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Cities of Refuge: An Interview with Keith Tucci

By Jay Rogers
Published February 1, 1993

Director of Operation Rescue National

Operation Rescue is now holding a two-month training seminar for what it calls “cities of refuge,” an event for the summer of 1993. OR will be training rescuers not just to block abortion clinics, but to also influence every facet of society in ridding our nation of legalized child killing.

When Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, most of the evangelical church in America was too culturally irrelevant to be motivated to political action in fighting legalized abortion. In the 1980s, the pro-life movement was galvanized by the election of two pro-life presidents. Political activism increased bringing new awareness to the public over the abortion issue. Operation Rescue then burst onto the scene gaining national attention and bringing the abortion debate to the center stage. The furor and controversy sparked by the nonviolent prayer rescues and the blocking of abortion clinic entry ways made abortion the nation’s number one social issue in the 1988 election. In the summers of 1991 and 1992, Operation Rescue staged national rescues in cities such as Wichita and Binghamton, New York. The national media coverage, although negative, ensured that the Rescue movement was not going to quietly die down.

On the 20th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, President Bill Clinton signed five executive orders making the killing of babies easier than ever before and giving freedom for medical experimentation on living pre-born babies. This action has daunted all but a few in the pro-life movement.

In January, The Forerunner spoke with Keith Tucci, national director of Operation Rescue, asking some questions concerning the Rescue Movement’s strategy for the 1990s:

FR: What is the ideology behind “cities of refuge” – the staging of national rescues in strategic cities such as what happened in Wichita?

Keith Tucci: “Cities of refuge” is a concept taken from Deuteronomy chapter 19. The Lord commanded Israel to build six cities to which an innocent man could run “lest innocent blood be shed.” Obviously, the connotation is with someone who killed someone else by accident, but the principle there is that God is so concerned about the shedding of innocent blood that He wanted Israel to actually erect six cities of refuge. We believe that the Church is a city – a light set on a hill – and we should be creating cities of refuge where mothers can have a place to run [rather than seek an abortion]. In the past, we’ve done one national event in the summer. We felt that we could duplicate those efforts at a great reduction of cost: for instance, five cities for what it would cost us to do two. We’re not talking about taking a national event and dividing it, but multiplying that one national event. We are going to be in cities that are strategically and geographically located so that people in almost every sector of the country, or within a day’s drive, can be there and participate.

FR: So instead of having one Wichita, there will be six?

Keith Tucci: Exactly.

FR: Is Operation Rescue taking a different turn now, in training people not only to do rescues, but to influence every aspect of society?

Keith Tucci: It’s not different from anything we’ve done before. We’ve just never taken the time to do the training. Our whole involvement has been to impact the culture. Our thinking has always been that abortion is just a symptom of a much greater problem. We’ve got to change the cultural power bases of our nation. That comes through Christian influence – but how do we get Christian influence? We’ve never done the systematic teaching on this and had a group of people lectured and demonstrated to by a group of people who have actually done it. This school concept is something we’ve had for years but it never got off the ground. This past year we felt that we had to get it done.

FR: What are you calling the school?

Keith Tucci: The IMPACT school: Institute of Mobilized Prophetic Activated Christian Training.

FR: What are some of the things you’ll be teaching?

Keith Tucci: There’s an emphasis on character and personal holiness – that being the foundation of everything we do. We can’t recreate or reproduce anything that we are not. We’re teaching personal, tactical and spiritual issues. As far as subject matter, we are teaching everything from “spiritual warfare” to “How to use the media before they use you.” We’re having doctors who used to perform abortions come in to teach about abortion and what really happens. We are teaching debating techniques; organizational techniques; how to build community alliances; how to network with people. We have several classes on the legal aspect of rescues as well.

FR: Since the rescues started in the mid-1980s, even the secular media has admitted that this is the main event that made abortion into an issue again. However, there has been a negative reaction by some in the Christian media lately who were previously favorable. How would you respond to Christians who are no longer favorable?

Keith Tucci: The church has realized that we are not just an event. We are talking about a lifestyle. We are no longer accomplices to the shedding of innocent blood in the many concentration camps going on in our country. Unfortunately, the church in our culture has an “event” mentality: “Let’s come to a meeting; let’s do one thing and then let’s do something else.” Rather than: “Let’s have victory; let’s have dominion, so that the next generation can take the gospel to the further ends of the world.” What’s happening now is that they are standing back and counting the cost. It’s easier to attack the people who are saying: “This is how much it costs,” than it is to try to dig the gold.

FR: What would you say to people who would call you arrogant, dangerous or counter-productive?

Keith Tucci: They just haven’t taken the time to know the rescue movement. I’m sure there are people who make very grave and serious mistakes. Obviously, we can’t be responsible for every person in the rescue movement any more than a denomination can take responsibility for every pastor who has ever fallen into sin or has ever done anything stupid or arrogant. If they say we are arrogant, I would say wholeheartedly that they haven’t taken the time to get to know the true servant-leaders of the movement, or they haven’t been involved themselves in the rescue movement. If they say we’re counter-productive, I would say that they are listening to the wrong sources. They need to look at the grass-roots. Since Operation Rescue started, over 500 abortuaries in this country have shut down; there are less practicing abortionists than there have been in a decade; there are less medical colleges that teach abortion. We are getting hammered in the political arena, but that is not a problem with Operation Rescue. That just shows the fallacy of the failed political strategies of pro-life and conservative groups. It has very little to do with us. I think that we’ve helped to hold it together a little bit longer. So I think these people are looking at the wrong symptoms. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the politicians let abortion be legal, but there wasn’t a community in the country who would let an abortionist practice?

