Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Religious Terrorism [Cindy Landrum]

Rev. Dr. Cindy Landrum
On July 20, the First Unitarian Universalist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana, became the target of what some have described as "religious terrorism."  It sounds like hyperbole to some, but it is an apt phrase to describe what went on.  The worship service was attended by members of Operation Save America, who proceeded to interrupt the worship service during a time of silent meditation and prayer remembering someone who had recently passed away.  Members of Operation Save America also surrounded the building, banging on windows of the nursery and religious education wing, screaming and holding up graphic images of aborted fetuses.  A letter describing and condemning the actions of Operation Save America has been signed by 40 religious leaders in the New Orleans area, and can be read here.  Operation Save America's account of events, calling this "dynamic witness," can be found on their webpage blog here.  It also says, "After lunch, the saints traveled to two abortionists’ neighborhoods for public awareness campaigns. Awareness campaigns involve disseminating information to notify communities that one of their neighbors murder babies."

Terrorism is defined as "the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims."  The FBI definition of domestic terrorism is similar:
  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
This act in Louisiana didn't include violence.  So why is it terrorism?  Because it's done by a terrorist group that has included violence in the past.

Operation Save America's Logo shows
that they reject the secular state.
Operation Save America was formerly known as "Operation Rescue."  It was only five years ago that Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed by someone with connections to Operation Rescue/Operation Save America.  He was shot and killed while attending his Lutheran Church.  Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue/Operation Save America called Tiller a murder and said, "We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches."

Operation Save America's presence at the UU church on July 20th wasn't designed to convert or inform.  It wasn't designed to have peaceful dialogue.  It wasn't part of a desire to create a bridge between UUs and OSA and it wasn't done out of respect.  It was, simply, an act designed to intimidate -- to remind us that Dr. Tiller was killed five years ago in a house of worship, and that our sanctuaries are not safe spaces from them.  Similarly, their presence in the neighborhood of abortion providers is an action designed to intimidate and threaten the doctors, who are well aware of the history of extreme violence from anti-abortion groups and individuals.   OSA distances itself from each act of murder, attempted murder, bombing, or arson, but escalates the rhetoric and uses intimidation at every opportunity.  The group calls the doctors "murderers" and distributes wanted posters for them -- for the same doctors who were then, in turn, murdered, by people with connection to the group.  The OSA current leader himself, Flip Benham, has been found guilty of stalking a doctor in North Carolina who provides abortion. 

In Unitarian Universalism, we're well aware that violence against us can happen in our churches.  It was the shooting in the Knoxville UU church, a shooting motivated by hatred for liberals, that led to the formation of our Standing on the Side of Love campaign. 

So, yes, one of our churches was terrorized.  But we know our response, and have responded well: we stand on the side of love.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's definitely getting scary to be a UU and attend a UU church, and even more so, for you, to be a minister of one. We must take our stand though - on the side of Love - and continue on. And it just serves to remind me how proud I am of you and to hold you always in the love of my heart and believe that you will be safe, no matter what. I love you, my daughter. Mom