To Plot or to Personalize?
Operation Rescue: A Challenge to the Nation's Conscience
By Philip F. Lawler
Publisher: Our Sunday Visitor Books
Review Author: Edmund B. Miller
Operation Rescue has its leaders, history, and philosophy, about which one can read in Philip Lawler’s Operation Rescue. If, however, you want to fathom the fundamental Gospel response to abortion, Joseph Foreman’s Shattering the Darkness is the place to turn.
Lawler’s book has two basic parts: the first a short history of Operation Rescue (OR), followed by its philosophy and definition; then a section describing the reactions to rescues by media, police, and judges. Lawler is most penetrating in this second half, as he spotlights the media’s “unmistakable tendency to use the language of abortion supporters, to quote abortion advocates more frequently, to ignore pro-life events and arguments….” Lawler also does a good job in helping to expose the vicious, at times sadistic, methods employed against rescuers by certain police departments — most notably West Hartford, Connecticut, where in 1989 police broke the bones of 31 rescuers, and Pittsburgh, where in the same year women rescuers were fondled and exposed while detained at the Allegheny County jail.
Few people realize how difficult it can be for a prolife rescuer to get a fair trial. Lawler’s chapter “Justice is Deaf” should be read by all self-proclaimed civil libertarians. An anti-KKK group in Atlanta throws bricks, some injuring police officers; convicted members are fined a mere $100, while passive prolife rescuers in the same city are sentenced to two years. In another city, rescue activity is defined as conspiracy against women, and an ancient Ku Klux Klan act is invoked to justify injunctions against rescuers. In San Diego a judge compiles a list of 21 words that are anathema within his sanctuary — words like fetus, murder, rescue, baby. Time and time again prolifers must suffer the decisions of ignorant or flatly malicious judges who create sterile, statutory territories that bar their borders against the brutal fact, repeated a million times over, of a tiny, dismembered corpse.
Lawler’s “history” section begins with an account of a pre-Roe rescue conducted by L. Brent Bozell, editor of Triumph (now defunct), in D.C. in 1970. He then makes an eight-year leap to Sam Lee and the St. Louis rescuers, discusses John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe and his work in D.C., and then describes the “We Will Stand Up Campaign” that sought, rather successfully, to stop abortion in the cities included in the Pope’s 1987 visit. All this, of course, is treated as a prelude to the dramatic entrance, stage center, of Randall Terry and Operation Rescue.
Terry is obviously the hero of Lawler’s work. He pays his respects, of course, to people like Joan Andrews and Bishop Vaughn, but Terry is really the one who makes his blood run. He admiringly describes Terry’s flair for the media, his tactical ability, his popular appeal, and his eloquence. A significant amount of the book, in fact, consists of quotes from Terry. The inevitable result is that the definition of rescue with which the reader leaves the book — even though the author does describe the deeper spiritual motives of rescuers like Andrews — is heavily weighted by the ubiquitous Terry. So rescue, then, under the shadow of Terry the Communicator and Strategist, comes off as being a tactic. Feel the pulse rate accelerate in passages like “the movement’s leaders were meeting regularly now, to compare notes, exchange tactical advice, and plot out new strategies.” The book is about a particular activist organization with a relatively brief lifespan. But Operation Rescue is not, by any means, the sum of rescue, only an aspect of it. In fact, many of the people discussed in the book, like Joan Andrews and Chet Gallagher, don’t even belong to OR, while Joseph Foreman broke ranks with OR a couple of years ago.
While Operation Rescue is, ultimately, rendered in Lawler’s work as a tactic, it is still rendered as a tactic with a high goal — to save a human life. Therefore one cannot trivialize the value of rescue tactics and strategies in themselves. Nevertheless, too much stress on “tactic” and “strategy” undercuts prolife rescue, for rescue is much larger and deeper than any one organization. Lawler’s book is a good introduction to prolife apostleship, but it’s an introduction only. The implications of rescue are profound, and one needs to go beyond the temporal scope and context of Lawler’s work to a work that sees the eternal scope and context of the biblical imperative, “Rescue!” Joseph Foreman’s Shattering the Darkness takes us precisely in that direction.
I recently observed Foreman in D.C. at the OR “D.C. Project,” a mixed bag of seminars and rescues. The only speaker I clearly remember from that week was Foreman; specifically, I remember his oft-repeated refrain, “Come to Atlanta and die.”
