After the George Tiller killing - some basic questions about American Christian Terrorism

The AP news reports that, "Late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, a prominent advocate for abortion rights wounded by a protester more than a decade ago, was shot and killed Sunday at his church in Wichita, a city official said." It's reasonable to assume unless proven otherwise that Tiller was killed by a Christian terrorist.

Update: AP reports additional facts about the killing including this characterization,
One of the few remaining late-term abortion clinics is in Boulder, Colo., where Dr. Warren Hern denounced Tiller's killing as the "inevitable and predictable consequence of decades of anti-abortion" rhetoric and violence.

"Dr. Tiller's assassination is not the lone and inexplicable action of one deranged killer," Hern said Sunday. "This was a political assassination in a historic pattern of anti-abortion political violence. It was terrorism."

In light of this event it is useful to review some of the pertinent issues that we treated in a course we gave on Religion and Terrorism. We formulate them as basic questions mainly about recent American Christian terrorism, with one added question on the violence in Northern Ireland.

1. Isn't Christianity the religion of peace?

Marc Juergensmeyer in Terror in the Mind of God rebuts the claim that Christianity is the religion of peace:
Despite its central tenets of love and peace, Christianity like most traditions has always had a violent side. The bloody history of the tradition has provided images as disturbing as those provided by Islam or Sikhism, and violent conflict is vividly portrayed in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. This history and these biblical images have provided the raw material for theologically justifying the violence of contemporary Christian groups. Attacks on abortion clinics, for instance, have been viewed not only as assaults on a practice that some Christians regard as immoral, hut also as skirmishes in a grand confrontation between forces of evil and good that has social and political implications.
2. What then 'justified' bombing abortion clinics in the minds of Christian activists?

Juergensmeyer develops the modes by which abortion opponents Bray and Hill clearly rely on religious justifications for their criminal acts.
According to Bray, Christianity gives him the right to defend innocent 'unborn children,' even by use of force, whether it involves destroying the facilities that they are regularly killed in, or taking the life of one who is murdering them. By the latter, Bray means killing doctors and other clinical staff involved in performing abortions.
The primary writings of Mr. Bray are themselves rather terrifying. See: Why I Shot An Abortionist Letter to the White Rose Banquet or A Time to Kill, A Call for Prolife Orgs to Repentance.

3. How do some theologians justify violence within Christian theology?

A prominent thinker who advanced a Christian just war theory was Reinhold Niebuhr.
Niebuhr wrestled with one of Christianity's oldest ethical problems: when it is permissible to use force - even violence - on behalf of a righteous cause. Niebuhr began his career as a pacifist, hut in time he grudgingly began to accept the position that a Christian, acting for the sake of justice, could use a limited amount of violence.
4. What are some of the Christian bases for fostering the role of religion in political life?

Juergensmeyer discusses Reconstruction and presuppositionalism in Christian thought.
Leaders of the Reconstruction movement trace their ideas, which they sometimes called 'theonomy,' to Cornelius Van Til, a twentieth-century Presbyterian professor of theology at Princeton Seminary who took seriously the sixteenth-century ideas of the Reformation theologian John Calvin regarding the necessity for presupposing the authority of God in all worldly matters. Followers of Van Til, including his former students Bahnsen and Rousas John Rushdoony, and Rushdoony's son-in-law, Gary North, adopted this 'presuppositionalism' as a doctrine, with all its implications for the role of religion in political life.
5. How did some Christians justify the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing (April 19, 1995)?

Juergensmeyer explains the thinking of bomber Timothy McVeigh in part as follows:
Christian Identity ideas were most likely part of the thinking of Timothy McVeigh, the convicted bomber of the Oklahoma City federal building. McVeigh was exposed to Identity thinking through the militia culture with which he was associated and through his awareness of the Christian Identity encampment, Elohim City, on the Oklahoma-Arkansas border.

One noteworthy book that influenced McVeigh was The Turner Diaries. Juergensmeyer explains how far these guys believe one must go to foster Christian hegemony over America.
Pierce's novel, written under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald, was the main vehicle for his Identity/Cosmotheist ideas. Published in 1978, it describes an apocalyptic battle between freedom fighters and a dictatorial American government. The novel soon became an underground classic. Although written almost eighteen years before the 1995 Oklahoma City blast, a section of The Turner Diaries reads almost like a news account of the horrifying event. It describes in chilling detail how the fictional hero blew up a federal building with a truckload of - a little under 5000 pounds - of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil. Timothy McVeigh's own truck carried 4,400 pounds of the same mixture, packaged and transported exactly as described in the novel. According to Pierce's story, the purpose of the bombing was to launch an attack against the perceived evils of the government and to arouse the fighting spirit of all 'free men.' According to Pierce, such efforts were necessary because of the mindset of dictatorial secularism that had been imposed on American society as the result of an elaborate conspiracy orchestrated by Jews and liberals hell-bent on depriving Christian society of its freedom and its spiritual moorings.
6. How do Protestants and Catholics justify their ongoing terrorist struggle in Northern Ireland?

Juergensmeyer speaks about both sides of this conflict in Belfast and other areas of Northern Ireland. Tom Hartley represents the Protestant side and Ian Paisley serve as the example from the Catholic side. Juergensmeyer describes Paisely in the following:
Perhaps none of these Protestant figures was more quarrelsome than the Reverend Ian Paisley. Hartley agreed that Paisley, perhaps more than any other figure in the Catholic-Protestant dispute, brought religion into the politics of Northern Ireland and employed religious ideas and images in legitimizing the use of violence. Paisley was a firebrand Protestant preacher who was born into a Baptist family of Scottish ancestry in Northern Ireland in 1926. Eventually he broke with the established Protestant denominations and founded the Free Presbyterian Church, for which his own Martyrs Memorial Church on Ravenhill Road, Belfast, is the flagship congregation.
One really must read one of Paisley's sermons to get the full flavor of his utterances: The Irresistible Weapon of our Warfare in the Battle for Souls Chained by Rome

No comments: