But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in (Matt. 23:13).
Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered (Luke 11:52).
I told a friend of mine, an old veteran of the antiabortion movements, that there is a new, young generation of radicals with promise. I told him, “They are no-compromise. Abortion is murder. They want to end abortion now. They want no exceptions. They are total abolitionists.” He listened.
Then I told him, “They go out every day and work outside abortion clinics.”
“They need to be outside the churches. That’s where the problem is.”
Discerning the real problems
I went on to inform him of their efforts to get churches to repent. But his comment—when he was totally unaware of anything like #ChurchRepent—speaks volumes. The problem rests mainly within the churches and their leadership. We will not end abortion ever without repentance and change here.
I am moved to cover these lessons after what we observed over the last weekend. This involves the decision by Rusty Thomas and Operation Save America activists to return to the tactics Operation Rescue employed in the 1980s and 90s—sit-in blockades of the doors of abortion clinics. Rusty and nine others were arrested for criminal trespassing on May 13. At least one report brandishes the “Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances” (FACE) Act, which could mean federal charges as well.
The reaction was a firestorm across social media, as most are already aware—but it was an in-house storm among abortion activists. Some approved the actions. Some demurred or detracted. Others condemned. Fights erupted. It is not my intention to rehearse all the back-and-forth that ensued. I purpose only to offer a few thoughts why the OR approach failed, will fail again if we don’t make the necessary changes, and what hope there is for change.
Several years ago, an aging Rushdoony was asked if he approved of Operation Rescue’s tactics. Here was his response:
The two great eras of abortion have been our Lord’s time to the fall of Rome and this century. Yet we never find either our lord or Saint Paul saying: “Go out and block the entry ways to the abortuaries of Rome.” Never. Why? Because regeneration is our approach, not coercion. . . .
A great many babies are aborted annually. A million and a quarter. But euthanasia is routinely practiced, homosexuality, adultery, every kind of evil prevails around us. We have a population that is reprobate. How in the world are you going to deal with that by coercive of tactics?
Moreover, if you set a precedent of lawlessness of blocking the entry ways to abortuaries, what’s to prevent these people from doing the same to our churches? As a matter of fact, it has been done already. Saint Patrick’s cathedral has had homosexuals and pro-abortion people enter and do everything to disturb the services and to break them up. So, if we practice it, we cannot protest if it is practiced against us. Why didn’t our Lord and Saint Paul mount an operation rescue, when abortion was so common in that age? It was very simple: they knew that the answer had to be regeneration, the atonement. These people are placing human life above faith in Christ. . . .
It’s very sad what is happening. But I know a very fine woman who did her best to talk one woman out of an abortion; it would have been her fourth. She succeeded. Within two or three years that child, horribly abused, was taken from that mother by the police. Do you see the point? You’re dealing with an ungodly generation. Now when you go through the Bible, and I did in one little book I wrote on the Myth of Overpopulation and I got all the references to birth. And God in his word speaks of blessed fertility and unblessed fertility of the ungodly. Now there is nothing we can do with these ungodly women. They love death; they get an abortion some of them for the pleasure of killing life. And they are suicidal. They are on drugs. They do everything that is suicidal. What we need to do is to work to convert them, because the only change can come through Christ. Not through our coercive tactics. We don’t adopt the way of the world.
Let me add one thing more. One of our staff members, Joseph McAuliffe, is pastor of Tampa Covenant Church in Florida, it’s a charismatic church. He’s a leader in Tampa on Christian activities. And he has met with legislators and they have said we can get a bill through banning abortion in Florida, only on one condition: if we will agree to permit it in cases of rape and cases of incest. Write it that way and were sure we can get it through. We have enough votes, but if you don’t we can’t. Do you know who blocked that bill? The operation rescue people. It would have put them out of business. It’s like the cancer researchers in the United States. They get hundreds of millions a year from the federal government to do cancer research and do you think any of them will want to see it cured? They will all be out of jobs. Operation rescue has become a movement that wants to keep on moving. Not to solve a problem. Our basic approach must be evangelization. If people are not regenerated neither they nor their children have any hope.
This was far from Rushdoony’s finest hour, and his comments here are at best a mixed bag. (I’ll show you in a moment how Gary North rightly opposed this thinking.) Nevertheless, there is food for thought even here, particularly in regard to engaging in political action in a political environment overwhelmingly dominated by reprobates and reprobate law. We’ll return to this.
Even in such a venue, however, it is difficult to surmount the piety of the response that says, “If it saves the life of just one child, it’s worth it.” One could respond, “What if the action saves the life of one but the consequences cost the lives of a dozen more you could have saved through other means?”
