March 10, 2006

The Lord's Ambulance Chaser


Now that Alabama’s serial church arsonists have been caught, I’m wondering why this never became a bigger story.  I’m sure Rob Schenck is wondering too.

If you’ve been following The BAG, you’ll remember Rob as one of the two characters I profiled performing an anointment ritual on the doors of the Senate Judiciary Committee Room (Consecrating The Room – link) on the eve of the Alito hearings.  (And guess what? It worked).  Back like a bad penny, the Rev. Rob is shown praying with Rehobeth Baptist Church Pastor Duane Schliep in front of his former church last month in Lawley, Alabama.

If these images suggest Rob is demonstrative, that’s not the half of it.

A former Jew, Shenck was cofounder of the radical anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue. (His brother Paul is known for having persistently drawn public attention to Barnett Slepian, the New York physician who was later killed for performing abortions.)  Rob and Paul were also arrested in ’92 for trying to present Bill Clinton with a fetus during the Democratic Convention, and both were sentenced to Federal prison for lying under oath.

So, what’s the point — or the question?  The question is, how does a guy with that past end up with this kind of visual coverage?  (In my previous post, I outlined the difficulty of staging a religious ceremony for the press in front of a Senate hearing room.)

“Welcome to Faith and Action! I’m Rob Schenck, your missionary to Capitol Hill.” opens his website.

As president of the so-called National Clergy Council, Schenck has acquired some real pull with those vestments.  In the “Bush II” era, he has been a Pentecostal chaplain in D.C. for John Ashcroft, and is a regular at the National Prayer breakfast.  As an ordained minister in something called the Evangelical Church Alliance, his offices are across the street from the Supreme Court.

Considering how Schenck operates, what we’re looking at in the image above is not an incidental view so much as an arranged one — a promotional portrait.  These “throes of passion” could only have come about through some combination of effective stage management, PR management and media management.

(To provide a fuller idea how this guy commands visual media, I also offer you a couple more poses.  One shows Rob in front of the Supreme Court in June ’03, protesting a decision to overturn the Texas sodomy ban.  Another shows Rob praying on a Washington street inspired by a lawsuit to bar the use of prayer at Bush’s second inaugural.  By the way, all four images referenced in this post were taken by different newswire photographers.)

Regarding the image itself, what could be more bizarre?  As a religious fanatic, a virulent political ideologue and a self-marketing machine, Rob turns the grieving local reverend into a prop while converting the charred remnants of the church into a perfectly framed promotional background.

God knows where Schenck turns if the fundies come out badly in ’08.  I’m guessing Hollywood.

(image: Rob Carr/A.P. February 5, 2006. Lawley , Alabama.  Via YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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