Anarchy in the name of God

The Oregonian, January 24, 1999
By Mark O'Keefe

Seated on a metal chair at a folding table with a chipped laminated top, Paul deParrie models his infamous trademark, the black beret. On this day, as on most others, deParrie takes on the image of darkness not, he says, for symbolic significance, but because "I look good in dark colors."

He sits there in a black T-shirt, black sweat pants, black sneakers and white socks, occasionally checking his black watch. Nearby, atop a bookshelf, is an inspirational print of a barefoot, white-robed Jesus kneeling and praying.

Softly and articulately -- with a few jokes sprinkled in -- deParrie explains how the Bible justifies the calculated killing of abortionists.

"It's not one of those pretty biblical mandates like love your neighbor as yourself," says deParrie, his green eyes shining with intensity above a ragged red beard. "But hell is not a pretty doctrine, either. There are lots of unpretty doctrines in the Bible. Yet if God wrote the Bible, I have to abide by it whether I like it or not."

Frightened yet? Abortion providers and their patients certainly are. Within the anti-abortion movement, this ideology of violence also strikes fear.

"These people are very scary to me," says Cathryn Passmore of Corvallis, a Feminists for Life member and longtime anti-abortion pacifist who also derives her values from the Bible. "Their thinking is along the same lines as those who take things into their own hands and go with it. It's anarchy, using whatever means are at their disposal."

The vast majority of the anti-abortion movement, as well as the broader Christian community, want nothing to do with this theology of violence and the people who advocate it. But the militants press on. Last week, they held their annual White Rose banquet honoring people in prison, including members who have used violence, for "defending the unborn."

Perhaps the most overlooked way of stemming the violence, much less ending it, is to understand what makes these people tick and to have people closest to their ideology persuade them they're in error.

With a local magazine and several movement leaders advocating violence, Portland is one of the nation's hotbeds for the philosophy of "use of force" to prevent abortions. A closely-watched federal court case that will resume this week in Portland pits the First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and speech against the safety needs of abortion providers and their patients. Providers are arguing that a Web site called "The Nuremberg Files" and two "wanted"-style posters, each listing personal information about doctors who provide abortion, have threatened their lives. But even if the anti-abortion fringe loses this case, the violence probably will continue as the movement goes further underground.

"We're dealing with individuals from small groups of people who basically feel the system has failed them," says Gary R. Perlstein, a Portland State University professor and nationally recognized expert on terrorism and fringe groups. "They feel they must use other tactics because they truly believe through their interpretation of religion that they are saving children from murder. I totally disagree with them, but I do understand them."

Most people don't understand.

DeParrie, the man in black, is editor of Life Advocate, a Portland-based publication that has made heroes of people who shot abortion providers in the name of God, such as Shelley Shannon, Michael Griffin and Paul Hill.

DeParrie hasn't killed, but he and his beret are a common sight outside Portland abortion clinics, where he carries what he calls his "dead baby picture" and tries to provide "sidewalk counseling" to patients. His organization, Advocates for Life Ministries, is one of the defendants in the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood of Columbia/Willamette vs. The American Coalition of Life Activists.

DeParrie, who is under a court gag order, emphasized that he could not talk about the case and that his comments did not necessarily represent the organization's views.

Many portray deParrie and his ideological cohorts as radical people tacking on a theological rationalization for violence. Others say their movement merely needed a new strategy after years of frustration and desperation about employing nonviolent methods. Still others speculate that deParrie and his friends need to be sensational to raise money and support.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, deParrie says.

The "justifiable homicide" theory comes from soul-searching, Bible reading and hours of prayer, he says. As a long-term strategy, violence will never persuade the American public to recriminalize abortion, deParrie concedes. And as for fame and fortune, he points out that subscribers to Life Advocate dropped from a high of about 5,000 to about 1,000 after the magazine condoned violence. Premise of an "unborn child"

So why have they staked out this lonely island they find themselves on?

The real motivation, deParrie says, is "theological and biblical." In other words, it's about the Bible, or at least an interpretation of it.

What do these activists see in the world's best-selling book, "the greatest story ever told," that few others do? How can they find a call to pull a trigger in the midst of a sacred text better known for peace-loving scriptures such as "turn the other cheek," "love your enemies," "blessed are the peacemakers" and "thou shall not kill?"

Their argument is complex, with many assumptions and questionable analogies. But it begins with a fundamental premise that a fetus, from the moment of conception, is an "unborn child" worthy of all the protections of a living person.

That assertion has long divided the public, including people of faith. The Rev. Eugene Ross, a United Church of Christ minister and an Oregon policy council member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, says the Bible provides "no real definition of when life begins."

But on his basic premise, deParrie has support. Most Roman Catholics and evangelical Christians agree that abortion is the taking of a very young life. But if it's murder, what should Christians do about it? It's here where the anti-abortion movement parts ways, with the advocates of violence citing scriptures seldom discussed elsewhere.

