A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar

Abortion and American Nationalist Religion: A Conversation with Rob Schenck (Part 1)

August 25, 2023 Randy Knie & Kyle Whitaker Season 4 Episode 1
A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
Abortion and American Nationalist Religion: A Conversation with Rob Schenck (Part 1)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Season 4 is here! To kick it off, we've got a 2-parter for you with Rob Schenck, a former Washington insider and heavy hitter in the evangelical Christian lobbying industry. Rob was an influential voice in the pro-life movement for decades, but lost his position, and his funding, when he began to question the consistency of the evangelical position on guns with their stated pro-life convictions. His story is featured in the Emmy Award-winning 2016 documentary The Armor of Light. In Part 1, we speak with Rob about his background, his anti-abortion activism, and how his views have evolved on that issue. Part 2 will focus on evangelical gun culture and its consistency with a pro-life ethic.

The beverage featured in this episode is New Glarus Pilsner. Jump to 7:29 to skip the tasting.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

Content note: This episode contains graphic discussion of abortion.


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NOTE: This transcript was auto-generated by an artificial intelligence and has not been reviewed by a human. Please forgive and disregard any inaccuracies, misattributions, or misspellings.

Randy  00:06

I'm Randy, the pastor half of the podcast, and my friend Kyle is a philosopher. This podcast hosts conversations at the intersection of philosophy, theology, and spirituality.

Kyle  00:15

We also invite experts to join us, making public space that we've often enjoyed off-air around the proverbial table with a good drink in the back corner of a dark pub.

Randy  00:24

Thanks for joining us, and welcome to A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. So you've heard me talk about this rooftop experience I had in Manhattan in June of 2021. And we've had a number of guests on who I met there and connected with it was a rich, kind of enchanted time it was I still look back on it with just all sorts of goodness and gratitude and want to shape a community around kind of what I experienced there. And one of the key people that I met there on that rooftop in lower Manhattan in the financial district was a gentleman by the name of ROB shank. And Rob wasn't on my periphery before this, but he sure was afterwards because his story is pretty wild. And I know Kyle, you've gotten you've dove into the world of Rob shank for the last couple of weeks. And he's a pretty fascinating person.

Kyle  01:17

He is he's one of the rare guests, you know, when we have a guest on if we're reading a book, I'll read the book, but then I'll go like, you know, see what else they've done. If they've done any podcast interviews, I'll try to listen to some recent ones. We didn't have anything to read for him. But we did have, he was the subject of a documentary that came out in 2016. So I watched that, and he has written books very moving. Yeah. But he didn't like send them to us to read, you know, very. And so I've watched his documentary, and I listened to a bunch of podcasts. And he's one of the rare times where I didn't get tired of hearing him talk about just maybe a bad thing for a podcaster to say, but like, most people have a stick and you hear the same thing over and over again. And there are a couple sound bites that he repeats. But for the most part, it was different content. And it was always super interesting. And I feel like we got totally original stuff in this conversation that I hadn't heard anywhere else. And yeah, just a really humble and gracious and just super fascinating person to talk to you. Yeah,

Randy  02:10

I mean, can I say who he is, please? Yeah, I mean, Rob, converted to Christianity in his teens. And just, it was the perfect storm where he rose to prominence within the evangelical world as a pastor and evangelical leader in the mid eight, early to mid 80s. And that was right when the evangelical storm was just taking America by by storm. And he rose to prominence where he lived in DC. He was on Capitol Hill, he was working, he had a bank, you know, fundraised up millions of dollars and was rolling around with Jerry Falwell 's of the world and with senators and representatives and Supreme Court justices. He was a mover and shaker in the evangelical world, particularly in the conservative policymaking world. And then he stood up against guns and everything changed.

Kyle  02:54

Yeah, rapidly. If you watch this, if you watch this documentary, he's still as it's being filmed, he's still in that position. And he's starting to grapple with some things very boldly, knowing that this is going to be the subject of a documentary and knowing who his donors are. And then the fallout from that documentary it sounds like is what kind of, you know, got the whole thing irrevocably rolling?

Randy  03:20

Yeah, so this is one of our few two part interviews where there was just too much goodness. And we didn't we literally didn't get to have our outline. Yeah, I mean, we're gonna have Rob on again. So that will, this will be kind of a three parter. But we'll have this one. And then we'll have another one coming up. And they're both talking about really important stuff. So before we get into that, though, before we talk to Rob, we do tastings around here, because we're a pattern philosopher walk into a bar. We'd like tasting delicious alcoholic beverages. And I hope you brought one of those things today, Kyle.

Kyle  03:47

Yeah. So early on in this podcast, when we started doing these tastings, we talked about the kinds of beers we liked, because we started with beer, and you are a fan of pilsners. And I promised you that eventually we would taste some pilsners and we just haven't done it. Unfortunately, I think we had one when you brought it.

Randy  04:04

But I had a Pilsner Urquell. Or we did that one. I

Kyle  04:07

don't know if he did any more. But so I was supposed to go out and find some good pilsners for you and I just haven't done but I was at the store the other day and I saw this from a brewery that I really respect. And this is a really well regarded Pilsner amongst my beer friends who liked them. I'm not that person. But this is literally just called Pilsner, which I respect from New Glarus Brewing Company who distributes only in Wisconsin. So if you're outside of Wisconsin, you've probably heard of spotted cow and it's like the kind of holy grail for people in Illinois, but people in Wisconsin it's just normal beer. But this is their attempt at a sort of a blur of German and Czech style, which is

Randy  04:44

what else the only good pilsners when I say Pilsner, I'm not into Miller High Life. I can drink it. I'm not talking about Bud Light. I'm talking about good European pilsners like Pilsner, Urquell Bitburger, Czech bar, all those things and so, to be honest with you, I've I've met very Few American made pilsners that I think are even close to on par. We'll see

Kyle  05:03

if you think this is close. I don't have a horse in this race. I'm not a huge Pilsner fan, so if it has any flavor at all, I'm probably gonna like it.

Randy  05:09

That was great. It's got that metallic kind of hoppy thing that I'm looking for in a pilsner. Good, yep, it brings that skunky hoppiness dryness to the edge of my palate. It's dry. It's easy drinking. It's a good American Pilsner. Like in the European fashion.

Elliot  05:31

It's very crisp. Yep. And it's very short. Like, you drink it. It's gone.

Randy  05:36

It's still not that happy. For me. It's a little bit of bitterness on my tongue. There is

Kyle  05:39

a little bit of bitterness not too much. I like it. Although my taste for for bitter hops has grown over time, so I can appreciate that now and I used to not be able to, but it does have something that most pilsners I've had don't have that as an aftertaste. And it has almost like a Brady thing that lingers for a few seconds. Ready. Ready? Yeah, sure. Yeah. And I don't hate it. Yeah.

Randy  06:03

I just how I feel about barrel aged stouts.

Kyle  06:06

Yeah. And one of us is right.

Randy  06:10

One of us is trendy, let's say. Yeah, this is pretty good. It's a good drinking Pilsner. This for $2. It's great. I mean, this is you won't find this in most places for $2. But I mean, this is a good American Pilsner. This is really quite good New Glarus? Well the

Elliot  06:27

the whiplash I would say from drinking Signet. struggled.

Kyle  06:34

Yeah, very different thing.

Randy  06:36

We're coming down to the masses to the common people.

Elliot  06:39

I don't like it.

Kyle  06:44

I will say you know, I like it for a pilsner. I'm still not gonna like go reach out and try to find a bunch of pilsners but you know, this is if I was eating pizza, this would be great.

Randy  06:52

Yeah, of course or burger or hanging with friends on a boat in the summer day. Like, you're not going to drink a stinking stupid barrel aged stout. Right.

Elliot  07:01

Pastor philosopher walk onto a boat. Yeah, that's the podcast I have produced.

Randy  07:05

And I wanted to have a pilsner in my hand. Nice. Yeah. All right. Well, New Glarus, Pilsner. Cheers, good job. Rob shank, welcome to a pastor and a philosopher walk into a bar.

Rob  07:32

Thank you. I don't get to a bar very often. So I really appreciate the invitation.

