Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a conversation Patheos is hosting on the new film The Armor of Light. Find more perspectives here.
Pastor Rob Schenck has about as impeccable a conservative pedigree as you can find. He is an evangelical Christian and the founder of the Christian outreach organization, Faith and Action. He is deeply committed prolife leader who was even involved in the early days of Operation Rescue; he became infamous for cradling the body of an infant, nineteen weeks from conception, at a public demonstration in 1992, declaring that this was not about ideology, “This is a dead baby!” He is someone who is most comfortable with the most conservative wing of the Republican party, who resonates with Tea Party members like Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin.
Except when it comes to one issue. One really big issue. Despite fears of being branded a liberal elite who betrayed his fellow conservatives, Schenck was becoming more and more convicted over the years about the way so many prolife Christians were relating to guns. About the obsession with guns. And Schenck was becoming increasingly convinced that the love affair (more than the mere ownership) that evangelicals have with guns was antithetical to being truly and consistently prolife.
Early on in Abigail Disney’s new documentary, The Armor of Light, Schenck describes his initial idealism about fellow Christians and fellow prolifers. He believed so fervently that everyone on the prolife team supported the sacredness of life completely; it never entered his mind that their movement would respond with violence. When the shootings of abortion doctors began, Schenck says, “I was more than shocked. I was stunned. … I thought no one in our world would ever perpetrate such a thing. I was naïve. And then, to see that they would, left me in doubt. Our own people are capable of this. People under my spiritual care are capable of this. That probably means I’m capable.”
This seems to be the beginnings of Schenck developing a more nuanced understanding of evil, an understanding that evil does not just exist in “bad guys out there,” but evil also exists within one’s own heart.
As Schenck encountered the evils of gun violence playing out more and more in the news, he was stirred and convicted, but kept pushing the conviction down. How did someone with so many other issues on his plate have time for this one too? But then one day, the 2013 Navy Yard shooting happened in his own neighborhood. No longer able to silence his conscience, Schenck knew that he had a moral obligation to begin to explore the issue of gun violence, the relation of evangelicals to guns, and how the biblical witness would speak to that.