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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  • J Carver

    These tragedies show us as much about the nature of evil as it does about ourselves. We see much about who we are and the strength and depth of our faith when tragedy strikes. The fear, the finger pointing, the opportunistic platform grabbing, the insensitivity, the hate. I think the question you ask is the first one we should begin with in these situations. Where is Jesus is in this? How is a follower if Jesus suppose to respond in the face of such tragedy. We should take heed unto ourselves. We should hear the words of James: Let every person quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger…

  • drmicro68

    Good thought until the section on guns.  The latest Gallup poll reveals that only 4% of Americans care about gun control.  The 90% figure is a blatant lie.  And what about mental illness and the fact that 4 days after Sandy Hook the governor of CT stopped support for families with developmentally disabled members at home.  And the fact that numerous advocates of the gun control bill admitting that if enacted it would not have had an effect on the Sandy Hook shootings.  And holding all of these lofty thoughts without directly engaging with those who are hurting is absolutely worthless.

  • i’m (not very far into) reading The Prophetic Imagination, and it talks about grief as a crucial component of criticism and the prophetic voice. we must be able to weep and to lament cultures of death and all breakdowns in shalom, and i appreciate your angel in this.
    i’m extraordinarily wary of “ideology critique” (especially from christian men, so there’s my bias:), but i think your explanation of a liberal response to Gosnell is a caricature. feminists care about it a great deal, and it’s been on our radar for years. the horrors there aren’t an aberration we’re sweeping under the rug at all but something inextricably tied up in issues of race, economics, PA policy, and accessible/affordable healthcare. feminists believe that Gosnell’s “practice” (which ill-served mostly poor and desperate women) is an inevitability of restricted access to both healthcare and legal abortion. 
    i’m not really here to argue a pro-choice position but to say that i share your grief and am neither smug nor feigning sympathy for the victims or the patients. it’s a terrible situation all around, and i’m glad folks are talking about it. it has been frustrating to read men at giant outlets assume that since *they* didn’t know (care?) that their colleagues mustn’t have been writing about it for years (except they were). on the right folks see it as a religious issue, and on the left folks see it as a women’s issues (and worse here, about women of color). either way, it’s easy to bury–or what is more likely the case, overlook/ignore in a news cycle not much interested in either.

  • @drmicro68 Ok. I’ll try to look into the stats some more. But let me ask you: How could it hurt to have tougher gun laws? If it would protect *ANY* innocent people, why not do it? This is where the eruption of the Real occurs, IMO.

  • suzannah | smitten word Thanks for this insight Suzannah. You are probably hitting on something of my own ignorance/bias here, and I appreciate it. The person that I’ve seen making the most noise about “liberal media silence” on the trial is Kirsten Powers (who I think is a Democrat commentator at Fox News, whatever that means :). She’s saying that the feminist media has also held back. But I don’t know if she’s right or not, etc.
    I think your calling my representation of the liberal response a caricature is totally right. It is at least a generalization, and probably a biased one. Itwould be better to say, where this kind of response is happening (and I think it is happening in certain instances), empty ideology is definitely at work.
    Christian dudes critiquing everything – guilty. 
    Thanks for keeping me in check :).

  • zachhoag i love critique! i only cringe when i see dominant voices dismiss marginalized perspectives wholesale as operating out of “ideology” or identity politics (which i’m not saying you’re doing here). it’s just a trend i see in which voices that are already operating from a perspective of power/authority assume some sort of objectivity, like their not being black/straight/female means they somehow hold a purer perspective and that their own identity (the default one?) doesn’t figure into their own experience/assumptions/POV.

  • Joshkap

    Zach,  I like the approach here.  Jesus engaged the world and we should
    too.  Jesus rocked the religious/political establishment, perhaps we
    can too.  
    I appreciate you’re lead-in to the abortion issue; 
    that has been a defining issue for evangelicals.  Is it possible that
    Jesus would surprise us even here?  You were brave even to question the
    power politics involved, but do you go far enough?  You could have noted
    that some believers are challenging the abortion “politic” on biblical