By that time I had become quite uncomfortable with OR’s undue emphasis on political pressure, strategy, and how to make it easy for Christians to rescue. Was it possible that Foreman was removing himself from these themes? Did a rescue leader recognize that ending abortion was going to involve much more than a contest to see who could collect the biggest crowd in front of the abortuary? Was this Presbyterian embracing a theme, if not forgotten, then certainly neglected in much of Protestantism — that of personal, incarnate sacrifice?
Foreman’s Shattering the Darkness reveals how deeply he has embraced the theme of personal sacrifice. And through this book Foreman takes a place on the dais with the most systematic apologists of the rescue movement — all of whom, heretofore, have been Catholic: John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe, Richard Cowden-Guido, Joan Andrews, and Monica Migliorino Miller.
Foreman is down to earth. To pick up on the theme examined in the October 1992 NOR by Jean Bethke Elshtain, Foreman’s thinking is truly, and in multiple ways, incarnational. First, his rejection of prenatal killings is absolute since it is based on a sacramental principle: The “fetus” is more than fetus, more than “child” even; he is “neighbor.” Being neighbor means that you and I are bound up with each and every preborn child through the common indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to which the bodily presence of each child attests.
Secondly, because each preborn child is neighbor, Foreman rejects any “solution” to abortion that subordinates the physical fact of each child (and consequently the physical death of each) to man-made abstractions like law, politics, power bases, education, or even activism (which he defines as the belief that “doing the right things [strategy] will save us”). Instead, argues Foreman, the basic response to abortion must follow the first example of the Cross; that is, it must be direct, physical, and personal. By following the Cross via physical intervention at abortuaries, one completes its pattern in other ways: One’s intervention is harmless (taking sometimes the fury of misapplied “crowd control” tactics and the rulings of positivistic judges on oneself), and in and through that very harmlessness one identifies (as Christ identified with us in His humanity) with the preborn children.
This, then, is rescue — to place one’s own body in a direct, yet passive, position of intervention. It is modeled after Jesus’ intervention in history and His atonement for the sins that soil it. It is not protest. It is not civil disobedience, and comparisons between rescue and the civil rights movement largely miss the point. The civil rights movement aimed at a political end; numbers to create political tension were therefore important. Numbers, however, are not essential for a prolife rescue; if even one person loves the unloved child, the darkness has been shattered.
In light of Foreman’s personalistic response to prenatal killings, he seems to acknowledge that this killing in and of itself is not the core dilemma. If that were so, then we could just (1) join Operation Rescue (“I do not want to recruit you to some organization. God requires much more…”); (2) blow up the clinics (“If anything leads to bombing, it is the absence of a clear, sacrificial call to live and die a Christian”); and/or (3) change the laws (“The law is impotent if it is not rooted in a community committed to seeing it enforced”). But rather than settle for any of these rather simplistic responses, Foreman wants us — all of us — to live again as members of a Church founded, literally, on the Cross. He wants an “all-consuming love for God,” the same kind of jealous love the Father has for us. He wants us to die to ourselves, each making of his life a “window” through which is viewed the reality of something other. This is what Joan Andrews did during her two-and-a-half years of non-co-operation in the Florida prison system, since through her sacrificial helplessness many were forced to recognize the helplessness of every uterine child.
Foreman wants us, in imitating Jesus, to become Rescuers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he wants us all risk arrest in front of the local abortuary. Many of us aren’t ready to rescue there because we haven’t learned to rescue closer to home, if not in the home itself. Foreman relates how, as a prelude to involvement in prolife rescue, he had first to learn how to put himself aside in marriage, how to make Anne “shine in all her glory,” how to become her servant. That, too, he says, is Rescue. “The sum of this book is that Rescue is Christianity and Christianity is Rescue. Joshua — Yeshua — Jesus — Savior — Rescuer. Have no other gods before Me. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Have the mind of Christ who became a servant. Be not conformed to this world but be transformed. If you love Me you will keep My commandments. Make disciples of all nations and teach them to obey whatsoever I have commanded you. If any man would be My disciple, let him take up his cross and follow Me. Friendship with the world is enmity with God…. [These] are the core passages for understanding Christian living because Christian living is a commitment to be a Rescuer until God calls us home….”