This dispute becomes a priority to solve only if the saving of individual lives is the sole numerator of success. If the abolition of human abortion—a judicial standard—is the ultimate goal, we need to have other considerations. If you feel called to individual rescues, I’ll leave that calculus to you and your conscience. I am looking at the larger picture (and I don’t mean to discount anyone’s efforts in the narrow one by saying that).
As for even acts like OSA perpetrated this weekend, North defends it, and I think rightly destroys any absolute critic of such tactics. The liberals have been making utter fools of the churches for decades now:
Legalized abortion has now made Christian social irresponsibility appear ridiculous. Thus, we find millions of Christians who give occasional lip service (and very little money) to the fight against abortion. We find a small minority willing to picket an abortion clinic occasionally. We find an even tinier minority ready to devote regular time and regular money to fighting abortion, including fighting it politically. And then, in the summer of 1988, a handful of non-violent activists began to “up the ante” by breaking local property laws in Atlanta, Georgia, and later other cities by interposing their bodies between murderous mothers and their murderous accomplices, state-licensed physicians.
(Strange, isn’t it? Liberals for 70 years insisted that “human rights are more important than property rights!” This phrase supposedly proved that high taxes and government regulation of the economy are morally legitimate. But these days, the liberals have spotted a problem with this slogan. A bunch of crazy Christians have started intruding onto the property of wealthy, state-licensed murderers — excuse me, physicians — to interfere with the daily slaughter of the innocents. Now, all of a sudden, the defense of private property is high on the liberals’ list of priorities. Liberals certainly enjoy taxing the high incomes of physicians, but they want them to earn those juicy taxable incomes, especially if those incomes come from killing judicially innocent babies. Population control, and all that. And … liberals will never actually say this in print, of course … these slaughtered babies are mostly blacks and Hispanics. You know. Those kind of people! They have concluded that an abortion is less expensive to the welfare state than two decades of aid to a dependent child, but they never say this in public. They think that the cheapest way to “break the cycle of poverty” is to kill the next generation of the potentially poor. And never forget: indigent old people are also part of that cycle.)
Trespassing for Dear Life
This tactic of “trespassing for dear life” has now begun to divide the Christian community. It has already divided Christian leaders. This division appears to cut across denominational and even ideological lines. Christian leaders are being forced to take a position, pro or con, with regard to the legitimacy of this physical interposition. Like Congress, they prefer to avoid taking sides, but the pressures can no longer be avoided easily, at least for Reubenites.
There are two signs in front of abortion clinics:
“Thou Shalt Not Kill”
The “No Trespassing” sign is symbolically stuck into the grass. The “Thou Shalt Not Kill” sign is literally being carried (or ought to be literally carried) by an anti-abortion picketer.
The picketers have now begun to realize that they face a major moral decision: either ignore the implicit “No Trespassing” sign or ignore the covenantal implications of the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” sign. The fact of the matter is that if Christians continue to obey the abortionists’ “No Trespassing” signs, God may no longer honor this humanistic nation’s “No Trespassing” sign to Him. He will eventually come in national judgment with a vengeance. This is a basic teaching of biblical covenant theology. (It is conveniently ignored in the pseudo-covenant theology of the critics.)
A small, hard core of dedicated Christians has now decided that they cannot obey both signs at the same time. One of these imperatives must be obeyed, and to obey it, the other imperative must be disobeyed. This has precipitated a crisis.
There is a much larger group of Christians that pretends that there is nothing inherently contradictory about these two signs. There is nothing going on behind closed clinic doors that Christians have a moral imperative and judicial authorization from God to get more directly involved in stopping. They prefer not to think about the two signs. They see the first one and assume that it has the highest authority.
There have been other “No Trespassing” signs in history. Outside of German concentration camps in 1943, for instance. But Christians in Germany honored those signs. They forgot the words of Proverbs:
If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small. If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? And he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? And shall not he render to every man according to his works? (Proverbs 24:10-12)
You need to read North’s whole article (yes, it’s long, and yes you should read it all).
But OR’s days are long behind us. Even back when they had thousands on their side, the tactics failed. The church is even more sheepish and unwilling today. When a group like OSA resurrects the tactic, even some stout-hearted and strong-tongued antiabortionists balk and begin to criticize. They personally think there are more effective ways to do it (I agree), and that walking into a sure-fire jail sentence and possible huge fines is not the most productive tactic. This is especially true because so many people are so far checked out of the game: the churches largely don’t care, the public draws back in shock, and leaders devour each other over disagreements.
But, what this means is that the only problems with this door-blocking tactic are, therefore, pragmatic: we don’t have enough Christians willing to do so, we don’t have the organization, we don’t have the leadership or the PR yet developed, etc., and the consequences will be averse to us as individuals and possibly to the cause as a whole.
But why do we not have willing Christians? Why so few willing churches? Why no organization? Why ineffective leadership? Why brethren quarreling over what should be obvious? Why brethren calling each other liars and wicked when we already agree on 99% of what we believe and are doing? Why no effective PR?