    And you could have injected more truth into the conversation, ie: the vast majority of abortions are done early into pregnancy.
    gun control, it’s hard to find middle ground, because statistics change
    dramatically with how the “control” argument is worded.  And apparently
    there is no proper term delineating ‘gun that is way overpowered for
    citizen use’ most non-gun people think that “assault rifle” fits that
    term, but gun people disagree.  Again, I appreciate that you exposed the
    power politics here, but again I think the solution is also more
    truth.  John Stewart at the Daily Show nailed it back in January, the
    majority of gun crimes are committed with illegal guns and the problem
    of illegal guns is fixable.
    I appreciate your work defining these four “ideologies of death”
    issues,  but I think you missed one big one, Death doctrine itself,
    Hell.   I’m going to say it a little hyperbolically, but consider the
    perspective minus the emotion.
    I think hell doctrine under-girds a whole network of pharisaic
    theology,  legalistic “gospel” presentations and gnostic neglect for
    justice. I think it leads us to a baalish view of god, where he is mean,
    and where believers are then conditioned to behave irrationally and even fanatically. 

    are 13 references to hell in the NT, 0 in the OT.  I’m with Greg Boyd
    and N.T. Wright and John Stott on this one, Gehenna and Hades don;t an
    eternal hell make.

  • Joshkap thanks for the kind words, and pushback. Re: Fred’s post, I’m a bit confused on his conflation of the Junia passage with the Mosaic codes – there is a common ground of politicized translation, sure, but the desired outcome seems contradictory (i.e., the slavery codes are negative when properly translated while the miscarriage code and Junia passage are, for the author, positive when properly translated). So, I’m not exactly hermeneutically comforted by the miscarriage code is what I’m saying.
    Stewart – I get it and agree, mostly. But, if any violence against innocent people may be prevented by stricter laws, what’s there to lose? From a Jesus perspective especially, hell, let em beat them into plowshares.
    Speaking of hell – not sure that I totally see the connection for including that in this piece, but I’m with you, Boyd, Wright, and probably Stott on this one anyways :).

  • Guest Blogger

    Jesus is with those who are engaging the hurting and grieved and He is also with those who are boldly facing the perpetrators of such hatred.  
    James 4:17 – “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
     The biblical application here is that as Christians we are to respond on all fronts, using the gifts that God has given us to minister with.  Some are caretakers, pointing to Jesus for comfort and healing.  Some are helpers, who helped move debris for first responders to reach the victims.  Some are evangelists, who preach the need for Jesus to all who will listen.  And some are pastors and teachers, preaching the truth of God’s word, the need for repentance and regeneration, and the love and value for God and our fellow man.

    The important thing is that we respond, and don’t sit and do nothing at all.

  • @Guest Blogger appreciate the sentiment, though I’m not sure what you’re responding to in my post.

  • Joshkap

    Zach, I’m an upstate NY moderate; same age and evangelical leanings as
    you.   My comments on this blog are usually pushing the envelope, but
    it’s not because I disagree with you.  I appreciate the tone you set, I
    try to play off of that, like good cop, bad cop.
    abortion.  I’m just hoping for political moderation in the church. I
    hear the responses back to me, “It’s murder,” “it’s wrong, just look at
    these poetry passages in Jerimiah”, “pro-life is like our abolitionist
    movement, would you have opposed that?”  As we hear all of this over and
    over, it’s plain that the pro-choice crowd gets stupider and stupider. 
    Except maybe that’s not really the case.  Maybe those premises are
    bogus, maybe the church has been hijacked by political extremists. 
    Jesus and Paul seemed to emphasize an “incarnational” Gospel
    proclamation.  The people that I’m supposed to be loving to Christ are
    generally democrats.   I think these assumptions deserve more research.
    One good source is Fred’s Slactivist blog, he engages the topic of abortion a lot.  Another is – Time magazine quoted this group as the reliable source. 
    In your post you brought forward two specific points that deserve some
    moderating, late term
    abortions are terrible but you should have noted that they compose about
    1% of all abortions in the US. They are extremely rare. The other point
    was media bias, which if it were true it didn’t take much to correct
    because the story has been picked up everywhere now. 
    I still
    think that particular argument on Exodus 21 works on most levels.  It’s
    clear that God would accept imperfect rules (even on slavery) for the
    sake of his mission in that society. The exodus 21 ruling is actually
    much more egalitarian compared to the same section from the code of
    hammarabi.  Fee and Stuart cover this well in How to Read the Bible for
    All It’s Worth.  I know it might sound silly to applaud the Old
    Testament for some less than perfect moral law, but Boyd puts that issue
    into an interesting hermeneutic:  ~ (God as missionary, even before

