The Arson Attack on Planned Parenthood and Political Violence Against Women

In this image made from a video provided by, firefighters try to put out a fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pu
In this image made from a video provided by, firefighters try to put out a fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Wash., Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. The pre-dawn fire heavily damaged the clinic in the college town and a regional terrorism task force is working to determine whether it was arson. ( via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Well, what did you expect? After a summer of inflammatory (and inaccurate) politically motivated attacks against Planned Parenthood, one of their clinics has been heavily damaged by what is now determined to be arson.

Attacks on women's self-determination in body, mind and spirit are a staple of our political life because they work. Unless and until we confront the root reasons why patterns of violence against women work, both overt and covert violence against women will continue to be a political mainstay.

The fire at the facility in Pullman, Washington follows a wave of protests at Planned Parenthood clinics across the country this summer, including the 500 who gathered earlier in August outside the Pullman clinic, waving signs and calling for Congress to defund the organization.

"This is an appalling act of violence towards Planned Parenthood, but unfortunately a predictable ripple effect from the false and incendiary attacks that fuel violence from extremists," Karl Eastlund, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, said in a statement.

The political attacks on Planned Parenthood, supported by conservative religious groups, do indeed fuel extremism, and are part of long-standing structural violence against women. Arson is physical violence and it is often and outcome of the structural violence of inflammatory political rhetoric. Structural violence as I have defined it, is a pattern of "constriction of opportunity" and "unjust exploitation" without overt physical violence, though most often backed up with the threat of physical violence.

Attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, a crucial provider of health care for women, especially poor women, are part of the structural violence against women that has now led to physical violence. This is not new. Tragically, overt violence against Planned Parenthood clinics and personnel, including murder, has happened numerous times as this database shows.

It is inevitable that incendiary rhetoric by conservative politicians, supported by Christian conservatives, will sometimes lead to physical violence. The arson attack on Planned Parenthood appears to be the current, but far from the only example, of misogyny, that is hatred of women, of this summer's political posturing that has led to violence or threats of violence.

While the language of hatred of women here is strong, it is warranted. Hatred is more than dislike, or even anger. It is a sustained and passionate form of aversion that often leads to the idea that violence or threats of violence against the hated group or individual representative are justified. Hate is profoundly immoral and dangerous. This is why the New Testament warns, "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness." 1 John 2:9.

Despite what this New Testament text teaches, Sen. Ted Cruz is wiling to shut down the whole government to force the defunding of Planned Parenthood, and he is calling on more than 1,000 Christian pastors and religious leaders to help him do it. Cruz wants these Christian leaders to preach and rally public support for an amendment defunding the family provider in the must-pass federal budget bill in November.

This is part of what has come to be called the "War on Women." It is opposition to women's self-determination, their ability to determine their own family planning needs, and even opposition to their receiving adequate health care. Among presidential candidate Jeb Bush's many "gaffes" this summer was his callous statement, "'I'm not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women's health issues. Astonishingly, Bush even went on to admit, "The argument against this is, well ... it's a war on women and you're attacking women's health issues," before trying to walk back his remarks.

You said what you really meant the first time, Jeb. Yes, it's a war on women. Its root is misogyny.

The stated issue for many conservative Christian pastors and religious leaders is abortion, but the root is in the dangerous shaming and blaming of women that has been carried along in conservative Christian theology over many centuries. From Eve as the first sinner, through Mary Magdalene, inaccurately accused of prostitution and being the magna peccatrix (biggest sinner), through theologians such as Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther up to today's Christian evangelicalism, women are constantly labeled as sinful and rebellious. Thus, this line of theological thinking concludes, their bodies, minds and spirits should be under male control, and violence against women is justified merely when they attempt to act as self-determining human beings as I have extensively documented in my book Women's Bodies as Battlefield: Christian Theology and the Global War on Women.

This idea that women are unruly and should be subject to male control was vividly on display in the repeated attacks by billionaire and presidential candidate Donald Trump against Fox News host, Megyn Kelly. When Kelly, one of the moderators of the Fox News candidate debate, dared ask Donald Trump a question about the "war on women" and asked him to explain several of his derogatory comments about women, Trump visibly bristled and then followed up after the debate with a furious series of tweets, calling her sexist names. Trump "supporters," however, went further. A series of appallingly sexist insults against Kelly and praise for Trump putting her "in her place" ramped up following the debate. Kelly told her network she had received death threats from Trump supporters.

When Kelly returned to work after a family vacation, Trump immediately began to Twitter troll her again. Such an unprovoked attack shows that the anti-woman bias functions as a political strategy. Death threats show it is inevitably dangerous.

Attacks on Planned Parenthood, both rhetorical and physical, and Twitter rants against women journalists who dare to question male candidates are part of our political culture because they work. They work because they can tap into a deep vein of hatred of women that flows like the Ghostbusters "River of Slime" under Western culture and religion.

Fortunately, there are other Christian faith themes and political principles that we can access to counter this misogyny, the hatred of women that is anchored in an idea that they are rebellious and must be subject to male control, even male control enforced by violence.

The life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, his commitment to a community of equals, both men and women, and his resistance, even to death, of unjust political and religious rule subverts the idea that dominance by some and subordination of others are God's will. Democratic principles of citizen equality and equal treatment under the law are also crucial counter themes.

Burning women's health care clinics or threatening women who ask questions and trying to deny women's right to self-determination in body, mind and spirit make a mockery of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, and many of the teachings of the biblical prophets on which he drew.

The "war on women" is political theater that makes a mockery of democracy.

But for me, a Christian pastor and teacher, I tell you truly, denigrating and threatening women's equality is an offense to Christ.