The Shocking Death of an Abortion Provider – in an Lutheran (ELCA) Church

There are so many shocks to this story (“Abortion Provider shot dead in church”) that one hardly knows where to start.

Let’s start where the newspapers don’t start. The first and greatest shock (or so it would be to anyone except the hardened heart that has gotten used to this) is that there exist upon the face of this earth people like Dr George Tiller who (legally) kill babies in their mother’s wombs and call what they do “a service” to women. Only when that fact no longer shocks us will we be diverted by the other “shocks” in this story.

Shock number two is what makes this a news story. Dr Tiller was shot dead by an anti-abortion campaigner. That there exist upon the face of this earth people who think that it is acceptable to use violence and murder to stop people committing violence and murder is part of the problem. This is not an option for those who oppose the holocaust of abortion.

Shock number three is that the murder took place in a church foyer, where Dr Tiller was attending church. No, he wasn’t attending a wedding or a funeral. It was Sunday morning. And he wasn’t dragged along by his wife, he is a long term member with a distinguished record of service to the church community who was serving as usher handing out bulletins when he was murdered.

Shock number four – for me at least – is the fact that the church in which Dr Tiller was shot was Reformation Lutheran Church, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. On its website, this church has the following statement about Dr Tiller’s death:

The Reformation Lutheran Church family is shocked and deeply saddened by the violent murder of Dr. George Tiller, a longtime member of our congregation, that occurred in our church home May 31.

Our congregation strives to be a safe place for all people. We deplore the violence that took place within the walls of our church. Further, we reject any notion that violence against another human being is an acceptable way to resolve differences over any issue. We must always strive to engage in peaceful discussion. Our faith calls us to this. Our humanity demands it.

In the early Church, there were some jobs that simply barred one from being baptised and received into the Church. Being a soldier was such a job, since it involved “violence against another human being”.

What I find simply beyond comprehension is the fact that a man who was a known provider of abortions – including late term abortions – was an active member of a Christian Church.

I know that there is an argument in the Catholic Church about whether or not politicians who vote for legalisation of abortion should be given holy communion, but can you imagine a known abortion provider being a member in good standing in ANY Catholic parish?

This story speaks volumes about the utter inability of some mainline liberal protestant Churches to even begin to address the ethics of abortion. I mean, what were the pastors of this church preaching on Sunday mornings that left Dr Tiller feeling not only “safe” but “comfortable” sitting in the pews every Sunday and going to work in his baby killing clinic every Monday morning? It surely makes a laughing stock of this particular congregation’s claim to be “a safe place for all people”. A “safe place” for everyone – except children in the womb?

There is an old saying from St Leo the Great that puts these to ideas together: the Church as a “safe place for all people”, and the sanctity of the womb. He wrote:

“By the Spirit, Christ is born from the body of his unsullied Mother; by the same Spirit, the Christian is reborn from the womb of holy Church . . . “

My question is: is the “Womb of the Church” any place for someone who unrepentedly makes a living out of killing children who are still in the womb?

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “The Shocking Death of an Abortion Provider – in an Lutheran (ELCA) Church

  1. jules

    There is something very wrong about murder that no one can justify. The murder of Dr Tiller, appears to be a violent “retaliation” . Yet so many millions of people walking around the face of this earth in total denial of the violent murder of innocent, unborn children. They call it a termination of pregnancy, women’s health, reproductive rights etc in order to cover up their evil works.
    According to statistics of women seeking abortions in the US 37.4% identify themselves as Protestants and Catholic women account for 31.3%,. In any case the contraceptive pill affectively acts as an abortificiant so the numbers are lamentably astronomical.

  2. David K

    “Dr Tiller was shot dead by an anti-abortion campaigner.”

    Actually, we don’t know that yet. It’s possible the shooter had a personal grievance against Tiller (e.g. aborted his girlfriend’s baby), or is just plain nuts. Let’s not play into the pro-abortion movement’s hands.

  3. jules

    I read today that the man arrested is a Lutheran with connections to a pro life movement. 😦 Sad any way you look at it !!
    http://edition.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/06/01/kansas.doctor.killed.charges/

  4. Harry

    This is one of the reasons why my wife and I left the ELCA for the LCMS.

    • And, I understand, why many ELCA pro-lifers become Catholic. I understand the ELCA has a health policy which includes funding abortions for their female pastors.

      • This is referred to in the book “There we stood, here we stand” under the chapter “Real Churches don’t kill babies.”

        Apparantly the initial inclusion of abortion in the female ‘pastors’ insurance was a default policy of the insurance company. When members of the ELCA put a motion to ammend the policy to exclude abortions the motion was soundly defeated in the synod.

        They specifically and deliberately voted FOR abortion, not just for women in general, but for female ‘pastors’ serving in ELCA parishes.

        • What!? That’s so horrible I can’t bear the thought… that a supposed minister of Christ’s Gospel would kill her own child! She would be more honest if she worshipped Ishtar or Moloch.

  5. This is very sad. But on the other hand, it does turn out that the guy who did it does have a history of mental illness.

