The Language of Violence

Dr. George R. Tiller, a high-profile abortion doctor who performed abortions late into the third trimester, was gunned down on Sunday while handing out bulletins in the foyer of his Wichita, Kansas church.

The suspect, Scott Roeder, is being described by the media, his acquaintances, and his family as an anti-abortion, anti-government zealot with a history of mental illness. According to the New York Times, someone identifying themselves as Scott Roeder posted a message on the website of Operation Rescue describing Tiller as a "concentration camp 'Mengele' of our day and he needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgement upon our nation." (Wichita-based Operation Rescue has released a couple statements condemning Roeder's actions as "deplorable" and stating their commitment to a peaceful and legal end to abortion.)

This event deserves a more thorough consideration than I can give it here today. Tiller's murder has caused me to reexamine my own commitment to peace and the protection of all life, from conception to natural death, and the ways in which my actions might undermine my principles.

One question I can't shake though, and I thought I would share it with you: Is Tiller's murder - as well as other recent acts of violence, such as the shooting in Knoxville last July (also at a church) by a suspect who seemed to pick his target because he "hated liberals in general as well as gays" - the logical outcome of the rhetoric of violence which has come to dominate so much of our national discussion? Put another way, should we be surprised that the language of the "culture war" might incite somebody to actually declare war?

Update: Here is a sample chapter from Larry Shallenberger's book Divine Intention which deals with Christians and the culture war.


  1. What angers me the most is George Tiller was shot and killed in the name of God.

    I don't want this post to come off as disrespectful, but I also can't pretend to look on George Tiller with respect.

    It's one thing if a doctor is a Christian and performs abortion, and it's one thing for a Christian to be pro-choice.

    But how was George Tiller such an outspoken advocate in favor of abortion? How did he reconcile this with his faith? How did the members of his church communicate with him? Just becuase George Tiller was killed in a deplorable act by a deplorable and misguided man does not make George Tiller's actions okay.

    Beyond that, I'm afraid this will setback the common ground I felt the pro-life movement had been making with pro-choice advocates. At the very least, the understanding that abortion is something to be avoided was becoming more widely believed.

    Then some idiot goes and does something like this, and George Tiller becomes a martyr.

  2. Jordan,

    I'm not defending abortion. However, I have encountered people of faith who don't believe that life begins at conception.

    I have a friend who explained to me that her synagogue teaches that sometime during pregnancy the fetus is "quickened"-- it becomes human.

    I don't espouse this position, but it helps me understand her faith and her pro-choice position better.

    What's maddening is there's no magic bullet Bible verse to establish that life begins at conception. The doctrine can be derived. It's ultimately logical. But there's no one verse in the Bible that nails this down neatly.

    I do wonder how this man reconciled his faith with his profession. But in the moment, the only pro-life response is to mourn the death of Mr. Tiller.

  3. To everything there is a season,
    a time for every purpose under the sun.
    A time to be born and a time to die;
    a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
    a time to kill and a time to heal ...
    a time to weep and a time to laugh;
    a time to mourn and a time to dance ...
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
    a time to lose and a time to seek;
    a time to rend and a time to sew;
    a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
    a time to love and a time to hate;
    a time for war and a time for peace.

    ecclesiastes 3:1-8

  4. I remember some podcast where Donald Miller flips a church leader's war rhetoric back on them, excitedly asking who we should be attacking etc etc. The Church has a tendency to attract "sheep" in the sense of those who blindly follow, and people who have mental illnesses that aren't accepted in other institutions. So, yes, church leaders do need to be very careful how they present themselves and their views. You never know how someone is going to interpret something.

    I believe very strongly in the freedom of speech. I think if a leader wants to position him/her-self as anti-abortion they should be allowed. And I think if they want to position themself as pro-choice they should be allowed. I just heard that China is blocking Twitter now. Censorship, one way of thinking, is not the answer.

    But again, everyone needs to be careful in how they present their views. It is insensitive and unhelpful for pastors to bash abortion when there could be a member in their congregation who maybe terminated a pregnancy before they came to Christ and now feels so guilt-ridden its hard for them to attend church. Maybe they need someone to pray with them and love them instead of judge them.

    Also, the Church needs to be more supportive of people who do make the decision to go through with an unexpected pregnancy. We need to offer resources, medical attention, and be willing to choose adoption if we feel led instead of or in addition to having our own children. It makes me really angry to hear people say they're prolife and then do nothing to help those who do choose life.

    As for some facts:

    By 24 weeks, the legal cut off for abortions, fetuses already have eyes, hands, and specialized movement:

    The third trimester, the more controversial time for an abortion and the type that Dr. Tiller performed, begins at the 28th week of pregnancy, according to WebMD:

    "9 out of 10 babies born at only 28 weeks survives," according to the March of Dimes.

  5. I wish that there would be more press about post-abortion stress disorder. It is a horrific choice to have to make and there are deep repercussions for every woman who does it. I would never want to judge the woman who has made that choice. But I must ask, why would anyone wait until the last trimester? How on earth could anyone go through with that? When a woman is that vulnerable, she puts herself in the hands of the doctor who turns himself into the expert. How could any doctor perform such a barbaric act? I am speechless. Well apparently not because I am writing it.

    I am heartsick that someone took Dr Tiller's life; because murder is murder. And I would also call Dr. Tiller a murderer, not to mention a deceiver of those women who he reassured were just terminating random tissue.

  6. There are some letters written by women who had abortions performed by Tiller on doublex.com (Slate magazines spin off for women) and they are tragically thought provoking. Most of the women, apparently, that choose to get these abortions that late in their pregnancies do it because they just found out either a) their life/health is at risk if they continue the pregnancy or b) the child will either not survive to term or will be severely impaired if it does. I am pretty sure that legally a late term abortion, like the ones Tiller did, cannot just be done electively, it has to be because the fetus is not viable or there is some danger or risk to the mother. Ultimately it's up to the state, but the point is it's not usually an easy choice and there are multiple reasons.

    That said, what Tiller did is disgusting, horrific, and unimaginable. If you don't know what partial birth abortion is then good, you don't want to know. I cannot fathom any person being able to perform this procedure, let alone a Christian, it boggles my mind.

    The difference with killing Tiller and killing other abortion doctors is that Tiller was the end of the line, he was the doctor other doctors who wouldn't perform the procedure would refer patients to. By killing him there is a very good chance abortions will not be performed. Not justifying it, but there is a notable difference.

    Murder is murder. I think abortion is, essentially, murder because the Bible speaks in multiple places of how God "knit us together in our mothers womb" and He "knew us before we were born". But I also think killing another person is never a justification for preventing killing. It was wrong to kill Tiller just as it was wrong for him to kill unborn babies.

  7. Without a doubt the flood of war metaphor that comes from a church, the social acceptability of violence in America and a few religious zealots with mental issues CAN NOT be a good mix. God Help us!
    I don’t agree with abortion but I don’t agree with harming, hurting, or even picketing abortion clinics. It’s fine to be “pro-life” but when your stance on abortion is leading you to do anything that doesn’t show the love of Christ to those that perform these procedures or receive them, then obviously we aren’t doing the right thing.