There is only one answer to this, and it centers upon the role, message, and willingness of the preaching in the Body of Christ.
Which is to say, the problem with ending abortion now is a problem with the churches, because that’s where all these things should come from—if the church was consistent with its professed ethics.
Problem: the church is not consistent with its professed ethics (the Ten Commandments), but it is consistent with its theology of soul-only salvation, personal-only piety, and fear of engaging—nay, even addressing!—let alone resisting, the civil government. It is their theology and practice of not rocking the cultural boat. This has become both orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
A pragmatic objection, however, is nothing but a fancy way of saying “that won’t work!” This is nothing more than a fear-based argument—at the very least, fear of failure. We need some help here.
Lessons from a critical review
In 1991, Christian and libertarian, Constitutional rights attorney John Whitehead (https://www.rutherford.org/) published an academic review: “Civil Disobedience and Operation Rescue: A Historical and Theoretical Analysis.”1 Anyone interested in activism needs to read this paper. He brings up several interesting issues concerning why OR failed and what we need to learn from it.
All tactics are pragmatic to some degree. The question in all applications of all tactics is not whether we are being pragmatic or principled (you cannot escape either), but whether we are being as pragmatic and as principled as we can be. In his theoretical section, Whitehead notes,
Justice-based civil disobedience is used to oppose and reverse the majority’s unjust oppression of a minority. Those practicing justice-based civil disobedience must not break the law until the normal political processes have been fully exhausted and are found to offer no hope of success. Moreover, justice-based civil disobedience may not be used if it will make matters worse.
That last sentence is key: even pragmatic analyses (perhaps especially pragmatic analyses) must judge themselves by what principled goal they are serving, and whether it is pragmatic in the long term. (In other words, is your pragmatism really pragmatic after all?)
There are two approaches to activities within the category of justice-based civil disobedience: (1) persuasive strategies, which “force the majority to listen to arguments against its program, in the expectation that the majority will then change its mind and disapprove that program;” and (2) nonpersuasive strategies, which aim “not to change the majority’s mind, but to increase the cost of pursuing the program the majority still favors, in the hope that the majority will find the new cost unacceptably high.”
It should be clear that door-blocking is in the latter category. It should be equally clear that without broad enough participation in the tactic, and without broad enough empathy in the population (or even the churches), this tactic is doomed to failure. If the public doesn’t care, and Christians don’t participate in numbers great enough to burden the police departments, then the cost being imposed will not be anywhere near high enough for the public to care.
The leftists are aware of this: the sole purpose of the FACE Act was to shift the burden of cost so far back in the direction of Christian activists that they would not dare even attempt such practices again.
This again indicates all that the churches lack: no will, no conviction, no organization, and no leadership on the issue. This leads to submission, resignation, and apathy. But this apathy is perhaps the greatest cause of the violence of abortion. It’s a passive cause, but it’s a cause nonetheless, and one for which we are accountable.
Whitehead quotes a civil disobedience theorist, who imo nails it:
apathetic obedience may in the long run be a greater source of violence than either active obedience or civil disobedience. Passive acquiescence assumes rather indifferent citizens, who are unconcerned with the social evils which tend to inevitably develop in large, complicated, and bureaucratic societies. The longer these evils fester, the more likely they are to provoke eventual violence in reaction.2
Whitehead’s section on practical lessons has several nuggets worth consideration, at least. Here are a few:
On organization: “The success of reform or protest movements appears to be directly related to the organization of parties to carry out acts of defiance. According to one authority on reform, “[c]hange comes from power, and power comes from organization.” Unlike the colonial revolutionaries, Operation Rescue has not followed a deliberate, unified, and informed pattern of civil disobedience. Operation Rescue appears to lack a coordinated and knowledgeable group of leaders who act behind the scenes to weigh the pros and cons of the group’s activities.”3
However true this may ultimately be for success of other movements in the future, or not, it is clearly true that it spelled failure for hundreds of such rescues by OR in the 80s and 90s. There is no chance, then, of success from only a single such rescue today, without significant changes first.
