A Southern Baptist Convention officer denied endorsing a statement supporting a man convicted of killing a doctor because he provided abortions. That was after Web sites reported the official’s name appeared on a petition associated with a group labeled domestic terrorists by an organization that monitors hate groups.

Last week the Southern Poverty Law Center carried a story saying Wiley Drake, second vice president of the nation’s second-largest faith group, was listed on the Army of God Web site as endorsing a “Declaration of Support for James Kopp.” Frederick Clarkson at Talk2Action described the Army of God as an anti-abortion “organization of revolutionary theocrats” led by figures convicted of murder, bombing, arson, kidnapping and other crimes.

Kopp was convicted in 2003 of second-degree murder for the 1998 sniper killing of Dr. Barnett Slepian, 52, an obstetrician/gynecologist and father of four, who performed legal abortions at a clinic in Buffalo, N.Y. This January Kopp was also found guilty of violating the federal Freedom to Access to Clinic Entrances Act by assassinating Slepian from a wooded area behind his home as he sat with his family in his kitchen.

Following criticism in Baptist blogs, some citing an EthicsDaily.com story about the report published April 27, Drake sent a statement Thursday night to at least two bloggers claiming he never signed the petition.

“I did not sign any such document and anyone who says I did is telling a lie,” Drake said on blogs here and here.

Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., said he had never heard of James Kopp before a friend told him about the controversy. Drake said he is “against killing babies” but “killing a doctor that is a baby killer is never right,” because “two wrongs do not make murder right.”

The Web site that carried Drake’s signature took his name down soon after EthicsDaily.com sent Drake an e-mail asking questions including whether he would take steps to have it removed. An EthicsDaily.com e-mail to a contact listed at the Army of God Web site asking if anyone requested the removal went unanswered.

The Army of God Web site said the “Declaration of Support for James Kopp,” also titled “Declaration of Support for the Defenders of Unborn Children,” appeared originally on the Missionaries to the Unborn Web site.

Steve Wetzel, who runs the Missionaries to the Unborn site, told EthicsDaily.com he created the original declaration before Kopp’s first trial, and before he admitted guilt to a Buffalo newspaper. Many in the pro-life movement believed Kopp was being railroaded by the government, Wetzel said, and they did not what to “throw Kopp under the bus.”

Wetzel said in an e-mail that no one actually “signed” the declaration, which existed only online. He said he added names as he received e-mails from those wishing to sign on.

“I do know that names were added that should not have been,” Wetzel said. “Fraudulent e-mails were sent in by the God-haters, but as I was going the verification process, Kopp stunned everyone by admitting he did it. Rather than continue the process, I simply deleted the file, as it no longer had meaning.”

Drake did not respond over the weekend to Friday’s e-mail from EthicsDaily.com, which also asked if he had any knowledge of Missionaries of the Unborn.

The current front page on Missionaries to the Unborn Web site memorializes a “pro-life warrior” named Bob Ferguson, who died March 24 of an apparent heart attack.

Ferguson, who was active in militant pro-life groups like Operation Rescue, is also listed as a signatory on the Army of God Web site as supporting Kopp.

“If James Kopp actually shot baby killer Slepian,” said a comment beside Ferguson’s name, “he did NOT violate the Sixth Commandment ‘Thou shall not murder’ or ‘kill.'”

“The word ‘kill’ (ratsach) in the Sixth Commandment is never used in the context that stopped abortionist Slepian from killing additional innocent humans,” Ferguson said. “Justifiable homicide is a legitimate spiritual practice and is a ‘reasonable worship/service’ for those presenting their bodies a living sacrifice as earnestly requested of Christians in Romans 12:1-2.”

EthicsDaily.com also asked Drake if he knew Ferguson, who wrote of protesting with Drake at a Planned Parenthood facility in Orange County, Calif., in 2004.

“I got there about an hour early and watched as pro-abortionists hid their faces as they learned that their shame was to be exposed to their neighborhood,” Ferguson reported. “Rev. Wiley Drake came and shared in this outreach. This man is unlike so many pastors and we in So Cal are most fortunate to have him.”

Ferguson also appealed on Drake’s behalf in 2003 to raise funds when OrangeCounty tax collectors tried to seize the church-owned parsonage where he lived for unpaid taxes. He passed on an e-mail from Drake describing “the devil and his jack-booted thugs” attacking his church while he was out of town.

The homeless ministry of Drake’s church was beneficiary of three-and-a-half pallets of donated restaurant grade tuna delivered in 2005 by an Operation Rescue “Truth Truck,” emblazoned with banner graphics of aborted fetuses.

Drake worked again last fall with Operation Rescue, a group best known for demonstrations at the 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta and for blocking access to abortion clinics during the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” in Wichita, Kan., supporting a “Save Wal-Mart” campaign timed with the busiest day of the year for Christmas shopping to pamphlet stores protesting the retailer’s outreach to homosexual groups.

Wetzel said in hindsight the document supporting Kopp now looks bad, but it didn’t at the time. Pro-lifers didn’t want to throw Kopp under the bus, at least before his trial, Wetzel said, but when he admitted to the shooting, “He threw himself under the bus.”

Wetzel said he still has reservations about Kopp’s guilt, however, spawning from “knowing the manner of the man” and other things, which would be speculation, “that I will never reveal.”

Recently criticizing fellow California Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren for inviting pro-choice Democratic Sen. Barack Obama to an AIDS conference at his church, Drake said, “You can’t work together with people totally opposed to what you are.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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