Did R. C. Sproul Jr. Incite Anti-Abortion Violence?

Let me tell you a story of two seemingly unconnected events. Both took place in Bloomington, Indiana, in early April of this year.

Event #1:

The first event took place on April 5th on the campus of Indiana University. It was that evening that Clearnote Campus Fellowship, the student outreach arm of Clearnote Church, brought in R.C. Sproul Jr. as a guest speaker. Sproul Jr. is a popular conservative pastor and theologian. This same group, Clearnote Campus Fellowship, brought Douglas Wilson as a speaker last year (that event drew a large student protest). While Wilson spoke against homosexuality, Sproul tackled abortion.

The above image, which advertises the event, reads:

Abortion: America’s Holocaust

Two Lectures by R. C. Sproul Jr.

Friday, April 5th at 7 p.m., Ballantine 013

Below is a description of the talks from the group’s website:

“The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human.” –Adolf Hitler

With this lie, Hitler justified the cold-blooded murder of 6 million innocent Jews. Today, we feel superior to the Nazis because of our racial tolerance, but we are no better. Instead of calling Jews inhuman, we sentence our own children to death by declaring them to be disposable. Since Roe v. Wade, 55 million babies have been aborted in America under the protection of law.

Though abortion has become a political debate, it’s not a matter of liberal vs. conservative. Those on the political and religious left are not the only ones getting it wrong. In fact, many who oppose the evil of abortion are just as culpable for its continuation.

The Format

Lecture 1: How the Left Gets Abortion Wrong
Friday, April 5 at 7 p.m.
Ballantine 013


Lecture 2: How the Right Gets Abortion Wrong, Too
Friday, April 5th at 8 p.m.
Ballantine 013

Open-Format Q&A

While the group has audio of last year’s lectures by Wilson on their website, they don’t yet have audio from Sproul Jr.’s talks, so I don’t know what exactly was said. From the advertisement and description it appears that Sproul Jr. drew a strong comparison between abortion today and the Holocaust. An article posted on the group’s website the following Sunday began as follows:

Last Friday, Clearnote Campus Fellowship sponsored an event called Abortion: America’s Holocaust. In her Friday IDS article, Casey Farrington questioned comparing abortion to the Holocaust. I agree with Ms. Farrington in two respects.

First, abortion to the Holocaust is hardly an apt comparison to make.

Six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust pales in comparison to 55 million children slaughtered in the US since Roe v. Wade. Actually, 55 million dead babies dwarfs the number of victims killed in the Holocaust, in the Atlantic slave trade, and under Stalin’s regime combined.

If only we had a stronger word to describe this evil, we could use it.

The description of the lectures also suggests that Sproul Jr. castigated his listeners for not doing enough to stop “the evil of abortion,” going so far as to call them “culpable,” and the remainder of the article excerpted above appears to confirm this.

Event #2:

The second event took place in the same town early the following Thursday, April 11th. That morning a man attacked the Bloomington, Indiana Planned Parenthood with an ax.

BLOOMINGTON, IND. — A man broke into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bloomington on Thursday morning and used an ax to damage the facility, police said.

Police arrested Benjamin D. Curell, 27, Ellettsville, said Capt. Joe Qualters of the Bloomington Police Department.

“The suspect made statements indicating the facility was targeted due to abortions being performed there,” Qualters said. “He stated his intent was to damage the building because they ‘kill’ and ‘murder’ babies. He attributed his actions to his religious beliefs.”

This act of vandalism caused thousands of dollars in property damage, but fortunately took place early in the morning before the clinic was open. As a result of the violence, no abortions were performed at the clinic that day. Benjamin Curell may well have felt that this justified his actions—he had, after all, prevented the “killing” and “murdering” of “babies” and temporarily shut down this particular “abortion mill.”

Connecting the Dots

These two events—the guest lectures drawing a comparison between the Holocaust and abortion and the vandalism of the local Planned Parenthood clinic—took place within the same week in the same Midwestern college town. That does not, of course, prove that they were related. Indeed, Indiana Right to Life released a statement condemning the act of violence. This is a pattern that repeats time and again—pro-life leaders and Christian speakers use strident and vivid rhetoric about the heartless murder of infants and draw comparisons between the horror of the Holocaust and what takes place in abortion clinics, and then they act surprised when a random individual somewhere takes the rhetoric to heart and responds by shooting an abortion doctor or vandalizing an abortion clinic. The condemn the violence and assert that they had nothing whatsoever to do with it—because they don’t support violence!

But in this case there is a factor that connects the two incidents. Benjamin Curell was a deacon at Clearnote Church, the organization whose college outreach arm brought Sproul Jr. to speak. In fact, Curell’s father is the church’s associate pastor. In other words, it’s almost certain that Curell heard Sproul Jr. speak the previous weekend, whether he attended the lectures on Friday or sat through the guest sermon on Sunday. While we can’t know what motivated Curell to attack the clinic at this particular time, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Sproul Jr.’s talks painting a vivid abortion/Holocaust comparison and calling out the Right on not doing enough to “end the evil” played a role.

In the wake of the violence and arrest, Clearnote Church released a statement (Benjamin Curell has since been removed from the list of deacons on Clearnote Church’s website).

Yesterday morning the pastors and elders of Clearnote Church learned that Ben Curell, a deacon of the church, had been arrested for vandalizing Planned Parenthood. No one in the church knew about his plans. We are convinced Ben’s actions were not justifiable civil disobedience. The elders and pastors have met with Ben and admonished him.

Throughout history faithful Christians have confessed that from conception children bear the image of God. Therefore, we at Clearnote Church have encouraged and will continue to encourage Christians to peacefully and lawfully witness against the great evil of abortion.

We have counseled Ben to repent and submit to the civil authority that God has placed over us for our good. This authority reflects and points to the judgment of God before Whom we all one day must give an account.

Not surprisingly, this statement fits the pattern I identified above: a man vandalizes an abortion clinic and his zealously anti-abortion church immediately distances itself and said they never advocated that. They want abortion banned without exception, and believe that abortion is the murder of babies, but they would never call for or condone violence. How could anyone suggest a connection?! I’m sure that R. C. Sproul Jr. would do the same, if asked—and because I’m sure he never actually called for violence, he has plausible deniability.

The problem is that you can’t go telling people that abortion is ten times worse than the Holocaust without the chance that at least a few people will really take that to heart and act on it. I don’t think the leaders of the pro-life movement properly respect the simple reality that their rhetoric will naturally lead some people to responding with violence. How could it not? You can’t tell people that babies are being barbarically murdered, chopped to pieces and left bloody in buckets of waste, without at least a few of them deciding that violence is justified to save the lives of the innocent.

It’s almost certainly the case that Sproul Jr. didn’t call for violence against those who provide abortion services, but it’s also almost certainly the case that his inflammatory rhetoric stirred up one of his audience, Benjamin Curell, to violence.

All-Options PRC: The New Pro-Choice Center on the Block
A Fundamental Misunderstanding of Ex-Fundamentalists
The "Real Men" of Evangelical Christianity
Jonathan and Alison Schumm Abuse Case Raises Questions
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.