Here’s the book on Colorado Springs: It’s the southern red, gun-toting, Evangelical bookend to Boulder’s blue, bike-riding, spiritual-but-not-religious northern Front Range city. Evangelicals — common in this town — are anti-abortion. Some of them stand and pray in front of the local Planned Parenthood clinic. Their presence on the sidewalk a half mile from the clinic entrance made the Friday shootings possible, even encouraged it. Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said in a television interview that “the hateful rhetoric” of anti-abortion protestors “can sometimes lead to these circumstances.”
That’s the standard storyline. But the story that we’re not hearing much about is that of the Colorado Springs Evangelical who went to the aid of the staff and patients inside the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic and the surrounding area and died trying to save their lives. Garrett Swasey, the 44-year-old police officer who was shot and killed on Friday, was one of the Evangelicals whose presence is alluded to in newspaper stories and radio and TV broadcasts — the Evangelicals who supposedly create the corrosive environment that made Friday’s murders possible. Swasey was one of four elders at Hope Chapel, an elder-led congregation that proclaims as its mission, “Bringing glory to God . . . through the transforming of lives . . . by the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Swasey played guitar for their worship services. He led three of the church’s Care Teams. He taught scripture and he preached.
According to his fellow elder, Swasey was pro-life. Swasey believed that each unborn child is created by God and is a gift from God. He believed the same about each human life – the lives of shoppers buying groceries in King Soopers and the lives of doctors and nurses, receptionists, and patients in the Planned Parenthood clinic.
Pro-life, Evangelical: The book on Colorado Springs contends that he and his kind are what’s wrong with Colorado Springs. Any statement of theirs that questions or condemns the philosophy that the unborn child is the property of its mother and has no human rights is now to be considered “hateful rhetoric.”
The man who is in custody for shooting and killing three people and wounding many others on November 27 is not from Colorado Springs. He wasn’t born or raised here. He never lived here. He moved to the state one year ago. He lived 65 miles from this city. He was not formed by this community. He had no stake in the life of this community. He did not stand with the peaceful protestors who gather on Centennial Boulevard and pray for the unborn and their mothers. He did not worship at Hope Chapel or any of the other Evangelical churches that dot this landscape.
I am not an Evangelical. I am a Roman Catholic, but despite some differences of opinion and even occasional heated conflict between Evangelicals and Catholics, we work together, live side by side, and sometimes stand as one — as we do now, in the wake of the Planned Parenthood shooting.
The man who is in custody for shooting and killing three people and wounding many others on Friday did not live and was not formed by this community. But Garrett Swasey, who did live here, who did worship at his Evangelical, pro-life church, who was formed by this community, gave his life for people in danger. He did not ask who they were or what they believed or what they did. He had taken a pledge to defend and protect his community, and he died keeping his word.
— Melissa Musick Nussbaum is a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter. With her daughter, Anna Keating, she runs catholiccatalogue.com. She is co-author, with Keating, of the forthcoming Catholic Catalogue: A Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make Up a Catholic Life. Nussbaum has lived in Colorado Springs for 30 years.