Randy  07:38

Excellent. Well, I'm glad we could oblige you. Rob, can you we connected in New York a bit and it was brilliant to watch the film that that's pretty much about your story, and be able to connect but can you tell our listeners a little bit about who you are and what you're what you're doing?

Rob  07:53

Yeah, well, like you guys know soul who occupies this mysterious earth of ours. But I have a bigger story than that. I was raised in upstate New York born into a nominally Jewish home. My father had been born Jewish, my mother had converted to Judaism to marry him. It really wasn't a religious act. For her. It was meant to calm the concerns of his family that he was marrying outside the faith. She had been born and baptized, Catholic raised Episcopalian. So it was a rough go, you know, in in those days, into religious marriages were not popular on either side of that equation. So they made a pledge to raise their children, four of us with Jewish identities, but they gave us the freedom to explore faith for ourselves. And we each did that. My brother, my identical twin brother, Paul, and I ended up befriending the son of a Methodist minister, who had a very deep personal Christian faith, and that was intriguing to us. And at age 16, I made a public profession of Christian faith and a little country church on an island and just in case you guys are playing a trivia game, the largest freshwater island in the United States Grand Island sits between the US and Canada, in the Niagara River eight miles upstream from Niagara Falls. So now you know, all those all those particulars. And that's where I was raised. And that's where I came to embrace Christian faith. And I was very counterculture. My first act of protest was against the Vietnam War. When I was 13 years old. I was involved in the environmentalists movement before it was called that it was called the ecology movement. Again when I was a teenager, and I saw Jesus as a radical as a kind of revolutionary, and I found that very appealing, and it's one of the things that drew me to the Gospel. And then to the heart of all my Republican friends, I will make this public profession this confession to you guys. That at age 18, I cast my first presidential vote for the born again candidate in 1976, Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, it horrifies all my, my Republican friends. But as time went on, I got into a stream of American Evangelical life that was becoming more and more politicized. And by 1984, I had been the Bible college, I've been ordained as a minister. I was traveling as an evangelist, a young evangelist. And I took my seat at the 1984 annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals, when President Ronald Reagan became the first sitting United States president to address a body of evangelicals. And I was there and I came under the Reagan glow. And from there, my life, my ministry took a very different trajectory. And I think you probably want to get into that later. So I'll, I'll stop the filibuster there.

Randy  11:50

What are you doing now? Rob?

Rob  11:52

Yeah. Well, in my, in my 47th, year of Christian ministry, I'm trying to figure that out, I guess. For the last seven years, I've directed the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute named for my earthly hero, you can see him over my shoulder here in my study, because I have regular conversations and arguments with him. My posture and spiritual director, Young World War Two era, German Lutheran pastor, who was one of the first voices in his 20s, in his late 20s, one of the first voices to speak out against Adolf Hitler, and the coming horror, of Nazi dictatorship and the Third Reich and all the attendant and ghastly crimes against humanity that would come he was one of the first to see the specter of that and to speak out against it, he would, he would lead a resistance movement, in part against Hitler and Nazism mostly from the vantage point of preserving the integrity of the witness, the Christian witness and gospel in his country. And as I'm sure you guys in so many others know, at age 39, he was murdered, he was hanged at philosophy Burg concentration camp, but not before leaving marvelous body of work, principally on Christian ethics, I have all the volumes in those blue binders, those blue books over my head here. And before that, of course, I was on Capitol Hill for 30 years as an activist on the religious rights, something I look at very differently than I did during those years. And I have a lot of regret attendant to it. But at the same time, there were some good things about those years, and I reflect on those a lot. Now I'm getting ready to make a transition probably to the last stop that I'll make on my professional ministry journey, which is on the faculty of something called the Miller center for inter religious Learning and Leadership at Hebrew college. And I know you guys have had or rose, a rabbi, and director, founder of that center on your podcast, and I'll be joining or, and the amazing community of Hebrew College in a new endeavor, lecturing on Christianity and religious leadership, and all that against the backdrop of being a new grandfather, which is the greatest joy of my life. So that's it in a nutshell.

