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Part 2: Did Tiller Get What He Deserved?

Late-term abortion is despicable. Except for extremely rare circumstances, a baby at this stage is fully viable (it can survive outside the mother’s womb). An unborn child at this stage is a precious member of the human community who deserves our protection. Some people deny an embryo full human status because they say it doesn’t look human (this ignores the fact that an embryo looks exactly as a human being is supposed to look like at that stage of development). But the same reasoning cannot be applied to a baby in late term. It is obviously human.

Every clear thinking American—and in particular, Christians—ought to condemn the actions of Dr. Tiller. Taking the life of 60,000 precious unborn human persons is a grave wrong that we cannot, and must not, ignore. If we don’t speak out on behalf of these people, who will?

Why should we be so outraged at late-term abortions and the actions of Dr. Tiller? Ultimately, the answer is quite simple: it treats a human functionally rather than as a being with intrinsic value. In other words, the unborn is treated as an object and thus discarded because it is a costly inconvenience to the mother. We should be outraged when people are treated as objects rather than persons with intrinsic value. People should be loved, not used.

But before we get self-righteous and start thinking that Tiller got what he deserved, I wonder what Jesus would have to say to this issue. Would Jesus turn the critique around and use it as an opportunity to get us to examine our own hearts rather than be so quick to judge others? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made some startling statements that directly apply.

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…. ‘You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5, NKJV).

In other words, it’s not just the act of murder or adultery that makes one guilty but the lustful and/or angry thought itself. While you and I have (likely) not performed a late-term abortion, I wonder if we have treated people functionally in the same way. This would seem to make use just as guilty (in the eyes of Jesus) as those who have actually performed the procedure. Let me ask a few questions that may help clarify:

Have you ever made fun of someone else? If so, you treated that person functionally. Have you ever treated someone differently because he or she was popular or had more money? If so, you treated that person functionally. Have you ever looked at pornography? If so, you were treating that person functionally, as an object. While these are not the same acts as late-term abortion, and don’t have as powerful of a consequence, they are in the same spirit (just as lust is of the same spirit as adultery).

Rather than taking this opportunity to condemn Dr. Tiller, implying that he got what he deserved, I think we should take a minute to look inward and ask ourselves if we have ever treated people functionally (I know that I have). In fact, it seems to me that this is exactly what Jesus would do. Determining whether or not Dr. Tiller got what he deserved is up to God, not us. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord (Romans 12:19).

In fact, if I read my Bible right, it seems to imply that all of us are deserving of death because we have rebelled against our creator. Romans 3:23 says, “We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That includes YOU and ME. As a result, Paul says “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Christians ought to be outspoken against atrocities such as partial-birth abortion, but we must not forget that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s standard. Our hearts should be broken at how profoundly sin has infiltrated our world and lead to the death of both Dr. Tiller, and the 60,000 unborn precious human persons he aborted. We are no better than Dr. Tiller. It’s only when we truly grasp our own sinfulness, and the incredibly grace of God, that we can rightfully condemn such actions without hypocrisy.


Sean McDowell,

It's interesting that you raise this question about desert. In discussing the issue of abortion, I've been surprised to learn that many Christians believe it intelligible to suspect that the aborted fetus may have gotten what it deserved--or that in fact unborn babies deserve far worse than bodily dismemberment. I find this outrageous.

But questions of desert aside, there is also the question of how you can condemn (as I hope you do) Mr. Roeder's murder/assassination of Dr. Tiller as morally wrong. And if you do condemn Dr. Tiller's assassination as immoral, how do your radical "pro-life" beliefs allow you to "believe there are times in which it is justified to take life (war, self-defense, capital punishment, etc...)"?

Some thoughtful words from Frank Schaeffer:

My late father and I share the blame (with many others) for the murder of Dr. George Tiller the abortion doctor gunned down on Sunday. Until I got out of the religious right (in the mid-1980s) and repented of my former hate-filled rhetoric I was both a leader of the so-called pro-life movement and a part of a Republican Party hate machine masquerading as the moral conscience of America....The same hate machine I was part of is still attacking all abortionists as "murderers." And today once again the "pro-life" leaders are busy ducking their personal responsibility for people acting on their words. The people who stir up the fringe never take responsibility. But I'd like to say on this day after a man was murdered in cold blood for preforming abortions that I -- and the people I worked with in the religious right, the Republican Party, the pro-life movement and the Roman Catholic Church, all contributed to this killing by our foolish and incendiary words. I am very sorry.

This is a very interesting quote by Frank Schaeffer. I appreciate his willingness to say sorry, although I think it's unnecessary. I've read his recent book, "Crazy about God." He spews quite a bit of venom at the religious right (as he does here in this quote). I wonder if he would then apologize if someone did this type of act to a religious person?

The apology is quite appropriate given the sort of irresponsible rhetoric coming out from the "pro-life" movement. We've seen abortion doctors and pro-choice proponents compared to Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer. The strategy for shirking responsibility when one of their listeners takes their these comparisons to their logical and expected conclusions is to offer some hollow claim about the need to respect the rule of law. I'm not saying that all of these people are intelligent enough to understand the consequences of their rhetoric, but I ascribe responsibility to those who are. Schaeffer did will to apologize.

Fox's "highest-rated star, Bill O’Reilly, had assailed Tiller, calling him “Tiller the baby killer” and likening him to the Nazis, on 29 of his shows before the doctor was murdered at his church in Kansas. O’Reilly was unrepentant, stating that only “pro-abortion zealots and Fox News haters” would link him to the crime."

Link here

A little off topic: I’m reading Apologetics for a New Generation - and it just made me think about Tiller’s worldview, and his belief (my guess) in Darwin. I wonder what was going through his mind before he died. It is sad for everyone. Kind of like survival of the fittest gone mad.

His killer was mentally ill – but then again so was Tiller. To me this raises issues about the church involved too. What psychological dynamics were involved? Was it a liberal church – because how would we feel if an abortionist served us communion (Christ’s blood)? There’ plenty to think about.

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Sean McDowell is a teacher, author, speaker, husband and father. He is an avid fan of college basketball, ping-pong, and his favorite superhero is the Amazing Spiderman.