My late father and I share part of the blame for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the abortion doctor gunned down on Sunday.
Until I got out of the religious right (in the mid-1980s) and repented of my former hate-filled rhetoric, I was both a leader of the so-called pro-life movement and a part of a Republican Party hate machine masquerading as the moral conscience of America.
In the late 1970s, my father, evangelical pro-life leader Francis Schaeffer, along with Dr. C. Everett Koop (who soon become surgeon general in the Reagan administration) went on the road with me, taking the documentary anti-abortion film series I produced and directed to the evangelical public. The series and companion book eventually brought millions of heretofore nonpolitical evangelical Americans into the anti-abortion crusade.
In the early '80s, my father followed up with a book that sold over a million copies and which, in certain passages, advocated force if all other methods for rolling back the abortion ruling of Roe v. Wade failed. He compared America and its legalized abortion to Hitler's Germany and said that whatever tactics would have been morally justified in removing Hitler would be justified in trying to stop abortion. I said the same thing in a best-selling book I wrote.
Like many writers of moral/political/religious theories, my father and I would have been shocked that someone took us at our word, walked into a Lutheran Church and pulled the trigger on an abortionist. But even if the murderer never read Dad's or my words, we helped create the climate that made this murder likely to happen. In fact, it has happened before. In 1994, Dr. John Bayard Britton and one of his volunteer escorts were shot and killed outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Fla., by Paul Hill, a former minister and an avid follower of my father's.
Angry speech has become the norm in American religion from both the right and the left. Words are spoken which, when taken seriously, lead directly to violence by the unhinged and/or the truly committed.
When evangelicals on the right call President Barack Obama a socialist, a racist, anti-American, an abortionist, not a real American - and, echoing the former vice president, someone who is weakening America's defenses and making us less safe - the logical conclusion is violence.
The anti-abortion crusaders are not the only ones to blame for an extreme and sometimes violent climate around this issue. Roe v. Wade went too far, too fast and was too sweeping. I believe that abortion should be legal. But I also believe that it should be re-regulated according to fetal development. It's the late-term abortions (which Dr. Tiller specialized in performing) that horrify most people. And for the sake of keeping abortion legal, adjustments need to be made.
Regardless, the same hate machine I was part of is still attacking all abortionists as "murderers." And today, once again, the "pro-life" leaders are busy ducking their personal responsibility for people acting on their words.
The people who stir up the fringe never take responsibility. But I'd like to say that I, and the people I worked with in the pro-life movement, all contributed to this killing by our foolish and incendiary words.
I am very sorry.
Frank Schaeffer is author of "Crazy for God" and the forthcoming "Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism)." His e-mail is email@example.com.