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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  October 15, 2020 12:30am-1:01am BST

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a strict night—time curfew has been imposed in paris and eight other french cities as president macron tries to contain the rising spread of coronavirus. france reported 22,591 new confirmed cases on wednesday and it's become the ninth country in the world to pass 33,000 deaths. tough new restrictions are coming into force in the uk, with schools closing in northern ireland for two weeks. all pubs and restaurants, hairdressers and beauticians will also have to shut their doors for a month. police in thailand have moved in to disperse pro—democracy protersters who have gathered around government house in the capital bangkok. it came after the government brought in an emergency decree, following a series of protests. they've banned gatherings of more than five people. now on bbc news, hardtalk.
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that's it for me, mike will be here at the top of the hour. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. we cannot know the contents of donald trump's soul but it's fair to say his personal behaviour doesn't point to deeply held christian beliefs. and yet the evangelical christian right is a key pillar of his support base. could that change in november's election? well, my guest is reverend rob schenck, an influential evangelical pastor and long—time anti—abortion activist who broke with fellow social conservatives over gun control. so can donald trump still count on the loyalty of the religious right?
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reverend rob schenck in washington, dc, welcome to hardtalk. thank you. a privilege to be with you. we're delighted to have you and to hear about a pretty extraordinary spiritual journey you have been on. can i start by asking you to tell me who you feel yourself to be today? are you still a socially conservative evangelical minister? yes, i would certainly define myself that way. it's still my role. i have leadership capacities in that identity with denominations, with various
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church bodies, organisations. i had an organisation that is largely made up of christian allies. but i consider myself these days more, i suppose you might call it a recovering member of the religious right. i've had a big change in my life, in my professional performance, if you will. i'm no longer doing what i did for 35 years, which was to advance a very conservative, religious, social and political agenda in washington dc, around the united states, even in other countries. but that has come to a big stop and a sort
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of new season has begun for me. you were great friends in your day and a very strong, active supporter of people like paul ryan, newt gingrich, a whole host of very prominent right republican politicians. are you saying to me with this notion of being recovering that you are no longer aligned with the republican party? that's right. i've left the republican party after campaigning for many republican candidates over the decades. the last time i voted for a democratic candidate was 44 years ago. i voted consistently republican all down the ballot, every office for those remaining years until this year, when i cast my early vote for the democratic candidate for president, joe biden, as well as other democrats.
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and that's a big story why that's true, but it indicates how important it is to me. let's go back a little bit. let's talk about rob schenck‘s christianity, because it's important for people to realise you were actually born into a culturallyjewish household and you converted to your brand of evangelical christianity as a young man, why did you do that? yes, i was raised in a nominallyjewish home. we were more culturally jewish than we were religiouslyjewish. it was a complicated story. my mother had been a convert tojudaism to marry my father, but my parents were quintessential liberals and they thought their children should explore religion for themselves, and we did. and i chose evangelical christianity, what i called born—again faith, back then as an older teenager.