Randy  14:58

That's got to feel like a full circle moment though. Where you grew up the son of a Jewish father and, you know, Christian mother, and now you're moving into teaching at a Jewish institution, in teaching Dietrich Bonhoeffer there. I mean, what a what a full circle moment. So you have a fascinating story. Rob, I've been excited to share you for quite a while. And I want to get into that fascinating bit. So you hinted, you brought us in 1984. Ronald Reagan addressing the National Association of Evangelicals? Can you bring us into that world? And even I love the way I've heard you describe it, you talked about your faith journey is a journey of three different conversions. You told us a little bit about the first one and 16 year old, you know, in that small church, seeing Jesus as a radical and revolutionary but then you had a second and then a third conversion. Can you tell our listeners about that journey?

Rob  15:48

Yeah, that initial conversion was a very beautiful one that introduced me to a wonderful new family, people who were very concerned about the poor, about the marginalized, about the forgotten about the isolated, the despised the rejected people. And it for me, that reoriented my life, it added a third dimension, what I like to call that third dimension of spirituality, because while we were Jewish, in a cultural sense, our family was not a religious family at all. So it brought spirituality into my life. And, you know, we call each other brothers and sisters, and it expanded my sense of family and community. But by the mid 80s, something was happening, a phenomenon was taking place in the United States, and that was American evangelicals were finding their place, not just at the political table, though, they were in a very big and pronounced way. But they were also kind of finding their place in a prestigious sense. In other words, you know, evangelical churches were growing. We called it you know, the church growth era, many of the mega churches that we talked about today, started blossoming in the mid 1980s. And suddenly, American evangelicals were no longer, you know, the people of the church on the other side of the tracks. We didn't identify with the down and out or because we were the up and comers, we were emerging, we had the biggest buildings, the biggest budgets, the biggest staffs, we had the biggest, or at least expanding media enterprises. A lot of our institutions were bigger and better moneyed than the old, mainline religious, Christian Protestant institutions. Our denominations were bursting at the seams and so on. So needless to say, there was a kind of feeling of pride, you know, we were getting full of ourselves. And then comes Ronald Reagan and his partnership with Jerry Falwell of the old time Gospel Hour and Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, and later Liberty College, which became Liberty University, now the largest evangelical institution of higher learning in the world. All of that was, was just emerging in the late 70s, to the mid 80s. And boy that gave us political clout. And I came under that spell. And in the mid 1980s, I accepted Ronald Reagan as my personal political Lord and Savior.

Randy  19:14

I left but

Rob  19:17

I say that facetiously, but I call my second conversion, my conversion to Ronald Reagan, Republican religion, which is distinctly different from the faith community that Jesus established. And I would stay fixed in that place for the next I lose count after a while but like 30 plus years, and it would propel me into leadership within the national pro life read that anti abortion and movement, which would propel me to Washington DC where I established a ministry called faith and action. We were headquartered on Capitol Hill. My big bragging point during all those years was we were across the street from the Supreme Court, three minutes from the US Capitol, 10 minutes from the White House right in the center of the action. And we used our clout to influence elected and appointed officials to adopt policies and practices legislation, and ultimately, rulings of the Supreme Court that were in favor of the way we imagined America should be. But then, something else happened. Want me to keep going?

Randy  20:47

I want you to pause for a second because you under are a bit understated, but I mean, tell us about your relationships with you know, just briefly tell us about your relationships with senators, with Supreme Court justices with presidents with, you know, I mean, I've got a feeling you're a chaplain as well for Congress, I think. Right. So I got a feeling you had some deep connections, whether it might be the Jerry follows of the world or the Orrin Hatch's in search of the world. Can you tell us about some of those about your world that you were swimming in in those days?

