Anglican Samizdat

May 31, 2009

The murder of an abortionist

Filed under: Abortion — David Jenkins @ 11:13 pm

From the National Post

A Kansas doctor who was a controversial provider of so-called “late-term” abortions was shot and killed at his church on Sunday, local media reported.

The Wichita Eagle newspaper reported that 67-year-old George Tiller, a longtime target of anti-abortion activists, was shot to death as he walked into services at at Reformation Lutheran Church.

Police are searching for a white male who fled the scene after shooting Tiller with a handgun, local media reported.

Local television station KAKE said on its website that sources close to the investigation and the doctor confirmed that Tiller was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after emergency crews arrived.

Police Captain Brent Allred did not name the victim, but he classified the case as high-profile and said the victim has been the target of violence in the past, the station said.

Tiller’s clinic in Wichita has been the site of mass protests by anti-abortion groups and was bombed in 1985. Tiller was shot and wounded by an abortion opponent in 1993.

Abortions are generally considered late-term when they are performed after the 20th week of gestation on fetuses potentially old enough to survive outside the womb.

Since I believe life starts at conception, I also believe that abortion is the killing of an innocent human and is, therefore, wrong; a late term abortion is the most grisly and evil variety of abortion, since the baby is sometimes born alive and then killed or left to die and – even for those who do not believe that life starts at conception – is very clearly a baby.

So when a supposed doctor who performs late term abortions is murdered, how should Christians react?

From the perspective of executing temporal justice it is necessary to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s: it seems clear that only the state should mete out justice – particularly lethal justice. So the killer of George Tiller will have to face the penalty for doing what he probably believed the state should have done for him.

From a Christian perspective, even though Tiller’s killer will have to face state justice, could his action still be ethically justified? Some Christian pro-life advocates would claim that no life can legitimately be taken so their answer would be “no”; they see this as a mark of consistency. First, I think this view is faulty in that it fails to acknowledge the state’s legitimate role in punishing the guilty – a role that has biblical support (Rom 13:3 ff) – in order to restrain evil and maintain order. Even though countries like Canada do not have the death penalty, all countries at the very least incarcerate criminals and are prepared to use lethal force to protect their citizens: a person with a pro-life view that refuses to take a life ever would not be able to live in any earthly society without hypocrisy.

Second, if it is legitimate for the state to take a life in some circumstances, can it ever be for an individual? A convincing case was made by a Christian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for murdering Hitler on the grounds that it would ultimately save lives and be a lesser evil than allowing him to live. Could the same argument be used here for George Tiller? The murderer might have thought so, but I think not for the simple reason that others will take Tiller’s place to continue his gruesome work; were that not the case, the lesser evil argument might apply.



  1. The state has a legitimate role in punishing the guilty – that legitimacy does not extend to taking a life. Murder is murder, it doesn’t matter how guilty or innocent the murderer is. I think it is a mark of consistency to be anti abortion and anti death penalty. A life is a life. The death penalty takes away a person’s life according to human beings time, not God’s time, and could rob the guilty person of an opportunity to repent. That too is an evil.

    Comment by Kate — June 1, 2009 @ 8:12 am

  2. Sigh. The above should read “it doesn’t matter how guilty or innocent the victim is”

    Comment by Kate — June 1, 2009 @ 8:12 am

  3. Kate,

    If the state can legitimately punish a criminal, why can’t it use the ultimate punishment – death? One reason might be because it is irreversible and so mistakes cannot be undone, but to say a state execution is murder would be similar to saying incarceration is kidnapping – but you do believe the state has the right to incarcerate.

    Also, the state kills in war; unless you are a complete pacifist, you would have to agree the state can kill in at least one circumstance.

    Comment by David — June 1, 2009 @ 8:32 am

  4. The state doesn’t kill in war – soldiers kill each other in war. I don’t see that as murder because the soldiers are defending themselves and others.

    I believe that capital punishment is wrong because it cannot be undone, and the state is not infallible. Inevitably, innocent people will sometimes be executed. As a Christian, I believe it is wrong because it denies the victim the opportunity to repent, and it puts the state in the position of playing

    Comment by Kate — June 1, 2009 @ 11:01 am

  5. Since 1973 over 45 million children have been legally killed in America at the hands of professionals. During that time 4 doctors have been murdered by misguided individuals who thought they could stop the killing of the innocent. They thought they would play God and pass judgement. They were wrong. These doctors who kill the unborn are also playing God and will one day face His judgement. In this battle we are all losing. May God have mercy on us all.

