More Heat than Light: Randall Terry's 'Burn in Hell' Protest

By Chuck Gutenson 10-28-2009

Sometimes the things you read are so outrageous that you simply sit at your desk, unclear how to respond. I had that experience when I read this article:

Anti-abortion activist Randall Terry is calling on people to burn effigies of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this Halloween, as part of a "Burn in Hell" video contest to protest the health care legislation in Congress.

What I found particularly interesting was this quote:

"If Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid force us to pay for child killing and they die unrepentant, they will burn in hell for this," Terry said in a telephone interview.

What a remarkably distorted and over-simplified take on a very complicated issue. The problems here run so deep, one hardly knows where to start with response. First, it sweeps under the rug many subtle nuances in favor of inflammatory rhetoric. Of course, Terry's abandon of anything approaching nuanced and careful treatment of a topic are well known. One wonders why we even take the time to respond. Yet one of the main obstacles to reasoned and civil discourse on health-care reform is the lack of challenge to such ridiculous claims as we see here.

Second, the facile implication of abortion here, without inviting the broader discussion on what current health-care plans allow and how they would be changed under various versions of reform, is highly problematic. What does "abortion neutrality" mean and can it be accomplished? These are reasonable questions to ask and debate. Of course, Terry seems to have no interest in such dialog -- easier to toss the rhetorical Molotov cocktail. In the end, discussion is foreclosed, and we are all impoverished.

Finally, though, one wonders: Is Terry willing to be judged by his own standard? By that I mean, is he willing to own the deaths that will be a consequence of a failure to undertake serious health-care reform? If he "forces us" to leave millions upon millions without coverage (and here is the irony, millions upon millions that are disproportionately children!), thus killing many, does he accept that "burning in hell" would be a consequence for him? I doubt it.

Chuck Gutenson is chief operating officer for Sojourners.

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