Rob  21:19

Yeah. Well, I wasn't quite a chaplain for Congress. But I worked very closely with the chaplains office, I was a civilian chaplain, but I wasn't a government chaplain. And when I landed on Capitol Hill, I surveyed, you know, the landscape politically, and I saw there was a fair amount of Christian work going on, for example, at the White House during the Clinton years, again, scandalous, infamous democratic liberal president. And yet, they had standing room only crowds in the in the White House Bible study groups. So you know, I said, Well, looks like things are going pretty well there. And then I looked at the Congress. I landed in 1994, which happened to be the year when the largest number of Republicans were elected, they took the majority in the Congress for the first time in 40 years. And as far as we knew, the largest number of Evangelicals were elected to Congress. So I started working with a lot of fellow believers, I guess I would describe them as at least people who are sympathetic to my worldview, and did a lot of of work, building relationships, including with Mike Pence, obviously, our Vice President, but I got to know him when he was a member of the House. He was part of that new freshman group coming in. He would later become governor of Indiana, and then he would return to Washington as vice president. And now of course, he's, he's a candidate for president in 24. So got to know people like Mike Pence prayed with them, visited them often. And I gave out a slew of plaques of the 10 commandments that I asked them to display and to obey, which hundreds of them did over the years. But the big, the big challenge was not the executive branch, the White House and President and the presidency. It wasn't the Congress. It was the courts, with federal courts, and particularly the Supreme Court. And that's where I would focus my attention for about a 20 year period. And I got very deep inside the Supreme Court got to know the conservative members of the court, particularly the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and justices Thomas and Alito, who are in a all a bowl is it a bowl or a ball of trouble? A bunch of trouble right now? And I don't like everything that I did. In those years. I pushed the boundaries of ethics pretty far. And I recently told the Congress that when I testified to the House Judiciary Committee in their investigation of the ethics failures that the Supreme Court so I got to see how our government does its work at the highest levels. And I thought I was doing the right stuff. But in that third conversion that you alluded to, I awakened to the fact that that I was not helping our country, I think I was in fact hurting it, I think I was hurting the church. And I think I was hurting, especially the people in the margins of our human family. So that that's kind of the setup for that moment of crisis.

Kyle  25:25

So we want to talk to you about two topics in particular, which are guns, and abortion, and we're gonna get to those, but you just like opened up a whole ball of other things that I want to ask about. So before we turn to that stuff, so I've heard what you called Ronald Reagan, Republican religion. I've heard something like that referred to variously as the American civil religion, Christian ism, Christian nationalism, there's all these terms that go around about it. And a growing number of people seem to be realizing that whatever you want to call it, it is different enough from historic Christianity that it needs another name, it needs a separate label. So can you describe what it was in your form? And how you think it connects to what it is today? I'm guessing the Mago version of it is maybe a little different. And then also, what what is it about it that's disconnected from historic Christianity?

Rob  26:24

Yeah, wow, those are those are great questions calm, thank you for giving me the chance to even attempt an answer to them. Yes, you know, what people are now calling, you know, Margaret, religion, or Maga ism, or, you know, Trumpian, evangelicalism and so forth, is a bit more of an extreme version of what I was promoting, in my years, because we always had a little bit of doubt about whether, you know, that God and country thing was a perfect match. And curiously, one of the reasons that we that my cohorts, and I doubted that was because of the abortion side of things that we had, you know, one of the one of the most liberal abortion regimes in the world, and that we had one of the highest numbers of elective abortions in the United States. So how, how could we really say that we were kind of God's blessed country. So we've always kept a sort of healthy bit of check there. Now. I wouldn't apply any of those tests today for many reasons. But we did back then, I would say by the time I had taken my seat of leadership in Washington, in the late 1990s, it was pretty much a consensus that God was a conservative, that what we read in the Bible aligned with conservative values and sensibilities, and that the Republican Party was there for as a as the conservative bastion of political ideas and policies. It was the closest thing to the biblical revelation in terms of a political instrument. So really, by the mid 2000s, when you said, evangelical Christian, you meant political, conservative, political and cultural conservatives. So we had fused those two things. And I think we see the worst of it now. But even back then it was very hard for Christians themselves to discern the difference between their identity as a follower of Jesus Christ and their identity as a constituent voter in the Republican Party, that those two things came to mean the same thing. And so that I think, built the platform for what we now see as the heresy I call it the apostasy of Christian nationalism, which is the idea that God attaches his salvific plan to a particular people, ethno you know, geographic population group and a national identity, like being an American. So, you know, what became almost an anthem in the evangelical churches of the early 1990s was, I'm proud to be an American was I forget all the words, but we used to sing it, believe it or not like it was a hymn. So that's, that's the best description I can give it without getting, without boring everybody with technical definitions.

