The senseless and brutal murder of Dr. David Gunn has been made even more tragic by the refusal of Christian fundamentalist leaders to repudiate the act, much less acknowledge their own complicity.
Especially repugnant is Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed's characterization of Michael Griffin, the man who shot Dr. Gunn three times in the back, as a pathetic aberration with marital problems (The Wall Street Journal, 3/15/93). Maybe so.
More likely is the notion that an already unstable mind, whipped into a fury of righteousness by paramilitary rhetoric, snapped. All across the country, evangelical churches are training their members in the tactics of terrorism. They are aligning themselves with extremist groups like Operation Rescue and preaching the gospel of spiritual warfare against America's secular social and political institutions. Reed's carefully modulated wording does not belie the fact that the stated goal of the theocratic Christian Coalition is to be the most powerful political force in America by the end of the decade.
Reed bemoans the loss of religious influence on civic discourse in America and holds a pervasive cultural elitism responsible for a "growing contempt for religion." Poor church attendance by media leaders (but, who's counting?) accounts somehow for this crisis in values. Hear some of Reed's own civic discourse. In describing the Coalition's strategies to gain political power he boasts, "I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel by night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night." No wonder he has never condemned Operation Rescue for its motto: "If you believe abortion is murder, then ACT like it's murder!"
Reed pines for an earlier century when school children read their McGuffey Readers by candlelight, memorizing Bible verses and church hymns — a time when personal faith and public service were synonymous. The Institute for First Amendment Studies has examined countless arguments for tearing down the barriers separating church and state, but nostalgia was never one of them.
The death of Dr. Gunn was a public relations nightmare for the religious right. It took great imagination to blame pro-choice advocates for the barrage of attacks launched in the past year against women's health centers. Don Treshman, head of Rescue America, the group that targeted Dr. Gunn for particular persecution, went so far was to proclaim the so-called pro-life movement the real victims. During a "MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour" interview, Treshman even accused his opposition of fire-bombing their own clinics to make his people look bad.
Sympathy eludes us when Reed whines, "Why are the law-abiding, church-going citizens associated with the isolated violence of an obvious sociopath?" He knows the answer to his own question.
The killing of Dr. Gunn was not an isolated act. It was the direct result of a singular conspiracy among religious extremists preaching terrorist behavior as a godly act, and all who shared in stimulating the frenzy must share in the blame. No amount of public posturing can cleanse their hands or their souls of the blood shed in the cause of their movement.
A federal law is needed to protect women's access to clinics. Attorney General Janet Reno has instructed her staff to work with Congress to develop such legislation and to secure passage of it. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced legislation that would make it a federal crime to attack medical personnel or clinic property. A similar measure to insure clinic access is proceeding in the House. Swift enactment of this legislation is crucial.