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Catholic Inflamatory Rhetoric Helped Kill Lutheran Doctor
Catholic bishops and other anti-abortion extremists use hostile language creating a public context supportive of violent acts whether they intend such or not.

By Ed Knudson

Dr. George Tiller, a Lutheran physician, was shot and killed as he was attending his church on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009, in Wichita, Kansas. I am collecting some notes on this from news stories and offering my own comments below. Most recent comments are at the top.

It is time for Protestant pastors and leaders to no longer accept or condone the way anti-abortionists speak in public. Especially too many Catholic bishops and so-called "evangelical" religious right preachers should now be considered to be engaging in immoral acts by the malicious use of public language which has the effect of encouraging hostile acts against people who differ with them. Bishops and preachers, who are treated as moral leaders in the society, should be held responsible for what they say in public. Everyone has a legal right to express their opinion, but not every opinion is right. These people are speaking in the name of Christian faith, and they are morally wrong to inflame the public with irrational views about when human life begins and when it deserves legal protection. It is way past time for the rest of us to accept our own moral responsibility to speak up clearly about abortion and politics. What I write below will be aimed at helping us to do so.

I have written earlier pieces on abortion: The Pro-Life Movement as Backlash Politics, Abortion and the Definition of the Human, When Human Life Begins is Not So Clear. The last item comments on Catholic reaction to the Obama speech at Notre Dame. Other articles are available at the Ethics Section of this website.

June 8, 2009

The New York Times reports on the history of anti-abortion terrorism in Wichita against the clinic of Dr. Tiller and his patients who desperately needed his services.

June 7, 2009

The Wichita Eagle reported on the first service at Reformation Lutheran Church since Dr. Tiller was murdered one week ago:
Despite protesters, despite pain and tears, the congregation of Reformation Lutheran Church came together Sunday for its first worship service since Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller was shot to death while serving as an usher at the church. With an armed police officer standing guard in the sanctuary and police cars in the parking lot, members of the church embraced each other, picked up buttons bearing the phrase "attitude is everything" — a saying Tiller favored — and prepared to begin what pastor Kristin Neitzel called "the journey of healing." A few minutes after 10 a.m. today, exactly one week from the time Tiller was fatally shot in the church foyer, the congregation filled nearly all of the pews in the sanctuary and began to pray together with these words: "Oh God, we are consumed by grief for what we have witnessed in our community. Come to our aid, walk with us, hold us, strengthen us, and give us courage for the days ahead." Before the service, protesters from Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church held signs and shouted as church members turned into the parking lot. They were not there when the service let out about an hour later.
More violence is predicted by Scott Roeder as reported by the Wichita Eagle:
A man charged in the shooting death of a Kansas abortion provider has warned of more violence. Scott Roeder called the Associated Press today from the Sedgwick County jail where he's being held on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the death of Dr. George Tiller. Tiller was killed last Sunday while serving as an usher at the Lutheran church he attended in Wichita. "I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal," Roeder said. He would not elaborate. The 51-year-old Kansas City, Mo., man also told the AP he declined to talk to investigators when he was arrested, and has made no statements to police. "I just told them I needed to talk to my lawyer," Roeder said.
June 6, 2009

The funeral for Dr. Tiller was today, Saturday. In the photo his wife, Jeanne Tiller, far left, escorts her late husband's casket from College Hill United Methodist Church where the service was held in downtown Wichita.

Abortion opponents protested at the service, singing "Killing children makes God angry."

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Rabbi Arthur Waskow says something in an article I just placed on this website that I have not read so clearly anyplace else, perhaps because it is so sensitive a matter. It has to do with women. The Rabbi says that since women are bearers of moral responsibility their own ethical reflections are most important concerning a decision to have an abortion. This, of course, is considered to be what is called the "pro-choice" position, but the focus on the idea that choice belongs to woman alone sometimes does not infer the full dimension of moral responsibility which Waskow discusses. The debate over abortion does, indeed, include assumptions about the moral agency of women, whether they are able to engage in moral deliberation, whether they can be respected to make such an important decision, taking into account all the various factors involved in such a decision.

Those who speak in a hysterical manner against abortion often castigate women and their rhetoric is based on a fundamental disrespect for women. The Catholic Church to this day does not allow women to be ordained, does not trust them with the holy office of priest. So its position on abortion is consistent, the Catholic Church does not trust women to be able to make a moral decision on abortion, it believes the power of the state should be used to take this decision away from the woman. One wonders whether the extreme language and political actions some bishops are willing to use is based not really on abortion itself but is a reaction to the on-going challenge to the structure of Catholic authority by the women's movement, a movment based on the idea that women should be respected in their ability to engage in moral deliberation leading to the best possible decision in practical circumstances.

