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Dead Certain

Church ushers welcome visitors and hand out bulletins, yes. But they also serve another function. Because although anybody, carrying anything, can walk into a church—that’s the whole point, right?—the ushers keep an eye out for any potential danger.

Because churches attract troubled people, people with needs or grudges or ill-intentions. And both the pastor and the congregation are vulnerable. The pastor is right up there, front and center, an easy target. The congregation has its backs to the door and can’t see who comes in. More than once, when I was still serving in the parish, I saw our ushers intercept harassing behavior by a trouble-minded visitor.

That he was serving as an usher at his church when he was gunned down makes Dr. George Tiller’s murder that much more horrible. The ushers welcome people. They protect people. They serve.

To those who believe in a woman’s right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, Dr. Tiller was a servant in the realm of women’s reproductive rights. But to those who believe that abortion is murdering unborn children, Dr. Tiller was a murderer.

And that’s where the logic of extremism comes close to the logic of justified killing.

After establishing that her own position on abortion is pro-choice, Megan McCardle writes on her blog at The Atlantic: “if you actually think late-term abortion is murder, then the murder of Dr. Tiller makes total sense. . . . We accept that when the law is powerless, people are entitled to kill in order to prevent other murders—had Tiller whipped out a gun at an elementary school, we would now be applauding his murderer’s actions. . . . If you think that someone is committing hundreds of gruesome murders a year, and that the law cannot touch him, what is the moral action? . . . We are not morally required to obey an unjust law. In fact, when the death of innocents is involved, we are required to defy it.”

Nancy Gibbs, in Time, expresses a similar view: “There is an uncomfortable consistency in the logic of the extremists: If abortion providers are mass child killers and the law refuses to act, the vigilante may see himself as the lone defender of justice—as vigilantes usually do.”

Anti-choice groups have been quick and vociferous in their condemnation of Dr. Tiller’s murder—as they should be. The Christian Defense Coalitions, Operation Rescue and the National Clergy Council, among other groups, have all issued statements deploring the killing, at the same time distancing themselves from those who commit violent acts of protest.

Operation Rescue’s president, Troy Newman, told The New York Times that the accused killer, Scott Roeder was “not a friend, not a contributor, not a volunteer”—even though a 2007 post on the group’s Web site was written by a man identifying himself as Scott Roeder, who asked if anyone had thought of attending Tiller’s church to ask the doctor and other worshippers about his work.

But no matter that these groups are condemning Dr. Tiller’s murder, they are using this tragedy as a renewal of the urgency of their cause.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in The Washington Post, “Murder is murder. The law rightly affirms that the killing of Dr. George Tiller is murder. In this we must agree. We cannot rest until the law also recognizes the killing of the unborn as murder. The killing of Dr. George Tiller makes that challenge all the more difficult.”

With considerably more candor, Randall Terry, former president of Operation Rescue (and famously, to my mind, sued by his ex-wife for non-payment of child support) called George Tiller a mass- murderer. In a statement released on Monday he said, “We grieve for [Tiller] that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. . . . Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God. We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches.”

Even in their churches.

ChristianNewswire aired the opinion of Pastor Mark Holic, Spirit One Christian Center: “What was an abortionist doing ‘in’ church, any church . . . being allowed, welcomed, even venerated? This man killed babies for a living. . . . Then he went to ‘church,’ made large contributions, and the ‘church’ (Reformation Lutheran Church) accepted it.

“This is an apostate church, fully complicit in Mr. Tiller’s murderous rampage against preborn children.”

“He died the way he lived,” said the Rev. Rusty Thomas of Operation Save America, “His was a bloody death. Someone ‘chose’ to end George Tiller’s life this morning, in his church.” In his apostate church, where he was serving as an usher.

This tragedy, this loss, exposes a depth of hypocrisy that nice words and phrases about unity in Christ cover up. The issue isn’t simply abortion; it’s about how there are Christians and then there are ‘Christians.’ How there are churches and then there are ‘churches.’

It wasn’t simply that George Tiller was a mass murderer who died the way he lived. It’s also that he attended a church that welcomed people with diverse views. And it wasn’t simply that the church welcomed people with diverse views, it was that the church itself was, as Rusty Thomas put it, “trashing the gospel of Christ.”

Of that, as well as so many other things, these spokesmen for the anti-choice movement are, apparently, quite certain.

—Jo Page

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