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i made a public profession of faith in an evangelical methodist church. and that was when i met the one i called jesus of the sermon on the mount, who blessed the peacemakers and the poor and had compassion on the marginalised and the suffering. but later, i would undergo a different kind of conversion to a highly—politicised form of christianity, which would become the religious right in america. and i would spend 35 years there, deeply involved, it would take me to capitol hill in washington, dc, the seat of our government, where i interacted with top elected and appointed officials face—to—face. i travelled the country advancing a very socially, politically and religiously conservative agenda. and then i took time away from that work,
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for some reflection, looked at the crisis that occurred with the evangelische kirche, the evangelical church of germany during the rise of adolf hitler and nazism. and i saw very disturbing parallels in what i and my colleagues and my movement in america were doing, and that caused me to look very differently. i took on the tutelage of a posthumous mentor, pastor dietrich bonhoeffer, who was a nazi resister in germany, one of the early religious voices to speak out against the nazification of the protestant church in germany. he would pay for that, ultimately, with his life. let me ask you very directly, why did you become, and it seems to be your own view, why did you become an extremist? well, you know, first there
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is a mandate within evangelical christian faith to proclaim a message and to affect not just individual hearts, minds and souls, but culture, society as well. and as i advanced along in doing that kind of work, you know, you get a little taste of first influence, then power. and power is very seductive. and when united states senators, who carry a lot of weight in our legislative branch of government here in the us, ultimately presidents, and finally justices of our supreme court, who often become the final arbiters of any political or social debate in our system, begin to not only listen, but follow suit with
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the message that you're proclaiming, well, you can get a little intoxicated on that. i get that, i get that. but you're describing something of an abstract, an ideological power. but for you, this was something much more. i mean, you're coming across to me as a pretty mild mannered guy, but i know that in your30s, for example, when you were one of the most influential and radical anti—abortion campaigners in the whole of the united states, you were, and this is hard for me to say, but you were acquiring foetuses from laboratories and you were carrying them to protests outside abortion clinics and you were thrusting them into the faces of vulnerable young women whom you were accusing of murder. how could you do that? yeah, i ask myself that quite a bit in my proverbial
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confessional booth these days, you know, age is a salutary thing. you know, i'm now 62, i look at the world and human beings differently than i did in my 30s. i looked back, you know, i took a season of time to do more listening than speaking, particularly preaching. i spent a lot of my 30s, 40s and early 50s preaching at people instead of listening to people, and i took time... reverend, if i may... shut my mouth and listen. yeah, i know that you now feel very differently from the way you did then, but i really, really want to get inside who you were then and how you could do the things you did. it wasn't just the use of these foetuses, which strikes me as so shocking, but you also manipulated people.
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you... the original... ..the original sort of roe v wade case involved a young woman who took the name roe but was actually called norma mccorvey, and you and others deeply manipulated her later in her life. you gave her a lot of money so that she would publicly speak out against abortion. it was a wonderful publicity stunt for you, but it was desperately cruel and manipulative. who were you at that time? well, you know, first of all, i was taken with certitude. i was absolutely certain that i was right and that the people who were alongside me were just as right. everyone else was wrong. and you were happy to suspend your humanity? well, i can't say i was happy because anyone in that
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position, including me, i was tortured internally. there were many sleepless nights, grinding of molars. i broke out in shingles at age 35. that's highly unusual. but my physician said it was stress and some of that was the conflict in my own conscience. you know, we have a bible verse that tells us that the law of god, the moral law of god is written upon the conscience. and the conscience is a good thermometer. and it can bother us. well, especially in the quiet hours, and it did for me. well, you say it did in the past, i wonder if it does today, because perhaps one of the most awful and memorable associations that your activism against abortion carries with it is your campaign in buffalo against one particular doctor who was working in an abortion clinic, who, after an extraordinarily vitriolic campaign led by you,
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the doctor, ultimately, in 1998, was shot dead. and that surely is something you need to live with to this very day. i do. it's very painful. you know, i did swiftly condemn it when it happened, and i did so repeatedly. but what i failed to do was take ownership of the language that stoked that kind of murderous hatred. i was certain that the perpetrator was an invader from outside of our movement, i later learned he was right at the centre of it. and in those days, i just thought the means justify the ends. excuse me, the ends justify the means. sometimes i had both of those things mixed up, but whatever got us to the end
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was worth it. now, that stopped short of the kind of violence that would eventually take place. we warned people — this is a peaceful movement and we have to commit ourselves to peaceful, nonviolent action. what i didn't realise was that while my actions may have been nonviolent, my words were not. and words have consequences. we're seeing it played out here in the united states during this election. we're seeing it played out around the world. words are very powerful. even the bible reminds us that the tongue is like the rudder of a mighty ship, and can turn a massive vessel in short order. and so it was with the words i chose, and others, they were reckless, they were irresponsible, they were injurious.
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and ultimately, they stoked the kind of hatred that expressed itself in murder. it is a very difficult thing, i am sure, for you to live with. but clearly in recent years, you have made it your life's work to spread a very different message. you talk about dietrich bonhoeffer, you now run an institute in his name. and your mission, it seems to me, is to try to persuade people on the religious right to get away from this fixation with tribal politics, with identifying with the republican party, and in particular right now identifying with the occupant of that building behind you, the white house — donald trump. but i have to tell you, it looks as though you're failing. i've been looking at the polling around this looming presidential election, and it seems quite clear that at least 80 to 90% of self—described evangelical christians in america are going to vote for donald trump.