    I can’t help thinking though that this is going to be really bad for all of us. Already the news reports mingled this with the report of protests at Obama’s Notre Dame appearances….

  6. Too many shocks in this shocking story.

    It will make little difference to the success or otherwise of the Pro-life movement, since the media are not on our side.

    Not until we see a turning back of the Secularist Heresy (firmly entrenched in all the churches and even in the Catholic Church, though not in its teaching), will we see a swing back towards life.

  7. Matthias

    “we reject any notion that violence against another human being is an acceptable way ”
    Notice the inconsistency.Okay to support an abortionist’s practices. Yes sad that he was killed ,but his church being of a liberal persuasion ,would use situational rather than Biblical ethics to support abortion.

  8. Good post, but one question.

    Are you sure about soldiers not being able to be baptized in the early Church? It sounds historically unlikely to me.

    John the Baptist baptised soldiers. Jesus seems to have had no problem with them. Paul baptized Cornelius.

    Clement of Alexandria wrote in Exhortation to the Greeks: “…Practise husbandry, we say, if you are a husbandman; but while you till your fields, know God. Sail the sea, you who are devoted to navigation, yet call the whilst on the heavenly Pilot. Has knowledge taken hold of you while engaged in military service? Listen to the commander, who orders what is right…”

    • matthias

      I remember reading in os Guiness’s book THE DUST OF DEATH that it was Christians who were more likely to be the soldiers who were engaged in policing duties,constabularly(?) who were accepted into the Church. It might have occurred around Clement’s time
      Remember that emperor worship was a feature of the regimes of Caligula,Nero and Dioceletian,thus to be a soldier in these times,was to swear allegiance to the “godlike Emperor”,even if they were raving lunatics like the first two named above and a ideologue like the last mentioned.

    • Peregrinus

      I doubt that there was a uniform or consistent rule about this, but being a soldier was certainly an issue in the early church. Hippolytus records that certain professions were absolutely excluded (e.g. prostitutes, eunuchs, astrologers) while others might be accepted under certain conditions (e.g. teachers, soldiers, magistrates). The condition on which a soldier would be accepted as a catechumen was that he would not order the execution of anyone, or carry out such an order, or take a military oath, or accept a position as a military governor who “wears the purple”. (These conditions made it next to impossible to be a catechumen and a solider, except possibly a conscripted soldier.) A Christian who was not already a soldier could not become one, or aspire to become one.

      Hippolytus doesn’t discuss the reasons for these attitudes, but Tertullian does. The problem in his view was links to or accommodation with idolatry. Soldiers took part in pagan-influenced victory celebrations, and swore pagan-influenced oaths of allegiance – both, in Tertullian’s view, inconsistent with a Christian life. But he also mentions that soldiers took part in torture and executions so, yes, involvement in systematic violence, on behalf of the state, was problematic. The fact that both violence and paganism were concerns is illustrated in the conditions that Hippolytus suggests were imposed.

      There are other early church texts which record similar views. Nearly always go some way to accommodate the possibility of a solider or magistrate becoming a Christian, provided he can avoid the shedding of blood in his profession. There is much less tolerance of someone who is already a Christian becoming a soldier or a magistrate.

      Note that these attitudes and the related rules continued into the fourth and fifth centuries, even after the Caesars were Christian or pro-Christian. Hence, if a fear of idolatry was the original reason for adopting these attitudes, it had ceased to be the predominant or only one by the time of Constantine.

      • Thanks for this, Perry. Saved me a lot of work – I knew that being a soldier was a problem, but didn’t have the sources at hand.

      • And thanks from me too. It sounds like it was not a ban on soldiers as we understand them today.

        • Peregrinus

          And thanks from me too. It sounds like it was not a ban on soldiers as we understand them today.

          I don’t think the Romans had soldiers as we understand them today. The Roman legions fought battles, yes, but they also did what we would see as police work – there was no separate police force – as well as other public works, like constructing and maintaining roads and bridges. And, to a large extent, the army provided local government in the far-flung provinces of the empire. I think it was precisely because of this mixed role that the voice of the early church is somewhat ambivalent about soldiers. I mean, who could be against road-building?

          But the Romans did have soldiering as we understand it today, and it was soldiers who did it. And it was the soldiering – the fighting, the oaths of loyalty and obedience, the cult of victory – that disturbed the church most.

          And now that we have police forces and local governments and highway authorities to do all those things, the modern soldier is much more taken up with soldiering than his Roman counterpart. And, of course, soldiering today is much more indiscriminate and destructive than it used to be. In Roman times, an estimated 8 out of 10 victims of war were combatant soldiers; in our own time, 9 out of 10 victims are noncombatants. (I heard that statistic on a radio discussion of just war theology recently, but I’m afraid I can’t give you a cite for it.)

          So, to be honest, I think if we had the attitudes of the early church, we would see soldiering as problematic. If, today, we are more relaxed about Christian soldiers, I strongly suspect that’s not so much because soldiering has changed since the first century, as because our attitudes have changed.

