Rob Schenck, long opposed to abortion, now opposes Christians owning guns

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 Rob Schenck prays in a church during a scene from "The Armor of LIght." Photo by Jeff Hutchens, courtesy of Fork Films

Rob Schenck prays in a church during a scene from “The Armor of LIght.” Photo by Jeff Hutchens, courtesy of Fork Films

WASHINGTON (RNS) The Rev. Rob Schenck has a question for his fellow evangelical clergy.

“Every person who carries in your congregation is prepared to kill someone today,” he says he tells them on his new crusade about gun violence. “Are you helping them with that decision as a Christian?”

Schenck, the Washington-based leader of the Faith and Action ministry, has been known for his anti-abortion work for three decades. In the new documentary “The Armor of Light,” which releases Friday (Oct. 30) in more than 20 cities nationwide, he is first seen as many know him: carrying a preserved fetus in his hands at a rally in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1992.

But after personally seeing the bodies of the Amish schoolchildren prepared for a funeral after being gunned down in 2006, he began to realize he needed to care more about life outside the womb, too.


READ: Thank God: Evangelicals shrink back from support of death penalty


Schenck, 57, credits two other catalysts that led him to devote half his time to the issue of gun violence. He lives in the neighborhood of the Washington Navy Yard, where a shooter killed 12 people in 2013. And he was encouraged by Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, an unarmed black Florida teen killed in 2012, to speak out.

Rob Schenck speaks with Lucy McBath in a scene from "The Armor of Light." Photo by Jeff Hutchens, courtesy of Fork Films

Rob Schenck speaks with Lucy McBath in a scene from “The Armor of Light.” Photo by Jeff Hutchens, courtesy of Fork Films

“I have had pro-life colleagues say to me, ‘More babies are aborted than adults are shot, so why are you taking this on?’” he said in an interview. “Maybe I have to rely on my Jewish background for this, but every life is of equal value.”

Schenck, whose father was Jewish and kept scrapbooks of Holocaust images, said he was reminded anew of the value of all of humanity when he studied theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his 50s for his seminary doctoral work.

“When people take a gun on their body,” he said, motioning as if carrying a gun on his right hip, “even if only to protect themselves and their loved ones, it changes the relationship you have with another human being because it suggests, at least, that if we find ourselves in conflict, you will be injured or die and I will survive and those are the terms of our relationship.”


READ: Survey: Americans SAY gun control is important, but do they mean it?


When filmmaker Abigail Disney, grandniece of Walt Disney, approached Schenck about being featured in her film about gun control, he agreed. She trailed the tall, bespectacled man, who has offered Communion at the Capitol and knelt in protest on the Supreme Court steps, as he toured the country and talked to evangelicals in listening sessions and sermons about their views on guns and God.

Schenck, a member of the religious liberty advisory committee of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, said he is not advocating a particular policy change. Instead he is talking with groups at white churches and black churches about how they should teach and preach about gun violence. He notes that Christians can fight against abortion and gun violence despite the existence of Roe v. Wade and the Second Amendment.

“We appeal to a higher moral law,” he said.

In the Fork Films documentary, Schenck says many evangelicals are members of the NRA and he expresses concern about how much the 5 million-member organization is shaping their mindset.

Schenck emphasized “I’m not anti-NRA,” but he thinks the group’s rhetoric is harmful.

"The Armor of Light" movie poster. Photo courtesy of Fork Films

“The Armor of Light” movie poster. Photo courtesy of Fork Films

“They are fostering a culture that suggests to people they can solve the problem of security threats to themselves and others by simply buying a gun and using it and that to me is really bad advice and destructive,” he said.

Schenck said he prefers the model of Jesus, who rebuked the disciple Peter when he tried to defend Jesus with a sword.

NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter did not immediately comment about the film but said the organization does not keep information about the religion of its members.


READ: A consistently pro-life ethic should include gun control (COMMENTARY) 


Schenck thinks fear is a big influence on those who oppose stricter gun control measures, including a large percentage of evangelicals.

“Fear is in many ways a failure of faith, so it is a contradiction to the Christian life and message,” he said.

Schenck is already grappling with negative responses from his peers and donors to his ministry.

“You’re afraid of firearms; I’m not,” Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion Operation Rescue, tells Schenck in the film.

