a brief statement earlier this week clarifying my position on violence to solve social issues and indicated I would have more to say later. Now is later.Abortionist George Tiller was murdered last Sunday, and if you’re like me you’re just about at the point of not wanting to hear any more about it. As a pro-life leader, I issued
Life and death are tough, touchy, and volatile subjects. With Tiller’s death, we have a fascinating juxtaposition of both. Can the irony be any greater when a man who made his living taking the lives of children breathes his last breath at the hands of someone who was completely criminal and unjustified in taking his life?
Reaction has been swift and predictable from both the pro-abort and pro-life camps. Planned Parenthood and NARAL immediately started calling for increased protection for abortion clinics from us crazed and fanatical “anti-abortion extremists”; and true to form Obama’s administration immediately obliged them by . The pro-life community went on the defense, rejecting any association with the Tiller gunman and reasserting its right to advocate for unborn children and the families affected by abortion. It’s been on ever since.
My thoughts about the situation have evolved, but I’ve identified three basic lessons we can all learn from this situation.
First, it’s important for Christians to have the proper view about Tiller’s death. As I considered how I felt about it, I asked myself, “According to what I see in the Scriptures, how does God view the death of someone who has practiced evil without ever repenting from it?” I know, some would immediately take issue with my question because, as we lawyers say, the question assumes facts not in evidence — not everyone believes abortion is evil. But for the sake of argument, stick with me because, as Black preachers are wont to say, I’m going somewhere with this.
What I find in the Bible is a no-nonsense duality. On one hand, it’s clear that God does not sit in heaven whooping it up when someone like Tiller dies. In 2 Peter 3:9, it’s made clear that God wants everyone — including those we consider to be the most vile, and those with whom we most vehemently disagree — to repent and be saved, and He wants no one to be destroyed. And in Ezekiel 33:11, God instructs the prophet to tell the Israelites He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that He wants the wicked to turn from their ways.
On the other hand, there are hard inescapable facts about the death of someone in Tiller’s position. We know that when a Christian dies, he has a home in heaven. Without whipping up a frothy debate about Tiller’s salvation, we have to honestly and biblically consider his lifestyle and chosen occupation, and his persistence in them. Proverbs 14:32 says, “The wicked is banished in his wickedness, but the righteous has a refuge in death.” Something to think about. And what of Tiller’s legacy? “When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing” (Prov. 11:7).
So I think I’ve settled on the position that, while his death is not something to be celebrated and minimized, we all make choices in this life that affect the next; and while God may not be happy about his passing, God’s justice has established consequences for exercises of our free will that violate His will. I’m so glad I’m not the one who has to decide those consequences.
Second, Tiller’s death reveals a strategic misstep by the pro-life community. We missed an opportunity before he was ever killed to distinguish ourselves from those at the extreme end of the activist spectrum. When Obama’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued its policy document that included pro-life advocates as possible domestic terrorist threats, and its Domestic Extremism Lexicon that defined antiabortion extremism as those who are “virulently antiabortion and advocate violence against providers of abortion-related services,” and who “cite various racist and anti-Semitic beliefs to justify their criminal activities,” that was prime time for pro-life Christians to categorically deny any likeness whatsoever to people or groups that fit that description. Many high-profile life advocates reacted to those documents with outrage that the federal government would target pro-lifers as national security threats, but I don’t think that response was sufficient. By exhibiting outrage, we allowed ourselves to be pigeonholed into the government’s categories.
I instead join the government in being concerned about people of any ideological, cultural, or political stripe who use violence to change what they don’t like because I work through lawful and non-violent means to effect change. And I absolutely make it known that nothing I do or advocate is animated by racist hostilities or aggressions. Therefore, I simply do not fit the DHS’s definitions.
Christian advocates of life should have issued statements from reputable pro-life organizations and individuals, and recruited others of good will to join us, in identifying those known fringe elements that should be decried because of their motivations and tactics. I understand that the practical effect of DHS playing this language game was to possibly cast the pro-life cause in a negative light, and raise suspicion where none is warranted. But I believe we could have more adeptly turned the tables by crafting our own message for the public to consider. If we had done that when the documents were released, the stage would have been set for public censure of the media message that mainstream pro-lifers are in any way responsible for Tiller’s death.
Interestingly, this backlash against pro-lifers — associating us with and blaming us for the violence against Tiller — demonstrates some hard realities of reaping and sowing, and reinforces a common perception that pro-lifers are myopic and concerned only about unborn babies.
Some pro-life people are beginning to complain about being profiled by pro-abortion activists. African Americans and other minorities have been profiled for decades. And while it’s not necessarily a sound logical position to assume that pro-lifers don’t oppose profiling because they don’t raise a public outcry over it, it is understandable that some wonder why their voices aren’t raised when fellow citizens are detained, arrested, beaten, and subjected to human rights violations based on their skin color and/or behavior of others in their ethnic group. Where’s the outrage then? Well now, we are experiencing a similar dynamic. The pro-abortion lobby is generalizing and lumping all of us together based on the unbalanced extremism of a minority of people who have some pro-life views similar to ours.
By the same token, some African Americans are missing an opportunity to empathize with this plight of pro-lifers. The Bible says that one outcome of our suffering is supposed to be a willingness to comfort others in a similar position. But by and large, I don’t see much of that happening either. So in one way or another, we’re all missing valuable lessons that could bring us together and strengthen support for our causes. Instead, issue specialization has hindered our sense of holistic justice and our ability to embrace multiple aspects of God’s justice and righteousness.
Finally, Tiller’s death highlights the importance of the great commission — to teach obedience and make disciples. While we are contending for the faith, we also have a responsibility to labor for a harvest of souls because God desires that none should perish. In fact, I would argue that our highest obligation is to tell others about Jesus and His saving work for us on the cross.
I often wonder if we are not more successful in our efforts to persuade people to embrace the pro-life cause because we have not first persuaded them about Christ. As we were trying to correct Tiller’s behavior, were we as interested in converting his soul? He was killed in church, but we all know that’s no indication of his position with God.
I’m certainly more aware of my emphasis these days. If someone’s heart changes and they embrace the message that every person is created by God and deserves to have a chance for life, but he never acknowledges that Jesus was God in the flesh and died to give him a chance at life, what have I really accomplished?
Our objective should never just be to produce morality, because morality without an accurate foundation degenerates into self-righteousness and empty piety. Rather, we pro-lifers should strive to teach obedience in a particular area of a person’s life — their views about taking innocent life — by pointing them to our Lord, who requires and empowers that obedience.
If we take these lessons to heart, there’s still a chance to redeem both the life issue and Tiller’s death.