          • Pardon my ignorance, but I thought the objection to soldiering was to their having to take part in pagan rites – and hence the like objection to Christians being Roman officials or even teachers (who would have to get their pupils to rote learn the pagan myths).

            • Peregrinus

              That was only part – though, initially, the largest part – of the objection. But that wasn’t all. As I said, if a soldier wished to be become a Christian, according to Hippolytus he had to undertake (among other things) not to order, or take part in, an execution. This points to the involvement in deadly violence as being at least part of the problem. He also had to avoid the taking of oaths but not, it would seem, any other participation in ostensibly pagan rituals (of which there were many in army life). So it seems there could be some compromise on military engagement with paganism, but not on military executions.

              But the really telling point is that even after the Empire became Christian-friendly (from Constantine onwards) the church distaste for military involvement continued. For about a hundred years after the Christianity became the favoured religion of the empire (and, therefore, service in the army ceased to require participation in pagan cults), the army remained largely pagan because Christians would not serve in it. There is, in fact, record of much criticism of the Christian community for “hypocritically” accepting the bounty of the state – pagan temples made over to the church to be turned into churches, for example – while preaching nonviolence and refusing to support the state’s wars. It took about another hundred years for the just war theory to be developed and articulated, largely by Augustine, after which this problem began to be resolved.

              At least some strands of radical Christianity see this development as part of a Constantinian compromise, in which the institutions and attitudes of the church were corrupted by engagement with the civil authorities, and by becoming, in effect, the established religion, with a vested interest in supporting the status quo.

              We don’t all have to accept that view. But I think we do have to accept as a matter of fact that, for whatever reason, the attitude of the early church to violence did change in the fourth and fifth centuries. In earlier times Christians were intermittently persecuted – tortured, burned, thrown to the lions. Entire families could suffer this fate if one member converted. But from this period we have no word of any teaching that a Christian was justified in taking a life in order to save his own or his families, or to protect the Christian community – or, of course, the state. The just war theory comes from a much later period, when the church’s interests are entwined with those of the state, rather than opposed to it.

              Early Christians took the teachings of Jesus about nonviolence, love of enemy and turning the other cheek at face value in a way that we, if we are honest, do not.

  9. Ooops. I meant Peter baptized Cornelius.

  10. “That there exist upon the face of this earth people who think that it is acceptable to use violence and murder to stop people committing violence and murder is part of the problem.”

    I think this statement is a bit too broad. Perhaps it could be amended by simply adding the word “vigilante.” That, I believe, is the chief problem; namely, that one man without any authorization or warrant, took it upon himself to play God.

    There are instances, it would seem, however, when violence (war; actions by police; etc.) is used to protect those who are victims of violence. Or, in question form: Is every instance of violence always to be condemned, even when used most regrettably and with proper rules of engagement, in order to protect or save others?

    • That is why I grouped the two words together “violence and murder”. I think acting in self-defence or to directly defend others is a different matter. I don’t think that what the assassin did in this case could be seen as being “directly” in the defence of the unborn. In any case, in all this ethics of “just” retaliation come into view.

  11. David,

    Which Australian denominations are mired in similar compromises over abortion – Anglicans, the Uniting Church?

  12. Peregrinus

    That particular form of compromise is unlikely to arise in Australia, because Australian employers are not generally involved in deciding what kind of health insurance – if any – their employees will have. In the Catholic context, religious communities might buy group health insurance for their members – I don’t know if they do or not – but it is unlikely to include any provision for sexual/reproductive health. Given the celibacy to which religious are committed, the need for such services is unlikely to arise, and you can save money by not insuring against risks you don’t face. (Isn’t it great when morality and economy coincide?)

    So, although I don’t know, I doubt that any Australian denomination is compromised in the sense of paying for abortions for its own ministers, directly or through insurance.

    In other senses, though, they may be compromised. If we think of the church as the community of the baptised, rather than the institution of the hierarchy, the Catholic church probably contains many who have had abortions and feel they were justified in doing so, and many others who have not had abortions but are open to the possibility that abortion may be morally justified in some circumstances – a position which flatly contradicts what the church teaches. We live with that, without either changing the teaching or “expelling” (in some sense) those who don’t accept it or feel unable to live it; isn’t that a “compromise”?

    Other denominations may teach that abortion is intrinsically wrong, but do not reason from that that it must always be outlawed, and so do not support the criminalisation of abortion. Or, to put it another way, they teach that abortion is wrong, while remaining silent about or even supporting laws that permit women to choose abortion. Is that another kind of “compromise”?

    Still others – e.g. the Uniting Church – do not hold a formal position on abortion, beyond recognising its as a serious moral issue on which there are a diversity of opinions and positions, and on which people should make decisions carefully and prayerfully. You could argue that that historic Christian beliefs are being compromised here in favour of prevailing secular values.

    So I don’t think that anyone is free from accusations of “compromise” on this one. You could, of course, attempt to say that some compromises are justified and others not, but that would be a different discussion.