Social Pressure and Mary Stachowicz
When reading the full story of the murder of Mary Stachowicz, I was struck forcefully by the reaction of gay advocacy groups to the violence. Not only did many individuals express their feeling that Mary Stachowicz was a “bitch” who deserved to die for attempting to provide Christian counsel to a homosexual man, but there was also a huge silence when it came to official statements:
Predictably, the mainstream media and homosexual advocacy organizations have reacted to Mary Stachowicz’s murder the same way they did to 13-year-old Jessy Dirkhising’s torture-murder at the hands of two homosexual men in 1999: by avoiding it. As of December 4, no formal condemnations of Mrs. Stachowicz’s murder have been issued by leading groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, or the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Compare this with what happens when abortionists are killed by pro-lifers. Do we find the pro-life forums full of individual statements that the murdered abortionist was a “bastard” who deserved to die for his unrelenting slaughter of the unborn? De we find a dearth of official statements from pro-life organizations condemning the murder of the abortionist? On the contrary, individual pro-lifers state repeatedly that violence is the wrong answer to this problem, and all pro-life groups issue statements deploring and condemning violence and murder in the pro-life cause.
There is much that we can learn from this contrast, though what we learn depends in part on how we “hear” these pro-life statements.
It is unreasonable to deny, I think, that a significant number of pro-lifers believe that force—even lethal force, if necessary—may be morally used to save the lives of unborn children. The vast majority of those who hold this position also judge that it would be extremely imprudent under contemporary conditions to resort to force, as it cannot succeed and would be a public relations disaster. Clearly, there are also many pro-lifers who believe violence in defense of life is a contradiction in terms but, again, not all.
Therefore one may reasonably assume that within the universal pro-life chorus condemning violence against abortionists when it occurs, some of the statements are sincere and some are merely expedient. But we may learn from both. From the sincere ones, we learn that pro-lifers are an extraordinarily moral group, who act on principle to do what is right even when that demands defending the lives of the very people they are dedicated to putting out of business. From the expedient group, we learn that it is impossible to advance the pro-life cause without vigorously condemning each instance of violence against abortionists. I hasten to add that the expedient groups would certainly also be principled in arguing that it is permissible to use force in defense of the lives of others; but the contrast with their own self-interest would not be as evident.
Neither position is anything like arguing that people who attempt to privately counsel others on moral issues deserve rage and violence in reply and, in fact, we learn an opposite lesson from the reaction of gay advocates and gay advocacy groups to violence by gays against straights. First, those individuals who seek to justify the violence reveal that they are driven not primarily by a sense of justice but by their own self-interest. Second, those groups which make no statement at all prove that it is, in fact, possible to advance their cause without condemning violence against their opponents.
Unfortunately, the moral imperatives of any given culture are not drawn exclusively (and sometimes not even primarily) from any consistent moral philosophy. But watching even misguided moral pressure at work offers a glimpse of how morality ought to function in a healthy society. A great many immoral acts ought to be prevented or quickly corrected not just because they are against the law but simply because they are perceived as obviously wrong and completely unacceptable by those who set the prevailing social tone. A healthy society preserves itself by making its displeasure felt both broadly and deeply whenever wayward individuals attempt to tear down the principles it holds dear.
But an unhealthy society does exactly the same thing, thereby hastening its own destruction. There is something to be learned about social pressure here, and about how “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Lk 16:8).
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