Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Pro-Life Minister Converts to Blame Pro-Life Minister: The Sad Decline of Rob Schenck

I don't subscribe to Time Magazine, I never have and I suppose I never will.

As a consequence, I miss out on Time's annual Man ... Woman ... Trans ... Creature ... Innovation of the Year issue, along with all the other terribly important news that can wait a week till it makes it into a formerly relevant print publication. My loss, to be sure.

An additional consequence, however, is being blissfully ignorant of the meteoric decline of a former client that I would have also counted as a distant friend. Unfortunately for me, and now for you, a former colleague sent me a link to a recent "public confession" that Time Magazine undoubtedly was thrilled to post on its electronic site. That "public confession" is made by Reverend Rob Schenck.

In recent weeks, Rob Schenck has been on a publicity stump for a new Disney documentary, The Armor of Light. Walt Disney's niece directed the documentary. It tracks Rob Schenck's journey from evangelical Christian minister to evangelical minister that now preaches that the possession and use of weapons for defense of self and defense of others violates Christian principles. In other words, it documents the decline of preacher from fidelity to God's Word to dependence on progressive notions about the right and the ability to preserve that life which is given to us by Nature and Nature's God. 

The documentary's website offers this summation of the film:
What price conscience? Abigail Disney’s directorial debut, THE ARMOR OF LIGHT, follows the journey of an Evangelical minister trying to find the courage to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in America.  The film tracks Reverend Rob Schenck, anti-abortion activist and fixture on the political far right, who breaks with orthodoxy by questioning whether being pro-gun is consistent with being pro-life.  Reverend Schenck is shocked and perplexed by the reactions of his long-time friends and colleagues who warn him away from this complex, politically explosive issue.
My take on Rob's new gospel is here

Because nothing sells tickets to documentary screenings like free publicity, Schenck took advantage of remarks by Liberty University Chancellor, Jerry Falwell, Jr., last Friday, remarks calling on students to obtain concealed carry permits and be prepared to defend their campus against radical Islamic extremists. Schenck immediately, and disobediently to the Word of God, drafted a press release demanding that Falwell repent, accusing him of sinning by his words, and distributed that press release to news editors of print and electronic media. I discuss that hypocritical attack here.

Now the sad decline is further documented in Schenck's opinion piece in Time Magazine:
As a long-time pro-life advocate and critic of Planned Parenthood, the recent shooting in Colorado Springs affected me in a complicated way. Like so many, I was horrified by the violence and my prayers went out to all the victims, their loved ones and their community. But it’s another aspect to this tragedy, tied to my own past, which leaves me haunted by its implications.
In the era of Facebook and other social media, is there any more sure indication of the state of confusion in the soul of a friend or relative than when you notice they've changed their "relationship" status to "It's Complicated"? Was it a fight? Was it a snub? Was it a mysterious call and hangup on the phone? Was it a "Like" on a status from someone now viewed as a threat to the relationship?

When Schenck announces that the Colorado shooting, conducted by a man who lived in the woods in a cabin (ala Ted Kozinsky) and who identified himself as a political independent and a woman (ala Rocky Horror Picture Show), has affected him in a complicated way, I get that same sense that he is, undoubtedly, weighted by a sadly confused mind. What is complicated about being outraged at the murderous rampage that killed a law enforcement officer that was a supporter of the pro-life movement in Colorado? 

Of course, for us to understand the complicated way in which this shooting affected Schenck, we are invited to peer into his life and soul. The bulk of the Time piece presents this neat portrayal of pro-life activism abandoned by Schenck by the end of the 1990's:
Throughout the 1990s, I served as an organizer and spokesman for the Western New York State affiliate of Operation Rescue, which staged demonstrations and sit-ins at abortion facilities around the country. Our local group was one of the most active and effective expressions of that movement. 
A major focal point of our efforts was Buffalo GYN Womenservices, Inc., where Dr. Barnett Slepian worked as a physician. I led numerous large-scale blockades of the clinic, on several occasions personally confronting Dr. Slepian. I denounced him to his face for “the killing of unborn children,” and accused him of “murder.”
There are hundreds of pro-life groups across the nation. Operation Rescue, itself, like an amoeba, has divided and subdivided many times over. Yet, in Schenck's self-congratulatory promotion, the Buffalo OR operation was one of the "the most active and effective expressions of that movement." Mayhaps it was, mayhaps it wasn't. But I suppose he must think that this point is important or it wouldn't have made the cut in his confession. The key point Schenck makes here is that there was an actual person -- Barnett Slepian -- licensed as a physician, who earned a living murdering children in their mother's wombs, and that Schenck publicly denounced Slepian for his horrific, and formerly criminal, acts of child murder.

Nothing unusual there. John the Baptist stood by the side of the road and accused King Herod of committing adultery with his brother's wife. The prophet confronted David for taking Bathsheeba and having her husband murdered. The Chicago Seven accused the United States of mass murder in Vietnam. As a matter of the facts of life, folks who do very bad things are often confronted about the fact of their having done very bad things. In the Bible, which I believe Rob Schenck once considered to be, quite literally, the Word of God, the confrontation of sinner with their sin, is the start of a redemptive story told again and again and again.

