The past four decades have seen an ever-tightening alliance between American evangelicals and the Republican Party, and few have played as pivotal a role in fostering that coupling as Reverend Rob Schenck. The evangelical minister from Buffalo, New York, gained national notoriety in the 1990s as a fervent anti-abortion activist who orchestrated shocking stunts to promote his cause, including one in which an aborted fetus was thrust in the face of then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton. His keen ability to advance religiously conservative causes brought him to the nation’s capital and the epicenter of politically conservative power circles. During the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, he boosted the right’s anti-abortion and anti-LBGT agenda, netting great success with the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and Bush’s partial-birth abortion ban.
But today, Schenck is, in many respects, unrecognizable. He’s distanced himself from many of his fellow evangelical pastors and former political allies, leaving his anti-abortion work behind in favor of another pro-life cause, though one uncommon among American evangelicals: gun control.
Schenck attributes this transformation to his late-career doctorate in ministry—specifically, his research on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who questioned the symbiotic, and problematic, relationship that emerged between Adolf Hitler and 1930s German evangelical churches. Schenck began seeing parallels in the closeness between the American evangelical church and the Republican Party, and wondering if the religious institution to which he’d dedicated his life had become complicit in providing a spiritual veneer for a hate-filled political agenda. [Continue reading…]