Randall Terry: Faux-Life Leader

If he truly merited the term “pro-lifer,” Randall Terry would condemn violence against abortion providers as an act of immense disrespect for life and pledge to take action against it. While disagreeing with pro-choicers, he would refuse to demonize them. 

In the abortion debate, ad hominem arguments run rampant, even against the decent people who do exist on both “sides.”  So I believe it is generally better to refrain from critique of individual characters as a form of political protest.  Better to give others the benefit of the doubt, to be forgiving, to listen patiently, to not pass judgment.
But when the activist in question is Randall Terry, I would feel irresponsible, as a prolifer, if I did not raise the issue of rotten-to-the-core character.   Most recently, in an interview with the Belleville [IL] News-Democrat,
Terry warned against the passage of a health reform bill that included
federal funding for abortions. He said it would “trigger violence” in
the same manner that slavery triggered violence.
 It is valid to discuss whether abortion does or does not resemble various offenses against the already born.  It is valid to debate whether abortion does or does not have a role in health reform.  But
it is anything but valid for Terry to threaten violence against
abortion providers as an inevitable, even salvific, result of
disobeying his commands.
he truly merited the term “prolifer,” Terry would instead thoroughly,
unequivocally condemn violence against providers as an act of immense
disrespect for life.  He would pledge to take action against it.  While disagreeing with prochoicers, he would refuse to demonize them. 
Terry has never really done this.  And in fact this is not the first or only time Terry has invoked a view of violence as inevitable and just.  After
the shooting of abortion provider George Tiller earlier this year,
Terry claimed that the slain doctor “reaped what he sowed.”   By
this “logic,” should peace advocates like myself inveigh that the 15
people shot down in cold blood at Fort Hood also “reaped what they
publicly expressed self-image points directly to a belief in
“salvation” through bloodshed and an egomaniacal conviction of himself
as its righteous arbiter. Recalling his previous leadership of
Operation Rescue, he boasts, “I was the tip of the spear.”  He has repeatedly bragged that he is a slayer of dragons, even making t-shirts that picture him as one.
In contrast to Terry the dragon slayer, there is the beautifully healing presence of the dragon in the extraordinary 2002 book Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us, by Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock.  Parker, a prochoice feminist theologian, writes movingly and courageously of her intense suffering  after  an abortion she had in unmet hopes of saving her troubled marriage.  She
finds restoration through her vivid dream about a dying, weeping dragon
who falls to Earth and needs nursing back to life and health.  As Parker notes, “In many cultures, the dragon is the mother creator, the source of all life.”
So is this what Terry really seeks to annihilate?  If
abortion arises in so many cases from a cultural failure to genuinely,
fully support and respect women’s power of life creation, then Terry is
fully complicit in its root causes.  In talk of prolife, he veils, but not very well, a sadistic womb envy.
none-too-prolife behaviors towards his own family are a matter of
public record, more disputed than atoned for on his part, while
confirmed by his children and others who would know.  About
a decade ago, amidst rumors of several extramarital relationships, he
abandoned his first wife and their children to marry a much younger
woman.  After the divorce he failed on child support
payments, even as he misappropriated funds raised in the name of his
activism to bankroll a lavish lifestyle.  Never mind that
men’s refusals of responsibility and accountability towards women and
children, along with being unjust in their own right, are a major cause
of abortion. 
Terry had long before then boasted of persuading a woman not to abort her baby.  He
boasted of then adopting this biracial baby, Tila, and her siblings,
Jamiel and Ebony, minimizing his first wife’s role in care of these
children.  But when Tila and Ebony experienced nonmarital
pregnancies in their teens, he barred them from his home, a genuinely
cruel response in their hour of need.  Never mind that parental rejection or the quite rational fear of it brings many young women into the abortion clinic.  Never
mind that if prolife means anything, it means offering the utmost help
with abortion alternatives to pregnant girls and women—and doesn’t
charity begin at home?
his father fulminated and campaigned against gay rights, Jamiel found
the courage as a young man to publicly come out as gay.  Randall Terry swiftly ejected him, too, condemning him as sick and immoral.  Never mind that LGBT phobia maims and kills because it denies people their right to be, and be themselves.  Never
mind that it leads to hate crimes, the tossing out of kids into the
brutalities of the street, suicide, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS.  LGBT
phobia is also the opposite of prolife because it pressures youth who
are conflicted about their sexual identities to experiment and take
risks with heterosexual sex, often leading to unintended pregnancies
and abortions.  LGBT phobia also unjustly rules out a large population of caring foster and adoptive families.
with all kinds of beliefs about “family values” have long since
repudiated Randall Terry—that is, if they ever regarded him as a leader
at all.  Long ago, the now defunct consistent life ethic print zine Harmony criticized Terry’s intolerant and hostile attitudes towards women, LGBT people, and others.  Terry’s
sexual and financial misconduct first became widespread public
knowledge through Lynn Vincent’s report “Appalling Appeal?” in the
ultraconservative magazine World of June 14, 2003. 
his public sanctioning of violence against abortion providers and his
continued personal life hypocrisies, some abortion opponents and media
still turn to Randall Terry as if he were the true voice of prolife.  It is far past time to accord this man any credibility as a prolifer.  Please do not cite him as a prolife leader, let alone a hero.  Challenge anyone who does that.  Do not give him money. Challenge anybody who does that.  To anyone who may be swayed by his manipulative charisma, including yourself: resist.  Distribute copies of this article at Terry’s appearances. 
please, if you are not there already, get yourselves behind prolife
organizations that engage in respectful and peaceful activism, such as
Consistent Life (
www.consistent-life.org), the Pro Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (www.plagal.org), and the very new All Our Lives (www.allourlives.org).  If
you are a journalist working on an abortion story, please go to
organizations like these instead of Randall Terry. And if you are
prochoice, please don’t assume that Terry represents all
antiabortionists–realize how many of us share your criticisms of him.  The less that both “sides” demonize one another, the more that Randall Terry’s damage gets undone.