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Jon A. Shields is chosen by Christianity Today, the most important magazine of the "evangelical" movement, to write its response to the Tiller murder. He writes:
Thus, in a curious way, radicals inspire moderation, while moderates excite radicalism. Both the radical and moderate wings of movements strangely drive one another in a cycle that is simultaneously vicious and virtuous. We can only hope that imprisoning Tiller's killer will put an end to abortion-related murders, and that Tiller's death will encourage the pro-life mainstream to redouble its commitment to civility and public reason once again.
But what would it take to move the "pro-life" movement to civility and public reason? It would mean to give up its absolute certainty about when full human life begins. This absolute certainty is the source of irrationality. And this will be hard for them to do because the whole case of fundamentalism in general is centered in a false view of science, as if science can prove religious beliefs. It is only because of biological science that we know about the specifics of the reproductive process. Fundamentalists like to use this science to claim that "life" in all its fullness is determined by the moment of conception and that this biological event determines everything else, as if no human decisions are involved in the process, as if there are no further biological processes that need to unfold for a human life to come into being, as if there is no other medical technology that needs to be applied in the process requiring human decisions, as if that biological event is absolute even if it is accidental, that is, not intended, or is the result of a crime (rape) or moral violation (incest). To claim that a single biological event (sperm meeting egg) determines everything else is irrational. By that, I mean, it is not rationally convincing to others, it cannot be claimed on the basis of public reason. It is not even a matter of faith, for the claim is not that faith makes it so, but it is a claim about science that no scientist in a credible way can make.

One biological moment in the whole process of reproduction is not the basis upon which the definition of legal personhood is established. So abortion is not killing in any legal sense. For anti-abortion advocates to say that abortion is murder is extremist language, that is what makes it extreme and completely disrespectful of others in the civil community, and other Christians, who do not so believe or claim. That type of extremist language and rhetoric in the public context is what created the conditions for other even more extremist movements which influcenced the person who picked up a gun and killed a physician who was carrying out his compassionate vocation.

June 5, 2009

I have severely criticized reporters in major media who report things in such a way as to tilt the public consciousness toward the view that abortion is always wrong. The anti-abortion rhetoric is so extreme (anyone who disagrees with the idea that full human life begins at conception does not respect human life or believe it is sacred) and strident that reporters, editors, and owners of the media are afraid to challenge that rhetoric.

But a very fine article by Rob Stein has been published by the Washington Post called "New Attention on Late-Term Abortions." Stein discusses the type of abortions Dr. Tiller was willing to do and facts about the number of abortions after 24 weeks and the physicians willing to perform them. I was happy to see this type of article.

The anti-abortionists have a perfectionist view of biology. They do not want to accept that "biology is broken," that there are many times when the development of a fetus does not occur normally, that modern science now gives women the ability to know the condition of the fetus before birth, and the proper ethical question is how such knowledge should be used in making moral decisions. The issue is much, much more involved and complex than the anti-abortionist rhetoric admits. That's why it should be understood as a kind of lying, a breaking of the eighth commandment about bearing false witness. At least the Stein article gives some facts by which people can see the complexity of the issues and the fact that even women who want to have a baby find themselves in terribly difficult circumstances. Dr. Tiller had the courage to help them.

June 3, 2009

This evening Rachel Maddow on MSNBC is providing detailed information about how the FBI failed to arrest the man who killed Dr. Killer for his violations of federal law concerning abortion clinics.

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There is nothing as of this date about Dr. Tiller on the website of Christian Century, the primary magazine of the so-called liberal mainline denominations. There is nothing which might claim him as a hero of faith, as one who carried out courageous work in the face of extreme hostility. With whom do liberal Christians declare their solidarity? Apparently not with one who was a Lutheran physician carrying out his vocation in the world. The inability of "liberal Christians", in general, to take a position on these issues is one of the reasons why the hostile rhetoric of the religious right is the only religious voice that is heard in the public debate. This is quite sad, especially right now. At least Planned Parenthood mourns his passing and comforts his family and invites people to sign a letter of support.

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You would think that a Lutheran would have some respect for other Lutherans, or at least some understanding. But Lutheran ethicist R.R. Reno writing in the Catholic journal First Things provides justification for the killing of Dr. Tiller, a Lutheran physician. The whole world now knows Dr. Tiller was shot in his own church. But Reno doesn't mention it. He talks about principles of innocence and necessity and says:
We are all sinners, but it is painfully obvious that Dr. George Tiller acted in wanton disregard for the sanctity of life. Killing him did not violate the principle of innocence. Moreover, he gave no evidence of stopping. As a result, perhaps something like the principle of necessity can be satisfied.
The only reason Reno thinks this killing is wrong is because of what he calls a violation of "legitimate authority." Abortion is legal in this country and this fact must be faced. So he opposes what happened in that Lutheran church in Wichita. But there is no sense of respect whatsoever for how Dr. Tiller himself understood himself, his ethical understanding as a Lutheran, nor his sense of vocation as a doctor with compassion for women in desperate circumstances. Reno provides no help in how Lutheran ethics may differ from Catholic, no discussion of the fact that Lutherans historically have not given as much credence to so-called natural law theory as have Catholics, no understanding that the Catholic tradition gives to the Pope ultimate authority to decide what makes for natural law in the first place.

