Two very different views on religion have emerged recently, inspired by a documentary about a Presbyterian minister and a memoir/confession of an evangelical minister.

The documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor? is about the work of Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, whose much-lauded television show for children, Mr Rogers' Neighborhood, ran in the US from 1968 to 2001.

The memoir, Costly Grace, is by evangelical minister Rob Schenck, who describes the 25 years he spent as an ardent foe of abortion alongside the likes of Randall Terry of "Operation Rescue", a group famous for the extremism of its tactics, including protests that may have encouraged violence.

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The two men and the work depicted are two strikingly different applications of religion in the public space.

Mr Rogers, appalled by the violent animations and the targeted advertising of much of children's television in the 1950s, set about to provide a calm and safe space in which he could address with children their hopes and also their fears surrounding their personal issues and the greater issues of public life, affecting them. Confronting such matters as divorce or death or civil rights, he imparted a message of kindness, decency and tolerance, subsumed in his catch-phrase, "I like you just the way you are".

During a quarter-century, Rev Rob Schenck was a zealous member of Right to Life.
He and his cohorts staged protests not only at clinics providing abortion services but also at the homes of doctors who performed abortions, publicising their addresses and calling them murderers.

Schenck acknowledges that, in order to shock the conscience of potential political supporters of abortion, his group would exhibit actual aborted foetuses. He admits that these body parts were procured clandestinely, as their possession outside a medical facility is illegal. He would strap those foetuses to his body in order to pass through airport security.

This action, he now agrees, desecrates the very humanity of the foetus his group claimed to protect. Schenck's conscience was moved after he realised his demonising of abortion providers contributed to their actual murder by greater zealots. He now believes that more, not less, tolerance is the Christian message. Even on abortion.

The current religion-based campaign against end-of-life choice bears striking resemblance in its means and pursuit of ends to the Right to Life campaign. They'll do anything to "win" as they deem their ends justify any means, even deception in place of information.

Having cloaked their religion-based opposition to End Of Life Choice in a so-called "concern" for the welfare of the "vulnerable", the anti-choice zealots, Maggie Barry, Simon O'Connor, Ian McKelvie et al, go on to perform a set of actions that is arguably abuse of the same vulnerable populations.

Not only did they trot out the elderly and disabled as props (having done little or nothing to improve those lives legislatively) but by conducting a fear campaign based on false claims they've stirred up unnecessary worry and anxiety for the very people they claim to represent.


To enable people to make informed choice they need to be presented with facts, with unvarnished truth. Not propaganda or religious doctrine. Manipulation of emotion with appeal to the primitive is the very opposite of respect for and enhancement of dignity.

Jay Kuten
Jay Kuten

Maggie Barry heads the parliamentary select committee despite a clear conflict of interest. Respondents have already reported on her evident bias in the manner in which submissions have been addressed. Proponents are given short shrift.

Next week's select committee meeting is on course to be more propaganda than truth-seeking. We need all of us to put our critical thinking caps on. Is the term "sanctity of life" meant to enlighten or is it mere sanctimony? Euthanasia is not in this bill unless modified by the words, "voluntary and competent choice". Otherwise it's designed to frighten.

The issues of end-of-life choices are too important to be left to middle-aged politicians with a religious agenda in place of reasoned, fact-based argument.

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.