Most of those come from the Old Testament, the part of the Bible predating the birth of Christ and the New Testament that followed. For example, they quote Exodus 21:14, which says "if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from My altar and put him to death." Another favorite is Proverbs 6:17, "The Lord hates" hands "that shed innocent blood."

In her book, "In Defense of Others," which lays out a philosophy of anti-abortion violence, Cathy Ramey, a University of Portland graduate, tells how Moses slayed an Egyptian taskmaster, a scene dramatized in the animated movie, "The Prince of Egypt."

But what about the Sixth Commandment, presented by Moses, saying "Thou shall not kill?" Ramey argues that the Hebrew word used here is "ratsach," one of seven words in the Old Testament describing the taking of life in one way or another.

Ratsach, which is forbidden, is never used in the context of legitimate war, accidental killing or self-defense, or in describing how Moses killed the Egyptian, Ramey says. She even cites passages from Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and 2 Kings where God commanded the killing of individuals.

The bottom line is this: Ramey says the Old Testament never forbids and in fact condones the "defensive action" of an activist killing an abortionist who is about to murder babies, although she warns it must be done to save lives and not as a punishment.

Even most Christian scholars who interpret the Bible literally say it's dangerous and often inaccurate to take obscure Old Testament passages and apply them to life today. That's because these were written when Israel was a theocracy, meaning the government's role was to strictly implement all of God's commands, such as capital punishment for adultery.

The New Testament, they say, presents an entirely different model. Further, in the United States, we don't live in a theocracy, but a pluralistic republic based on democratic principles. The teaching of Christ was to obey the law, which in modern America permits abortion and forbids the killing of doctors.

In her book, Ramey admits she can't find any place where Christ says abortionists should be killed. She does, however, make much of the scenes in which he forcefully drove money-changers out of the temple with a whip and told his disciples, just before his death, to take up a sword.

Most students of scripture say that the money-changing incident hardly condones violence and that the sword mentioned by Christ is a metaphor for something spiritual. To say it argues for the literal use of a weapon, much less a deadly weapon against abortionists, is considered a leap.

Alone on the "use of force"

Roman Catholics denounce all killing, including capital punishment, saying the Bible presents a "seamless garment" protecting life. Pacifists, such as Mennonites and Quakers, say the Bible argues for peace and forbids violence.

Thus, the anti-abortion radicals find themselves isolated on what they call the "use of force," yet convinced they are correct.

"I reluctantly take this position," says deParrie, who adds he has never used force and feels squeamish at the mere thought of killing. "I don't always agree with God. But I know I have to even though it may not seem comfortable. As far as I can tell, this is what God says."

On the back cover of an anti-abortion book called "A Time to Kill," there is a qualified endorsement from Dr. Carl Laney, a professor at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland. He says the book "presents a rather convincing argument for the use of force in the defense of the unborn." Although Laney makes it clear he doesn't use such force, he says, "I would not condemn those whose conscience has led them in the other direction."

In an interview, Laney says, "I did take a little heat on that" when the seminary's president and dean asked him to explain his position.

But Laney has stood firm.

"If someone is attacking my children, do I have a right or a responsibility to use deadly force against them? I think I do. Do I have the right or responsibility to use deadly force against someone threatening someone else's child in the womb? Yes, I think there is a possibility there."

Laney is alone in publicly considering violence among the 19 professors at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary. Perlstein, the terrorism expert at PSU, says Laney's qualified endorsement "is exactly the same thing as supporting it. It gives moral cover to the movement because it's not only coming from a university but a religious university. They'll spread that around and make sure other people read it. What you'll have is more people who are on the edge supporting them."

Justifying violence with religion is nothing new, Perlstein says. Tackling the problem differently

Addressing the problem takes a different approach.

"These people and others like them do not respond to the typical arrest-deter model that law enforcement officers use," Perlstein says. "These are not typical criminals. They are people with a deep belief in what they're doing. They're not doing it for money or personal gain, but for all the things we consider good, such as saving a life. Traditional methods of law enforcement will not deter them."

What may work, Perlstein says, is for people who share most, but not all, of their ideology to make the case for nonviolence and, if necessary, work with law enforcement officials. That's what happened when Bo Gritz, the survivalist and anti-government author, persuaded white separatist Randy Weaver to surrender at Ruby Ridge, Perlstein says.

"The reason was, he was able to speak the same language as Weaver," he says.

Gerry Breshears, a theology professor at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, speaks the religious language of the anti-abortion movement. During "Life Chain" demonstrations, Breshears holds up signs saying "abortion kills children." But Breshears passionately disagrees with using violence.

He has debated Laney many times, trying to convince him his position not only is harmful, but also is biblically incorrect. He says he also has met with three local anti-abortion leaders who were wrestling with the theology that this is indeed a "time to kill."

"I was able to help them think it through and persuade them that was not the way to go," Breshears says. Considered radical themselves by abortion-rights advocates, Breshears and other religious conservatives may be the last line of defense to prevent future killings -- if they take the time to talk with people considered too scary by the rest of society.

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