Everything turns on the irrational idea that full human life is established at the moment of conception. The Lutheran church (ELCA) does not accept that Catholic teaching, but Reno simply accepts it without qualification. It is this way of thinking that then justifies charges of baby killing, and not to be clear about it means that Reno is not writing in the best traditions of Lutheranism.

In fact, the anti-abortion hysterics can find in his words further ethical justification for the killing of people with whom one disagrees. I wish Dr. Reno had at least offered a word or two of sympathy for Dr. Tiller and his family. The inability of Reno to do is an indication of his extremist position and that of First Things magazine; Reno can not even engage in simple human sympathy. That magazine, founded by the late Richard John Neuhaus, tries to further one of Neuhaus's pet projects, to bring Catholics and Evangelicals together in a combined political movement based on extremist views on abortion.

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I have written a blog piece on how the major media help to actually promote anti-abortion viewpoints. I would like to add here a note on intimidation. The anti-abortionist absolutist language is so absolutist and outlandish that media reporters, editors, and owners can be intimidated and therefore hesitant to make explicit comments which made seem to contradict that position.

June 2, 2009

Manyar Brachear, religious writer for the Chicago Tribue, reports some religious leaders are viewing Tiller as a hero and martyr: "All honor to Dr. Tiller, who joins the list of martyrs for ethical decency and human rights, killed for healing with compassion," said Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom center. "In his case, a religious martyr in the fullest classical sense, killed in his own church as he arrived to worship, killed for acting in accord with his religious commitments and his moral and ethical choices ... I recognize that some other religious traditions do claim it is murder, but I both disagree with their theology and think they have no right to impose it on mine, by state power or by murder."

The website at Reformation Lutheran Church has a statement on the incident from pastors Lowell Michelson and Kristin Neitzel.

Reformation is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The bishop of that church, Mark Hanson, has made the following statement:
June 1, 2009

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Dr. George Tiller and his wife, Jeanne, were gathering with the people of Reformation Lutheran Church to worship and to celebrate Pentecost — the coming of the Holy Spirit to God's people. It is unconscionable that Dr. Tiller, who was serving as an usher and welcoming people to worship, should be brutally murdered.

In the wake of his death we pray that the Holy Spirit will comfort his family and all who mourn. We pray for the courage to be peacemakers, rejecting violence as a means of resolving differences. We trust God's promise that neither death nor life nor anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

On behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I express gratitude to God for the witness of the people of Reformation Lutheran Church and for the pastoral care being offered by Bishop Mansholt and pastors Michelson and Neitzel in this tragic circumstance.

Today we cry out "Lord have mercy!' And we are so bold to proclaim and believe Jesus is the resurrection and the life. (John 11:25)

Mark S. Hanson Presiding Bishop
The ELCA adopted a Social Statement on Abortion in 1991. This statement includes the following:
This church recognizes that there can be sound reasons for ending a pregnancy through induced abortion. The following provides guidance for those considering such a decision. We recognize that conscientious decisions need to be made in relation to difficult circumstances that vary greatly. What is determined to be a morally responsible decision in one situation may not be in another.

In reflecting ethically on what should be done in the case of an unintended pregnancy, consideration should be given to the status and condition of the life in the womb. We also need to consider the conditions under which the pregnancy occurred and the implications of the pregnancy for the woman's life.
The killing of Dr. Tiller has led Tamar Abrams, who met him, to write about her own abortion and encourages others to do the same. From the Huffington Post:
I feel compelled now to share this fact of my life because on Sunday Dr. George Tiller was murdered while serving in his church. I met him in the early 90s when I was working for Planned Parenthood, and was immediately drawn in by his warmth and kind manner. I remember wanting to tell him that I had once had to make the choice to end a pregnancy. But instead I simply told him that I understood the toll his work took on him. He was a good man, dedicated to ensuring that women and their families had a choice. He introduced me to a woman who was devastated to learn late in her second trimester that her child was missing most of its brain. He gave her a humane choice.

