One misconception about twenty-year-old Lila Rose is easy enough to clear up: She was not, as some erroneously tweeted yesterday, the hooker to James O’Keefe’s pimp in the heavily edited and widely publicized undercover video that helped bring down ACORN.
No, the video produced by Lila Rose’s group, Live Action, featured entirely different people pretending to be pimps and sex workers. And their target was Planned Parenthood, not ACORN. Indeed, to read Live Action’s take on it, they have “nothing to do” with the group that brought down ACORN. Why, they are not even conservative, but “simply pro-life.”
Duly noted, Live Action! To be fair, though, those less familiar with your organization might be forgiven the misunderstanding, right? I mean, given the similarity of Rose’s and O’Keefe’s modi operandi, and… well, the fact that the two seem actually to have come up with the idea together.
But if one spends time in religious anti-abortion circles, one likely has no such uncertainty about Ms. Rose, the pretty, media-savvy conserv—sorry, “simply pro-life”—activist and Roman Catholic convert who has spoken at CPAC and the Values Voter Summit, appeared on Glenn Beck’s and Bill O’Reilly’s television shows, and who won a Life Prize from the Gerard Health Foundation. Now, she and her group have joined forces with Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and others. Their goal: to de-fund Planned Parenthood.
From some on the religious right, this action has earned Lila Rose the sort of praise reserved for the very noblest heroes of the faith. Comments to her Facebook fan page include comments extolling Rose as “truly an angel,” a “needed hero,” and a “totallt [sic] adorable defender of unborn babies.” (The commenter then corrected his typo in a follow-up comment. Hey, it’s Facebook. I’m certainly in no position to judge.) A note from Mary Patsy Johnson also refers to Rose’s beauty, speculating that “[t]he Lord picked the best-looking one to work on His Project. I bet Mama Mary had a hand in it too.”
Just as fervent is the praise over at First Things, following an October 2010 autobiographical piece by Rose. Commenter J. Trehan calls Rose “a 21st-century example of what Paul meant when he wrote to the Philippians (4:13) saying, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’” A comment from Charity enthuses, “When things begin to seem really dark, God always sends a light to show us the way! Lila, you are a tremendous inspiration.” Commenter Mika’l Qualls is reminded “of Corrie Ten Boom and others like her… I feel better going to sleep at night, knowing that God has someone in place who is on the frontlines fighting against this tremendous evil.” And commenter Karen West writes: “Lila has the beauty and brains to do any number of things, but instead, she is laying down her life for those most innocent of all.”
But not everyone on the religious right believes that Lila Rose is acting out God’s will, let alone laying down her life. After all, Lila Rose lies in order to get the footage she seeks. She and her colleagues pose as underage pregnant teens, as sex traffickers, as statutory rapists.
This is a problem because… well, for starters, there’s the issue of Roman Catholic teaching, which one assumes Lila Rose intends to uphold. According to Catholic teaching, a lie (“speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church) is a sin. Always. Even if done for a good reason. And no, you can’t commit a sin to bring about a greater good. That point was made in oh, say, the 1968 papal encyclical reaffirming the Catholic Church’s ban on artificial birth control. “Neither is it valid to argue,” the encyclical states, “that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one… [I]t is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it[.]” (Humanae Vitae II.14)
Now, that’s not to say that all of Live Action’s employees are Catholic. They aren’t. And it’s not as though Catholic teaching hasn’t addressed scenarios in which telling the truth causes evil—the Nazis-at-the-door scenario, for example. Catholic teaching includes the doctrine of “mental reservation”: a kind of equivocation wherein someone says something which is deliberately misleading, ambiguous, confusing, or only truthful in a verrrry technical sense. Discussions of mental reservation can quickly become bogged down in technicalities, but imagine a latchkey kid saying “I’m sorry, my mom can’t come to the phone right now” instead of “Nope! I’m home alone and defenseless!” and you’ve got the basic idea.
Not surprisingly, though, a lot of the people who are most particular about Catholic teaching—people otherwise likely to be sympathetic to Rose’s goals—aren’t convinced that’s what’s going on here. And these folks clash, from time to time, with Rose’s fanboys and fangirls.
It happened in 2008 at California Catholic where commenters got into a dust-up after a commenter named Sue wrote: “According to the article, she ‘posed.’ How is that different from lying? If one day she tells people she’s 15 and pregnant by a 23-year-old, and another day she tells people she’s 13 and pregnant by a 31-year-old, how is that not lying?” (Arguably, Rose’s most creative defender in that thread was JLS, who speculated that “perhaps Lila Rose was speaking in parables.”)
It happened here, a year earlier, at Rebelution—which is evangelical in flavor, affiliated with the Household of Faith Community Church. Within the first three comments someone (“Bryan”) asked, “Does the end justify the means? Is it all right to lie in order to (at least potentially) incriminate someone else?” Perhaps because of The Rebelution’s readership, Lila Rose’s supporters appealed not to “mental reservation” but to the Bible—likening her to Joseph, who also concealed his identity; or to Daniel, who had to break a law in order to be faithful.
And it happened more recently, and with particular vitriol, at Busted Halo and Renew America. Short version, to save you the clicking: Dawn Eden (author of The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On) and William Doino Jr. wrote a post criticizing young conservative activists for their adoption of Saul Alinsky’s tactics. The discussion then moved to Renew America, where Dawn Eden first suggested that maybe Lila Rose wasn’t as bad as James O’Keefe because Rose (unlike O’Keefe’s accomplice) wasn’t “tart[ed] up” in the videos. Eden then seemed to back away from this perspective in some follow-up remarks. The next day, in swooped Christian Hartsock, friend of James O’Keefe, who called Eden’s positions “garbage” and sneered:
These people cash their paychecks—perhaps they even follow Doug Scott’s LDI boycott list in their daily shopping—go home and tune in to EWTN, read the latest blogs and decide what to pontificate about tonight.
They don’t act, and they don’t worry anymore about results, except those which will be occasionally delivered through prayer. If we could pray away abortion, however, it would have been over a long time ago.
All of this raises the question of whether the tactic of deception—more, perhaps, than the tactic of violence against abortion providers—will divide those who want to criminalize abortion on religious grounds. When Dr. Tiller was murdered, the major national pro-life organizations rushed to issue statements decrying it. On the issue of deception, though, it seems that religious anti-choicers may still be finding their consensus. Is one to be faithful to one’s church and one’s religious tradition, letting consistency and obedience be the watchwords? Or is the real test whether one can say—as Hartsock said—“Well, it worked, didn’t it?”