Amanpour and Company aired an interview I can’t get out of my mind. Rev. Robert Schenck, for 30 years a pro-life activist, organized walk-ins to abortion clinics and gave fiery speeches characterizing those who performed abortions as very ugly, nefarious persons. He led a group to harass one of the doctors in his home and later one of his followers returned to kill the doctor in front of his wife and children.
Schenck thought the shooter must have been a fringe follower, but he was a regular participant. Still, Schenck convinced himself he was right. His wife, a psychotherapist, and colleagues questioned if he might be off-base, carried away with audience response to his dramatic speeches. He put them off as cowards giving in to political correctness.
Only when he developed an unlikely close friendship with a pro-choice friend did he question what he was doing. With therapy working through it, he came to see that he and his followers traded respect for one form of life, the unborn, for dehumanizing people of an opposite viewpoint, which resulted in killing one of them.
Above all, he learned that speech matters: “You can never know who wants to hear words from a powerful person on a platform giving them permission to unleash murderous impulses.” He has written a book, “My Words Led to Violence; Now Trump’s Are, Too.” His remorse was painful to watch: “You can never take back your words, but you can stop; that’s what President Trump must do, too.”
He quoted from the Bible, “You shall know a man by his fruit.” This, for me, is where it gets tricky, judging the fruit or harm of speech and actions; maybe that’s why the Bible also tells us not to judge. I know people on both sides of the abortion issue, some particularly favoring abortion in cases of rape or incest. For thousands of abortions performed, other reasons must apply. Are decisions agonizingly made, as for a couple feeling they can’t afford another child, or has this become routine birth control?
We shouldn’t kid ourselves that it isn’t taking a life, which it is from the earliest stages. Is it only when a baby surviving abortion is kept warm awaiting a decision whether to let it live or not that we become aware and horrified about infanticide? This is a serious matter that Schenck rightly challenged. However, in degrading and dehumanizing the people involved, he encouraged the taking of another life.
Some people are now blaming all the violence in our country on President Trump, because of his intemperate speech. Words do matter — and words of a person with the authority of President of the United States particularly matter. Surely there has been no shortage of people urging him to control his tongue. Let’s hope something will get through to him as finally happened with Schenck.
President Trump’s “fruit” is also a mixed bag: coarsening the country’s discourse and possibly encouraging violence, on the plus side, freeing the economy to grow and taking on some of the world’s bad actors. It’s ironic that, even as we want Trump to change in fundamental ways, he’s trying to get Xi and Kim Jong-un and the Ayatollah to change in fundamental ways. I guess the hardest thing for all of us see is need for change—in ourselves.
When we groan about the fallibilities of world leaders, it’s easy to overlook our own roles. Trump is not the only one spewing flammable words. Mental illness is a factor in many of these shootings. How do we raise kids to be solid, confident persons? Parents and teachers need lots of wisdom. How can the Internet and social media control bad influences?
Our pastor shared a touching story from El Paso. The day prior to the shooting in which 22 people were killed, Ruben Martinez, 11, and his mom had been in the Walmart where it occurred. Ruben didn’t want to leave the house. “Can we have groceries delivered so we never have to leave home?” Instead, she asked her son to think of an idea that would “show the kindness of El Paso.”
Ruben’s #ElPasoChallenge was this:” Do 22 good deeds or acts of kindness in memory of the 22 people killed in the shooting.” Kids sometimes come up with amazing ideas. If we adopted them as ongoing behavior, we might notice a significant improvement in our culture.
Verna Benham, who lives in Kerrville, worked for the U.S. Foreign Service, which took her across the globe, including to Argentina, Taiwan and Chile.