    Comment by Dave Horvath — June 1, 2009 @ 11:49 am

  6. Murder is wrong, no matter who does it. Every single human life is precious in the sight of God, no matter how bent or broken that life is. If that weren’t so, Jesus would not have come, and there would be no hope for any of us.

    Comment by Kate — June 1, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

  7. Kate
    If Jesus coming did not change the law or the covenants by one jot or tittle, how do you reconcile stoning and then hanging the body on a tree?
    Is it not the soul that’s important and not the body that bears it?

    Comment by Jim Muirhead — June 1, 2009 @ 2:53 pm

  8. By that logic, Jim, we ought to be keeping kosher as well. Jesus didn’t change the law, he fulfilled it, so the ceremonial and civic OT laws don’t apply to Christians.

    Yes, it is the soul that is important, and not the body that bears it. Capital punishmet imperils the soul of a person so punished by cutting his or her life short before (s)he has time to repent.

    Comment by Kate — June 1, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

  9. Kate,
    With respect to Kosher- maybe we should be.
    Take a step back and look at what you are saying about the OT laws. If you are going to cherry pick -and you are, what is your system for choosing?
    Isn’t that how we got into the mess we’re in now in Anglicanism?

    Comment by Jim Muirhead — June 1, 2009 @ 5:18 pm

  10. I am most certainly not cherry picking. The “system for choosing” is Article 8 of the 39 Articles, one of the founding documents of our church:
    VII. Of the Old Testament.
    The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

    Comment by Kate — June 1, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

  11. Whoops, misread the Roman numerals, it is article 7.

    Comment by Kate — June 1, 2009 @ 8:10 pm

  12. Kate,
    I need a clarification. In your view, are the ten commandments the only “Commandments which are called Moral”?
    What do you do with Mat. 15:3-4 and Mark 7:8-11
    Then what do you do with 2000 years of church teaching that has supported capital punishment as a means of cleansing the body?

    Comment by Jim Muirhead — June 1, 2009 @ 10:38 pm

  13. I don’t see what you mean about either of those scriptures. Jesus is talking about putting religious tradition above scripture – I don’t think this is what article 8 is doing – it is expounding scripture.

    The OT law regarding ceremonies and rites refers to the sacrificial system in the temple and (I think) the food laws as well. Jesus fulfilled those – he was the final sacrifice, so no further sacrifices are necessary (or possible, since there is currently a mosque on Temple Mount).

    The civil laws and precepts refers to the punishments meted out – like stoning, etc – for breaking the laws. The NT tells us to obey our own civil authorities, not the civil authorities of ancient Isreal.

    The moral laws are essentially everything else – how we are to behave towards one another.

    I am not aware of church teaching that has supported capital punishment as a means of cleansing the body. Even so, church teaching can be wrong, as we all know.

    I cannot think of a worse evil than to cut someone’s life off before God is willing to end it. As I said, it denies a person the chance to repent. From a personal standpoint, I am against capital punishment because our justice system makes mistakes. A wrongfully convicted person can be set free from prison, but his life cannot be given back. Besides, did you see those prison surveillance videos of Paul Bernado that were released a few years ago? He spends 23 1/2 hours a day in a cell smaller than my kitchen. I think that is a worse punishment than death, frankly.

    Comment by Kate — June 1, 2009 @ 11:12 pm

  14. Al Mohler has an excellent piece on the murder of the abortionist:

    Comment by Joy — June 1, 2009 @ 11:23 pm

  15. As It Happens had an interview tonight with a friend of Tiller’s. I had to turn it off. I am absolutely disgusted with what Tiller did; but I think capital punishment is equally wrong.

    Comment by Kate — June 1, 2009 @ 11:39 pm

  16. my guess would be that God will have His way with both . One’s gone, we know he was a Christian, the other, probably an angry man, whose anger exceeded due bounds, if he professed to be a Christian then God is just & righteous and he will get the chance to repent, but he too broke the 6th commandment. God knows his heart and why he killed Tiller and will deal with him in His just and righteous way God’s will be done.
    Sounds like God may have just used a murderer ‘on the run’ who wanted to gratify his brutish passion anyway!! God is Good! And soo wise.He’s got it all planned out and keeps us all on our toes!!

    Comment by Eva — June 2, 2009 @ 12:24 am

  17. I don’t know, Eva, I wouldn’t presume to say that we know someone was a Christian simply because he went to church.

    Comment by Kate — June 2, 2009 @ 10:49 am

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