There is an informal group of anti-abortion advocates – really domestic terrorists – who have become disaffected with what they think is a lackluster response to the scourge of abortion by the mainstream pro-life movement. Calling themselves the Army of God, they consider themselves at war with the forces of evil, specifically the abortion industry. Infamous anti-abortion activists such as Paul Hill and clinic bomber Eric Rudolph have claimed to be members.
|Soldiers in the Army of God|
|Directed by Marc Levin and Daphne Pinkerson|
Soldiers in the Army of God is a 2000 HBO documentary directed by Marc Levin and Daphne Pinkerson, based on a February 1999 Esquire article titled “Neal Horsley and the Future of the Armed Abortion Conflict”1, by co-producer Daniel Voll. Like many of the documentaries I’ve viewed recently, this one is shot cinema verité-style: rather than editorializing, the creators just point the camera and let their subjects speak for themselves.
Neal Horsley is the webmaster of the radical anti-abortion Web site christiangallery.com. He and Jonathan O’Toole, a young radical anti-abortionist, also formerly maintained the Nuremberg Files, a Web page listing the names and addresses of abortionists and abortion-clinic employees. Any who were killed or maimed by anti-abortion violence were struck off the list.2 Horsley is additionally the founder of the Creator’s Rights Party, an extremist political party advocating, amongst other things, Southern secession. En route to the White Rose Banquet – an annual gathering of the most radical of anti-abortionists – O’Toole remarks that if God told him to kill for the cause, he would kill.
Bob Lokey lives in Alabama, where he has erected a giant, graphic anti-abortion billboard on his property. A trucker, he drives his rig to Washington D.C. to attend White Rose – as Lokey describes it, the “hardest core” of the pro-life movement. Though, he hastens to add, they are not hardcore enough for his liking. At the banquet he remarks to another attendee that he came hauling a load of ammonium nitrate; while he was sure it was purely for agricultural use, he expresses hope that there is an outside chance it might be used for something “non-agricultural.” (Timothy McVeigh had an effective “non-agricultural” use for fertilizer.) And when Lokey starts talking to Neal Horsley about how he circumcised himself with a pocketknife, the weirdness factor shoots off the scale.
The centrepiece of Soldiers in the Army of God is a prison interview with convicted murderer Paul Hill, then biding his time on death row for the shooting of abortionist John Britton and a clinic escort in Pensacola in 1994. The documenters had already shown Hill, via the magic of home video, screaming “GOD! HATES! MURDERERS!” at the clinic. Now, awaiting execution, with a friendly grin on his face and no visible trace of remorse, he explains to the filmmakers how God told him to buy a gun and become a murderer. The irony of his situation must have escaped him.
Bad theology often begets worse theology. But for the Army of God, it also begets worse action. I don’t even want to know what motivated Bob Lokey’s self-circumcision; clearly he needs to read Paul’s letter to the Galatians more closely. But nearly every major player in this documentary states, at some point, that if he felt God wanted him to kill for the sake of the unborn, he would kill. I’ve spoken at length elsewhere about why subjective feelings are a completely useless means of knowing God’s will. God has made known how he feels about murder: what is so hard to understand about “Thou shalt not kill”? But a Paul Hill has a feeling that God wants him to blow away an abortionist, and that trumps all other considerations, including what God has actually revealed. The very assertion shuts down all arguments to the contrary. Bad theology begets bad consequences.4
Romans 13 reads:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. . . . for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom. 13:1,3-4)
God has given the sword to the civil government: that is, they are his ordained instruments of justice, authorized, if necessary, to kill lawbreakers. Notably, Paul does not say this power is granted to the Church or to individual Christians. Outside of individuals in civil or military service, or churches exercising discipline on its members, Christians are simply not given the authority to administer justice, execute wrongdoers, or wage war. Violent vigilantism, in short, is anti-Christian. This conduct is not even (as the cliché puts it) taking the law into one’s own hands; it is lawlessness. I get no pleasure in seeing a professing Christian like Paul Hill executed, but he has received the due penalty for his act.
I’ve avoided, as much as possible, using the term pro-life to refer to members of the Army of God. They may be anti-abortion, but they are not pro-life. Their kind of activity is actually inconsistent with the pro-life philosophy: it is wrong to take the life of a human person without justification. Pro-lifers may disagree over the appropriateness of capital punishment, but no consistent pro-lifer can support private citizens deliberately destroying life or property.
There’s no question where the filmmakers stand: the documentary concludes with a memorial service for Dr. David Gunn, another Pensacola abortionist shot to death in 1993. Ironically, however, in the end it’s the hardcore anti-abortionists that have put forward a halfway cogent rationale for their position, however repugnant it is. By contrast, Gunn’s supporters gather in a Unitarian church to sing touchy-feely protest hymns. The choice between toxic radicalism and vapid emotionalism is hardly useful.
Postscript (June 7): Looks like the Rev. Donald Spitz, webmaster of armyofgod.com, saw my review and linked to it. Looks like he was a little too enthusiastic, though: I guess he must have read it afterward, because there’s nothing there now (but see the post slug for the evidence). D’oh!
1 Daniel Voll, “Neal Horsley and the Future of the Armed Abortion Conflict,” Esquire, February 1999, 110-16, 118-19. The article is included on the DVD release.
2 404’d footnote: The Nuremberg Files were shut down by court order in 2002, although mirrors still exist internationally.
3 Dying in vein footnote: Hill was executed by lethal injection in 2003.
4 The sheep are scared footnote: And speaking of aberrant conduct, it’s also worth noting that both Horsley and Lokey have served time; Horsley for drug dealing, Lokey for first-degree murder. Additionally, Horsley has admitted on more than one occasion that he engaged in bestiality as a youth, arguing that this is normal behaviour for rural Georgia. No, really.