Kyle  30:40

So what has been the major transition to the current Trump version of it? Is it is it other piece? Is it just the logical outworking of what you guys were doing in the 80s? Or is there a continuity somehow

Randy  30:52

or even is Trump the kind of the outworking of what you were doing in the 80s 90s? And yeah,

Rob  30:58

I really see Donald Trump as a product of all of that. Yeah. Yeah, a product and a project. And I'll tell you, in fact, I first encountered Donald Trump in person at pat robertson's 80th birthday party. And, you know, all the major evangelical luminaries in the country. Were there for this kind of wild celebration at the Mayflower Hotel, prestigious venue in Washington, DC. And I had already started struggling very, very badly with all of this, and I was in a real place of internal conflict, but I went because I was invited. And this was 2011. So I walk into this ballroom at the Mayflower Hotel, and I scan the room and I see all the big names in American Conservative evangelicalism. And then I look over at the platform, and there's Pat and some others, and Donald Trump. Now, Donald Trump was somebody I used to use as the premier example of what it meant not to be a Christian. When I grew up in New York State, he was always in the headlines, he was constantly, you know, the subject of the center of some kind of scandal. And he was just known as just kind of an awful actor. So we would use my friends and I would use him as an example in our sermons of what it meant not to be a follower of Jesus Christ. And here he is in the room, having not undergone any kind of transformation of any he was exactly what Donald Trump I had grown up with, and if you know, in the background in my life in New York, and here, he was working the room, and it was very clear that the purpose for him being there was to learn the ropes of how you engage with major evangelical players. And it was kind of a beta test for him. It was a way it was a safe room for him to test is messaging to hold up his mother's Bible and talk about his childhood at Marble Collegiate Church in New York and all the rest of it. And he was failing miserably to connect with the room. And I said to somebody at my table, and these were all luminaries, these were big names, you guys would know them. Every buddy who knows the last 40 years of the event Jellicle history would know these names. And I said, What's this guy doing here? What Why are we even entertaining him? And somebody at the table said, because he's just the kind of a hole, who will get everything done, we need to get done in this country.

Randy  34:22

There it is. And when I heard that,

Rob  34:24

I said, Oh, we we are in a very, very serious crisis. And it was just about that same time that the filmmaker Abigail Disney found me and challenged me to look at the American Evangelical embrace of the popular gun culture. And all that stuff worked together to get me to a place where I finally broke with my community and I became a dissenter.

Randy  34:59

So First of all, this is fascinating to get a seat in the room that no one else gets in hears about. But you just gave away then where we want to go next. Can we pivot? Briefly to abortion? Rob? Yeah, in the film. I remember, it's been a couple years since I've seen it. So it's another freshers, Kyle. But I remember the striking image of you, I believe was in 1992, in Buffalo, cradling preserve fetus in the early 90s, then you became kind of a legend in conservative circles because of how bold this was, and you became a villain in Liberal circles. Can you tell us about that situation? It's kind of a microcosm of how bold and how, how just much you were convinced that this is this? I'm gonna go to extremes in order to stand up for the unborn. Um, tell us about that moment. Tell us what went into it and your perspective on it now? Yeah.