FR: So what you’re looking at is making it impossible for an abortuary to function in this country?

Keith Tucci: We’ve got to make it intolerable and only then will we make it illegal. In the history of cultural change in this nation, it was usually the grass-roots and the church who dictated change. Abolition of slavery is the most obvious example. When they dictated change by their actions and by their willingness to spend themselves, then and only then did it become illegal. I’m a firm believer that things don’t happen from the top down; they happen because the church will make a decision or won’t make a decision. We made a very key foundational error 20 years ago in the pro-life movement: we began to try to convince the world – and either falsely assumed the church was in agreement or even made an even bigger assumption in that we didn’t have to convince the church – but it was a key tactical error that has caused the church a lot of grief.

FR: Convince them that abortion is wrong?

Keith Tucci: That abortion is MURDER and that it is not optional to be in resistance to it.

FR: I was with Daroline Firlet and Bill Cotter in Massachusetts four years ago in the rescues in Brookline. I saw the humility in them and the willingness to stand up for the truth even more than their own families and their own lives. That had a great affect on me. Daroline is a fireball, definitely, but both of them are very humble people. I know that they are now serving the most severe prison sentences of anyone in the rescue movement. So I’ve been offended at some of the Christians who have ignorantly made these defamatory comments about the leaders of the rescue movement.

Keith Tucci: That’s my feeling too. I’m not saying that there are not people out there like that. But they do not represent the rescue movement. They certainly don’t represent the leadership. If I were going to judge a certain ministry, for instance, and cite all the inconsistencies and then hold the leader accountable, he would say: “How can you hold me responsible for that?” Even though I try to do a good job, I would say the same thing. If people hold us up to standards that they are not willing to be judged by, then they are making a very big mistake.

FR: It seems as though there has been a shift in the ideology of the leaders in the rescue movement. Someone told me that the leaders are moving towards a postmillennial worldview and the ideals of “taking dominion.” Would you agree with this statement?

Keith Tucci: No, I wouldn’t agree with it. I don’t think there has been any shift at all. I think there has been an outworking of some things that were always foundational. Certainly, there are a lot of people in our group who don’t have a postmillennial worldview – me being one of them. I think that someone standing on the outside looking at us might think that. But a lot of what is happening is an outworking of what was laid down in the beginning. We have sown some seed and that seed is producing a holy harvest right now. And that seed has not come without great expense.

FR: There are people in the church who have a fatalistic view of the way things are and they might believe that abortion is just going to be with us until the end. How does Operation Rescue view the long term effects of what you are doing? What are you hoping to see?

Keith Tucci: We’re looking to see the church have spiritual integrity. That’s our whole focus. Our number one obligation is to please God and to be a reflection of Him. The church, when it doesn’t reflect Christ, brings destruction to society. We are the ones with whom God has charged to reflect Him, not civil government. If we reflect Him properly, then we can cause civil government to mirror some of those same attributes and ideas. But when we don’t reflect Him properly, then how do we expect them to reflect Him properly?

FR: So it’s more of an issue of reflecting God’s character than an issue of some doctrine or eschatology?

Keith Tucci: I think so. Although I have been amazed at how some people’s eschatology holds them captive. I’ve heard postmillennial people say that before and I definitely think that they have an argument. I think that eschatology can be an escape. People look at abortion as an issue; they don’t look at it the way God sees it. But I think that’s the challenge.

FR: I agree. It doesn’t really matter what’s going to happen; only that God’s character be reflected in the church.

Keith Tucci: That’s the mission of the church. We’re the Body of Christ, so we’re to reflect what the Head is. My heart cries for spiritual integrity. When I see people who represent Christ falling into sin and compromising, I think: “Well, we all do dumb things.” But when I see obvious and complete character failure, moral violations and Christians suing one another, I cry for the Church and for the Lord. I know how I feel when I’m misrepresented in the press and I know how the Lord must feel when His church misrepresents Him day in and day out. He must scream for people to come forward and reflect who He is. That’s what we’re trying to do. Anybody who has been involved in this movement knows that. We’ve sifted out all the activists. We are down to people in our leadership ranks whose passion is for Christ.

FR: When you say “sifted out all the activists,” do you mean people who just want to be involved in something?

Keith Tucci: People who just wanted to have some Christian fun, kind of like the Christian Olympics or the Christian Sports Channel, you know? They said, “Hey this looks like fun! This looks like a good thing to do.” Yet they believed that they could do this without any cost or any consequence. So when the cost and consequence came, they ran for the hills. Unfortunately, they are victims of the kind of Christianity under which they have been discipled, which has God as the “golden butler” who caters to our every whim and we never have any problems. That’s foolishness.

FR: What else can say about the IMPACT school that you are now conducting?

Keith Tucci: Our theme is Acts 1:2: “Everything Jesus began to do and teach.” We believe that this is the model for discipleship. It’s not just lecture, but it’s demonstration. It’s not just demonstration in character, but in tactic as well. Jesus had His disciples with Him not just to watch Him, but to demonstrate every aspect of His ministry. This included His healing ministry, His evangelistic ministry, His home visiting ministry, His publicity ministry. His disciples participated in every aspect of His life. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to expose these people who are hungry to learn to people across the country who are positive role models. It’s worth paying attention to their lives, not only their words.


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