The Rev. Steven Martin, communications and development director of the National Council of Churches, said Schenck took an “incredible risk” with the film.

“I could see Rob was willing to go where his conscience was leading him even though this put him at a crossroads with his tribe,” said Martin, a friend of Schenck’s. “That’s one of the most difficult choices a person can make.”

In fact, Schenck’s ministry has already lost $130,000 in donor income — about 10 percent of his budget — and he expects it will lose more.

But he says it is worth it: “It’s a matter of life and death.”

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  • Jack

    It sounds like he’s motivated more by emotion than facts or logic, but Washington, DC and intellectual rigor or disciplined thinking go together like fire and water.

    It’s all about feeling good rather than actually doing good.

  • Jack

    When religious figures start thinking in childish, utopian ways, watch out.

    Schenk’s argument against guns is just that…..it’s not much different than an argument for western nations to disarm unilaterally.

    It seems that with each passing day, American evangelical leaders are becoming more and more squishy and sentimentalist and less and less fact-based and truth-centered.

    Grassroots evangelicals have their own problems, but anything is better than this generation of jellyfish.

  • Robert R McBride

    If you would get your head out of the 24 hour news cycle and the fear mongering of the gun grabbers you will find things are getting better, not worse. https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/violent-crime/violent-crime-topic-page/violentcrimemain_final Expanding on that. http://www.ammoland.com/2015/10/we-have-won-the-war-on-gun-safety/#axzz3pzX7XITP

  • Larry

    “It sounds like he’s motivated more by emotion than facts or logic”

    That is a given. He was a big time anti-abortion activist.

    “It’s all about feeling good rather than actually doing good.”

    Hello…former anti-abortion activist. Of course. 🙂

  • Um, that describes EVERY religious figure. What is heaven if not selling utopian visions of paradise?

    Schenk’s problem is he assumes people actually buy that whole Christian “love thy neighbor” arglebargle and not just use their faith as an excuse to act like arrogant jerks to other people.

    Frankly, Wayne LaPierre has taken the NRA down to a completely cretinous level. There used to be a time when the NRA was for gun control measures. Specifically keeping weapons out of urban areas. Fear mongering, catering to ridiculous fantasies and yes racism factor largely into their public rhetoric these days. Its an embarrassment.

  • Bernardo

    Unsafe sex leads to abortions. Unsafe use of guns leads to accidental deaths and homicides. Next topic.

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  • Garson Abuita

    It’s unfortunate that you’re promoting, perhaps even unintentionally, the slut-shaming argument surrounding abortion, that if only people could learn how to use a condom or take the Pill regularly, we’d have no abortions. My wife needed a D&C after a fertilized embryo failed to implant. We didn’t fail to use birth control correctly, we weren’t using it. We wanted to have a baby and thankfully eventually did, but not this time. Many people consider what we did to be murder. Luckily, we live in a place that did not take that position.

  • epifin8

    It appears the posters here so far have sidestepped the be like “Jesus” aspect. So, until the Prince of Peace is mentioned in your rationale, points on both sides are moot.

  • Bernardo

    Unsafe sex leads to most abortions. Unsafe use of guns leads to accidentatl deaths and homicides.

  • Jack

    So in other words, epifin8, the words, “Prince of Peace” are supposed to make me become a pacifist in a world of tyrants, terrorists, and violent criminals?

    I don’t think so….

    There’s a difference — a colossal difference — between being a peacemaker and being a pacifist.

    Moreover, read Revelation 19, which is about the Second Coming of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, an event that every branch of Christendom looks forward to.

    Read that chapter for yourself and then ask yourself whether the returning Christ depicted therein is in any way a pacifist.

    I would, as an aside, recommend to any Jew-hater or Israel-basher that they read Revelation 19 and tremble. I would not want to be such a person when He returns. It would be better to have never been born.

  • bobo

    I think he makes a good point (though I don’t own guns) about how the presence of a gun can change the relationship I would have with another human being. It’s like carrying a switchblade maybe. The intention to use it (to frighten/injure/kill) in certain situations is there.

    As for how it is Christian or not, I think if we accept that Christ taught his disciples to live in peace, and love even their enemies, there is a tension. How do I love my enemy (who is threatening me) while holding a gun with intention to frighten/injure/kill him? Concern for his well-being would be thrown into the mix, which would make it hard to use a handgun for conflicts I have with him.