Rob  35:51

Well, there's a story behind that a big one one too long to tell here. But I'll give you just little pieces of it. One is, those fetal remains came from a pathology office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I was out in Tulsa speaking at a pro life anti abortion rally, and a doctor came up to me afterwards. And he said, You got to see, you know, what I deal with every day in my laboratory. It was his responsibility to process these fetal remains that were coming in from hospitals, from clinics, from abortion providers, you know, provider's around Oklahoma. And I saw it, and I understood the power of those visual images. But I want to say here, and I don't mean to excuse it, I think my my actions were inexcusable, I don't think they accomplished what, in the long term, what I thought they did in the short term that were very effective in the short term. But when I did that, when I took those human remains at my hands at the frontlines of, you know, an abortion, that were pro choice and anti abortion activists at each other over a police line in my hometown of Buffalo, New York in those days, and, you know, hundreds of us on either side of, of the conflict. And, and I wanted to kind of shock everybody and, and make a big statement about this. And when I did that, I was thinking of a scene while doing missionary work in Central America, I had seen a family take their stillborn infant and cradle the child in their hands and parade, the baby through the streets on the way to the cemetery. And I thought it was it was very beautiful and powerful imagery. And I was trying to model that. I don't think I did it. Well, I don't think I should have done it, but I did it. In doing it. Not only did I but many, many other national anti abortion leaders discovered the power of these visual props. And we use them over and over again. I believed passionately in the cause I was not a charlatan, I was a believer, a true believer. To this day. I don't find a reason to celebrate abortion, I see it as a loss as a point of pain and maybe even failure. But again, my positiveness spiritual mentor, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He located the problem with abortion in society, in general that fails to fully support women, and their reproductive freedoms and their choices and their autonomy, and even the support of their children. We fail miserably on all those points. And so you get the crisis of abortion, but I saw it differently. And I saw it as something we had to purge from our country. And I thought I was doing that well. There came a moment in time where I had to face the fact that I was not dealing with reality. And this is big. I know we don't have time to get it to button hofers theology, but he has the whole concept of reality. And Christians are given to creating imaginary worlds where everything works the way we think it should work the way we think God wants it to work. And we create it in our minds and I had created a fiction in my mind. And in that fiction, any woman who was in an unwelcome pregnancy could find all the support she needed just for the asking if she needed childcare. Were willing souls in the churches that would babysit her children for nothing. If she needed a job, there were employers in our sanctuaries, who would hire that woman. If she needed health care, there were doctors who wouldn't charge for pediatric visits, and so on and so forth. And that was partially true in infinite decimal numbers, but nothing that could ever match the scale of the crisis. So I created that in my mind. And then there came a moment. I was in jail for my protest activity. I was in the montgomery county jail in Montgomery, Alabama. And because of overcrowding in the facility, they had put me on the psychiatric ward. And there was kind of a poetic justice in that. But anyway, I was on the and weirdly, it was co Ed, there were men and women on that ward. We were in separate cells, of course, and isolation cells. So there was no way to make contact with each other, but we could hear each other and I heard a woman screaming. And as chokes me up, it's hard for me to even repeat this. But I heard this woman screaming the whole time I was there. And she had, she was obviously in great distress. And she said, Where are my babies where the I have three kids, nobody's taking care of wet, who's taking care of my kids. My kids were begging the street what she was in absolute torture, screaming for her children, and nobody came to her aid. Not a guard, not a social worker, not even a chaplain, no one came to that woman's aid. And I would compartmentalize that I put it on a shelf. But it bothered me for 10 years. Because it blew apart my whole imaginary world. Where were all the rosy cheeked white church ladies, why weren't they on that cellblock? Why didn't they come to that woman's aid, she was alone, in her agony in her pleading for her babies. And eventually, that would come to the fore and make me realize that the real world is a world where a woman chooses sometimes chooses abortion as the best solution to her crisis. And I came to finally, there's no woman on earth, who needs my acceptance or approval of that, none at all. But I had to come to terms with it in my own soul. And I did. And it changed my whole perspective on what it means for a woman to make that decision. So that may be more than what you're asking for. But

Randy  43:25

as someone who has spoken so, so much about abortion, anti abortion, pro life, talked about some of the, you know, even extremes you've gone to, and then we can hear a little bit about your where your position is now, but could you just, many of our listeners are very strong on one side of the other of this issue. But I know there's many, and I've heard from them, who say, please talk about abortion, and we have a lot of fear and trembling as a couple of white dudes to talk about abortion, but you're somebody who has been in it who's been, you know, drinking the Kool Aid on the one side, and you kind of had a moment of epiphany or whatever, and still seem to think that abortion has nothing to be celebrated all that stuff. Can you just tell us what's your position on abortion now?