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they are not listening to you. right. the upside to that is, of course, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions now, of people have left evangelicalism, no longer self—identify as evangelicals because of the toxicity now of that label. it's so highly charged politically that they don't feel it represents them religiously, morally, spiritually, and so they've left. so they wouldn't identify as evangelicals any more. and that's a massive haemorrhage occurring in american evangelicalism. and in fact... but, hang on, minister. is that good news? i mean, you still describe yourself as an evangelical christian. so you appear to be now saluting and hailing the collapse of your own belief system. that doesn't make much sense to me. well, bonhoeffer said
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there comes a time when one must pray for the defeat of one's own people for the betterment of the world. and, in a way, if this should prove to be a fatal stroke for american evangelicalism, i think it's extremely important to draw the distinction, because evangelicals in other parts of the world — africa, asia — which is the ascendant evangelical church now, greatly outnumber american evangelicals, and slowly are becoming far more influential than american evangelicalism. american evangelicals are a peculiar species, sometimes unrecognisable by evangelicals around the world. i serve as an advisor to the world evangelical alliance now, and our members think very, very differently. they see the world very differently from american evangelicals, who are terribly, terribly provincial.
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and so if this is an end to american evangelicalism, so be it. but maybe... ..maybe, reverend schenck, it isn't an end to evangelicalism, it's just that you have completely lost touch with the people who used to be your friends and allies, because if you look at what donald trump has delivered for the evangelical movement, you could argue he has been a fantastic president for them. he's delivered on very specific things, like the move of the us embassy to jerusalem, which so many of them wanted. he has and is still delivering on completely changing the complexion of the us senior judiciary, and we talk as his latest nominee for the supreme court is going through her hearings, and could give a super—majority to the right on that supreme court. so he's delivering in historic ways, which christian leaders,
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not only appreciate, but want more of. but he's also delivering something else. and that is a fatal blow to the conscience, to the integrity, to the reputation of american evangelicals. this has been a faustian bargain with donald trump. yes, indeed. i was in the room when many evangelical leaders, colleagues of mine, made their demands on donald trump, and he made his demand on them. he would give us everything we demanded, provided we gave him everything he demanded, which was religious cover and justification. sadly, many of my colleagues, many of my co—religionists, did precisely that. but in the end, it's a fatal blow to their own souls, their own conscience. but hang on... we may have lost...
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but, reverend schenck, i'm still reflecting on your extraordinary spiritual journey and i'm trying to make sense of it, because we speak as amy coney barrett is going through the processes to become the next supreme courtjustice. there's every reason to believe, given her devout catholicism, her track record, that she is going to be, at the very least, sceptical about keyjudgments like roe vs wade. it could shift the balance on that key question of abortion in america today. i take it, as a continued, self—confessed evangelical, a christian, you're still anti—abortion, right? well, i see abortion as a tragic moment for all involved. no, but i need to press you because this is the crux of the matter for many evangelicals. you talked about words and actions — they want actions, they want an america where abortion is illegal.
