“Rusty was a classmate of mine,” Karen Spears Zacharias writes. Rusty, there, is John Russell Houser — the man who killed two women in a Lafayette, Louisiana, movie theater last week. Houser, she says, also “attended Rose Hill Baptist, my home church. He taught Bible to the young boys there.”
Zacharias goes on to say that Houser suffered from mental illness and to make a passionate, compelling plea for a better, more human and humane, response to the millions of Americans who may require mental health treatment.
That’s a good point, and it’s beautifully written. But it’s also a separate point and, in the case of Rusty Houser, it’s beside the point — a way of avoiding the point. I’m sure that Houser, like Elliot Rodger, may have suffered from some form of mental illness. But, also like Rodger, the main point is that he hated women.
As Zacharias says, one in four Americans suffers from mental illness and they deserve the same dignity, compassion and care that we afford (in theory at least) the one in four Americans who will at some point suffer from cancer. But that doesn’t mean that one in four Americans hates women. Millions of Americans struggle with “manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder” — the diagnoses posthumously being attributed to Houser. But virulent and lethally violent misogyny are not symptoms of those diseases and those many millions of Americans are not, like Houser, hateful killers of women.
Houser’s violence was not abstract. He set out to kill women in the audience for an Amy Schumer movie. His lethal violence was an expression of his contempt for and distrust of women.
And that misogyny cannot be abstracted or diagnosed away from the anti-woman ideology he learned in his community, his culture, and, yes, in his church.
I’m not talking about his Southern Baptist church’s opposition to women’s ordination or its blasphemous “complementarian” theology of male supremacy, although that’s also part of it. But it’s possible to remain a Southern Baptist in mostly good standing while somewhat questioning that official required “stance” on the role of women in the church or the role of wives in marriage.
I’m talking about the more fundamental teaching — the paramount religious and ethical teaching of that denomination, which says that women cannot and must not be trusted. Rusty Houser was shaped by a faith tradition that does not abide any question or challenge to its official required stance of legal and political opposition to abortion.
Rusty Houser was shaped by a politicized religious community that routinely compares American women to Nazis and accuses them of killing “unborn babies” and thus being to blame for 9/11. Women, this central principle insists, cannot be trusted with their own sexuality or their own bodies. This is the fundamental fact it teaches about women: they are untrustworthy and irresponsible and morally inferior.
Houser embraced the premise of that teaching and — like Paul Hill and Scott Roeder — he took it all to heart. Now, as with Hill and Roeder, his actions are being dismissed as an aberration — the consequences of his mental illness rather than the consequences of the ideology instructed and required by his church.
Here’s what I wrote about Scott Roeder in 2009. It’s also true of Rusty Houser in 2015:
Now here we are again, 15 years later, as the arguments of the anti-abortion movement are again being proved disingenuous by their own self-refuting statements condemning the latest lethal fruit of their rhetoric of “mass-murder” and “Holocaust.” Once again some sad, disturbed man has committed the error of taking their rhetoric more seriously than it was ever meant by the people who supposedly believed it to be true.
Didn’t Scott Roeder realize that it was all just a game? Didn’t he appreciate that all this talk of Holocaust was just a gimmick to get his fellow Kansans to support a repeal of the estate tax? Didn’t he understand the difference between really believing that abortion is “mass-murder” and just indulging in the smug posturing of self-righteousness that makes the members of the Anti Kitten-Burning Coalition feel a little better about themselves?
No, apparently, he didn’t. Apparently he was just crazy enough to believe that these people meant what they said, crazy enough to believe that they believed their own words and that he should believe them too.
To believe these people — to believe that their words matter or that their words are truthful or that their arguments are made in good faith — is madness indeed.