For decades, The Rev. Rob Schenck was a fixture of the pro-life movement in the United States. He was the chairman of the Evangelical Christian Alliance between 2012 and 2016 and was one of the most powerful conservative preacher activists in Washington. He began his pro-life ministry in 1992 during large-scale anti-abortion rallies in Buffalo, when he was seen cradling a preserved human fetus. In 1994 he moved to Washington, D.C. out of a desire to minister to politicians. Once there, he planted the National Community Church and pastored it until he stepped down in 1996 to focus his ministry on politicians. He also organized the National Memorial for the Preborn in 1995.
Schenck participated in numerous protests, some of which spiraled out of control (Schenck himself has been arrested on several occasions). Most notably, he was arrested in 1992 for his involvement in ambushing then-president Bill Clinton with a dead fetus in a plastic container. He was also seen confronting people with dead fetuses in 1992 during abortion protests in Buffalo.
But in recent years Schenck has shifted leftward on several issues including gun control and LGBTQ advocacy. In a New York Times op-ed on May 30, 2019 he announced his support for abortion rights.
Schenck’s disagreements with conservatives go back further. In 2016, he starred in the documentary The Armor of Light, produced by Abigail Disney, which details his break with the evangelical movement over gun rights and gun advocacy. While he does not advocate for governmental gun control, he does believe in gun control on a personal level. During a 2015 NPR interview, in response to a question of whether he personally owned a gun, Schenck said, “I do not … on principle; I’ve made the decision not to own a weapon. There’s a lot of reasons for that. One is, I think it does create an ethical crisis for a Christian.” He expanded on this by saying that he does not personally own a firearm and that he does no feel that he should be the arbiter of right and wrong when it comes to a human life. In early 2016 a piece was written on this blog that talked about Schenck’s new opinions on guns and the problems therein.
It appears that Schenck had a similar change of heart regarding LGBTQ issues such as gay marriage, though this shift is less documented. There is a wealth of articles and posts which assume Schenk’s opposition to gay marriage due to his position as leader of the Evangelical Church Alliance (ECA) at the time, as well as many articles directly referencing his opposition to gay marriage through quotations. However, there is less documentation about any sort of shift in his views on this issue. He personally cites differing views on LGBTQ issues as the reason for his resignation form the Evangelical Church Alliance. In particular he cites a desire to “model more than tolerance for gays and lesbians.”
The staff of the New York Times must have been at least a little surprised when an op-ed supporting abortion came in from someone who was formerly a stridently anti-abortion leader in the evangelical community. The article itself is surprising as well. Despite its source, it contains few new ideas. Instead, Schenck presents a suite of pro-abortion talking points that have all been made before. He accuses pro-life legislation of being fundamentally racist in the effects it has on people’s lives, saying, “If Roe is overturned, middle- and upper-class white women will still secure access to abortions by traveling… but members of minorities and poor whites will too often find themselves forced to bear children…” And he talks about how poor mothers have no resources to care for their children. He unfairly alleges pro-life Christians don’t care about and aren’t helping them.
Though he seems to be challenging the church to do better on this front, he ignores the massive amount of good work that Christians already do. Christians and churches are the largest funders of crisis pregnancy centers in the nation, and many other Christian organizations provide support for expectant mothers in crisis situations. Such networks of support cannot simply be overlooked, especially amid Schenck’s smug admonishments.
I believe that this change of heart and opinion piece is a result of the organizations and ministry that Schenck presided over when he still railed against abortion. He paints a picture of pro-life advocates as hateful and lacking compassion for impoverished mothers who believe they have no choice except abortion. This is because Schenk’s own organizations and ministries were severely lacking in compassion towards these women.
Schenck fails when he generalizes his own part in the pro-life lobby to the entire movement. There are many organizations who are pro-life and demonstrate this conviction by offering free or low-cost care to expecting mothers who would otherwise get an abortion. Schenck emphasizes the importance of compassion in his article as a reason that abortion must remain legal.
But Schenck uncharitably ignores the incredible amounts of compassion shown by many who care for the women who otherwise might have no choice. He says he left the pro-life cause because he feels compassion for women with unwanted pregnancies. But he shows no compassion for pro-lifers who labor on their behalf.
Worse still, Schenck in his New York Times piece never explains what he as a Christian thinks about the value of an unborn child. He’s a clergyman who rejects church teaching about abortion but offers no theological rationale. Instead he rehashes talking points from the secular left.
Schenck famously installed a tablet with the Ten Commandments outside his Capitol Hill row house office across from the Supreme Court. Today, what does he think about the command not to murder, which he applies toward gun ownership but apparently not toward abortion?