As many of you know, I am Greek Orthodox. But until recently, my son was not. My wife, who is Southern Baptist, convinced me not to baptize our son and not pressure him towards one faith or another so that he could choose his own spirituality when he was old enough to make that choice.
One day, a few years ago, my son came to me and said he wanted to join the Greek Orthodox faith. I’m not sure how or why he made that decision, but I could not have been happier or prouder. I was still cautious. I wanted him to know exactly what he was getting himself into. So I found a nice church in Sacramento and we began to attend Sunday service together.
For me it was no big deal. I was baptized a few months after I was born by my Grandfather, who was a priest. I was raised in Chicago where I attended a school run by our local church. My brother and I were altar boys. So when I walked up to the steps of our new church in Sacramento, with my son slightly behind me, on that first Sunday, it was like coming home. No big deal.
But for my son, it was a new experience, and he noticed things I have always taken for granted. As we entered we were greeted by the Church Elders in the lobby. I spoke a little Greek and earned some smiles. We signed the guest book. But as we made our way up the aisle to take a seat, my son leaned over to me and whispered, “I didn’t know churches had bouncers.”
I instantly understood exactly what my son was talking about. The Church Elders in just about any Greek church are a group of very big, very serious men in suits that scrutinize everyone entering. If my son and I did not pass their silent but very intense inspection, we would not have been allowed to enter the church.
This did not surprise me. It is the way it has always been throughout my experience. I was raised to recognize that it is a dangerous world, that there are good people and bad people, and not everyone likes or understands Greek people. I take it for granted that care must be taken to make sure dangerous people do not enter the House of God and disturb Christ’s Peace.
Since then, my son, Evan, has been baptized and has been given his Greek name – Evangelos (it means “good messenger”) – which he speaks before taking Holy Communion. And now the Church Elders recognize him and stand aside as he enters to take his place every Sunday.
After church this last Sunday I learned that not every Christian church has “bouncers” to preserve Christ’s Peace.
Last Sunday, May 31, 2009, in Kansas City, Missouri, Dr. George Tiller went to church like he did every Sunday. But that day, during the service, a man walked up to Dr. Teller, took out a gun and shot him in the head. As Dr. Teller fell, the gunman threatened to kill anyone who tried to help him. The gunman then left the church and drove away in a car parked outside on the street.
Dr. Tiller is a doctor that performs abortions. He is the latest in a long string of Doctors who have been killed by religious fanatics who oppose abortion and believe Jesus approves of killing doctors who perform abortions.
I am morally opposed to abortion. I believe that life is sacred. But I am part of a spiritual tradition that prefers a different approach to solving the problem. For example, my church raised the money to buy an abortion clinic located right next door. We converted it into a bookstore. I smile when I think about it, how quintessentially Greek is that non-violent, elegant, poetic solution.
But when I think about Dr. Teller’s assassination, I realize that I know exactly what it represents. A crazy person who did an evil, horrible act in the name of God committed that killing. He killed Dr. Teller because Dr. Teller was a sinner, and it is okay to kill sinners.
I know of others who think and behave this way. They are killing American troops in Afghanistan and blowing up schools in Pakistan. They call themselves the Taliban, and they are hell-bent on forcing everyone to follow an extreme version of Islam, which believes that it is perfectly fine to kill anyone who believes differently than they do.
There is a place in Pakistan’s Swat Valley called the “Bloody Crossroads” where each night the Taliban dump the bodies of the sinners they have killed. They do it so that, each morning, the people can look out and be afraid – not of God, but of the Taliban.
We Americans think we are better than everyone else. We take pride in our moral superiority. If you are one of those who do, Dr. Teller’s death should make you question, just a little, the basis for your pride. We Americans are capable of giving birth to people just as crazy, just as deadly, just as evil, as those filthy Taliban. Remember that Jim Jones was American. Remember that David Koresh was American. Remember that Timothy McVey was American.
And then, if you are lucky, you will remember Dr. George Tiller, realize his church is our bloody crossroads where an American Taliban dumped a body to inspire fear, and then, if you have any decency at all, you will wonder what in God’s name has happened to us.