    Any thoughts are welcome.

  • Jack

    I think the key distinction to be made, Bobo, is between peacemaking and pacifism.

    The two are not the same. Pacifism is certainly an attempt at peacemaking, but in a world where the strong pick on the weak, tyrants, terrorists, and violent criminals will clearly reign without pushback from the rest of humanity.

    Put another way, all human rights depend on the pivotal right of self-defense or self-preservation, because once you’re dead, you can’t exercise any of them. If the right to self-preservation is a fundamental human right, it follows that people have the right to procure the means with which to preserve themselves. Granted, society has the right to regulate this right in some fashion, to make it harder for guns to end up in the wrong hands. But sweeping, draconian regulations that infringe on the basic right of the average peaceful, law-abiding person to defend himself or herself do nothing to advance the cause of peace.

  • Jack

    In the Biblical sense of the word, to “love” is an act of will, a deliberate choice to desire what’s best for the other person.

    To love one’s enemy is to want what is best for one’s enemy.

    If one’s enemy is wicked — a tyrant, terrorist or violent criminal — the question is what is best for him.

    What is best is, first and foremost, that he see the error of his ways and repent.

    So wanting what’s best for one’s enemy means to pray for a change of heart and life.

    Failing that, the next best thing is for that person to be physically stopped from doing further evil. That would mean incarcerating the person or even killing them, as in war.

    The worst thing for an evil person is for him to go on merrily through life, killing and destroying other people. Why? Because with each new depredation, that person is becoming worse and his soul more corrupted. Nothing and nobody is warning him about his coming date with final judgment.

  • bobo

    Hi Jack,

    I think there is plausibly a need for weapons to deter evil people from harming others. Still, i don’t think that means that citizens need to be armed. Why not let the police or government bear the weapons?

  • jack

    An example of infringement would be a law where the average citizen has to prove to the government that he or she has some extraordinary need to have a gun. If it’s a right, which it is, it should be the other way around. The average citizen is presumed fit to have a gun, and it’s up to the government to prove that a person should not have a gun. An obvious example would be someone with a history of domestic abuse.

  • Jack

    Bobo, I can’t seem to get my post up at all or in its entirety.

    Bottom line is that the police can’t be there 24/7 for everybody. That’s the practical problem.

  • bobo

    Hi Jack,

    Yes, it’s true that sometimes, we do need to provide self-defence for ourselves. I’m wondering though, do we need a gun for that?

    If we’re arguing about gun laws, I can understand that people who have culturally enjoyed the ownership of guns might feel unhappy that their freedom to own guns seems to be restricted because of the irresponsibility of others.

  • Jack

    Well, Bobo, I come from a culture where nobody had a gun, but I’ve come around to the view that it’s perfectly normal for the average citizen to have one. I’m glad that so many do, whereas I once thought that was rather crazy. It isn’t crazy once we step back and realize that we do live in a dangerous world and that if you give a decent person a gun, they’re not going to morph into a violent person.

    A good analogy is arms control during the Cold War. It sounded like a good idea in theory, but in retrospect, it assumed a moral equivalence between us and the Soviet Union — that our aims and those of the USSR were similar.

  • Larry

    A study find that defensive gun use has an negligible/non-existent effect on violent crime in general. Unlike rates of accidental gun death/injury and gun suicide. Its use is extremely rare, even among those who carry weapons.

    “in incidents where a victim used a gun in self-defense, the likelihood of suffering an injury was 10.9 percent. Had the victim taken no action at all, the risk of injury was virtually identical: 11 percent.Having a gun also didn’t reduce the likelihood of losing property: 38.5 percent of those who used a gun in self-defense had property taken from them, compared to 34.9 percent of victims who used another type of weapon, such as a knife or baseball bat.”

    “The surveys also found that when someone uses a gun in self defense…both participants are likely to be responsible for the event that initially prompted the defensive gun use.
    http://www.armedwithreason

  • bobo

    Hi Jack,
    My mistake. When we say the world is dangerous in terms of dangers likely to meet the average citizen, i disagree that a gun is necessary. Armed burglary, etc seem to be exceptions. If guns are rarer though, the cases of these crimes would fall in my view, and so would the need for guns in self defence.