Waking up the other day to the news of the shootings at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood building, my mind drifted back in time, conjuring lyrics and songs from my youth. I grew up listening to "Christian rock" before there was such thing as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). The 1970s are synonymous for me with Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, and the Resurrection Band.
When the Colorado-based Steve Taylor hit the scene in the early 80s, I found his music catchy and clever, a kind-of Oingo Boingo for the Christian set. (He claimed that The Clash's London Calling saved his life.) His song "I Want to be a Clone" castigated Christians who conformed quickly to a one-size fits all ideology and style. "Meltdown (at Madame Tussaud's)" cut into the cult of celebrity, while "We Don't Need no Color Code" challenged the rampant racism of some conservative Christian settings, especially at the prominent Bob Jones University.
This was also the age when renowned evangelical intellectual Francis Schaeffer shifted his emphasis from examining the arts and culture of the West to focus energies on the subject of abortion. According to his son Frank Schaeffer in his 2007 autobiography Crazy for God, the elder Schaeffer was hesitant to get directly involved with political issues, but Frank and others prompted him to take a stand on abortion. Schaeffer began to work alongside C. Everett Coop, who would soon become the U.S. Surgeon General in the Reagan administration, as they co-authored the 1979 anti-abortion screed Whatever Happened to the Human Race?
Frank Schaeffer's later reflections would turn confessional, apologizing for what he saw as wrongheaded, almost fame-driven motives at the time. Politics was more sexy than philosophy, even if the elder Schaeffer would have remained content in the philosophical realm. The younger Schaeffer's autobiography is revealing for its outlining of the shift in evangelical culture leading up to and during the Reagan era, as conservative Christianity moved into mainstream political life and abortion became its myopic, singular focus.
At this time, Steve Taylor was growing ever disenchanted, and furthered his critique of an evangelicalism gone too far. His late-80s song "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good" mocked the violence that a handful of anti-abortion protesters had begun resorting to. The final lines resound:
I yelled "Excuse me, sir
Ain't nothin' wrong with this country
a few plastic explosives won't cure" (full lyrics here)
But just before that he sings, "The ends don't justify the means anytime." Taylor's clownish performance as he sings, and the extremities of the lyrics make it difficult to think of the song as anything but satire.
Unfortunately, satire gets read as literal, and controversy ensued, causing Christian and feminist groups alike to protest Taylor's song. Taylor showed there can be irony in the midst of evangelical passions. Yet, the ridicule was lost on many.
Beyond the intellectualized arguments from Koop and Schaeffer, and apart from Taylor's jests, beginning in the 1980s and extending through to today, anti-abortion protesters have occasionally turned to violence in the name of God.
Eric Robert Rudolph is currently serving four life sentences in the ADX Supermax Prison in Colorado for his bombings of abortion clinics and the Olympic Park at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games. James Kopp is serving a life sentence for the murder of Barnett Slepian, a doctor who performed abortions in Buffalo. Both had associations with right-wing, anti-abortion Christian groups, including the terrorist organization "Army of God," in operation for over 30 years now. The list extends much further.
As we continue to sift through the debris of Robert Lewis Dear's life, we may stumble on a series of signs pointing to a misguided emphasis on violence, toward a literalism that is reading the wrong words in the wrong ways, where satire and violence cross. A life of mixed up chemicals and mixed up genres.