This entry was posted on June 2, 2009 at 12:46 p06 and is filed under Op Ed . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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Don’t feel shame for what some boil on the arse of humanity did simply because he is from the same country as you. Or Christian. You can however feel superior because you, your son and (I will assume) the people you call your friends wouldn’t murder someone in a church. Shit i’m angry at the guy for doing it, and I’m not American or i guess by this point actively Christian. He performed late term abortions, only when independently agreed to by other doctors, that the baby, the mother or both will die if the pregnancy isn’t terminated. I won’t say he was a hero or anything, but it’s a decision that needs to be made. It is definitely something that I would prefer was made under the guidance of a medical professional in an official capacity (anyway don’t want to get into that discussion).
The 3 people you named at the end may have been American Paul, but it doesn’t make your country evil nor does it signal a slide into the end of civilization. It just says your religious freaks are more famous than our religious freaks or another countries religious freaks.
The incident with the doctor was an awful thing to happen, but it was not a common occurrence, so it made the news, even down here. Actual news, not a byline. When these things stop making the news, that will be the signal for the end times, and i’ll be in my bunker. Waiting
This an excellent post, and I also agree with uamada, nuts in the name of God, come in many colors and nationalities…not just American. I have no tolerance for people who claim to know what God wants, regardless of their flavor of religion.
I live in one of the most conservative states in the country and this attack has been roundly condemned here by liberals and conservatives alike. I might add that in the past 6 months, we’ve elected our first black president, appointed the first Black Attorney General, and are about to appoint our first Hispanic SCJ. Roe V Wade isn’t anywhere close to be overturned and the wackos in your party are being even further marginalized by this terrorist act. In short, this wacko’s behavior is hardly an indictment of America as a whole.
I love your church’s response to having to tolerate that affront to your moral beliefs: you bought it. First came my gut reaction of: Oh great you used the power of money to abolish that affront to your moral sensibilities. There are many traditions where this is the solution: it’s not a problem if I don’t have to deal with it. Please, offer up your body and life to care for that special life that drives a woman to loose hers in some back alley in places sans such clinics. But, then logic got the better of me. So, thanks for funding a bigger, better clinic in a hopefully more tolerant neighborhood.
There, having dealt with the demons, I go back to enjoy again this warm and yet poignant piece of writing.
PS Take heart. What has happened is that you are not the only person opposed to abortion condemning this horror in this once overly proud and morally superior nation. We are slowly learning to be humble.
Moko – Thank you. But please don’t tell Stumpy. If he knew I am pretending he would stop playing.
Flint – You are expat? That explains why you have not risen to the bait of my jokes at Tasmanian expense.
Uamada and Jaded – I know. But sometimes it is important to be reminded that evil comes in all colors and national identifications. Many of my fellow countrymen suffer from hubris. We need to clean our own house as we criticize the moral hygiene of others.
Puma – Yes. As a conservative American, it is time for the “right” to cast out this lunatic fringe that is poisoning our body politic.
Ana – Don’t get me wrong. I am morally apposed to abortion, and the faith I belong to more or less doesn’t discuss the issue. Personally, I also believe that the choice is none of my business. I am not competent to judge whether it is a “sin” or not. None of us are. The decision is distasteful, but if it is made it is a decision that is made by a woman and her doctor. It is not my decision to make. I neither want to help it or hinder it.
But, if an abortion clinic loses its lease for purely economic reasons, and the location is good for a book store, then nothing prevents me from taking over that lease at a profit. I didn’t make them move. I didn’t deprive anyone of a choice. I just exploited a business opportunity. The fact that it was an abortion clinic merely satisfies my sense of irony and poetry.
Our young President is right. There is common ground between what used to be warring camps. Even those pro life can join with those pro choice to agree to work together to help avoid teen pregnancies, which in turn lowers the abortion rate.
The guy who shot that doctor doesn’t see that. I am utterly confident – and I hope I risk no hubris – in saying that Jesus would not have approved of that murder. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a dangerous fool.
