Dr. George Tiller was murdered on May 31 while attending church services in Wichita, Kan. This is the second time Tiller has been shot, and both times for the same reason. Tiller performed abortions.
The response from the pro-life movement has been interesting and instructive. Longtime pro-life activist Randall Terry remarked that Tiller “was a mass murderer and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed.”
Bill O’Reilly, for his part, wanted to make sure no one blamed him for Tiller’s death. Apparently, Tiller had been the subject of several O’Reilly screeds against abortion and those who perform them.
Rick Scarborough’s group, Vision America, released a lengthy statement concerning Tiller’s death. In part, the statement said, “We condemn this heinous crime in the strongest possible terms and hope the person responsible for Dr. Tiller’s death is brought to justice speedily… . No one can call themselves pro-life if they condone violence to protect the unborn.”
One of the more interesting responses came from a group of faith leaders. Faith in Public Life, a strategy center devoted to promoting positive expressions of faith, issued a statement on June 1 addressing Tiller’s murder. The statement was signed by individuals and faith groups from both sides of the abortion debate.
Here is the full statement issued by the group:
“We were shocked and saddened to hear that Dr. George Tiller was murdered at his church yesterday morning (May 31). Such violence is an affront to the teachings of all faith traditions and an attack on civil society. Houses of worship have served as sanctuaries providing safe harbor even in times of widespread violence for millennia—that this act took place in Dr. Tiller’s church where he was serving as an usher on Sunday morning only underscores its abhorrence. We condemn it, and we pray for Dr. Tiller’s family, church and community.
“As people of faith working to create civility and common ground on abortion, this reprehensible attack reminds us of our moral obligation to respect the humanity of those on both sides of this issue. Wherever we stand, this act offends us all.”
It’s tempting to dismiss the murder of Tiller as the behavior of a deranged person. But the highly charged religious rhetoric that informs much of the pro-life movement will not allow for that explanation alone. Charles Kimball, professor of religion at North Carolina’s Wake Forest University, details in his book, “When Religion Becomes Evil,” how violent behavior is a predictable outcome when faith takes on certain characteristics.
When believers become convinced that they are absolutely right in their beliefs, when they believe that they are so right that any means justifies any end, then faith becomes pathological. After that, anything is possible.
Studies have shown that the incidence of abortion decreases as women experience hope in their circumstances. Where there is no health care, no child care and no social support, there is no hope.
Jesus taught that loving God and loving our neighbor are the greatest good we can do. Maybe one way to address the abortion issue is to create a social climate for women that gives them hope. At least that looks like love for our neighbor.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.