MAXWELL:  Radical Christian right inspires contempt and fear

1/8/1995- Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


During a recent trip to Gainesville, I met one of my former students at a department store. As we talked, a white woman, perhaps in her late 60s, approached us, pointed her finger in our faces and shouted: “God hates pride!” The student and I were shocked as the woman walked away, glaring back at us.

As the student was about to speak, we realized that he was wearing a T-shirt boasting of “pride” in his high school’s state championship football team of a few years ago. As we talked, I grew angrier about the woman’s verbal assault. In the parking lot, I saw the woman getting into her car. A Bible lay on the dash. On the rear bumper were two stickers, one reading “Abortion is Murder,” the other “Jesus is My Savior.” A crude drawing of a fetus was taped on the rear window.

A chill went through me. I felt raw contempt for the woman. Standing in the busy parking lot, I loathed my feelings and thoughts. The woman had drawn me into the hatred that I have tried to purge from my life. As a black male reared in Jim Crow Florida, I have already consumed too much precious energy hating and finding reasons to hate. Momentarily, this woman’s presence had pulled me backward, and I was afraid of the regression I felt inside, afraid that I had not progressed over the years. Afraid of facing a truth that I have avoided, a truth that remains with me today.

And what is that truth: Not only do I dislike the radical Christian right, but I am also afraid of these people, as individuals, as a group, as a concept. Their insults and reckless aggression, the kind the woman showed toward two men she did not know, threaten public tranquility.

Mostly, I am afraid of their god _ not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as I was taught to know Him _ but a god the extreme Christian right has created in its own image, a god who forgives its murderous deeds. This god is vicious. This god inspires the likes of Michael Griffin and Paul Hill, a former minister. This god, apparently revealed in the Scriptures, is linked most recently to the shooting deaths of two receptionists in Massachusetts, to the wounding of several other people there and to the barrage of bullets fired on a clinic in Virginia.

John Salvi, 22, has been arrested for these latest acts of Christian zealotry. Some close to him say that he found direction in the Bible and in prayer sessions with other Christian anti-abortionists. I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of those in the radical Christian right believe that the murder of anyone connected with abortion is justifiable homicide that their god approves.

Consider, for example, the religion-induced madness of former minister Donald Spitz, head of Pro-Life Virginia, speaking a day after Salvi was captured: “I believe God brought him here. Most of our people believe that any act that is taken to save the life of the unborn is moral and just. There’s a lot of support for him here.”

Spitz is one of many anti-abortion activists in the radical Christian right who have signed the so-called lethal force petition, a document now in FBI hands, that justifies lethal force to protect “the lives of unborn children.” Doubtless, the Christian right, many talk show hosts, some conservative Republicans and other individuals and groups contributed to this national climate of antipathy. They, too, have blood on their hands.

Today, the Catholic Church, through the National Conference of Bishops, is leading the way in trying to bring some sanity to the culture of abortion protest. On Jan. 3, in the wake of the recent murders in the Boston area, the bishops announced that it might ask Catholics nationwide to stop demonstrating outside abortion clinics. Obviously, Catholic leaders, and many mainline Christians, see nothing wrong in principled opposition to abortion. But they are realistic and wise enough to know that protests outside the clinics play a major role in the escalating violence and death.

Christian extremists have no such wisdom. They have always scared me, but I, like millions of other Americans, rarely express this fear candidly. As a child growing up in the South, the vilest, most vicious people I knew, mostly white men who were pillars of the community, called themselves Christians. When I first learned of Bob Jones University _ a Christian institution that until recently used the Bible to prove that blacks are an inferior race _ I asked my grandfather, a Pentecostal elder, to show me in the Scriptures where God justified discrimination against black people.

His answer is etched in my memory: “God never said nothing like that. God is too good for that. Crazy, evil people made that stuff up.”

In addition to using the Bible to support racism and murder, Christian extremists use the Scriptures to rationalize other anti-Christian sentiments such as homophobia, hatred of people with AIDS, the subjugation of women, greed, the castigation of other religions and denominations. These are the same humorless people who want to establish prayer and their version of religion in the public schools.

These are the same people who have turned Jesus Christ into a fatigue-clad, gun-toting slayer of abortion doctors and receptionists. They are no better than the thugs who terrorize our streets and homes. If radical Christians see themselves as moving the nation to a higher moral plane, they are deluding themselves.

Fear, hatred and aggression are the wrong tools for forging alliances with those who do not initially agree with you. These tools will not pave the way for finding the truth. Fear, hatred and aggression will sink to their own level _ down into the primal recesses of human nature.

Bill Maxwell is an editorial writer and columnist for the Times.


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