Dr. Henry Morgentaler was given the Order of Canada last year in recognition of his services to women and for leadership in the fields of humanism and civil liberties. He performed more than 5000 illegal abortions, fighting various courts and serving time until Canada declared the laws unconstitutional. He oversees six clinics (retired in 2006).
Three current holders of the Order of Canada resigned from the Order, and gave back their awards in protest. All were from Montreal, all Catholic, one Cardinal, one astronomer and one pianist/conductor.
So much more civilized than shooting or bombing, although one of Dr. Morgentaler’s clinics was bombed, and he was once attacked (but protected from) someone with gardening shears.
Paul – very nice and moving article. I like your use of the personal to frame and contrast something awful. I hope that when I attempt the same thing, as I do from time to time, it comes off as well as you’ve done here.
There are murderous nutjobs everywhere who believe they have the right to kill someone based on one religious pretext or another. Where guns are easy to acquire, the use of such to express displeasure or affirm some sense of righteousness becomes more frequent.
Hopefully the violence of the anti-abortion league will abate.
Therbs – I see an increase in violence, not a decrease. The decision in the 1980’s to bring those people into the Republican Party gave them an unhealthy sense of power and influence that they became accustomed to feeling. With the demise of the Republican Party, that influence and power is evaporating, rendering them as irrelevant as they were before they were made part of the party. They are not rational. They deal with this new reality by raging against it.
More doctors and nurses are going to be murdered and more clinics are going to be bombed. Eventually law enforcement will stamp them out but not for quite some time.
It doesn’t take running an abortion clinic to warrant being assaulted with gardening shears, but all I had to do to defend myself was promise that old lady I would be sure to hit her porch with the newspaper next time. America is FULL of whackos with gardening shears.
Paul, extremely well written, and I like how you made your point of showing that Islam is not the only religion that has produced people willing to misinterpret their religious text as a justification for murder.
And I can see why Greek Orthodoxy has “bouncers.” When you had the Muslim hordes knocking on one door, and Roman Catholicism, always willing to convert you, or kill you while trying, knocking on the other, the Greeks naturally had to be suspicious of guests. Question though….will Evangelos be growing a long flowing beard? Or is he not at that stage yet?
Steve – A long flowing beard? In my son’s dreams. He is 17 and his facial hair is at the extent to be expected.
My grandfather founded many churches in the deep south in the 1930’s. There are legends of how he would persuade local chapters of the KKK to turn a blind eye to his congregations by exploiting the fact that so many Greek immigrants were former Balkan guerilla insurgents. I remember being told “we are a peaceful people, until provoked.”
The Roman Catholic Church could learn a lot from the Orthodox churches (Greek, Armenian, etc) by allowing their priests to marry. They would have people lining up to take vows. But, that would admit the Schism is closed, and Rome would never do that. Also, they might think they’d have to have the beards too, which is just silly. Irish priests could never pull off that look.
Steve – Othodox priests cannot marry, but they can get married before they are ordained – which means by the time you are a deacon, you are married.
Chaz – Religious extremists believe it is perfectly okay to tell people what to do based on a subjective moral evaluation of what is right and what is wrong. I believe that abortion is morally wrong, but I do not believe I get to impose my moral beliefs on anyone. Religious extremists – in the US or in Afghanistan or anywhere else for that matter – don’t see the difference between what they believe and what should be civilly prohibited or criminally punished. They cannot separate church from state.
How dare you make a moral equivelency to us and them.
In a land of 300 million people (USA), you managed to name 4 domestic terrorists. Our culture and government strongly condemns the actions all 4.
The Taliban and other Islamic extremists are MANY and their actions are consistent with a culture that tolerates and even encourages such behavior. Yea, I DO think our country and the freedom and liberty it represents is a little superior to the way of life the Taliban tries to IMPOSE on others.
So NO, I don’t “question the basis of my American pride” as you ask us to. There’s are much better arguments one could make for our lack of superiority to other countries, such as our of control spending and propensity to vote for a President based on style of substance or experience.