Three weeks ago I volunteered to “host” a screening of the documentary “3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy” at a local movie theater. It tells the true story of Gosnell’s clinic and the release date is November 10th.
Eric Metaxas recently interviewed David Altrogge on his radio show. Listen here. Altrogge is the director of “3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy”. An earlier, briefer version of this documentary won an award at the Justice Film Festival. They were getting ready to release it to the public, when they put the release on hold. Why?
Altrogge and his crew had initially written Gosnell in prison asking to interview him. Assuming Gosnell would refuse or ignore them, they proceeded forward with their project. To their surprise, Gosnell eventually responded and was willing to participate. Altrogge conducted a series of interviews with Gosnell – on the phone and in person – and excerpts of these interviews are now in the documentary.
Gosnell comes across as well-spoken, rational, and even charming. He is not repentant in any way, and seems puzzled as to why he is now in jail. This is a bizarre disconnect with his crimes. Yet things that are evil don’t always look evil. Evil can hide behind nice looking masks.
I think this alone provides thoughtful content for Christian theological discussion. How was Gosnell so blinded? What do we believe about sin and depravity? What ideology led him to justify what he did? Gosnell became a prisoner of his own lies. How are we blinded to sin in our own lives?
“The grand jury itself could not determine what was more criminal – was it the horrific and barbaric treatment of women at the hands of Dr. Gosnell or the callous failure of the department of health and the department of state to protect the citizens of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” R. Seth Williams, Philadelphia District Attorney
This quote provides other content for discussion. The atrocities of this clinic were overlooked and ignored for many years. There were red flags and reports of concerns but no one in authority did anything and people looked the other way. How was the horror of Gosnell’s clinic finally discovered? Authorities went in because he was found to be illegally distributing drugs. A drug charge…and they stumbled unexpectedly upon the horror found inside the clinic!
Why was the horror of this clinic overlooked for so long? There is not one simple answer – and everything from the politics of abortion to the status of Gosnell’s victims as primarily poor, minority women who lacked a voice – come into play. Indeed, the official grand jury report stated that: “We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color and the victims were infants without identities…”
But beyond this, people are prone to turn away from disturbing things. They would rather not know. As I have attempted to promote this documentary over the last 3 weeks, I have repeatedly encountered people who don’t want to know. Yes, they heard basic facts about the Gosnell case, but they have no interest in this documentary because it would be too…disturbing, upsetting, unsettling.
Really? I have a hard time relating to this. I realize certain people have sensitive natures (and that I can understand) – but that is NOT what I seem to be primarily encountering. These are not “hyper-sensitive” individuals. It is something different. We can observe this phenomenon throughout history, and it continues today: that people turn a blind eye and avoid acknowledging disturbing things. And this is a reason why the horrors continue or are not discovered until a perilously late date!
Pray that you are never the dehumanized victim of atrocity and everyone ignores your plight because it is too disturbing to consider it!
Ignoring evil does not make it go away. Closing your eyes to injustice does not make it disappear. Refusing to look or acknowledge things that are disturbing does not help the people being victimized.
Isaiah 1:17, in the NET Bible, says: “Learn to do what is right! Promote justice! Give the oppressed reason to celebrate! Take up the cause of the orphan! Defend the rights of the widow!”
We don’t give the oppressed a reason to celebrate when we refuse to acknowledge their oppression…because it is just too disturbing to us.
I realize we can’t all be a William Wilberforce or Dietrich Bonhoeffer or David Altrogge. I don’t expect everyone to have the same passion for the same issue either. Indeed, we need focus, and if we try to fight every injustice in the world we will burn out and be scattered and ineffective in our efforts.
But certainly we can at least become informed on issues, so that we are not ignorant, and can follow God’s leading for what cause he would have us take up and fight.
So many aspects of what was allowed to happen at 3801 Lancaster in Philadelphia provide valuable and needed analysis and discussion…theological, political, and ethical. This type of thing must not happen again. But it will be more likely to happen again if we turn a blind eye and refuse to face the hard truth.
Site for 3801 Lancaster is here.
The documentary is screening across the nation, in 11 cities at this point, beginning November 10th. See here if your city is on the list. The location where I am hosting the screening is Greenville, SC.
If you see your city, do not delay to reserve a ticket. A certain number of tickets must be reserved AHEAD OF TIME for these movie theater screenings to take place as planned.
If you do not see your city on the list, YOU can volunteer to host it at a local movie theater, your church, your home, and other venues at an upcoming date of your choice.