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Great Power, Great Responsibility

When legendary comics creator Stan Lee gave birth to Spider-Man in 1962 he gave the new superhero the maxim, “With great power, there must also come great responsibility!” This guiding truth for Spider-Man is a lesson that some religious leaders need to learn.

Recently, Vision America leader Rick Scarborough and Eagle Forum leader Phyllis Schlafly expressed their outrage at the conviction of two border patrol agents who shot an unarmed man and attempted to cover it up. They have called on President George W. Bush to pardon the guards.

The two men in question, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, were accused of firing at least 15 rounds at an unarmed man near the border. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas explained that at the time of the incident the men did not know who the man was and that the man held up his hands to surrender. The man fled after one guard attempted to hit him with a shotgun. While fleeing, he was fired upon and hit by one of the bullets.

Only later did the guards learn the man was smuggling drugs into the country. The guards then removed some evidence of the shooting and failed to properly report the incident. As a result, they were convicted of 11 counts, including assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with serious bodily injury, civil-rights violation, obstructing justice, lying about the incident and failing to report the truth.

Despite these serious problems from the very people who are sworn to follow and uphold our nation’s laws, Scarborough and Schlafly argued these men should be pardoned by Bush. Schlafly contended that Bush’s inaction on the case “makes us wonder which side the self-proclaimed ‘compassionate’ president is on.”

Scarborough called it “one of the worst miscarriages of justice.” He urged Christians to “take action” and not “sit back and watch America be destroyed.” Vision America included a form letter for Christians to complete and send to Bush.

It seems that despite the important position and power these two guards held, Scarborough and Schlafly do not think the men should have to live up to their great responsibility. They apparently believe that being a border agent gives one free reign to do whatever they want to someone who might be in the country illegally.

The first problem with their arguments is that they misrepresent the case by making it seem that the border guards were simply doing their job in trying to stop a drug dealer, even though the men did not know that at the time of the incident. Schlafly called them “two U.S. Border Patrol agents who were trying to defend Americans against drug smugglers.” Her version of the timeline gives the details of the drugs being in the man’s truck before the shooting.

Scarborough likewise reversed the timeline, writing that the men were “about to begin serving lengthy prison sentences for shooting an illegal alien who was trying to smuggle drugs into the United States.” Scarborough also inflated the amount of drugs in the man’s vehicle.

A second problem with the essays of these two conservative Christian leaders is that they downplayed the actions of the two agents. Even if the two knew the man was a drug dealer, that would not have justified shooting an unarmed man and covering up the evidence. Yet Schlafly and Scarborough attempted to do exactly that.

Schlafly wrote, “The nonfatal bullet didn’t stop the smuggler from running to escape in a van waiting for him on the Mexican side of the border.” Apparently she believes this shooting was only wrong if the man died or was paralyzed. She also claimed the guards “risked their lives to stop” the smuggler, despite the fact the man was unarmed.

Scarborough argued that the agents “were just doing their jobs,” though he fails to explain where shooting unarmed men is listed in the job description of border patrol agents. Both Scarborough and Schlafly fail to recognize that with the great power of the position also comes great responsibility. Because the men were supposed to protect our nation they must be held to higher standards.

The greatest problem with the arguments of Schlafly and Scarborough is that by downplaying the importance of the incident they are downplaying the life of the victim. Not only did Schlafly suggest the incident was not important because it was a “nonfatal” wound, she also claimed that the agents “didn’t get a fair trial” because the smuggler was allowed to testify.

When these two conservatives Christian leaders suggested that it was not a big deal that two border patrol agents shot an unarmed man and covered it up, what they were really saying was that the life of that man is not a big deal. Yet, Schlafly and Scarborough claim to be pro-life. Schlafly even expressed outrage that the agents were charged with attempted murder, for which the men were acquitted.

Just because the man was a drug smuggler and illegally in the country does not mean his life is not valuable. Christians need to stand up for injustice regardless who commits it or who is the victim. If we fail to do that, then we have failed to follow the biblical mandates.

The two border patrol agents were wrong to shoot an unarmed man and they were wrong to cover it up. They had a powerful and important position but failed to live up to the great responsibility that came with it. Likewise, Schlafly and Scarborough have great power and influence but have failed to live up to their great responsibility.

Brian Kaylor is communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.