Foreman freely acknowledges that what he has to say isn’t new. It’s as old as the Gospels. And through Scripture and tradition it’s been made plain. But that’s what makes the present age so frightening. We’ve been given a priceless gift, but we’ve chosen to be selective, to give back whatever of the gift we don’t care for. Thus, many Protestants preach a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but have made it so utterly personal that it’s actually private and therefore ineffectual. Many Catholics, on the other hand, have put their trust in the social context; the average social-justice Catholic believes that all we have to do is get the proper government programs in place and unpleasant things like abortion will gradually diminish. Meanwhile, another baby lands in the garbage.
We have lost revelation, the God-Become-Man, the essential incarnational framework which transcends any tension between one and many, between private and public. From the incarnational perspective, we see the divine life in each cripple, each comatose, each panhandler, each embryo. Then in that divine life, we find in each weak and sorrowful piece of human flesh something of all time, of all eternity, of all creation. If we could once more see the world through the fact of the Incarnation and in a sacramental way, we would not need welfare or armaments, we would not tolerate abortion.
But perhaps the world has not found it a comfortable fact that after the Incarnation comes the Crucifixion; the one follows the other as surely as birth follows death. If we are going to accept the Incarnation and the sacramental order, then we must recognize how that cripple’s life or that embryo’s life is bound up with our own. We can’t ignore them anymore. We have to forego the bake sale, get along another year with the old Maverick, allow someone’s distress to shatter our own placidity, maybe go to jail for a couple of weeks, maybe surrender our lives.
Love even unto death. In that there is, as Dostoevsky’s Fr. Zossima says, the harsh and dreadful. But nothing else makes sense, for nothing else makes us participants in each other’s existence. We’ve heard all the excuses for killing uterine children: They’ll grow up abused, drug dependent, disabled, poor, inhabitants of a violent, twisted world. But what’s the essential problem here? Drugs? A poor economy? An insufficiently endowed public school system? Nonsense. The problem is that we are not loving as Christ loved. And the only response is to love as Christ loved. It’s simple. Perhaps that’s why the uncomplicated, the innocent, have seen it more clearly than the rest of us.
Foreman exhorts us to practice, daily, our imitation of the Cross so that the idea of a life in jail eventually ceases to terrify us. Meanwhile, in terms of our spiritual strength, we are 65-pound weaklings. We think we are committed Christians; we think we would go to the lions before we ever denied our faith. But for now Caesar need not trouble to interrogate us about it. In 1973 the Supreme Court allowed the wholesale destruction of the innocents, and merely a whimper of protest has been heard. So perhaps, without wholly realizing it, we have denied our faith. What better place to affirm a sacramental world than in the tiny body of a six-week uterine child? What better place to affirm Christian marriage? What better place to affirm authentic human sexuality? What better place to affirm family? Still, we have failed to affirm.
Without “a change in the way Christians live and relate to society, the West is finished, fallen from within to a new barbarism,” says Foreman. No argument from me. Without God, anything is justified. And our faith — the faith that built the cathedrals, established the universities, and nourished the Francises, Kolbes, Damiens, and Brebeufs — has a specific pattern and context: The context is that of a dramatic love affair; the pattern is that of the Cross. Without this pattern and context, forget it. If you balance the budget a million times over, but have not love, you gain nothing. If you speak the most convincing anti-drug slogans ever conceived, but have not love, you’re just a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal. Love is personal. Love is direct. It does not conduct a revival meeting across the street from the man in the ditch, nor does it send the Department of Social Services to take care of him.
But this kind of love, of course, is not natural to us. We must beg for it, seek it out in the Sacraments, practice it day by day, like anyone who seeks to master any skill or art. Meanwhile, how long before we again practice the faith of the martyrs? I don’t know. But as the Pope said a few years ago, the measure of any nation’s greatness, which is to say the measure of any nation’s faith, is the protection it affords to its most defenseless, its most vulnerable. These are, no doubt, the practically unseen, unheard womb children. We’re a long way from affording them any real protection (requiring no less than the moral re-education of the planet’s inhabitants). But we have to do it if we seek to avoid Foreman’s prophesied new barbarism. Why? The reason is expressed in the painting hanging on the wall in front of me: It features two hands cupping the form of a six-week-old uterine child, while above reads the phrase, “Love Begins Here.”
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