On the Colorado Shooting and the Pro-Life Response

I recently had a new article published for Summit in which I weigh in on the Colorado shooting, the media’s response to it, and the proper pro-life response to the media. Little did I know that the country would also be reeling from San Bernardino, which happened almost literally as I was writing this piece. It was streamlined somewhat for Summit, but I wanted to publish the full version here. Among other things, my original version explicitly discusses the contrast of this shooting with Islamic violence, which can and should be linked with the religion of Islam. (Strange how the media seemed to know exactly what political/religious box to place Dear in, but the motives of the San Bernardino couple were mysteriously “unclear.”) So, here is the piece, in its original form:

When the senseless and unpredictable happens, our society is compelled to fit it into a narrative that will tidily explain it all. So it has been with the horrific shooting in Colorado Springs, November 27th, when lone gunman Robert Dear stormed a Planned Parenthood clinic and took aim at innocent people. Among those killed was Garrett Swasey, a pro-life, Christian policeman who also served as a part-time pastor.

How can such an act of evil be explained? The media believes they have the answer. Citing the sting operation that exposed Planned Parenthood’s illegal practices and the growing tide of animosity it has sparked, liberal media and politicians have pointed the finger squarely at the pro-life, conservative movement. They claim that the “hateful rhetoric” of Republican politicians and voters has created an atmosphere that inspires the unhinged to take violent action. Sadly, this response has not been limited to liberal media, as even favorite Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson has blamed “hateful rhetoric” from the pro-life community. Still others have accused Christians of hypocrisy for not “owning” Dear’s actions, since Christians have spoken out about the link between Islamic terrorism and the religion of Islam writ large. They claim the conservative Christian community should take responsibility for what Dear did, because he’s “one of ours,” just as we judge the Muslim community for breeding terrorism.

There’s just one problem: There is no substantive sense in which Robert Dear is “one of ours.”

The media strained to a ridiculous extreme to find evidence that Dear was a Christian, even claiming to spy a “cross” made of twigs on his step. Readers may judge for themselves how indicative this piece of “evidence” is. According to Dear’s ex-wife, he was raised in a Southern Baptist home and was familiar with the Bible. He might fairly be described as a “cultural Christian.” However, he was not a regular churchgoer in his adult life. As for politics, his former wife said Dear had typical Republican leanings, but he was about the farthest thing from a rampaging conservative activist that you could be. He was withdrawn and reticent and rarely discussed politics. When he was questioned after the shooting, a witness claimed to overhear Dear mutter the phrase “no more baby parts,” but he also added that Dear was generally rambling. The extent to which he was speaking coherently is by no means clear. Dear’s family members and neighbors are as shocked by the incident as the families of those he killed. His violence truly was inexplicable. The only narrative it fits is the narrative that everyone senses intangibly, even if only Christians acknowledge it: the world was good, the world is fallen, the world will be redeemed. There is no more to be done but pray for justice and weep with those who weep.

Unfortunately, this will not satisfy everyone. So, how should we as pro-life Christians respond to the harsh accusations that are being levelled at us in the wake of one man’s evil action?

First of all, we should feel the opposite of the shame and embarrassment we are meant to feel. Rather, we should see this shooting as an opportunity to proclaim a unilateral pro-life ethic. We do not hesitate to condemn Robert Dear’s evil actions for precisely the same reason that we do not apologize for condemning the actions of the clinic where he chose to make his rampage. We condemn the taking of innocent life under any and all circumstances. If the media is seeking for somebody who models a pro-life, conservative Christian ethic, they need look no further than Officer Swasey. Jesus calls us to love our enemies. That includes those whose ideology is diametrically opposed to ours. Christ died for the very ones who crucified him. There is no greater love than this. Swasey exemplified that love at the highest cost, the cost of his own life.

Furthermore, we need not be caught off guard by accusations of hypocrisy. Our correct response is graciously but firmly to draw the attention back to the facts. While there is not even any reason to think that Dear claimed to be more than a nominal Christian, his actions would still not represent Christianity if he did.

At this point, skeptics may throw the accusation of “No True Scotsman” back in the Christian’s face, but that fallacy depends on the assumption that there is no objective standard by which to measure subjective opinion. That is not the case here. The facts are that while the Koran contains peaceful verses, the doctrine of abrogation overrides them with violent verses commanding devout Muslims to put “infidels” to the sword. The facts are that while the Bible does tell stories of violence, Jesus’ words in the New Testament are the covenant by which Christians are commanded to abide, and those words say that we are to love even our enemies.

The actions of Planned Parenthood are evil and infuriating, this is true. And the fact that some of us have friends and neighbors who support and enable those practices can be difficult to fathom. But we must not allow this fury and frustration to curdle into bitterness and hatred. While they do not represent conservatism as a whole, and while there is no sense in which “pro-life rhetoric” can be causally linked to unhinged madmen like Dear, it is unfortunately true that some who align themselves with the political right have succumbed to precisely such bitterness. You can find them among the ranks of those who follow the likes of Ann Coulter and Donald Trump. It seems that their identity is based not on Christ or even on conservatism, but on unadulterated hatred for the political other. Their every word drips with contempt when they speak of those with whom they disagree. In the worst cases, their bitterness is so deep-seated that they have no pity when violence strikes and hurts those who are not on their political side. If a woman visits an abortion clinic and is gunned down, they reason, she must have deserved what she got. If Muslim terrorists murder and rape some innocent people who happen to be liberals, who cares? They’re not “ours.”

Even as we refuse to budge from our own political convictions, pro-life, conservative Christians must call out and condemn this toxicity wherever it is found. Pro-lifers defend life. Conservatives preserve. Christians love. All of these things should beget pity. They should keep our hearts soft even while our thinking is sharp and clear. They should mold us in the likeness of God we serve, who hates nothing that He has made and is not willing that any should perish.

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