    Guns: I’m for smart legislation too, though I can
    appreciate politicians doing some triaging.  I wouldn’t want to lose
    that microphone over a small cause, like which guns should legally be
    allowed pistol grips or how many rounds per cartridge 7 or 10.  If I
    were a politician I’d want to save my neck for bigger causes like
    increasing suicide rates among veterans or the lyme epidemic or better
    funding for elementary education.
    Hell:  I thought hell fit in this post because it’s an ideology of death with manifestations both conservative and liberal.
    You surveyed 4 manifestations of death in our culture, I then looked
    more inward at OUR culture and wondered how does our theology of death
    manifest.  My one analogy comparing the common Eternal conscious torment
    (ECT) view to baalism still haunts me.  Are our brothers following
    another god under a false label?  Anyone who labels themselves a
    Christian gets labelled together with me.  Generally I’m very
    ecumenical, seeing unity in common belief in the story and creed.  But
    showing grace to the ECT crowd, is a missional discipline.  Where do I
    draw the engagement line there?  I imagine that I would be engaging them
    as plain heretics if it weren’t a dominant view since Christendom.  But
    God shows them grace for the moment, even if their God can’t do that
    later, I guess I should follow suit with him.  Your thoughts?

  • Joshkap hey man, I am DOWN with your comments, including the first one! just to get that out of the way. pushback is very appreciated. no negative feelings on my end. (also, i think I found you on FB and sent a friend request just now :).
    thanks for clarifying the hell connection. i agree, totally. honestly, if that issue was in the church ‘news’ lately, i probably would include it on the list!
    the only continued push i’d make is on the abortion point. you are right about late-term abortions – totally. but i do think pro-abortion ideology (not talking about legal choice, per se) is often a power-based thing, which leads to an inability (even if well intentioned) to enter into the reality of death. The eruption of the real happens in this obviously extreme case – if pro-abortion powers are hesitant to enter in and grieve, if they are defensive or dismissive, it casts doubt on the ideology which protects abortion on demand in general, imo, especially if we are operating with a common sense biology, etc.
    the ideology on the right is equally – more? – hardened, but i think gosnell revelas more of the left’s ideology (though i at surveyed the power-grab on the right as well).
    have a great night bro!

  • SethBouchelle

    Great post Zach! I think you’re spot on: we live in a culture whose foundation is built on the myth of redemptive violence. We hope that if we can just name the culprit and bring it to justice then the evil will have been overcome, as if “the evil” did not exist in all of our hearts and justice is a goal obtainable without real transformation, understanding, and forgiveness. I think you’re right, Jesus calls us to look deeper as the gospel subverts our ideologies and conceptions of what principalities and powers are really at work.
     Thanks for the good words and I would love to continue the conversation. I have attached a link to my blog below if you’re interested:

  • Jeff Noel

    Zach, you gave a very different and needed point of view on these subjects. I say “needed” because it was “different”. I like to hear different points of view on subjects so that I can see more clearly about my own point of view. I would like to comment that I am not inclined to agree with you about the gun control issue. You stated that, “over 90% of Americans are in favor of more extensive background checks for gun purchases”. I would like to point out that using a CNN story, who is a liberal-biased media btw, that states that 90% of Americans are in favor of more extensive background checks doesn’t credibly support your statement on the subject. There are many other polls that state the opposite. I also would find it hard to believe that the majority of those congressmen/women that voted against gun control would have done so against the will of their constituents. Thank you again for your point of view and have a good day.

  • stephroll

    I refuse to read other comments as I want to give you my opinion without others filtering:
    Tears. Seriously. The Gosnell situation has broken my heart. The Warren’s have broken my heart. I am broken hearted by the pain I see in people all around me, and the judgement placed on all of God’s beloved by those who should weep with them. I have been angered at the blood thirsty wolves who seek to appropriate other’s pain for their own agendas. Thanks for putting into words what my heart was feeling.

  • SethBouchelle Sorry I missed this comment before Seth. Agree, and I’ll check out your blog in a bit. Have a great weekend :).

  • Jeff Noel Thanks Jeff :).