Rob  44:10

Well, I'm glad you mentioned the white male part of it because first of all, I will never really understand abortion and all of its dimensions, I can understand that. Physiologically, I can understand that anatomically, I can understand that biologically, in a technical sense, but I cannot feel it. I cannot know it. Something I've, you know, way too late in life, even after, you know, going through my wife's pregnancies, Cheryl's pregnancies with our two children and being present when they were born, and then having family members who lost children, lost pregnancies and so forth. Even Watching all of that and being very close to it, I can not feel what it is to be pregnant. And I have a great enough respect for that to realize that it's an awesome, complex, almost ineffable state of being. So I've had a great deficiency in even approaching the question, but from a distance. First, I've come to appreciate and this may sound like a keen sense of the obvious, but how unique every pregnancy is. Every woman who is pregnant, every woman who considers pregnancy, who fears she might be pregnant or will become pregnant, how unique child birth is gestation and childbirth, child rearing, or a woman and child, all those things are utterly unique. So you can't apply a universal solution to every situation. You know, the reasons for abortion are Multitudinous. When you talk to physicians, even those who identify as pro life and anti abortion, OBGYN ins, complex pregnancy specialists, I mean, people who do in utero surgeries and so forth, they will tell you, no two pregnancies are like, every situation is utterly unique. So how can you go in and say, one answer fits all here? No abortion, ever, under any circumstance, or at least only when there is a mortal threat to the mother. And even then, there are a lot of voices who say that isn't even, that doesn't even qualify. So the point being, I've stopped opining a lot on this. What I will say is that for the Christian, we have to understand that in every instance, there are a complex array of difficult questions and agonizing decisions that have to be made. And how dare any of us sit in judgment and say, No, I know every single part of your crisis. And I can tell you, I know more and better than you do. I think it's the height, of arrogance of human race of contempt for a fellow human being. In the end, here's my position, my position on abortion. It's complex, it's inscrutable. And I dare not impose my imaginative solution on another person in crisis. I need to walk with them. I need to be with them. In every dimension to that, you know, for too long, I demanded that people in crisis leave their reality and enter my fantasy. And this late in life, I've realized that as a follower of Jesus Christ, as a minister of the gospel as a fellow human being, my job is not to demand that others leave their reality and enter my fantasy, it's quite the opposite. I'm to leave my fantasy and enter their reality. And that's how I see the crisis of abortion. I pray and hope for a day when it's not a necessary option. But that's part of my imaginative fantasy. Reality is something very different. And it requires that I walk with people through the pain of their reality.

Randy  49:31

Thank you for that humble and thoughtful answer, Rob. For listeners who I know we're gonna have lots of listeners who are like holy cow, I had no idea who rob shank was before but I want more of them now, where can they find more of Rob shank?

Rob  49:43

Well probably start at truth revealed which is my new column on path the house called truth revealed, and it's just my opinions for whatever they're worth on a range of subjects but you can Find all my

Kyle  50:01

bold title for your opinions.

Rob  50:04

Thank you but yeah, you know, people can find me there and and then they'll find threads to where we can maybe correspond personally and I do try to answer people sometimes it takes me awhile to do it. I don't have a staff. I don't have the platinum American Express anymore. It's just me all by myself. So it takes me a while, but I do try to get to everybody if they're sincere.

Elliot  50:33

Well, it's been a great conversation so far. And with so much more to discuss still, we'll be picking this up in part two with our next episode, so make sure that you don't miss that.

Kyle  50:42

Well, that's it for this episode of A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. We hope you're enjoying the show as much as we are. Help us continue to create compelling content and reach a wider audience by supporting us at patreon.com/apastorandaphilosopher, where you can get bonus content, extra perks, and a general feeling of being a good person.

Randy  51:02

Also, please rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, and Spotify. These help new people discover the show, and we may even read your review in a future episode. If it's good enough. 

Kyle  51:13

If anything we said really pissed you off or if you just have a question you'd like us to answer, or if you'd just like to send us booze, send us an email at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com.

Randy  51:24

Catch all of our hot takes on Twitter at @PPWBPodcast, @RandyKnie, and @robertkwhitaker, and find transcripts and links to all of our episodes at pastorandphilosopher.buzzsprout.com. See you next time.

Kyle  51:37


Beverage Tasting