For Schenck, though, that pattern and fact confronted an equally ugly reality when James Kopp, a man Schenck did not know, did not speak to, shot and killed the abortionist Slepian:
In 1998, Dr. Slepian was shot through a kitchen window at his home and died in front of his children. James Kopp, whom I did not know, but was apparently a sometimes hanger-on in the movement, was later arrested after fleeing to France, extradited to the U.S., and convicted of second-degree murder. He is currently serving a 25-year to life sentence.
Schenck admits that the killing "was utterly disorienting" to him, and that, ultimately, he engaged in an extended period of soul searching, including "spiritual and psychological help." Some aspect of that process was provoked by a reaction of the abortionist's widow to a showy display of empathy made by Schenck. In the aftermath of the shooting, he placed a bouquet of flowers at a makeshift memorial for the dead abortionist, and offered public prayers for his family. In response, he explained:
Lynn Slepian, the doctor’s widow, collected my bouquet, smashed it, and sent it back to me with an angry note, blaming me in part for the violence against her family. She cited the inflammatory language my cohorts and I routinely used about her husband, which she saw as an inducement for Kopp and others like him. Initially, I defended my words. Still, the idea that what I said during those confrontations contributed to her agony was extremely painful. It took a decade for me to realize the damage I had done.
Schenck's transformative process revealed to him that he had the "propensity for treating others with contempt." He admits that's what he "did with Barnett Slepian," and he admits that was "was expressed in [his] language." I know the propensity of some folks to treat others contemptuously. As a man who has himself been confronted for his sin and brokenness, I know that some people have a gift from God that allows them to confront sin and invite repentance without elevating themselves above the sinner. 

Schenck confesses he lacked that compassionate soul. His confession of that defect is no doubt good for his soul. 

He makes an error in logic, however, when he seeks to apply his personal problem and moral defect of character, essentially a confession of sociopathy, to every other person that fits the bill of "pro-life activist." Because he was a contemptuous, compassionless activist, and because that ate away at his soul, and because he has concluded that his sin and his wrong created the conditions in which the abortionist was murdered in his kitchen, this must be the defect of every pro-life activist.

Schenck attempts to transform his personal rehabilitation into a diagnosis of Everyman, or at least EveryProlifeMan:
It is time for pro-life activists to examine the unintended consequences of our often over-heated rhetoric. The Bible warns against using language as a weapon, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) The past 15 years have demonstrated that there are plenty of James Kopps out there, and contemptuous words feed their murderous fantasies.
The problem with treating everyone for cancer because you have had cancer is that many folks just have a common cold, or a ruptured appendix, or allergies, and your inability to fully accept responsibility for YOUR OWN DEFECT translates into a prescriptive assumption that your defect is everyman's defect. In an odd kind of way, this public confession of Schenck's turns into a kind of excuse for his sociopathic activism of the early 1990's. The problem, of course, is just as suggested above, the cancer eating away at Schenck's soul -- leading to a decade of turmoil and reflection -- does not eat away at the soul of every pro-life activist.

Here's a case in point. Flip Benham was also actively involved in Operation Rescue. He also was actively involved in offering the Word of God and the hope of salvation to a woman more often recognized by a judicial psuedonym -- Jane Roe -- than by her real name, Norma McCorvey. But because Benham's pro-life activism was compassionate, soulful and not sociopathic, he became an effective minister of life and redemption to Jane Roe.

In his conclusion, Schenck calls for a tempering of the tongue by pro-lifers:
Being pro-life means pro-actively protecting and promoting the sanctity and dignity of every human life. Doing so includes the speech we employ and the way in which we deliver it. If there is any way to reduce the possibility of further risk to human life, pro-lifers like me should be the first to embrace it.
The tongue is a powerful tool and a dangerous weapon. 

I do not doubt that a world of tempered tongues would be one of greater peace and accord. 

Yet, I do not confuse the willingness of a doctor to tell me to reduce my intake of sweets as a creator of hate or the causer of violence against doctors. Nor do I confuse those social diagnosticians who track the destruction of the role of fathers in the lives of young black Americans (the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, being one such diagnostician) as creators of the plague of black on black violence in urban American centers. And I do not confuse honest speech about abortion, about the murder of children in what once was the ultimate "safe space," with creating the conditions that lead to violence at abortion businesses.

Schenck may not be faulted, I suppose, as some of his recent public comments may just be chalked up to ginning up publicity for "The Armor of Light." But as a former voice of persuasion and value in the pro-life community, there is some danger that the thousands of pro-life activists in America who were not Schenckian sociapathological pro-lifers would be subject to additional, unwarranted obloquy as a consequence of Schenck's Time Magazine visit to the "public confessional." 

I offer no absolution for an act that can only be forgiven when Schenck's currently benighted state is lifted and he turns away from the sorry track he now treads.