorisms in ways that impute ill intent and dark hearts to those who will bear arms. For example, there is a saying, "An armed society is a polite society." Rob's more loquacious restatement charges the circumstance with an evil hearted darkness:
When people take a gun on their body, even if only to protect themselves and their loved ones, it changes the relationship you have with another human being because it suggests, at least, that if we find ourselves in conflict, you will be injured or die and I will survive and those are the terms of our relationship.
Really? So you support Trump, another supports Cruz. The resulting dinner table conflict will result in someone being wounded or killed? The hyperbole is great in this one. 

Why is Rob's take on conscientious gun ownership so disposed to perceive evil in the minds and hearts of gun owners? Why not say, instead, "When people are armed for self defense and the defense of others, it assures those that are unable to do so that someone will stand for them when evil would strike at them?"

Oddly, Schenck serves as a religious liberties adviser to Jeb Bush's presidential campaign, a fact I became aware of when he published it on his Facebook account. No word whether the Bush campaign yet feels the need to distance itself from this new opponent of the natural right of self-defense. Remember, as Governor, Jeb Bush signed Florida's Stand Your Ground Law, the much ballyhooed statute permitting use of forced, including lethal firearms,  Of course, the Bush campaign has other, more pressing worries, like whether it can survive to the primaries.

Schenck does seem intent on making a brouhaha about his views. That is evident from his decision to go on the offensive against the National Rifle Association. In the article, Schenck is noted to express "concern about how much the 5 million-member organization is shaping the[] mindset" of their evangelical Christian members. Speaking from both sides of his mouth, Schenck is quoted as saying, “I’m not anti-NRA” while criticizing NRA messages as "fostering a culture that suggests to people they can solve the problem of security threats to themselves and others by simply buying a gun and using it[.]"

It as this point in the article when bad exegesis of God's Word gets pressed into service to try and place Rob's views on a foundation of Holy Writ. Schenck invokes the incident during the Passion of Christ, when Christ rebukes Peter for drawing a sword and using it to defend the Lord from capture. But Rob fails to address the unique character of the events of the Passion, and he neglects to balance that supposed doctrinal footing against other passages of the Bible in which God commands that plows be beaten into swords. Peter's natural response was unnatural in light of God's design. It is important to note, though, that Jesus didn't rebuke Peter for using the very same sword to protect women, infants, children from criminals or tyrants.

On one point, I can agree somewhat with Rob. He believes that many who are opposed to new restrictions on gun ownership and use are motivated by fear.

True enough.

I fear the moment when good people allow themselves to be disarmed, or worse, because of our republican form of government, order themselves to be disarmed. Doing so makes sheep of men, and strips families and communities of their nearest, natural (and therefore God-designed) defenders and protectors against crime and tyranny. Now we know that Rob is being half again too cute though in word choice and reasoning with this last point. He makes fear out as "a failure of faith, so it is a contradiction to the Christian life and message.” Yes, true enough. But that fear is the failure to place one's trust in God. Those who arm themselves because to do so is to keep tyranny and crime at bay do not go about in the faithless fear of the doubter. Rather they go about in the informed, reasoned understanding that broken man has seldom failed to plumb the depths of evil, and so to be armed is to be ready to prevent broken man from violating the image of God in others by heinous crimes and imperious interposition.

When Rob recently posted on Facebook that he had a "confession to make," I paid attention. I don't know Rob well. Perhaps he had one of the common garden variety vices? We had just then seen that R.C. Sproul got stepped back by the Board of Ligonier Ministries when he advised them that his email address would be revealed as part of the Ashley Madison email reveal. As it turned out, though he would not say anything about the relationship between his organization's financial need and his troubling decision to go to war with the Christian doctrine of justifiable force, his "confession" was one of pride. He stated that he had never asked for funding for Faith and Action, and had declined to do so because he enjoyed the appearance on not having to do so in order to survive as a ministry.

His decision to become an apologist for Christian disarmament, an apologist for a reckless, and unscriptural, view of self-defense and defense of others, and an antagonist within the pro-life movement, already often enough fractured, but now being fractured again by his taunt that one cannot be pro-life and pro-gun, these things, appear to be compelling Rob and his ministry to pay a financial exaction. Donations, according to the article, are down.

Not only are donations down, but, from appearances, his views have earned him some distance from pro life leaders, and some admiration from rather strange bedfellows. Where Schenck's views opposing gun ownership were expressed, in the documentary, he is confronted by Troy Newman, of Operation Rescue, who rejects Schenck's take on the matter: “You’re afraid of firearms; I’m not.” On the other hand, an officer of the National Council of Churches, a liberal bastion, spoke glowingly of Rob's conscience-driven transformation: “I could see Rob was willing to go where his conscience was leading him even though this put him at a crossroads with his tribe. That’s one of the most difficult choices a person can make.”

Perhaps Rob's new course is fixed and unalterable. He is, however, a man, and unlike God, he can change. I hope that he does so, that he comes to his senses and turns from this unfortunate and damaging dalliance with the notion that Christianity calls us to unilateral disarmament in the face of bullies and tyrants.