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they see donald trump building a supreme court which might well yield them exactly what they want. if you are still a christian who opposes abortion, i'm sort of struggling to see why you now regard donald trump as such a very bad thing for america. well, one reason among many would be i've come to the conclusion that the worst people to introduce themselves into the pain and agony of a woman in a predicament with an unwelcomed pregnancy is a politician, a judge or a prosecutor. they are the worst people to introduce because each and every one of them will use, abuse, exploit that woman and her predicament for their own ends. i think roe vs wade takes them
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out of the equation. it should take them out of the equation. it was none other than our greatest anti—abortion, pro—life justice on the supreme court, antonin scalia, the late, who said to me, face—to—face, rebuked me with a finger pointed in my face, he said, "you think this court is going to solve the problem "of abortion in america? "it will never solve that problem. "you will solve that problem "when you change hearts and minds. "you go out and do your mission, but don't you look at this court. right. " fix that problem in this country." a final question for you, reverend schenck. we don't know what's going to happen on november 3rd, but the polls suggest donald trump might lose. i wonder how you think white, christian, evangelical, conservative america is going to react to that. you've talked earlier about the potential collapse of the evangelical movement. it seems to me, rather
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than collapsing it, it may, on a whole host of issues, from abortion to gun control, to a bunch of other socially conservative hot—button issues, it may lead to an evangelical movement which is radicalised, which may even pursue non—democratic, direct actions against the next president of the united states. do you fear that? i do. i'm ashamed. i'm embarrassed to say that it is my religious movement in america which is a subgroup of the american population most likely to have access to a firearm. that bothers me. i've had pastors warn me not to bring up the subject in the pulpit because there may be as many as 50 weapons in front of me at any time. 0ne minister warned me, he said, "i can't say "what my people might do when they're angry." so, yes, there is that fear. i do think, ultimately, it goes to the words
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ofjesus christ, who said, "there will come a separation of the sheep from the goats." and i think in the aftermath of this, we may learn who is a true christian and who is not. and, again, that could be salutary for this whole thing, because we need to know the difference — who is a true christian and who is something else, going under that label, who may not ascribe to the principles of christianity at all. itjust seems to me you are deeply troubled about america's future right now. iam. i most certainly am. but i will do my best to use the rest of the years i have on this earth to work for redemption, for reformation. but i think there are a lot of... there are millions, in fact, of people, evangelical, ex—evangelicals, what we call evangelical—adjacent,
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christianity is important to them, and they will get to the work that needs to be done, and i will do the same. reverend rob schenck, we have to end there, but i thank you very much indeed forjoining me on hardtalk. hello there. when you think back to the start of october and just how wet it was, it's probably a good thing, actually, that we are in the midst of quite a quiet spell of weather. for many of us, we will have skies like these over the next few days, often pretty cloudy but with some brighter spells at times. high—pressure to the north of the uk, low—pressure
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in northern italy, and between these two areas of pressure, we've got north easterly winds feeding in. those northeasterly winds are dragging in a lot of cloud from the north sea, thick enough to bring some scattered showers across eastern areas of scotland at the moment. and we've got a few heavy showersjust running into northeast england — although these will ease over the coming few hours. temperatures about 5—8 celsius for most, a bit colder where the skies do manage to stay clearest longest. 0n into thursday, then, and these northeasterly winds will continue to feed the cloud and for many areas. the west is best in terms of any sunshine. but i suspect we will have quite a few showers at times through the morning across the wash area. and then the showers probably break out more widely across east anglia as we head into the afternoon. all the while, we'll see this line of showers through most of the day affecting east kent and running on into the channel islands where, for some, it could be quite wet. although, for many of us, again, away from those eastern areas, it will be a relatively dry day. brisk northeast winds gusting about 30 mph around some of the north sea coasts will make it feel rather cool.
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now, we still have those northeasterly winds for friday, but if anything, they're a little bit less strong. again, friday is the day with not a lot of cloud around, a few bright or sunny spells, and we will continue to see an odd shower or two popping up. the majority of these, again, affecting eastern parts of scotland and eastern areas of england. what about the weekend weather prospects? well, a lot more of that cloudy weather on the horizon with a few light showers from time to time. now, you'll start to notice the winds going round to more of a northerly direction across the far north of scotland bringing the showers in here. so a greater chance of seeing some showers for shetland where things will start to get a little bit cooler. 0therwise, again, a lot of cloud around, some bright or sunny spells and temperatures 11—14 celsius. sunday sees that colder air moving a little bit further southwards across the north of scotland. so temperatures will be dipping away here. again, a lot of cloud, a few brighter spells, but i think a greater chance of seeing showers across the northern half of the country, turning colder in aberdeen, highs of eight on sunday.
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this is bbc news. my name's mike embley, with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. police in thailand move in to disperse pro—democracy protesters gathered around government house in the capital bangkok. france and germany announce tough new restrictions, including curfews, to try to stop the spread of coronavirus. tough new restrictions in the uk, with schools closing in northern ireland and pubs and restaurants also being told to shut. the teenage son of president trump tested positive for covid-i9 - but suffered no symptoms. could grey power be the x—factor in the us presidential election? we'll report from a retiring, but not shy, battleground in florida.
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