June 2 Flashback: Now you do what they told ya

June 2 Flashback: Now you do what they told ya June 2, 2022

From June 2, 2009, “Killing in the name of“:

In 1994, as now, the mainstream evangelical groups responded to the slayings in Pensacola by saying all the right things — offering a raft of statements unambiguously denouncing the violence and condemning Paul Hill’s actions.

I remember those statements very well because I wrote one of them. In the ’90s, I was the staff writer for an evangelical — and, therefore, anti-abortion — nonprofit, and so it fell to me to write the first draft of a statement after Paul Hill’s killing spree.

The statement we wrote was consistent with what our group had been saying all along. My boss, in whose name this statement was released, was a lifelong pacifist, a devout Mennonite who has, for decades, unfailingly opposed all forms of violence. And as a good Mennonite, his rhetoric too was always studiously nonviolent — peaceable to the point of blandness, actually.

But at the same time we were drafting and issuing this statement, I was reading dozens of similar statements from other evangelical groups whose rhetoric had never been marked by anything like my boss’s Mennonite pacifism. These were groups that routinely spoke of abortion as “murder” or “mass-murder,” and that routinely spoke of legalized abortion as an “American Holocaust.” They had, for years, been using precisely the same rhetoric and making exactly the same arguments that Paul Hill was now using to attempt to justify his double homicide.

Those groups’ condemnations of Paul Hill then — like their condemnations of Scott Roeder now — ring hollow. Such condemnations seem to be self-refuting. How can they condemn men like Hill or Roeder just for taking their own arguments seriously?

Paul Hill argued that abortion was the moral equivalent of the Nazi Holocaust — just like the National Right to Life Committee, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and dozens of other evangelical groups said it was. If that’s true, Hill said, then he wasn’t merely justified, but obligated to take up arms against abortionists. If you’re confronted with an evil equal in magnitude to that of Adolf Hitler — as all these groups insisted was the case — then surely one is obliged to do more than vote Republican every four years in the hopes of one day appointing enough judges to change the law of the land. Confronted with what all of these groups assured him was the Holocaust, he decided to become Claus von Stauffenberg.

Yet when Hill repeated their own argument and their own rhetoric back to them, these groups all recoiled. They all claimed to share Hill’s premise, but not to share his conclusion. That won’t work. Hill’s violent conclusion arose logically from that shared premise. If he was a madman to be condemned — as all those groups suddenly insisted he was — it was because of the madness of that premise. So how was it possible they could repudiate him without also repudiating that rhetoric that compelled him to act?

What I realized then, in 1994, as I watched these groups line up to condemn violence against “mass-murderers” and to renounce armed opposition to “the Holocaust,” was that these folks didn’t really mean any of it. They were horrified by the spectacle of someone taking their own rhetoric and arguments seriously. “We don’t really mean anything we say,” these groups rushed to announce. “We don’t really believe any of that.”

And since they no longer bothered to claim they believed it, I stopped trying to believe it too.

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.

Read the whole post here.

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