The murder of George Tiller, on May 31, 2009, marks the eighth person and fourth doctor since 1977 killed in attacks on people working at women’s health clinics by people spouting formulaic right-wing rhetoric. Expect more attacks on representatives of a variety of “liberal” institutions with the growing right-wing culture of violence targeting those who threaten the comfort of their beliefs.
Enough commentators have documented the accused killer’s relationship to violent right-wing rhetoric, such as Bill O’Reilly’s, to evoke righteous-sounding denials by the “offended” right-wing. Others, such as Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, seem to celebrate.
The accused, 51 year-old Kansan Scott Roeder was a registered Republican who had been arrested for possessing bomb materials in his car, a member of an anti-government, white separatist group called the Montana Freeman, a sporter of a fish symbol with the word “Jesus” inside it on his car, and a regular at so-called peaceful anti-choice protests.
In 2007 someone identifying as Scott Roeder posted on ChargeTiller.com: “Tiller is the concentration camp ‘Mengele’ of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation.” He embraced the right-wing violent rhetoric: “holocaust,” “genocide,” “death mill,” “baby killer” and God’s judgment.
We know the standard response from the religious right-wing to such violence. They portray the Roeders they inspire as extremist psychos, isolating from them to deny any responsibility. They act as if the choice of killing an abortion provider would be the normal response of every mentally ill person, not one fueled by their demonizations.
LGBT people know this denial strategy. They’ve heard the words of right-wing preachers that demonize and dehumanize LGBT people – with claims that the Bible or God are behind the righteous violence – repeated while people harass, torture and kill them. The religious rhetoric of the right wing provides ultimate justification for such violence.
Yet religious right-wing leaders deny any responsibility, as if, after all, no one should take the words they constantly preach and yell seriously. Even Rick Warren – the radical right in a Hawaiian shirt – embraces this violent language with claims like: “Evangelicals consider abortion a holocaust.”
What’s happened since the rise of the Christian Coalition and the embrace of economic and military conservatives by the religious right-wing is the development of a religious culture of violence. It’s not isolated only among the most extreme. It pervades most right-wing Christianity today.
The Jesus they embrace isn’t the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount who tells them to turn the other cheek. He isn’t the one who told Peter to put away his sword when Peter tried to defend him, scolding: “Those who take the sword, will perish by the sword.”
They embrace the violent Jesus of the Biblical book of Revelation out of whose mouth comes a double-edged sword. They look forward to a literal fulfillment of Revelation’s destructive scenes with plagues, earthquakes, tortures, and battles destroying their enemies, the descriptions of the killing of a third of humanity, and blood flowing “as high as a horse’s bridle.”
As if Revelation weren’t graphic enough, they indulge in the sixteen books and videos of the “Left Behind” series that translate the detailed violence into contemporary techniques and liberal enemies. Harvard Divinity School professor Harvey Cox concluded that their appeal includes the “lip-licking anticipation of all the blood.”
Time magazine commented: “the nuclear frights of, say, Tom Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears wouldn’t fill a chapter in the Left Behind series. (Large chunks of several U.S. cities have been bombed to smithereens by page 110 of Book 3.)” But the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association recognized the lucrative series with its Pinnacle Award in recognition of its “outstanding contribution” to “society at large.”
The torture employed by the Bush-Cheney presidency is fully defended (Who would Jesus torture?) by the culture of violence of the religious right-wing. But it’s nothing compared to the final eternal torture that they cherish for those who disagree with their violent beliefs everlasting violence that they consider fundamental to their faith.
Hell, that place of unimaginable eternal abuse by a “loving” Father, will finally vindicate them. The long-held Christian belief that those in heaven will love watching others suffer eternally is reaffirmed in a 2005 book accepted as an MA thesis at Reformed Theological Seminary, entitled Seeing Hell. Quoting its thesis: “this knowledge and sight of the condemned dead is not troubling to the saints, but rather gives more cause for praises.” And their emotional life includes the fear that without belief in that unending torture, no one would live morally. They need the prospect of such violence to act morally.
They promote the culture of violence in their sanctuaries. Such supposed places of refuge not only feature sermonic justifications of divine violence, but often feature films of it. Mel Gibson’s Jesus-slasher movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” which film critic Roger Ebert called: “the most violent film I have ever seen,” and critic David Edelstein labeled “The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre,” is merely the best known. And parents take their children, even force them, to experience a film that Ebert said deserved an NC-17 rating, commenting: “no level-minded parent should ever allow children to see it.”
Right-wing religion is also one of the last bastions of the defense of hitting children. As Professor Donald Capps argued in The Child’s Song: The Religious Abuse of Children (1995): “It supports the abuse of children by providing theological legitimation for the physical punishment of children, and it more directly abuses children by promoting beliefs and ideas that are inherently tormenting to children.”
Plainly, right-wing religion itself has become a culture of violence. The result is guaranteed to be more violence played out against its enemies. That’s why it thoroughly embraces our war machine and unrestricted guns for everybody.
We’re not going to change this by expecting its devotees to agree with us. We must face it, speak up, and tell it like it is – soon.
We might not want to say such things about people’s sincere beliefs. But we can’t afford to treat the right-wing religious culture of violence as more sacred than the lives of those it’s snuffing out.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.