Second, on consistency. OR seemed to change its approach in its later permutation:
One might argue that the intimidation tactics presently advocated by Operation Rescue appear to be directed primarily toward mitigation or elimination of punishment for the acts of civil disobedience by Operation Rescue members. Such tactics fail to affect directly the use of abortions or generate Christian “repentance.” In fact, one might argue that such intimidation tactics might well generate the same type of negative response from the American public as was exhibited against the antiwar protestors, i.e., that the protesters are seeking not to create a more just society, but rather that the protesters are seeking to destroy or denigrate some very fundamental premises of the American system—namely, the importance of an independent judiciary.4
Third, on PR: “When a reform movement fails to educate the general public on its alms and objectives, its effectiveness often is dramatically reduced. . . . Operation Rescue has not been successful in persuading and informing the majority of the American public as to the necessity and/or correctness of its activities. This failure appears to have occurred for two reasons. First, Operation Rescue previously limited its efforts only to conducting rescues at abortion centers. Second, the organization has not received favorable media attention. . . . Public reaction is largely uninformed and uninspired with respect to Operation Rescue.”5
Despite all the critical analysis and criticism, Whitehead argues that the door-blocking tactic, historically and theoretically speaking, is a justified tactic. Nevertheless, he concludes, “certain basic historical and theoretical-conceptual guidelines must be adopted and followed if any movement based upon civil disobedience is to succeed. To do otherwise, is to invite defeat and to fail to take into account the costs of one’s acts.”6
There is yet another person who seems to agree with the basic problems at the root of OR’s failure, and that is OR’s founder, Randall Terry. He is quoted as to the problem:
Historically, silence and accommodation has done nothing to help the oppressed. It only strengthens the hands of the oppressors. That is the lesson of Nazi Germany and of the Eastern Bloc countries. Hitler went after the insane, the feeble, the elderly. The Christian community, by not taking action, contributed to Hitler’s strengthening and its own weakening, and ultimately to the death of 30 to 40 million people. When the Christian community tolerates the oppression of a few, it paves the way for the oppression of the many. It doesn’t stop with rescuers. Today, people are being arrested for praying or picketing on sidewalks, something they have a constitutional right to do.7
He also saw the apathy he was up against:
Even a brief overview of American history proves that political change usually comes after social upheaval. The birth of America, the end of slavery, women’s voting rights, repeal of prohibition, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, and the feminist movement all testify to one truth: whether for good or bad, political change comes after a group of Americans bring enough tension in the nation and pressure on politicians that the laws are changed. Politicians see the light after they feel the heat!
The truth is, we don’t stand a chance of ending this holocaust without righteous social upheaval occurring across the country that “inspires” politicians to amend the Constitution. Right now they have no reason to. The status quo is peaceful. But if even one percent of the evangelical and Catholic community (about 800,000 people) would take their own rhetoric seriously (“Abortion is murder!”) and start acting like children are being killed, things would change. By doing massive rescues, we could create the tension needed to turn the tide. When government officials have to choose between jailing tens of thousands of good, decent citizens, or making child killing illegal again, they will choose the latter, partly because there are no jails big enough to hold us if we move together in large numbers!
That righteous upheaval was missing in when Terry wrote it 1987. It was missing when North published in 1988–1989. It was missing when Whitehead published in 1991. It is lacking today. The simmerings of righteous indignation, however, are moving AHA, #EndAbotionNow, the remnants of the old guard, and others, to get radical once again, and much great work is being done.
What to do
Any movement which intends to succeed in this area has got to begin, first, with seeding the truth in its most uncompromising and radical form, across the country, in every church and every heart of every Christian. We must spread the ideology as widely as possible, and create an absolute abhorrence of murder and the culture of death.
Second, the seeds must sprout and grow strong. If the necessary convictions do not spread, there is no hope. If they do not take root and withstand competition with the various weeds (excuses, arguments, apathy, hostility) in the garden of God, then they cannot flower and bear fruit.
Third, if the seed of radical truth finally takes root, the fruits of truth will appear: repentance. Widespread repentance will indicate true revival among the churches.
Fourth, a repentant church armed with the full truth of God, revived and reinvigorated, will lead to a Reformation; that will lead to developed political views, preaching, and activism. That will be the path to cultural renewal.
Fifth, a church that is truly active and truly relevant to the culture will spark a true culture war. The world, and the churches dominated in various ways by the world, with rise up and attempt to persecute the revived Body of Christ in the land. (This is when going to jail may really have some public significance.) It is here we will see the most radical and meaningful public clash between God’s people and the forces of death. This process, this battle, will expose the ferocious evil of the culture of death and the central importance of the institution of child sacrifice to it, and the true murderous nature of the whole.
Sixth, this exposure of truth and resistance to it will provide the window of opportunity for God ‘s people to abolish human abortion, ending this public wickedness in our time.
Please note, no one gets anywhere in this process unless we first successfully seed radical truth. This means my friend is right: we need to be engaging the churches—the body of Christ. That is where this must start.
I personally think it is premature to be blocking clinic doors. I think the far, far greater problem is the Pharisees blocking up the doors of the kingdom and of truth (Matt. 23:13; Luke 11:52): they won’t enter themselves, and they won’t let anyone else enter. This prevents the spread of radical Christianity and true practical Christianity. Before engaging in a largely symbolic resurrection of Operation Rescue, we need a concentrated effort on Operation Rescue the Churches—rescue them from the apathetic acquiescence to the social norm, sin, murder, and culture of death.