I've been following the story of the man who apparently killed four policemen in Lakewood WA, a Tacoma suburb. The suspect, Maurice Clemmons, has been killed by a Seattle police officer. At the end of this story by Gene Johnson of the A********* P**** appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle 12/01/09, Seattle police kill suspect, he reports:
Clemmons was charged in Washington state earlier this year with assaulting a police officer and raping a child, and investigators in the sex case said he was motivated by visions that he was Jesus Christ and that the world was on the verge of the apocalypse.
But he was released from jail after posting bail with the assistance of Jail Sucks Bail Bonds.
Documents related to those charges indicate a volatile personality. In one instance, he is accused of gathering his wife and young relatives and forcing them to undress.
"The whole time Clemmons kept saying things like trust him, the world is going to end soon, and that he was Jesus," a Pierce County sheriff's report said. [my emphasis]
In other words, his expressed motivation for his crimes was his Christian religious beliefs. The undressing scene described seems significant, because it's the kind of sexual control associated with cults. In other words, however pathological, that he had religious motivations for his crime.
This is important in light of Mike Huckabee's unusual clemency policies toward violent offenders during his Governorship of Arkansas. He relied heavily on the prisoners' expressed religious faith and the recommendations of other Baptist ministers - the Huck was a Southern Baptist minister himself - in his clemency decisions, as Joe Conason describes in Mike Huckabee's fatally bad judgmentSalon 11/30/09. Joe quotes from Clemmons' own clemency petition to the Governor:
"I come from a very good Christian family and I was raised much better than my actions speak," he explained in his clemency application in 2000. "I'm still ashamed to this day for the shame my stupid involvement in these crimes brought upon my family's name ... I have never done anything good for God, but I've prayed for him to grant me in his compassion the grace to make a start. Now, I'm humbly appealing to you for a brand new start."
It's notable that no one in their right mind would blame the Christian religion in general for Clemmons' actions, even though he may have been entirely sincere in his Christian religious professions at the moments he made them.
But that's not the standard that a star pundit like Tom Friedman, who is actually one of the most influential opinion columnists in America, applies to Islam, as Friedman showed us in his column just this weekend.
But aside from highlighting the screaming hypocrisy of American anti-Muslim bigots holding all of Islam to a foolish standard they don't expect of the majority Christians in the US, there is a genuine concern that some Christian leaders are promoting or simply maintaining a heavy silence in the face of rhetoric that creates a climate in which crimes like those of Clemmons become more likely.
There will always be hate-filled nuts on the fringe of any movement; left, right, religious or secular. No one in leadership should be blamed for their fringe -- unless they don't speak up. Post "Tea Parties", "Obama isn't a real American", and all the rest it is strange and disturbing to witness the silence of the evangelical leadership in the light of so much venom directed against our President by a largely evangelical Republican base.
This is shocking to me, given that for much of my life I was not just the son of a famous evangelical leader (Francis Schaeffer -- "credited" by Max Blumenthal and others as a founder of the religious right) but for a time I was also his sidekick and a leader in the evangelical world in my own right. I quit over the slide of the religious right into extremism. That said I'm still a believing Christian (non-evangelical and progressive) and to see the name of Christ used to promote hate outrages me. To see the Bible used as a political bumper sticker source (for whatever "side") is an affront.
He points out in particular that Billy and Franklin Graham recently had a high-profile meeting with Sarah Palin and put out a friendly statement about her. But neither of them saw fit to condemn her dishonest and inflammatory rhetoric about the "death panels" she claimed that health care reform would bring.
The rhetoric from antiabortionists that has become as common as dirt about abortion being like the Holocaust is another example of the kind of talk coming from respectable leaders that help to unhinge desperate and troubled believers. Not only is it anti-Semitic, i.e., asserting that terminating the pregnancy of a fetus with no possibility of surviving without being part of the mother's body is worse than killing a real live Jew. It also creates an image of not only medical providers but advocates of women's right to choose as being murderers beyond the pale of human decency.
My wife is an operating room nurse who does not take part in abortion procedures. But any doctor or nurse may be in the position at some point of having to perform an operation that risks the life of a fetus in order to save the mother's life. So I'm particularly aware of sleaziness of people demonizing medical providers as murderers for performing legal abortion procedures.
The article by Rick Anderson linked below says that Clemmons was fatally shot while fleeing from a police officer, who apparently was patrolling alone.