In the time that it takes to read this essay, some 8 or 10 abortions have taken place somewhere in America. Despite a shift towards a pro-life position in this nation, some 3,700 abortions are performed every day in this country. This makes many pro-life advocates angry. In the case of some, it drives them to take ‘direct action’ against those who would take the lives of the most innocent and helpless of all people. Scott Roeder used this reasoning to justify killing George Tiller. James Kopp used this reasoning to justify his murder of Bernard Slepian. And there have been dozens of bombings, cases of arson, and countless more attempted crimes and threats of violence.
The question emerges – how can we take the moral high ground when we engage in such actions? Where is the justification for assassination, cold blooded murder, arson, bombings, and threats of violence? Is it to save the unborn? Or are there other – less noble – reasons?
Let’s take the ‘saving the innocent’ argument. The Citizen maintains that every one of those innocents taken by abortion are martyrs. There is a precedent. Think of Matthew 2:16-18
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.”
And so, every year, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the feast day of those children slain by the selfishness of secular power, by ambition, by fear, by ignorance. Innocents slain in the interests of expedience. Much like the 10 or so innocents who will be aborted while you are reading this. Against the arm of the State, there was little the people of Judea could do to save the children. Rising up would only result in greater bloodshed with no different results. In fact, armed resistance would only serve to justify greater violence and persecution rendered by the State. Sound familiar? It should. Eric Holder and Barak Obama used Roeder, Kopp, and the bombings of abortion mills to justify putting pro-life Christians on a DHS terrorist watch list.
I would like to see our Bishops approach the Vatican and consider issuing a statement that the victims of abortion are like those Holy Innocents. There is some canonical evidence to support such an approach. ‘The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without being Baptized’ was published by the Vatican in 2007, and provided a theological link between children who suffer violence in the modern day and those innocents who were massacred by the decree of Herod. The text reads:
Just as those who took the lives of the Holy Innocents were motivated by fear and selfishness, so the lives particularly of unborn babies today are often endangered by the fear or selfishness of others. In that sense, they are in solidarity with the Holy Innocents.
One could – and there are those who already are – making an argument that the victims of abortion are unbaptized and carry original sin. To those, I answer with the doctrine of the universal salvific will of God. In the First Letter to Timothy, Paul writes that God desires all men to be saved. In Lumen Gentium, there is a passage that states clearly that the Church is a sacrament of unity for all mankind. The Citizen, though I am no more than a member of the laity, feels fairly confident arguing that God is perfectly capable of forgiving the taint of original sin the unbaptized unborn bear. Our sacramental practice of baptism is certainly significant and desirable – as it assumes that we are bringing a living child of God into our community, one who will have a rich lifetime to grow in service and love of the Lord.
If the victims of abortion are granted martyrdom, imagine the impact that would have on the movement. Imagine the power of being able to draw a clear relationship between the victims of Herod and the victims of the misguided policies of the current president of the United States and his pro-abortion administration. The Church has made a clear distinction that life begins at conception – by declaring every child whose life is taken by abortion to be one of the Holy Innocents, we would be making a powerful statement about our commitment to all life and the dignity of the child growing within the womb.
Violence is sometimes necessary. The Citizen has written more than one essay on just war and the theological justification of violence. In the case of violence against abortionists and their property, the Citizen argues that these acts fall far short of that justification. Matthew 26:50-54 reads:
Jesus answered him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?”
Christians are sometimes called to suffer, not to fight. We are called to bear witness to injustice and through our good deeds – not through violence – change men’s hearts. Imagine if the early Christians, persecuted by Rome, created a shadowy network of assassins, revolutionaries, and terrorists to answer the murder of innocents with the blood of those who persecuted them. What then would have happened to the Church whose foundations were laid by the Son of Man? Would it have endured to become the Church we Catholics enjoy today, a community of believers who share in an unbroken tradition handed down from man to man to the hand of our Lord Himself? I think not. In time, the conviction and faith of Christians drew more and more people into the Church, until eventually the emperor Constantine himself submitted to the power of our Faith.
Those that succumb to the temptations of direct, violent action not only betray our Faith and those poor martyred souls of the unborn, they harden the hearts of those who disagree with us. The Citizen knows of several people who shifted from being open to a discussion of the pro-life position to a markedly more dismissive stance when Roeder killed Tiller. Their argument inevitably revolved around answering violence with violence. Some argued that Tiller never broke the law while a pro-life activist was content to murder a man in his own church. It is difficult to respond to such a claim. Giving pro-abortion groups the advantage of creating their own ‘martyrs’, of being able to call on the myrmidons of the law to take action in the wake of bombed and burned clinics, or threats of violence, should be unacceptable to us on a practical and strategic level.
Finally, we are called to be different then others. One of the most difficult qualities Christians need to inculcate is the ability to be charitable to those who hate us, who revile us, or who work against our beliefs. Often, we hear our Pastor or Deacon read and deliver homilies on Matthew’s famous Gospel passage on loving your enemy. How often do we really reflect on it?
You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We live in a world that is flawed by original sin, flawed by human frailty, flawed by hatred, lust, greed, and envy. Flawed by the evil that whispers in our ear and the evil that dwells within each of our hearts. These verses from Matthew 22 illustrate one of Christ’s greatest lessons for us. Who more then Christ had justification to resist unfair persecution? Knowing that he would soon face the trial in the garden, Christ gives us this lesson to illustrate the importance of not succumbing to the temptation of anger, hatred, and wrath. All men and women belong to God. Scott Roeder took away any chance of redemption for George Tiller. James Kopp took away Bernard Slepian’s opportunity for a change of heart. And there are changes of heart every day.
Think of Abby Johnson. At one time, she was the director of a very active Planned Parenthood clinic. Every day, she walked into the clinic and worked hard to advance it’s goals. How many innocents were sacrificed in that clinic? No doubt quite a few. During an ultrasound procedure, she saw the child in a mother’s womb move – and had a change of heart. She left the clinic, quit Planned Parenthood, and has emerged as a powerful voice for the pro-life movement. She is a prodigal – a child who was lost and has returned to us.
And if there was a Kopp or a Roeder or some anonymous bomber or arsonist in the wings, Ms. Johnson could have been nothing more than another victim of ‘anti-choice’ extremism. She had the time to see the truth, and to – like Lazarus – emerge from the tomb to awaken to new life.
As we approach Holy Week – the time we celebrate the darkest trials and the most glorious triumphs of our Lord – let’s think about the sacrifice of the unborn in a new way. let’s look at those who disagree with us with a more charitable and Christly demeanor. We should take the moral high ground not just for logistical and strategic reasons. We should take it because in doing so, we can show those – like Abby Johnson – that though they take the lives of the innocent, we still love them as our brothers and sisters. Our vigils are not just a prayer for the lives taken by abortion but for the conversion of the hearts of those who do those hateful acts.
In the time it took to read this, perhaps 10 Holy Innocents were martyred. Let’s make their gift meaningful by dedicating ourselves to fighting not with hatred but with a loving heart.