And now he's been murdered by someone who purports to be "pro-life." At a time when madmen are willing to kill to make a point, how can I remain silent about my own decision 30 years ago? When the killer pointed a gun at Dr. Tiller on Sunday, he forced me to tell my story. I urge all women across the nation to tell their stories. There are millions of us - mothers, sisters, daughters, doctors, lawyers, factory workers, college students and waitresses - who made a choice at some point in our lives to choose abortion. Some of us may regret our decision while others may celebrate it. But the fact remains that no one has the right to take that option away from us, and certainly not with a bullet. Until we begin to shout our stories at the top of our lungs - drowning out the cacophony of violence from those who are "no-choice," we will never secure the options for the women who follow in our footsteps.
June 1, 2009

A suspect in the killing of Dr. George Tiller is Scott Roeder, 51. The shooting took place in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church where Dr. George Tiller was a member and an usher. For the latest news see the Wichita Eagle.

Dr. George Tiller (in photo) is killed in church in Wichita, Kansas, on Sunday, May 31, 2009. He ran an abortion clinic there. Tiller has been vilified for years by the hostile religious right. One website calls him "Tiller the Killer". The keeper of that website identifies himself only as "Stuart B.". The whole site is dedicated to attacks on Tiller.

This past Thursday Catholic University presented a program with very inflamatory rhetoric by Robert George, a law professor at Princeton University. The program was broadcast on C-Span on Saturday evening, the day before the shooting. The title of the program was "The Obama Administration and the Sanctity of Human Life." George said repeatedly that those who disagree with his pro-life position have no respect for human life.

The language used by opponents to abortion is entirely disrespectful of people with differing views and creates a moral public context supportive of hostile acts against others. Catholic leaders and others who use such language are responsible for creating a public consciousness encouraging such acts.

Randall Terry, head of Operation Rescue, has:
claimed that he wanted to build a “Christian nation.” He’s jumped from conservative denominations several times, either leaving or being thrown out; in 2005 he converted to Catholicism, and met with Pope John Paul II and more recently with Cardinal Burke in Rome.
This quote is from (article by a past president of Catholics for Choice, Frances Kissling. That organization released this statement:
“Catholics for Choice extends its deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Dr. George Tiller, who was shot and killed as he attended church today. Dr Tiller was a courageous advocate for women. He worked tirelessly to ensure that women’s health-care needs were met, even in the most difficult circumstances. Catholics for Choice celebrates his life and work.”


Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post made the story a news alert where they send an email to their subscribers.

News reports on the radio are repeating that Dr. Tiller was one of only three abortion providers in the nation still doing late term abortions. The implication is that such shootings "work," that is, the violence which has been done to abortion providers over the years has lessened abortion, and/or that the violence is seemingly justified.

Alternet article about Fox O'Reilly comments on Tiller:
... there's no other person who bears as much responsibility for the characterization of Tiller as a savage on the loose, killing babies willy-nilly thanks to the collusion of would-be sophisticated cultural elites, a bought-and-paid-for governor and scofflaw secular journalists. Tiller's name first appeared on The Factor on Feb. 25, 2005. Since then, O'Reilly and his guest hosts have brought up the doctor on 28 more episodes, including as recently as April 27 of this year. Almost invariably, Tiller is described as "Tiller the Baby Killer."


David Crary of the Asociated Press reports that pro-life forces are concerned the killing of Dr. Tiller will be used by their opponents for political purposes. This is quite amazing. It is fine for pro-life leaders to use highly emotional, sanctimonious and salacious language about so-called unborn life to accuse their opponents of having no respect for human life, but those opponents have no right to reflect on the outright killing of a Lutheran doctor.
Anti-abortion leaders voiced concern Sunday that the Obama administration and other Democrats may try to capitalize on the murder of Dr. George Tiller to defuse the abortion issue in upcoming Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Many anti-abortion groups condemned the killing of Tiller, a prominent abortion provider who was shot dead at his church in Wichita, Kan. But they expressed concern that abortion-rights activists would use the occasion to brand the entire anti-abortion movement as extremist.

They also worried that there would now be an effort to stifle anti-abortion viewpoints during questioning of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Her exact views on abortion aren't known, but conservatives fear she supports abortion rights.

Said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, an anti-abortion activist: "No one should use this tragedy for political gain."

Tiller, one the few American doctors specializing in late-term abortions, had been the target of repeated protests and harassment for many years, and he was wounded by gunfire from an anti-abortion activist in 1993.

"It is abhorrent that once again, individuals who oppose the right to choose have used violence to try to advance their extreme anti-choice agenda," said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation.

While many anti-abortion leaders swiftly issued statements condemning the shooting, their expressions of dismay were not echoed by Randall Terry, a veteran anti-abortion activist whose protests have often targeted Tiller.

"George Tiller was a mass murderer and we cannot stop saying that," Terry said. "He was an evil man — his hands were covered with blood."

Terry said he was now concerned that the Obama administration "will use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions."


(Photo is George Tiller from his website taken in 1996. The website has been taken down.)


































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Date Added: 5/31/2009 Date Revised: 6/6/2009

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