Ideologies of Death: Gosnell, Boston, Warren, & Guns

Ideologies of Death: Gosnell, Boston, Warren, & Guns April 18, 2013

Let me start by saying that I undertake this post with some trepidation.

And that’s because the list in the title is unbelievably heavy. Writing about just one of these things would be difficult enough. But all of them?

Additionally, finding a common thread among these items runs the risk of communicating to the less careful reader that they are in some way the same – which they most assuredly are not. The common thread I wish to unravel does not have to do with the circumstances of the events themselves but the ideologies surrounding them – ideologies of death with manifestations both conservative and liberal. As is the habit of this blog, we will try to see a way beyond these ideologies of death to the reality of death. To find, as followers of Jesus, a truly human way forward.

As I write this, the interfaith service honoring those killed and injured in the Boston Marathon bombing is underway. I type through tears.

(For background: Gosnell, Boston, Warren, & Guns.)


A liberal media agenda to avoid covering the murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has been much-heralded by the conservative media.

The man allegedly responsible for killing seven viable babies outside the womb – and one woman by overdosing her pain mediation – in his Philadelphia clinic is now not only the subject of a murder trial but an ideological war. On the right, there is the firm conviction that there has at least been an intentional negligence by the mainstream media with respect to covering this story; because of their liberal bias, and the ties to both corporate and political powers who are “in bed” with lobbies like Planned Parenthood, Gosnell has hardly garnered a mention in the regular rotation. The strong ideological argument here is the same as it has always been: conservatives are a persecuted minority and their cause must be championed whenever there is an opportunity, that power may be regained.

On the left, though, the ideology is similarly strong. There is a smug kind of defensiveness with respect to the nature of this trial – namely, that all of this Gosnell business, while tragic and stuff, is highly exceptional and rare. The safe and legal practice of abortion in the vast majority of clinics does not in any way resemble this situation, like, at all. So don’t worry too much about it! Sure, there is a condemnation of what happened in Gosnell’s clinic, but that is overshadowed by the glowing reassurances of what happens in every other clinic. The goal here is to appear sympathetic but to be actually dismissive, that power may be retained.

In both cases, the ideological claims cannot engage the reality of death on a human level, even when there are arguably good intentions at work. The categories of political power are simply too strong, and an ideological war ensues. For conservatives, the tendency to turn every possible issue into a power grab depersonalizes and delegitimizes their position; for liberals, the tendency to buffer all attacks so as to retain power depersonalizes and delegitimizes their position, too.

What’s a follower of Jesus to do?

We are called to enter into the depths of the reality of death, the same depths Jesus entered into on a Roman cross. That seven precious little babies made in the image and likeness of God were brutally and thoughtlessly murdered by this “doctor” ought to stop us in our tracks; that the only thing separating them from so many other babies unnecessarily aborted in the US each day is a few minutes outside the womb should bring us to our knees. Look at the reality. Enter into it. This is not an ideological issue.

Similarly, we are called to enter into the lives of all involved that are manifesting a trend towards death that leads to actual deaths like these. The women involved, and even Gosnell himself, are desperately in need of the good news of truly human value, healing, and redemption, that comes without politicized condemnation. Likewise, the social realities of death that surround us every day – inequality, poverty, hopelessness – call us to enter in, even as Jesus entered in.


As a New Englander, this bombing hits home. All of us in Vermont have connections to Boston (and my wife is a marathon runner). And, unlike the Gosnell trial, there is not yet an “enemy” to set our sights on, nor a clear understanding of the powers at work. There is only heartbreak and confusion.

But the ideological battle is raging nonetheless, if only below the surface. Lines are being drawn and declarations made which may, if given the chance, remove us once more from the reality of death. It happened after 9/11, remember? On the right, a sudden militaristic patriotism that justified all manner of “taking the fight to the enemy” and “smoking them out of their caves” (leading, of course, to the Iraq War debacle); and on the left, campaigns based entirely on the War’s failures (“I never voted for it!”) and a desperate attempt to get back into power as the solution to all of America’s foreign policy problems. Of course, the innocent life lost in the Towers was soon surpassed by the innocent life lost in bombings and drone attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan (continuing well into Obama’s administration), and the ideologies were soon revealed as having as much if not more to do with American interests in the Middle East as those killed on 9/11.

What’s a follower of Jesus to do?

Right now, so many are still experiencing the reality of death – and we should enter into it, weeping with those who weep, mourning with those who mourn, seeking comfort for the afflicted. But we shouldn’t stop entering into it, not even when enemies are identified and battle lines are drawn. Instead, we should see that the plague of human meaninglessness that causes acts of violence like these must be met with something more than power plays and ideological drumbeats and violent vengeance. It must be met with the gospel of hope – hope in God’s unfailing love for all people and hope in a just new world to come in which all of these distorted death-acts are no longer.


Let me begin by saying that I am so sorry for Pastor Rick’s loss of his son, Matthew, to suicide. And let me say clearly – here, there is no enemy. There is no one at fault. There is only the death-march of human pain that could, at any moment, overcome any of us in this broken world. Matthew was overcome. And he is forever loved by God, and a new world is coming.

When a public figure suffers tragedy like this and chooses to deal with it publicly (on social media, etc.), there can be an instantaneous ideological response. And this was no exception. On the Christian right, there was often cruel, inflammatory judgment – that Matthew could not have been a true Christian if he committed suicide, that suicide automatically leads to hell, that this is the end result of Warren’s shoddy theology and flashy, celebrity ministry. On the Christian left, there was something else – a kneejerk reaction to Rick’s claims of Matthew’s mental illness as nothing more than a smokescreen for the oppressive pain of being a pastor’s kid in the public eye and likely spiritual and emotional abuse from his parents.

Both of these ideologies quickly rear their ugly head and rush past the reality of death.

What’s a follower of Jesus to do?

As a pastor’s kid, I know something of the pain that sometimes attends that role; I also know something of emotional and spiritual abuse, even if unintended by the parents. I even know suicidal thoughts that may come as a result of that experience. To enter into Matthew’s death is to admit that these may be a part of his pain; but that something psychological and biological held the keys to his death. The conservative Christian ideological drumbeat is a perversion of reality; it is, quite possibly, the worst kind of perversion. And the liberal Christian anger toward the evangelical establishment can be just as blinding. We must enter into Matthew’s reality, and mourn with the Warrens.


When over 90% of Americans are in favor of more extensive background checks for gun purchases, and Congress votes the opposite way (mainly to secure the loyalty of the powerful NRA), an eruption of the Real is at work. On the heels of quite possibly the most wrenching tragedy in American history (because it involved so many children) in Newtown, CT, yesterday’s vote is a wake-up call. We are a nation, and a people, bound by our ideologies. We have lost our ability to engage with the reality of death.

I don’t have much else to say about this, but perhaps it brings us back to our first item, Gosnell. Here, there is an enemy, and it is us. We are drunk on violence, addicted to the fantasy of vengeance, pushers of a warped ideology of freedom. Both right and left contribute to this with their pursuit of power at all costs. And the innocent keep dying.

What’s a follower of Jesus to do?

That the Lamb himself is enraged at this injustice is undoubtedly true, but his way of making war on it is profoundly different than our own. It recognizes that seeds of Spirit-led love and peace sown are more powerful than any vote or lobby. To truly enter in, past the realm of ideology, is to enter into the personal, the real. To slowly expand the leaven of meaning back into a world that has all but lost it. To do so through the humble organism of the church, with the most powerful King organizing the efforts, and all hope secure in a just and equitable world without end.

A world that, because of the King’s own resurrection from death, begins now.

What do you think? Is this assessment of ideologies at work accurate? Have I missed something? Let me know.

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